With three days in Istanbul, there’s time to check off all the must-see sights and to venture a little farther afield. Cruise along the Bosphorus, delve into Turkey’s ancient history, see magnificent monuments, savor the city’s delicious cuisine, shop at the bazaars, and experience local culture. Here’s how to maximize 72 hours in Istanbul.
Day 1: Mosques and Museums
Start day one getting your bearings, perhaps with a full-day guided tour for a comprehensive overview of the city or a private tour to take in the sights at your own pace. For independent travelers, a hop-on hop-off bus tour or Istanbul Sightseeing Pass is a great way to get around, offering the convenience of a guided tour while leaving you free to decide where to go and how to long to stay at each stop.
No matter your method, begin today visiting Istanbul’s headline acts, including the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya). In the afternoon, hop over to the Asian side to explore the Kadikoy neighborhood, then set sail along the Bosphorus for a scenic dinner cruise.
Day 2: Sites of Ancient Turkey
Many of Turkey’s top attractions can be visited on a day trip from Istanbul either by bus or by plane. (Prepare for a long day as some tours can last up to 14 hours, and for the best value look for a tour that includes hotel pickup, entrance fees, and lunch.) Perhaps visit the UNESCO World Heritage–listed archaeological site of Troy and discover the legend of that ancient city, or tour the WWI battlefields at Gallipoli and follow in the footsteps of the Allied and Turkish troops. You can even fly out to central Anatolia to discover the ancient ruins of Ephesus, another UNESCO-recognized site, or marvel at the fairy chimneys on an epic day trip to Cappadocia.
If you prefer to stay closer to home, you could also spend a full day cruising along the Bosphorus, stopping at the beach resorts and coastal towns along the Black Sea coast.
Day 3: Bites and Bazaars
Spend your final morning in Istanbul shopping for souvenirs. Visit Taksim Square and stroll down the shopping street of Istiklal Avenue, then continue to the famous Grand Bazaar. Practice your haggling skills as you shop for everything from handicrafts to clothing to carpets, then head to the nearby Egyptian Spice Bazaar to marvel at the rainbow of spices, nuts, dried fruits, and lokum (Turkish Delight).
In the afternoon, set out on a mission to sample as much of Turkey’s delicious cuisine as you can. A food-tasting tour is a brilliant way to discover the many types of kebabs and mezes on offer, sample street-food specialties such as simit, and learn how to make traditional Turkish coffee. You could even opt to enjoy dinner in a local family home and experience the renowned Turkish hospitality for yourself.