This article presents a list (with photos, descriptions, addresses and websites) of the main and most visited sights and museums of Istanbul, which are worth visiting first of all, or if there is little time allocated to the city (1-3 days), and you do not want to try to catch everything at once, but prefer to spend time in a measured way.
By visiting the places of the city described below, you will get an idea of the rich and diverse history of Istanbul, you will also immerse yourself in local life and see the architecture of the city, from historical to more modern; walk along the main street and the large historical bazaar, "breathe" the power of the main waterway, and also admire the city from a bird's eye view and go down underground.
In addition, the bulk of the places listed below are located close to each other, which makes it possible to move on foot and combine sightseeing and sightseeing based on your personal preferences.
If you need a complete list of the top attractions and museums of Istanbul, then you can view here →
If you decide to stay in Istanbul, and you need the most complete and detailed list of attractions, museums, parks, observation decks, significant objects and interesting places in the city, then you can view here →
You can see and visit the sights and museums of Istanbul, including the most important ones, as well as travel outside the city on your own or with excursions, both individual and group
Main sights and museums of Istanbul
Hagia Sophia Mosque
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) is a mosque in Istanbul, which during its history has been an Orthodox church, mosque and museum.
The mosque is one of the greatest world-famous monuments and examples of Byzantine culture, as well as a symbol of the "golden age" of Byzantium.
Hagia Sophia has mausoleums, tombs, four minarets, and the giant dome system of the mosque with arched windows is a masterpiece of architectural thought of its time.
The interior of Hagia Sophia has absorbed several cultures and religions: inscriptions in Scandinavian runes, unique Orthodox mosaics, Islamic mihrab, Sultan's lodge and minbar. The "Weeping Column" also attracts attention, which, according to legend, cures diseases and fulfills wishes.
Entrance to the mosque is free.
Website of Hagia Sophia: ayasofyacamii.gov.tr.
Address of Hagia Sophia: Sultan Ahmet, Ayasofya Meydanı No:1, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey. More about the Hagia Sophia Mosque…
The Basilica Cistern or Yerebatan Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı) is one of the most famous, large and well-preserved underground reservoirs of Constantinople.
The cistern was built under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I and was popularly called the "cistern-palace" because of the marble columns rising from the water, seemingly countless. The name "Basilica cistern" comes from the fact that there was a basilica at this place.
The cistern is a large underground structure with columns, one of which is called the "Crying Column" or "Column of Tears". It got this name due to the fact that, unlike other columns in the cistern, it always remains wet, and there are patterns on its surface that resemble tear-drops in shape.
The cistern also has two Medusa heads, used as pedestals under two columns and belonging to the masterpieces of sculptural art of the Roman period.
Entrance to the tank is paid.
Address of the Basilica Cistern: Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey.
Website of the Basilica Cistern: yerebatan.com. More about the cisterns and dungeons of Istanbul...
Alternatively, you can replace a visit to the Basilica cistern with a visit to another, no less interesting Feodosiya cistern (Sherefiye cistern, Şerefiye Sarnıcı), in which visitors are shown a 10-minute show with three-dimensional effects and music. More about the Feodosiya cistern…
Topkapi Palace with St. Irene's Church
The Topkapi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı) served for 400 years as the main residence of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire, as well as the administrative and educational center of the state.
Today, the former Topkapi Palace is a museum, a magnificent architectural monument of the 15th-19th centuries and is a complex surrounded by high walls. Topkapi includes: courtyards and the palace complex itself with an administrative part and a harem, as well as other buildings and panoramic terraces. Also in the complex is the Church of St. Irene.
Entrance to the palace and the Church of St. Irene is paid.
Topkapi Palace Website: topkapi-sarayi.
Address of Topkapi Palace: Cankurtaran Mh., 34122 Fatih / Istanbul. More about Topkapi Palace with St. Irene Church…
Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı) is a historical bazaar, which is one of the oldest and largest markets in the world, as well as a symbol of Istanbul.
The birth of the Grand Bazaar was started in the winter of 1455-1556 by Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror.
Today, the Grand Bazaar has both a covered historical part with domed painted ceilings, and an open part, which is located on nearby streets.
The range of goods sold at the Grand Bazaar is very large, although somewhat monotonous from shop to shop. Mainly, these are jewelry and jewelry, antiques, shoes, bags, leather and fur products, textiles and products made of it (clothing), carpets, souvenirs, herbs and dried fruits, lamps, ceramics and wood products, tableware, hookahs, Turks, etc.
Restaurants, tea shops, coffee shops, hookah bars, ateliers and currency exchange offices are also located inside the Grand Bazaar.
Entrance to the Grand Bazaar is free.
Grand Bazaar Website: kapalicarsi.com.tr.
Address of the Grand Bazaar: Beyazıt, Kalpakçılar Cd. No:22, 34126 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey. More about the Grand Bazaar…
Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi Istanbul), erected by the Genoese in the middle of the fourteenth century (1348-1349), has been restored today and is one of the symbols and one of the main attractions of Istanbul.
The height of the tower is 67 meters, the diameter is 9 meters, and the height above sea level reaches 140 meters.
The tower is accessible to visitors. It houses a museum exhibition, and on the upper levels of the tower there are circular (indoor and outdoor) observation decks, giving beautiful 360-degree panoramic views of Istanbul.
Entrance to the Galata Tower and ascent to the observation deck is paid.
Galata Tower Website: muze.gov.tr/muze-detay.
Address of the Galata Tower: Bereketzade, Galata Kulesi, 34421 Beyoğlu/İstanbul. More about the Galata Tower…
Istiklal (Istiklal Caddesi) is the most famous pedestrian shopping street in Istanbul, which attracts many tourists and locals.
Istiklal Street has a length of 1.4 kilometers. It stretches from Taksim Square, goes towards the Golden Horn Bay, and ends at the Tunel Square, where the Beyoglu station is located historical underground funicular "Tunel".
Along the street there are dense rows of buildings, including historical ones (mainly of the 19th - early 20th centuries), which were designed in neoclassical, Neo-Gothic, Renaissance, art-nova and national Turkish styles; there are also buildings in the styles of the first years of the Turkish Republic and a number of later examples of modern architecture.
In the buildings along the street today there are museums, shrines, currency exchangers, nightclubs, many cafes, kebabs, bars and restaurants, shops, including famous world brands, boutiques and souvenir shops, as well as various accommodation facilities (hotels, apartments)
Taksim Square (Taksim Meydanı) is one of the major central squares of Istanbul, which now also acts as the main transport hub of the city and a walking area with some significant attractions.
The center of Taksim Square is decorated with an 11-meter figured monument of the Republic (Cumhuriyet Anıtı), designed by Italian architect Pietro Canonica and opened on August 8, 1928.
Also notable on the square is the Taksim Mosque (Taksim Camii), erected in 2017-2021, although the plan of the mosque on the square has been developed since 1952.
In addition, Taksim Square is surrounded by modern and historical (19th century) buildings, including the Atatürk Cultural Center (Atatürk Kültür Merkezi), 5-star hotel The Marmara Taksim with a terrace with an outdoor pool, 4-star CVK Taksim Hotel Istanbul with a panoramic restaurant and the famous Dessert cafe "Hafiz Mustafa 1864" (Hafız Mustafa 1864 Meydan) with delicious baklava and Turkish delight. Read more about Taksim Square…
Dolmabahce (Dolmabahçe Sarayı) is a magnificent palace complex of the 19th century, which served as the residence of the Ottoman sultans, and today is one of the most visited sights of Istanbul.
Dolmabahce Palace was built in 1843-1853 by order and for Sultan Abdul-Majid I, who considered the Topkapi Palace operating at that time to be out of date, and wanted to erect a new palace for permanent residence, which in architecture and luxury would not be inferior to the exquisite European residences of influential people.
Today Dolmabahce Palace is a museum where you can visit the garden overlooking the waters of the Bosphorus, the palace halls and rooms, consisting of : the official public part "Selamlik" (Selamlık) with a Ceremonial Hall (Tören Salonu), Harem (Harem) or family part; as well as the museum the clock and the Museum of Painting and Sculpture (Resim ve Heykel Müzesi).
Entrance to the palace is paid.
Dolmabahce Palace Website: dolmabahce-sarayi.
Address of Dolmabahce Palace: Vişnezade, Dolmabahçe Cd., 34357 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Turkey. More about Dolmabahce Palace…
The Bosporus (Bosfor, Istanbul Boğazı) is a strait in Istanbul and its surroundings, which is an intercontinental strait dividing Europe and Asia, as well as connecting the Black Sea with the Marmara.
Most of the shores of the Bosphorus Strait, with the exception of those in the north, are densely populated sides of the city of Istanbul.
Across the strait are thrown bosphorus bridges, and along its waters there are walking embankments, there are park areas, cafes and restaurants, as well as accommodation facilities (hotels, apartments).
The Bosphorus is one of the main attractions of Istanbul and its "breath", filled with the cry of seagulls, the sound of waves, pleasure boats, and attractive buildings, including historical palaces, fortresses, mosques and yalas (mansions built directly on the shore), are located on both sides of the Bosphorus.
Small ferries and yachts ply the Bosphorus Strait.
You can enjoy the views of the Bosphorus and its shores from the water by taking an excursion boat trip, including on a yacht, or from ferries that function as public transport in Istanbul (Istanbul transport cards are valid) and connect both the shores of the Bosphorus itself and the Bosphorus with the shores of the Golden Horn. Ferry berths are located both on both shores of the Bosphorus, and Golden Horn Bay. More about the Bosphorus…
On a small natural island in the waters of the Bosphorus is the famous Maiden Tower (Kız Kulesi) - a former lighthouse, which is one of the main pearls and a symbol of Istanbul.
Over the course of history, the tower has been a lighthouse, a prison, and a quarantine facility.
Today, the Maiden's Tower can be visited, from here you can see the views of the Bosphorus and its banks. Read more about the Maiden Tower...
Arnavutköy and Bebek districts
Bebek and Arnavutköy are two historical districts (quarters), which are elite and one of the most picturesque areas of Istanbul and are part of the large Besiktas district.
Arnavutköy and Bebek border each other (one area flows smoothly into another) and they are located along the waters of the Bosphorus Strait.
The districts attract attention with elegant low historical buildings, narrow streets and an abundance of catering.
Arnavutköy cannot boast of sights, but the main attractions of Bebek include: the Ali Pasha or Walide Pasha Mansion (now the Consulate of Egypt), designed by Raimondo D'Aronco; the Bebek Mosque (Bebek Camii), built in 1913; and Ashiyan Museum (Aşiyan Müzesi) is the house of the famous Turkish poet Tevfik Fikret, built in 1906 and later converted into a museum.
Since the districts are located on hills, in the warm season they are surrounded by greenery, which makes them even more picturesque. Especially beautiful views of the districts open from the waters of the Bosphorus, when the districts look like tiny fairy-tale villages, whose houses come close to the water. More about Arnavutkey and Bebek districts…
Near the northern outskirts of the Bebek district there is a medieval Rumelihisar fortress (Rumeli Hisarı) built in 1452, which is now a museum, covers an area of 30 hectares, surrounded by defensive walls with towers and gates.
There are hiking trails on the territory of the fortress, there is a functioning mosque and a small cistern. The fortress offers panoramic views of the Bosphorus, Sultan Mehmed Fatih Bridge and the Asian part of Istanbul.
If desired, you can combine a visit to the districts and the fortress. More about Rumelikhisar Fortress…
Museum and tourist maps of Istanbul
Some palaces, museums and sites in Istanbul have museum and tourist maps.
There are different types of maps in Istanbul. Some of which give the right to visit certain museums, while others, in addition to the main museums, include excursions, as well as some shows and entertainment, public transport rides and discounts on airport transfers.
The classic and most common is the museum card "Museum Pass Istanbul" (Museum Pass Istanbul), which gives the right to enter some museums of the city. There are also more extended cards "Istanbul E-Pass" (Istanbul E-Pass) and Istanbul Tourist Pass (Istanbul Tourist Pass), giving the right to visit museums, attractions, guided tours, aquariums, shows, cruises on the Bosphorus, trips outside the city, etc. Learn more about museum and tourist maps of Istanbul...
Tourist sightseeing buses in Istanbul
You can visit some of the main sights and museums of Istanbul by taking a tour on the Istanbul Hop-On Hop-Off tour bus.
Tickets for the Istanbul sightseeing bus can be purchase here →
All accommodation facilities in Istanbul, including those in the historical center, in the European and Asian parts of the city, can view and book here
You can get to Istanbul's hotels and attractions by public transport, taxi or rented car.