The Ultimate Istanbul Itinerary – 3 Days

Istanbul is the perfect destination that encapsulates the east-meets-west experience. spanning over the two continents of Asia and Europe, you can really feel the blurred lines of a modern metropolis and an Arab-influenced old world. Ornate palaces and churches, bustling bazaars, and a vibrant culture are what make Istanbul such a fun place to visit. This Istanbul itinerary (3 days) will show you all the top sites while immersing in the culture through food, shopping, nightlife, and more.

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Quick Facts about Istanbul to Know Before Your Trip

  • In 2022 the Turkish government changed the official name of Turkey to Türkiye. (You may see both names used interchangeably in this blog post.)
  • Istanbul was formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople, and served as the capital of three empires: the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman.
  • The majority of the population in Istanbul follows Islam, which is also the official religion of Turkey. However, there are also minority religious communities such as Christians and Jews.
  • The city’s main language is Turkish, but English is widely spoken, especially in tourist areas.
  • The currency in Istanbul is the Turkish lira (TRY). While some places may accept USD, it is always best to use Turkish lira for transactions. Credit cards are widely accepted in Istanbul, especially in tourist areas, but it is always best to carry some cash for small purchases and to pay for transportation.
  • The city’s cuisine is a fusion of Turkish, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern influences, with dishes such as kebabs, meze, baklava, and Turkish delight.

Getting Around Istanbul

For starters, you will be walking a lot, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes! You’ll also have the opportunity to use public transportation, or take taxis if you prefer. Uber is also available in Istanbul. Here are some main ways to get around:

  1. Public transportation: Istanbul has an extensive public transportation system including buses, trams, metro, and ferries. The Istanbulkart is a smart card that can be used to pay for all types of public transportation and can be purchased at kiosks and machines.
  2. Taxi: Taxis are readily available throughout Istanbul, but it is important to make sure the driver uses the meter and that the meter is running properly.
  3. Ride-shares: Uber is available in Istanbul. However, it is not the only ride-sharing service available. Other Ride-sharingapps in Istanbul include BiTaksi, Careem, and Yandex.Taxi.
  4. Metrobus: Metrobus is a rapid transit bus system that operates along dedicated bus lanes and is a fast and affordable way to travel.

How to use this travel guide:

I will let you know when to walk, and when to take a cab. You can also use public transportation if you prefer that to a taxi or Uber/rideshare, but I did not include specific public transportation directions in this guide. Either way, just plug each destination into Google Maps when you’re ready to go to it and you will see all your options.

I’ve also created a map (below) with all the locations pinned in order and color coded by day so you can easily follow it. Click on the square in the top righthand corner to expand the map and see its details.

Istanbul Itinerary – 3 Days – Map of Istanbul

DAY 1:  Sultanahmet Historic District3 Days in Istanbul

Morning Day 1

Begin day 1 of your 3 day Istanbul itinerary bright and early in the morning with a hearty and delicious Turkish breakfast at your hotel, before spending the day exploring the Sultanahmet District and its following sites.

Breakfast in Turkey is wonderful, so I recommend the hotel breakfast buffets every morning for both convenience and because it’s so tasty.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque /Blue Mosque

Your first stop will be at the Blue Mosque, as soon as it opens. Opening hours vary, so be sure to confirm beforehand. You can explore this mosque and the rest of the sites on your own, but a guided tour is really the best way. I’ll recommend tours at the end of the section.

Built in the Ottoman era in the early 17th century, by the order of Sultan Ahmed I, The Blue Mosque is considered one of the most iconic buildings in Istanbul. The mosque gets its nickname from the blue tiles that decorate its interior, which give off a stunning blue hue when illuminated by the sunlight. The mosque’s exterior features six towering minarets and a central dome, which are visible from many parts of Istanbul.Inside, visitors can marvel at the intricate designs and calligraphy that decorate the walls and ceiling of the prayer hall. The mosque is also adorned with stunning chandeliers and a beautifully designed mihrab, which is a niche in the wall that indicates the direction of Mecca for prayer.

Note: This is an active place of worship, and you will need to cover your hair and wear a long skirt to enter the mosque (provided free of charge.)

Hagia Sophia

Next to the Blue Mosque, you will find another one of Istanbul’s most important structures, the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque (Ayasofya in Turkish.) It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is widely regarded as one of the greatest architectural marvels of the world.

The original Hagia Sophia was built in the 6th century as a church by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. It served as the primary church of the Eastern Orthodox Church for almost a thousand years before it was converted into a mosque in 1453, after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. In 1935, it was converted into a museum by the Republic of Turkey and opened to the public, before being coverted back into a mosque in 2020 by the Turkish government.

Hagia Sophia’s most notable characteristic is its massive dome, which spans over 100 feet in diameter and rises over 180 feet above the ground. The dome is supported by four huge piers and is decorated with stunning mosaics and frescoes that depict scenes from the Bible and Islamic history.Visitors can also marvel at the mosque’s elaborate decorations, including intricate calligraphy and ornate carvings. The building’s exterior is equally impressive, with its towering minarets and stunning architectural details.

If you enjoy guided tours, I recommend this highly-rated small group tour of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
Tip: Looking for the best place to photograph Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque? Head to the rooftop of the restaurant called Seven Hills inside the Seven Hills hotel. It's a good place to stop for Turkish coffee, tea, and/or a snack before moving on. Just be aware of the birds! They feed them to get those magical flying bird shots in your photos. 

Basilica Cistern

Now take a stroll outside the Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia through Sultanahmet Square, and pop in to the Basilica Cistern. Also known as the Yerebatan Cistern, this fascinating underground attraction was built in the 6th century during the Byzantine Empire, under the rule of Emperor Justinian I. The cistern was constructed to provide water to the city’s palaces and households, and it was designed to hold over 80,000 cubic meters of water and is a remarkable example of ancient engineering and architecture.

Recommended tour: Skip the line Basillica Cistern guided tour

The cistern is accessed through a small doorway, which leads down a narrow staircase into a vast underground chamber. Visitors can wander through the dimly lit space, which is supported by over 300 marble columns, many of which were salvaged from ancient structures. One of the most striking features of the Basilica Cistern is the Medusa heads, which are two huge stone carvings that are believed to have been brought from an ancient temple. The heads are positioned sideways and upside down, and their exact origins and purpose remain a mystery. To add, the cistern is also adorned with stunning lighting and sound effects, which create an eerie and mystical atmosphere.

Tip: If you are ready for lunch after visiting Basillica Cistern, you can skip down to the lunch recommendation and visit Topkapi Palace after you eat. If you still have stamina to keep moving, continue on this Istanbul travel itinerary to Topkapi Palace. 

Afternoon

Lunch Day 1

OPTION 1: Hocapaşa Pidecisi

A 10 minute walk from Basillica Cistern into the neighborhood of Sirkeci is a small, historic shop opened in 1964 serving delicious freshly-made flatbreads called pide, prepared right in front of you and baked in a stone oven. You can cheese from a variety of meat, cheese, and/or vegetable pides along with mezze platters, enjoyed with the traditional Turkish yogurt drink ayran or Turkish tea and coffee.

OPTION 2: Matbah

The fine-dining Matbah Restaurant has beautiful views overlooking the historic center and offers a menu serving elevated, traditional Ottoman cuisine. The restaurant is housed in a beautifully restored Ottoman mansion, featuring stunning interiors that blend traditional Turkish design with contemporary style.

Topkapi Palace

After lunch, continue on by foot to another one of Istanbul’s great UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This magnificent historical complex was residence of the Ottoman sultans for nearly 400 years. It was originally built in the 15th century by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, and was continuously expanded and modified by subsequent sultans. The palace is a sprawling complex of buildings, courtyards, and gardens, and covers an area of over 70 acres.

Visitors to the Topkapi Palace can explore the opulent interior, which is decorated with stunning artwork, intricate tile work, and elaborate furnishings. The palace houses a vast collection of treasures, including priceless jewels, intricate textiles, and historic weapons.

Recommended tour: Topkapi Palace skip the line guided tour

The palace also features several beautiful courtyards and gardens, including the Imperial Council Courtyard and the Fountain of Sultan Ahmed III. The Harem, which was the private quarters of the sultans and their families, is also open to visitors and provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of the Ottoman elite. One of the most popular attractions at the Topkapi Palace is the Topkapi Dagger, a legendary jewel-encrusted dagger that is considered one of the most valuable items in the palace’s collection.

Tip: Prefer to do all of your sightseeing with your own private tour guide? I recommend this highly-rated day tour. 

Evening / Dinner Day 1

Bosphorus Dinner Cruise

The Bosphorus is a narrow strait that separates Europe from Asia and is lined with some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, including the Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace, the Blue Mosque, and the Hagia Sophia which look especially beautiful lit up at night. A Bosphorus dinner cruise is an extremely popular activity in Istanbul and a great way to experience the city’s beauty and charm as the sun sets and illuminates the stunning views of Istanbul’s skyline. The dinner cruises feature a variety of delicious Turkish cuisine, including meze, grilled meats, fresh seafood, and traditional desserts. Many cruises also offer live entertainment, such as Turkish music and dance performances, to give a sense of the culture and add to the festive atmosphere.

I recommend the following highly rated Bosphorus cruises:
Bosphorus Sunset Cruise on Luxury Yacht 
Istanbul: Bosphorus Dinner Cruise by Catamaran with Private Table

Late Night Day 1

If you’re interested in nightlife in Istanbul, head over to the neighborhood of Taksim. You’ll be seeing the neighborhood by day later on in this Istanbul 3 days itinerary, but Taksim is also a great place to experience Istanbul’s vibrant nightlife. The neighborhood is home to a variety of bars, nightclubs, and music venues. One of the main attractions of Taksim is Istiklal Avenue, a bustling pedestrian street lined with shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars. It is one of the most famous streets in Istanbul and is always buzzing with activity, day or night. Here are some popular nightlife options in Taksim:

360 Istanbul: This rooftop bar and club offers stunning views of the city and a chic, stylish atmosphere.

Peyote: This trendy bar is known for its creative cocktails, laid-back vibe, and cool, minimalist décor. It is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike and is located in the heart of the bustling Istiklal Avenue.

Flekk: A swanky, dark and cozy cocktail bar with a high-focus on expert mixology. Great if you want a more low-key night cap.

DAY 2: Bazaars and Beyoğlu District3 Days Istanbul Itinerary

Morning Day 2

Grand Bazaar

On day two of your three days in Istanbul, after breakfast, begin your day during the opening hours of the Grand Bazaar — Istanbul’s most famous marketplace and a staple among all Istanbul itineraries. Also known as Kapalicarsi in Turkish, the Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world and a great place to purchase souvenirs and gifts. The Grand Bazaar consists of a dizzying maze of over 4,000 shops, selling everything from spices and textiles to jewelry, ceramics, and carpets. It is a labyrinthine complex of covered streets and alleys, with shops and stalls spilling out into the open air, offering visitors a truly immersive and unforgettable shopping experience.

One of the highlights of the Grand Bazaar is its traditional architecture, with many of the shops housed in historic buildings that date back centuries. The market is also home to a number of historic landmarks, including the Nuruosmaniye Mosque and the Old Bedesten, a 15th-century building that was once used as a secure storage space for valuable goods.Bring your cash and haggling skills, and be mindful of pickpockets as the crowds can get dense and busy.

Note: Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays and holidays. 

Spice Bazaar / Egyptian Bazaar

Within walking distance of the Grand Bazaar you will find the Spice Bazzar, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar — another one of Istanbul’s oldest and most famous markets. (Though much smaller than the Grand Bazaar, so don’t worry!)

Located in the Eminonu district, the Spice Bazaar is a bustling market that offers a colorful and aromatic array of spices, herbs, teas, dried fruits, nuts, and other food items. The market dates back to the 17th century and was originally built to supply the city’s spice needs. In addition to spices, the Spice Bazaar also offers a variety of Turkish sweets, including Turkish delight, baklava, and other delicacies. Visitors can sample these treats at various stalls throughout the market and purchase them to take home as souvenirs.

If you’d like to pick up local food delicacies in the Spice Bazaar, stop by the local favorite Cankurtaran Gıda, for Turkish cheeses like the famous tulum, cured meats, honey, and more.

Optional: Yeni Valide Camii / New Mosque

Next to the Spice Bazaar you will find the Yeni Valide Camii. Though not as famous as the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia, this “New Mosque” was actually built 1597 and 1663, commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I. The mosque features a stunning central dome, six minarets, and a large courtyard surrounded by arched galleries, with intricate tilework, stained glass windows, marble carvings, and gold leaf decorations inside.

Lunch Day 2

Option 1: Pandeli Lokantası

Inside the Spice Market on the first floor you’ll find one of the oldest restaurants in town dating back to 1901, serving incredible authentic Turkish food with a modern twist. The restaurant is known for its beautiful Ottoman-era decor, with stained glass windows, intricate tilework, and ornate chandeliers. The atmosphere is elegant and refined, with a touch of old-world charm that makes visitors feel like they have stepped back in time, and have welcomed prominent guests such as Winston Churchchill and Audrey Hepburn. The menu at Pandeli Lokantasi features a variety of traditional Ottoman and Turkish dishes, including lamb stew, stuffed eggplant, and manti (Turkish dumplings). The restaurant is particularly famous for its mezze, with a variety of delicious small dishes that are perfect for sharing, including hummus, stuffed vine leaves, and fried liver.

Option 2: Tarihi Karaköy Balık Lokantası

About a 10 minute walk from the Spice bazaar is where you’ll filled some of the best charcoal-grilled seafood. After the Spice Bazaar, you’ll be making your way across the Galata Bridge and into Karakoy where you will find this historic, no-frills, lunch-only spot. The menu at Tarihi Karaköy Balık Lokantası features a variety of fresh seafood dishes, including fish stew, seafood platters, and grilled fish, like their famous sea bass en papillote.

Afternoon / Evening Day 2

Beyoğlu District – Galata AKA Karaköy

Carrying on by foot, you will now have time to explore the famous Galata neighborhood, renamed Karakoy. The Galata Bridge which spans across the Golden Horn connects the neighborhoods of Eminonu (where the Spice Bazaar is) to Karakoy. The bridge has two levels with the lower level used for vehicle traffic and the upper level used for pedestrians, with cafes and restaurants, and fisherman out for that fresh catch of the day.

The neighborhood found in the trendy Beyoglu district is known for its narrow streets, colorful buildings, lively atmosphere, and nightlife. Galata/Karakoy is particularly famous for its street food, including traditional Turkish snacks like simit (sesame-covered bread), which you can get straight from the source at the Galata Simitçisi bakery.

Tip: The best baklava in Istanbul can be found at Koskeroglu in Karakoy! Make sure to stop by for some sweets and Turkish coffee or tea.

Optional: Istanbul Modern

Istanbul Modern is a contemporary art museum that showcases the works of Turkish and international artists. The museum is housed in a renovated warehouse on the waterfront, offering great views of the Bosphorus and the city’s historic skyline.

Galata Tower

The Galata Tower is a medieval stone tower built in the 14th century by the Genoese, and was originally used as a watchtower to guard the city against attack. Over the years, the tower has also been used for a variety of purposes, including as a prison, a fire tower, and an observatory.

Today, the Galata Tower is one of Istanbul’s most popular landmarks and a major tourist attraction. Visitors can climb to the top of the tower and enjoy panoramic views of Istanbul’s skyline, including the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, and the historic city center. The tower is 67 meters tall and has nine floors, each of which can be reached by a spiral staircase. The top floor of the tower houses a restaurant and bar, which offer stunning views of the city and the surrounding area. If you can plan to be at the tower around sunset, even better.

After Galata Tower, make your way down the famous Istiklal Avenue through Karakoy to Taksim Square.

Beyoğlu District – Taksim / Istiklal Avenue /Taksim Square

Further north in the Beyoglu district, the area that neighbors Karakoy is known as Taksim, a bustling area known for its shopping, nightlife, and young and lively atmosphere. The most famous part of Taksim is Istiklal Avenue, a long pedestrianized street that runs through the heart of the neighborhood. Istiklal Avenue is home to a wide range of shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars, and is a popular spot for people-watching and shopping.

Another popular area is Taksim Square, a large public square that serves as a hub for public transportation and is home to a number of historic buildings and monuments, including the Republic Monument and the Ataturk Cultural Center. Visitors can enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee at one of the many cafes that line the square, or browse through the shops and stalls selling traditional Turkish souvenirs and handicrafts.

Optional: Dolmabahce Palace

The Dolmabahce Palace is about a 20 minute walk from Taksim Square, so it may just be best to hop in a 3-minute taxi instead if you feel you’re running out of stamina. The palace is closed on Mondays and doesn’t stay open very late (confirm days/hours) so you may alternatively choose to visit it on Day 3.

Dolmabahce Palace is a magnificent palace located on the European shore of the Bosphorus. It was the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1922 and served as the main residence of the Ottoman sultans during this period. The palace was built in the mid-19th century by the Ottoman sultan Abdulmecid I, who wanted to create a modern and elegant palace that would reflect the power and prestige of the Ottoman Empire. The palace was designed in the Neoclassical style and features a blend of Ottoman and European architectural elements.

The palace is famous for its grandeur and opulence, with its vast ballrooms, ornate chandeliers, and beautiful gardens. Visitors to the palace can admire its many luxurious rooms, including the Grand Ceremonial Hall, the Imperial Harem, and the Crystal Staircase, which is made entirely of Baccarat crystal. One of the most impressive features of Dolmabahce Palace is the vast collection of art and artifacts it contains. The palace boasts an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, and furniture, and other decorative objects.

Dinner Day 2

Cicek Pasaji – “Flower Passage” in Taksim – A covered passageway connecting Istiklal Avenue with Sahne Street with restaurants, bars, and cafes

Option 1: Neolokal (Karakoy)

Neolokal A highly acclaimed restaurant located inside a former bank turned modern art gallery, serving inventive and gastronomic modern Turkish cuisine. The menu ranges from meat to seafood and pairs with an excellent local wine and cocktail list. The atmosphere is chic and trendy, with views over the Golden Horn. Perfect for those who enjoy good food paired with a good atmosphere.

Option 2: Mikla (Taksim)

A world-renowned and award-winning restaurant serving Anatolian, Turkish, and modern European cuisine with an option for a tasting menu. The menu ranges from meat to vegetarian-friendly dishes like pumpkin Ravioli with Chestnut and Sage. Mikla’s modern decor features sleek furnishings and floor-to-ceiling windows with stunning views of the Bosphorus, as well as a sweeping outdoor terrace. An ideal place for a special occasion dinner.

Option 3: Restaurant Mabou (Karakoy)

Mabou is a popular restaurant amongst both tourists and locals serving contemporary Turkish cuisine with an ever-changing menu that is determined by seasonal ingredients. The restaurant’s menu features a range of dishes that reflect the diversity and richness of Turkish cuisine, from hearty meat dishes to delicate seafood preparations. The restaurant’s stylish and modern decor, which features exposed brick walls and chic lighting fixtures, creates a warm and inviting atmosphere that is perfect for a casual dinner in a trendy setting.

Late Night Day 2

Taksim and Karakoy are the best places in Istanbul for nightlife. I already covered the best bars and clubs in Taksim in the Day 1 portion of this itinerary for Istanbul, so now I will share some of the best bars and clubs in Karakoy:

Ziba: a stylish and modern rooftop bar located on the top floor of the Mama Shelter hotel. The bar offers stunning views of the Bosphorus and the city skyline, along with an extensive cocktail menu and a selection of small plates.

Karabatak: a cozy and inviting coffee shop by day and a trendy bar by night. The bar offers a variety of craft beers, cocktails, and light bites, and is known for its laid-back atmosphere and friendly staff.

Karga Bar: a popular bar and live music venue located in the heart of Istanbul’s bohemian district. The bar features an eclectic mix of music, from jazz to rock to electronic, and is known for its lively atmosphere and diverse crowd.

Babylon: a famous music venue and nightclub located in the heart of Istanbul, with a branch in Karaköy. The venue hosts a variety of concerts and events, featuring both local and international artists, and is known for its high-energy atmosphere and cutting-edge music.

You can also wander Nevizade Street, popular at night for its many pubs and taverns. To get there, walk along Istiklal Street and turn onto Balik Sokak. Nevizade Street runs off Balik Sokak on the right.

Istanbul Itinerary – DAY 3: Istanbul’s Asian Side & Hammam

Morning Day 3

By now, you’ve seen many of the prominent areas and landmarks on the European side of Istanbul in two days, so on your third day, it’s time to cross over to the Asian side, also known as the Anatolian Side. which can be reached by car, metro, or ferry, which is the most picturesque, but takes the longest (about 30 minutes.)

There are several ways to get to the Asian side of Istanbul from the European side:

  1. Ferry: One of the most popular and scenic ways to cross the Bosphorus Strait is by taking a ferry from the European side to the Asian side. There are several ferry lines operating between different parts of the city, including Eminönü, Kabataş, and Beşiktaş. The ferry ride usually takes around 20-30 minutes and offers great views of Istanbul’s skyline.
  2. Metro: Istanbul has a metro line that connects the European side to the Asian side. You can take the Marmaray metro line from Sirkeci Station, which runs under the Bosphorus and connects to Üsküdar on the Asian side.
  3. Bus: Another option is to take a bus from Taksim, Kabataş, or Üsküdar to different parts of the Asian side. There are several bus lines operating throughout the day and night, offering a convenient and affordable way to travel between the two sides of the city.
  4. Taxi: You can also take a taxi or an Uber to cross the Bosphorus Bridge, which connects the European and Asian sides of the city. However, keep in mind that traffic can be heavy during rush hour and the taxi fare may be higher than other transportation options.

Things to do on the Asian side of Istanbul – Choose Your Own Adventure

Visit the Kadıköy Market

Kadıkoy is a bustling district known for its vibrant markets, artisanal shops, and vibrant street life. The Kadıkoy Market is one of the oldest and most popular markets in Istanbul, offering a wide range of local produce, spices, and handcrafted goods.

Explore the Moda Neighborhood

Moda is a charming neighborhood located in the heart of Kadıköy, known for its trendy cafes, boutiques, and art galleries. Take a leisurely stroll through the streets of Moda and enjoy the neighborhood’s relaxed vibe and stunning sea views.

Visit the Çamlıca Hill

Camlıca Hill is the highest point in Istanbul, offering panoramic views of the city and the Bosphorus Strait. Take a relaxing walk through the park and enjoy a picnic while taking in the stunning views.

Explore the Beylerbeyi Palace

Beylerbeyi Palace is a magnificent Ottoman palace overlooking the Bosphorus. The palace is known for its stunning architecture, elegant interior decor, and beautiful gardens.

Visit the Çengelköy Neighborhood

Cengelkoy is a charming and historic neighborhood located on the Asian side of Istanbul, known for its traditional wooden houses, narrow streets, and peaceful atmosphere. Take a walk through the neighborhood and visit some of its historic landmarks, such as the Çengelköy Mosque or the Kuleli Military High School.

Explore the Bağdat Avenue

Bagdat Avenue is a popular shopping district known for its high-end boutiques, designer stores, and upscale restaurants. Take a leisurely stroll through the avenue and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere and chic ambiance.

Lunch Day 3

Option 1: Çiya Sofrası

Ciya Sofrasi is a renowned restaurant serving authentic Anatolian Turkish cuisine in the Kadıkoy Market. The restaurant is especially known for its extensive selection of traditional Turkish mezes, which include a wide array of vegetable-based appetizers, as well as specialties like lahmacun (Turkish pizza) and pide (Turkish flatbread). The menu changes frequently, featuring dishes from different regions of Turkey, allowing guests to explore the diverse flavors and culinary traditions of the country.

Option 2: Balıkcı Abdullah 

Balıkcı Abdullah is a popular restaurant with multiple locations, one of which located in the in the Kalamış neighborhood. They are known for their fresh seafood and traditional Ottoman recipes on an extensive menu from grilled fish to meze plates, all prepared using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. The Kalamış location of Balıkcı Abdullah is situated in a romantic waterfront location overlooking the Marmara Sea. The restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating areas, with a spacious terrace perfect for dining al fresco on warm evenings.

For Dessert

Baylan Pastanesi

Baylan Pastanesi is a historic and beloved pastry shop, especially known for their e “Cup of Baylan” (Baylan Fincanı), a dessert consisting of layers of chocolate mousse, chocolate sponge cake, and caramel sauce, as well as their Kup Griye, vanilla ice cream topped with almond brittle, whipped cream, and caramel sauce.

Afternoon Day 3

Transport back to the the Europe side of Istanbul in the afternoon. If you didn’t get a chance to visit Dolmabahce Palace on Day 2 and still would like to, you can take the ferry back to the Karakoy district, then a 5 minute taxi to Dolmabahce Palace.

Hammam

Ritz-Carlton Hammam

A hammam, (hamam) also known as a Turkish bath, is a traditional communal bathhouse that is an important part of Turkish culture and history. Hammams have been a popular feature of daily life in Turkey for centuries, serving as a place where people could socialize, relax, and cleanse themselves. An Istanbul trip plan would be remiss without visiting a hammam. Whether you would like to indulge in a luxury hammam or experience a more traditional version, you will be sure to leave feeling refreshed and relaxed after a very busy 3 days. Istanbul hammams are an experience that most definitely should be prioritized and enjoyed.

Hammams typically have several different rooms or areas, each with its own unique purpose and atmosphere. The first room, called the “warm room” or “sıcaklık,” is where visitors undress and relax before entering the main bath area. This room is typically heated by a central dome that allows natural light to filter in, creating a warm and calming environment. The next room, known as the “hot room” or “hararet,” is where visitors go to sweat and cleanse themselves. The room is heated with hot water and steam, and visitors use bowls or buckets of water to pour over themselves and wash their bodies.

After cleansing in the hot room, visitors may move to the “cool room” or “soğukluk,” which is a cooler area designed for relaxation and rest. The cool room typically has a large, central fountain and marble benches where visitors can rest and cool down after their bath.

Modern luxury hammams are more spa-like in nature, with private rooms instead of communal. During these hammams, an attendant will wash, scrub, and often massage with a sudsy foamy towel, which can only be described as being massaged by bubbles. Many hammams offer a range of services, including massages, facials, and other beauty treatments, in addition to traditional bathhouse experiences.

Visiting a hammam is not just about bathing and relaxation, it is also a cultural experience that allows visitors to connect with Turkey’s rich history and traditions. Hammams are often beautifully decorated with ornate tile work, marble, and intricate carvings, creating a serene and luxurious atmosphere.

Best Hammams in Istanbul (Luxury)

Ritz-Carlton Istanbul spa indoor pool

The Ritz-Carlton Spa Soul: Located in the heart of Istanbul’s prestigious Dolmabahce neighborhood, this Ritz Spa offers a range of hammam treatments and experiences. The spa features elegant interiors with a modern twist on traditional Ottoman design. The spa also has a sauna, steam room, and indoor pool, as well as a relaxation area for guests to unwind in.

Hurrem Sultan Hamami: Located in the Sultanahmet district, this hammam was built in the 16th century and has been beautifully restored. It features marble interiors, intricate tile work, and a range of traditional services, including massages and beauty treatments.

Cagaloglu Hamami: This hammam is one of the oldest and most famous in Istanbul, dating back to the 18th century. Its elegant marble interiors and ornate decorations create a luxurious and calming atmosphere. The hammam offers a range of services, including massages and beauty treatments.

Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami: Located in the Tophane district, this hammam was built in the 16th century and has recently been restored. It features stunning marble interiors, intricate tile work, and a range of traditional services, including massages and beauty treatments.

The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Sultanahmet: Located in the heart of Istanbul’s historic district the Four Seasons Spa offers a range of hammam treatments, including traditional massages and beauty treatments. The spa features a tranquil atmosphere and elegant interiors, making it a great place to relax and unwind.

CHI the Spa at Shangri-La Bosphorus: Located in the Besiktas district, this hotel spa offers a range of traditional hammam treatments in a luxurious and serene setting. The spa features elegant marble interiors, a heated indoor pool, and a range of other amenities, making it a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

Note: Make sure to reserve your hammam appointment in advance.

Dinner Day 3

On your last night in Istanbul, plan for a special dinner at one of the city’s top restaurants. Choose from the following outstanding restaurants:

Turk Fatih Tutak (Michelin/Fine-Dining)

Turk Fatih Tutak is a two Michelin Star fine-dining restaraunt by a chef with the same name, offering a changing tasting menu of delicately prepared dishes in flavors inspired by the region. This is Turkish gastronomy at its finest. If you are looking for something really special, this is it. Make sure to book reservations well in advance.

Yeni Lokanta (Relaxed/Trendy)

Yeni stands out as a modern Turkish eatery that adds a contemporary twist to traditional Turkish cuisine. The restaurant’s concept revolves around utilizing fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced from local producers witha focus of vegetables and produce. The chef aims to reimagine classic Turkish dishes, presenting them in an innovative and modern manner while retaining their authentic flavors, with options for either a tasting menu or ala carte items. Near Istiklal Avenue, the restaurant is inviting, with its warm and minimalist decor creating a comfortable and relaxed dining experience despite the high presentations of dishes.

Mürver (Trendy Casual)

Mürver is a renowned restaurant also known for its modern interpretation of Turkish cuisine. With a focus on reimagining traditional Turkish dishes, Mürver offers a unique dining experience that showcases the richness and diversity of Turkish culinary traditions and combines innovative culinary techniques with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients to create flavorful mezes, grilled meats, seafood, and vegetarian options all fired in a brick oven. The stylish and sophisticated ambiance of the restaurant provides a comfortable setting for guests to enjoy their meals, while the restaurant’s commitment to quality and presentation has earned it critical acclaim both locally and internationally.

Ulus 29 (Trendy/Lively)

Ulus 29 is an upscale dining experience with a rooftop terrace and nightclub in the Ulus neighborhood of Istanbul. Renowned for its great food and breathtaking views, Ulus 29 offers guests a truly memorable experience. Nestled atop a hill, the restaurant boasts panoramic vistas of the Bosphorus and the city skyline, captivating visitors with its picturesque setting. The menu at Ulus 29 is diverse, presenting a fusion of international flavors with Turkish influences. From delectable seafood and succulent grilled meats to pasta dishes, sushi, and vegetarian options, the restaurant caters to a variety of tastes. If you are looking for a lively night out, Ulus is a great option.

Sunset Grill & Bar (Upscale)

Sunset Grill & Bar is a similar dining experience to the above, also in the Ulus neighborhood with great views but a bit less lively than Ulus 29. The setting is upscale with indoor and outdoor seating, and a menu with French, Asian-inspired, and sushi options.

Best Hotels in Istanbul – Best Areas to Stay in Istanbul

The best area to stay in Istanbul is based on personal preference as there are many great neighborhoods. For starters, I do recommend staying on the European side as that is where you will be spending the most time with this itinerary. Istanbul 3 days might be feel jam packed (in a good way!) so I recommend choosing from one of the European side hotels listed in the next section so that the logistics of your stay will be as efficient as possible.

But first, here is a quick breakdown of the best locations to stay in Istanbul:

  1. Beşiktaş: This neighborhood is known for its upscale restaurants, cafes, and nightlife. It is also home to many luxurious hotels and resorts with beautiful views of the Bosphorus (some of the best hotels in Istanbul with a view.)
  2. Sultanahmet: This is the historic heart of Istanbul, and it’s where you’ll find many of the city’s top tourist attractions, including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the Grand Bazaar.
  3. Beyoğlu/Galata/Karaköy: This area is situated on a hill overlooking the Golden Horn and offers stunning views of the city. It’s also known for its trendy cafes, boutiques, and nightlife.

Best Places to Stay in Istanbul – Top Istanbul Luxury Hotels

Soho House Istanbul Hotel (Top Choice)

Soho House Istanbul is one of my favorite Soho Houses in the world. It consists of a private members-only club, as well as a boutique hotel open to non-members for booking. This is unique because most Soho House hotels around the world are only available to members and their guests, so I really recommend my readers take advantage of being able to book the hotel without a membership.

Soho House Istanbul is found in the beautifully restored 19th-century Palazzo Corpi and blends the historic character of Istanbul with contemporary design elements. It is located in the trendy Beyoğlu neighborhood, known for its vibrant art scene, stylish boutiques, and lively nightlife. The property offers several dining options and over 350 works of art. The hotel has two small swimming pools and the spa offers traditional hammam services.

Ritz-Carlton Istanbul at the Bosphorus (Top Choice)

The Ritz-Carlton Istanbul is another one of my top choices for luxury hotels in Istanbul thanks to its central Besiktas neighborhood location, great dining, luxurious hammam (which is one of the top rated in Istanbul,) and both an indoor as well as an outdoor rooftop pool. The property overlooks the Bosphorus Strait and has a variety of dining options including the world-famous, Nobu Restaurant. The location is about a 10-minute walk to the top attractions in Sultanahmet district, which includes Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The hotel provides everything you could want and need no matter what time of the year you are visiting.

Narrowing down the top two choices: If you value being in a central location, walkable to top attractions, stay at the Ritz-Carlton. If you enjoy nightlife, trendy neighborhoods, or exclusivity, stay at Soho House.

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Ritz-Carlton

Four Seasons at Sultanahmet

The location of the opulent Four Seasons Sultanahmet could not be more convenient as it is located steps away from the Hagia Sophia. The hotel is housed within a beautifully restored neoclassical building that was originally built as a prison in the early 20th century, with rooms that offer stunning views of the hotel’s lush couryard, Marmara Sea, and the city skyline. The spa offers luxurious hammam treatments but the only drawback, for me, is that the property does not have a pool. If this is not a concern for you, I would consider it a top choice comparable to the Ritz-Carlton.

Shangri-La Bosphorus

The luxurious Shangri-La Bosphorus is found in the Basiktas neighborhood overlooking the Bosphorus Strait with views spanning across to the Asian side of Istanbul. The hotel is on the larger side with 186 rooms and the property includes an indoor swimming pool. The location is near Taksim and Karakoy, making it a good location for those who enjoy nightlife and like to be out late into the evening.

Six Senses Kocatas Mansions

The wellness-focused Six Senses Istanbul is set in a historic 43-room mansion in the prestigious Sariyer district. The hotel has a (much appreciated) emphasis on sustainability that is felt throughout the hotel and restaurants. The hotel offers traditional hammam services, direct access to the Bosphorus promenade, and a rooftop bar with a beautiful outdoor infinity pool. The only drawback is that the location is not convenient to many of the major sites, but it is a great option for anyone looking to have a luxurious and restful time.

The Bank Hotel

For those looking for an affordable-luxury option, the Bank Hotel is the best choice. This stylish boutique property is located in the hip and lively Karakoy neighborhood, which like the option above, is perfect for those who enjoy nightlife, but also great dining and shopping. The hotel occupies a 19th-century former bank building and has 65 rooms. The hotel does not have a swimming pool, but does have a nice rooftop bar.

How many days in Istanbul do you need? Is 3 days in Istanbul enough? What about Istanbul in 1 day, or a 2 days in Istanbul itinerary?

How many days do you need in Istanbul? How many days depends on how much time you have, but at minimum 3 days in Istanbul is the perfect amount of time to be able to see all the major sites, while dining at the city’s best restaurants, and getting an immersive feel for the culture. Istanbul in 1 day will only allow you to hit the tip of the iceberg, and Istanbul in 2 days would feel too rushed.

That said, if I only had 1 day in Istanbul, since I’ve been asked a few times, my 1 day Istanbul itinerary would look like this: Hagia Sophia, The Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace in the morning; Grand Bazaar in the afternoon; and Galata/Karakoy/Taksim at night. But one day in Istanbul is definitely not enough. My Istanbul 2 day itinerary would include exploring the Asian side on the second day. Though as you can see, you’d still be missing out on quite a bit even with a 2 day Istanbul itinerary. So to answer how long to spend in Istanbul, a 3-day Istanbul itinerary is truly the perfect amount of time. (Though if you’d rather spend 1 week in Istanbul I really wouldn’t blame you!)

Best Months to visit Istanbul / Istanbul Weather

Istanbul has a temperate climate. Summer in Istanbul can be very hot and either dry or humid, and the winters very cool and wet (and snow is Istanbul is also a possibility). Istanbul also experiences quite a bit of rainfall throughout the year.

  1. Winters (December to February): Winters in Istanbul are generally cool and wet, with average temperatures ranging from 5°C (41°F) to 10°C (50°F). It can occasionally drop below freezing, and snowfall is not uncommon, though it typically doesn’t last long.
  2. Springs (March to May): Spring brings milder temperatures to Istanbul. Days gradually become warmer, with average temperatures ranging from 10°C (50°F) to 20°C (68°F). However, rain showers can still occur during this season.
  3. Summers (June to August): Summers in Istanbul are warm and relatively dry. Average temperatures during this time range from 20°C (68°F) to 30°C (86°F), occasionally reaching higher. It is a popular time for tourism, but it can also be humid, especially in July and August.
  4. Autumns (September to November): Autumn in Istanbul sees gradually cooling temperatures. It is often a pleasant season, with average temperatures ranging from 15°C (59°F) to 25°C (77°F). Rainfall increases towards the end of autumn.

So if you’re wondering when to plan your 3 day itinerary, Istanbul is best enjoyed before or after the high season summer months. The best months to visit Istanbul are April/May, and September to early/mid October. Istanbul in summer attracts many tourists from all parts of the world, so you can expect big crowds and higher prices.

Istanbul is a city that is unlike any other. Its rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning architecture make it a destination that should be on every traveler’s bucket list. A city of fascinating contradictions, where East meets West, and ancient history blends seamlessly with modern-day vibrancy. This jewel of Turkey offers an abundance of sights and sounds that will leave even the most discerning traveller in awe — from the iconic landmarks to the hidden gems, Istanbul never ceases to amaze.

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