Istanbul is a city that has a rich history and cultural heritage. The city is home to many historical places that are worth exploring for tourists and locals alike. From ancient Roman ruins to magnificent Ottoman palaces, Istanbul has it all. 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.
Best of Historical Places in Istanbul
Istanbul 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 the Hippodrome of Constantinople, is one of the most historic locations and squares in Istanbul. This is a site that has been important for centuries, serving as the chariot racing grounds for the Byzantine Empire. Today, visitors can explore the square and take in its magnificent monuments and architecture.
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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. The magnificent architecture and stunning mosaics inside make it a must-visit spot.
3. Topkapi Palace
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.
4. 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.
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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
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.
7. 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.
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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. Rumeli Fortress
Rumeli Fortress (Rumelihisari) is an impressive fortress located in the European side of Istanbul, along the Bosphorus Strait. Built in the 15th century by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, the fortress is one of the most iconic landmarks in the city.
Today, the Rumeli Fortress Museum showcases the history and architecture of the Ottoman Empire. It is a remarkable example of military architecture with its strategic location, double walls, and towers. The fortress is surrounded by a picturesque park and offers stunning views of the Bosphorus Strait and the surrounding area.
12. 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.
13. Suleymaniye Mosque
The Suleymaniye Mosque is one of the most magnificent mosques in Istanbul. It was commissioned by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and designed by the famous architect Mimar Sinan between the years 1551 and 1557. The mosque is an impressive example of Ottoman architecture and remains an important religious and cultural center in the city.
The mosque is situated on a hilltop overlooking the Golden Horn, and its imposing structure dominates the skyline of the city. It is known for its grandeur and exquisite design, featuring intricate tilework, ornate calligraphy, and beautiful stained glass windows. The mosque’s large central dome is flanked by four smaller domes and four towering minarets.
Aside from the mosque itself, visitors can explore the surrounding complex which includes a hospital, school, and hamam. 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.
14. Pierre Loti Hill & Café
Located in the Eyup district of Istanbul, Pierre Loti Hill and its Cafe is a famous hilltop that offers an enchanting view of the city. One of the best places to enjoy a panoramic views of Istanbul. The hill is named after the famous French writer and adventurer Pierre Loti, who fell in love with Istanbul and often visited the hill to enjoy the view.
Pierre Loti Hill offers stunning panoramic views of Istanbul and the Golden Horn. The entire Golden Horn can be seen clearly from the hill. You can explore the hilltop park and enjoy a cup of traditional Turkish tea or Turkish coffee. The café features a large terrace with comfortable seating areas that provide the perfect spot to sit back, relax, and take in the breathtaking views.
So, if you are just in Istanbul for a few days, you might want to reconsider going there for tea or Turkish coffee.
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.
Being one of the Catholic churches of the Franciscans, St. Antuan is the last of the churches built in Europe to represent the apostles of Jesus Christ. It was built to serve the Italian community living in Istanbul.
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.