With a more than 2000-year-long history and a wild mix of cultures, Istanbul is absolutely unique, but also a bit daunting. 3 days is not enough to explore this bustling city in detail, but it’s enough to get a decent overview of what Istanbul has to offer. Our editors visited the jewel of Bosphorus at the beginning of April and are ready to guide you through its crowded streets!
It’s a good idea to get a transport card as you arrive in Istanbul. It is called Istanbulkart and can be bought in any of the tobacconist kiosks around the city. Istanbulkart is valid for every transport inside the city, including the ferries. If you’re with a group of friends, you can use one Istanbulkart to pay for everybody. The card can be refilled in the machines on tram and metro stops.
Istanbul Museum Pass is not only a great bargain if you plan to visit all the historic sites, but it’s also a huge time-saver. Istanbul can be pretty crowded, and queuing for tickets in front of every museum is going to be exhausting. A good place to buy the card without any queue is at the Museum of Islamic Art. Another option is to buy it online and arrange its delivery straight to your hotel so that it’s waiting for you on your arrival day.
Wear decent socks and if you are a girl, carry a scarf – you’re expected to take off your shoes before entering mosques, and women must cover their heads.
Don’t forget to stock up on bottled water – tap water in Istanbul is pretty disgusting.
What is a better way to start getting acquainted with Istanbul than by visiting the famous Hagia Sofia? We suggest arriving early in the morning before the opening time, as the queue is much smaller than later in the day. There are two queues at the entrance – for those who need to buy a ticket and for those who have a museum pass. Needless to say, the latter is much faster :)
After getting a taste of the massive religious history of Istanbul, take care of your physical needs. There is no lack of kebab places between Hagia Sofia and the Bazaar, so you’ll definitely find where to have brunch.
Our next stop – Topkapi Palace – is not far away and will probably take you most of the afternoon to explore due to its sheer size. There is a general ticket that lets you enter the palace, and an additional ticket to the harem rooms, which are also very interesting! With a museum pass, you don’t need to worry, as you have admission everywhere.
The best finale to such a tiring day full of walking would definitely include a dinner with a view of Istanbul at night. There are a lot of nice rooftop restaurants between Eminönü and Atatürk Bridge.
Bet you’re pretty tired after a day of walking, so today will be all about sitting and looking around… on a boat! There are numerous companies offering Bosphorus boat tours, but the most flexible is the рop on – hop off tour that starts at 11.00 from Kabataş ferry terminal. You can get there by T1 tram, and the tickets for the boat are sold right at the pier. With this ticket, you can exit on any of the stops included in the tour, walk around and then take the next boat to continue your trip.
We suggest getting out on at least two stops: Emirgan and Beylerbeyi. In Emirgan, you can enjoy the beautiful tulip gardens (there’s also a tulip museum if your passion for these flowers is serious). Besides, it’s a great place for a picnic with a nice view of the Bosphorus from the top of a hill. In Beylerbeyi you can visit the residence of the sultans, which is shockingly rich and pretty.
The boat trip will end in the late afternoon, so you still have time to explore the Asian side of Istanbul! Take a boat or Marmaray metro line to cross Bosphorus to Üsküdar and walk in the direction of the Maiden’s Tower (Kız Kulesi). There are resting places to enjoy the view on the waterfront or you can take a boat to Maiden’s Tower itself. There’s a restaurant at the former lighthouse, and if it’s not crowded, it’s a nice place for dinner with an awesome view of the evening city.
To conclude our trip, we’ll return to the historical center and start the day with a visit to Basilica Cistern. It is a huge cavern underground which was used for water storage in Roman times. Closeby and also of interest is the huge and beautifully decorated Blue Mosque. Apart from this, you’ll definitely enjoy strolling along the Sultanahmet Square, admiring its statues and columns. As lunchtime approaches, walk to the Grand Bazaar, where you can do all your souvenir shopping and also grab lunch at one of the cafes surrounding it.
In the afternoon, cross to Karaköy side via a pedestrian bridge. Here, the famous Istiklal street bustles with tourists and locals doing their shopping and just hanging out. Climb Galata Tower for the best sunset view of the city (there might be queues so arrive in advance) and enjoy a fun evening in one of the bars or shisha dens around Istiklal.