Istanbul Turkey is a magical city where two continents meet, basically where east meets west. If the whole world was one country Istaanbul would be the capital of it.
Istanbul has been the long capital of the Ottoman Empire. After the city has been taken from the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Since then the city of Istanbul served as the capital of the Ottoman Empire since 1453. There are plenty of reasons to plan a visit to Istanbul and in this article. We will mention the most tourist attractions in Istanbul and also places to visit once you are in the city.
Just before we start, as we will be mentioning tourist attractions in Istanbul. We will also be making an additional article about the local guided tourist attractions in Istanbul and also how Istanbul locals live in the city of Istanbul as well.
In this article, you can find the experiences from Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar, and Basilica Cistern. Since getting around might be complicated we will be listing places to visit that are next to each. Other so you can see more in a shorter period of time. Also do not forget to buy a museum pass in Istanbul. A museum pass will let you visit all the museums in Istanbul with a short or no line. You can buy the museum pass from this link or just download the Museum Pass app from here for Iphone or here for Android. So that you can just your QR code over the app.
Before reading below, if you want to learn more about Hagia Sophia you can read our The Secret History of Hagia Sophia blog. You can learn more and see the secrets while you are visiting this extraordinary temple.
Hagia Sophia has been the long land mark of Istanbul. It has been built in 532-537 by the Byzantine Emperor Justinianus. Since then it has been used as a Christian Cathedral and State Church of the Roman Empire. After a thousand years later Hagia Sophia has been converted into a mosque.
After its construction, for over a thousand years Hagia Sophia has been the largest interior space in the whole world. Its world-famous dome, interior engravings, paintings, and motifs make the Hagia Sophia one of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks.
After being used as a museum after the Ottoman Empire, Hagia Sophia has recently turned into a mosque again. Like in the days of the Ottoman Empire. Since it has turned into a mosque, Hagia Sophia is currently free to enter.
However, you should be careful about the praying times. Hagia Sophia closes its doors to tourists 1 hour before the praying time and reopens 30 mins when the praying is done.
Also during the praying times unique Hagia Sophia wall drawings are closed. As it has also become free to visit we highly recommend you visit Hagia Sophia. Next stop 2 mins walking distance Blue Mosque.
Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)
Blue mosque is one of the best places to visit in Istanbul. It is just 2 mins walk from Hagia Sophia. It should definitely be part of your walking tour in Sultan Ahmet. During the Byzantine emperor, the Justinian era there used to be chariot races. These races used to be right in front of Hagia Sophia where the Blue Mosque is currently located right now.
Blue Mosque has an interesting story, after the loss of the Prussia war in 1603-1618 Sultan Ahmet constructed this mosque as a sign of reasserting the power of the Ottoman Empire. He paid it not from the war earnings but rather from the treasury which was the first in the history of the empire.
The mosque has six minarets and eight secondary domes. One key point is, this is the most significant mosque in Istanbul. As it is right across from the Hagia Sophia Sultan Ahmet specifically wanted Blue Mosque to be much more spectacular.
The architecture of the Blue Mosque was the student of the world’s famous Mimar Sinan which implemented Sinan’s style and Ottoman architecture in the construction of the Blue Mosque. In the interior of Blue Mosque, you can find more than 20.000 hand-made Iznik tiles with more than 50 different tulip designs. Also right in front of the mosque, you can see one of the Egyptian Obelisks in Istanbul Turkey.
Blue Mosque has entered the UNESCO World heritage Site in 1985. This spectacular mosque doesn’t only serve as a mosque but also there is a school tomb of Sultan Ahmet. Blue mosque should definitely be of your must-visit places in Istanbul and one of the best places to visit in Istanbul.
You can also check our Top 10 Best Restaurants in Istanbul list where Lokanta 1741 is located really close to Blue Mosque where you can fine dine with a spectacular view.
This one-of-a-kind palace where Ottoman Sultans lived over centuries where they ruled the Ottoman Empire from here. It has two different areas, first one is the greeting saloons where they did the governmental affairs and also greeted the guests.
The other key part of this palace is the area called Harem. Topkapi Palace Harem is a place where Sultan and his family lived. Also, Sultan’s wives, women crowd (these are the women that either served or had a sexual relationship with the Sultan) and servants lived. It is also a great place to visit in the Topkapi Palace. You can see where Sultan slept, ate, or took a shower inside the Topkapi Palace. Lastly, there is a great view of the Bosphorus strait and also the Asian side of Istanbul from Topkapi Palace.
Another key thing to see in the Topkapi Palace is the `Kasikci Elmasi (Diamond) 86 Carat Spoonmaker’s Diamond `. It is not clear how Kasikci Elmasi 86 Carat Spoonmaker’s Diamond got into the hands of the Sultan but it is being displayed in Topkapi Palace with other artifacts like the full armor of the Sultan, Hirka-i Serif, Prophet Muhammad’s beard, and also the sword of the Sultan.
Once you are in Topkapi Palace you can easily walk to Grand Bazaar, Basilica Cistern, Spice Bazaar, and Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum
Istanbul Archaeological Museum is the oldest building that has been built as museum in Istanbul Turkey. It has been founded by Osman Hamdi Taspinar as the Empire Museum and opened its doors in 1891.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum has over 1 million artifacts in it that include the grave of Alexander the Great and also the fully preserved statue of Alexander the Great. Moreover, you can find statues of Apollon, and Aphrodite, the Arkaik Temple door layer, Ancient Greek artifacts, Siloam writings, mummies from Egypt, Roman Emperor statues, and much more.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum is definitely one of the city’s must-see places to visit and see in Istanbul and it is a walking distance from Topkapi Palace.
Gulhane Park in Istanbul, where nature, culture, and history collide, is suitable for a weekend getaway. You can take a cultural tour of the museums and libraries in the park in addition to strolling through the tree-lined park on both sides.
On November 24, 1928, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk held a ceremony in Gülhane Park to officially unveil the Latin letters on the blackboard to the public. This shows the park’s continued significance during the Republican era.
The park, which was restored by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality in 2001 and made available to the public in 2003, was advertised to the public as the largest and best-kept park on the Peninsula.
It’s right below the Topkapi Palace and within walkable distance of Golden Horn, Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar, and also Spice Bazaar.
The Egyptian Pharaoh III constructed the obelisk for the first time. It was created by Thutmose south of the seventh pylon of the Karnak temple in the 15th century BC. In 357 AD, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his accession to the throne, Roman emperor II. Constantius ordered the obelisk to be transported over the Nile to Alexandria. Emperor Theodosius, ordered the obelisk to be transported to Istanbul by sea and erected where it is today in the Hippodrome in 390 AD.
The obelisk was originally 30 meters high and constructed of red granite. However, because of damage sustained during shipping, its height now is just 18.45 m. It weighs somewhere between 200 and 300 tons.
The Egyptian Obelisk is right in the center of Sultanahmet square. It used to stand in the middle of the hippodrome but as it was long before demolished during the Byzantine Era, it’s not possible to see it right now.
Grand Bazaar is one of the city’s biggest touristic attractions as it is the biggest and oldest covered market in the whole world. It is within a walking destination from Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, and Hagia Sophia. Moreover, you can easily walk to Spice Bazaar, Galata Tower, and Galata Bridge.
Grand bazaar is famous for its shops that are selling gold accessories, spices, rugs, and tourist souvenirs. It is a good place to buy traditional Turkish coffee, rugs, handmade carpets, and ancient orient. The historic shopping mall has a lot to offer and Istanbul would be not complete without Grand Bazaar. It is a must-see attraction in Istanbul.
Grand Bazaar is especially known for its 4 thousand shops, 61 different streets, and 30.000 m2 indoor area. AS grand bazaar regarded as the world’s first shopping mall, it includes exclusive rugs, carpets, and coffee shops.
It is a great place to visit and a must-see Istanbul attraction and stands as one of the top attractions in Istanbul.
As you can understand from its name, Spice Bazaar (known as Misir Carsisi, which means Egyptian Bazaar in Turkish) is located near Galata Bridge. It is famous for spice shops and souvenirs shop. The street is a long-covered shopping street with spice shops located underneath. Spice bazaar is located right in the middle of Eminonu square, where you can find many local guided tours or local guides in this are as it is a major meeting town square for attractions in Istanbul.
The history is dating back to 1660 and it was part of a complex of the New Mosque that it right next to it. Right in front of the sea side near the entrance, you can find daily Bosphorus tours in front of it.
As spice bazaar is a popular tourist destination and a world-famous historic location in Istanbul we definitely see this location as a must-see tourist attraction.
You can walk right to the Galata tower from here and more on to the other great place to visit in Istanbul.
Basilica cistern is one of the most known and biggest cisterns in Istanbul and also one of the biggest tourist attractions and sightseeing places in Istanbul. It is located right in front of the mosques (Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque) and also within walking distance of Topkapi Palace.
In a trip to Istanbul, Basilica Cistern is one of the top tourist attractions and definitely a place to visit once you are here. The place is called Basilica Cistern as it is located under a square that used to be the city center during the both Ottoman and Byzantine era. It was first constructed by Emperor Constantine and enlargened by Emperor Justinian.
The cistern provided a water storage area for Constantinople citizens and for the Great Palace of Constantinople. However, at some point existence of the Basilica Cistern was forgotten and re-discovered by the Frend traveler who recorded it. The traveler also recorded the existence of this historic site with its Medusa Heads.
The origins of the Medusa Heads are still unknown to this date but they are carved into the columns of the northwest corner.
It is recently renovated by the Istanbul Municipality and currently looks spectacular and is one of the world’s greatest cisterns.
Istanbul has many squares and public areas to visit but Eminonu has a special place among them. As Eminonu Square is located in the historical peninsula, it is within walking distance of all historic sites in the peninsula area in this sense it is also a great place to stay in Istanbul too if you are to visit Istanbul for touristic purposes.
It is within walking distance of many mosques, tourist sites, and the old architecture of Istanbul. You can get within minutes to the major places to visit in Istanbul such as Hagia Sophia or Sultanahmet square but also by walking tour of the other side of the Galata Bridge, you can get to Istanbul Modern Museum or the other parts of Istanbul easily.
Sirkeci Marmaray and Tram is also close to Eminonu square which enables public transportation easy. The nearby attractions of the Eminonu are, you can find walking tours or tour guides, or local guided tours in the area too.
In addition, even though locals don’t live here or even though it is not a residential area, there are great restaurants close by to try Turkish Food or Turkish Tea. Just sip your Turkish tea and watch thousands of people passing by. After your Turkish Tea, you can walk to a traditional Turkish Bath and relax over there. Afterward, watch the whirling dervishes in the Hodja Pasha Turkish Bath (its not functional anymore so you won’t get wet).
Also as there are many shops, restaurants, and places to visit and explore here just get lost in the vibe of the city and feel the amazing city of Istanbul through its impressive offerings.
Galata Bridge is cutting the Golden Horn vertically and offers historic and great views of the Bosphorus. When you look on your right side, you can see the historic sites, and old city, and on your left is modern-day Istanbul.
You can see the Asian side of Istanbul easily over the bridge and also can find a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. We definitely recommend you take a ferry while you are passing to the Asian side because traffic is terrible most of the time.
Galata bridge is formed by two levels. On the top, there are cars, walking pavements, public transport (tram), and fisherman who are constantly fishing on the Golden Horn. On the other hand, on the lower level, there is a whole different life. There are many restaurants, live music, and Turkish food on the bridge and definitely worth a visit to feel the vibrant city life over the bridge.
Fish and Bread At Karakoy
When you pass the Galata Bridge from Eminonu and got hungry just stop by at the foot of the bridge and follow the smell because there will be a street food stall where you can experience authentic Turkish street food.
People are grilling the freshly caught fish right from the Golden Horn and grilling with charcoal just next to Golden Horn as well.
We definitely recommend you try Fish and Bread from the street food vendor in Karakoy.
Baklava at Karakoy
Done with the main dish, then walk a little bit and try Baklava an amazing Turkish delight dessert. It has layers of wafers on top and pistachio at the bottom which makes the best Turkish dessert.
You must definitely buy your baklava from Gulluoglu at Karakoy. Either eat your baklava there of just walk to the seaside of Istanbul on the European side. Or just hop on a ferry and eat your baklava while going to the Asian side. Afterward, you can always come back to the European side with no hassle.
Don’t forget to have tea next to your baklava. So that you can have the best Turkish experience while you are in Turkey.
Galata Port is a newly built complex of shopping malls and restaurants. These are right in the heart of the city Karakoy just next to the Bosphorus. During the Ottoman era the area where Galata Port resides now used to be an old transportation area. Also having Docks for goods and foreign travelers coming to Istanbul by sea.
However, after the 1950s this area was deserted and it wasn’t used for a long period of time. In the 2010s the area started to renovate and it has got to its final shape. It is a unique area around Istanbul where new and old cities got together.
There are many luxurious shops and high-end restaurants. Also, a walking street where you can enjoy the view of modern Istanbul with 18th-century vibes.
Galata tower’s an old Genoese tower located in Beyoglu Taksim, right down below the Tunel area of Taksim. You can walk here from the Sishane metro or from Taksim Square easily.
Tower has the 13th-century architecture. It is covered with stones and a round shape that the Genoese built-in 1267. As a great sightseeing spot to over see the whole of Istanbul both Europe and Asia side. The restaurant on top and it is one of Istanbul’s landmarks and top tourist attractions.
With its magnificent look, Galata Tower offers beautiful views to tourists. It lets you taste the Istanbul culture from the top as it is an iconic Istanbul landmark.
Whirling Dervishes is actually an act of the Mevlevi order which is some sort of a cult from the 13th century. To learn about ”Where is the best place to watch Whirling Dervishes performance in Istanbul” has two answers.
Galata Mevlevi museum is right at the exit of the Sishane metro station. It is the most famous Mevlevi Whirling Dervish hall in Istanbul. The show goes on at 17.00 Sunday and tickets are sold by Saturday afternoon. Note that tickets are mostly sold-out as it is an impressive tourist attraction. So if you are planning to visit here keep in mind to buy the tickets upfront.
The second place to visit for the Whirling Dervish is the Hodja Pasha hall. Hodja Pasha used to be a Turkish Bath House, so the ambiance is magnificent and breathtaking. Before the Dervishes, they put on a movie for 5 mins about the Sufizm then the show starts. Tickets can be bought online easily.
Istiklal street is the most famous and amazing street in the Europe part of Istanbul. It has a major historical role in the community but also in Istanbul as well. Istiklal and its surroundings are a known district for its restaurants, iconic buildings like the Misir apartment, sightseeing places, and the night culture of the city. By the end of the Istiklal Caddesi (Tunel Area), you can walk to Galata Tower in 5 minutes.
It is definitely worth visiting and we recommend you get lost while visiting Istiklal street. Just take a left and explore the magnificent back alleys of Istiklal street.
If you get hungry don’t forget the amazing ”Wet Hamburgers” that are iconic to the city. Moreover, there are much to discover on Istiklal street from the restaurant to nightlife.
St Antoine Church
St. Antoine Church is located right in the middle of Istiklal Street. It is the largest church in Istanbul architecture wise with both local and international communities.
The church was built in 1725 by the Italian community in Istanbul. St Antoine Church is a gem of design and attraction on Istiklal street where it is waiting for travelers and tourists to discover. It is one of the finest buildings in terms of design and size.
Pope John XXIII served here for 10 years as the Vatican’s ambassador to Turkey before being chosen as a Pope.
Pera museum is located on a street just next to Istiklal street. It serves an amazing collection of art, culture, and history of the Sultans, painters, and also ancient orient artifacts in Turkey.
It has ancient mosaics, contemporary art, and also paints from Ottoman Sultans which makes this place a great area to visit on Sunday.
Turkish Bath (Galatasaray Hamami)
Turkish Bath or Hamam in other names used to have an important impact on the daily cultural flow in the Turkish lifestyle. Hamam in Turkish was not only a place to wash and get clean but has a more cultural impact on life as well.
For instance, people used to go there to socialize while they are cleaning themselves. Also, there is a Tellak who helps you to clean yourself by scrubbing your dead skin with bath gloves for an hour.
Galatasaray Hamami is a landmark in the Hamam business. Even though not many people choose to go to hammams anymore it is a great touristic activity to explore which has a Turkish heritage in it.
Taksim square is an icon by itself. It is connected to Istiklal Caddesi and has been the city center of Istanbul for ages.
Taksim square is the meeting point, a place where you meet with your friends or as a tourist where touristic guided tours start. It is surrounded by ancient history all around from churches to places to discover around it from cafes to traditional houses or interesting streets.
There are many mosques surrounding Taksim Square. You can get to a hop on hop off bus from the square too. Taksim square is the center of the old city and the new city and it sits in the center of Istanbul Turkey.
Cicek Pasaji is definitely our favorite place to drink raki and spend time with friends. Its location is next to Istiklal street. It is one of the best places to go at night and also a great location to start the night as well.
After having a few drinks and dinner at Cicek Pasaji, you can start to explore Istanbul’s nightlife. There is no price to pay to enter as these connected buildings make one of the best indoor/outdoor mixed are in Istanbul where you feel like you are in Constantinople.
Dolmabahce palace is located in the Europe part of Istanbul. This magnificent palace was the center of the empire from the 19th century.
It has attracted more international tourists than any other palace in Istanbul. This area used to be a sea in Constantinople time and its been land filled by the Ottoman Empire Abdulmecid I.
As this is located just next to the sea, we definitely recommend you to get skip the line pass.
Dolmabahce palace shows the utmost lavish and historical aspects of Ottoman Architecture. It is a major historical site not only for Ottoman Sultans but also for Ataturk also died here.
Be sure to take the time off to explore and discover this amazing palace, because it takes hours just to walk plain. It has long and thick walls that surround the Dolmabahce palace. As it is located on the European side, it offers a great Bosphorus view.
You can walk to Besiktas and after you can reach Ortakoy Mosque in an hour from this palace. Also lastly, we recommend you have Turkish Coffee from the Dolmabahce palace cafe.
Ortakoy Mosque in Istanbul is known for two things. This beautiful mosque has a collection of breathtaking blue tiles, and also a great view of the Bosphorus that makes Ortakoy Mosque stand out from the other mosques.
The mosque was built in the 19th century during the Ottoman Empire and is known for its architectural beauty and its location on the banks of the Bosphorous Strait. The mosque is built in the Baroque style, with a large central dome and four smaller domes surrounding it. The interior of the mosque is adorned with intricate patterns and colorful tiles.
The stunning view of the mosque makes it one of the most popular mosques that need exploring. Moreover, while exploring the mosque don’t forget to get lost in the Ortakoy streets too.
Due to its mosaic collection and tremendous view, people are lined up to get photos or go inside the mosque.
Boat Tour at Bosphorus Strait
Istanbul is a city located in northwest Turkey that straddles the Bosphorous Strait, which connects the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. The Bosphorous is a busy waterway that is a major commercial and transportation route, as well as a popular tourist attraction.
Many people enjoy taking ferry tours to see the beautiful scenery and historic landmarks along the shores of the Bosphorous, such as the Ottoman palaces, fortresses, and mansions.
The tours also offer a chance to experience the vibrant culture and local cuisine of Istanbul. Some of the most popular destinations for Bosphorous ferry tours include the Bosphorous Bridge, the Maiden’s Tower, and the Rumeli Fortress. Overall, a Bosphorous ferry tour is a great way to see and learn about this fascinating city and its rich history.
You can find Bosphorus tours in many spots throughout Istanbul. The major spots are Eminonu and Ortakoy. These tours include other tourists as well. Some tours have music and food included the tour too.
If you want something more private you can rent a personal boat with its captain to tour the Bosphorus strait.
Do you want to read a book for hours, or even write a book? Then Emirgan park is your place.
If you visit in spring you can see the new tulips that are coming out or when you visit in the winter, it offers a great quiet walk right in the middle of city in front of the Bosphorus.
This is a historical park that has 3 different palaces located in it. All of these palace points now serves either as a cafe or a restaurant.
Just take your book and have the smell of the city with beautiful plane trees and breathtaking atmosphere.
Rahmi M Koc Museum
The museum is located right by the Golden Horn, with a submarine in front of it. Koc family founded the museum, which is also owns of the biggest conglomerate in Turkey.
Museum holds various pieces around the world. It is more of an industrial museum than an Art Museum. It has many vars, trains, industrial machines and every day household items.
Rahmi Koc Museum is bringning you the close history of industrial develiopment. It also has iconic Istanbul artifacts. For instance, ferry where you can have toast and tea. Moreover, you can see famous old Taksim Dolmus cars that used to transport people around.
Currently entrace price is 70 TL per person there is no skip the line process.
Sveti Stefan Church
Sveti Stefan Church also known as the Bulgarian Iron church is a Bulgarian Orthodox Church located in Balat.
The church used to be constructed of wood, however, after the fire, the whole building burned down. Afterward, the church was constructed with iron in Vienna and transported to Istanbul Turkey.
It is one of the world’s first iron churches and constructed in pieces and then later re-assembled. This 19th-century church has been open to the Bulgarian minorities in Istanbul Turkey to help them to do their worship. Also, the neighborhood Balat is also a major area where non-muslims lived since the 19th Century.
As Balat is the hidden gem in the city we definitely recommend you to walk around and have a tour of Balat.
Balat Rum School
Balat Rum school offers a spectacular look from below. As the school is built on a hill, looking down makes you to realize how big the building is.
It is completely made of stones and carved motifs, which reminds you of a church too.
As one of the major historical landmarks in Istanbul. The school is within walking distance from the Balat seaside. The area is old European settlement, so the houses are old and you can literally smell the street’s history.
Many buildings here are made of wood and the streets are narrow and complicated. The area has lots of cafes and restaurants where you can catch your breath.
Even though there is no entrance to the school, there might exhibition that you can buy tickets for to be able to see inside.
Yesilkoy Aviation Museum
Yesilkoy Aviation museum is located a little bit outside of the city in a residential neighborhood. The museum has a lot of aircraft and also ground service equipment that you can see up close.
The museum has important fighter jets like the F-14 or F-106. After visiting the museum don’t forget to go to Yesilkoy seaside and take a walk next to the seaside.
In here we recommend you try Roma Dondurmacisi for ice cream. If you are hungry definitely try Rapala restaurant for Turkish mezes and Raki.
Sakip Sabanci Museum
Sakip Sabanci is a known and wealthy businessman who founded Sabanci Holding. The museum is located in one of Istanbul’s best neighborhoods Emirgan, just next to the sea.
As Istanbul Modern is currently closed, this museum is a great alternative to the Istanbul Modern museum.
The house where it is located used to reside Sakip Sabanci and his family. The house used to be known as Horse House as it has large statues of houses in its courtyard. It is a definitely must-see place on a trip to Istanbul.
If you go there in the morning don’t forget to have breakfast at the famous Emirgan Sutis restaurant.
Suleymaniye Mosque was commissioned by Suleyman the Magnificent and designed by the world-famous Turkish architect Mimar Sinan. It has been built in the 16th century and has beautiful mosaics.
For centuries it has been the largest mosque in the city. Suleymaniye Mosque has been located on top of the hill which offers a great view of the Golden Horn. In 2019 Camlica Mosque has been built and took the title.
The neighborhood around the mosque is the neighborhood of the old city where people have been living here for centuries. There are many restaurants and local food that you can find around the mosque.
But before you go there it is important to remind you that the neighborhood around the mosque is very conservative. So we advise you to dress properly.
Kuzguncuk is an area in the Asia side of Istanbul. With centuries-old wooden houses and restaurants placed on the street. It is mostly a residential are that attracts local tourists.
You can get off at Uskudar Station by Marmaray and walk to Kuzguncuk among the beautiful parks and Bosphorus. It offers both old town atmosphere and stunning old houses to explore.