Top Istanbul Attractions You Must See During Your Trip!

Istanbul, the heart of the world, is one of the greatest cities with its history dating back thousands of years. Istanbul welcomes over 10 million visitors annually and it’s no surprise for such a city. Thanks to its broad cultural diversity, cosmopolitan structure, the beauty of the Bosphorus, fascinating mosques, and so much more, visitors will never want to leave The City on Seven Hills. So, here are the top Istanbul attractions you must see before leaving!

Table of Contents

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya Camii)

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If you have a limited stay in Istanbul, the first thing you should do is visit Hagia Sophia. Its enormous naves and aisles garnished with mosaics of Christianity and Islam will glamorize you. Its enchanting dome, sultan’s lodge, and calligraphy art will be the cherry on top.

Hagia Sophia was built in 360 AD as a church at the beginning but it was destroyed during a revolt. Then, it was rebuilt again in 415 but was destroyed again. Finally, the emperor of that time decided to build the third Hagia Sophia, which was constructed between 532 and 537.

For 900 years, Hagia Sophia was used by an Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople until Ottomans took over the city in 1453. Then Hagia Sophia was used as a mosque for a long time. In 1934, it turned into a museum until 2020. Now, it’s open for worship.

Visiting Hours of Hagia Sophia

Open 9 AM – 11:30 PM every day

Basilica Cistern

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Basilica Cistern is an underground cistern that was built by Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I in 532. With its length of 140 meters and width of 70 meters, it is around 10,000 square meters and has an 80,000-ton water storage capacity. 

The atmospheric lighting and the tranquil ripples on the water’s surface enhance the ethereal quality of the Basilica Cistern, creating an otherworldly experience for visitors. Exploring the dimly lit chambers and pathways, one can’t help but marvel at the engineering precision that allowed for the construction of such a vast and sophisticated underground reservoir over 1,500 years ago.

Recently renovated, Basilica Cistern is now decorated with new sculptures. Together with its historical 9-meter-high 336 marble columns, you might feel little. Speaking of pillars, don’t forget to see two spectacular medusa-headed columns

Visiting Hours of Basilica Cistern

Open 9 AM – 7 PM every day

Maiden’s Tower (Kız Kulesi)

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The Maiden’s Tower is one of the most iconic symbols of Istanbul. The tower is located on top of a giant rock at Uskudar, it is in the middle of the sea. The story of this tower comes from a legend. Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, built this tower to prevent a prophecy of her daughter dying from a snakebite. So, he built this tower in the middle of the sea. One day, a snake found its way to the tower by hiding in a fruit basket and bit the daughter in the end.

To reach Maiden’s Tower, you can take ferries from Uskudar-Salacak if you’re on the Anatolian side, from Galataport if you’re on the European side of Istanbul. Visiting hours are 9:00 AM to 8 PM every day.

Visiting Hours of Maiden’s Tower

9 AM – 8 PM every day

Topkapı Palace Museum

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Topkapı Palace is another great key attraction and historical building in Istanbul, Fatih. Constructed during the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror, Topkapı Palace was strategically positioned to overlook the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus Strait, and the Sea of Marmara, symbolizing the Ottoman Empire’s dominance over key waterways. The palace’s design blends traditional Ottoman architecture with influences from various cultures, creating a complex of interconnected courtyards, pavilions, and chambers.

Now stands as a treasure trove of artifacts, showcasing imperial robes, priceless jewels, intricate ceramics, and manuscripts that offer a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of Ottoman rulers. Visitors can stroll through the palace’s well-preserved courtyards and chambers, gaining insights into the political and cultural legacy of the Ottoman Empire.

Visiting Hours of Topkapı Palace Museum

Open 9 AM – 6 PM

Closed on Sundays

Galata Tower

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Located in Beyoğlu district, most tourists go to Galata by walking down Istiklal Street. You can enjoy the panoramic view of Istanbul with observation decks. For your information, back then, there was a restaurant on the highest floor, now it is no longer available.

Galata Tower is a watchtower built by Byzantine Emperor Justinianos in 507-508 AD. The tower is built with the Romanesque architecture style with a masonry rubble stone system. The tower is one of the most iconic symbols of Istanbul and can be seen easily even from the other side.

The Galata Tower’s vantage point atop the Galata Hill provides an unrivaled panoramic view of Istanbul and its surroundings. Its elevated position allows it to command attention, making it easily visible from various points across the city, even from the opposite shores. The tower’s silhouette against the Istanbul skyline has become an iconic representation of the city’s historical and cultural significance.

Visiting Hours of Galata Tower

Summer: Open 8:30 AM – 11 PM

Winter: Open 8:30 AM – 10 PM

Suleymaniye Mosque

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Designed by  Mimar Sinan, the chief architect of the Ottoman Empire, and constructed by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1557, Suleymaniye Mosque is a place to worship and sightsee. Located at Third Hill, visitors can enjoy the enchanting view of Istanbul beneath their feet.

Moreover, with its perfect design and beautiful, enormous architecture, and internal ornamentation, it’s perfect for visitors who want to witness Ottoman cultural heritage.

The internal ornamentation of the Suleymaniye Mosque is equally awe-inspiring. As visitors step into the sacred space, they are greeted by a symphony of colors and patterns adorning the walls and ceilings. Delicate calligraphy, intricate tiles, and meticulously crafted stained glass windows create an ambiance of serenity and beauty. It’s not just a place of worship; it’s a living testament to the artistic achievements of the Ottoman Empire.

Visiting Hours of Suleymaniye Mosque

Open 9 AM – 6 PM

Closed during prayer times

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)

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Also known as Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Blue Mosque is another historic structure that has witnessed the Ottoman Empire itself as well. Blue Mosque’s construction started in 1609 and it took 7.5 years to finish. Blue Mosque was built to both respond to nearby Hagia Sophia and show the power the Ottoman Empire had.

The main attraction of Blue Mosque is its 6 minarets. Most of the built mosques around the world have 1 to 4 minarets depending on their sizes. With its 6 minarets, Blue Mosque is one of the 5 mosques in the world that have exceeded architectural expectations. Also, with its stunning design, blue tiles, and giant structure, sightseeing Blue Mosque won’t leave you unsatisfied.

Visiting Hours of Blue Mosque

Open 9 AM – 6 PM

Closed during prayer times

Dolmabahçe Palace

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Dolmabahce Palace was built in 1856 to replace Topkapi Palace by Sultan Abulmecid I. With its splendid combination of neoclassic and baroque imperial architecture techniques, you won’t regret visiting Dolmabahce Palace.

Inside the palace, there are luxurious decorations such as the Crystal Staircase, Baccarat Crystal Chandelier, and the Ceremonial Hall. Plus, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk resided here during his Istanbul visits. The room he passed away on 10 November 1938 has been preserved since then.

Beyond its architectural magnificence, Dolmabahce Palace also holds historical importance, as it was the residence of several notable Ottoman sultans and the place where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, spent his last days. This connection to pivotal moments in history adds a profound layer of significance to the palace.

Visiting Hours of Dolmabahçe Palace

Open 9 AM – 4 PM

Closed on Mondays

Beylerbeyi Palace

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Beylerbeyi Palace is the most popular palace on the Asian side of Istanbul. Erected in 1856, Beylerbeyice Palace is right next to the Bosphorus, having an amazing view of the Bosphorus Bridge. The palace was used as a summer residence by sultans and a fine place for foreign visitors since built. 

Designed with a neo-Baroque style, the palace has 26 rooms and 6 halls. Everything in the palace is decorated with the most luxurious furnishings. So, get ready to be fascinated by the elegance of Beylerbeyi Palace. Also, there’s a small bamboo forest right outside the palace, which is something you don’t see every day in Turkey!

Visiting Hours of Beylerbeyi Palace

Open 9 AM – 5:30 PM

Closed on Mondays

Bosphorus Tours

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Enjoying the breeze while sightseeing in Bosphorus Strait is a must-do for every Istanbul newcomer. During the tour, you pass by all the landmarks built on the coastline of the Bosphorus, including fancy mansions.

Embarking on a Bosphorus Strait tour is like stepping into a living history book, where every page tells a story of Istanbul’s evolution through the ages. As the boat glides through the shimmering waters, you are treated to an uninterrupted view of the city’s skyline, adorned with a captivating blend of ancient mosques, palaces, and modern structures.

Except the official tours, there are two private ferry companies that offer Bosphorus cruises: Dentur and Turyol. Even though their tours cost more than the official, the departures are more frequent. And according to the season, each company can adjust their departure schedules. So, check all the departure hours and locations before planning something.

Types of Bosphorus Tours

There are three different Bosphorus tours Istanbul’s official ferry company offer:

  • Short Bosphorus cruises
  • Long Bosphorus cruises
  • Bosphorus sunset cruises

Istanbul Archaeological Museums

istanbul archaeological museums

Istanbul Archaeological Museums are Turkey’s very first museums built in 1869, under the name of Müze-i Hümayun (Museum of the Empire). There’s a reason why it’s called “museums” because they are a combination of three different sections:

  • The Archaeology Museum: Contains the archeological works of Hagia Irene Church and excavations of many necropolises. The most notable piece is the sarcophagi of Alexander the Great.
  • The Tiled Kiosk Museum: The oldest building among the three, erected in 1472. Exhibiting tiles and ceramics of Turkish, Selcuk, and Ottoman cultures.
  • The Museum of Ancient Orient: Exhibits magnificent pieces such as the Tomb of Iskender, the Tomb of “Crying Woman” and more. The building itself is also an amazing example of neo-classical architecture in Istanbul.

After visiting Topkapi, Hagia Sophia, or Blue Mosque at Fatih, your next stop should be there for being so close to these landmarks.

Visiting Hours of Istanbul Archaeological Museums

Open 9 AM – 8 PM every day

Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı)

Vibrant Market Scenes at the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Grand Bazaar is a great marketplace close to other landmarks in Fatih. There, visitors can buy souvenirs or anything they have in their mind for an Istanbul Turkey memory.

Built in the 15th century, during the Ottoman reign, the Grand Bazaar has evolved over the centuries into a sprawling labyrinth of covered streets and alleys, earning its reputation as one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets. The complex nature of the bazaar adds to its allure, creating a captivating atmosphere that beckons both locals and tourists alike.

Wandering through the Grand Bazaar, visitors are greeted with a mesmerizing array of goods, from intricately woven carpets and ornate textiles to gleaming jewelry and traditional Turkish ceramics. The bazaar is not merely a marketplace; it’s a living tapestry of Istanbul’s diverse cultural heritage, reflecting the craftsmanship and artistic expressions that have flourished in the city for generations.

What To Buy From Grand Bazaar?

  • Turkish carpets and kilims
  • Gold or silver jewelry
  • Ottoman accessories
  • Ceramics and tiles
  • Turkish coffee pots in all sizes
  • Countless flavored Turkish delights
  • Spices
  • Teas
  • Leather goods
  • Ottoman style collectibles
  • Keychains
  • Magnets

Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı)

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Ten minutes of walking away from Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar is also another excellent example of a marketplace you shouldn’t miss when you come to Istanbul. Also known as the Egyptian Bazaar, it is located at Eminonu.

As you step into the Spice Bazaar, you’ll find yourself immersed in a world of enchanting scents, diverse flavors, and a kaleidoscope of spices, herbs, and delicacies. Originally built in the 17th century, the market has retained its authentic charm while evolving into a hub for both locals and tourists seeking a taste of Istanbul’s rich culinary heritage.

The market’s atmosphere is alive with the energy of haggling and the lively banter between vendors and customers. Don’t hesitate to engage in this age-old tradition – bargaining is not only expected but often adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the shopping experience.

What To Buy From Spice Bazaar?

  • Spices
  • Herbs
  • Lokum
  • Baklava
  • Candied fruits and nuts
  • Dried fruits
  • Teas
  • Types of coffees and beans
  • Cooking utensils
  • Essential oils

Feriköy Flea Market

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Ferikoy Flea Market is a relatively new tourist attraction in Istanbul compared to other places. Initially, it was called Ferikoy Antique Market but because there are so many goods there, some people call it a flea market.

However, due to its popularity now, some vendors have pumped up the prices and some may try to trick you as if the item you want is really antique. Beware of these kinds of situations. The market gathers every Sunday around 9 AM and stays until 6 PM. There are over 450 stalls waiting for you to discover!

What Can You Find in Feriköy Market?

  • Gramophone records
  • Cups
  • Lampshades
  • Parfumes
  • Sculptures
  • Vases
  • And so much more!

Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Passage)

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Cicek Pasaji is a beloved spot for both locals and tourists on Istiklal Avenue, Beyoglu. The place’s name comes from flower auctions started in 1904. Then, around the 1940s, with the start of restaurants and pubs opened in the passage, residents and florists stepped away from the place. Even though there are no active florists there currently, you can still enjoy the architecture and enjoy a drink or two.

As a captivating blend of history and modernity, Cicek Pasaji invites you to explore Istanbul’s dynamic cultural evolution in a single, vibrant passage.

What to do in Flower Passage?

  • Discover boutiques
  • Enjoy diverse dining
  • Try Turkish cuisine
  • Experience lively evenings
  • Listen to live music
  • Socialize

Church of St. Anthony of Padua

Marvel at the Architectural Beauty of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Istanbul, a Timeless Spiritual Haven with a Rich Heritage

Church of St. Anthony of Padua is the largest Catholic church in Istanbul at Istiklal Avenue, Beyoglu district. Constructed by Italians in 1912, it took 6 years to complete the building. The mesmerizing interior structure of the St. Antoine Church will amaze you no matter what. Also, the sculptures, colors, mosaics, and paintings are waiting for you there.

Just a stroll away from the historical allure of Gulhane Park lies the Church of St. Anthony of Padua, a gem nestled in the vibrant heart of Istanbul on Istiklal Avenue. Erected by Italians in 1912 over a six-year span, this architectural marvel boasts a mesmerizing interior that captivates visitors. The intricate sculptures, vibrant colors, enchanting mosaics, and evocative paintings within the walls of St. Antoine Church invite you to embark on a visual journey through time.

Visiting Hours of

Open 9 AM to 7 PM every day

Chora Mosque (Kariye Museum)

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Chora Church was built in the 4th century during the Byzantine reign and was restored throughout the years. Today’s building is from the 14th century. For a long time, the building was used as a church until 1958, when it was converted into a museum. 

From the outside, Chora Mosque may look like a plain, simple building but its true beauty lies inside. History-telling mosaics and frescoes combined with a masterful interior design is worth enjoying the heritage.

Visiting Hours of Chora Mosque

Open 9 AM to 6:30 PM every day

Gülhane Park

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Gulhane Park is right below the Topkapi Palace and contains many tourist attractions within its area. For example, you can visit Gülhane Park Cistern, the Orphanage of Hagios Paulos, and the Column of the Goths.

Also known for its vastness and rose garden, Gulhane Park is the hotspot to have a picnic. Grab your tablecloth and some snacks, and lie down on the grass, enjoy the greenery and cool breeze under the shadows of trees.

As the sun dips below the iconic Topkapi Palace, Gulhane Park transforms into a tranquil retreat. 

Best Time to Visit Gülhane Park

It is best to visit Gülhane Park during warm days and weekdays. During weekends, people tend to have a picnic there and will be crowded.

Belgrad Forest

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The lungs of Istanbul, Belgrad Forest is considered as the “last fortress of greenery” by some locals. The forest is at Sarıyer which will likely be far away from your hotel. For that reason, we recommend spending most of the day there to enjoy your time fully. 

At Belgrad Forest, you can:

  • Hike
  • Camp
  • Have a picnic
  • Relax
  • Take pictures
  • Embrace the nature

Visiting Hours of Belgrad Forest

Belgrad Forest is open for 24 hours every day. It’s more crowded during weekends, so going there on weekdays will be better.

Princes’ Islands (Adalar)

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Princes’ Islands are a group of islands in the Marmara Sea that are a great escape if you’re overwhelmed by the city. You can take ferries from Beşiktaş, Eminönü, and Kabataş if you’re on the European side. Kadıköy and Bostancı if Asian side. There are four neighboring main islands which are:

  • Kınalıada
  • Heybeli
  • Burgazada
  • Büyükada

You can enjoy a vehicle-free environment, rent a bicycle, explore the streets on foot, eat balik ekmek, or enjoy the sea. If you’d like to stay longer, there are hotels as well.

Best time to visit Princes' Islands

Generally, most locals spend their weekends to escape from city noise. Especially during spring and summer, going to one of these Princes’ Islands is ideal.