Tucked in between Asia and Europe, Istanbul is one of the most unique tourist destinations. In this article, you’ll get the answer to “how many days in Istanbul is enough?” You’ll also find several Istanbul itineraries, tips for Istanbul first-time visitors, and pointers on getting around Istanbul.
How many days in Istanbul?
A rich cultural hotspot, Istanbul teems with must-visit sights and landmarks! So how many days in Istanbul is enough? If you’re visiting for the first time, give the city at least three days. Three days in Istanbul will allow you to cover its most famous spots — but expect a jampacked itinerary if you want to maximize your stay!
Also read: 24 Things Turkey Is Known And Famous For
Things to consider
To get the most out of Istanbul, make sure you personalize your experience. While some travelers can explore the city in three days, others might need a longer time. Your personalized itinerary depends on various factors:
1. Your travel goals
Did you visit Turkey mainly to explore Istanbul? Or are you planning to explore other Turkish spots as well? Istanbul makes a great tourist spot in itself. However, if you’re keener on exploring other spots — say, Cappadocia or Pakkumale — then don’t get overwhelmed with all the sites to see in Istanbul!
If you just want to take a peek of the wonders of Istanbul, even a day or two would be enough! (Take note: Some tourist spots in Istanbul have long queues. Allotting just a day or two will mean that you might miss out on some sites.)
2. Your travel style
If you’re fond of a full schedule, then three days is definitely enough to explore Istanbul. But if you’re more of a slow traveler, allot more days for yourself to savor all that the complex city can offer.
3. Your budget
Evidently, your budget must match your itinerary. Relatively speaking, Istanbul isn’t an expensive city to explore. In fact, you might want to stay longer to maximize your flight expenses!
4. Your interests
Istanbul has endless wonders that awe first-time travelers and long-term residents alike. You can spend days traversing through its historical landmarks and colorful streets without getting bored! But if you’re not much into architectural sites or shopping districts, then you can probably skip some of Istanbul’s famed spots.
Istanbul in 1 day
While Istanbul teems with must-see tourist attractions, it also makes a great stopover. Aside from its convenient transportation system, Istanbul also has most of its landmarks sit within walking distance from one another.
By spending 24 hours in Istanbul, you can visit most of its famous tourist spots already. After finishing your Turkish tea or coffee, jumpstart your day by heading to the Sultanahmet.
A UNESCO world heritage site, Sultanahmet is also known as “Old Istanbul.” It houses most of its renowned cultural gems: the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Topkapı Palace, the Byzantine Hippodrome, the Basilica Cistern, and many others. You can spend the whole morning exploring some of the sites in this popular complex!
Get yourself a classic Turkish lunch — there are several historic restaurants in Sultanahmet including Balıkçı Sabahattın, Matbah, and Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta.
After lunch, go shopping at the Grand Bazaar. Even if you typically don’t spend hours shopping, you might change your mind once you see the largest bazaar in the world. Drop by the Spice Bazaar too, if you want to bring home some delectable Turkish flavors. (You should!) If you can’t get enough, look into this list of shopping spots in Istanbul and take your pick!
Istanbul in 2-3 days
If you have 2-3 days in Istanbul, then you can definitely spend more time exploring Sultanhamet! After savoring the architectural wonders of the most iconic Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, check out the rest of the sites in Sultanahmet Square.
Even if you only plan on spending 2 days in Istanbul, I recommend that you spend your whole day at Sultanhamet. Visit the Hippodrome, the Egyptian obelisk, the Serpent Column, and the Basilica Cistern. These landmarks have rich historical relevance, so don’t just take photos — read about their significance, too!
Grab dinner at the Galata Tower, from which you’ll get a picturesque panorama of Istanbul. (As this spot is a famous sunset viewpoint, expect a long queue. But trust me: A sunset dinner at the Galata Tower is definitely worth the wait!)
On day two of your 2-day itinerary, you can spend your time at the Grand Bazaar. Afterward, if you’re interested in a sophisticated European experience, head over to Istiklal Street. Here, you can dine in one of the cafés in The Flower Passage. Once you’re exhausted, relax in one of Istanbul’s hammams, traditional Turkish baths that promise great relaxation!
If you have another day to spare, I recommend that you spend more time at Istiklal Street. Your 3-day itinerary will allow you more time to visit the fascinating MekanGalata Mevlevi Whirling Dervish House and Museum, watch a Turkish film at The Majestic Cinema, and enjoy a short circle Bosphorus Cruise!
Istanbul in 4-5 days
More days in Istanbul means more time to really take in its sites. Enjoy the freedom of exploring more of Sultanahmet and Istiklal Street! With 4-5 days in Istanbul, you may have the luxury of going on a Full Bosphorus Cruise Tour. Depending on your liking, you can take the afternoon or the evening cruise tour.
Where the short circle Bosphorus Cruise tour gives you a taste of the scenic views from the Bosphorus, the full tour allows a more in-depth excursion. The latter even lets passengers voyage through the Black Sea! (In this tour, you can climb up the mountain where the Yoros Castle sits.)
Istanbul in 6-7 days
An Istanbul itinerary with 6-7 days is more than enough — even for slow travelers! Take your time exploring local cuisine. Don’t miss kebab and Turkish coffee!
With more time in your hands, you can also go round the many museums of Istanbul. It’s fascinating how diverse the types of museums are in this city. Certainly, there’ll be at least one to pique your interest!
Visit the Museum of Islamic Science and Technology if you’re interested in how Islamic science came to be. If you’re more into history, visit the Istanbul Archaeological Museums — the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Museum of Islamic Art — which all show different eras of world civilization.
Seeking artsier spots? Built in 2004, the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art is a relatively newer museum that showcases the works of contemporary Turkish artists. There’s also the Istanbul Toy Museum, a five-story historical mansion featuring over 4,000 toys!
Getting around Istanbul
Getting around Istanbul isn’t difficult — the city has long established itself as a tourist hotspot, after all. You may get an Istanbul Kart, a prepaid RFID card, to pay for any kind of public transport.
Taxi cabs – Plenty of taxi cabs circle Istanbul, but the traffic might make this option less practical. You can download the BiTaksi app to ensure a safe ride.
Metrobus – While the Metrobus skips the heavy traffic in Istanbul, it’s also notorious for usually being packed with passengers.
Tramway – The modern tramway runs through the major towns on the European side of Istanbul. This is a great public transportation option for touring around popular tourist destinations like the Sultanahmet, Grand Bazaar, and Istiklal Street.
Ferry – Ride a ferry to get from the European to the Asian side of Istanbul and vice versa. The vapur is usually available from 8am to 6pm.
Marmaray – If you get seasick, you have the option to ride the Marmaray instead. This rail line runs under the Bosphorus strait, interconnects the European to the Asian side of Istanbul.
Bonus: Ride the Tünel funicular — this second oldest subway in the world connects Karaköy to İstiklal Caddesi!
Travel tips for Istanbul
Enjoy the savory Turkish cuisine. While Turkey is famous for its baklava, don’t miss out on kebabs, döners, and köfte! If you’re unsure what to order in a restaurant, get the Meze — a selection of small Turkish dishes.
Dress conservatively. It’s true that Istanbul has become more secular than it once was. Still, try to pack conservative clothes — especially when you plan on visiting its religious sites. Churches, including the Hagia Sophia, require women to wear long skirts and scarves over their heads. Sleeveless tops are also prohibited.
Get a museum pass. If you plan on touring all the museums in Istanbul, consider getting an Istanbul museum pass. Not only will the museum pass grant you free access, but it will also allow you to enter museums without having to line up.
Learn to haggle. Make sure you get the best bang for your buck, especially when shopping at the Grand Bazaar. Vendors tend to hike up when they see foreigners. Also, check out the stalls around the Grand Bazaar. You might find cheaper alternatives to the products you want!
Prepare to walk. Istanbul is such a huge city. Thankfully, its weather and sites make it very walkable. This said, walk as much as you can. Walking is a good exercise, lets you avoid traffic, keeps you from spending too much on public transportation. Not to mention, there are lots of streetfood to enjoy!
Learn some Turkish. Knowing how to communicate in Istanbul’s national language definitely won’t hurt you. Before traveling to Istanbul, learn some essential Turkish phrases or study the Turkish language through mobile apps!
Other Istanbul FAQ
Is 2 days enough in Istanbul? For travelers who don’t mind a jampacked schedule, two days is enough in Istanbul. Usually, tourists who stay in Istanbul for 2 days have other Turkish destinations in mind.
Is 4 days enough in Istanbul? Four days in Istanbul is perfect to explore its landmarks. Make sure to spend a day in the Sultanahmet to maximize your stay.
Is 5 days enough in Istanbul? Five days makes a great Istanbul stay, especially if you prefer savoring in tourist spots. Make sure to check out other Turkish destinations, too!
How many days should you spend in Turkey? It depends on many factors. Ideally, you should spend at least a week in Turkey to make the most out of your trip.
What is the best month to go to Turkey? It’s best to visit Turkey from March to June. The weather during these months is perfect for walking tours. But, expect prices to soar as these are the peak months for tourism.