When it comes to amazing places to travel, Istanbul, Turkey, always makes the list. With its rich history, stunning architecture, and delicious food, it’s no wonder this city is a top destination for travelers worldwide. If you’re looking for a city with everything, Istanbul is the place for you.
Whether you’re interested in exploring the city’s food scene or spending a day at one of its many historic sites, Istanbul has something for everyone. To help you make the most of your trip, I’ve put together a 3-day Istanbul travel guide.
- Getting To Istanbul
- Transportation in Istanbul
- Where to stay in Istanbul
- Day one, explore the city
- Have an Authentic Turkish Breakfast
- Do a photoshoot
- Take a peak at the Grand Bazaar
- Take a walking tour to learn about both continents
- Day Two Food and Sites
- Food tour
- Visit The Mosque
- Visit the Basilia Cistern
- Visit a Turkish Bath
- Day Three Asia and Grand Bazaar Deep Dive
- Take the Ferry to The Asian Side
- Bazaar Deep Dive
- Find a place to eat in Beyoglu
- Other Istanbul tips!
Getting To Istanbul
Although I noted this was a three-day trip, I am eliminating travel days; We actually spent 3.5 days in turkey with a half day after landing. We arrived mid-day from Greece, and the Istanbul-airport is about 40 minutes from the city.
We flew Turkish airlines, and it was a top-notch experience. We were served a full meal on our short 1-hour flight. We left on the morning of the 5th day using Aegean Airlines. Both airlines have baggage rules that are different from U.S. carriers, so always check the website to avoid hassles at the airport.
Transportation in Istanbul
Istanbul’s taxi system is complicated, and there is a lot of traffic. They do have uber, but for us, it was not helpful. Many drivers ask you where you are going before they pick you up, and if they do not like it, they either cancel or ask for more money.
They have an app called BiTaksi to hail a cab that is similar to uber, but no one answers that as well. Luckily we stayed in an area where we could easily walk where we needed to go or took a ferry. I would look into getting the red Istanbul transportation card that you can use for the ferry or trains. Finally, we hired a driver to get us to and from the airport so we would have no issues.
Where to stay in Istanbul
We stayed in the newer part of Istanbul, just across the bridge in Karakoy from all of the older sites near the Galata tower. The location was a little quieter and had walkable restaurants. Our hotel was the highly-rated Walton Hotels Galata. The rooms were big, and the staff was friendly. They have a rooftop bar/restaurant that offers breakfast every morning. The owner will be there some morning interacting with the guests.
Day one, explore the city
On the first full day in Istanbul, we explored the city, including the Asian side. The one thing I love to do is sign up for free walking tours. I find more value in them, and you are giving back to the local community.
Have an Authentic Turkish Breakfast
We started our day in the Old City of Istanbul, having breakfast with a beautiful view. The Turkish are serious about their breakfast, and they equip you with a huge spread for slow enjoyment. Turkish breakfast leaves you full (almost) all day. There are many places to choose from, but we decided on Kasr-I Sefa for its views and ratings.
Do a photoshoot
I took advantage of the beautiful day and went to Taht Istanbul to capture the memory of my trip. Taht is a popular studio that offers professional photography in different Turkish and fun-themed areas. They even have clothes to rent for an elevated experience. Take a look at the pictures!
Take a peak at the Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is the largest and oldest covered market in the world, so you will need to come back more than once to cover the area. We had some time to kill in between activities, so we explored a little and ate lunch. The Bazaar has restaurants, banks, and shopping. I even had time to bargain an evil eye silver bracelet for myself.
Take a walking tour to learn about both continents
Earlier I mentioned a free walking tour. Did you know Istanbul is on two continents? We spent the rest of our afternoon learning about Istanbul’s history, including that Istanbul is straddled between Europe and Asia. The tour was titled, A Tale of Two Continents of Istanbul; Free tour from Europe to Asia. It was about 4 hours and helped me learn things that I would not have learned without this tour. We booked the tour on guru walk. We even stayed on the Asian side for dinner!
Day Two Food and Sites
The second day was packed with activities starting off with a food tour that we booked through Viator. After failed attempts to find a taxi, we took a short walk across the bridge to the old city. We met our tour guide at the Egyptian/Spice Bazaar and started off with breakfast at a hidden-away local spot. I loved this tour because it combined history and food with local places I would not have known about without this tour. We had breakfast, lunch, and snacks. I left full and happy.
Visit The Mosque
The old city has so many mosques, including the Blue Mosque, but our guide told us it was under renovation and brought us to a different one. The architecture and ceilings were so beautiful. I had to cover my hair and take off my shoes inside. You are allowed to take pictures.
Visit the Basilia Cistern
The first piece of advice is to book your ticket in advance. There is a long line you will have to wait in otherwise. You can book it online, but our service was not great for the internet. Try booking on these sites to skip the line that includes guidance as well. Some tickets even come with more than one of the popular sites in the same area.
The Cistern itself is a beautiful underground site complete with water and colorful lights. It was built in Byzantine times during the roman age, and it’s a must-see site.
Visit a Turkish Bath
You have to experience the traditional Turkish baths or Hamami. I went to the Cemberlitas Hamami on the European side of the old city. This bath has been there since 1584, and it was a unique experience. Women and men are separated on each side, and the areas are well-kept. I opted for the traditional bath, and it was confusing at first, but in the end, I felt very relaxed. You do not need to bring a bathing suit, they give you everything you need.
Day Three Asia and Grand Bazaar Deep Dive
Take the Ferry to The Asian Side
After learning about the Asian side from our free walking tour, we took the ferry in the morning to explore it. The ferry itself gives you a scenic cruise on the Bosphorus, and in my opinion, it’s all you need for a cruise. Our guide told us that souvenirs and food are cheaper and better on the Asian side, so I got most of my things there. I will tell you there was a significant difference! For example, a magnet on the Asian side was 15 TL vs. 50 TL in the Grand Bazaar. We spent the first half of the day exploring the neighborhoods, including breakfast street, for good food!
Bazaar Deep Dive
After catching the ferry back, we got off at the Eminonu stop at the old city to hit up the Bazaars. We started in the Egyptian/Spice Bazaar, getting Turkish coffee and tea. One notable thing you will see at the Bazaars is a lot of imitation designer brands. Just know they are all knock-offs, but I will say they are good ones! The main thing to look for at the Grand Bazaar is silver and gold. Make sure you bargain; never take the first price. I preferred the shops in the Old Bazaar area because they had better deals. You can get lost in the Bazaar, it’s really huge!
Find a place to eat in Beyoglu
We ended the night exploring Beyoglu and stopping at one of their many restaurants for dinner. It is right by the ferry and has several instagrammable spots like umbrellas. I suggest exploring the menus and finding a restaurant that fits your taste buds!
Other Istanbul tips!
How to Dress
Because Istanbul was Constantinople and had a history of many different cultures settling there, Istanbul is one of the most secular Muslim countries. You will see a range of conservative and liberal citizens, but you don’t have to worry too much about what you wear. Just be mindful of the religious areas you visit when thinking of what to wear.
Over on the European side, with more of a mix of people, we did not have an issue communicating. A lot of people knew English. As you get deeper into the cities and more so on the Asian side, fewer people knew English. Google translate always helped.
Istanbul had a lot of stray dogs and cats, but they are well taken care of. The guides told me they are everyone’s pets and they are not missing any meals! They are fed by tourists and locals all the time. You can even buy pet food at stores to feed the animals of that neighborhood. Their coats are shiny, and they are not aggressive. The government vaccinates them as well.
Is Istanbul safe to visit right now?
I felt very safe in Istanbul; although they had a bombing a few weeks earlier on a popular street, it did not deter me from going. We walked everywhere at all times of the day, and I felt very secure. The only issues I had were the cab drivers!
There are plenty of things to do in Istanbul, and this is what I fit in during my time there based on my interests. Istanbul has a lot to offer everyone, and you can get lost in its magic. Plus, Istanbul is very affordable, and your money will go further. For other ideas in Istanbul, check out these top activities!