Ahh, Istanbul! The land of Turkish delights, friendly locals and stunning mosques! There's just something about this city that will charm you with its ancient history and architecture (and stray cats too!). If you're planning to visit Istanbul but only have 3 days to explore, don't worry we’ve got you covered ?
While you may be short of time to uncover Istanbul, this city is never short of magical experiences to offer. Whether you're stopping by on your grand Euro trip or have a layover in Istanbul, here's the best way to experience the city's gems in 72 hours ?
1. Explore the historical peninsula
The historical peninsula is one of the most important areas in Istanbul! People don't want to leave Istanbul without getting a selfie, taking a picture or just simply enjoying the beauty of the historical sites. Yes, this is the place where you can find Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmet Mosque, Hippodrome Square, Topkapi Palace and Gulhane Park. ?
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Hagia Sophia is a museum that was once a church converted into a mosque. The transformation and the shift of the use are really amazing. Immerse yourself in its walls and history that you won't want to miss. Next to it is the famous Sultan Ahmet Mosque. The architecture of the mosque is grand and absolutely gorgeous with light blue exterior which is why it was dubbed as the Blue Mosque. ? An iconic view that's known the world over, this is a sight to behold.
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Topkapi Palace is your one-stop shop for your Islamic history lesson. It is a home to the pot of the Prophet Ibrahim, the turban of the Prophet Yusuf and the hair of the Prophet Muhammad just to name a few. Next to it, there is Gulhane Park that is a literal translation of Places of Roses. It is a spot that you won't want to skip as this garden is packed with beautiful flowers. Some of you might question why the garden is full of tulips and the presence of roses is practically non-existent. Well, I don't have the answer myself. ?
2. Savour the Turkish meatball (Kofte) at Sultan Ahmet Koftecisi
Having enjoyed all the historical beauties, it is now the time to feed your appetite. Turkish cuisine offers some of the most delicious food on earth and Kofte is obviously one of those. Kofte is basically a Turkish version of meatball. It is packed with tasty Turkish spices and it is usually served with potato chips, rice or bulgur (cereal food made from the groats of several different wheat species, most often from durum wheat). ?
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Sultan Ahmet Koftecisi is just about 500 meters away from Hagia Sophia or Sultan Ahmet Mosque. Be prepared to fill your belly with their delicious spread. Some of the delicacies you must try are Sultan Ahmet Izgara Kofte (grilled meatball), Tavuk Sis (grilled chicken), Kuzu Sis (grilled lamb) and Tavuk Pirzola (chicken chop). To wrap up your lunch, you may want to try some of their desserts: sutlac (milky rice pudding) or ekmek kadayifi (similar to bread pudding topped with cream). ?
3. Bargain for goods at Grand Pazar
One of the reasons people would love to visit Istanbul is due to its reputation as a shopping destination. Grand Pazar is one of those places to satisfy your shopping needs . This is heaven to fashion addicts, jewellery lovers, antique collectors and art enthusiasts. This place has four main gates that are associated with the items you may find in each location.
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Those main gates are "Second-hand Book Sellers' Gate" (Sahaflar Kapısı) in the north, "Skullcap Sellers' Gate" (Takkeciler Kapısı) in the south, "Jewellers' Gate" (Kuyumcular Kapısı) in the east, and "Women's Clothiers' Gate” (Zenneciler Kapısı) in the west. Yes, this is a perfect place to buy souvenirs for your family and friends so you'll know what to answer when they ask you for souvenirs from your travels. ?
Help yourselves to these beautiful turkish decor lights that'll up your living room game ? But even though this could be a fun shopping experience, you need to be aware that some of the sellers here can get very pushy when it comes to offering their products. Once, I casually had a walk here and I experienced quite a few inconvenient encounters. The first time it happened, the seller was trying to be nice by telling me that he went to my country and he would like to be my friend. I politely declined but he kept pushing and I was kept there for almost 15 minutes. The second time it happened, I was harassed. The seller grabbed my arm and brought me to his shop to showcase his products. He did not want to let me go and expected me to buy his products. But thankfully, his supervisor came and told him to release me. ?
4. Visit Suleymaniye Mosque and enjoy the panoramic view at Aga Kapisi Cafe
Suleymaniye Mosque is also one of the most important mosques in Istanbul as the architecture is so majestically gorgeous.? Opened in 1558, it is an Ottoman Imperial Mosque that is also the second biggest mosque in Istanbul. You might notice that there are some ostrich eggs inside the mosque and it is believed to be able to prevent the presence of the spiders. ?
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The best way to end the night in Istanbul is to take in the view from Aga Kapisi Cafe. This cafe gives you the overall view of Istanbul that is so stunningly colourful. At this cafe, you can enjoy some selection of Turkish sweets and herbal tea. This is a well-deserved treat after a long day exploring Istanbul. If you are more of a coffee person, Turkish coffee will definitely be a good choice for you as it gives a relaxing sensation and the sweetness of a Turkish delight or a chocolate bar will wash out the bitterness of the coffee. ?
5. Breakfast at Ops Cafe in Karakoy
Breakfast is a very important time for Turkish people as it is the time for them to start the day. Their breakfast is also super comprehensive as it has all the things that you want to eat. Turkish breakfast usually contains a platter of bread, cheeses, olives, various types of fruit jams, eggs in many different ways, butter, honey and cream, sucuk (Turkish saussage), borek (Turkish layered bread), tomatoes and cucumbers. Doesn't that sound delicious? ?
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One of the most popular breakfast places in Karakoy is Ops Cafe. The cafe is located between Karakoy harbour and Istanbul Modern, one of the best art galleries in Istanbul. The cafe is beautifully designed, offers enjoyable easy-listening Turkish music and the food is also spot on. From this cafe, you can see the helicopter view of historical peninsula while having your meal. What a cool experience, eh? And if you are into arts, you can also visit the gallery after your breakfast. ?
6. Head to Galata Tower and explore Istiklal Street
Galata Tower is one of the most iconic buildings in Istanbul and surely you don't want to miss this one. It is a medieval architecture that is located in Karakoy, Istanbul. To get to the location, you need to walk and hike a bit. You may also want to go to the top of the tower and for some people this might be a bit tiring. But don't worry, the awesomeness of Galata Tower is worth all the effort as the Istanbul city view from here is gorgeously divine. ?
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Next to Galata Tower is the Istiklal street. This is a fancy pedestrian street as you will find boutiques, music stores, bookstores, art galleries, cinemas, theatres, libraries, cafés, pubs, night clubs with live music, historical patisseries, chocolateries and restaurants. Did you know that this place is visited by nearly 3 million people over the course of a weekend? Most places in Taksim are usually expensive, but if you want some good meals in this area, Yemek Kulubu is a good option for you. They have tasty Turkish delicacies at quite affordable rates. ?
7. Join the Bosphorus Tour
Are you ready to take up some vitamin sea? Well, Bosphorus Tour is the answer for you. The ferry leaves the Eminönü docks at 14:30, and arrives at Ortaköy around 14:50 to pick up more people. During the tour, it is best for you to enjoy some fish sandwich (Balik Ekmek) as Eminönü is known for its fresh fish. Also, a good cup of sweet tea will pair perfectly with it. I promise, it will enhance your experience here. ??
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The tour will be around two-hour long, but don't worry, you will not get bored as you will be impressed with the seaside view that you are going to see. The smell of the ocean, the refreshing sea breeze, the blue water and the waves, all of these will appease you. You will also be treated to unique views of the city from a different angle and it's just as lovely. ❤️
8. Enjoy a cup of tea at Pierre Loti Cafe and visit Miniaturk
It is day three and the best way to start is with a delicious breakfast at Pierre Loti Cafe. This cafe is well known for its wonderful views over the Golden Horn. The Golden Horn (Haliç) is an inlet of the Bosphorus with two rivers draining into it at the far end.
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You might only be visiting Istanbul for three days, but wanna know how to make it feel like you have explored the whole of Turkey? Visit Miniaturk is the answer for your question. Miniaturk is located quite near Pierre Loti and that is why it is a good idea to visit this place after your breakfast. At Miniaturk, the park contains 129 models of 1:25 scale. It offers structures from in and around Turkey, as well as interpretations of historic structures. They have mosques, madrasahs, bridges, castles and all the important touristic parts of Turkey. You name it, they have it. ?
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9. Stop and smell the tulips at Emirgan Park
You don't have to go to the Netherlands to see the beautiful tulips. Because Istanbul has something better, the Emirgan Park! You definitely don't want to miss this park as this place is breathtakingly gorgeous. I would say this place is carpeted with so many bright and beautiful colours. The tulips would surely mesmerise you. ?
Since 2005, an annual international tulip festival is organised here every April making the park appear so stunning with the vibrant colours. It is very popular among the locals as it has many jogging tracks and picnic tables. There are three historic pavilions here and they are called after their exterior colour which are the Yellow Pavilion, the Pink Pavilion and the White Pavilion.
10. Indulge in waffles and kumpir in Ortakoy
Ortakoy is a seaside part of Istanbul and in this place, you will find so many food stalls selling waffles and kumpir. Kumpir is a potato dish that is stuffed with so many toppings. The toppings may range from corn, pickles, peas, black and green olives, grated cheese and carrots, red beet, ketchup and mayonnaise. There are also countless toppings that you can add to your waffles to satisfy your sweet tooth. And be mindful of the portion of the waffles as the servings are quite gigantic! Make sure you come with an empty stomach ?
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These two are perfect for your late night snacks after tiring yourselves exploring Istanbul's gems in 72 hours. Also, the seaside view here is so serene and relaxing! So enjoy the kumpir, waffle and with a side of breathtaking view as you wind down and take all of Istanbul's beauty in. ?
So there you have it. Conquering all of Istanbul's beauty in 3 days is no mean feat! But if you're pressed for time, this guide will get you going on the right track. And trust me, this beautiful city is worth the visit, even if for a short while. Ready for a delightful Turkish vacation? ?