How to Spend 3 Days in Istanbul: Top 10 Things To Do

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Moving to a new country every two years

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Istanbul, known as the “bridge between east and west,” is a huge metropolis. So how to spend 3 days in Istanbul?

It may seem impossible to see everything in just three days but don’t worry. The best ways to enjoy your time in this wonderful city are in this guide including the top 10 things to do in Istanbul; I’ve got you covered.

Table of Contents

How to spend 3 days in Istanbul: View the beautiful Architecture

I’m more of a nature/adventure guy but the architecture in Istanbul is absolutely stunning. It’s incredibly diverse, very European with Turkish vibes.

Perfect for stunning photos with my Sony a7C Camera when the sun is shining just right on the buildings.

How to Spend 3 Days in Istanbul: Go Shopping in the City Center

If you like to shop, Istanbul is the place to be and should be in top 10 things to do in Istanbul.


When you’re in Istanbul, you simply must visit Istiklal, the city’s most famous shopping street. It begins at Taksim Square (depending on where you start, of course!) in the Beyoglu neighborhood and ends at Galata Tower, a distance of 1.4 kilometers.

Istiklal is a busy street that’s always full of people because of all the places to eat and shop.


Galata is one of the most exciting neighborhoods in Istanbul. Galata is a historic district on the European side. It has beautiful architecture and lively street life.

Zorlu Center

In Istanbul, Turkey, Zorlu Center is a mixed-use building. It was finished in 2013 and has a shopping mall, office buildings, residential towers, and a performing arts center.

The mall is one of the biggest in Istanbul, and it has a lot of high-end and luxury brands. If you want to do more shopping, it’s a great area.

how to spend 3 days in istanbul: Discover Taksim

After shopping in Istiklal, you might end up at Taksim. Taksim is one of the main squares in Istanbul. If you’re planning on taking the subway, you will most likely visit this location.

Check out the Street cats

I’m a cat person, and I knew cats have a special place in Istanbul. It was heartwarming to see how well everybody was caring for the cats (and dogs!) everywhere in Istanbul! The fusion of people and cats really living together was special to see.

You could go to a bar and see some folks sitting there while a cat is sleeping on the chair next to them, how awesome! You will not see a sign, “no pets allowed” anywhere. I wish more cities had this same perspective on cats.

Not only cats but you’ll also see some dogs just chilling and sleeping in a store or a bar.

Visit The Colourful houses of Balat

If you’re asking yourself, how to spend 3 days in Istanbul? A super nice area to visit is Balat. Balat is an old part of Istanbul known for its bright colorful houses. It is a mix of many different cultures and religions.

The colors of the houses are not chosen at random; they show the different groups of people who have lived in the area. For example, the Jewish community is represented by blue, the Greeks by green, and the Armenians by red. Nice, right!

It’s also way less crowded than many other locations in Istanbul so perfect to just walk around and take some nice pictures.

The best way to go there is by ferry. Take the ferry from the boulevard at Karaköy to Fener.

Explore the Blue Mosque and the surrounding area

The area of the Blue Mosque is quite big! You can easily spend a day wandering around there.

The Blue Mosque, which is also called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is one of Istanbul’s most famous mosques. If you’re thinking about how to spend 3 days in Istanbul, the Blue Mosque needs to be on your list.

The outside of the Blue Mosque is incredible with six minarets, a large central dome, and smaller domes around it.

The Blue Mosque is open every day, except during the five times a day when people pray. During Friday prayers, people who are not Muslims are also not allowed inside the mosque.

Since the Blue Mosque is a place of worship, people should dress modestly when they go there. Women will have to cover their hair, arms, and legs, and men should wear long pants. If you need the right clothes, you can borrow long skirts and headscarves at the door free of charge.

It’s definitely up there with the Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Oman.

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia is another must-see site. It is right across the Blue Mosque, you can’t miss it.

Topkapi Palace

Another nice place is Topkapi Palace, but I thought the price to get in was too high. After waiting in line for half an hour, we were able to go into the park, but we later found out that you have to pay 25 euros to get in the actual Palace.

Visit a rooftop Terrace

A location with an epic view is the restaurants Seven Hills. Great location to see the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and on the other sight the city. Time for some tea and baklava!

Wander over the Boulevard

When spending 3 days in Istanbul, the boulevard of Galataport is a more new and luxurious looking area than the city center but it’s definitely worth a visit.

The port is in the district in Istanbul’s Karaköy neighborhood, between the Galata Bridge and Tophane. The entire 1.2 kilometer stretch of this seaside walkway is open for anyone.

Close to the boulevard, you will also find the Nusretiye Camii mosque. Another beautiful building. 

Have dinner in Istanbul at …

I was traveling to Istanbul from Erbil, so I was already familiar with Turkish/Arabic cuisine. I wanted to try something different, so I went to some international Mexican and Japanese restaurants.


Espressolab (very quiet, nice place to relax after walking through the city).

How to Spend 3 Days in Istanbul: Transportation

In Istanbul, there are several options for getting around. As a huge metropolis spanning two continents, it can be difficult for first-time visitors to navigate the city.

But don’t worry, Istanbul has a number of transportation options that are quite convenient and affordable.

Istanbul metro

One of the most popular modes of transportation in Istanbul is the metro. It is quick and inexpensive, making it a good choice for getting around town. The metro system currently consists of 14 lines, with more being built, and serves a large portion of Istanbul.

When using the metro, remember that it can get quite crowded during rush hour. When you’re traveling during rush hour, expect to squeeze into a crowded train.

Also, buy an Istanbulkart, a reloadable card that can be used to pay for metro rides. An Istanbulkart is available at most metro stations and can be used on buses, trams, and ferries.

Eventho there is a metro network, it is a bit limited to reach all destinations in Istanbul so be prepared to walk a lot.

A useful website is the Turkey Travel Planner

Taxis in Istanbul

Taxi’s are available but the traffic is really crowded. Make sure to set a price upfront because many taxi drivers will try to not turn on the meter and ask for a higher price. An easier and perhaps safer was is to take an Uber.

When taking a taxi in Istanbul, keep in mind that some drivers may try to take a longer route to your destination in order to charge you more.

To avoid this, use a map or GPS to track your progress and ensure that the driver takes the shortest route. In my experience, taking the tram or metro is more relaxed.

Riding a Tram in Istanbul

The tram is also an option. You will have to get an Istanbulkart, although the machines don’t always work, and it is a bit confusing which card you need exactly. You can ask at the hotel for transport cards as well they might have it. That way you will only have to charge it instead of buying a new card.

There are two tram lines in the city: T1 and T2. The T1 line connects Kabataş and Baklar, while the T2 line connects Taksim and Tünel. The tram is a great way to explore Istanbul’s historic district, as it passes by many of the city’s famous areas.

The tram, like the metro, can get quite crowded during peak hours. To pay for the tram rides, you can purchase the Istanbulkart, and there are also ticket machines at most tram stops if you prefer to pay in cash.

Taking the Bus in Istanbul

In Istanbul, the bus is a popular mode of transportation, and there are over 600 bus lines. Buses are usually less expensive than metro or trams, but they can be slower due to the busy traffic.

They do, however, provide more route flexibility, and you can often get closer to your destination by taking a bus.

A funny thing about taking the bus is that if it’s too crowded and people are unable to get to the front to check-in they will pass on their cards through the entire bus so someone can check in their card and then the card is being passed on back to the passenger.

A nice thing that shows the kindness of the Turkish people.

Taking the Dolmuş

Although I haven’t tried the Dolmus in Istanbul, the Dolmuş is a traditional Turkish mode of transportation that is still popular. A dolmuş is essentially a shared taxi that travels along a predetermined route picking up passengers along the way.

They are typically minibuses that can seat up to 12 people and are an excellent option for short city trips.

Look for a sign with the dolmuş number and destination to take a dolmuş. Simply flag one down and board. You can pay for your dolmuş ride in cash, and the fare is typically less than that of a regular taxi.

Jumping on the Ferry

When you have the Istanbulkart you can take the ferry which goes to the other side of the city, like the blue mosque many times. The Ferry to Balat, goes a bit less often, like every 45 minutes.

Using the leg wagon

Those 3 days I was in Istanbul I had walked 20.000 steps every day! The city is just so enormous, and many transportation options just didn’t go into the direction I wanted to go so I had to walk a lot to get at my destinations.

Make sure you bring some good and comfortable shoes with you on your trip to Istanbul. Also, cars are allowed in most streets in the city center so always be careful when crossing the street.

When is the best time to visit Istanbul?

Istanbul’s climate is Mediterranean, with hot summers and mild winters although in March it was still quite cold!

I was visiting Istanbul during Ramadan, which is actually an excellent time to visit Istanbul. Accommodations were half the price compared to after Ramadan.

In many cities in Asia and the Middle East during Ramadan restaurants are closed, but this is not the case in Istanbul. The city is so incredibly mixed and diverse that shops and restaurants stay open during the day.

Final Thoughts on how to spend 3 days in Istanbul

Istanbul really surprised me in a positive way. I never expected the city to be so big, and so European! It felt like a mix of Amsterdam and Paris with Turkish vibes. There’s an endless number of shops, bars, cafés, restaurants, vintage stores, markets, and so much more.

Spending 3 days in Istanbul surely isn’t enough so I’m hoping to go back there some day to see more of this very interesting city.

A man standing on top of a sand dune with his arms outstretched.

About the author

Chris Oberman is the founder and author of Moving Jack and has been traveling the world for over 20 years to 40+ countries.

He lives in a different country every two years which allows him to gain unique in-depth insights and experiences in new places abroad.

Quoted on, NRC Newspaper, Vice,and Feedspot.

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