Combining Europe and Asia for centuries, Istanbul has become one of the world’s largest metropolises in the eyes of empires. If you want to take a more historical route during your Istanbul visit, don’t miss out on locations like the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, and many others. Check out these must-see historical sites and places in Istanbul. You won’t be short of places to visit in Istanbul, which has a rich history and a distinct culture due to its location on two continents. The following are the top historical highlights for Istanbul.
Best of Historical Places in Istanbul
Istanbul is one of the favorite cities with its historical heritage as well as many features and beauties. The city is home to many historical structures such as city walls, cisterns, churches, mosques, cisterns, fortresses, towers, underground cities and many historical sites belonging to different periods and civilizations.
1. Sultanahmet Square – Hippodrome of Constantinople
Sultanahmet Square, also known as Hippodrome, is one of the most popular tourist zones and historical places in Istanbul. Initially, it was a circus that served as the sporting and social hub of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire.
Sultanahmet Square is surrounded by the world famous sights of Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts and the Blue Mosque. It should be on the top of your list of places to visit in Istanbul.
2. Hagia Sophia
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.
3. Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace is the Ottoman Empire’s true essence. Fatih Sultan Mehmet, fresh from his conquest of Constantinople, constructed Topkapı Saray as his primary house between 1460 and 1478.
Topkapi Palace is the world’s biggest and oldest surviving Palace and the repository of numerous artifacts. 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.
4. Sultanahmet Blue Mosque
The Sultanahmet Blue Mosque is an Ottoman-era historical majestic mosque in Istanbul. It was built between 1609 and 1616 during the reign of Ahmed I. Ahmed’s tomb, a madrasah, and a hospice are all located on its Külliye. It is a functioning mosque that also attracts a large number of tourists.
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. It 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.
5. 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.
6. Basilica Cistern
A city as old as Istanbul has many layers of history, and the Basilica Cistern, the greatest of the underground cisterns, is located under the surface. The cistern is located between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The atmospheric reservoir was built in the sixth century for the Byzantine emperor Justinian and is reinforced by 336 columns, many of which have been reused from other ruins throughout the years.
The Medusa-head column bases and the carp that swim silently in the poorly lighted waters are popular subjects for photographers. The best time for you to visit is anytime the queue appears to be short, particularly on a hot summer day—it is always cooler beneath.
7. Istanbul Archaeology Museums
Istanbul Archaeology Museums is considered to be among the top 10 historical museums in the world. 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”.
You can see different historical artifacts from many parts of the world, as well as royal sarcophagi discovered near Sidon, Lebanon. Important artifacts belonging to the from the pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Anatolia are exhibited in the Museum of the Ancient Orient. Tiles collected from various regions of Anatolia are exhibited in the Tiled Kiosk.
8. Maiden’s Tower
A tower situated between two continents, Asia and Europe, a tower with many stories to tell, many things that entice visitors to learn more about this magnificent structure. The Maiden’s Tower 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 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.
9. Dolmabahce Palace
Dolmabahce Palace is one of the most spectacular palaces in Besiktas, located on the shores of the Bosphorus. The palace’s interior reflects the grandeur of the era and is created in the style of opulent European palaces. The entire palace structure is breathtaking. Over 50,000 artifacts are housed in the palace’s hundreds of chambers. And it was also home to six sultans and their families.
Dolmabahce Palace is the largest palace in Turkey, with 285 rooms, 6 hammams, 46 halls, and 68 restrooms spread across 45.000 m2. The palace’s interior and external design includes elements of the Rococo, Baroque, Neoclassical, and Ottoman architectural styles. It was built by Sultan Abdülmecit and continued until 1856, and since 1984 it serves as a museum.
10. Grand Bazaar (Kapalicarsi)
The Grand Bazaar (Kapalicarsi) is one of the world’s largest and most seasoned covered marketplaces, with 61 covered roadways and over 4,000 stores on a total area of 30,700 m2. The covered bazaar attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors every day.
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. Traditional Turkish attire is also available.
11. Rumeli Fortress
Rumeli Fortress (Rumelihisari), a mighty castle, rises over one of the narrowest stretches of the Bosphorus, is among the favourite spots to go for breakfast, gaze at the scenery, and appreciate the fort, especially after the rush and bustle of Sultanahmet.
The Rumeli region is calm and restful, and the breakfasts are delicious! Also serving as a museum, this is a must-see attraction in this unique city!
12. Egyptian Spice Bazaar
Spice Bazaar is a top tourist attraction, covered market and one of the most important shopping stops in Istanbul where you can find various products such as souvenirs, jewelry or spices in a historical building.
Established in 1664, the Spice Bazaar still exists as a reflection of the commercial understanding of the Ottoman Empire. 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.
13. Suleymaniye Mosque
The Suleymaniye Mosque is one of the most magnificent mosques in Istanbul. The tombs of Suleiman the Magnificent, Hurrem Sultan and Mimar Sinan are in the complex, which makes the site a must-see stop for anyone interested in Ottoman and Islamic history.
The Suleymaniye Mosque was built between 1551 and 1557 by Mimar Sinan, and by the order of Suleiman the Magnificent. More than 3,500 workers worked in the construction of the mosque. This is not just a mosque, but also a social complex with 15 sections and consists of many sections from mausoleums to madrasahs. The acoustics of the mosque is described as “perfect”.
14. Pierre Loti Hill & Café
The Pierre Loti Hill & Café, named for the French author, naval commander, and Turkophile, is well-known for its its tables under the trees and breathtaking views of the Golden Horn. This is a touristic yet very peaceful place with its authentic atmosphere.
If you are just in Istanbul for a few days, you might want to reconsider going there for tea. The commanding vistas are definitely worth the short ‘detour if you are not in a hurry.’
15. Saint Antoine Catholic Church
Saint Antoine Catholic Church, also known as St. Anthony of Padua or Sant’Antonio di Padova, is one of the most impressive historical churches in Istanbul. Located on the famous Istiklal Street, the church has the distinction of being the largest Roman Catholic Church in the city.
St. Anthony’s Church attracts its visitors with a secret motive with its monumental architecture and silence. Built by an architect named Mongeri, this temple in the Italian gothic style attracts a lot of attention from tourists especially because of its icons adorning its showcases, impressive stained glass and its doors being open to visitors all day long.
The church is an important religious haunt around the world. In addition, Luigi Bresciani’s gilded wooden statue of St.Anthony, as well as many art works are a must see. The church has a very important place in the Catholic world and in 2003 Pope XXIII. John also preached in this church during his visit to Istanbul.