Are you looking for the top best places to visit and see in Istanbul? Istanbul is a city that truly captures the essence of both the ancient and modern worlds, and it boasts a rich cultural and historical heritage that makes it a must-visit destination for travelers from all over the world. From the bustling markets and stunning mosques of the Old City to the glamorous waterfront of the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul offers a wealth of attractions that are sure to delight visitors of all ages. Here you can find out the must-sees and the most visited points of interest you’ll never forget on our guide with insider advice, tips, and easily book Istanbul sightseeing tours.
As the former capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, Istanbul is home to some of the world’s most impressive historic sites, including the iconic Blue Mosque, the majestic Hagia Sophia, and the sprawling Topkapi Palace. The city is also famous for its lively street life, world-class cuisine, and vibrant arts and culture scene.
Best Places to Visit in Istanbul
Whether you’re interested in exploring Istanbul’s rich history and culture, indulging in its culinary delights, or simply enjoying the stunning views of the Bosphorus Strait, there is no shortage of things to see and do in this vibrant city. So why not start planning your next adventure today and discover all that Istanbul has to offer?
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1. Hagia Sophia, 8th wonder of the world
Hagia Sophia, also known as the Church of the Holy Wisdom or the Church of the Divine Wisdom, is an ancient Byzantine church in Istanbul and one of the world’s great greatest architectural works, as well as accepted as the 8th wonder of the world.
Being converted into a mosque by Fatih Sultan Mehmet after Istanbul’s conquest in 1453, it was than converted to a museum in 1935 and finally in 2020 it was declared as a mosque. The magnificent architecture and stunning mosaics inside make it a must-visit spot.
2. Topkapi Palace, one of world’s richest museums
Topkapi Palace is one of the most visited sights in Istanbul, as well as the richest museums in the world. The palace is a must-see destination for anyone interested in Turkish history and culture, offering a glimpse into the opulence and grandeur of the Ottoman Empire. Topkapi Palace was the home of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. The palace is now a museum that displays Ottoman artifacts, including weapons, ceramics, and textiles.
Among them is one of the world’s largest diamonds, the most precious Islamic relics, a map with the earliest portrayal of America, high-quality Chinese porcelain, rare Islamic gilded miniatures, and calligraphy examples from numerous Muslim Asian empires. The artifacts are a sight to behold.
3. Bosphorus, a fairy tale
The Bosphorus Strait is one of the most iconic and important waterways in the world, connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and dividing the city of Istanbul into two parts: the European side and the Asian side. This magnificent strait is a crucial commercial route, as well as a major tourist attraction.
The Bosphorus Strait is not just a shipping channel; it’s also a popular tourist destination, offering visitors breathtaking views of Istanbul’s skyline, historical landmarks, and natural beauty. Whether you’re taking a leisurely Bosphorus cruise or exploring the shores of the strait, the Bosphorus offers an unforgettable experience for both locals and tourists.
The best way to experience and enjoy the Bosphorus is to take variety of Bosphorus cruises such as Bosphorus sunset cruise, Bosphorus dinner cruise, hop-on hop-off Bosphorus cruise, Bosphorus cruise with yacht, Princes’ Islands boat tours, as well as Bosphorus tours with public ferries.
4. Istanbul Archaeology Museums
Istanbul Archaeology Museums is a museum complex and considered to be among the top 10 historical museums in the world. It is one of the largest and most important museums in Turkey, and is home to a vast collection of artifacts dating back to various periods of human history.
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The museums consists of three main museums that include; the Archaeology Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Tiled Pavilion. And so general name is called “museums”.
The Archaeological Museum features artifacts from the Paleolithic era up until the Ottoman Empire, including pottery, statues, coins, and jewelry. The Museum of the Ancient Orient is dedicated to artifacts from the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Anatolia. The Tiled Kiosk Museum showcases a collection of Ottoman ceramics and tiles.
Some of the most famous artifacts on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums include the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great, the Treaty of Kadesh, and the oldest known peace treaty in the world. The museum complex is also home to several important Islamic artifacts, including a collection of early Qurans and calligraphy.
Visitors can expect to see a wide variety of artifacts from different eras and civilizations, providing a fascinating glimpse into the rich and diverse history of Istanbul and Turkey.
5. Sultanahmet Blue Mosque
The Sultanahmet Blue Mosque is one of the most important mosques in Istanbul that was built with the order of Sultan Ahmed I at the beginning of the 17th century during the Ottoman period. The mosque is a unique structure that has brought a new perspective to mosque culture which showcases one of the most successful examples of Turkish-Islamic architecture.
The mosque’s interior walls are adorned with hand-painted blue tiles, and at night, the mosque is bathed in blue as lights frame the mosque’s five main domes, six minarets, and eight secondary domes.
6. Galata Tower
The Galata Tower is undoubtedly one of the most famous monuments in Istanbul, providing the most spectacular views of the whole city. It offers stunning views over the entire Istanbul peninsula and its surrounds and is located at the confluence of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.
It is also one of Istanbul’s most prominent attractions, overlooking Galata and Karakoy from its perch. Its brilliant lights can be seen from all across the city at night.
7. Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern, also known as the Yerebatan Sarnıcı, is one of Istanbul’s most unique and atmospheric historical sites. Located underground, beneath the city’s bustling streets, the Basilica Cistern is an ancient water reservoir that has been transformed into a museum, displaying a fascinating combination of engineering, art, and history.
Constructed in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, the cistern was used to store water for the city’s needs. It was built to supply water to the Great Palace of Constantinople and other important buildings in the city. Over the centuries, the cistern fell into disrepair and was forgotten, until it was rediscovered by a group of European travelers in the 16th century.
Today, visitors can explore the cistern’s eerie chambers, which are illuminated by dim lighting and the reflections of the water that still fills the underground reservoir. The cistern is supported by a forest of 336 marble columns, many of which were salvaged from ancient structures around the empire, creating a unique patchwork of architectural styles. Visitors can also see the Medusa heads, two carved marble heads that were likely taken from a Roman-era building and used as column bases in the cistern.
8. The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
Located at the Sultanahmet Square, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is one of the most significant cultural institutions in Turkey. This museum exhibits a vast collection of Turkish and Islamic artifacts, including textiles, ceramics, metalwork, calligraphy, and manuscripts. The museum is an excellent place to learn about the history of Turkish and Islamic arts.
The museum building itself is a work of art. It was originally built in the 16th century as the palace of Ibrahim Pasha, the grand vizier of Suleiman the Magnificent. The palace was later converted into a museum in 1914.
The museum has a collection of about 40,000 relics spanning from the 7th century to the present and exhibitions of fine art, crafts, carpets, manuscripts and calligraphy, wooden works, stonework, glass, metal and ethnography sections.
Among the most notable exhibits are the Quran and the prayer rug of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. There are also displays of ceramics from the Seljuk and Ottoman periods, metalwork, calligraphy, and carpets.
9. the legendary Maiden’s Tower
The Maiden’s Tower, also known as Kız Kulesi in Turkish, is a unique and historic tower located on a small islet at the entrance of the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul. It is probably one of the most world-renowned and historical sights of Istanbul. A must-see place for travelers coming to Istanbul.
During the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods, the island where the tower is situated was used for surveillance and base purposes, as well as various towers were built. The building, which was used by the military to control maritime traffic during the Republican period, has undergone various renovations. Today, it serves as a restaurant and museum for its visitors upon its restoration process. Various events are also held at the tower.
10. Dolmabahce Palace
Dolmabahce Palace is one of the most spectacular palaces in Besiktas, located on the shores of the Bosphorus. It is a grand and opulent palace that once served as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire. It was also home to six sultans and their families.
Built in the mid-19th century, the palace is a stunning example of Ottoman architecture and design, with lavish interiors, sprawling gardens, and an impressive collection of art and artifacts.
Today, the Dolmabahce Palace Museum is a popular tourist destination, offering visitors a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle of Ottoman royalty and a fascinating insight into Turkey’s rich cultural heritage. The palace’s interior reflects the grandeur of the era and is created in the style of opulent European palaces.
11. Grand Bazaar (Kapalicarsi)
The Grand Bazaar (Kapalicarsi) is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world (550 years old). With more than 60 streets and over 4,000 shops, it is a shopper’s paradise and a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to Istanbul. The covered bazaar attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors every day.
The market was designed to serve as the center of trade and commerce for the Ottoman Empire, and was also an important hub for international trade between Asia and Europe. With 91,250,000 annual visitors, it was also ranked first and widely regarded as one of the world’s most important shopping destinations. You are able to find carpets, rugs, souvenirs, spices, jewelry and many other products.
12. Istiklal Street
Istiklal, a street that stretches for about 1,400 meters between Tunel and Taksim Square in Beyoglu district, is without a doubt the most famous street of Istanbul and even Turkey. A must-visit places in Istanbul especially for first-time visitors.
Istiklal Street has a lively and lively structure for 24 hours and is home to many activity areas from cafes to bars, shops to boutiques, restaurants to buffets, movie theaters to nightclubs.
There are a number of historical buildings worth seeing such as Salt Beyoglu, Borusan Culture and Art Center, Atlas Passage, Aznavur and Aleppo passages, Terkos Passage, St. Antonine Church, Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church, and Flower Passage.
13. Miniaturk, miniature Turkey museum
Miniaturk, also known as Miniature Turkey Museum, is a popular tourist attraction located along the Golden Horn. A spectacular open-air museum showcasing the miniature version of Turkey’s most famous sights and architectural masterpieces. The museum features miniature models of iconic landmarks and buildings from across Turkey, as well as a few from outside of the country. You will witness miniature versions of Turkey’s most famous sites and structures, scaled down to 1/25 of their actual proportions.
The miniature models are constructed with great attention to detail and are made using various materials such as marble, wood, and glass. Some of the notable models include the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace, and the Cappadocia region.
You can take a walk around the museum’s landscaped gardens and admire the miniature models while learning about Turkey’s history and culture. The museum also features a playground for children, a souvenir shop, and a cafe.
14. Rahmi M Koç Transport Museum
The Private Rahmi M. Koc Transport Museum is a must-visit place for all the transportation enthusiasts in Istanbul. Located on the shores of the Golden Horn, the museum is home to an extensive collection of historic vehicles and transportation artifacts, including planes, trains, automobiles, and even submarines.
You’ll find historic automobiles, trains, vintage airplanes, and even a submarine. There is also a planetarium on-site. Kids may attempt scientific experiments in the interactive museum or explore the cockpit of a Bellanca jet for a fascinating, hands-on experience. The museum is a must-visit attraction for anyone with an interest in transportation and technology.
15. the Egyptian Spice Bazaar
The Egyptian Spice Bazaar, also known as the Spice Market or Misir Carsisi in Turkish, is one of Istanbul’s oldest and most popular bazaars. It is located in the Eminonu district of Istanbul, near the New Mosque and the Galata Bridge.
The bazaar was built in the 1660s as part of the New Mosque complex, which was commissioned by Sultan Mehmed IV. Its purpose was to provide income for the mosque’s upkeep and to help support the city’s poor. In the past, this place used to be a huge shopping center where products from all over the world meet with buyers. Later on, it took its current name due to the sale of products brought from Egypt.
Today, it continues to be an important hub for local traders and tourists alike, with a wide variety of spices, dried fruits, nuts, teas, and other Turkish delicacies on offer.