Are you planning a trip to Turkey's most famous city? Here you can find out how many days you need to discover the top tourist attractions in Istanbul.
So, how many days do you need in Istanbul? Istanbul is a city worth a lifetime, but a few days are enough for a first-time visitor to get a feel for the city. There are plenty of tourist attractions to visit in Istanbul, so you should spend at least 3-4 days to cover all of them.
Being Turkey's economic, cultural, and historic center and one of the world's most populous cities, Istanbul is a city of contrasts and has a lot to offer. Stick with us to learn more.
How Many Days Do You Need to See Istanbul?
As we said before, you could spend a lifetime in Istanbul and never get bored of all the exciting places and things it has to offer. However, you’ll most likely have only a few days to spend here when coming to Istanbul as a visitor.
Our advice: book at least 3-4 days to visit Istanbul. It should be enough to get a taste of this ancient city and have time to enjoy Istanbul’s modern side.
For example, if you’re only interested in visiting the historical attractions, 3-4 days are more than enough to see the old city district, Sultanahmet. Here, you’ll find Istanbul’s most famous landmarks, including the Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, and Blue Mosque.
Yet, if you want to visit the modern part of Istanbul as well, expect to have a full itinerary.
Istanbul is a massive sprawling city. It’s the world's fifteenth-largest city and Europe's largest city. With more than 15 million people living in this city. So, you'll need good planning to make sure you enjoy the most of Istanbul.
Since it’s situated on Europe’s edge, where the East meets the West, connecting Europe and Asia, this place is rich with layers of history, culture, colors, and scents. Everything here tells a story, from the architecture to the food and the locals.
Expect the city to feel busy and fast. But, don't worry, because when you need a break from the tumultuous life during your trip, you can always find a mosque, a cozy tea house, or a lovely garden to relax. Trust us on this one: the more you discover the city, the more you'll fall in love with Istanbul.
Not sure what attractions to include on your Istanbul Itinerary? Here are some of the best tourist attractions in Istanbul.
Best Tourist Attractions in Istanbul
Hagia Sophia dates back to the 6th century CE and was initially founded as a Cathedral, only to be turned into a mosque after the Ottoman armies conquered Constantinople. In 1934, Hagia Sophia became an iconic museum in Istanbul and a Unesco World Heritage site.
In 2020, Hagia Sophia was turned back into a mosque, but its doors remain wide open for locals and foreigners, both Muslims and non-Muslims.
As mentioned before, you can find the Hagia Sophia Mosque in Sultanahmet, in the old city district.
The Blue Mosque
The mosque is actually called the Sultanahmet Mosque, and it dates back to 1617. Foreign visitors gave the mosques its popular name, the Blue Mosque, because of the blue tiles used to decorate the interior walls. It’s located in the heart of the Sultanahmet area, within walking distance from all other historical sites found here.
If you visit the Blue Mosque when you’re in Istanbul, make sure to ask the locals about the legend behind the six minarets. Also, keep in mind that the best time to visit this mosque is the period between the dawn prayer, called Tulu, and the midday prayer, called Zuhr.
The Grand Bazaar
Love shopping? You mustn't miss out on a visit to the Grand Bazaar.
Home to over 5.000 shops (besides the two mosques, four fountains, and two hammams found here), the Grand Bazaar is one of the largest indoor marketplaces globally. How to get there? It’s in the Fatih district, very close to Sultanahmet. Anyone around will give you the directions.
What can you shop for here? Anything you want, from jewelry to carpets, spices, antiques, or hand-painted ceramics. If you visit the Grand Bazaar, you’ll have no excuse for not buying gifts for your friends and family back home.
This underground cistern is hidden underneath the city's streets and houses and is definitely worth a bit of your time during your visit to Istanbul. Built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in 542, its name comes from the Basilica that once stood there, at the same location.
What's unique about the Basilica Cistern? Everything, from its history to its mysterious atmosphere and the 336 marble columns collected from ancient temples, will amaze you. You’ll find the Basilica Cistern in the southwest of Hagia Sophia.
The Ottoman imperial mosque was commissioned by Sultan Süleyman, therefore the name, in 1558. It offers a great view of the entire city. The Süleymaniye Mosque is also home to the mausoleums of Süleyman the Magnificent, his wife Hürrem, and their daughter Mihrimah.
The Süleymaniye Mosque is one of the largest of all mosques in Istanbul, and it’s also regarded as the city's most important mosque. It’s located on top of a very high hill in the Süleymaniye area.
The medieval stone tower, Galata Tower, is another top-rated tourist attraction worth your time when visiting Istanbul. You can find it on the European side of Istanbul, in the Beyoğlu district.
The Tower was originally named the Tower of Christ. Once the highest tower in the city, it’s 66.9 meters (200 feet) tall. Thus, it provides an iconic panoramic view of the old town.
The Genoese colony built the tower in the 14th century as part of the defense wall surrounding their district at that time.
Even if you are a bit afraid of heights, visiting the Galata Tower is totally worth it.
Also known as the Seraglio, Topkapı Palace is a massive museum in Istanbul, home to exhibitions like the Ottoman Empire's imperial collections.
The museum dates back to the 15th century and was the main residence and administrative headquarters of all Ottoman sultans until the reign of Abdulmecid I between 1839 and 1860.
One of the most popular highlights here is the Harem, the place where the sultans who have lived there spent their days with their many concubines and children. But, there's so much more to see here, including the opulent courtyards, the sumptuously decorated rooms, and the fantastic display of Islamic art.
Istanbul Archeology Museums
On your way out of the Topkapı Palace, you can also make one last stop at the Istanbul Archeology Museum.
Istanbul Archeological Museums are among Istanbul’s most impressive historical places. The museum complex, established in 1891, comprises three museums: the Archeological Museum, the Ancient Orient, and the Tiled Kiosk Museums. The complex has a collection of over 1 million objects.
What can you see here? Artifacts from Turkish, Hellenistic, and Roman civilizations.
Where to Stay
- Obelisk Hotel & Suites (link to see availability on Expedia) within a 3-minute walk from Sultanahmet Square is great for those who want to be surrounded by the Old City. You can walk to all the tourist attractions in the area and access the other parts of the city easily from this hotel. You can even see the Blue Mosque from your balcony. Great value for an excellent location.
- Niles Hotel Istanbul (link to see availability on Expedia) is located near the Old City and the heart of history. It is also within walking distance to the shore to take in the refreshing Bosphorus breeze. You can stay in a room with a Turkish bath or a sea view, or take the ferry to Karaköy or Kadıköy to discover this lively city.
- Pera Rasso Hotel Boutique Hotel (link to see availability on Expedia) in Beyoğlu is a family-run hotel with excellent reviews. It’s in a busy area but on a quiet street. This hotel is within walking distance to Taksim bars and restaurants and very close proximity to the Old City and various means of transport to reach the other parts.
The Bottom Line
Istanbul is a dream destination, home to so many amazing places to visit. The more time you spend here, the better you can get the feel of the city. However, make sure you book at least 3-4 days to visit all the important tourist attractions in Istanbul.