Istanbul in 3 days – things you must do

You would need a life time to see everything of the city. But here is a guide of a nice city tour in 3 days. With it you could easily visit the city of two continents in a short amount of time. All you need is your feet and maybe a small backpack.

Don’t expect a tour provided by tour operators. Don’t do the obvious when there is more to explore. For all the things we will recommend to do, it’s best if you get an ‘akbil’ which is a card for public transportation and you already can travel between two continents! This card covers the subway, bus, tram and the ferry.

Ok let’s start. Wherever your accommodation may be, unless there is a traffic jam, you should be able to travel easily with public transportation.

Let’s divide the city in two and start on the European side. On the first day you can dedicate your morning and afternoon to Eminönü and Sultanahmet (Fatih). You can visit the Sultanahmet mosque (Blue mosque), the Ayasofya museum (Hagia Sophia), the Topkapı palace, the Istanbul archeology museum, Yerebatan sarnıcı (Basilica Cistern) and all the other Byzantium and Ottoman relics around. The Sultanahmet mosque is free of charge but all the others have an entrance fee. The best thing you can do is get a museum pass. This is available next to the Ayasofya museum. This way you will be better off instead of paying separately with every entrance. For more information, please visit The only place you cannot visit with this pass is the Yerebatan Sarnıcı.

Let’s say that you started early in the morning, you should be done round 14.00 o’clock so that you have remaining time for other visits. For a filling lunch, Istanbuls streets give you a lot of choice. Just enter the backstreets of the touristic places you visit. Why would you pay more for the same? Especially between Sultanahmet and Beyazıt, you can find a lot of local restaurants. In the afternoon  turn towards the Beyazıt square, after a short visit to the Kapalı çarşı (grand bazaar), take bus 86V to Edirnekapı. When you step out at the Edirnekapı stop, take the first street and you will find the Kariye museum (Chora church). This is a hidden treasure you cannot miss. You can use your museum pass (if purchased at the Ayasofya museum). From the outside it doesn’t look very attractive. However you will be amazed once you enter the museum. There are crazy beautiful Byzantium mosaics.

Before we forget, here is the opening hours of the museums:

Istanbul Archeologic Museums

Mondays excluded April-October 09.00-19.00 November-March 09.00-17.00

Ayasofya Museum 

Mondays excluded April-October 09.00-19.00 November-March 09.00-17.00

Topkapı Castle

Tuesdays excluded April-October 09.00-19.00 November-March 09.00-17.00

Kariye Museum

Wednesdays excluded April-October 09.00-19.00 November-March 09.00-16.30

Yerebatan Sarnıcı

Everyday between 09.00-17.30

After visiting the Kariye museum, it’s probably getting dark. But no worries, the city card is still valid till 24.00, so you can use all the buses. Take any bus that goes to Eminönü direction and get off at the last stop. Now you don’t need to rush, take the Galata bridge for a walk towards Karaköy. Again for a nice meal you will find a lot of places on the way. You can take the ‘tunnel’ (old subway line of 1 stop), from Karaköy to the Galata tower and look around or watch Istanbul at nighttimes from the tower. You can spend your night by walking along the Istiklal lane or walk in the backstreets for all the cafes and bars. There are a lot of options here. It’s your choice! The first day is already over. So far you have visited a lot of places, which tour operators would probably made you visit over a few days.

Second day

What would an Istanbul tour be without the nice breeze from the Bosphorus? Therefor we suggest that you enjoy the Bosphorus to the fullest with a Bosphorus boat tour or walk along the coast for a great view. The boat tour comes in a long trip and a shorter one. We would recommend the longer one. This starts at 10.35 on the Eminönü Bosphorus harbour. The last stop is the Anadolu Kavağı. You can enjoy a nice seafood dish over there. It’s a coast place with lovely views. The boat goes back to Eminönü on 15.00. It gives you 2.5 hours to walk around. The restaurants serve fresh fish. You should definitely have a bite along with some Rakı if you prefer a traditional drink with it. Do note that the tickets include the return, so don’t miss your boat back. The 2 way tickets costs 25 TRY, however one way tickets are also available and costs 15 TRY. So now you’ve had a lovely day, fully spend on the Bosphorus. Tour operators sell small tours which turn back from the second bridge. These are very simple and short, you could take these as well but we don’t recommend them (stay away from the 10 TRY Bosphorus tours).

Third day

Slowly we are getting to the end of the tour. It’s time to cross the bridge to the Asian side. Take the Marmaray (subway crossing the continents), or trough the sea in the morning to Üsküdar. You can spend some time walking around the Üsküdar coast and centre. It has a nice fish market which could be nice to visit. If you walk towards the Kız kulesi (Maiden Tower), you will love the nice views and tasty (and affordable) traditional foods. Towards the evening it’s time to go to Kadıköy. You can take bus number 12. Spend some time along the Bosphorus coast of Kadıköy-Yeldeğirmeni-Moda. You could easily spend a whole day in this area. Especially Moda has a lot of nice bars and restaurants where you can enjoy your evening drink.

Now you’ve done a lot in a short amount of time. Maybe you will visit the city again to complete other parts. Don’t forget that Istanbul is a very big city. Maybe even a life time would’t be enough to see and taste everything. We wanted to at least give you the Istanbul feeling with this tour. It’s a nice balance between the things you cannot miss, like the remaining  of great empires and the Istanbul vibe by tasting the local cuisine and nice views.


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