How Long Should You Spend in Istanbul?

Ortakoy Mosque and Bosphorus

Istanbul is one of the most popular destinations for tourists and digital nomads around the world. Thanks to its natural beauties and its 3.000 years of history as a city, there are many tourist attractions in this magical place. Many travelers wonder how many days are enough to enjoy Istanbul.

If you are a tourist, we can say that you must stay in Istanbul at least 3 days. However, if you want to visit most of the must-see places in the city at least one time, we recommend you to stay for 5-7 days. 

If you are a digital nomad, you should plan to stay at least 1 month. Our recommendation for you would be 3-6 months since Istanbul is huge and there are many places to explore.

Istanbul is the most populated city in Europe and is a really huge city to explore. There are many historical places that you must see. Thus, you will definitely need time to explore the city if you want to give Istanbul its credit. Let’s see what you should do in Istanbul if you have limited time.

What you should do in Istanbul if you have only 3 days

We wish you could stay in this beautiful city for a longer time. However, you have just 3 days and you need to explore the city as much as possible. You can visit the must-see places in Istanbul in 3 days. Most of the historical places are located in the Old Town District(Sultanahmet) and very close to each other. So it is possible to visit most of them just by walking.

On the other hand, modern parts of Istanbul are located out of Old Town District(Sultanahmet). Fortunately, the city has an advanced transportation system and you can go from a place to another place by different means of transportation. In this way, you can visit as many places as possible.

Here are our suggestions;

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is one of the symbols of Istanbul. It represents the historical character of the city. Hagia Sophia witnessed the Byzantine, Ottoman, and Republic of Turkey. It was built in 325 AD. It was accepted as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO’ in 1985. It is probably the first place you should visit in Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia

Topkapi Palace

The Ottoman Empire ruled their lands from the Topkapi Palace between the 15th and 19th centuries.  It is nearby Hagia Sophia and is also a magnificent place. You can feel like you live in the time of the Ottoman Empire when you visit Topkapi Palace. With Harem, Imperial Council Chamber, and Palace Kitchens you can feel the historical aspect of Istanbul.

Entrance of Topkapi Palace
Entrance of Topkapi Palace

Blue Mosque

Another historical place in the city is the Blue Mosque. The name Blue Mosque comes from the blue tiles of the Mosque. It was built in 1616. It is a great architectural structure. 

Grand Bazaar

When you visit Istanbul, you want to buy souvenirs and domestic Turkish products for your loved ones in your home country. This is the place you are looking for. Grand Bazaar is a huge covered market. Actually, it may be accepted as the first shopping mall in the world.

Suleymaniye Mosque

Although it is not as famous as Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia, I recommend you to visit Suleymaniye Mosque. The mosque was designed by the architect Great Sinan for the Suleyman the Magnificent. When it was built, it was not just a mosque. There was a hospital, a big kitchen, a school in the area of the building.  You can also visit the graveyards of Suleyman the Magnificent and his wife Roxanne(Hurrem) in the surrounding area. 

Taksim Square and Istiklal Street 

Istiklal Street is the most famous street in Istanbul and it is a pedestrianized street. The second oldest subway(Tunel) of the world can be seen at the end of Istiklal Street. The street is full of historic buildings. You can also visit some fancy shops and restaurants. The old-fashioned tram can take you from Taksim Square along to the end of Istiklal Street.

Galata Tower

Galata Tower was built in 1348. It is one of the most significant monuments of Istanbul.  You can enter the tower and watch the beauty of Istanbul from the sky.  However, this place is really popular among tourists, you may need to wait in line. 

Streets of Galata Neighborhood and Galata Tower

Karakoy

Karaköy is also a historical place. It was one of the most important ports of the Byzantine Empire. In fact it was the center of commerce in Byzantine Empire.  Now, there are fancy shops and restaurants you can visit. 

Eminonu

Eminönü is in the Fatih district of the historical peninsula. It was an important place for the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire thanks to its location close to the Bosphorus entrance.  Do not forget to eat fried fish sandwich.

Spice Bazaar

If you visit Istanbul we guess you have some idea about domestic foods and desserts of Turkey. The most famous dessert of traditional Turkish cuisine is lokum (Turkish delight) and you can buy the finest lokum at Spice Bazaar. However, it could be very crowded and we advise you to visit in the early morning. 

Bosphorus Boat Tours  

You should not leave Istanbul without taking a boat tour in the Bosphorus. You can watch the beauty of the city from the sea, where Europe and Asia come together. 

Bosphorus Cruise
Bosphorus Cruise

What you should do in Istanbul if you have 5-7 days

If you can stay in Istanbul for about a week. We have further recommendations for you!  In three days, you can visit some of the most important historical places and beautiful districts in the city. However, Istanbul is a huge city as we said at the beginning of the article. There are lost fancy districts, historical sites, restaurants for you. 

The Basilica Cistern

Istanbul is such a unique city that you can find  places underground of the city worth seeing. As you know, Istanbul was the capital and most important city of the Byzantine Empire. With the Basilica Cistern, the Byzantine Empire brought water to the people of Istanbul. You must visit this engineering marvel from the ancient times. 

Ortakoy

If you want to see lively towns of modern day Istanbul, you must visit Ortaköy. Ortaköy is located under the first Bosphorus Bridge. As well as its unique beauty, it is also famous for the nightlife and lots of bars, cafes, fashion boutiques. There are also some shops where you can buy souvenirs for your loved ones.

Dolmabahce Palace

In your first three days in the city, you would probably visit Topkapi Palace, which is the main palace until the 19th century. Now, it is time to visit the second palace. Dolmabahce Palace is just gorgeous. It’s huge, there are 285 rooms in the palace.

Breakfast at Besiktas

Besiktas is also a lovely place in Istanbul which has many cafes, bars and some historic buildings. There are many breakfast salons and cafes where you can have a Turkish breakfast in the early morning. We suggest you try it.

Turkish Breakfast
Turkish Breakfast

Kadikoy

Kadikoy is on the Asian side of Istanbul and it is seen as one of the cultural center of Istanbul. There are many cultural and artistic events in the Kadikoy. It has the most famous ‘’bars street’’ in Istanbul. The majority of the population of Kadıköy is young university students. Therefore, it is a lively place.

Historical Walls of Istanbul

You must see the historic walls of Istanbul if you stay for about one week in the city. The city was an important center for different civilizations in different periods of history, and those civilizations built walls to protect the city. Some of the walls are still standing today.  You may feel yourself a scene war from a history movie when you see the walls.

Balat

Balat is one of the oldest Jewish and Greek Orthodox neighborhoods. If you want to see colorful homes and hidden churches, you must visit Balat. It would be a unique experience for you. 

Traditional Turkish Food and Street Food

As many people know, Turkey is very famous for its cuisine, and as the biggest city in Turkey, Istanbul offers you all of the delicious Turkish food. You can have Turkish breakfast in lovely towns, you can eat Turkish simit as you walk in the street, you can eat different kinds of kebabs at famous kebab restaurants, you can eat traditional Turkish desserts like baklava, kunefe, etc. 

What you should do if you are in Istanbul for longer times 

If you decide to stay in Istanbul for longer than a week, there are a number of different attractions for you. You can always find something to do in this huge city, you would never get bored.

Nightlife

Istanbul has lots of nightclubs, bars, pubs, concert halls.  You can enjoy live performances, dance in nightclubs. The night is yours !

Turkish Bath

Turkish baths are famous all around the world.  We advise you to choose a hammam that includes scrubbing and bubble wash in its standard service.  Then, all you need to do is to enjoy the hot water.

Day trips to nearby locations

Prince Islands

Prince Islands are really beautiful islands that are part of Istanbul city officially but they are not on the mainland. They are separated islands. Therefore, exploring Prince islands can take one day of your Istanbul trip completely. That’s why we advise you to visit there if you decide to stay for more than a week.  The Prince Islands are heavenly places. You will love the natural beauty and historical atmosphere. 

Edirne

Edirne is another city in Turkey near Istanbul. If you would stay in Istanbul for more than a week, you should visit other cities near Istanbul and Edirne should be the first one. This small city was one of the old capitals of the Ottoman Empire and was a major city for the Byzantine Empire. Selimiye Mosque, Meriç Bridge, Old Mosque, Kaleici are some of the most see places in Edirne.

Gallipoli Peninsula and Dardanelles

Gallipoli Peninsula and Dardanelles are sites you need to visit near Istanbul. Gallipoli was home to one of the most crucial battles of WWI. 500.000 people died in the battle. You can see the Canakkale Martyrs Monument and ANZAC Cemetery.

Troy

Troy is also in Dardanelles (Canakkale). It is the place of the famous story of Troy.  You can see the Trojan Horse which could be seen in the Troy movie (2004) in the historical site of Troy. 

Museums

Istanbul is the cultural center of Turkey. Therefore, there are lots of museums in the city. If you have time you can visit the Pera Museum, which is in one of the first Non-Muslim neighborhoods of Istanbul. Istanbul Modern is the first modern art museum in Istanbul and we advise you to visit it if you are interested in modern art. The Istanbul Archeology Museum is the oldest museum in Turkey. Even the architecture of the museum will influence you in the first moment.  You can see the historical artifacts from the old civilization which are settled in Turkey. 

More street foods

If you can stay longer in Istanbul, the number of street foods that you can eat is almost endless. Here are some street foods we suggest you try;

  • Kokoreç
  • Steamed burger 
  • Tantuni 
  • Kumpir  (baked jacket potatoes) 
  • Borek
  • Stuffed mussels, and much more 

As you can see, Istanbul offers you lots of tourist attractions and it would be an unforgettable experience for you to visit Istanbul.  We advise you to stay longer if it is possible. However, if it is not possible there are still things to do. Enjoy it!

İsmail Çamönü

Hi! I am Ismail. I am a digital nomad from Turkey. I lived in many cities around Turkey during my life and I am passionate about traveling. At Nomad's Guide to Turkey, I share travel tips for nomads, expats, and tourists who would like to visit Turkey.

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