Many people ask me whether or not 72 Hours in Istanbul is enough to see the city. Can someone visit Istanbul in 72 hours? The short answer is a ‘YES BUT’… As always… Istanbul can get overwhelming, so you’d better do some planning to get the most out of it. And if you plan it right, then YES, 72 Hours in Istanbul is plenty of time to get a sense of what this city is all about.
There is no shortage of shops, clubs, museums, galleries, restaurants, and cafes. So the critical question is: what are YOU looking to do? Do you want to delve into the endless history? If so, there are several glamorous museums, mosques, basilicas, and palaces in Istanbul right at your service. But, on the other hand, if you’re just here to rest, why not indulge in the culinary scene?
Or maybe you’re here to party… and party hard. Istanbul has made a name for itself for nightlife as it offers endless options for everyone on every budget. Indeed, it can get a little overwhelming when you suddenly have that many things to do. Where to go and what to do? In Istanbul, it’s easy to get lost and waste those precious 72 hours in traffic. The best thing to do is to ask “Someone Who Knows”. Without further due, here’s is my suggestion on how you should spend your 72 hours in Istanbul.
DAY 1: Let’s refresh Ottoman & Byzantine History
What to do: Topkapi Palace, Haghia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Fish restaurant with a view over Bosphorus.
On your first day in Istanbul, get a quick breakfast and head over to TOPKAPI PALACE in Sultanahmet. The Palace is enormous, and the information provided is minimal. So rather than staring at the walls, tiles, and artifacts, I highly recommend starting your tour with Topkapi Cinematic Walk, which gives you a sense of what life was like back in the 17th century. The tour takes you to the Palace and the Harem, and after the tour, it would be a great idea to walk the rest of the Palace to admire the Ottoman heritage in the city. Plan about 3 hours for the Palace.
Walk back to Sultanahmet Square and have a quick lunch, so you get in line for HAGIA SOPHIA, an architectural jewel in Istanbul. Then walk across the park to the BLUE MOSQUE, or Sultanahmet Camii as Turks call it. Its English name comes from the famous blue ceramics adorning the mosque’s interior walls.
After the mosque, just walk around in the Sultanahmet area and feel for the Old City. And make a stop at the BASILICA CISTERN to cool off a little. The right way to end this beautiful day would be to enjoy a delicious dinner at a fish restaurant along the Bosphorus. The view will simply take your breath away, and I’m sure you’ll like to sample the local drink, raki.
DAY 2: Act like a local
What to do: Spice Market, Grand Bazaar, Suleymaniye Mosque, Galata Tower, Istiklal Street, Nevizade
Start your second day by visiting the SPICE MARKET, which simply is too unique to describe in any word. Afterwards, you can head to the GRAND BAZAAR, one of the most unique and exciting “malls” you will ever visit. However, don’t be mistaken, as it will not be your usual shopping experience. The Grand Bazaar hosts colourful streets, friendly but aggressive vendors who can sell you things in 5 languages and offers all sorts of souvenirs, ranging from rare handmade carpets and Turkish Delight to spices and exquisite jewellery. The bazaar is a prominent place and hence can get exhausting. You may spend a few days here, but as your time is limited, hit the highlights and move on.
The SULEYMANIYE MOSQUE is a short hike away from the bazaar and is definitely worth a visit. Enjoy this marvellous piece of architecture built by the Masterful Sinan.
For the evening, you should venture out to where Turks usually hang out. So take the tram to Karakoy and switch to the Tunel (a short subway that goes up the hill) to arrive at GALATA. Galata is where the famous Istiklal Caddesi starts. But make sure to go up the GALATA TOWER and enjoy the view at sunset. Then stroll on the Istiklal Street towards TAKSIM. On your way, make a stop at one of the taverns at Nevizade street. I recommend Krependeki Imroz, a local favourite, to enjoy some raki and mezze. If you’d rather have a quick bite, you can go to the Galatasaray Square and try “midye” (mussels) and “kokorec” (roasted tripe) that you can buy on the street. While you are at the Galata / Taksim area, you should also try out the nightclubs there.
DAY 3: Get a feel for the riches
What to do: Bosphorus tour
You’ve been running around for the last 48 hours. So, your last day should be pleasing and memorable. So, why not start your third day with a Bosphorus tour, one of the best ways to enjoy the panoramic views on a boat. While at it, you can also enjoy the sight of the mansions along the coastline and admire the magnificence of the two bridges that connect Europe and Asia.
On your return, you have several options: you can hang out with the fishermen on the Galata Bridge or try your own luck at fishing by renting equipment, which would obviously be the more adventurous option. When you’re done, I think you should not miss the Rustem Pasa Mosque in Eminonu. If you still have some more shopping to do, you can then head to the Spice Market, which will be nearby.
The second option after the boat trip is to go back to Galata and discover this historically Genovese neighbourhood. Galata’s cobblestone pavements, hidden old buildings, mosques, churches, and synagogues lined next to each other will give you a better idea of Istanbul’s cultural and social structure.
End the evening at a nice restaurant/bar overlooking Bosphorus. 360 or Leb-i Derya are two venues with a view, and you can’t go wrong spending your last evening in either one.