Istanbul in 3 Days: Itinerary for First-Timers

With a myriad of sights and experiences, planning a brief journey to enchanting Istanbul can be quite a challenge. But worry not, as this 3-day itinerary will guide you through the must-see attractions and experiences, ensuring you make the most of your time in Istanbul.

Day 1: Exploring Sultanahmet

Hagia Sophia

Start your day with a visit to the iconic Hagia Sophia, a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture that has served as a cathedral, mosque, and now a museum. Marvel at its stunning mosaics and the massive dome that seems to float above the vast interior.

Blue Mosque

Just a short walk from Hagia Sophia, you’ll find the Blue Mosque, another architectural gem. Admire its six minarets and the beautiful blue Iznik tiles that adorn its interior.

Topkapi Palace

Next, head to Topkapi Palace, the opulent residence of Ottoman sultans for centuries. Explore its lavish courtyards, chambers, and the famous Harem, where the sultan’s wives and concubines lived.

Basilica Cistern

Delve underground to visit the Basilica Cistern, an ancient subterranean water storage system. Walk among its 336 marble columns and be sure to spot the two Medusa head column bases.

Grand Bazaar

End your day with a visit to the Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets. Wander through its labyrinthine alleys, bargaining for souvenirs, spices, and textiles.

Day 2: Discovering Modern Istanbul

Taksim Square

Begin your second day in Istanbul at Taksim Square, the heart of modern Istanbul. Surrounded by shops, restaurants, and historic sites, it’s a bustling hub of activity.

Istiklal Street

Stroll along Istiklal Street, a lively pedestrian boulevard lined with shops, cafes, and galleries. Don’t miss the historic tram that runs along its length.

Galata Tower

Head to the Galata Tower for stunning panoramic views of Istanbul. This medieval stone tower offers a bird’s-eye view of the city’s skyline, including the Bosphorus Strait and the Golden Horn.

Spice Bazaar

Visit the Spice Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar, to immerse yourself in the vibrant colors and fragrances of spices, teas, and Turkish delight.

Bosphorus Cruise

Finally, cap off your second day with a relaxing Bosphorus cruise. Sail along the strait that separates Europe and Asia, taking in the stunning views of Istanbul’s skyline, waterfront mansions, and historic sites.

Day 3: Lesser-Known Istanbul

Suleymaniye Mosque

Begin your third day with a visit to the majestic Suleymaniye Mosque, an architectural masterpiece designed by the famous architect Sinan.

Chora Church

Next, explore the Chora Church, a Byzantine-era church adorned with exquisite mosaics and frescoes that depict biblical scenes.

Dolmabahce Palace

Visit the opulent Dolmabahce Palace, a 19th-century palace that served as the residence of the last Ottoman sultans. Marvel at its grand halls, ornate decorations, and the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier.


Head to the charming neighborhood of Ortakoy, where you can stroll along the Bosphorus waterfront, browse through local boutiques, and sample delicious street food, such as kumpir (stuffed baked potatoes) and waffles.

Istinye Park

End your 3-day itinerary with some shopping at Istinye Park, a modern shopping mall that offers a mix of luxury brands, popular high-street stores, and a variety of dining options. With this 3-day itinerary, you’ll experience the best of Istanbul, from its historic landmarks to its modern charms. So pack your bags and get ready to explore this captivating city that offers a unique blend of cultures, flavors, and experiences.


Is 3 days enough for Istanbul?

While 3 days in Istanbul is a short time to explore the entire depth and breadth of the city, it’s sufficient to cover many key attractions and get a taste of its unique blend of cultures. It allows visitors to see major historical sites, experience some of the local cuisine, and perhaps take a Bosphorus cruise. However, a comprehensive experience would ideally require more time.

For a more comprehensive experience, spending 4-7 days is recommended. This allows visitors to fully immerse themselves in the city’s history, culture, and daily life, giving ample time to explore tourist spots, local neighborhoods, bazaars, and enjoy the culinary delights at a relaxed pace.