As a city that straddles two continents, Turkey’s fascinating city of Istanbul really is a place where East meets West; stand in Europe on one side of the Bosporus Strait and cross to the other side to stand in Asia.
Istanbul has a long and colourful history and there are myriad cultural attractions throughout the sprawling city. From viewing glorious buildings, hopping between museums, and cruises on the Bosporus, to shopping, dining, and memorable nights out, there are plenty of fantastic places to visit in Istanbul.
On the downside, planning a trip to Istanbul can be a chore. The city is huge and there are places of interest scattered far and wide.
Now for the positives! Our team of expert travel writers have created this awesome list of the best places to visit in Istanbul to make your travel planning easier. There’s no need to stress about your itinerary.
With a mixture of popular tourist spots and hidden gems, some of these best places to visit in Istanbul are sure to excite you!
Best places to stay in Istanbul
Wondering where to stay in Istanbul? Check out our EPIC Istanbul neighborhood guide.
Best Budget Hotel in Istanbul: Sultanahmet Park Hotel
Situated in Istanbul’s Old Town, the budget-friendly Sultanahmet Park Hotel has single, twin, double, and triple rooms, all with a private bathroom and charming traditional Turkish décor. Each room has ample storage space along with a TV, free Wi-Fi, a telephone, and free toiletries. The property has a lift and reception is staffed around the clock.
You can rent cars and bikes onsite for easier explorations and the hotel offers a range of conveniences such as laundry facilities, room service, airport shuttles (for a surcharge), and baggage storage. The onsite café serves a tempting selection of Turkish dishes.
Best Luxury Hotel in Istanbul: Hotel Sumengen
Hotel Sumengen is a luxurious hotel in Istanbul’s Old Town. Housed within a glorious converted Ottoman Mansion, it offers terrific views of the Bosporus. Various room types are available, including single rooms, family rooms (for four), economy and superior twin and double rooms, and triple rooms, some of which boast a hot tub! All rooms are en suite and have a wardrobe, TV, free Wi-Fi, fridge, and kettle.
Daily housekeeping keeps everywhere spick and span. Start your days with a filling and tasty free buffet breakfast, arrange a variety of trips and activities, and benefit from features like laundry services, baggage storage, currency exchange, and car rentals.
Best Airbnb in Istanbul: Boutique Flat Central & History Istanbul
This three-bedroom apartment is extremely conveniently located in the non-touristy Pera neighbourhood, also known for being the city’s most vibrant area. Pera neighbourhood is an ideal place for those who want to be near but not at the heart of all the tourist attractions. Only a 15 minutes walk away from the city centre, this cosy art-deco apartment comes with the basic amenities like Wi-Fi, a dryer, a washer, a kitchen with all the cooking basics, and even a BBQ grill outside.
With an average of five stars ratings and based on its very affordable price and convenient location, this apartment is an excellent pick. If you want to stay at one of the best Airbnbs in Istanbul, look no further!
Best Hostel in Istanbul: Bucoleon by Cheers Hostel
Bucoleon by Cheers Hostel is in a prime location in the heart of Istanbul’s atmospheric Old Town. It has spacious mixed and ladies-only dorms as well as private en suite rooms for one, two, and three, making it a top hostel in Istanbul for all budget travellers. Many rooms offer terrific views.
Breakfast is included in the prices and the friendly members of staff organise cool daily events, including walking tours, pub crawls, BBQs, and traditional Turkish nights. Other handy features include a tour desk, free Wi-Fi, 24-hour reception, lockers, luggage storage, and a stylish common area.
For more awesome hostels option in Instanbul, head to our Best Hostels in Istanbul guide!
Need a place quick? Here’s the best neighbourhood in Istanbul:
Sultanahmet is the historic and cultural heart of Istanbul. It’s the oldest part of the city and is surrounded by bodies of water to the north, east and south, and old city walls to the west.
- Visit the site of the Hippodrome, the former centre of Roman and Byzantine Constantinople.
- Dine on delicious Greek and Turkish food at the famous Pandeli, open since 1901.
- Head underground and walk along the wooden paths as you explore the architecture and history of the Basilica Cistern.
And now onto the best places to visit in Istanbul!
These are the BEST Places to Visit in Istanbul!
#1 – Blue Mosque
One of the most amazing places in Istanbul!
- Spectacular architecture
- Active mosque
- Ornate details inside and out
- Interesting history
Why it’s awesome: Officially called Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Blue Mosque is one of Istanbul’s most famous sights. Built in the early 1600s, the grand mosque was built as a show of pride and defiance and a way to reaffirm Ottoman power in Istanbul after losing a battle with the Persians. Standing on the site of an earlier Byzantine palace, the beautiful building has six minarets, five large domes, a number of smaller domes, ornate stained glass, and stunning tilework.
With a blend of Islamic and Byzantine Christian features, it is often thought of as the last great mosque to come from the classical period. Still an active place of Islamic worship, the mosque is also open to tourists.
What to do there: Be sure to dress respectfully to visit the Blue Mosque and women should don the head covering and gowns provided. Marvel at the striking facades that dominate the skyline and be awed by the size of the main hall. See the magnificent stained glass windows, handmade ceramic tiles with various designs, opulent chandeliers, calligraphy, and fine carpets.
The marble niche, known as a mihrab, is a sight to behold. View where the faithful perform their ritualistic ablutions, stand in the huge courtyard, and admire the beautiful fountain. Watch as devout Muslims perform prayers and hear the hypnotic call to prayer sounded five times per day from the soaring minarets.
#2 – Grand Bazaar
A great place in Istanbul if you love to shop!
- Good place to bargain for cheap goods
- Wide array of items
- One of the biggest and oldest covered markets in the world
- Huge number of shops
Why it’s awesome: Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets anywhere across the globe. The gigantic shopping complex, often said to be one of the world’s first shopping malls, can trace its history back to the 1400s. Orinally, there were two separate buildings, though as shops and stalls sprung up around them it eventually created a large shopping district. It was once at the hub of trade in the Mediterranean, with many caravans laden with goods passing through from Europe and Asia.
Until the 1800s there were no actual shops in the bustling market; instead, vendors had seats at small stalls, with the more expensive items kept safely in cabinets. Clothes, silk, ceramics, crystal, jewellery, weapons, spices, books, and used goods were just a few things one could find in the market. Today the market has more than 60 covered walkways and in excess of 4,000 shops. It’s definitely a great place for shopaholics!
What to do there: Pass through one of the four traditional gates to enter the market and admire the beautiful architecture of the Grand Bazaar. Inside, high windows provide plenty of light and shops are set into the walls. Browse a staggering array of goods and pick up plenty of local gifts to take home with you.
Colourful lanterns hang in a jumble outside some stores, there are many beautiful garments, and you’ll also find musical instruments, souvenirs, tea sets, jewellery, scented soaps, toys, crafts, and much, much more. Be tempted by display cabinets filled with traditional sweets, and pick up Turkish teas and aromatic spices.
Picking up a few souvenirs is a must do on any Istanbul itinerary.
#3 – Basilica Cistern
One of the more unique places to visit in Istanbul!
- Unusual attraction
- Featured in movies and TV shows
- Interesting architecture
Why it’s awesome: The Basilica Cistern is the biggest ancient subterranean cistern beneath Istanbul’s teeming streets. Constructed during the 6th century, it was used to provide water for the city’s palace and other important buildings. It covers around 9,800 square metres (105,000 square feet). Although it can hold a huge volume of water, just a small amount covers the floor today. The ceiling is supported by grand columns, a few of which have ancient carvings, and the roof has arches and cross-shaped vaults. It is atmospheric, photogenic, and slightly spooky!
What to do there: Descend the 52 steps into the cistern and let your eyes adjust to the gloom. Be wowed by the sheer size of the cistern hidden beneath the streets and follow the walkways round the huge underground complex, seeing small lights reflecting in the waters and the many columns spread out before you. Don’t miss the two columns with carved Medusa heads on their bases; one of the pillars is upside down, making the snake-haired lady even more interesting.
#4 – Galata Tower
Great place to visit in Istanbul for couples!
- Sweeping city views
- Excellent restaurant
- Major sight in the skyline
- Cool nightclub
Why it’s awesome: The medieval Galata Tower was built in the late 1340s by the Genoese. Constructed in a Romanesque style, the tower stands almost 67 metres (220 feet) tall. Visible from far and wide, the nine-storey building is a prominent feature on the Istanbul skyline. The round tower is topped with a conical roof. Once used as a lookout point to detect fires, today it is open to visitors who wish to see panoramic views of Istanbul.
What to do there: Ascend the tower in the elevator (don’t worry—no climbing is required!) and soak up the sweeping views from the observation area. Views take in the peninsula, Old Town, and the Bosporus, and you’ll easily be able to spot many of Istanbul’s significant buildings from your high position.
Sit down for a romantic meal in the restaurant for a delicious meal with great views. There’s also a café if you just want a quick bite to eat. You can also return later on at night for fun and frolics in the tower’s nightclub, where you can also watch a captivating traditional Turkish show.
#5 – Hagia Sophia
One of Istanbul’s coolest historical sites!
- Fascinating blend of religious influences
- Long and colourful history
- Beautiful architecture
- Stunning mosaics and art
Why it’s awesome: Hagia Sophia was one of the biggest buildings in the world when it was constructed in the 500s. A true architectural masterpiece that influenced building designs and practices, it was originally an Orthodox Cathedral. It was later converted into a Catholic Cathedral, and then an Ottoman Mosque, serving as the city’s main mosque for many years.
Each religion has left its mark on the stunning building. Today, it is a museum. Often said to be one of the most spectacular examples of Byzantine architecture on the planet, the pale building is topped with a glorious dome. There are several half domes, buttresses, and towers too. The insides are ornate, with ancient mosaics, large urns, statues, and other impressive aesthetic features.
What to do there: Marvel at the grand building from the outside and be dazzled by the striking interiors. Walk along the nave to stand underneath the gigantic dome and be awed by the way that light floods through the many windows, almost making the dome appear as though it is floating. The lustrous marble, detailed mosaics, arches, and other decorative elements are sure to impress.
See the well-preserved mosaics, including those of Jesus, the Mother and Child, and the archangels Gabriel and Michael, close to calligraphy from the Quran. View where the empress’s throne was once located, marked with a green stone, huge marble urns, various ornate doorways (such as the Nice Door, the Emperor Door, and the Marble Door), and the so-called Wishing Column, which is believed to have miraculous properties.
#6 – Miniatürk
Awesome place to visit in Istanbul with kids!
- Home to many mini scale models
- One of the biggest miniature attraction parks across the globe
- Great for old and young alike
- Explore Turkey without leaving Istanbul
Why it’s awesome: Open since 2003, Miniatürk is home to more than 100 intricate, accurate, and detailed scale models of famous landmarks and places from around Turkey and beyond. It’s a great place to get an overview of the country and learn about important sites that you may not previously have known about. One of the biggest miniature parks in the world, Miniatürk covers around 60,000 square metres (160,000 square feet), with both open and enclosed areas and waterways. It is sure to capture the imagination of people of all ages and is a great place to take the kids for a couple of hours.
What to do there: Explore Turkey and beyond as you discover a wealth of fascinating places. Models are created in a scale of 1:25 and are very accurate. Take a tour of Istanbul, with places like Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, Maiden’s Tower, the Anatolian Fortress, Ataturk Airport, Hagia Sophia, the July 15th Martyrs Bridge, Dolmabahçe Clock Tower, and Eyüp Sultan Mosque among the models in the park.
Travel to other parts of Turkey, with models including Mardin Stone Houses, the remains of Mount Nemrud, Izmir Clock Tower, the Temple of Artemis, and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. Global models include the Dome of the Rock, Ataturk’s House, and Mostar Bridge. Watch a cool match at the coin-operated mini stadium, let kids let off steam in the play area, tackle the labyrinth, take a simulated ride in a helicopter, and listen to lovely stories at the Fairytale Tree. Include the sightseeing train or a boat ride in your adventures too.
#7 – Büyükada
A must visit place to visit in Istanbul on the weekend!
- Island in the Sea of Marmara
- Ancient religious and royal sites
- Almost entirely pedestrianised
- Easy to explore
Why it’s awesome: Büyükada is the biggest of the Princes’ Islands, an island group in the Sea of Marmara. Covering around five square kilometres (two square miles), the island is easy to explore by foot or by bicycle. With the exception of service vehicles, the island is free from motorised transportation. There are diverse attractions on the island, including ancient religious buildings and elegant mansions, and there are also two hills that provide great views.
What to do there: Catch the ferry across to Büyükada and spend a day visiting the island’s interesting landmarks. See the large hilltop Prinkipo Greek Orthodox Orphanage, which is one of the biggest wooden buildings in the world. Climb the other hill to reach the quaint Agia Yorgi Church and lap up the splendid vistas. Explore the valley between the two hills, where you can visit Agios Nikolaos Church and Monastery.
Interestingly, a convent on the island was once used as a place of exile for several Byzantine empresses. Other places of interest include Hamidye Mosque, the former home of Leon Trotsky, Panagia Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Church, San Pacifo Church, and the historic mansions of Mizzi, Con Pasa, and Fabiato. See how islanders live and call into a local café for refreshments.
Quick Note – Staying Safe in Istanbul
Istanbul hit the headlines hard over recent years because of a number of terrorist attacks. While many people may be wary to visit the Turkish city it is important to remember that local security is good, attacks are relatively few, and the city is no more at risk of terrorism than other major European cities. There is also a risk of civil unrest. Avoid protests and demonstrations and keep abreast of local news and travel advisories. In general, violent crimes are rare in Istanbul.
The usual safety advice, however, applies—avoid dark areas at night, don’t flash expensive items, avoid drinking too much, keep your wits about you. Avoid walking around the city walls at night. Pickpocketing is a risk in busy places and on public transportation. Practice good road safety measures and always use proper crossings like bridges and underpasses.
Single ladies should be wary of appearing overly friendly with strangers; dressing conservatively can help to avoid unwanted attention. Be aware of common scams, particularly related to taxis and overcharging. Although the official line is that tap water is safe to drink in Istanbul, most people do drink bottled water. Basically, apply basic precautions.
Read our Istanbul Safety Guide and make sure that you know all of the hazards of traveling beforehand. You can also check out our safety guide for Turkey for more general information about security in the entire country.
Do you need Travel Insurance for your trip? I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re easy to use, professional and relatively affordable. They may also let you buy or extend a policy once you’ve started your trip and are already abroad which is super handy.
If there’s one insurance company I trust, it’s World Nomads. To find out why I use World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
You should always have emergency cash hidden on you – pick up this awesome security belt with its hidden pocket before you travel, it’s perfect for hiding money, a passport photocopy.
#8 – Eyüp Sultan Mosque
One of the most religious places to see in Istanbul
- Sacred mausoleum
- Lesser-visited mosque
- Exquisite tilework
- Free admission
Why it’s awesome: Located close to the Golden Horn, Eyüp Sultan Mosque is a hugely significant mosque for followers of the Islamic faith. The site is where many people believe that Abu Ayub al-Ansari was buried, a man that was a good friends of the Prophet Muhammad and a standard-bearer. The mausoleum is ornate with many fine Iznik tiles.
The mosque was traditionally where coronations were held for new Ottoman sultans, though the present mosque was built in the early 1800s, occupying the site where an earlier mosque once stood. Non-Muslim visitors can look around the complex, though they must remember to dress respectfully. There is no admission fee for the mosque, but donations are gratefully received.
What to do there: Take pictures of the magnificent pale-coloured building from the outside, taking time to appreciate the glorious domes and soaring minarets. Inside, light floods through the many windows and you are sure to be impressed by the beautiful details of the main dome. Admire the large chandelier that hangs high above the hall, the plush red carpets, and the grand arches and pillars, and watch as Muslims pray and perform religious rituals.
Cross the courtyard to see the lavish tomb of Abu Ayub al-Ansari, adorned with striking Iznik tiles with a rich variety of patterns and hues. Finally, stroll up the hill and pass through the peaceful Eyüp Cemetery.
#9 – Emirgan Park
A beautiful outdoor place to visit in Istanbul
- One of Istanbul’s biggest parks
- Enjoy nature in the city
- Great place for leisure and relaxation
- Free to enjoy
Why it’s awesome: Emirgan Park is one of the biggest public parks in Istanbul, covering some 117 acres (47 hectares) and surrounded by a high wall. The land was once covered with cypress trees, and the estate passed through many owners over the years, eventually becoming available to the public in the 1940s. Filled with many plant and flower species, the pleasant park has two ornamental ponds and three beautiful mansions. A popular recreational spot, there are jogging tracks, walking trails, and places to eat and drink.
What to do there: Take a stroll around the extensive park, seeing the wide array of pretty flora. Trees in the park include pine, cedar, beech, ash, spruce, and willow. The plants attract plenty of birds and insects. Don’t miss seeing the tulips in full bloom if you visit in the spring. Keep fit on the running tracks, relax alongside the ponds, enjoy a picnic, and let kids run and play in the wide open spaces.
See the park’s three mansions; the wooden Yellow Pavilion is maintained like a traditional Ottoman home and houses a cafe, the Pink Pavilion has many historic objects and opens at the weekend as a café, and the White Pavilion also has a café / restaurant and is built in a neo-classical style.
#10 – Isfanbul
Easily one of the most fun places to check out in Istanbul
- Top place for family fun
- Assortment of rides and attractions
- Large shopping centre
- Many entertainment options
Why it’s awesome: Previously called Vialand, Isfanbul is an exciting theme park with something to please all members of the family. There are all kinds of rides, fast and tame, big and small. The big shopping centre adds to the diversity, with more than 100 stores selling a range of items and arranged over open-air and enclosed shopping streets.
Within the shopping centre there’s an indoor zoo with a variety of attractions, a cinema, and a modern and well-equipped sports centre. You’ll find a good selection of F&B outlets throughout the theme park and the shopping centre too. The park offers heaps of fun for families, friends, and couples.
What to do there: Wear comfy shoes and spend a fun-filled day discovering the many delights of Isfanbul. Feel the rush on the thrilling rollercoaster of Nefeskesen, twirl through the skies on 360, have a wild adventure on Viking, soar high on Adalet Kulesi, and come face to face with the ferocious King Kong.
Drift along the waters on Cilgin Nehir and watch as kids have fun on rides like Ice Age, Angry Birds, the cool swings of Saray Salincagi, and the farm train of Nesili Ciflik. Browse in the boutiques in the shopping centre, watch a movie in the cinema, and see a selection of animals in Jungle, with creatures like tamarins, marmosets, snakes, alligators, turtles, insects, birds, and fish.
#11 – Topkapi Palace
A great place to see in Istanbul if you love architecture
- Former home of Ottoman sultans
- UNESCO-listed site
- Beautiful architecture
- Exquisite ornamentation and furnishings
Why it’s awesome: The splendid and large UNESCO-listed Topkapi Palace was built in the mid-1400s. Previously home to sultans and at the heart of political life, some 5,000 people used to call the palace home. Once one of the biggest palaces in the world, it has elements from various ages, added by each sultan.
A fine example of Middle Eastern architecture, it has sweeping courtyards, grand gates, pools, and hundreds of rooms. The details are opulent, with gorgeous carvings, stained glass, and tiles. There are various displays throughout the palace as well, and it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Istanbul.
What to do there: Step back in time and see how leaders from one of the world’s most powerful empires lived in times gone by. Wander through the palace’s many rooms, being dazzled by the spectacular details. Look up at ornate ceilings and at beautifully decorated walls and be in awe of the vibrant colours and details. Note the many golden globes that hang in various rooms; these were a symbol of the sultan’s power, representing the ruler keeping an eye on the whole world. View old Turkish baths, kitchens, living areas, and sleeping quarters.
Pass through rooms used by the sultans, visit the Circumcision Room, where young boys went through ceremonial circumcision procedures, stand where the imperial council used to gather, and explore the lavish rooms of the harem, the place where important females (like the sultan’s mother, wives, and concubines) used to live. Some rooms of the harem were where brothers of the sultans lived, locked away to prevent them from trying to seize power.
Some of the more revered items include a sword said to have belonged to Prophet Muhammad and a staff that is believed to have been used by Moses. After admiring the wealth of architectural delights, brilliant decorative designs, and diverse displays, stroll through the pleasant cypress-filled gardens. Spot the unusual hollowed-out trees and relish the stunning views.
Wonder what to do in Istanbul for 3 days? Head over to our insider’s Weekend in Istanbul guide!
#12 – Chora Church / Kariye Museum
A great place to visit in Istanbul if you are alone/traveling solo
- Ancient church turned into a museum
- Well-preserved internal décor
- Long history
- Learn more about religious events
Why it’s awesome: Chora Church / Kariye Museum stands on the spot of an important cemetery from the 4th century. Although the exact date of construction of the church itself is unknown, most of the current building dates back to the early 1000s. Constructed in the shape of an inscribed cross, it is famous for its intact and well-preserved religious art. Much of the artwork was added to the church in the 1300s.
The gorgeous images are celebrated as some of the finest examples of frescoes from the Palaiologian Renaissance era. The church was converted into a mosque after the defeat of ancient Constantinople (the former name of Istanbul), with the images hidden underneath layers of plaster. The building was eventually turned into a secular museum and the images were uncovered for everyone to enjoy.
What to do there: Feast your eyes on the striking domed building before discovering the three main inner areas of the entrance hall, main church area, and side chapel. Walk slowly along the sweeping outer entrance corridor, viewing dazzling mosaics that include the nativity, miracles, the journey of the Magi, people fleeing to Egypt, and massacres carried out on the orders of King Herod.
Continue into the wide inner entrance hall, where you’ll find even more stunning mosaics. Learn more about the life of the Virgin Mary, created using the Apocryphal Gospels. Step through the large doors into the main part of the church for even more visual splendour, and discover the beautiful side chapel, which was once used to honour deceased people.
#13 – Karaköy Lokantas?
A must-see for foodies!
- Eye-catching surroundings
- Popular eatery
- Wide choice of traditional Turkish dishes
- Relaxed ambience
Why it’s awesome: Karaköy Lokantas? is one of Istanbul’s fanciest lokantas, restaurants where locals savour fresh home-made dishes at great prices and with a lively vibe. With a solid reputation, Karaköy Lokantas? can be found near the Golden Horn. The atmosphere is lively, the staff members are friendly, and the service is top notch.
In the daytime it’s a favourite spot for local workers, while in the evenings it transforms into a cool wine house. The décor is attractive, with blue and white tiles, pillars, and a marvellous staircase. The menu contains a great selection of Turkish fare and there’s a well-stocked meze counter to tempt diners too.
What to do there: Admire the beautiful surroundings and soak up the convivial vibe as you sink your teeth into Turkish specialities. Try to go with a group of people—it’s even better when you can share and try lots of dishes! Grab a selection of dishes from the meze counter and ponder the extensive menu. Hot starters include calamari, grilled octopus, and fried courgette, and there’s also a selection of soups and salads.
Mains include chicken and rice, grilled meatballs, and fried liver. Of course, there are plenty of sweets to finish with, and you can order Turkish tea or wine to accompany your meal. Fancy something stronger? Knock back a glass of raki. Come at lunchtime for cheaper prices and a midday buzz, or book a table for a fabulous dinner.
#14 – Yeralti Camii
Quite the quirky place in Istanbul!
- Hidden gem
- Unusual attraction
- Religious site
- Open to non-Muslims
Why it’s awesome: Located close to the Galata Bridge at Karakoy Harbour, Yeralti Camii is a rather unusual attraction … an underground mosque! Hidden out of sight, the mosque is in what was the crypt of an old castle. The space is believed by many to have been where a gigantic chain was anchored, the chain in place to stop enemy boats from entering the Golden Horn.
Later, the basement was used to store ammunition. It has been used as a place of worship since the 1750s. It’s atmospheric, quiet, and more than a bit eerie! The mosque is open to members of the public outside of prayer times.
What to do there: Enter through the street-level doorways, heading along the narrow, low, and dimly lit tunnels. Shadows flicker on the walls, heightening the slightly unnerving atmosphere. Explore the underground place of worship, walking past stubby pillars that create little cubbies that are perfect for peaceful prayer and contemplation. See the tombs of two Arab martyrs, discovered in 1640. Local legends say that the graves were found because of a dream. Remember to dress modestly when visiting the mosque.
#15 – Istanbul Archaeology Museums
A fascinating educational place to visit in Istanbul
- Three excellent informative museums
- Wide range of exhibits
- Learn more about Turkey’s history and culture
- Discover interesting historical facts about the world
Why it’s awesome: The Istanbul Archaeology Museums contains three top-class museums within easy reach of each other: the main Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Islamic Art, and the Museum of the Ancient Orient. The museums contain more than a million artefacts and objects from across the world and from different time periods. The original museum was founded in 1891, with later additions. It’s a top place to learn more about the past.
What to do there: Travel back in time as you see the well-curated displays and exhibitions in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums. Enter the handsome neoclassical building of the Archaeological Museum and view a vast collection of ancient coffins and tomb stones, including the famous and ornate sarcophagus that is believed to have been made for Alexander the Great.
There are also statues, mosaics, and more to admire as you journey through the city’s Ancient, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman eras. The Museum of the Ancient Orient contains a large array of items from before Islam that were retrieved from all around the extensive lands of the mighty Ottoman Empire. The striking Tiled Pavilion is home to the Museum of Islamic Arts, where you can see a huge assortment of decorative objects.
#16 – Bebek
A nice non-touristy place to visit in Istanbul
- Off the typical tourist track
- Hip and trendy vibe
- Historic neighbourhood
- Popular with locals
Why it’s awesome: Bebek may not be top of the list for tourists, but it’s an incredibly popular place with locals. The atmosphere is energetic, especially at the weekends, and there’s plenty to enjoy in the area. The historic neighbourhood sits alongside the Bosphorus and it has been a sought-after residential district since the Ottoman period. There are many charming buildings along the waterfront. One of Turkey’s most prestigious universities can be found in the area, it has a lovely promenade, and there are many top-class boutiques and eateries.
What to do there: Mingle with affluent locals and go for a walk along the seaside promenade, slapping up the splendid vistas that include the deep, sheltered bay, the Bosphorus, and small fishing boats bobbing on the waters. See the old mosque, the attractive late-19th-century pale art nouveau mansion that now houses the Egyptian Embassy, and the remains of Rumeli Hisari castle.
Peek into fancy art galleries and window shop at glamorous boutiques. Mingle with locals and unwind in a hip café or sit down for a filling meal in one of the cool restaurants. In the evening, enjoy a youthful and jolly vibe in the area’s trendy bars.
#17 – Çamlica Hill
A perfect place to visit in Istanbul if you are on a budget!
- Spend time outdoors in a pretty park
- Beautiful vistas
- One of the highest hills in Istanbul
- Few foreign visitors
Why it’s awesome: Çamlica Hill is one of Istanbul’s highest hills and it boasts a beautiful park that is a popular leisure and recreation spot with locals. Few tourists, however, visit the hill. Located on the Asian side of the city, the hill offers terrific views of the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, and both the European and Asian parts of Istanbul.
The public park is free to enjoy and it’s home to lots of foliage and flowers, fountains, and charming teahouses and cafes. The nearby Çamlica Mosque, constructed in 2016, is an enormous building; indeed, it’s one of the biggest mosques in the Asia Minor region. Several eminent Turkish authors have referenced the hill in their works.
What to do there: Stand some 268 metres (879 feet) above sea level and marvel at the spectacular views. You can see both sides of the Bosphorus Straits as well as the two bridges that span the water to connect Europe and Asia. Relax in the park and tea garden, spot various species of birds, eat a cool ice cream, and enjoy various Turkish dishes in the restaurant. Try and come around sunset to watch one of Mother Nature’s most awesome shows.
#18 – Taksim Square
A great place to visit in Istanbul at night
- Said to be the centre of modern Istanbul
- See the Republic Monument
- Wide array of bars and restaurants
- Energetic atmosphere
Why it’s awesome: Taksim Square is a bustling and lively part of Istanbul. Often referred to as the heart of modern Istanbul, it’s popular with both locals and tourists alike. There are many great accommodations as well as a wealth of shops, restaurants, and bars. It’s also a significant transportation hub and home to a large cultural centre. The large square hosts many parades and celebrations, including a huge gathering on New Year’s Eve.
What to do there: Stroll along the busy pedestrianised shopping street of istiklal Caddesi, where you can buy a range of international and local goods. Take a ride on the olde-worlde tram, often a huge hit with kids, and see the Republic Monument that was built to celebrate the 5th anniversary of Turkey’s independence.
Catch the subway and travel along the second-oldest subway line in the world. Visit the Atatürk Cultural Centre, book tickets to the opera, and dine in an array of restaurants. As evening falls, hit up the area’s vibrant bars for a fun night out.
#19 – Belgrad Forest
A beautiful and scenic place to check out in Istanbul
- Experience nature close to the busy city
- Tranquil and serene
- Abundance of flora and fauna
- See the remains of old communities
Why it’s awesome: Covering 13,590 acres (5,500 hectares), the huge Belgrad Forest is a great place to escape the chaotic city streets and spend time in nature. Named after the large number of Serbs who ended up in the area after Belgrade was captured by the Ottomans, the forest has remains of ancient settlements scattered throughout. You’ll find marshland at the heart of the forest, and there are nine nature parks. Lots of creatures and various plant species inhabit the forest. There are plenty of leisure and exercise opportunities, including hiking and jogging.
What to do there: Spot an array of flora and fauna as you explore the forest’s diverse trails and paths. Visit Atatürk Arboretum, home to around 2,000 different types of plants in well-arranged gardens. You’re also likely to come across various historic buildings as you roam around the forest.
If you’re feeling energetic you can get a workout at the free-to-use gym equipment along the track near Neset Spring. See the large Valens Aqueduct and old dams from the Ottoman period. Spend time in Bahçeköy, a small local town close to the forest’s centre. Enjoy al fresco dining at the picnic areas and cook up a storm with the BBQ facilities.
#20 – Ortaköy Mosque
One of the nicer places in Istanbul to sightsee!
- Splendid views
- Gorgeous architecture
- Featured on many postcards and promotional materials
- Cool neighbourhood
Why it’s awesome: Sitting next to the Bosphorus at Ortaköy pier square and close to a bridge, Ortaköy Mosque is one of Istanbul’s prettiest places of worship. Standing on the site of an older mosque, the present neo-baroque building was constructed in the middle of the 19th century. The views are stunning, both outwards along the water from the mosque, and across the Straits with the mosque next to the water. The insides are beautiful with many impressive details. It’s free to visit the mosque, although donations are most welcome.
What to do there: Try and get just the right angle to snap a picture of the mosque with its pretty reflection glinting in the sunshine on the water’s surface. You can also capture the mosque with the Bosphorus Bridge in the same shot, providing a great image that perfectly shows Istanbul’s historic and modern faces.
Appreciate the rich details inside the light-filled mosque, including lovely mosaics under the dome, chandeliers, green circles with golden calligraphy, and delicate carvings. Take a stroll around the surrounding area to find the Etz-Ahayim synagogue and Greek Orthodox Church too.
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#21 – Istanbul Museum of Modern Art
Cool place to see in Istanbul with friends!
- Turkey’s first modern art museum
- Local and international artists
- Photography gallery
- Regular creative events
Why it’s awesome: Established in 2004, Istanbul Museum of Modern Art (also known as Istanbul Modern) was the first dedicated museum of modern and contemporary art in Turkey. It aims to introduce people to the world of modern art and help people to fall in love with art. It hosts both permanent and temporary collections, displaying the works of well-known and up-and-coming Turkish artists as well as foreign artworks.
Collections show the nation’s diverse heritage and cultures. There are regular collaborations with famous art institutions around the world, including MoMa and the Pompidou Centre. The museum also has a photo gallery, a library, a cinema, a gift shop, and a café. Various creative events are held at the museum, including those related to literature, film, painting, architecture, and so on.
What to do there: Take time to appreciate the diverse modern pieces housed on the first three floors of Istanbul Museum of Modern Art; with ever-changing displays it doesn’t matter if you’ve visited the museum before, you’ll still find plenty of new pieces to admire. Turkish artists include Omer Uluc, Hale Tenger, Seyhun Topuz, Inci Evener, and Nuri Iyem. International artists include Liam Gillick, Julian Opie, Tony Cragg, and Monica Bonvicini.
Each gallery has interesting information detailing the importance of certain pieces and the development of modern art in Turkey. Visit the photography gallery on the 4th floor for more creative stimulation and to learn more about how the arts movement in general had an impact on photography. Check the program of events, relax in the café, and pick up souvenirs from the gift shop.
Don’t forget to pack a good book! Istanbul Passage: A Novel is our top recommendation for an awesome and inspiring read on this magical city.
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Have a blast in Istanbul!
From historic religious sites, some of which now operate as secular museums, and beautiful architecture, to leafy parks, vibrant markets, and lively amusement parks, Istanbul promises to capture your imagination. A terrific holiday destination for all, add more to your adventures as you work your way through these best places to visit in Istanbul.
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