The Top 15 Places To See and Visit in Istanbul
Istanbul is a beautiful place. One of the best picturesque destinations in the world, and it holds a plethora of attractions that will make your visit to the city an unforgettable experience.
The ancient city is world-famous for its rich history and culture, stunning sceneries, magnificent edifices and the uninterrupted beauty of her ancient monuments.
There are numerous attraction sites to visit in Istanbul, with each jostling for your attention. To help make your tour easy, we present to you the top 15 attraction sites to visit while in the enchanting city of Istanbul.
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Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya-i Kebîr Câmi-i )
First in the list is the awe-inspiring and massive dome of Hagia Sophia, considered to be the world’s largest building of its time. An engineering marvel and an exquisite masterpiece of Byzantine architecture, Hagia Sophia had transformed from a Christian cathedral to a mosque and eventually secularized to a museum.
The 1,484 years old building stands at a staggering height of 180ft, massive width of 240ft and an extensive length of 269ft. Now, that is huge!
It remains one of the most visited tourist attractions in Istanbul and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lights reflect everywhere in the interior of the dome, giving it an ambience better experienced than talked about. A culmination of the religion, political and artistic life of the Byzantine world, the Hagia Sophia is without contention, one of the greatest and most famous monuments in the world. You just can’t afford not visiting this mosque when in Istanbul.
Hagia Sophia is located on the Hippodrome square (Sultanahmet square).
Topkapi Palace (Topkapı sarayı)
Although the palace complex is now a museum, as the main residence and administrative quarters of Ottoman sultans, this grand edifice has all the opulence and grandeur of a royal palace.
Also a UNESCO world heritage site, the Topkapi Palace Museum exhibits the imperial collections of the Ottoman Empire.
Feed your eyes and imaginations to the vast collections of weapons (including the famous emerald Topkapi dagger of the Topkapi film), clothings, religious relics, jewels, etc. Prominent among the jewels and ornaments is the Spoonmaker’s diamond reputed to be the fourth largest diamond in the world.
The palace library has extensive collections of books and rare manuscripts, including early copies of the Qur’an.
A visit to this museum is like standing in an oasis of history and culture. Moreover, the dainty blooms of tulips in the exotic courtyard garden will have you captivated by its beauty, especially if you are visiting during spring. (You may link your article on places to visit during spring here)
You can find the entrance to Topkapi Palace near the Hagia Sophia (Sultanahmet square), after you pass the Fountain of Ahmed The 3d.
Archaeology museum (Arkeoloji müzesi)
Located near the Topkapi Palace, the Istanbul Archaeological Museum is another attraction site you just can’t afford to ignore.
This world-class museum was set up in 1891 in a bid to westernize the Ottoman Empire, and consists of three archeological museums; Archeological Museum, Museum of the Ancient Oriental and Museum of Islamic Studies.
The Archeology Museum hosts a collection of over one million objects, representing almost all the eras and civilisations in the world’s history. It houses a large collection of Turkish, Hellenistic and Roman artifacts.
Impressive! The museum is literally a fountain of knowledge and historicy facts.
The Archaeological Museum is located on the territory of Topkapi Palace (Sultanahmet), so after visit to palace you can pass to museum.
Basilica (Yerebatan sarnıcı) and Theodosius cistern (Şerefiye sarnıcı)
Next on the list is the largest ancient cistern that lies beneath the city of Istanbul. Built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, this ancient cistern is a must-see. The Basilica cistern had always attracted tourists, and has been a location of interest in many international novels and movies (it was the location for the 1963 James Bond film ‘From Russia with Love’).
Another historical cistern worth visiting is the Theodosius cistern. It was built between 423CE and 445CE by the Roman Emperor Theodosius II to store water supplied by the Valens Aqueduct, in case attacking enemies cut off water supply to the city.
Basilica cistern is located in front of Sultanahmet square, after you pass the road with tram lines you will see the signpost to Basilica.
Theodosius cistern (Şerefiye sarnıcı) is located not far from Basilica. You should pass Sultanahmet tram station and after 1-2 minutes get to the left, leaving Pierre Loti hotel behind you.
Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Sultanahmet camii)
Popularly known as the Blue Mosque, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque is another historic mosque located in Istanbul and one of its major attraction sites.
Visit at night and be entertained to the most beautiful picturesque view. At night time when the lights come on, the hand-painted tulip-shaped blue tiles adorning the interior walls glow in blue, hence the name Blue Mosque. This mosque is one of the most magnificent buildings in Turkey.
However, besides being a tourist attraction, the mosque is also actively in use as a place of worship and so non-worshippers are not allowed in during prayer hours.
You can easily find Blue Mosque at Sultanahmet square.
Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı)
You haven’t been to Istanbul if you didn’t visit the once world’s No. 1 most visited tourist attraction. The Grand Bazaar was built in the 16th century, and is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world.
Keep some cash handy to make purchases while visiting the Grand bazaar as the ancient market complex still stands formidable and thriving, visited by about 3000 to 4000 people daily.
A major landmark in Istanbul, the market opens everyday from 8.00pm to 7pm, except on Sundays and bank holidays.
You can get to Grand Bazaar by T1 tram — your stop is Beyazit.
Suleymaniye mosque (Süleymaniye camii)
Talk of a Mosque built to impress, and you have the Suleymaniye mosque. An Ottoman imperial mosque located in the Third Hill area of Istanbul and constructed in the 16th century by Suleiman the Magnificent
The exquisite architectural design and unique craftsmanship of the mosque make it a beautiful sight to behold. Thousands of visitors flock the mosque to see its very attractive decor.
The blue-colored Iznik tile windows, the exceptional grandeur of the courtyard, the glamorous minarets with a fountain in their midst, the relaxingly cool and serene interior, and the list goes on and on.
In fact, you need to visit and see things for yourself.
Suleymaniye mosque is located on the hill, so you should climb upward the hill from Egyptian market (the signposts will help you).
Dolmabahçe Palace (Dolmabahçe sarayı)
Sprawled across eleven acres of land, with 285 rooms, 46 halls, 6 baths and 48 toilets, the Dolmabahçe Palace is the largest palace in Turkey.
This intimidatingly beautiful edifice was set up in the 19th century by the Ottoman Empire’s 31st Sultan, Abdulmecid I, to match the luxury and comfort of the palaces of contemporary English monarchs.
The palace spells flamboyance and smells of affluence, richly decorated with gold, rare crystals, expensive stones, bearskin rugs and chandeliers. The glamorous Bohemian crystal chandelier in the Ceremonial Hall will hold you spellbound.
From Sultanahmet ride the T1 line down to the Kabataş station, the Dolmabahçe Palace is within 5 minutes by foot.
Chora church / Kariye (Kariye camii)
The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora is another site you should not miss seeing when on a visit to Istanbul.
Like the Hagia Sophia, the building moved from being a church to a mosque and eventually a museum. It is also known as the Kariye Museum.
Originally constructed in the 4th century as a medieval Byzantine Greek Orthodox Church, the interior of the building is covered with some of the most intricate and oldest surviving Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. The mosaic work of the Chora church remains one of the most distinguished examples of the Palaelogian Renaissance.
Museum is located in Balat District, so you can plan a walk through the old streets from.
You can get there by tram line untill Aksaray and then take a metro line M1 to Topkapı-Ulubatlı. Also, you can use buses from Eminonu bus station — №910, 31E, 37E, 38E or 36KE to Edirnekapi, and then get tram TR4 to Edirnekapi tram station.
The Bosphorus is unarguably the most scenic and romantic attraction site in Istanbul. The thrilling and fascinating Bosphorus will leave your mouth hanging open in amazement.
The Bosphorus is the channel that connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean by the way of the Sea of Marmara, and this strait is equally a natural border between Europe and Asia.
There is no better way to enjoy the Bosphorus rather than going on an enchanting Bosphorus cruise. Prepare to be entranced by the deep blue colored water, the chilly caress of the wind, the beautiful sight of pelicans and storks, and the magical views on both sides of the sea shores.
An amazing array of beautiful mansions and palaces, mosques, restaurants and entertainment spots file across the shores of the Bosphorus.
Going on a Bosphorus cruise is «breathtaking». You can go for a dinner cruise, lunch cruise, full or short boat tours, etc. Just have your camera handy to capture the magical views of both Asian and European sceneries.
And what else could be more romantic than having your wedding on the Bosphorus. Uh-la-la!
You can buy Bosphorus tour cruise ticket here online or at Eminonu pier from Şehir Hatları or Turyol.
Galata tower (Galata kulesi)
A high, cone-capped cylindrical tower that dominates the sky of the city of Istanbul and is visible from every part of the city. The Galata tower offers a panoramic view of Istanbul and its environ, you’ll get a clear aerial view of the whole city from up the tower. Bring a camera along to take pictures.
Constructed in 1433 as an observation tower, the nine-story tower stands tall at 200ft above sea level and is one awesome picturesque sight.
There is a restaurant and cafe on its upper floors. What’s more, the charming Bosphorus can be seen from here.
Oh! Don’t worry, you won’t have to climb stairs as there are two operating elevators in the tower.
You can get to Galata tower by walking down Istiklal Street, you should see a plaza with the tower in the centre.
Whirling dervishes show
Yes, you guessed right. It is a dance show. The whirling dervish ceremonies which started as a form of meditation in the 13th century has gained so much popularity over the years and the dance show is a center of attraction to visitors of Istanbul.
The whirling dervishes perform series of turns during the dance, which helps the dancers and the audience attain a state of nirvana.
You can buy tickets to dervishes dance show here online.
To find Galata Mevlevihanesi Museum walk across the Taksim Square down to the Şişhane metro station and turn left.
Ortakoy mosque (Ortaköy camii) and Bebek coast
Situated at the Ortakoy Pier Square, the Ortakoy Mosque is one of the most touristy locations on the Bosphorus. This formidable mosque was built between 1854 and 1856 by the Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid and designed by an American architect and his son.
The mosque’s interior is decorated with dainty white marbles and covered with beautiful pink mosaics. Its dome, pulpit and two minarets exhibit awesome craftsmanship.
The rich and attractive decor of the mosque gives it a grand appearance that you’ll find just irresistible.
Located on the shores of the Bosphorus, Bebek coast is the choice neighborhood for the wealthy and people of class.
The intriguing opulence, luxury and serenity of Bebek coast make it a fun spot to visit in Istanbul.
You can enjoy your meals with the refreshing breeze of the Bosphorus blowing across your face, take a romantic walk around the coast or simply sit down and drink in the relaxing atmosphere of Bebek.
You can get to Ortakoy from Sultanahmet by T1 tram until Kabataş stop and then by bus 25E, 22RE, 22.
From Taksim you can use 42T or 40T buses.
Rumeli Hisari fortress (Rumeli Hisarı)
Get ready to be stunned by the picture-post card view of the Rumelihisari fortress, a medieval fortress located on a series of hills on the European banks of the Bosphorus.
The fortress was set up between 1451 and 1452 in preparation for a planned siege on the Byzantine city of Constantinople, present day Istanbul.
The complex moved from being a fortress to serving as a custom checkpoint, a prison and, presently, a museum.
From Sultanahmet you can get to Rumeli Hisari fortress by T1 tram until Kabataş and then by 25E bus to Rumelihisarı.
Visit to hamam
Finally, cap your visit to Istanbul by enjoying a Turkish bath. Pamper yourself to the benefits of the Hamman, which involves an exfoliating steam bath, a soothing warm scrub and a refreshing cool bath topped with a relaxing massage.
The benefits of going on a visit to a hammam cannot be over-emphasised. Your physical and mental health will be revitalized. You wouldn’t want to miss out on this, believe me.
There are a lot of historical hammams in Istanbul, for example Hürrem Sultan hamam in Sultanahmet, Çemberlitaş hamam, Cağaloğlu hamamı. You can book your visit to hamam here online.
And there you have it, the top 15 places to visit in Istanbul. I believe this will help you in planning your vacation to Istanbul.