What to see in Istanbul in 3 days

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Martí Micolau

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Author and references

Istanbul, although not the capital of Turkey, is the city that welcomes most of the country's tourists, thanks to its charm and peculiarities: the former Constantinople, in fact, presents itself as a city with a double personality, thanks to its Byzantine character, no doubt, but also to the European influences, which assign it the role of gate of the two worlds. Spending three days in Istanbul will allow you to discover the greatness of the ancient Ottoman Empire, without ever forgetting the accent of novelty brought by navigators from Europe.


  1. 1 day
  2. 2 day
  3. 3 day
  4. How much does a weekend in Istanbul cost
  5. User questions and comments

1 day

1 - Morning: breakfast, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Egyptian Bazaar

As soon as you wake up, the first contact with Turkish cuisine is a must, so we recommend breakfast at the Sultan Kosesi in the center: you will taste the real local breakfast, at prices starting from € 14,00 per person. When you have finished, in fact, you will be so ready to start your tour in the historic center that, as a first stop, includes a visit to the Blue Mosque (8: 30-11: 30/13: 00-14: 30 and 15: 30-16: 45, except on Fridays which opens at 13:30. Free, but forbidden during prayer hours - More info on the Blue Mosque in Istanbul).

Afterwards, you can visit the Hippodrome, with the basilica of Santa Sofia, a symbol of Byzantine culture and surrounded by four minarets. From April 1st to October 31st, the basilica is open from 09:00 to 19:00, while from November 1st to March 31st, from 09:00 to 17:00. Admission costs 60 TL per person (around € 9,20), free for children under eight. The basilica is closed on the first day of Ramadan (More info on the Hagia Sophia).

Last stop of the morning, the Egyptian Bazaar, also called Spice Bazaar, for the variety of oriental spices and aromas. The Bazaar is open for free every day from 08:00 to 19:30.

2 - Afternoon: lunch, Rustem Pasha mosque, Grand Bazaar

After an early morning of hiking, you could stop for lunch at the Roof Mezze 360. Here you will undoubtedly find Turkish cuisine, even the typical Mediterranean one, with prices starting from € 18,00 per person.
Afterwards, a visit to the Rustem Pasha Mosque, also famous for its majolica, characterized not only by the blue color, but also by red, a truly unique color for the period of manufacture. Here too you can enter for free, without a specific time, but which we could identify from sunrise to sunset and always with the exception of moments of prayer. At the end of the visit, you can once again indulge in shopping, but this time at the Grand Bazaar, the largest covered market in the world, with 32 entrances. The bazaar is open every day, except Sundays and Muslim holidays, from 08:30 to 19:00 (More info on the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul).

3 - Evening: dinner, Beyoglu district, Galata tower

For your first evening in Istanbul, we recommend that you dine in Beyoglu district, which is the most European part of the city since it was built by the Genoese. We suggest you stop at the Mikla Restaurant which presents itself as a contemporary restaurant, with innovative cuisine; here, the price range goes from € 45,00 to € 90,00 per person. This area, reachable by metro from the Haliç stop with the M2 line, is full of bars and restaurants and, among other things, you can admire the Galata Tower, a medieval stone tower which offers the possibility to climb to the top, for a bird's-eye view of Istanbul. The tower is open from 09:00 to 20:00 every day and costs 25 TL per person (around € 3,80)

In summary:

  • Distance traveled: 6,4 km / 1 h 24 min
  • Places visited: Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Egyptian Bazaar, Rustem Pasha Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Beyoglu district, Galata Tower
  • Istanbul: Hagia Sophia Skip-the-Line Entry Istanbul: Old Town Tour and Istanbul Hagia Sophia Bazaar Entry: Small Group Shopping Tour
  • Breakfast at Sultan Kosesi (Get directions), Lunch at Roof Mezze 360 ​​(Get directions), Dinner at Mikla Restaurant (Get directions)

2 day

1 - Morning: breakfast, Cistern basilica, Topkapi palace

For the second day, if you liked the Beyoglu neighborhood, you could have breakfast at F&B Culture, with a typical breakfast from € 5,00 to € 11,00 per person. After that, you will be ready for the first leg of the day, that is the Cisterna basilica, one of the many that arose in the city in the Byzantine era to make up for the lack of water in the event of a siege. The basilica, which can be reached by metro (line T1) from Karaköy İstasyonu to Sultanahmet and then continued on foot, is open every day from 09:00 to 19:00 and costs 20 TL per person (approximately € 3,00 ); it is closed until 13:00 on the first day of Muslim holidays (More info on the Basilica Cistern).

Afterwards, it is absolutely worth the visit Topkapi Palace, the former residence of the sultans which holds priceless treasures and which evokes all the charm and splendor of the Ottoman Empire. The palace is open every day, except Tuesdays, 9: 00-17: 00, 100 TL per person (about € 12,96) for the main section and 70 TL per person (about € 9,00) for the Harem. Children under the age of 12 enter for free, with the exception of the Harem (Read more about the Tapkapi Palace).

2 - Afternoon: lunch, Golden Horn, San Salvatore in Chora, cruise on the Bosphorus

You can have lunch on your second day once again in the center, in the Sultanahmet district. We advise you to stop at the Tria Elegance Restaurant, which can offer you a quick snack even from € 5,00. After lunch, you might cross the Golden Horn, or the small fjord that divides the city in two, reachable by bus line BN1 from Akbıyık (5 min walk) for 3 stops, then get off at Eminönü Mısırçarşısı and continue to the next stop (8 min walk) of Eminönü with final destination Ayakapı, 3 minutes walk from the Horn .
Reach out later the ancient church of San Salvatore in Chora, to admire the numerous Byzantine mosaics. The church is open daily from 08:30 to 16:30 (April to October until 19:00) and admission costs 45 TL per person (around € 6,90). When finished, you might spend your free time with a relaxing and suggestive cruise on the Bosphorus, with prices starting from € 59,00 per person (buy online).

3 - Evening: dinner, Sultanahmet district

Although it is not the most lively district, at the end of the cruise we recommend that you stay in the center and visit the picturesque streets with the evening lights. Maybe you could dine at Matbah Ottoman Palace Cuisine, for a taste of typical Middle Eastern cuisine with prices from € 27,00 to € 67,00 per person.

In summary:

  • Distance traveled: 14,6 km / 3 h 10 min
  • Places visited: Cistern basilica, Topkapi palace, Golden Horn, San Salvatore in Chora, Bosphorus cruise, Sultanahmet district
  • Topkapi Palace & Harem: Istanbul Tour & Entrance Ticket: Bosphorus Evening Cruise with Typical Turkish Dinner
  • Breakfast at F&B Culture (Get Directions), Lunch at Tria Elegance Restaurant (Get Directions), Dinner at Matbah Ottoman Palace Cuisine (Get Directions)

3 day

1 - Morning: breakfast, Vader, Fatih

Your third day begins in the Beyoglu district, with a stop at Haliç Sosyal Tesisleri, which specializes in breakfast and brunch. After an energetic breakfast overlooking the river, the rest of the day will be dedicated to the less central but equally important districts of the city. After a relaxing walk overlooking the lake and nature you will find yourself in some areas of Istanbul declared World Heritage by UNESCO, such as the districts of Fener, Fatih and Balat. This morning, you could start in Fener, the Greek quarter of the city, characterized by narrow sloping streets and colorful Ottoman buildings; and just going up these streets, you could first stop to admire the Greek Orthodox Lyceum externally and, then, enter to visit a church that, apparently, is unknown but very important for Turkish history, that is the Church of Santa Maria dei Mongoli, also known as the Red Church: the building, in fact, is the only one not to have been transformed, over time, into a mosque. Admission to the church is free, but there are no specific opening hours, so you have to be lucky to admire the various decorations.
When you get off Vader, you can dedicate the rest of the morning to Fatih, which is called the most conservative neighborhood in the city, as it hosts the most observant slice of the population in Istanbul. But not only that: Fatih is also the gastronomic center of the city, where you can taste the essence of real Turkish cuisine, such as kebap, pide, etc.

2 - Afternoon: prazo, Balat

Following our advice to stop in Fatih for lunch, we also propose a stop at Ziya Sark Sofrasi, for a typical snack with prices from € 3,00 to € 6,00. After lunch, your tour continues through characteristic corners and, in the afternoon, it is the turn of Balat, the old Jewish quarter, before he moved to Galata. What you will admire here is a strong contrast between suggestive beauty and decay, which, however, make the neighborhood noteworthy. The synagogue of Ahrida is also an unmissable attraction, but the visit can only be made by telephone contact with the rabbi on (+90) 2125234729. Before leaving the district, your last stop will be the summit of Balat, which will offer you a splendid view of the Golden Horn and the city.

3 - Evening: Sultanahmet, traditional dinner

On your third day in Istanbul you cannot miss a last visit to the historic center, which you will choose for your dinner. We advise you to stop quickly at Gulhane Sark Sofrasi, reachable by metro from Balat to Karaköy, and then take the metro to Karaköy İstasyonu with final destination Gülhane istasyonu about 1 minute from the restaurant. The restaurant offers menus with prices up to € 18,00 per person. Alternatively, you may decide to organize a typical dinner, perhaps having the locals host you. Prices for this experience start from € 46,00 per person (buy online)

In summary:

  • Distance traveled: 9,4 km / 2 h 7 min
  • Places visited: Fener, Fatih, Balat, Sultanahmet
  • Istanbul: Traditional dinner at home with a local family
  • Breakfast at Haliç Sosyal Tesisleri (Get directions), Lunch at Ziya Sark Sofrasi (Get directions), Dinner at Gulhane Sark Sofrasi (Get directions

How much does a weekend in Istanbul cost

Life in Istanbul, with greater reference to travel and small daily actions, is cheaper than European standards. However, the hotel accommodations, as well as the meals, are perfectly average, especially if you are looking for a higher quality standard.

  • Costs to eat: about € 65,00 per day per person.
  • Costs for museums and attractions: about € 10,00 per day per person following the itinerary we suggest.
  • Transportation: approximately € 1,50 per person per day for a couple of round trips per day.
  • Hotels, accommodation and b & b: from € 39,00 per room per night including breakfast -
  • Fun: from € 12,00 per day per person for coffee and aperitifs in typical places
  • Total cost of a weekend in Istanbul: starting from € 520,00 per person

Before leaving: useful tips

  • When to visit Istanbul: the best time to visit the Turkish city is spring, when the climate is mild and you can witness the flowering of the Judas trees and the colorful tulips; autumn also lends itself well to welcoming tourists, while summer is sultry and humid. Winter is particularly harsh.
  • the best way to reach Istanbul is undoubtedly by plane. The Ataturk airport is less than twenty kilometers from the city center and is connected to Italy by daily scheduled flights, which take just over two hours to reach the city.
    Flights starting from € 110,00 -
  • if your priority is proximity to the monuments, the Sultanahmet district is the one for you, as it is located in the historic center; however, in the early evening, the area becomes depopulated and there are fewer recreational activities, albeit interesting. For this reason, if you also want some night entertainment, we recommend staying in the Beyoglu district, more modern and European, full of restaurants and other clubs.
    Hotel and b & b starting from € 39,00 per room -
  • Getting around: the transport network is very developed in Istanbul, also to try to overcome the traffic problem. There are no real season tickets, if not the Istanbul Kart, which consists of a rechargeable card that offers discounts on means of transport. By purchasing the Kart, in fact, each race costs 2,15 TL (about € 0,33), instead of 4 TL (about € 0,61). The Kart can be purchased at the automatic machines and some kiosks or shops; even the ticket can be purchased before boarding from the special machines, since there is no other method on the vehicles. The Istanbul Welcome Card is a package with admission to 12 museums with public transport included in its cost with a cost of € 79,00 per person. Find out how to get around Istanbul - info, costs and tips
  • Currency: the official currency is the Turkish lira, present in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100. 5 TL correspond to approximately € 0,77. In many shops, restaurants and hotels, you can also pay in euros.
  • Time zone: Istanbul is +1 hour compared to the current time in Italy.

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