Having Istanbul as the destination for your vacation is a rational choice as much as it can be confusing. It has many alluring sites in which you can go, visit and shop from. Thus, if you have just 3 days to see this amazing city, you must be careful in planning to make the most out of it. There are plenty of recommendations online that suggests where to visit and what to do in this such a short amount of time; however, don’t fret, we got you covered with an exclusive guide to Istanbul with suggestions. Of course, it is one of the thousands of possible routes and you can always modify it as per your needs, time and even your schedule of arrival and departure flight. So, if you are wondering what to do in Istanbul in three days, carry on reading!
Day 1: Beşiktaş District with Unique Ottoman Palaces
As mentioned earlier, all the routes and day planning can be modified according to your hotel location and arrival times, however, we recommend you start with Beşiktaş in your first day. Located in the European side of the Istanbul, Beşiktaş hosts history and modern life altogether at the same time (as many other districts of Istanbul) and it contains different parks and palaces that date back to Ottoman era. It is well connected too, you may use many of the buses and the metro/tram stations to get there. You may start with Yıldız Palace (in Turkish Yıldız Sarayı) located in Beşiktaş, to see the history hidden in every corner of the walls of the palace. Yıldız Palace has been used as the main palace and the governance unit for quite some time, making it the fourth management unit of Ottomans.
Outside of the palace, with a little bit of walking, you may find the Yıldız Park (Yıldız Parkı), as to see how the garden of the palace was; although, of course, it is maintained by modern gardening techniques. Sitting on the benches and having some Turkish black tea might comfort you if you are already tired from seeing the beauties of Yıldız Palace and you may watch the sea with a bit walking along the shore. Then, it is time to see the Ortaköy Mosque (Ortaköy Camii) as it is located right by the sea with a beautiful interior and with every bit of it smelling history. After that, you may want to have a Dolmabahçe Palace tour (Dolmabahçe Sarayı), again, a different palace left by Ottomans. It is very close to that proximity, but if you feel more comfortable, you may use a taxi too. It is also highly recommendable to see the Dolmabahçe Mosque (Dolmabahçe Camii) for obvious reasons. Before moving onto the second day, you might want to see the famous Çırağan Palace (Çırağan Sarayı) as it is located very close. We promise, you will not be disappointed!
Day 2: Taksim Square and Istiklal Street
If you want to keep the “historic peninsula” for the last day, then, your second day destination is famous Taksim Square. One of the most visited sites by the tourists, Taksim Square hosts many types of people – tourists and locals combined, and with the latest beautifications of gardens, it is ready to bewilder whomever visits there. Either by eating traditional Turkish food or having a cup of coffee from best coffee shops in Istanbul, Taksim is surprising in many ways. It contains some of the churches in Istanbul too, and you may discover them as they are preserved in a practically Muslim country. Some of them still practice as well, so it may be a different experience to have a look to see the lives of Christians in Istanbul. There are two museums that we recommend seeing, located in Taksim district, close to the square. Istanbul Modern Museum and Pera Museum, both being art museums for the distinguishing eyes. You should not ever forget to walk through the Istiklal Street (İstiklal Caddesi), if you have not already for eating and/or shopping, as the atmosphere there is also different, and the ever-existing crowd there has its own attraction. Try using the tram called “Taksim Tünel” there too, it is nostalgic and dates back to quite some time.
Before finishing the day and having a good rest for the next day, you may move to Galata, a close-by district, to see the beautiful Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi), because the view up in the top of it will speak for itself – your chance of seeing the Istanbul from above and time to fall in love with this city once again.
Day 3: The Historic Peninsula and Fatih District
After waking up for the third day, you must not wait long, because you will be going to Fatih, one of the most historic districts of Istanbul and the part of it we recommend going is called the “Historic Peninsula”, named after the seas that surround it.
There are a lot to see here and one day may not be enough, but it is the best of interest to start with Sultanahmet Mosque (also called Blue Mosque and “Sultanahmet Camii” in Turkish) to see this historic mosque and to comprehend why it is called the Blue Mosque. (no spoilers but look at the tiles) 😉 You can discover this area with Istanbul old city tour.
Almost in front of it, after passing the beautiful gardens and ornamental pool, you will find Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) a building dates back to even Romans, later converted into a mosque and now, is a museum. Inside has descriptions of Jesus and motifs of a typical mosque at the same time, meaning an unexpected mix of cultures are waiting for you. Discover this magnificent building with Hagia Sophia skip the line tour. Then, you may see the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı) to have an idea of how the water cisterns were in Ottoman era. You will be going a bit underground so get prepared to see low-lighted scenery. After seeing all these, if you are hungry, you may try famous special Sultanahmet meatballs (Sultanahmet köftesi) in many of the restaurants located up in the street. Knowing what to do next, you may spare time as much as you would like to rest and to enjoy the amazing taste of tradition.
You may continue your journey with Topkapı Palace (Topkapı Sarayı) with amazing pure history, although one or two hours may not be enough to appreciate the whole beauty of it. In the proximity, you also have the options of Islamic Arts Museum (İslam Sanatları Müzesi) and the Archeology Museum (Arkeoloji Müzesi) as per your interest, and of course, your level of tiredness. You may want to push yourself a bit, even if you feel too tired though, as none of the choices you make will make you regret it afterwards.
Now that you know what to do in three days in Istanbul, all we can suggest is to come back as soon as possible, as the treasures and the mysteries of Istanbul is yet to be unfolding as long as the traveler has the eye for the detail and the enthusiasm to see even more. We hope to see you more in the future and do not forget to check our website frequently, as the new guides are published every week, if not every day. 😊