Istanbul is a city that needs a lot more than 3 days to get to know it, and even with 6 days, which was the days we stayed, it is possible to truly know it.
We found that 3 days is the minimum stay that one should stay in Istanbul and that it is possible to get to know minimally the main points of the city in these days.
Some advice for travelers to Istanbul
1 – Be aware of the prices practiced in some places and especially by the taxi drivers at the airport, when we arrived they asked for € 50 to take us to the city center (we paid € 15).
2 – Do not bother making sandwiches, or eating at home. The prices charged in restaurants are very good it is possible to eat dish food for € 5.
3 – Go with the suitcase with space for the souvenirs! it is possible to buy real bargains in the various markets and shops of Istanbul.
4 – ” Studying ” the history of the city and the empires that occupied it before the visit, will make the experience much more enriching.
5 – Take Euros, and exchange money there, preferably near the Grand Bazaar which is where there are the best exchange rates.
6 – Buy the Museum Pass.
Museum pass - Istanbul
The Museum Pass of Istanbul is a card that gives entrance to some of the main monuments of Istanbul and that allows the saving of some money compared to the value of the entrance of the monuments, buying separately.
Price : 85 TL (19€) DEZ 2017
Duration: 5 days after first use
Selling points :
Hagia Sophia Museum
İstanbul Archaeological Museums
İstanbul Mosaic Museum
Topkapı Palace Museum
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
Entrance in the following monuments:
- Hagia Sophia Museum
- Topkapı Palace Museum and Harem Apartments
- Istanbul Archaeological Museums
- Istanbul Mosaic Museum
- Museum of Turkish and İslamic Arts
- Museum for the History of Science and Technology in Islam
- Chora Museum
- Galata Mevlevi House Museum
- Yıldız Palace
- Rumeli Hisar Museum
- Fethiye Museum
map of Istanbul
Before you go - Visa
Before you go to Istanbul you need to take a visa, which can be done online and takes only 5 minutes.
The Visa costs $ 20 and just follow the steps indicated, which are three bottom: put the data, make the payment and then download.
Turkey is outside the EU, so Eu citizens do not have free health care in this country, so it will be prudent to take travel insurance. We did not do it because we only went 6 days and the health services are reasonably cheap.
day 1 - Sultanahmet e Grand Bazar
(Blue Mosque - Hippodrome - Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts - Grand Bazzar - Turkish Shisha Cafe)
With only 3 days to see Istanbul, it is advisable to divide the city into parts and make some choices, so we recommend 1 day for the Karaköy area and the Asian part and the other two days for the Golden Horn.
Uma boa maneira de começar o primeiro dia é com a visita à Mesquita Azul, a mesquita mais imponente da cidade, construída em 1609 pelo sultão Ahmed I.
A entrada é gratuita e durante as orações a mesquita encontra-se encerrada. As mulheres devem levar lenços na cabeça e ir de pernas tapadas, senão forem eles emprestam lenços e saias.
Visiting this mosque is a unique feeling, it is huge with the entire floor covered with carpeting and with many people praying.
It was also here that we were talking 2 hours with a Muslim about Islam and where we can put all our doubts, anyone who wants to do the same is just going to the room that says ” Information about Islam ”
Next to the blue mosque is the Hippodrome, a relic of the Byzantine Empire!
During the Byzantine Empire, horse races and sporting events were one of the highlights of life in society and the Hippodrome always occupied a prominent position in the city.
Nowadays it is possible to see some obelisks built during the Byzantine Empire.
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
If your stay in Istanbul is short, we recommend a visit to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts on the first day, first because it is right next to the Hippodrome, that is in just over two hours and it is not possible to visit soon 3 Istanbul attractions (Blue Mosque, Hippodrome and Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts) and secondly because it is possible to buy the Musem Pass from Istanbul without large queues.
In this museum it is possible to observe artefacts with more than 1,300 years, that take us to the beginning of the Muslim religion. It is possible to see many books with magnificent calligraphy, especially of the holy book, the Koran.
The museum is divided into several eras of Muslim civilization, from the sec. IX, to sec. XIX, where in addition to the books it is possible to see other artifacts, the most peculiar being a supposed footprint and a hair of the prophet Muhammad himself.
The museum is not very large and within an hour you can see it perfectly, at the end there is a beautiful collection of tapestries from the old Ottoman Empire.
Price: 25 TL
Hours: 09:00 – 17:00
Then it’s time to head to one of Istanbul’s best known spots, Grand Bazzar, which is one of the largest and oldest markets in the world with about 4000 shops.
To eat, the most expensive area is around the Hippodrome, otherwise it is possible to dine for 5/6 €.
Visiting the Grand Bazzar was one of the experiences we most enjoyed in Istanbul! It is a unique place, with a lot of people from one place to another, tourists, locals, vendors … and with a very different dynamic.
Grand Bazzar has more than 10 entries, all of them with handgun cops and metal detectors, due to the attacks in Istanbul in recent years.
The Grand Bazaar’s 4,000 stores mainly sell textiles, ceramics, lamps, jewelry, souvenirs, furs and clothing. There are some ” restaurants ” and cafés in the middle.
Do not forget to haggle, which is one of the funniest parts of this great market!
The Grand Bazaar is huge so we think the best option is to visit it on two occasions.
When they start to hurt their legs, it’s time to stop for tea or smoke a shisha!
Price: € 0
Hours: 08.30h – 18.00h Closed on Sunday
Smoking shisha in a real Turkish shisha cafe
The Turks smoke a lot, especially cigarettes and water pipes (shisha) and around the city there are quite a few cafes / restaurants where it is possible to smoke shisha, however we went to one which seemed to be as authentic as possible, very different from all others we saw, much more ” tourist ”.
The site is called Erenler Hookah and is at the foot of Constantine’s Tower, near the train stop and one of the main entrances of the Grand Bazaar.
When we went the place was full of people, mainly Turks and with a few tourists.
First somebody got us a place to sit, then somebody brought us a shisha, then someone passed and charcoaled us and after a few minutes, a young man came and served us tea. It was funny because they work in a very ” oiled ” way, with a person responsible for every thing.
Price: Shisha 25TL, Tea 2TL (DEZ17 1 € = 4,5TL)
Coordinates: 41.008853, 28.967751
For dinner, there are many restaurants in this area, just look and haggle eheh.
Day 2 - Beyoğlu and the Asian part
( Basilica Cistern - Galata Bridge - Galata tower - Dolmabahce Palace - Kadıköy )
This day will be spent outside the Golden Horn, exploring two quite different parts of Istanbul, the Asian part and the Beyoğlu area more specifically Karakoy which is the part of the city after the Galata Bridge.
Before passing the bridge, we will first visit the Basilica Cistern a construction ordered by the Emperor Justinian himself.
The Basilica Cistern is an underground structure, built in 532 by Emperor Justinian. It is the largest building of its kind in Istanbul and one of the most curious sites we have visited in this city.
With 336 columns, it was able to store 80,000 cubic meters of water and was used to serve the royal palace and adjacent buildings.
The Basilica Cistern was eventually forgotten and it was only in the 80’s that it was renovated and opened to the public.
Price: 20TL (Dec 17) – Not included in Museum Pass
Hours – Every day 9am – 7pm Summer / 9am – 4pm Winter
After visiting the Basilica Cistern it is time to head to the Galata Bridge crossing it in the direction of Karakoy.
The Galata Bridge is one of the main bridges of the city and has lots of life, with many fishermen and one of the best views of the historic area and the Galata Tower.
Built in 1348, even when Istanbul was called Constantinople, the Galata Tower was for many years the highest point in the city, and today occupies a prominent position in the Karakoy area.
We did not go up but must have a nice view over the city.
Price: 18.5TL (Dec17)
Hours: Every day from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
After visiting the Galata Tower, we advise a walk around that area of the city, there are many restaurants where you can eat well and cheap.
After Karakoy we advise one of two options, or do as we do and follow the river to Ortaköy where we took a ferry to Kadıköy, the Asian side of Istanbul, through the Dolmabahce Palace, and the Besiktas stadium which takes about 45 minutes on foot, or take a bus to Ortaköy.
We did not enter the Dolmabahce Palace, for a matter of time, capital, and because sometimes we do this kind of things, leave monuments for future visits! However we think it should be well worth the visit as it is one of the most majestic palaces in Istanbul, especially the ” new era ”
Price: 30TL (Dec17)
Hours: 9am – 4pm Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Ferrie in the Bosphorus - Part 1
This is one of the must-have experiences for anyone visiting Istanbul, which is take a Ferrie on the Bosphorus and seeing this beautiful city from this unique perspective.
We caught the ferrie in Ortaköy heading to Kadıköy, and it cost us 5TL. The ferrie takes about 20 minutes and passes right next to Maiden’s Tower.
The Maiden’s Tower, or Tower of Leandros, is a tower located on an island at the foot of Usküdar (Asian part of Istanbul). The tower has already performed several functions during its more than 1000 years of existence.
It was for example a point of payment of taxes in the time of the Byzantine Empire, until a point of observation of Ottoman empire.
Nowadays it is possible to visit it by boat, but we just passed it.
Asian part of Istanbul - Kadıköy
The Asian part of Istanbul, which is everywhere beyond the Bosphorus, is a must for anyone visiting the city and allows you to know a little more than the tourist circuits.
We have only been a few hours in this part, but it was enough to see some differences, especially in people and in the trade that is seen that is much more aimed at the local people.
Prices in this part of the city are even lower than in the European part of Istanbul.
Ferrie at the Bosphorus - Part 2
After a little stroll in this area and when it is approaching sunset time it is time to return to Europe and catch the ferry this time from Kadıköy to Eminönü.
The value of the ferre is again 5 TL and lasts about half an hour, this is one of the best ferries to observe the historical peninsula and its various mosques.
By this time it is time to rest a bit in one of the restaurants or cafes of the city and enjoy a delicious meal, like the one we ate near the Grand Bazaar.
Day 3 - Golden Horn (historical peninsula)
( Aya Sofya - topkapi palace - Spice Bazaar - Grand bazaar - Süleymaniye mosque)
The third day will be spent in the historical peninsula, where we will visit two of Istanbul’s most famous monuments, the Aya Sofya and the Topkapi Palace.
The Aya Sofya is probably the most emblematic monument in Istanbul, because during its 1500 years of existence, it passed through several phases of city life, from the Byzantine Empire, when it was a church to the Ottoman Empire, which consecrated it as a Mosque . Nowadays it is a Museum, a must visit for anyone visiting Istanbul.
Aya Sofya was built between 532 and 537 by the Byzantine emperor Justinian.
Although the original name is Basilica of Saint Sophia, it is not dedicated to any saint called ” Sofia ”, ‘‘ Sofia ” means Wisdom in Greek, so the Romans adapted the word and called it the Basilica of Saint Sophia Wisdom).
This cathedral, which until the XVI century was the largest in the world, was the center of the Orthodox church for almost 1000 years until the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks.
When the city was conquered, one of the first things that the Sultan Mehmed II did, was to convert the church into a mosque.
Finally, in 1935 with the birth of the Republic of Turkey, Kemal Atatürk ordered that the mosque becomes a museum, and it remained to this day.
In the interior we undoubtedly highlight the magnificence of the building, as well as its beautiful Byzantine mosaics!
It is possible to visit the two floors, as well as some areas outside, among them we highlight the tomb, where rests 5 sultans and an old fountain.
Tip: There is a second floor window which gives a great view of the Blue Mosque.
Price: 40 TL (Free with Museum Pass)
Hours: 09.00h – 19.00h Summer / 09.00h – 17.00h Winter – Closed Monday
Topkapi Palace e Harem
Just behind the Aya Sofya is the Topkapi Palace, which for almost 400 years was the residence and administrative center of the Ottoman Empire and its sultans.
This palace allows us to see what life would be like in those days, when the Sultan had up to 300 concubines waiting for him in the Harem, and here emissaries and representatives of practically every corner of the world know arrived.
The palace was built by Mehmet – ” the Conqueror ” in 1459, just six years after conquering Constantinople, and since then has been the subject of additions and renovations that have made it one of the main monuments of the Ottoman Empire.
The palace is very large, and at least we advise 2.5h to see it in full. You can see many interesting things, starting with the kitchens.
The large chimneys give us the perception of the size of space that once cooked for almost 5 000 people, every day. Nowadays inside the kitchens are exposed Chinese porcelains, and some kitchen utensils.
After the kitchens, the path leads naturally to the “Door of Happiness”, where we enter the third courtyard, where you can see the bookstore, the courtroom, a fountain and other rooms of interest.
It is especially interesting to imagine what has already happened in that space, and let us delve into the details that are around us.
After exploring the third and fourth patio area, it is necessary to return to No. 2 courtyard, which will take us to one of the palace’s most special sites, the Harem.
It was in the Harem that the Sultan lived, along with his family and his “pretenders.” Life within this space was governed by obligation, tradition, and ceremony.
The most beautiful women of the Empire were chosen to come here, where they were educated in various areas. The Sultan’s favorites lived in separate chambers with his sons.
To enter the Harem it is necessary to buy a separate ticket (for those who do not have the Museum Pass)
Beside the Harem, are exposed many weapons and artifacts of the Ottoman Empire, which are fascinating to see!
Price: 40TL + 25 TL (Palace + Harem) (Free Museum Pass)
Hours: 9am – 4:45 p.m. Winter / 9am – 6:45 p.m. Summer – Closed Tuesday
If the day has started early, it should be lunch time by this time, and again there are plenty of options, here is an example of what to eat between Topkapi Palace and our next destination, the Spice Bazaar.
The Spice Bazaar was built in sec. XVII and nowadays is the second largest Bazaar in Istanbul. There are about 85 shops, which sell mostly spices, Turkish Delight and souvenirs.
From the Spice Bazaar we can do one of two things depending on the time.
If it is still early (15h), we recommend a visit to the Süleymaniye Mosque first and then to the Grand Bazaar. If it is already late, it is best to go to the Grand Bazaar first, because it closes at 6pm.
The Süleymaniye Mosque is the second largest in the city, and was built in 1550 by Sultan Süleymaniye – The Magnificent.
This building has a splendid architecture, both outside and inside. From its outdoor patio you can have a nice view over part of Istanbul.
After visiting this mosque it is time to visit the Grand Bazaar and come back to miss out on its almost 4000 shops!
And so we arrived at the end of 3 days to discover this wonderful city, we left here other places that we found interesting and that who has a little more time must visit.
Where are some of the most beautiful examples of frescoes and mosaics of the Byzantine Empire
The walls that defended the city during more than 1000 years during the Byzantine Empire
One of the best preserved Orthodox churches in Istanbul
Istanbul is a unique city and we love to meet. We had a great desire to go back and discover this magnificent example of exchange of cultures and beliefs, which have left us to this day a unique cultural heritage.