Istanbul In 3 Days. What To See + Do.

Istanbul In 3 Days

Last August {yes, I’m incredibly late writing this}, I traveled to Istanbul. Hands down the most amazing place I’ve traveled to. Seeing glimpses of both India and Western Europe in this single city, plus with all it offers in the way of cuisine, architecture, culture and shopping, I wish my stay had been longer. Istanbul in 3 days was amazing, but there is so much to see and do. Planning the trip was a job. I was traveling with my sister and luckily, we both had similar agendas. Here’s a look at our three days.

What to think about

  1. Choose your flight times carefully to maximize your time.
  2. Choose a hotel with easy access to and from your sightseeing destinations.
  3. Check when attractions are closed before planning each day’s agenda.
  4. Look at the weather.

We chose a red-eye flight, landing in Istanbul at noon the next day. We knew we would be tired {who can sleep on a plane}, but it gave us a few more hours in the city rather than arriving in the evening. We chose to stay at the Four Seasons Bosphorus for two reasons. It’s absolutely beautiful and it’s right on the Bosphorus with easy access to water taxis. Traffic in Istanbul is insane and water taxis are the quickest way to get around here. We arrived on a Sunday when some attractions are closed, so we made this a shopping day. This worked perfect since my sister and I can shop under any circumstance and being jet lagged was not going to stop us. End of August is amazing if you like hot weather. High 80s with the lows in the 70s. Perfect blue skies. Just make sure to pack sunglasses and SPF. So, what all did we do?

Travel to Istanbul + Arriving

Before leaving Newark, we converted some dollars to euros, just to have. We knew that Istanbul would accept the American dollar, but would charge us more to use them. You still need to have some American dollars on hand though. You need them when getting your visa in Istanbul. Yes, after landing, you will need to wait in a line for your visa…then head to customs. You can visit a Turkish consulate or use Travisa to obtain a visa ahead of time. We didn’t, but we did reserve a taxi ahead of time. After hours of travel, landing in a new country and waiting through long lines, it’s nice to have someone waiting for you with your name on a sign. You can make a reservation through Istanbul Airport Taxi Reservations. The cost was 30 Euros which was a fraction of the cost of scheduling the airport pick up through the Four Seasons.

Day 1 Begins + Shopping

We had a great ride in before their rush hour traffic. Another pro to landing earlier in the day instead of in the evening. The Four Seasons checked us in, then sent us in a taxi to Nisantasi. This is a shopping district, full of crooked streets, designer stores, and cafes {note: There are cafes everywhere and stopping to enjoy tea or coffee during any time of the day is expected and recommended}.

Istanbul In 3 Days

We found a cafe with outside seating and enjoyed an Italian lunch and a little Prosecco to ‘cheers’ ourselves for making it. After a couple of hours of walking and shopping, we found another cafe to sit and enjoy Turkish tea and simit {a bagel-like snack}.

Turkish Tea, Istanbul

We were close enough to our hotel that we could walk back. We also, at this point, were a little exhausted and decided to eat al fresco at the hotel. Dinner consisted of mezes, tapas-style small plates, a local cocktail of raki mixed with flossed halva and red grapes, and of course, Turkish Delights. All are recommended to try.

photo 3-2 Day 2 + Pool Time

Our relaxation day! We kicked off the morning with mimosas overlooking the river, while we waited for our water taxi. And..I admit that I don’t do great on water, so I also took Dramamine.

photo 1-2 The water taxi took us to the Maiden Tower as featured in James Bond The World Is Not Enough {I love James Bond}. The water taxi was extremely efficient. No other way to go. The cost was 70 Turkish Lira and took less than 15 minutes, with the other option being to taxi to a ferry pick up and then ferry over. Cost would have been a little less, but taken much longer, eating up our mimosa time. Priorities!

At the Maiden Tower, we did not see Bond…but we did have a lovely view of Old Town and enjoyed a Turkish breakfast. After some picture taking, we took a water taxi back to our hotel, then caught a taxi to the Fortress of Europe. 10 minutes later, we were dropped off and spent an hour walking through the fortress before grabbing some bottled water at a nearby cafe and strolling down the river.

photo 4-2 We came to a little neighborhood area with a few shops and restaurants. We visited a couple of shops and enjoyed Turkish Coffee and chocolates at a quaint bakery, before catching a taxi back to the hotel. After a lazy afternoon at the pool and dozing in the sun, we walked next door to the Ciragan Palace Hotel. The hotel is beautiful and deserves a visit, plus the food and ice cream parfaits are delicious.

Day 3 + Old Town

We scheduled the third day to be the busiest, assuming we would be acclimated. We started with breakfast at the hotel…outside of course, with amazing croissants, cherry jam and mimosas. We then walked down to the Dolmbahce Palace. It opens at 9am, however, Harem {the part of the palace that we wanted to see} didn’t open until ‘later’. There was no real time set, it was more of a ‘when it gets busy’ it will open. We walked around the Palace, but had to leave to catch our water taxi before the Harem portion opened. Definitely a miss and not one we expected.

photo 16photo 2-2Back on the water taxi, but this time, we headed to Old Town where there’s a lot to see and do. All conveniently located near each other is the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, Basilica Cistern and a few Turkish hamams {aka Turkish bath}. You need a reservation for the hamam, but your hotel concierge can help. We visited the Ayasofya, which recently went through a $10 million restoration. After our bath and massage, we walked down to the Grand Bazaar.

photo 1-1 photo 2-1 With thoughts of India and having to haggle, neither one of us were trying to shop or spend a lot of time here. If you have not been to a bazaar of this kind, then you should go…but otherwise, I would skip and focus on the little shops located near the Bazaar. These are full of gifts and souvenirs without the crowds.

photo 15After finding a set of Turkish tea cups, we set off to walk over the Galata Bridge and head to the Galata Tower which has {in my opinion} the best views of the city. This neighborhood is filled with steep brick streets, shops and a lively after work scene. It was neat to see Istanbul heading off to different places after a work day. Some relaxing and fishing and a younger crowd heading into cafes and bars.

photo 2 Our ‘after-work’ plans included dinner reservation at a place I found in my Conde Nast Traveler, Mikla. Mikla is on the roof top floor at the Marmara Pera Hotel, with a chef who helped lead the culinary scene in Istanbul. Since we arrived a little early, we enjoyed pre-dinner cocktails on the rooftop bar, which has stunning views of the Golden Horn and Bosphorus. A perfect last night in Istanbul.

Day 4 + Travel On

We did not want to leave and easily could have stayed another few days to enjoy the hotel, visit the Asian side…head down to the southern coast. It’s a reason to go back and I’m sure I will.

5 Responses to Istanbul In 3 Days. What To See + Do.

  1. Angela says:

    Congrats!!! I nominated you for the Liebster award!!!

  2. caroline says:

    Oh, oh, oh! I want to go to Istanbul so badly! It looks so fabulous.

  3. Linda Manns Linneman says:

    I would love to go to Istanbul. It looks beautiful and it looks like you had a wonderful time Thank you for sharing

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