3 Day Istanbul Itinerary

Discover the Magic of Istanbul

Istanbul has to be one of the most exciting cities in the world. As a gateway from Europe to Asia, this Turkish city is known for its magnificent architecture such as the iconic Blue Mosque, and there are plenty of reasons that it’s popular.

Istanbul offers a unique blend of Asian and European cultures, making it a great destination for the cultural and cuisine-loving solo. From the Turkish hammams to the breathtaking mosques and the beautiful shores of the Bosphorus, there's so much to experience. Having travelled to Istanbul solo, to make your trip planning easier, I have included a 3-day itinerary to help you make the most of your time. All these activities are perfect for solo female travellers.

But first, let's talk about Istanbul. It is a vibrant metropolis and the economic hub of Turkey. Given its vast size, covering the entire city in just three days can be a challenge. But that’s a good reason why you have to come back and delve deeper into this Turkish city.

There are several airlines that fly here, with the most well-known being Turkish Airlines UAE as it has many global routes. Once you arrive, the city is 20 minutes from the airport and you can either take the metro and tram or a taxi into Istanbul.

Day 1: Embrace the Splendour of Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia

On your first day in Istanbul, you simply have to begin your journey at the Blue Mosque. This architectural marvel, which is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site will honestly leave you in awe. I remember standing inside this Ottoman Imperial mosque with its intricate hand-painted blue tiles being mesmerised by the interior as I listened to the Call to Prayer and just pinching myself that I was there.

Located in Sultanahmet Square, the Blue Mosque is not only a place of worship for locals but also an important landmark for tourists to the city. You do need to cover up here but can you rent abayas to wear inside. Don’t forget to remove your shoes too.

As you exit the Blue Mosque, you'll come face to face with the grandeur of Hagia Sophia, one of the largest Catholic establishments in the world. Originally a Greek Orthodox church, it was later converted into a mosque by the Ottoman authority. This unique structure seamlessly blends elements of Catholic and Islamic architecture, making it a true masterpiece.

Exploring these two stunning Istanbul landmarks will take you at least half a day, so if you have a desire to see more of the architecture that this city has to offer, head to the Basilica Cistern. This stunning underground space, originally designed as a water management system, will transport you to another world.

And because it’s located near Sultanahmet Square, you can also take a break and just relax in park before or afterwards before heading to your next location for the evening.

If you prefer a guide you can also join a tour to see these 3 landmarks. * Check prices and availability for: Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern & Hagia Sophia 

TIP – If you still have time, just a short walk from the Hagia Sofia is the Topkapi Palace which is now an interesting museum.

Day 1: In The Evening: Cruise Around Istanbul

In the evening, take yourself on a river cruise. Seeing Istanbul at night is so pretty and you may also meet others on the cruise. I did this and really enjoyed it. A cruise will take you past the Anatolian Fortress, the Maiden’s Tower and several palaces including the Ciragan Palace. Plus you’ll get to try the traditional cuisine as you dine whilst watching Turkish folk dancing. Not only do you get to see the city’s skyline but you also sail over two continents too! * Check prices and availability for: Bosphorus dinner cruise & show 

Day 2: Explore the Dolmabahce Palace & Spice Bazaar

If you’re ready for more of Istanbul must-sees, today head to the Dolmabahce Palace (note that it isn’t open on Monday and it’s only open until the afternoons Tuesdays to Sundays). This palace is one of the largest in the country and a place you need to visit when you're here.

Constructed in the 19th century, it was once the primary residence for Ottoman sultans before it became the presidential palace. With its fusion of Ottoman, Baroque, and Neoclassical styles, the palace boasts ornate decorations, lavish chandeliers, and sprawling gardens. Plus the fact that it stands on the shores of the Bosphorus means that it is in a stunning waterfront location. The Palace oozes grandeur and opulence and stands as a testament to the rich history and architectural prowess of the Ottoman Empire.

From the palace, you can jump in a taxi to visit the Spice Bazaar. It’s only 5 minutes away on taxi or you can take the tram instead. This old bustling marketplace dates back to the 17th century and is a sensory overload of spices, herbs and teas. Even just walking around here you can immerse yourself in the scents and rich flavours of the merchant’s goods (and buy yourself some spices to take back with you).

Just a few minutes walk away is the Rustempasha Mosque, another stunning example of Ottoman architecture.  Built in the 16th century, it was commissioned by Grand Vizier Rustem Pasha, husband of one of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent's daughters. The mosque is a blend of Byzantine and Islamic influences and contains intricate tiles work and calligraphy within its interior.

You’ll need approximately 2 hours for the Dolmabache Palace and longer if you have to wait in the queue. I recommend pre-purchasing a ticket that allows you to skip the line. There is also a tour that includes all three places above if you prefer to be on a tour instead of find the places yourself. * Check prices and availability: Dolmabahce Palace

Day 2: In the Evening: Taste of Turkey

3 day Istanbul itinerary

If you work up an appetite after all that sightseeing, it’s time to dine. If you didn’t know, Istanbul is also known for its restaurant scene. They even created a whole campaign over how great the food is. The city is brimming with culinary delights including Michelin Star restaurants and plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians.

But if you don’t enjoy dining alone (which many solo travellers don’t), then you could book a food tour to dine with others instead. A guided food and culture tour starts at 6pm and lasts for 6 hours with a variety of different food at 8 different food stops on both sides of the river (you take the ferry across).

It’s a great way to try all the cuisine within a group and a more comfortable way to see the city at night. If you’re coming from the Dolmabahce Palace it’s only 30 minutes on the tram (or 5 mins in a taxi). * Check prices and availability: Guided food and culture tour

Day 3: Dive into the Grand Bazaar

On the last day, put your comfy walking shoes on and grab an empty bag as it’s time to venture to the Grand Bazaar. This souk is definitely an experience and a place to go if you want to try all the subtle flavours of Turkish Delight. Hop on the tram and get off at Beyazit Kapaliçarsi to reach this bustling market.

There are thousands of stalls all under one roof (4000 to be exact) so it will take you a few hours getting happily lost within its winding maze of trinkets and delights. You can find practically anything here, from clothing and accessories and spices to the traditional Turkish carpets that you can hang on your wall. They even ship them too! Just remember your haggling skills to make sure that you don’t get overcharged by the local sellers. Negotiating is all part of the fun.

Day 3: In The Evening: Relax at a Hamman

3 day Istanbul itinerary

You can’t come all the way to Turkey and not have a Turkish hammam. And you deserve some relaxation and pampering after all the walking and sensory delights of the Grand Bazaar. You can have a hammam up until 6pm too. If you haven’t heard of a hammam, it’s a traditional Turkish bath where you have your body scrubbed with a hand-woven cloth, then foamed and after massaged (you keep your bikini on).

I can’t tell you how refreshed and relaxed you feel afterwards. They even massage your hands! A hamman is the perfect way to conclude your Turkish adventure. Until next time Istanbul… * Check prices and availability for: Turkish hammam

Tip – If you here for a few days and planning to see many of the city’s attractions, I recommend buying an Istanbul Tourist Pass. It gives guided access to the top museums including the Dolmabahce Palace, Basilica Cistern and Hagia Sophia, and also includes a dinner cruise. * Buy the city pass here

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