Our epic Istanbul ITINERARY shows you all of the best things to do while you are in Istanbul - no matter your budget!
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Bridging Europe and Asia and packing  an epic history, Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities! Its imperial legacy and rich cultural traditions make it an enthralling destination for any tourist. Our Istanbul itinerary will take you around the city’s most popular attractions and its hidden gems, giving you the best experience of this mammoth city!

All Turkey itineraries emphasize Istanbul for good reason! It may no longer be the Turkish capital (Ankara is) but it does have a myriad of the best places to visit in Turkey!

One of the most incredible things about Istanbul is the living history you find on every corner. As you lose yourself in the colorful stalls of the Grand Bazaar or soak up the panoramic views from Galata Tower, you will be reminded that thousands of people have done likewise over the millennia that the city has existed. It’s this kind of humbling but awesome sensation that our Istanbul itinerary will  help you experience for yourself!

Best Time To Visit Istanbul

When to Visit Istanbul
These are the best times to visit Istanbul!

Wondering when to visit Istanbul? Well, apart from rather frosty winters, Istanbul enjoys a generally mild Mediterranean climate, meaning you can visit Istanbul year-round! Most tourists tend to head to Mediterranean destinations like Istanbul during the summer, but unless you’re up for blistering heat waves and sweltering crowds, you may want to pick a milder season.

Spring and autumn are the shoulder seasons when the sun’s intensity declines but temperatures are still pleasant enough to encourage venturing outdoors. Spring, particularly May, is a great time for visiting Istanbul! The moderate weather encourages sightseeing and the parks are blooming with tulips. For similar reasons, September is another great month to vacation in Istanbul.

Although we do caution you against the extreme summer heat, there are pluses to planning a Turkish itinerary in summer — particularly for culture lovers! The Aspendos International Opera and Ballet Festival brings the arts to the country’s magnificent ancient theaters, bringing these ancient ruins to life once more!

 Average TemperatureChance of RainCrowdsOverall Grade
January9°C / 48°FHighCalm🙁
February9°C / 48°FHighCalm😐
March12°C / 54°FAverageCalm😐
April17°C / 63°FLowMedium🙂
May22°C / 72°FLowMedium😀
June26°C / 79°FLowBusy🙂
July29°C / 84°FLowBusy😐
August29°C / 84°FLowBusy😐
September25°C / 77°FAverageMedium😀
October20°C / 68°FAverageMedium😀
November15°C / 59°FHighCalm😐
December11°C / 52°FHighCalm🙁

Where To Stay In Istanbul

Where to Stay in Istanbul
These are the best places to stay in Istanbul!

Istanbul straddles both Europe and Asia, and with a population of around 15 million, it’s one of the largest cities in the world! Most Turkish itineraries involve a stop at Istanbul and the city has a large hospitality industry to cater to your every need! That said, Engish is not very widely spoken outside of the main tourist hubs.

The 39 districts all have their own unique selling points but the best place to stay in Istanbul is Sultanahmet, the tourist HQ. If you want something more alternative, you’ll probably find it in trendy Karaköy.

Sultanahmet is the oldest part of Istanbul and remains the city’s heart and soul. You’ll find some of the most iconic attractions on any Turkey itinerary in this area, such as the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia! It’s an incredibly atmospheric area, with  cobbled alleyways and proximity to the waters running through the city. A few of the best hostels in Istanbul are here.

Karaköy, on the other hand, is more hipster than historical. It is hands-down the coolest district in Istanbul, a place where traditional bakeries coexist with sophisticated cafes! It’s near enough to Old Town but it also has its own fair share of attractions: from hamams to ornate mosques, Karaköy will keep you busy!

istanbul itinerary
Agora Guesthouse & Hostel is our pick for the best hostel in Istanbul!

Best Hostel in Istanbul – Agora Guesthouse & Hostel

With a central location, stunning sea views and stylish dorms, it’s hard to find fault with Agora Guesthouse & Hostel! Dorms have lockers and impeccable cleanliness, while still managing to feel cozy. The hostel also offers homemade Turkish breakfasts which are served by helpful staff.

You’ll find more budget-friendly accommodation on our list of the BEST hostels in Istanbul!

Check on HostelWorld

For more very cool hostels in Turkey, check out our Best Hostels in Turkey guide!

Cozy Loft Apartment in Galata, Istanbul
Cozy Loft Apartment in Galatais our pick for the best Airbnb in Istanbul!

Best Istanbul Airbnb: Cozy Loft Apartment in Galata

Enjoy Istanbul’s nightlife scene by staying in this comfortable loft apartment. Located in the centre of Istanbul, this apartment is a short walk from Galata’s trendiest bars and restaurants, and the area’s top attractions.

It features a modern kitchenette, free wifi, and boasts a stunning view. This cosy apartment has a double bed and is perfect for couples visiting Istanbul.

Check on Airbnb

istanbul itinerary
My Boutique Hotel is our pick for the best budget hotel in Istanbul!

Best Budget Hotel in Istanbul – My Boutique Hotel

The name really does say it all! This is a boutique hotel but one on a budget! Rooms are functional and welcoming, while the bathrooms are swanky and spacious. The hotel gets rave reviews for its excellent staff and top-notch cleanliness. And to cap it all off, My Boutique Hotel is in the heart of the old city and just 700 meters from the Suleymaniye Mosque!

Check on Booking.com

istanbul itinerary
Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet is our pick for the best luxury hotel in Istanbul!

Best Luxury Hotel in Istanbul – Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet

Just 10 minutes from the Blue Mosque, you’ll find another architectural masterpiece: the Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet! The interior is just as breathtaking, with furnishings that fuse the best of modern comfort and Ottoman luxury. The rooms are spacious, with marble bathrooms and mosaic paneling. There’s also an in-house restaurant and gym. What more could you want?

Check on Booking.com

Istanbul Itinerary

Istanbul Itinerary
Welcome to our EPIC Istanbul itinerary!

Shops, mosques, churches, and museums…Istanbul has many fascinating and beautiful attractions that we’re pretty sure will blow you away! Our Istanbul itinerary gives insider tips for the hidden gems, must-see recommendations and all you could ever need for an awesome trip to Istanbul!

Getting around Istanbul can be a bit tricky as traffic is truly hectic so make sure you know where you’re going and how before you end up in a traffic jam! Fortunately, many Istanbul landmarks are in close proximity so you can walk between them quite a lot of the time.

The metro bus is one of the best ways of getting around. Although it’s cheap and the buses have their own lanes to speed up the journeys, there are also numerous stops which mean that the buses are uncomfortably packed!

The metro/tram is generally a better alternative. Istanbul has invested increasingly in the service recently and it’s quite efficient.

Taxis abound in Istanbul but be sure to choose taxis with an official logo and get ready to be ripped off. Uber operates in a scaled-down manner in the city but you can also use the BiTaksi app to hail the nearest reliable taxi.

Day 1 Itinerary in Istanbul

Sultanahmet Square | The Blue Mosque | The Hagia Sophia | The Underground Cistern | Topkapi Palace | Galata Tower

We’re starting your Istanbul itinerary with some of the most iconic places to visit in Istanbul! You’ll learn how important religion was to the different empires that called Istanbul home over the centuries, as well as admire the awesome Istanbul landmarks these empires built!

Day 1 / Stop 1 – Sultanahmet Square

  • Why it’s awesome: This square has been the heart of Istanbul for centuries!
  • Cost: Free!
  • Food nearby: Snacks and drinks are in good supply on the square, and the cheerful vendors seldom let anyone walk away empty-handed!

With the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia bookending it, Sultanahmet Square may seem like just a means to a glorious end but it’s actually so much more than that!

The square is named after the builder of the Blue Mosque, Sultan Ahmet I, but the use of the area for public gatherings dates back to the Byzantine Empire when it was a hippodrome, or a sports arena. The section of the Obelisk of Thutmose III  that you see today originates in this era, while the towering Walled Obelisk dates from the 10th century!

Sultanahmet Square
Sultanahmet Square, Istanbul

Much of the square is beautiful parkland, where you can see tulips blooming during spring, but it remains a lively center of the city. You’ll find plenty of souvenir stores as it’s frequented by tourists looking to start their Istanbul walking tour, just like you!

Day 1 / Stop 2 – The Blue Mosque

  • Why it’s awesome: Both beautiful and imposing, the Blue Mosque can only be described as sheer magnificence!
  • Cost: Free (donations welcome) and options for a free tour with the Istanbul Tourist Pass.
  • Food nearby: Just five minutes’ walk away from the mosque is Tarihi Sultanahmet Halkin Köftecisine. It’s a rare find in the area around the mosque in that it serves authentic Turkish cuisine and is frequented by locals!

Almost all Turkey travel itineraries  include a visit the Blue Mosque and for very good reason! Your first sight of the mosque’s domes and minarets (and the resulting feeling of awe) is a travel experience that you can never forget!

The Sultan Ahmet Mosque, known as the Blue Mosque due to the use of blue tiling throughout, was commissioned by the eponymous Ottoman sultan to boost national morale after the empire suffered defeat by the Persians. Work started in 1609 and the mosque was opened in 1616 to wow worshippers (and tourists) ever since!

The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque, Istanbul | source: Yarygin (shutterstock)

The man behind the mosque’s stunning design was Sedefkâr Mehmed Aga. He incorporated elements of Byzantine Christian design with traditional Islamic architecture. This can be seen in the use of five main domes (much like the Byzantine Hagia Sophia) and six minarets.

Inside, you’ll see all 20,000 of the famed blue tiles lining the walls. Adding still more atmosphere to this awe-inspiring attraction is the natural light that streams in from the 200 stained glass windows!

Insider Tip: The Blue Mosque is still a functioning mosque and tourists should behave accordingly. Both men and women should dress modestly (with shoulders and knees covered), and women should wear a headscarf (these are provided free of charge at the mosque). During prayer times, the mosque is closed to visitors (non-Muslims can still enter and respectfully watch the service). There’s a handy website that gives you all the prayer times for the day so check that before you head out!

Day 1 / Stop 3 – The Hagia Sophia

  • Why it’s awesome: Almost 1500 years of art, history, and religion are written on every inch of this phenomenal museum!
  • Cost: $11 USD or free with the Istanbul Tourist Pass.
  • Food nearby: Scrumptious Turkish and Middle Eastern dishes are served with pleasant views at Matbah Ottoman Palace Cuisine!

The Hagia Sophia was built three times on the same spot during the Byzantine Empire. The final version, opened in 537, is the one that’s lasted all the way to the present day — the third time really was the charm! It was built to rival Solomon’s temple and was the largest church for over 1000 years! Today, it’s an absolute must-see on any itinerary for Istanbul!

The Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

During the Ottoman Empire, the Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque and the mix of Christian and Islamic elements is fascinating to see. To become a mosque, the church’s magnificent dome was joined by the four minarets we see today.

The Hagia Sophia is now a museum with a splendid collection. The mosaics are particularly impressive. The glittering Virgin Mary Mosaic above the altar is one of the most stunning!

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Read our full review!

Day 1 / Stop 4 – The Underground Cistern

  • Why it’s awesome: This ancient cistern is just as magnificent as a cathedral!
  • Cost: $4 USD or free with the Istanbul Tourist Pass.
  • Food nearby: Basilica Restaurant gets the thumbs-up for yummy European and Turkish food and wonderful service!

The Underground Cistern (also known as the Basilica Cistern) was built by Byzantine emperor Justinian in the 6th century to hold the water aqueducts brought from the Belgrade Forest. It’s a large and mysterious place that really is worth putting on your Istanbul itinerary!

Most of the 336 marble columns were recycled from older buildings and are in the Doric or Ionian style but look out for the unusual Hen’s Eye Column. The eponymous hen’s eye also resembles a tear that ancient texts suggest was in tribute to the hundreds of slaves who died during the construction of the basilica under which the cistern was built.

The Underground Cistern
The Underground Cistern, Istanbul

You’ll also find that two columns are supported by gigantic plinths that depict Medusa, the legendary monster who turned people to stone when they gazed on her face.

You may recognize the cistern from its starring role on the big screen! It was used as a location in the 1963 James Bond film From Russia with Love and in Inferno, amongst others.

Day 1 / Stop 5 – Topkapi Palace

  • Why it’s awesome: The center of the Ottoman Empire for around 400 years, Topkapi could write a book about the scandals and power plays it’s witnessed!
  • Cost: $11 USD (an additional $6 USD for entry to the harem and another $5 USD for admission to Hagia Irene) or free with the Istanbul Tourist Pass.
  • Food nearby: Live it up with scrumptious Turkish cuisine at the friendly Olive Anatolian Restaurant (get seats on the terrace for great views)! Gulhane Sark Sofrasi is a more low-key option but offers equally fabulous food and service!

Topkapi Palace is a legendary place to visit in Istanbul! It was built by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 and was home of the sultans until the late 19th century.

Don’t miss the Outer Treasury, one of the most impressive sites on this Istanbul itinerary! It contains a stunning collection of jewels and armor.

The Harem is certainly worth the extra dollars you pay to enter it! Harems have a reputation for debauchery but they were truthfully the imperial family’s quarters. The harem was ruled by the sultan’s mother (the valide sultan) who had significant power, as well as influence, over the family and the state. The Salon of the Valide Sultan is a stunning highlight of the palace, featuring sublime murals.

Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Off the Courtyard of the Valide Sultan is a magnificent reception room where members of the harem waited for an audience with the sultan. Close by is the Privy Chamber of Murat III with its splendid three-tiered marble fountain.

In the Apartments of the Crown Prince, one of the loveliest rooms you’ll see while touring Istanbul, look out for the painted dome and the fireplace decorated with blue tiles!

Off the Third Court, The Sacred Safekeeping Rooms house a number of holy relics of the Prophet, while the Imperial Treasury contains spectacular ornate items!

Day 1 / Stop 6 – Galata Tower

  • Why it’s awesome: This is one of the iconic Istanbul points of interest that dot the city’s skyline!
  • Cost: $4 USD for entrance (not included in the Istanbul Tourist Pass).
  • Food nearby: Leb-i Derya has lovely city views to accompany its fusion of Turkish and non-Turkish cuisine, as well as a bar for after dinner. Cheers!

Fortress, prison, observatory…Galata Tower has been a multifunctional attraction in its centuries-old history and is the ideal place to celebrate one day in Istanbul!

The current structure took root in 1348 and has been renovated by the Genoese and the Ottomans. It was once the tallest building in the city and it still occupies an eminent spot on the Golden Horn.

Galata Tower
Galata Tower, Istanbul

The balcony on the top of the tower offers wonderful panoramic views of the city and fortunately, there’s only one flight of stairs to climb to enjoy them! It’s the perfect way to end off the first day of your 2-day itinerary in Istanbul!

Agora Guesthouse & Hostel

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Agora Guesthouse & Hostel
With a central location, stunning sea views and stylish dorms, it’s hard to find fault with Agora Guesthouse & Hostel!
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Day 2 Itinerary in Istanbul

Grand Bazaar | Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent | Spice Market | The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum | Bosphorus Cruise

With a 2 day itinerary in Istanbul, you’ll learn more about the city’s Ottoman legacy and get tempted by all the sweet offerings at the Grand Bazaar! The second of your 2 days in Istanbul has a gentler pace than the first so don’t rush — getting distracted is part of our itinerary for Istanbul!

Day 2 / Stop 1 – Grand Bazaar

  • Why it’s awesome: As the largest covered market in the world, everything you can imagine buying while on a trip to Istanbul is under one roof! Have your change at the ready!
  • Cost: Free (free workshop with the Istanbul Tourist Pass)!
  • Food nearby: The Grand Bazaar’s not short on quality food to keep its merchants and artisans going! Aslan is a favorite with tradespeople, serving homemade Turkish food. Sark Kahvesi is the best for some rich Turkish coffee!

The Grand Bazaar started with an indoor arcade with shops in 1461 and has since grown to include 60 alleys and around 4000 shops! With a plethora of traditional goods and techniques, it’s an inspiring start to the last of 2 days in Istanbul!

The Grand Bazaar has gotten so big that it’s like its own city: beside the shops are workshops, a mosque, a hamam, a police station, a post office and much more! It can feel overwhelming but just remember that getting a bit lost or distracted is part of the experience!

Jewelry is a popular must-have souvenir when you travel to Istanbul. Try Topkapi Özavar and Timuçin Jewelry for a quality selection.

For reputable stockists of antiques, head to Salabi Antiques for a wide variety of jewelry, mirrors and snuff boxes. Eski Fine Arts and Antiques has a great collection of Ottoman-era items.

Grand Bazaar
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Everyone loves a Turkish carpet and there are vendors galore in the Grand Bazaar! Sisko Osman is the long-time favorite, while Ethicon offers pieces that combine both the traditional and the contemporary.

When it comes to textiles, Egin Tekstil gets five stars for its quality products which have featured in Hollywood films like The Hobbit and Troy! Head over to Ottoamano for silk and cashmere textiles!

Insider Tip: Bargaining is part of the shopping experience at the Grand Bazaar. Take your time to find your perfect purchase; because they’re grouped with merchants of similar stock, vendors understand customer service. If you’re not up to energetic bargaining, remember that some say that the best products are sold by the most relaxed salespeople! Find more tips to negotiating on our helpful Ultimate Haggling Guide!

Day 2 / Stop 2 – Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent

  • Why it’s awesome: This mosque complex is a tribute to the technology and design of Ottoman architecture!
  • Cost: Free!
  • Food nearby: The old soup kitchen is now a lovely cafe, Dârüzziyafe. Just next door is Lale Bahçesi, a popular tea house!

On the peak of a hillside on the Golden Horn sits the largest mosque in Istanbul, a must-see on your Istanbul trip itinerary! It was built by architect Mimar Siman for Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent from 1550 to 1557.

The mosque itself is an atmospheric space. It’s covered in carpets and has beautiful low-hanging chandeliers. The great dome has a diameter of 27 meters and is 53 meters high! Lifting this architectural statement are gigantic arches and four large columns.

Koranic calligraphy, blue Iznik tiles, stained glass windows, and mother-of-pearl window shutters decorate the mosque. However, unlike other great mosques, the Süleymaniye is most noted for its simplicity. Most of the walls remain undecorated and the sense of space and light makes it a tranquil place.

Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent
Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent, Istanbul

Süleyman the Magnificent was the longest-ruling sultan in the Ottoman Empire and reputed for his wisdom and justice. Consistently, he ordered that the mosque provide numerous public services, such as a hamam, hospital, soup kitchen and medrese. You can still visit the hamam today and take coffee in the renovated soup kitchen!

Süleyman and his wife Haseki Hürrem Sultan are both buried in the mosque. Their mausoleums boast amazing tile work and ivory paneling! Mimar Sinan’s tomb is also located in the complex, near the walled garden.

Insider Tip: Remember to plan this stop on your Istanbul itinerary around prayer times!

Day 2 / Stop 3 – Spice Market

  • Why it’s awesome: A riot of color and heady scents awaits at the iconic Spice Market!
  • Cost: Free!
  • Food nearby: Lezzet-i Sark serves delicious Turkish cuisine with spicy flavors!

You may not be looking to add spice to tonight’s dinner but whether you’re a cook or not, the Spice Market is always worth visiting when on vacation in Istanbul! It was established all the way back in 1664 and has gathered a reputation ever since! Spices make great souvenirs but you can always just taste the variety of local spices.

Spice Market
Spice Market, Istanbul

Look out for sumac, a derivative of wild berries. It’s used in salads and steamed veggies! You should also definitely taste pul biber, dried red pepper flakes! You’ll probably find it beside the salt at most Turkish restaurants while on a weekend in Istanbul!

Day 2 / Stop 4 – The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum

  • Why it’s awesome: Lose yourself in top-notch exhibitions about traditional Turkish and Ottoman items!
  • Cost: $4 USD or free entrance and guided tour with the Istanbul Tourist Pass.
  • Food nearby: Splurge at the Deluxe Golden Horn Terrace Restaurant which is reputed to have the best view of Istanbul, as well as tasty Turkish dishes! Osman Gourmet Restaurant is a more down-to-earth eatery that cooks up excellent local food!

Located in a spectacular palace, the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum is home to an even more magnificent collection of artefacts! Not everyone gets around to it on their vacation in Istanbul but the museum really is one of the best places to visit in Istanbul!

The crown jewel in the museum’s collection is the Carpet Section. You’ll find hand-woven Usak Anatolian carpets hanging alongside rare Seljuk carpets. There are also Iranian and Caucasian carpets on display.

Another standout collection is that of calligraphy. The Korans and books are beautifully written, some with pictures, in styles from across the Ottoman Empire and through the ages! You’ll also get up close with the sultans’ signatures.

The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum
Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, Istanbul | source: Serg Zastavkin (Shutterstock)

In the section of Wooden Works, you’ll find valuable Anatolian woodwork from the 9th and 10th centuries! Artifacts from the Ottoman period pay tribute to the skilled techniques used to inlay wood with precious metals and stones.

The large Stone Art Collection boasts an array of dazzling, yet simple items. Gravestones stand beside ceramics, while there’s a detailed exhibition on tilework. The selection of glasswork on display dates from the 9th century!

In the glittering Metal Section, be prepared for samples from the Great Seljuk Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Gilded doorknockers, candelabra decorated with constellations, dirhams, and ewers are some of the splendid items on show!

Day 2 / Stop 5 – Bosphorus Cruise

  • Why it’s awesome: The Bosphorus is the iconic landmark that makes Istanbul one of only a handful of cities to straddle two continents!
  • Cost: From $2 USD or free with the Istanbul Tourist Pass.
  • Food nearby: Your cruise may not offer dinner but most ferries have bars with drinks and snacks!

The narrow, natural strait of the Bosphorus forms a nautral boundary between Europe and Asia and divides Turkey into Anatolia and Thrace. Together with the Dardanelles, it connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean and so it has played a crucial part in international trade for centuries! It’s also a phenomenal way of seeing Istanbul from afar and is an unmissable attraction on any Istanbul trip itinerary!

Cruises on the Bosphorus come in various forms: dinner, lunch or a straight-up ferry ride, you can have your pick! The simplest way is with a ferry ride by Sehir Hatlari, the city’s official carrier. Departures depend on the season and daily weather but you can choose between the short and the long cruise.

Bosphorus Cruise
Bosphorus Cruise, Istanbul

The short cruise lasts two hours and is a return trip between Eminönü to Istinye. The long cruise, meanwhile, goes between Eminönü and Rumeli and Anadolu Kavagi, allowing those aboard to view the two coastal peaks that guard the entrance to the Black Sea.

It’s a full-day event that will probably only leave time for two other items on today’s Istanbul itinerary. There are a ton of private operators offering more varied choices. Zoe Yacht is a firm favorite when it comes to luxury.

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Day 3 and Beyond

Hamam | Archaeological Museum | Dolmabahçe Palace | Chora Church | Rüstem Pasa Mosque

Most people tend to have a general Turkey itinerary for 10 days, of which they happily spend at least 3 days in Istanbul. There’s good reason for this:  you can experience a few Istanbul attractions that are slightly off the beaten track with the extra time. So, go ahead and get to know the city away from the crowds around the Blue Mosque!

Hamam

  • If you’re wondering what to do in Istanbul on the third day of your trip, you need to get to a hamam and pronto!
  • Only 60 of 237 hamams that used to dot Istanbul are still in operation so try the Turkish bath before they all die out!
  • Avoid the gritty side of hamams by sticking with our recommendations!

Turkish baths traditionally entailed a sauna and steam, followed by a full-body wash and finishing with a massage. Today, the practice has been adapted to include the best of modern spa treatments, making a hamam the perfect treat for your body after 3 days in Istanbul!

Kiliç Ali Pasa Hamam is our favorite hamam that blends the traditional with the modern. It was built in the 1580s by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Siman (who was also behind the Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent). It was extensively renovated and is a lovely space with exposed brickwork and a stunning domed ceiling!

Guests are given homemade serbet before being led into the bath for exfoliation and a wash. Feel free to add on a massage.

Hamam
Hamam, Istanbul

Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam, also built by Mimar Siman (this time for the sultan’s wife), is another good option. It’s located right between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque and is appropriately elegant. The interior is a mix of dark woods and marbled fountains.

There are four hamam packages to choose from, ranging from the basic wash and scrub to clay masks, aromatherapy and skin peels!

Insider Tip:  There are separate baths for men and women who must enter separately or come at different times of the day. Men generally are completely naked beneath a bath-wrap which should be worn at all times. Women tend to keep on their bottom underwear under the bath-wrap but not always. Finally, tipping is expected.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum

  • Lose yourself in the highlights of the museum’s 1 million object collection!
  • The neoclassical style building was designed by famed architect Alexandre Vallaury.
  • Entrance is just $4 USD!

An underrated stop on our Istanbul itinerary, the Istanbul Archaeological Museum is an impressive home to fascinating archaeological finds! It’s actually comprised of three museums, all with interesting exhibits!

The Ancient Orient Museum houses artifacts from the pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Anatolia. Seeing the world’s oldest known peace treaty (The Treaty of Kadesh signed in 1274 BCE) and its oldest known love poem from Babylon are some of the most humbling and awesome experience on our 3-day itinerary in Istanbul!

Istanbul Archaeological Museum
Istanbul Archaeological Museum, Istanbul | source: saiko3p (shutterstock)

The Archaeology Museum contains some truly epic finds from the classical and later periods. The highlight is undoubtedly the Alexander Sarcophagus which depicts scenes from Alexander the Great’s brilliant reign. Although the original theory that it was his final resting place has since been disproved, it was that of one of his contemporaries and remains an iconic Hellenistic find!

The Lycian Sarcophagus is another standout artifact. It’s covered in scenes from Greek mythology. There are also some impressive finds from the historical site of the legendary city of Troy.

Also, pay attention to the Istanbul Through the Ages exhibition which has a fabulous remnant of the Byzantine chain used to block access to the Golden Horn!

At the Islamic Art Museum, there are also some breathtaking exhibits. The Fountain of Youth, dating from 1590, is one of the most famed items in the collection.

Dolmabahçe Palace

  • Money may not buy happiness but it sure did buy something pretty close with the sublime Dolmabahçe Palace!
  • The palace is probably the most opulent sight in all of Istanbul!
  • $4 USD will get you into this magnificent temple to architecture and exuberance!

It was Sultan Abdülmecid who, after deciding that lavish Topkapi Palace was not European enough, commissioned the splendid Dolmabahçe Palace. After 13 years of painstaking work by Armenian architects Karabet and Nikoos Balian, the palace became the new center of the Ottoman Empire in 1856!

The blend of architectural styles on display only enhances the sumptuous atmosphere that the palace gives off! You’ll find a mix of Baroque, Neoclassical and Ottoman elements all on show.

Dolmabahçe Palace
Dolmabahçe Palace, Istanbul | source: Dennis Jarvis (flickr)

The handmade parquet floors are a unique landmark in the palace. They were carved from rosewood, ebony, and mahogany, and although almost hidden by furniture, they are truly stunning! The world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier can also be found in the palace, courtesy of British Queen Victoria!

You can also one of the more unusual Istanbul attractions at the palace: the room where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, lived and died.

It’s also worth visiting the National Palaces Painting Museum which holds around 200 pieces of fine art. Finish off this wonderful Istanbul itinerary attraction with a snack at the waterside cafe!

Chora Church

  • Chora Church is home to rare, Byzantine frescoes with paint that remains vivid!
  • Its turbulent history spans over 1500 years!
  • It’s a small, beautiful museum that deserves a place on your 3-day itinerary in Istanbul!

When you have 3 days in Istanbul, pop into Chora Church for an inspiring experience! The church was built during the time of the Eastern Roman Empire but it was during the Byzantine Empire that it acquired its most gorgeous features!

Unusually, Chora’s frescoes are in chronological order and tell Biblical stories. The Cycle of the Life of the Virgin is one of the most beautiful you’ll see while on vacation in Istanbul! It depicts the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in 17 vivid mosaics.

Chora Church
Chora Church, Istanbul | source: Firdes Sayilan (shutterstock)

The Cycle of the Infancy of Christ and the Cycle of Christ’s Ministry present Jesus’ life and miracles, such as the turning of water into wine!

Chora Church also boasts some beautifully painted domes with a rich quality of image, despite the damage it underwent through the ages! For sheer beauty alone, Chora Church is worth a stop on your Istanbul itinerary!

Rüstem Pasa Mosque

  • While touring Istanbul in 3 days, you should definitely journey to this stunning tiled mosque!
  • The mosque boasts the most beautiful and delicate blue Iznik tiles from the 16th century!
  • As an added bonus, you can see it all for free as entrance is based on voluntary donations!

Often called the mini Blue Mosque, Rüstem Pasa Mosque is actually considered to house even more exquisite tiles than the Blue Mosque itself!  Like many other Istanbul landmarks, it was designed by the famed architect Mimar Siman in the 16th century.

Rustem Pasa Mosque
Rustem Pasa Mosque, Istanbul

It may be small but the Rüstem Pasa Mosque packs a punch with its kaleidoscope of color and pattern! Each of the around 2300 Iznik tiles is decorated with floral or geometric designs.

Rüstem Pasa Mosque is even more of a hidden gem as it’s not at street level. You need to ascend the spiral stairs to reach it where it sits above a handful of worn shops.

Don’t forget to pack a good book!

Istanbul Passage: A Novel This is our top recommendation for an awesome and inspiring read on this magical city.

Staying Safe in Istanbul

Istanbul was targeted by terrorists on a number of occasions over the last few years and Turkeys latest incursions into Syria will probably make it a target again. However, the odds of been killed by terrorism are extremely remote and the fact is that Istanbul remains as safe as any city in Europe. Read on for our tips for keeping your time in Istanbul safe!

To keep an eye on political tensions or external threats, read your country’s travel advisory to stay updated. Bear in mind that some parts of Turkey, such as the Syrian border, are far more dangerous than Istanbul.

Theft and muggings are quite rare for a big city but exercise caution in crowded areas, like the Grand Bazaar. The biggest danger is theft of unattedend possesions or pickpockets.

Remember that you should always buy travel insurance when planning a trip to Istanbul or anywhere in the world! There’s a large selection of travel insurance available; our favorite provider is World Nomads.

Before you visit Turkey, find more tips on our GREAT guide to safety in Turkey!

Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.

Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!

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Day Trips From Istanbul

Turkey’s a big country but it’s surprising how much of it you can see if you pick the right day trips from Istanbul! From exploring the ruins at Ephesus to paying tribute at Gallipoli, these epic tours will show you some of the best things to do in Turkey!

From Istanbul: Full-Day Princes’ Island Tour

From Istanbul Full-Day Princes' Island Tour

This full-day day trip from Istanbul will take you to Büyükada, the largest of the Princes’ Island group. It’s a place full of Ottoman charm that won’t fail to delight you!

After a ferry crossing, you’ll explore Büyükada by horse-drawn carriage as the islands are all car-free! Lovely Ottoman mansions are screened by purple flowers and the island air is mild and refreshing.

For lunch, there’s delicious fish and chips to be enjoyed on the waterfront, offering great views of Istanbul!

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Gallipoli Full-Day Tour from Istanbul

Gallipoli Full-Day Tour from Istanbul

In a jam-packed 18 hours, you’ll explore the famed ANZAC landings of World War II with one of the most epic day trips from Istanbul!

From the ANZAC cove where troops first landed to the battlefields, there are 11 great stops that bring the conflict to life! Pay tribute at Beach Cemetery, burial place of the victims of the Battle of Gallipoli,  and Lone Pine Memorial which commemorates the fallen who have no known grave.

This day trip is a moving experience in a serene environment on the Turkish coast!

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Full-Day Troy Tour From Istanbul

Full-Day Troy Tour From Istanbul

Whether it was from Homer or Hollywood, we’ve all heard the story of Helen, “the face that launched a thousand ships”, and Achilles the swift-footed legendary warrior. It’s time to visit the legendary city of these big names with one of the day trips from Istanbul that head to Troy!

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Troy contains many ruins for a city that, until the late 19th century, was thought to have existed only in legend! Explore the ruins of Troy’s fabled walls and temples, while learning the legends of Paris and Agamemnon!

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Ephesus Day Tour with Return Flights From Istanbul

Ephesus Day Tour with Return Flights From Istanbul

If you’re short on time but have some money to spare, then it’s worth booking a trip to the mind-blowing Ephesus!

Sitting on the Meditteranean, Ephesus is the largest open-air museum in the world! Among the 30 historical structures, you’ll stop by the Temple of Artemis which was one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World!

Other highlights of your trip include visits to the Great Theater, where St Paul preached, and the Church of the Virgin Mary, where Mary spent her final days! That’s not even half of what you’ll discover on this amazing day trip!

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Bursa and Mt. Uludag: Full-Day Tour from Istanbul

Bursa and Mt. Uludag: Full-Day Tour from Istanbul

One of the great day trips from Istanbul that you should book if you don’t have a Turkey 10 day itinerary is this visit to Bursa!

Bursa was once an Ottoman capital city and retains many relics of its esteemed past! While in the verdant city, you’ll learn about the city’s history, taste Turkish sweets and marvel at the products in the silk market.

A trip up the cablecar of Mt. Uludag is also included in this day trip! On the mountaintop is a lovely mosque and the spot of your BBQ lunch – lucky you!

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Conclusion

From the time it was called Byzantium to its Roman Era as Constantinople to its modern era as Istanbul, Istanbul has undergone many transformations that have left their splendid marks on the city’s landscape! A stately city with many spectacular monuments, it’s easy to see why so many empires have called it home. You, too, can feel as at ease on a trip to Istanbul with our insider’s Istanbul itinerary!

Istanbul is the kind of city where size tends to matter and more really is more! With sprawling palaces and gigantic places of worship, Istanbul can be intimidating. However, as you stop for Turkish coffee or contemplate the passing of time in carefully-restored monuments, you’ll find a city that knows how to please visitors and you’ll soon feel right at home!

Istanbul may be a labyrinth of imperial palaces and divine spaces but it’s also an earthy place of hearty meals and heaped carpets. It would take a lifetime to get close to discovering all of the city’s secrets but our Istanbul itinerary will get you as close as possible in a few days!

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Our epic Istanbul ITINERARY shows you all of the best things to do while you are in Istanbul - no matter your budget!