Istanbul, like Turkey itself, is a full of contrasts.
Divided by the Bosphorus into European and Asian parts, the city has contrasting features, which coexist in harmony with each other.
This city has such an incredibly rich history that many tourists are simply lost and at first do not know what to see in Istanbul. But a competent plan and timing have always been the best helpers of the traveler.
To save the energy of our readers, we decided to act as a virtual guide and made our own route around the city for 3 days, following which you can independently see the most popular corners of this metropolis.
Table of Contents
- Day 1 – explore the Sultanahmet Square
- Day 2 – explore the Harborside Eminönü area
- Day 3 – visit bazaars and the Asian side of Istanbul
Day 1 – explore the Sultanahmet Square
If you decide what to see in Istanbul for 3 days on your own, then by all means start your excursion from the famous historical Sultanahmet Square.
All these attractions are next to each other, so one day is enough for you to independently explore them.
Photos of Istanbul’s sights are only partially able to convey their incredible proportions, and to appreciate the true monumentality of the Blue Mosque, which has long been a hallmark of the city, you need to see it with your own eyes.
Built by Sultan Ahmed in desperate times for the Ottoman Empire, this shrine was designed to revive the power and strength of the Ottomans on the world stage.
It was the first mosque in Turkey, decorated not with standard four, but with six minarets, which made it the object of a religious scandal.
After all, only the al-Haram mosque in Mecca, the main shrine of Islam, had the greatness for 6 minarets.
Byzantine and Ottoman motifs are artfully intertwined in the architecture of the attraction, and the interior of the mosque from the blue and white Iznik tiles has served as the basis for its colorful name.
1.2 – Hagia Sophia
After leaving the Blue Mosque and strolling along the Hippodrome, we head towards Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia), whose history has an incredible 1,500 years.
If there was one attraction that you could see in Istanbul, this would be it.
The Ottoman sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, who managed to conquer the impregnable Constantinople, was struck by the beauty of the cathedral and decided not to destroy the building, but only to whitewash Christian mosaics and frescoes.
Thanks to this decision of the Sultan, today we can admire the architecture and decoration of the building.
Once the main Byzantine church, subsequently transformed into a Muslim mosque, it today acts as a museum, where every traveler observes a unique phenomenon – the coexistence of Islam and Christianity within the walls of one building.
1.3 – Basilica Cistern
Having independently visited the Hagia Sophia, we are preparing to get acquainted with its mysterious coeval – the Cistern Basilica.
The ancient reservoir, which goes 12 meters deep, once served as the main reservoir of Constantinople. Today it has turned into a museum, where, due to its excellent acoustics, the performances of the symphony orchestra are often conducted.
Strolling between the ancient columns, of which more than 300 are preserved, you will feel how you are completely absorbed in the mysterious atmosphere of the basilica, bringing you closer to something eternal and incomprehensible.
Two columns mounted on the inverted heads of Medusa are especially mysterious here.
Some explain this position of the blocks with a construction savvy, and some are sure that in this way the mythical creature was deprived of the power to turn people into stone.
1.4 – Gulhane Park
Now, filled with emotions and impressions, we will proceed to the northeast from Sultanahmet Square to Gulhane Park, where we will take a short break.
Note that you can see this attraction for free. During summer the park drowns in the tens of thousands of roses and tulips. It is an excellent place to take a break.
Well, if you do not want to pause, then take a look at the Museum of the History of Islamic Science and Technology located here, where you will find interesting scientific exhibits.
Or go to the Literary Museum of Mehmed Hamdi Tanpinar and get acquainted with the life of famous Turkish writers.
Walking along the alleys of the park, be sure to look at the Column of the Goths. It is 15 meters high, and has been here for more than 1800 years.
1.5 – Topkapi Palace
Having a rest in Gulhane, we prepared for the final march of our first day in Istanbul and headed to the former residence of the Ottoman sultans, which was conveniently located right outside the eastern part of the park.
Built more than 5 centuries ago, Topkapi Palace is rightfully considered a separate city. Its area is divided into 4 huge courtyards and each of them has its own attractions.
Here, before the traveler’s eyes, paintings come to life from the life of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman.
His family and the harem’s concubines, and the beauty of the palace’s decoration with its mosaics, marble and gilding allows us to imagine how life was like as a nobleman.
Today, among the attractions of Istanbul, Topkapi is the most visited, and it is also among the largest museums in the world.
You can see the opening hours of the palace and ticket prices in our separate article.
So our first day in the metropolis came to an end, which turned out to be very busy. But the second day promises to be full of events, because we still have to see a number of noteworthy places on our own.
Day 2 – explore the Harborside Eminönü area
The second day in Istanbul should be devoted to the visiting another historical quarter of Eminönü, where such significant Islamic mosques as Suleymaniye and the Rustem Pasha Mosque are located.
Noteworthy is the nearby Museum of the Choir, which hid valuable Byzantine murals in its walls.
Well, if you thought that there would be nothing to see with children in Istanbul, you were mistaken, because Miniature Park, located in the Beyoglu district, will be an excellent entertainment for the whole family.
If time permits, you can end the day with picturesque panoramas of the Bosphorus and the city, which open from the Galata tower.
2.1 – Walk the streets of Sultanahmet
To go on our own to the historic quarter of Eminenu, we could take a tram.
But why deprive yourself of the opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere of the old streets of Sultanahmet?
Walking slowly along the neat narrow sidewalks, you will be able to see the authenticity of the Old Town and appreciate its well-groomed appearance, which appears in every green space.
Bubbling fountains and miniature houses of bizarre shapes and colors, cozy cafeterias and shops full of goods will accompany you to the Eminenu district.
See more information about the Sultanahmet area here. By the way, this area is best to choose as a place to stay in Istanbul if you are visiting the city for a few days.
2.2 – visit Süleymaniye Mosque
Süleymaniye is not inferior in its grandeur to the Blue Mosque, and even exceeds its size, so the building must be included in the list of attractions, which is worth seeing in Istanbul yourself.
It is important to note that Süleymaniye is not just a mosque, but a whole complex of buildings, among which lie the tombs of the Sultan Suleiman and members of his family.
It was the sultan who gave the order to erect the largest sanctuary in the Ottoman Empire, and his will was fulfilled by the talented architect Mimar Sinan.
Today it is an active Islamic mosque, the second largest in Istanbul, able to accommodate up to 5 thousand parishioners.
2.3 – visit Rustem Pasha Mosque
Muslims believe that if during their life they manage to build a mosque, then all their sins will be forgiven, and the soul after death will be lifted to heaven.
One such person was the vizier Rustem Pasha, who served under the Sultan Suleiman.
Hidden behind the shops of the Egyptian Bazaar, the Rustem Pasha Mosque is not as grand as the above shrines of Istanbul, but at the same time its decoration, based on the blue Iznik tiles, definitely deserves the attention of a tourist.
The architect of the building was also Sinan, and he really managed to create a subtle atmosphere in it for privacy with the Almighty.
2.4 – Lunch at one of the area’s best restaurants
The second day of excursion is in full swing, we have already managed to see two mosques on our own, and before heading to the Choir Museum, it will be nice to dine in one of the region’s best restaurants – Roof Mezze 360.
The restaurant is located on the roof of the hotel, which offers spectacular views not only of Istanbul itself, but also of the Bosphorus straits.
The restaurant offers a varied menu, which presents meat and fish dishes, a rich assortment of snacks and wines.
The prices in the cafe are moderate, and the staff treats visitors with compliments in the form of strong Turkish coffee or tea.
2.5 – Chora Museum
Looking at the map of the sights of Istanbul, we see that our next point is the Chora Museum, which once served as a Christian church.
As in the case of Aya Sofya, the Ottoman conquerors decided not to destroy the basilica, but simply plastered its walls and for a long time used the building for their needs.
Thanks to this decision, today you can see old Byzantine frescoes and mosaics created for biblical motifs.
There is no need to doubt that this invaluable legacy of civilization wiped out from the face of the earth causes great touristic interest.
2.6 – Miniature Park
The Miniature Park contains miniature models of the most significant sights of Turkey.
The sight is divided into three sections, each of which is dedicated to a specific topic: the monuments of Istanbul, the attractions of Turkey as a whole and buildings located on the territory of the former Ottoman Empire.
All the miniatures, of which there are 134 units, are represented on a scale of 1:25 and most of them are very plausible.
2.7 – Observation deck on the Galata tower
If you have time, you can complete your second day with breathtaking views of the Bosphorus from the Galata Tower.
Getting to this Istanbul attraction from Miniature park is easy with numerous city buses. The old tower, erected in the 6th century and once served as a lighthouse, stretches to a height of 61 m.
Istanbul’s landscapes are perfectly visible from its balcony. There is also a restaurant/dinner which can be a great end to a busy day.
A complete list of the best viewpoints in Istanbul is presented on this page.
Day 3 – visit bazaars and the Asian side of Istanbul
Looking at the map of the sights of Istanbul in Russian on the last day, we found that we had to pay a visit to several other significant places in the metropolis.
Early in the morning, we offer to go to the famous Grand Bazaar to enjoy the atmosphere of the oriental market, and possibly to buy a couple of souvenirs.
Further, our path will lie in the Besiktas region, where the magnificent Dolmabahce Palace is located. After that we advise you to cross the Bosphorus to the Asian part of the metropolis, visit the Maiden Tower and see the Uskudar area.
We finish the third day with a delicious dinner in a restaurant with picturesque views of the strait and the city.
3.1 – Grand Bazaar
The largest market in Turkey, the Grand Bazaar is a separate city in the city, which lives independently according to its own laws.
Built over 5 centuries ago and having survived numerous fires and earthquakes, the Grand Bazaar grew into a pavilion with an area of 110 thousand m², where you can not only find absolutely any goods, but also have a nice rest in a colorful cafe and even visit a hammam.
Many tourists go here not so much for shopping, but for the unique atmosphere of the oriental bazaar, filled with the smells of spices and sweets.
Well, if you liked some product, do not rush to lay out the entire amount, because only the one who is not going to pay is not trading.
You can see the complete information about the Grand Bazaar in our separate article .
3.2 – Dolmabahçe
Photos with descriptions of this attraction of Istanbul can cause very conflicting feelings.
After all, the building does not at all look like the residence of the Ottoman sultans, but more like a magnificent castle of European monarchs.
This is the eccentricity of this building made is Baroque style.
Already on the way to the construction, you notice the clock tower and the front gate, which scream about the elegance and artfulness of the building’s architecture.
And the pompous interiors of the castle with a huge crystal chandelier and expensive carpets, marble columns and gilded stucco work cannot help but take your breath away.
3.3 – Ferry ride to the Asian part
The third day of excursions cannot be complete without a visit to the another symbol of Istanbul – the Maiden’s Tower.
In order to get to this sight, we will need to independently walk a little more than a kilometer southwest of Dolmabahce Palace and find the Kabatas pier.
From here we can quickly reach the tower on a ferry along the Bosphorus.
3.4 – Maiden’s Tower
An ancient building 23 meters high, which once served as a watch tower, today simultaneously plays the role of a museum and an observation deck.
Within its walls there is also a fashionable restaurant where live music is played in the evenings. From the balcony of the tower you can see unforgettable sea and city landscapes, but the sunset here is especially vivid.
This place should definitely be included in the list of Istanbul sights visited independently in 3 days.
3.5 – Uskudar District
Having seen wondrous views from the balcony of the Maiden’s tower, we are on our way to the Uskudar district, which we reach in a few minutes by ferry.
This area has managed to preserve the true oriental flavor, traced in numerous mosques and centuries-old buildings.
And if you were sure that there was absolutely nothing to see in the Asian part of Istanbul, then you are deeply mistaken.
Walking along the local streets, you will see many interesting objects, for example, the Sultan Ahmed III fountain and the Beylerbey palace.
Uskudar may not be as rich in sights as the historical quarters of Istanbul, but it is here that you will find the authentic atmosphere of the east. A detailed article about the most significant areas of Istanbul can be found here.
So the third day of excursion is nearing its end. Everything that could be seen in Istanbul, we saw, and it’s time for the last time to admire the evening city and the Bosphorus from the terrace of one of the best restaurants.
Now we will go to a budget, but no less worthy institution El Amed Terrace Restaurant.
Located on the 4th floor of an old building, the restaurant faces the place where the waters of the Bosphorus meet the Sea of Marmara.
In the cafe menu you will find dishes for every taste, and at the end of the evening, friendly waiters will surely treat you with juicy baklava and Turkish tea.
You can see the full selection of the best restaurants in Istanbul with panoramas of the Bosphorus by clicking on the link .
If you still decide that an independent tour of the city is not for you, keep in mind that in Istanbul you can easily find a guide who will conduct a fascinating tour for you.
Now you definitely know what to see in Istanbul for 3 days and how to plan your excursions yourself without losing sight of any attractions.
And to make it interesting for you to follow the presented route, be sure to read other articles about the metropolis on our website.