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
Salwa Chamsi-Pasha

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.

Want to explore the vibrant bazaars and rocky valleys in Turkey? Book Culture Trip’s 12-day group tour, where you’ll stop at key historical sites and glide across the landscape in a hot-air balloon.

Istanbul, which hugs the Bosphorus strait, has plenty to see and do

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.

Sumahan on the Water has a private water taxi service to shuttle you across the Bosphorus

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

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

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

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

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