72 Jam-Packed Hours In Istanbul, Turkey

The Hagia Sophia Museum is one of the most popular attractions in Istanbul
The Hagia Sophia Museum is one of the most popular attractions in Istanbul | © Panther Media GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Salwa Chamsi-Pasha
3 September 2021

Istanbul, Turkey, is a city renowned for beauty, history and friendly locals. But if you’ve only got a short time here, the options can seem overwhelming. To help you out, here’s how to spend 72 hours in Istanbul.

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Istanbul, which hugs the Bosphorus strait, has plenty to see and do | © Stefano Politi Markovina / Alamy Stock Photo

Day 1

Istanbul, as beautiful as it is, has a horrendous amount of traffic – it makes the jams in New York City look tame. So upon arrival, if you’re feeling adventurous, it may be best to take public transport. If that’s too much hassle, taxis are readily available. Ignore the drivers offering you a ride at arrivals and head straight to the taxi stand outside the airport. However near your hotel is, the ride will take at least half an hour, even without taking into consideration the gridlocks and road construction.

To really maximise your stay in Istanbul, choose a hotel on the Bosphorus. Although they may be more expensive, they’re well worth it. You could pick, Sumahan on the Water, which has its own water taxi service to get you around the Asian shore of the city. Or you could plump for one of the 12 bespoke rooms at the Bosphorus Palace Hotel, which we named one of the best boutique hotels in Istanbul.

Sumahan on the Water has a private water taxi service to shuttle you across the Bosphorus | Courtesy of Sumahan On The Water / Expedia

Day 2

No trip to Istanbul would be complete without visiting one of the numerous mosques. The grandest is Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, located in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul. An early-afternoon visit is advised to avoid prayer times. Try to plan your trip on any other day but Friday as this is the day all Muslim men are required to pray Duhr (noon) prayers in the mosque. Women are advised to wear a headscarf and conservative clothing that covers most of their legs and arms while inside the mosque. It is customary for both men and women to remove their shoes outside. Entrance to the mosque is free.

Topkapi Palace, the largest and oldest palace in the world, is relatively close to the Blue Mosque. If you’re an avid photographer, this place is one of the most aesthetically pleasing monuments in Istanbul. It also has the most incredible views of the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the sea.

Have dinner at Nusr-Et steakhouse to end the day. It is the most popular restaurant in Istanbul right now, so make a reservation beforehand. And don’t forget to try their out-of-this-world dessert – traditional Turkish ice cream sandwiched in baklava.

The Yerevan Pavilion is just one of several incredible structures inside the Topkapi Palace | JOHN BRACEGIRDLE / Alamy Stock Photo

Day 3

Start your day at the Grand Bazaar, one of the most ancient covered bazaars in the city. It’s a known tourist attraction so make sure to haggle prices if you’re keen on buying items. Grab a cup of Turkish coffee while browsing the endless alleys, or if it’s sunny, munch on a cone of Turkish ice cream known as dondurma. A word of caution, make sure you’re dressed in non-branded clothing for shopkeepers to give you a better price. Also make sure to keep an eye on your belongings at all times, as the bazaar is known to be a hub for pickpockets.

After an exhaustive shopping spree, head to Gelgör Kebap Salonu which has the best kebabs in town. The owners are friendly and will even offer you dessert and tea on the house.

The Grand Bazaar is one of the most historic markets in Istanbul | © Ayhan Altun / Alamy Stock Photo

Day 4

Start your day with a filling breakfast at Saray cafe. The orange juice is fresh and the Turkish sausage is to die for. Considering this cafe is situated in one of the most aristocratic parts of town, it is quite humble. After you’re done with breakfast, take a walk in the fancy streets of Nisantasi, a district popular among fashionistas who come for the exclusive boutiques and department stores.

Head to Nisantasi to explore exclusive boutiques and department stores | © Picade LLC / Alamy Stock Photo

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