After reading our review, you will learn a lot of useful information about the main attractions of Istanbul. In compiling our rating, we have taken into account the recommendations and reviews of experienced guides. With our list of questions about what to see in Istanbul, you will not have any questions.
Listing all the interesting places in Istanbul could be endlessly long. Therefore, we have chosen only the most significant and important sites of the Turkish capital. In our opinion, every tourist should pay attention to the following excursions in Istanbul:
The site of this Byzantine-era architectural monument was originally the site of an ancient acropolis. Construction work began on the orders of Emperor Justinian in 532. After Constantinople fell, from an Orthodox church the cathedral became a mosque, joining several more minarets, for a long time. Over its centuries-long history the building with its 55-meter dome has been raided and destroyed more than once. However, it has managed to survive to our time, preserving inside the tombs of the sultans, calligraphic phrases in the Muslim language and Byzantine mosaic icons.
Official website: http://ayasofyamuzesi.gov
One of Istanbul’s most famous palaces, worth including in the list of “Turkey’s top attractions“. For the first half of the 18th century, the beautiful castle served as home to the sultans of the Ottoman Empire. The palace territory is divided into separate zones, each of which has its own entrance: there are inner chambers and harem, chancellery and treasury, service and office halls. Currently, this palace is considered the largest in terms of area museum complex of the world: it is necessary to examine such sights of Istanbul, allocating a whole day. By the way, in Topkapı you can have a cup of tea and a snack - there is a cozy cafe with views of the Bosphorus.
Official website: http://topkapisarayi.gov
Your trip to the capital should definitely include a visit to this early 17th century building. The architectural delights in the styles of the mosque are Ottoman and Byzantine. Precious and unique breeds of marble were used for the construction work. Iznik ceramic tiles, with which the facade of the temple is tiled, have a beautiful blue color. It is thanks to them that the Sultanahmet Mosque got its second name.
Official website: http://www.sultanahmetcamii
What to visit in Istanbul for shopping lovers? This huge covered market is about 3.7 thousand square meters in size. Bazaar with 66 streets began its work in the 15th century. At present, there are about 4 thousand stores and benches. On the territory also operates a school and a bath, temple and currency exchange, warehouses and restaurants. What can you buy? Absolutely everything: spices and herbs, souvenirs and fabrics, Turkish carpets and precious jewelry, clothing and shoes. The Grand Bazaar has its own unique atmosphere.
The site is a 4th century reservoir located well below ground level. It was formerly the main reservoir of water in Constantinople - the liquid flowed here from the nearby forest. The ceiling of the cistern is supported by more than 330 columns of marble imported from Byzantine cathedrals. At the end of the 20th century, the Basilica was given the status of a museum - it was restored and equipped with a system of illumination.
Official website: http://yerebatansarnici
The prototype of this tower of stone was a wooden structure created in Byzantine times. Over its long history, the landmark has served as a prisoner, a lighthouse, and a fire department tower - guides in Istanbul will tell you many legends associated with it. There is an observation deck on the upper level from which you can take great pictures or just admire the panorama of the city and the sea. At the foot of the building there are several restaurants, including those serving dishes of the national cuisine of the country.
Official website: http://www.istanbul
The construction work continued for 7 years. White marble was used for the interiors. Inside the most beautiful and largest mosque of the capital can simultaneously accommodate about 10,000 worshippers. The temple with its 138 windows is a reminder of the former greatness of the Ottoman Empire. There are tall minarets, galleries, prayer rooms, libraries, observatories, baths, hospitals and educational institutions. If you are interested in the best attractions in Istanbul, come here first.
The structure with an observation deck, created during the war between Sparta and Athens, is located on a small island. Note that the victory went to the Athenian army, and the island was turned into an outpost. At one time the Maiden’s Tower was used as an isolation tower, an economic military depot, a prison and a lighthouse. Now it is one of the main symbols of the Turkish capital. Where did its name come from? According to legends, the sultan imprisoned his daughter in this tower, trying to save her from a predicted death from a snake bite. However, on the day she celebrated her 18th birthday, the girl received a basket of flowers, one of which contained a poisonous reptile.
Official website: http://www.kizkulesi
Only ruins are left of the former grandeur of the fortress. If you translate the name of the landmark from Greek, it indicates “holy place”. If you do not know what to see in Istanbul in 1 day, go to this monument of Byzantine days.
The building began to be erected in the early 16th century. It is a remarkable and majestic monument of history and architecture, which even the best hotels in Istanbul cannot be compared with in its luxury. Bayezid II, with its two beautiful minarets, is one of the largest mosques of the city.
The date of construction of the defensive structure is the 15th century. The powerful walls of the structure were built in a couple of months to protect Constantinople from the straits. After the Byzantine era came to an end, the fort became a customs post. In the 20th century the authorities ordered its reconstruction.
We have listed for you the main attractions of Istanbul in brief. If you have already seen each of the mentioned objects, go to see such fascinating places as:
In former times, instead of the current perfectly landscaped and landscaped area, there were impenetrable forests. Every year in the spring, a tulip festival is organized in the park area. Different varieties and species of these flowers are stacked in original ornaments and unique pictures. If you are planning to visit the capital of Turkey in April, now you know where to go in Istanbul.
The building has a remarkable appearance - the snow-white walls are decorated with blue ornaments. Originally each vault was entirely covered with unique frescoes and gold mosaics. Brown backgrounds and Arabic calligraphy were used to decorate the luxurious interiors.
Official website: http://tsenina.narod.
You should visit this mosque with an experienced guide - the attendant will tell you the story of the appearance of the temple: a legend related to an influential Albanian woman named Safiye Sultan and her husband Murad the Third (the ruler of the city).
The museum complex consists of 3 large buildings holding more than one million exhibits, each showing the history of human development. How was it possible to collect such an impressive number of exhibits? In the late 19th century it was strictly forbidden to take any cultural and historical monuments out of the Ottoman Empire. In the exhibition halls you can see the rarest items, such as the world’s first peace agreement.
Miniaturk Square contains models of famous European and Turkish landmarks, created in 1 by 25 format. The number of objects is more than a hundred: there is the seaport, the railway, the cathedrals of Artemis and St. Sophia, the Blue Mosque, etc.
One of the most famous coves in the world is located exactly in Istanbul - it is the Golden Horn Bay, on the southern shore of which Byzantium was once founded. The city owes its prosperity to its advantageous geographical position, which it eventually achieved. In the past, it was a berth for Ottoman and Byzantine merchant ships, and today the bay is lined with landscaped parks, walkways and significant historical monuments. The harbor itself is a curved bay, going deep into the land - from ancient times it was called a horn, because of the similarity of forms. And it probably became “golden” because of the beauty of the local views and the abundance of sights. The best way to explore them today is a ferry cruise on the waters of the bay, where you can see the magnificent palaces, cathedrals and mosques, ancient coastal fortifications and ancient buildings.
Even though Istanbul in winter is not enjoying the warmth of summer sun, but the sights in the city are not less. In addition, in winter, visitors can enjoy the tranquility of the Turkish capital, free from the crowds of tourists and queues to the significant objects. If you are looking for what to see in Istanbul in winter, you can find quite interesting options by applying ingenuity. For example, a great idea for a holiday is a sea cruise on the Bosphorus Strait, which will give an opportunity to relax after a busy day. On a nice day, you can come to the pier of Eminönü, get on the ferry and climb to its upper deck, take a cup of strong Turkish tea and for a couple of hours just escape from the bustle, sailing along the quiet surface of the strait and enjoying contemplation of the beautiful views of Constantinople, with its ancient palaces, bridges, castles, mosques and mansions.
If you’re looking for something to see in Istanbul in a week, you can find quite an informative travel option - a tour of the palaces for which the Turkish capital is famous. After all, the Ottoman Empire was once famous not only for its military might, but also for its luxurious palace buildings. One of the most famous today is the Dolmabahce Palace, a rich historical complex on the shores of the Bosphorus Strait, built in a completely uncharacteristic for local architecture Baroque style. Inside there are almost three hundred rooms, of which 44 are spacious, majestic halls. Today, some of the rooms serve as exhibition spaces, displaying rare items, art and jewelry. Its large collection of internationally renowned artists’ canvases is especially noteworthy. And in the Museum of Clocks all the exclusive clocks that were once presented to the Sultan are collected.
Official website: http://www.millisaraylar
The French neo-Baroque Beylerbey Palace once served as the summer residence of the Turkish sultans and was also intended to receive various high-ranking guests. It was first erected in 1829, but a fire destroyed it to the ground, and in 1865 in its place grew a beautiful structure of white marble - this is exactly the appearance that has survived to this day. The interior is in contrast to the exterior - the interior reflects the traditional Ottoman style. Everything inside is symmetrical, the rooms are richly decorated and astonishingly rich - the floor is covered with large Egyptian carpets, the ceiling is decorated with Arabic ligature, massive intricate chandeliers hang from above, the interior is decorated with porcelain vases. A striking example of Eastern luxury is shown in the Hall of Celebrations, also called the Blue Hall.
Official website: http://www.millisarayla
Built as an alternative to the Dolmabahce Palace, which was vulnerable to the enemy, the Yildiz Palace served as the residence of Abdul-Hamid II for 33 years and later passed to other sultans and was a reception place for important persons. Inside there are dozens of lavishly decorated rooms and halls, among which the Ceremonial Hall, with its gold stars on the ceiling and the huge red-and-white hand-woven carpet, especially stands out for its luxury. Marble staircases, inlaid doors, and an Eastern abundance of marble, patterns, mother-of-pearl, and opulent upholstery complete the decorations. In one of the rooms there is a museum, which gives an idea of the history of the city and its inhabitants for the past 5 centuries - paintings, household items, kitchen utensils, silverware, porcelain and glass are exhibited here. The courtyard park welcomes you with exotic plants, fragrant flowers and unique buildings.
A part of the territory of Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square occupies what was once the ancient hippodrome. It was built in the 3rd century, when Istanbul was still Byzantium, and this area was used for entertainment competitions of horse carriages. Today the greatest value of the Hippodrome are four historical monuments. The 32-meter obelisk of Constantine Porphyrogenitus has no exact history of origin, but it was named after the emperor who restored the monument in the 10th century. The serpentine column is a 5th-century BC structure in the form of intertwining snakes, made by ancient Greek craftsmen to commemorate the victory of the Greek army over the Persians. The ancient Egyptian obelisk, already 3.5 thousand years old, was brought as a gift to the Turkish emperor from Theodosia. Finally, a beautiful stone fountain from the 19th century, a gift addressed to the Sultan by the German Emperor Wilhelm.
In the heart of Istanbul stretches the square that has become the European heart of the city. Taksim is not just a square, but an entire entertainment and tourist district famous for its stores, restaurants, hotels, and it is from here that the legendary lively Istiklal Street with its numerous bars, nightclubs, cinemas and other recreational opportunities originates. The square itself is lively because it is the epicenter of many important events - various public events, concerts, parades, demonstrations are held here and on December 31 the city population flocks here to celebrate the New Year. A number of historical buildings from the 19th century, and a 12-meter monument “Republic”, dedicated to many heroes-liberators, occupy a worthy place on the square. The square also serves as a major transportation hub, being the starting point for many modes of urban transport.
Istiklal is a thoroughfare in the Turkish capital that deserves to have the status of a landmark in Istanbul. A guide will tell you how to get there, but the city’s guests most often arrive here from the popular tourist district of Sultanahmet. It is a street of amazing contrasts, where chic restaurants and eateries, churches of different confessions and trendy nightclubs, and Arab and European motifs intertwined in the architecture. There is no traffic on the street, so you can stroll around on foot and admire the historic buildings, including St. Anthony of Padua Church, Galata Tower, and Flower Market. You can visit one of the many stores and souvenir stores, or take a retro trip on the vintage streetcar of the 19th century, the only transport allowed here.
One of the oldest churches preserved in Istanbul is the Church of Ayia Irene, or the Church of Saint Irene. It is believed by historians to be much older than the well-known Hagia Sophia, but the two churches, like sisters, are located on either side of the sultan’s Topkapi Palace, only a few tens of meters apart. It is assumed that Ayia Irene was built in the early 4th century under Emperor Constantine, and before the advent of the Temple of St. Sophia, it was the main temple complex of Constantinople. Within its walls important religious forums were held, including the meeting of the Second Ecumenical Council. Externally the building is something between a domed basilica and a temple of the cross. The interior is characterized by an abundance of ancient mosaics, and the main hall holds the sarcophagus with the remains of Emperor Constantine.
Official website: https://topkapisarayi
In a rather inconspicuous place in Istanbul, the ancient Kariye Church is nestled, the exact date of its construction is not known for certain, but the first mentions date back to the 4th century. It is hard to imagine that inside a rather unassuming structure you can see a superb decoration, representing a rare collection of ancient Byzantine frescoes. During its long history, the church has been both a monastery and a mosque, and today it serves as a museum. Upon entering, visitors are struck by the beautifully decorated interior, covered entirely in mosaics that are a true example of medieval Byzantine art. This is the only material of its kind presenting illustrations of scenes from the Bible in the form of wall mosaics: here are the stories of Christ’s childhood, episodes of miracles he created and images of Saint Mary with a baby.
Official website: https://ayasofyamuzesi
It is hard to believe that at the beginning of the 21st century there was an atmosphere of “cultural drought” in the multi-million dollar Turkish metropolis, when the craving for contemporary art was just beginning to awaken. The museum, dedicated to the art of recent decades, opened in 2004 in response to growing interest and began the mass opening of other private museums and galleries. The museum exhibition is an amazing symbiosis of different eras, from antiquity to the present day. On the first floor of the two-storey building of the former port warehouse there is a library with a collection of contemporary art books, modern author’s cinema, halls with temporary exhibitions. The second floor is entirely devoted to contemporary art, where works illustrating the main milestones in the development of national art, from ancient sculptures to the latest complex installations, are exhibited in chronological order.
Official website: https://www.istanbulmodern
The luxurious Victorian-style Bristol Hotel, located in the Beyoglu district, was once a temporary retreat for the city’s wealthy guests. In 2005, the private Pera Museum opened in the restored former hotel building, housing permanent and temporary exhibitions on its 8 floors. The first three floors of the building are permanent exhibitions with collections of Anatolian measures and weights, portraits of the hand of European Orientalists, ceramics and paintings of the 17th-19th centuries. The gem of the museum is the collection of paintings, combining works of Turkish and European masters, with scenes from life in the city. The next two floors are temporary exhibitions with world famous paintings and collections representing famous museums of other countries with which the Pera maintains a connection. The basement and two basement levels are occupied by the museum’s administrative offices.
Official website: https://www.peramuseum
The multi-faceted and extraordinary culture of the Turkish people generates some very unusual sights in Istanbul. The presentation cannot leave out another museum, the so-called “Abode of the Dervishes. Once upon a time, new communities - orders with their own charter - began to appear among Muslims, including the Melevi order of whirling dervishes. In the Christian view, dervishes were ascetic monks who lived by wandering, denied worldly goods, and could not imagine their existence without a special prayer that was expressed in the form of an intricate dance. Today, the legendary dance of the monks in long skirts has gained new fame and become an element of many spectacular shows in Muslim countries. The former cloister, now transformed into a museum, houses an exhibition of everyday objects of the dervishes, and in its basement there is a lavishly decorated hall of ritual dance.
One of the greatest achievements that dramatically changed life in Constantinople was the creation of the waterworks system. Valenta is an ancient aqueduct that was part of this system, built in the 4th century at the behest of the Roman emperor Valentus and named in his honor. It was 1 kilometer long and 26 meters high and supplied water to Topkapi Palace and other parts of the city. Today, only a fragment of the 625-meter-long system has survived, and due to the rising of the soil level, the height has decreased by 6 meters. On the whole the structure was part of a grandiose city system with a total length of 550 kilometers, which at one time became one of the greatest hydraulic systems in the world. Today the aqueduct has become a valuable historical monument, blending into the modern landscape of the city. The most beautiful two-storey part of the bridge rises above Ataturk Boulevard.
The walls and towers of Constantinople are a kind of reminder that the city did not once belong to Turkey. Ancient Byzantium has always been attractive to other states, for this reason, Emperor Constantine in the 4th century ordered the erection of fortress walls, whose purpose was to protect the city from both land and water. With the advent of the Emperor Theodosius fortifications were greatly expanded, their length was more than 5 kilometers, a thickness of about 5 meters, a height of about 12, and after a certain period were built towers, all about a hundred. The remains of these fortifications are known today as the walls of Constantinople. Of all the towers with gates have survived only 12, and the inspection of the walls can begin from the south, moving along the gate to the north. The most famous of these structures is the Golden Gate, through which the Byzantine emperors and foreign visitors entered the city in triumph.
On the Bosphorus Peninsula, in the Kadıköy district, above the other constructions of the old city, the Haydarpaş train station proudly rises, which has long attracted romantics and lovers. The building looks like a fairy tale castle, overlooking the bay and on sunny days the sun shines through the stained glass windows. Marble steps lead to the central entrance of the building, and on the sides there are neat towers with conical roofs. The station first started operating within the walls of this Baroque building in 1909, and throughout its history it has repeatedly witnessed many historical events, both joyful and sad. For example, the 1917 bombing of World War I severely damaged its architecture. And since 2012, thorough restoration work has been underway, so now the station functions only as a tourist attraction, which is recommended to visit during a walk along the station shore.
When you ask what to see in Istanbul in April, the answer is to go to the Tulip Festival! This fabulous event transforms the whole city and especially its parks into a floral masterpiece in an amazing array of spring colors. Gulhane Park looks marvelous in April with thousands of tulips, bluebells, pansies and other spring flowers. This is also the month when storks arrive in the park and lay their eggs and raise their young in the sprawling plane-trees. In addition, Gulhane has a rich history, beautifully landscaped and attracts with the comfort of sprawling alleys. Here it is so pleasant to have a rest after a busy walk, resting directly on the grass in the shade of trees or visiting the tea room, where there is a great view of the Bosporus, with scurrying seagulls and passing ferries.
Istanbul’s largest shopping and entertainment center is located in the European part of the city, in the fashionable Şişli neighborhood. It was erected in 2005, and is a huge building with 6 floors and an area of more than 600 thousand square meters, on which more than 300 boutiques, restaurants, stores and cafes are located. Every day about 200 thousand people visit institutions of the complex, who come here not only for shopping, but also in order not to pass the time boring. The Jevahir project was developed back in 1987 by an American architect, who initially was much more ambitious, included skyscrapers and huge areas, but 10 years later the investment funds began to run out, as a result there were built only 6 floors, which, however, was enough to win the title of the largest shopping center in Europe. A remarkable touch of the building is the largest clock in the world, the height of the numbers alone being as much as 3 meters.
Official website: http://www.istanbulcevahir
Egyptian bazaar is like an Oriental fairy tale. It’s also called the Spice Market and the massive piles of spices on the stalls justify the name. The air of the market is saturated with aromas of these spices and the market coloring is supplemented by the fantastic abundance of fresh and dried fruits, which alternate with varieties of Turkish high quality tea and coffee, Turkish cheeses and fresh sour milk products. All kinds of oriental sweets deserve a special attention - lukum with various fillings, baklava spread and in boxes. A little aside, there are shops with silverware and bijouterie, and further on there are showcases with traditional Turkish footwear. The large-scale market building itself is a historical construction, which began in the 16th century and was built for 73 years. It has been repeatedly subjected to fires, restored, lost some details, but has not lost its authenticity.
Official website: http://www.misircarsisi
We are sure that the sights of Istanbul, photos with names and descriptions of which we have given, will allow you to compose an excellent sightseeing itinerary. Read also about sights of Marmaris and get inspired for your further trip in Turkey.