22 places to visit in Istanbul

Istanbul is the only city in the world that is located partially in Europe and in Asia. A huge metropolis with centuries-old history and rich cultural heritage beckons travelers from all over the world, who come here to enjoy the oriental flavor and see how Europe and Asia merge. We have compiled a list of places to visit to discover Istanbul from the most unexpected sides!
08 november 2021

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1. Blue Mosque

Let's start with the classics: the Blue Mosque is without exaggeration the symbol of the city, the most "postcard" and popular of Istanbul's mosques. This majestic mosque was built on the orders of Turkish Sultan Ahmet I. For a long time he suffered defeats - the poor man could not win a single war, which was shameful for Turkey. The only thing he could count on was God's favor, so the sultan set about building the Blue Mosque.

What is curious is that the Blue Mosque has not four minarets, as it is supposed to have, but six. According to one version, it was just an architect's mistake that became the "highlight" of this magnificent mosque.

  • Address: Sultan Ahmet, Atmeydanı Cd. No:7, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul
  • Opening hours: daily from 9:00 to 19:00; Sunday from 9:00 to 7:00
Photo author - Lewis J Goetz
Photo author - Senor Sosa

2. Aya Sofia

And don't let the crowds of tourists scare you off! This is one of traditional must-see places in Istanbul that definitely deserves to be seen, even when it is quite crowded. Aya Sofia is just across the street from the Blue Mosque, so it will be an extension of your itinerary.

Before the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, this Aya Sofia was considered the largest temple in the Christian world. The temple is an amazing juxtaposition of two religions - Islam and Christianity - so that quotes from the Koran and Christian frescoes coexist seamlessly.

With more than a thousand years of history, Aya Sofia was originally a Byzantine Christian temple, later captured and turned into a Muslim shrine.

  • Address: Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Ayasofya Meydanı, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul
  • Opening hours: daily, except Mondays, from 9:30 to 16:30. The cathedral is closed to the public on Mondays.

3. Basilica Cistern

Further along the way is Cisterna Basilica - formerly the reservoir of Constantinople, now it is a favorite place for tourists, where you can plunge into the mystical atmosphere and have an interesting time. There are 336 marble columns alone that support the vaults of the Cistern! Most of them are taken from ancient temples, but each of them has its own history. At the base of two columns are the heads of Medusa Gorgon, one of which is turned to the side. The story goes that this was done so that those entering would not be afraid of being petrified of looking into the Gorgon's eyes.

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And, if you've read Dan Brown's novel Inferno, you'll be doubly interested, as this is where the final events of this thrilling detective story unfolded.

  • Alemdar Mh., Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34410 Fatih
  • Opening hours: Daily from 9:00 to 18:30 (in winter from 9:00 to 17:30). The attraction is currently (fall 2021) closed for renovation.
  • The entrance fee is 20 liras (€1.78).

4. Topkapi Palace

In the old days, this was the main palace of the Ottoman Empire and the residence of its sultans, in particular the well-known Suleiman the Magnificent and his concubine Roksolana. In the palace you can see the former luxury of the sultan's life, consider the elements of everyday life of those times. For example, the collection of porcelain, which is the third largest in the world. "The cherry on the cake is the terrace, which offers amazing views of the Bosphorus and the city.

  • Address: Cankurtaran, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul,
  • Opening hours: daily 9:00 - 18:00, Tuesday - closed
  • Cost of admission: to the palace - 100 liras (€9), to the harem - 70 liras (€6), children under 9 years old - free, children 10-12 years old - 50% discount
Photo author - Mert Kahveci

5. Gülhane Park

Side by side with Topkapi Palace is one of the oldest parks in Istanbul, formerly part of the royal gardens. Nowadays, Gülhane is open to the public.

The park's observation deck offers a magnificent view of the Golden Horn Bay and the Bosphorus. When you admire the view and take great photos, you can check out the aquarium or the Museum of Science and Technology located here. The best time to visit the park is in spring, when you can see the park in all its blooming glory. There's also an annual tulip festival in April.

  • Address: Cankurtaran Mh., Kennedy Cd., 34122 Fatih.
  • Opening hours: from 9:00 to 17:00

6. Miniaturk Park

If you want to get to know not only Istanbul, but all of Turkey without leaving Istanbul, it's entirely possible - go to Miniaturk Park. Here you'll find 1:25 scale miniatures of architectural masterpieces of Turkey (and beyond).

You'll find everything from the Bosphorus Bridge and Maiden Tower to the city walls of Constantinople and the Helicarnassus Mausoleum.

  • Address: Örnektepe Mahallesi, İmrahor Cd. 7/1, 34445 Beyoğlu
  • Opening hours: Daily from 9:00 to 18:00.
  • The entrance fee is 10 liras (€0.9).

7. Rumelihisar

Rumelihisar is an oasis of peace and tranquility in the center of the European part of Istanbul. And if you want a break from the bustling streets and bazaars, come here. The fortress sits on the banks of the Bosphorus, and its walls offer spectacular views of the strait and the Asian part of the city.

For history buffs, there is an artillery museum.

  • Address: Rumeli Hisarı, Yahya Kemal Cd., 34470 Sarıyer.
  • Opening hours: the repository is open from Monday to Sunday. 9:00-18:00 (spring-summer), in winter and fall, the fortress closes at 16:30.
  • The entrance fee is 5 liras (€0.4).

8. Galata Tower

The most prominent landmark in Istanbul.

The 61-meter-high tower offers a dizzying panorama of the city, so it's worth the climb just for that. Admission is 25 lira (€8).

  • Address: Bereketzade Mahallesi, Galata Kulesi Sk., 34421 Beyoğlu.
  • Opening hours: from 9:00 to 20:30.
  • The entrance fee is 25 liras (€2).

9. Suleymaniye

One of the most beautiful mosques in Istanbul is famous for the burial place of Sultan Suleiman and his wife Roksolana, known to all Ukrainians.

The mosque complex includes not only the temple itself, but also baths, an observatory, madrasas (schools) and a library - there's plenty to see.

  • Address: Bereketzade Mahallesi, Galata Kulesi Sk., 34421 Beyoğlu
  • Opening hours: Sulaymaniye is an active mosque and is not open to tourists during the service. You can get into it between 9:00-12:30, 13:45-15:45.
  • The entrance fee is free of charge.

10. Grand Bazaar

The best place to fully immerse yourself in the rhythm of Istanbul life and get a feel for the city, but also to bargain or learn how to bargain. The Grand Bazaar is located in the heart of Istanbul, in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, close to the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia. But it's not just the biggest market in the world, it's a whole city within a city. Just imagine: 61 streets, 4,400 stores, fountains, mosques, cafes, a school and even a bathhouse.

Photo author - Ethan Jameson

Be aware that the prices here are very inflated, so if you do decide to buy something, haggle hard.

  • Address: Beyazıt Mh., Kalpakçılar Cd. No:22, 34126 Fatih
  • Opening hours: daily, except Sundays and holidays, from 09-00 to 19-00.
  • The entrance fee is free of charge.

By the way, Sultanahmet is the most interesting neighborhood in Istanbul, which we advise you to explore in more detail.

11. Dolmabahce

Perhaps the most "non-Turkish" architectural attraction on the standard "what to see in Istanbul" list is Dolmabahce Palace. This is the official residence of Turkey's prime minister. Built in the Baroque style, it is located on the European side of the Bosphorus and was the residence of Turkish rulers until 1938. Today, you can visit the palace itself from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, and the other pavilions from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (except Monday and Thursday).

As a side note, Dolmabahce receives no more than 3,000 visitors per day, so it's best to arrive early, especially in high season.

  • Address: Vişnezade Mahallesi, Dolmabahçe Cd., 34357 Beşiktaş
  • Opening hours: daily, except Monday, from 09-00 to 16-00.

12. Khora Monastery (Karie Museum)

The Kariye (or Chora) is actually an ancient Byzantine church in one of Istanbul's residential neighborhoods. Because of its distance from the beaten tourist path, it's not very popular or well known. And for nothing - the church's museum has a unique collection of Byzantine frescoes and mosaics dating back to the 14th century.

The hours of operation of the church-museum are Tuesday-Thursday 9:00 a.m.-7:30 p.m. (April-October). At other times the museum closes at 16:30.

  • Address: Dervişali Mahallesi, Kariye Cami Sk. No:8, 34087 Fatih
  • Office hours: daily from 09-00 to 17-00.
  • Entry fee is 15 liras (€1.3), with Museum Pass Istanbul it is free.

13. Mosaic Museum

For those who like to dig into the past, Istanbul's Mosaic Museum is the place to be. The museum contains mosaics found during excavations in the Sultanahmet neighborhood.

The exhibits are older than the world-famous mosaics of Aya Sofia, and some of them even date back to pagan Rome!

  • Address: Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, 34122 Fatih
  • Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday from 9:00-19:00 (April-October), the rest of the time the museum is open until 17:00. Monday is a day off.
  • The entrance fee is 20 liras (€1.8).

14. Pera Museum

The museum occupies the former Bristol Hotel building in the Beyoğlu neighborhood. Its exhibitions include a collection of Anatolian weights and measures, an exhibition of coffee porcelain from Kütahya, as well as various ceramics and a collection of Turkish paintings from the 17th to 19th centuries. There are also temporary exhibitions: museums from around the world often exhibit their collections here.

  • Address: Asmalı Mescit Mahallesi, Meşrutiyet Cd. No:65, 34430 Beyoğlu
  • Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 to 18:00 and on Sundays from 12:00 to 18:00.
  • The entrance fee is 20 liras (€1.7), and 10 liras (€0.9) for children under 12, pensioners and students. Admission is free for students on Wednesdays.

15. Sapphire Skyscraper

If you're afraid of heights, skip this paragraph and read on, but if you're not, memorize it. You can see Istanbul in the palm of your hand from the observation deck of the Sapphire Skyscraper. Located at a height of 236 meters, it opens a breathtaking panorama of the city with a 360-degree view. We recommend visiting in the evening when it starts to get dark and the city is illuminated by millions of lights - the view is mesmerizing!

  • Address: Emniyetevleri Mahallesi, Eski Büyükdere Cd. No:1, 34415 Kağıthane
  • Opening hours: Daily from 10:00 to 22:00.
  • The entrance fee is 18 lira (€1.6). Entrance tickets are sold at the ticket office, on the top floor of the mall.

16. Chukurjuma Market

If you want to bring back something truly unique from Istanbul, go to Cukurcuma Market, rather than the banal eye of Fatima or a box of lukum. It's not even a classic flea market (as far as Europeans are concerned), but a row of stores in the Beyoğlu neighborhood of the same name.

Photo author - Wei Pan

But you can buy anything from a variety of handmade items to china sets, designer jewelry and vintage clothing.

  • Address: Firuzağa Mahallesi, 34425 Beyoğlu

17. Istanbul Aquarium

If you're in Istanbul in summer, we recommend visiting the Aquarium to escape the heat. Not only will you get a break from the noise and heat of the city, but you'll also have a peaceful time observing the oceanic fauna, which is represented here in all its diversity.

  • Address: Şenlikköy Mahallesi, Florya Caddesi, Yeşilköy Halkalı Cd. No:93, 34153 Bakırköy
  • Opening hours:Daily from 10:00 to 20:00
  • Admission fee is 85 liras (€7.5), when purchased online it is 76.5 liras (€7), free for children under 2 years old.

18. Flower Passage (Çiçek Pasajı)

This ornate stuccoed and sculpted historic building is located in the European part of Istanbul on Istiklal Street.

The arcade has stores and cafes, but it's not primarily for the shopping (prices are high), but for the atmosphere of 19th-century Istanbul.

19. Ali Usta Ice Cream Cafe

It's impossible to visit Istanbul and not try traditional Turkish ice cream! Ali Usta Ice Cream Cafe is the perfect place for it. Just imagine - more than 40 varieties of ice cream made according to the traditional recipe with the addition of mountain orchid tuber powder!

The flavor palette is also impressive: in addition to the traditional vanilla or coffee, you will be offered pistachio, lemon, rum and many others. You can find out about the whole range on the location's website.

  • Address: Caferağa Mahallesi, Moda Cd., 34710 Kadıköy.
  • Opening hours:Daily from 07:00 to 02:00

20. Pastry shop "Hafiz Mustafa"

Another gastronomic stop in the Turkish capital is the Hafiz Mustafa Confectionery. Founded in 1864, it is still famous for its wide assortment of traditional Turkish sweets, as well as coffee and spices. There is a café on the second floor where visitors can sample the goods they have just bought.

Istanbul's cuisine deserves special attention, tourists just love it! If you want to taste it properly, the tour "Crayfish, fish, meyhane, or a nice Turkish evening" is just what you need, but for those who want something more colorful, we advise you to go straight to the gastro-tour of the local street food.

  • Address: Hocapasa Mahallesi Muradiye Caddesi No: 51, Sirkeci - Fatih; Hobyar Mahallesi Hamidiye Cad. No:84 Bahçekapı Eminönü; Divanyolu Cad. No:14 Sultanahmet; Gümüşsuyu Mah. Syraselviler Cad. No:7/B Beyoğlu.
  • Opening hours: Daily from 07:00 to 02:00

21. Maiden Tower

Situated on a tiny island in the Bosphorus Strait, the tower is rightly considered one of the symbols of Istanbul. Not only is it a popular vacation spot for tourists and locals, but its observation deck offers a beautiful view of the Bosphorus.

Photo author - Osman Köycü
  • Address: Salacak Mahallesi, Üsküdar Salacak Mevkii, 34668 Üsküdar
  • Opening hours: To get to the tower, take a boat at Kabataş pier (09:00-21:30) or Salacak (09:00-24:00).

22. Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art

But if you're serious and want to get a deeper understanding of Turkey's history and spirit rather than just a superficial look at the cultural capital of Turkey, you should visit the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art.

The museum has more than 40,000 exhibits: manuscripts, calligraphy, ceramics, carpets, jewelry and much more. Once you visit the museum, you will discover the diversity and richness of the local culture and will definitely want to come back here again. However, I think you're already sure you will!

  • Address: Salacak Mahallesi, Üsküdar Salacak Mevkii, 34668 Üsküdar.
  • Opening hours: Daily, except Monday, from 9:00 to 17:00.
  • The entrance fee is 25 liras (€2).

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