Istanbul has been a city I have so longed to visit as I have heard and seen so much about it, and because I love Turkish food. It was definitely one of my favorite city breaks and I highly recommend it for a holiday as a couple or as a family, especially if you are flying from Dubai as it is only a 4hr 45mins flight. I visited Istanbul in March for a week and here’s my Istanbul 7 Day Itinerary, which I had tried to plan before visiting but once you are there you can walk everywhere, and discover things you may have missed by just sticking to a plan, so I highly recommend exploring the city on foot. Let me know if you find any other gems in the city!
Flights & Bookings
We flew on Gulf Air from Dubai to Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, with a quick stopover in Manama, Bahrain. Or you can fly direct with Emirates or Turkish Airlines from Dubai. Again, I always recommend booking flight tickets in advance because Istanbul is a popular destination from Dubai. We stayed at The Rixos Hotel Pera, Istanbul – check out my post on this amazing hotel.
Looking for 4G? Get a Sim Card from the Airport
Highly recommend getting a SIM card when you arrive at the airport from Turkcell in Ataturk airport, and there are a number of different packages. We got one for 200 lira with 8 GB.
Getting from Ataturk Airport to the City
I had researched a few different transport options from the airport to the main city center in Istanbul, one of them was a private car from the hotel, which was expensive. So we chose to take a taxi from outside the airport terminal. I had read before to be careful about picking up taxis in the city, so just stick to the standard yellow taxis. However, I highly recommend that you download an app on your phone called BiTaksi before you get there, it is something like uber but for taxis (bear in mind that not many taxi drivers speak english). You can easily set your pick up point and destination, and with this, the app gives you a ride cost estimate, which makes it easy to budget and plan your trips around the city. We used it most days, and you can pay cash in the taxi.
Start your first day with a Turkish breakfast, we enjoyed a great one overlooking the city in our hotel, The Rixos Pera Istanbul. We decided to head to the most historical area of the city for a full day of sightseeing on day 1 – Sultanahmet Area.
The Blue Mosque – Sultanahmet Camii
Our first stop was the Blue Mosque, where we took a taxi to get there using the BiTaksi app. It is one of Istanbul’s main tourist attractions so head there early, but do expect ques going into the mosque (avoid weekends as it can be extra busy). It is such a stunning building and the ques are so worth the wait. Make sure you dress modestly and bring a scarf, free scarves are also provided. I would recommend wearing or bringing a pair of socks too because once you enter the mosque you have to remove your shoes. Entrance to the mosque is free.
The beautiful Hagia Sophia is located directly across the courtyard of the Blue Mosque so they are within walking distance of each other. Again there are quite a few crowds so go early as ques are expected. We had to que for about an hour to go inside Hagia Sophia to get the tickets (there are private tour guides that help you skip the lines but at an extra cost), but once again it was so worth it and if you get hungry there are so many Simit and grilled sweetcorn stands. Hagia Sophia is such an impressive and unique building, it was once a Byazantine church and then an Ottoman mosque, but is now a museum and you can see this rich history throughout the building. If you are lucky you might even see the sweet Hagia Sophia cat called Gli, who has her own instagram account.
Visit the Spice Bazaar next to the Blue Mosque
I love exploring markets and bazaars in different cities. The spice bazaar is open air and you can stroll throught the street with shops on either side. There are plenty of souvenier shops too, some over priced we discovered later so make sure you bargain.
Have Lunch at Sultanahmet Koftecisi
The menu is simple but the food is authentic and you can see that it is popluar with locals. Order the kebabs and the soup, I loved the spciy sauce that they brought with the kofta too. The food comes out really quick and the service is great, plus it is just within walking distance of Hagia Sophia. More info.
The Grand Bazaar
A must visit, even if you don’t shop. The bazaar has such a buzzy vibe and there are so many things to see. Souveniers and items are really over priced though, I found the same items for half the price on the outside area of the bazaar closer to the sea – I bought the cutest traditional Turkish tea set and some blue eyes, we even saw some of the spring tulips outside. But I would recommend having a quick break with Turkish coffee in the bazaar.
Breakfast at Simit Saray
Make sure when you are in Istanbul that you have breakfast at a Simit Saray at least once! I loved their breakfast selection. My favourites were the simit with cheese, borek and hot dog pastry (sujuk) and ofcourse turkish tea and coffee. Plus everything is super affordable – great for a vacation on a budget. I visited two branches in Taksim and the one closest to the square has a really nice roof terrace.
A must visit when you are in Istanbul. The palace is incredible from the outside, inside and it’s gardens, which overlook straight onto the Bosporus. You can purchase a ticket at the entrance and it is well worth getting the all access ticket. The interiors and furniture inside the palace are so beautiful and grand, I have never seen anything like it. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take any photos inside. But make sure you go and see it for yourself it is worth it! We spent a few hours exploring the stunning palace.
Just outside the palace near the parking lot is a really cute cafe right on the water with the most incredible view – so insta worthy. It’s a great place to stop off for a coffee after visiting Dolmabahce.
Lunch at Nusr-Et
We visited the world famous Nusr-Et restaurant for lunch in Etiler, the food and steaks were great as well as the atmosphere and the I loved the wooden interior. Again, it is a must visit spot when in Istanbul. We were also so lucky that we met Saltbae himself whilst at the restaurant. He is the coolest guy and went round taking photos with everyone. I would recommend making a booking in advance because it gets really popular, especially in the evening.
Explore the Streets of Taksim and Galata at Night
Taksim has such a great buzz and it’s the perfect place to enjoy walking on the streets or going on the tram, exploring the shops, cafes, restaurants and even clubs. The vibe at night is quite busy but restaurants and shops are open quite late. Make sure you try the Baklava at one of the many restaurants and turkish ice-cream. Galata is within walking distance of Taksim and again has a selection of restaurants, souvenier shops and the famous Galata tower, which is lit up at night. You can also go up to the top of the tower.
Shop at the Venezia Mega Outlet Mall
Turkey and Istanbul is famous for it’s shopping and you can find so many great stores and clothes at amazing prices. One of my favorites is Koton so I was super excited to visit the Venezia Mega Outlet Mall, which had a huge Koton store as well as a LC Waikiki and adidas store. You can spend half a day in this mall where you will find some great bargains. It is located away from the city centre so we had to get a taxi there.
Enjoy a Seafood Lunch with a View at Feriye Palace
The views at Feriye Palace are just amazing I could have sat in the restaurant all day overlooking the beautiful Bosporus. You can get a table right on the edge of the water. I enjoyed trying some of the local fish, which was a nice change having eaten kebabs for 3 days straight. The views at night I can imagine must also be amazing. A special thanks to my friend Alaa for taking us to this gem of a place.
Try Kumpir – Turkish Baked Potato in Taksim
I could have literally eaten Kumpir everyday at Patatos whilst I was in Istanbul it is one of my favorite dishes. It’s a must try! You can choose as many fillings as you want in the baked potato, but make sure you go hungry because it is so filling.
Cable Car Ride to Pierre Loti
We started the day off again at our favorite Simit Saray and then headed to Pierre Loti, famous for its view over the city. To get up to Pierre Loti you need to go on the cable car, which was a fun experience. You can buy the tickets there. Again it is a very popular place in the city and the ques can be quite long so go early. Once you reach the hill of Pierre Loti you can explore the area and take some great photos, the hill itself is actually situated above a huge graveyard. There is also a number of old school cafes where you can take a break, drink turkish coffee/tea and enjoy the view.
Take a Ferry Ride on the Bosporus
When in Istanbul a boat trip on the Bosporus is a must. The views are just spectacular. We decided to pick up the ferry close to Pierre Loti and go all the way down to Uskudar (the fare is so cheap and much more affordable than a tour boat). The ferry trip was about 1 hour to get there, and it stopped at multiple different areas so we really got to see the city. Make sure you go on a clear day as it can get quite windy and choppy on the water. You can even enjoy a turkish tea on the ferry.
Have Lunch at Kadim Kahve in Uskudar
We really wanted to see the Asian side of Istanbul and we had heard so much about Uskudar, which has a buzzing town centre and market, with so many food stalls. We weren’t sure where to have lunch but we came across Kadim Kahve because we loved it’s roof terrace. The food was really amazing, and one of our favorite restaurants during our stay. If you go on a cold day, try the sahlab it is delicious!
Breakfast at Ulus Cafe
I think my favorite breakfast was at Ulus Cafe, it has such an amazing view and the turkish breakfast spread is so memorable! I loved all the cheeses, bread and fresh honey. Make sure you get there early as it is a popular breakfast spot too. After you have eaten at the cafe take a walk down to the Ulus Park, it is so serene and you’ll find a few friendly cats and dogs that live there. We could have stayed there all day! (FYI there are a lot of steps down to the park and then back up)
Walk to Akmerkez Mall
We love to walk and explore cities on foot when we are holiday so we saw that there was a popular mall 20 mins away from Ulus Cafe. We really enjoyed the walk in the fresh Spring air and burned off some of our huge breakfast. The mall is really nice and has a great selection of shops and a Starbucks. I fell in love with a cute home store called Chakra, which has some amazing boho chic style items.
Lunch at Czn Burak
One of the most hyped restaurants in Istanbul is Czn Burak, mainly because the owner is famous on Instagram. Although the concept of his restaurant is quite unique and the vibe is great I felt quite disappointed with the food, and it was by far the most expensive restaurant we visited whilst in Istanbul (dishes are really overpriced). If you are into the hype make a visit if not don’t bother.
Breakfast at Mado is a Must
An amazing place for Turkish breakfast is Mado, the food is super delicious and there is so much to choose from. All the breakfast dishes are really filling and a great start to a day full of sightseeing. We went twice during our trip and loved the Taksim street branch.
Shopping at Istinye Park
Another major mall in Istanbul is Istinye Park, so we really wanted to check it out. There are so many great shops in this huge mall and you could spend a whole day there.
Visit the Baltalimanı Japanese Garden
We came across the Baltalimanı Japanese Garden on the map and had to visit as it was Spring time and the Japanese Blossom was out. It is such a cute little garden and I would highly recommend it, the entry is free and it is so beautiful to see the traditional Japanese house, plants and waterfalls. Such a serene spot in the middle of the city.
Have Lunch at Oba Restaurant
We discovered this gem of a restaurant – Oba, by just walking around the area. It is located on the water and has such a great view, it’s also famous for it’s meat, which was AMAZING! Everything we had at Oba was delicious and I highly recommend it if you are a foodie, plus the service was great.
Take a Walk Next to the Water and Visit the Rumelihisari Fort
The walk next to the water is just beautiful! And we came across the huge Rumelihisari fort, which was a unique sight to see.
Walk to Starbucks in Bebek for the Stunning View!
After visiting the fort you can continue walking for another 15-20mins next to the water all the way down to Bebek, which had to be one of my favorite areas in the city and the Starbucks is epic!!! The view is insane and it has to be the world’s best Starbucks view!
Souvenier Shopping in Taksim
Our hotel was so close to Taksim that we visited almost everyday. I really liked the souvenier shops in Taksim and the prices were great. You can shop for traditional tea, coffee, sweets, baklava, jewellery, scarves and so much more. If you are a chocolate fan make sure you go to Bolci the chocolates are delicious and their chocolate boxes make the perfect gifts.
Booking a Taxi to the Ariport
We used BiTaksi again to book our trip back to the Ataturk airport, and we really loved using this app throughout our trip because it is so reliable and easy to use.
I hope my Istanbul 7 day itinerary helps you plan your trip to this beautiful and historical city. If you have any questions on your upcoming trip please comment below.