By Ezgi Tozar, a free-spirited animal-lover born in Istanbul and raised to have a deep love of Turkish food!Edited by Jessica Wright
Anyone who loves Istanbul will agree that a few weeks or even months would be better than a few days, but if you’ve only got 3 days in Istanbul, it’s enough to enjoy a taste! The only trouble is, it will undoubtedly leave you craving more. 3 days in Istanbul is more than enough to see several of the famed historical sites, sample a variety of the exotic and diverse flavors and of course squeeze in a Turkish bath or two – you just need to know exactly what you plan to do so that not a single minute goes to waste. When it comes to what to do in Istanbul in 3 days; well, that’s where I come in. I’ve lived in Istanbul all my life and with Mediterranean and Anatolian heritage of my own, I have some insight into the wonderfully diverse nature of this east meets west city. In this Istanbul 3 days itinerary I’ll lead you across the city, traipsing over the bones of a Byzantium colony, the dust of Constantinople and the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. If you don’t get your fill from the historical splendor of the city, the selection of mouth-watering eateries, pubs and street foods I direct you to will certainly do the job!
Day 1 - Breakfast At Van Kahvaltı Evi In Cihangir
Kick off your Istanbul 3 days itinerary with a breakfast fit for sultans; a Kurdish breakfast spread at a kahvaltı salonları (breakfast salon), famed for the extravagant selection of breakfast dishes that include all your morning meal favorites – fried eggs, grilled tomato, an array of cheese and some fresh bread – as well as some more interesting fare; honey, clotted cream, tahini, molasses and black olives. Widely agreed upon as the best Van-style kahvaltı salonları is Van Kahvaltı Evi in Cihangir which, depending on where you decide to stay (and if you you haven’t decided where to stay in Istanbul, here’s a handy guide) is quite central in the city. A hip and trendy suburb, Cihangir is packed full of antique shops, cafes, art galleries, museums and traditional Turkish hamam (authentic baths). After breakfast you might enjoy a walk around the neighborhood to soak up the cool ambiance and visit a few of the funky art stores. Use the time to work off your substantial breakfast and if in the mood for some culture and history make a turn at Cihangir Mosque, after which the suburb is named.
Day 1 - Lunch With A Terrace View
After a bit of leisurely browsing and retail therapy in Cihangir, and perhaps a stop in Cihangir Parkı for a game of frisbee or a catnap, you might be ready for the next culinary experience of the day – lunch at 5. Kat, a classic rooftop restaurant and bar. This well-known local favorite which has been around for over two decades – probably the oldest of its kind – and provides fantastic panoramic view of the city and the Bosphorus river. If the view from the rooftop terrace isn’t enough of a drawcard, the spectacular vibe – which will grab you as you take your first step across the threshold – will lure you in for sure. Its a crowd-pleaser, perfect for just about any group and any occasion, whether you’re with your kids, friends or your significant other. While all these factors contribute to the overall awesome appeal of the place, the most important part – the menu – is what we really need to discuss, and in that department I can happily say; the food doesn’t disappoint.
Day 1 - Brave İstiklal Street
After a heartening lunch you’ll be ready to face İstiklal Street. Ever-bustling, this vital artery of Istanbul channels 3-million residents through the heart of the city on a daily basis, from Taksim Square to the landmark Galata Tower. Naturally, with such high traffic the route offers a true insight into the unique energy and spirit of the city, but can be challenging to traverse. If you’re daring enough to brave it you’ll be rewarded with more coffee shops, stores, tattoo parlours than you could visit in a year, let alone a morning. Stroll past historical buildings with hidden backyards and old churches juxtaposed with a crazy, rambunctious crowd of locals and street musicians all the way to the Galata Tower. En route to the tower you might stray down historical passages (like Hazzopulo, Suriye and Çiçek), discovering stunning old Istanbul architecture, galleries and – for the film buffs – historic cinemas like Atlas and Beyoglu. At the end of the gauntlet sits the The Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi in Turkish), iconic of the Istanbul skyline with its high, cone-capped tower, the top of which offers a panoramic view of the peninsula and surrounds.
Day 1 - Dinner And Drinks In Taksim
Settle in for a rewarding dinner (after a trek down İstiklal Street) in a typically Turkish Tavern, accompanied by some raki – a lovely sweet anise-flavored spirit – and live music at Ceneviz Meyhanesi, located in the famously colorful passage of Çiçek Pasajı, otherwise known as the Flower Passage. Be sure to look up at the uniquely decorative glass ceiling when you pass through the courtyard of the Cité de Péra building that gave the Flower Passage its nickname. While a night spent here promises to be a festive one with good wine and local music on the stairs of the street, a quicker and more cost-effective dinner of tasty meze can be found in the lively Nevizade Street, leaving time for a few drinks at a nearby bar – Peyote, Mentha, Ritim, Araf or Tektekçi to name just a few of the fun drinking spots that can be found here.
Day 2 - Breakfast Overlooking The Bosphorus
While a breakfast at House Cafe in Ortaköy might not be a cheap one, it could be just the thing to cure your hangover, which you might have after a night in the taverns of Çiçek Pasajı and Nevizade Street. Not only are the Turkish meatballs and eggplant pureé to die for, you’ll have a luxurious view of the Bosphorus, full with all the activity of its ferries, sailboats and tankers, as well as several well-known sites such as the Bosphorus bridge and the Ortakoy Mosque. The beautiful outside courtyard has an old-world charm to it, and if you want to get even close to the river – close enough to dangle your feet into the cool water – there’s even an outside table by the river. After are reviving breakfast you’ll have the run of Ortakoy, with many cafeterias and tea houses, a scattering of small shops and a market to explore.
Day 2 - Kumpir For lunch, And An Afternoon Exploring Kadikoy
Next up is the nearby colorful neighborhood of Beşiktaş, the leading culture, art and education district of the city, home to a wealth of Ottoman historical heritage and the Ciragan and Yildiz Palace. Here you can build up a decent appetite, to be sated with a lunch of kumpir – a huge baked potato smothered in delicious toppings like corn, pickled vegetables, beets, olives or hotdogs – or a sandwich of fried mussels or fish, before you embark on the 20 minute boat ride to Kadıköy. Perfect for a post-lunch nap! In Kadıköy you can expect a mix of densely packed markets and more leisurely tree-lined streets, as well as a breathtaking display of edgy and large-scale street art by local Istanbul graffiti artists. The street-art sets the tone for the neighborhood, which has an eclectic feel to it with lively cafes, galleries, bars, shops, and eateries. Whether you have 72 hours in istanbul or a week, Kadıköy is an absolute must on your list of places to visit in Istanbul, and comes highly recommended (by me!) as one of many options for things to do in the city, even if you have as little as 2 days in Istanbul. (If you have just 48 hours or plan to merge itineraries, here’s a great 2 day Istanbul itinerary to check out.) Whilst in the neighborhood be sure to take a walk around the Barlar Sokağı (bar street) and the Moda and Bahariye areas to see the old heritage tramlines.
Day 2 - Dinner On Bağdat Caddesi
Both just a cab trip away from Kadıköy are Bağdat Caddesi and Kalamış Marina. Before dinner, you might wander the streets of the upper-class residential area that surrounds Bağdat Avenue. On the avenue itself you’re bound to get lost in the vast array of high-end stores – with local and international brands like Vakko and Michael Kors – shopping malls and department stores. While there are many restaurants, cafes and pubs to stop at for a refreshing beer or coffee, the main activity you’d likely partake in down this avenue is shopping – be it of the out-of-pocket or window variety. Follow up your explorations and possibly a shopping spree with a picturesque,if somewhat budget, after all your spending of the day, dinner and drinks at the Kalamış Marina, the biggest marina in Turkey.
Day 3 - Breakfasting On ‘börek’ Of Sarıyer
Finally, a taste of the famous börek of Sarıyer. This delicious filo-like pastry – which has its origins in the Ottoman Empire – is layered with fillings like meat, cheese, spinach, or potato and is topped with yogurt or egg to give it a crispy finish. Bite into one of these and wash it down with a coffee to kick-start your day, before taking the 20-min boat to Anadolu Kavağı to visit Yoros Kalesi. Here you can spend the morning exploring, doing some souvenir shopping and delving a bit deeper into the history of the region. Yoros Kalesi is what remains of a once impressive Byzantine ruined castle perched on the cusp where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea. As you might expect it, the summit of the castle offers a beautiful view of the Bosphorus and once you’ve had your fill of the ruined fortress you will be walking distance from Eminönü which offers a host of incredible attractions to discover, including several Ottoman mosques, palaces, old bazaars, and several museums. Among these is Kapalı Çarşı: the famed Grand Bazaar, where with over 60 covered streets and over 4,000 shops, you are likely to get lost for hours between the interesting trinkets and nibbles.
Day 3 - Take A Break In Bebek Or Balat
After what has likely been a busy day exploring the historical facets of the city, it’s time to head to a trendier, more modern part of town. Bebek is a hip village along the Bosphorus that boasts a range of upbeat cafeś and stores that line the waterfront. The picturesque seaside promenade is perfect for a long, mindful stroll before stopping in for coffee and a sweet treat at one of the cafes. If you’re feeling somewhat rejuvenated you might head over to the colorful, cobbled streets of Balat to behold the multi-colored little houses ranging between 50 and 200-years-old. These historic wooden homes provide some excellent travel photography, so be sure to snap some pics for Instagram while you admire the quaint setting.
Day 3 - Dine On Meze And Manti
End off your Istanbul travels with a memorable multi-course dinner including a few local culinary gems. For starters, stop in at Bodrum Mantı, a popular place to try handmade versions of the traditional delicacy mantı – a form of ravioli dumpling filled with ground meat, onions, and seasoning. After this tasty appetizer head over to the Rum Meyhanesi, a greek tavern in Barba Vasilis near the seaside of the Golden Horn. If it’s a Friday you can expect a lively atmosphere with lovely live tavern music and friendly service. The meze style plates are to die for and best of all they are small enough to warrant ordering several plates to share among the table. The octopus, mussel and cabbage-based plates are a hit, and the assortment of Greek seafood meze (thalassinous mezedes) will have you dining fit to bursting. Wash it down with a glass of Greek Ouz and you’re likely to want to spend the night awash in all the festive feel of an authentic Greek celebration. Don’t linger overlong though, there is one more Istanbul feather for your cap: Bebek is calling! For one last drink – and a swanky one at that – to toast your Istanbul trip head to the pubs of Bebek, where you can spend the remainder of the night brushing shoulders with a mix of fisherman and the wealthy elite of Istanbul.
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