Istanbul is the cradle of Turkey. Its architecture traces the influence of Byzantium, Rome, the Ottoman Empire. This article is a guide to the main monuments of the city. I hope she answers the question that you probably ask yourself before the trip: “What are the best sights of Istanbul?”
Istanbul map with landmarks
Top 10 Istanbul attractions: what to see in Istanbul in one day
First of all, I mark the TOP 10 sights of Istanbul, which are located in the historic district of the city.
The central and main square of the city, which stands on both banks of the Bosphorus Strait – Sultanahmet. The most beautiful architectural monuments (Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, St. Irina Cathedral) are located within it. It is always very lively and there are many tourists. Area dimensions: length-400 m, width-200 m.
The indisputable attraction of Istanbul is the Cathedral of St. Sophia. It is also called Hagia Sophia. Start of construction – 532 CE It owes its appearance to the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. For many years it was the largest Christian church in the world. In terms of architecture, the building is very complex. Made of marble, but in the design there is red porphyry, stone, precious metals. At the entrance – huge doors, covered with bronze. Their exact weight is unknown, but they are clearly very massive. The central dome is heavy and reaches 55 m in height. Inside there are a huge number of mosaics, an altar of the XIX century, columns, pilasters, candelabra. From the Christian temple there are several frescoes and a couple of mosaics, and those are only partially. Most of it was, unfortunately, lost.
The cathedral will be interesting, first of all, to history buffs. Regarding the beauty, and especially the luxury of the Cathedral, I personally would argue.
Today, the Cathedral has the status of a museum, and there are always lines at the ticket office, you can buy a ticket in advance , the line for security control is much smaller and moves very quickly.
You can get to the museum by taxi or T1 tram.
Opening hours in the winter – from 9:00 to 17:00, in the summer – from 9:00 to 19:00. Except Monday.
Ticket price – 60 Turkish liras (about 9 euros).
Another object on Sultanahmet Square from the category “The main attractions of Istanbul.” The name is derived from the large number of blue tiles that generously adorn the interior of the room. Date of construction – 1609-1616. The minaret is 64 meters high. Sultans Ahmet I, Osman II, Murad IV and many noble women are buried here. The mosque is notable for 6 minarets (usually temples have from 1 to 4 minarets). The architecture traces the elements of two styles – classical Ottoman and Byzantine.
The building is divided into several rooms, the central one measures 53 * 51 m. It also houses a 43-meter dome. The walls are decorated with oriental and floral motifs. The floor is carpeted. The mosque is beautifully lit by natural sunlight, which pours from 260 high windows. Admission is free, but tourists are not allowed during prayers. Do not forget to put on closed clothes, cover your head (for women) and take off your shoes at the entrance (they will give a bag for shoes, you do not need to leave shoes unattended). At the entrance, in principle, they also give scarves, but it is better to take a scarf or pareo with you.
The Basilica Cistern is an ancient well-preserved reservoir located opposite Hagia Sophia. Reminds an underground palace complex. The construction began even under the reign of Emperor Constantine I. The dimensions of the structure: 145 by 65 m. The tank can store up to 80,000 m³ of water. The ceiling is held by 336 columns. Today, educational excursions are held here.
Usually the water level is small, about 50 cm, but when I was there, there was practically no water at all. This ancient landmark is a vivid evidence of the unique technologies of past years. She will also be interesting to fans of Dan Brown’s works and films with Tom Hanks. It was in the Cistern that the final actions of the movie “Inferno” took place.
The entrance ticket costs 40 Turkish liras (about 6 euros).
Look for the Egyptian bazaar in the Eminenu district. Exact address: Rüstem Paşa Mahallesi, Erzak Ambarı Sok. No: 92, 34116 Fatih / İstanbul. The market was erected in 1660. The order was given by the Turhan-Khatija Sultan. At first, the bazaar was part of the New Mosque complex. He suffered from severe fires twice. Today, the complex includes 80 stores and hundreds of stalls. The main assortment is spices, sweets, meat and dairy products. You should definitely visit this place during your trip to Istanbul, especially if you do not plan to get to the Grand Bazaar!
This is a train station in the European part of the city. The grand opening took place in 1890. The architecture traces European and Eastern features. The facade is made of marble, the window frames resemble narrow high mosques. Instead of glass – painted stained-glass windows. A museum is equipped here, where you can see numerous badges, envelopes, station furnaces, other equipment and accessories. Opening hours: from 10:00 to 17:00. Free admission.
It was Sirkeci station that was the final destination for the famous Orient Express train from Paris to Istanbul.
You can get to Sirkeci Station by tram number 1, exit at Sirkeçi stop.
At the station you can take some interesting photos.
Bosphorus and the Golden Horn
The Bosphorus is the famous strait of Turkey. The Golden Horn is a narrow bay that flows into the Bosphorus, which divides Istanbul into the “old” and “new” parts. The Bosphorus and the Golden Horn wash several areas of the city, in particular, Fatih, Eminenu, Beykoz and others. On their banks are luxurious villas, temples, entertainment complexes. In Istanbul, you can order interesting excursion routes along the Bosphorus , and explore all the city’s beauty from the water.
This landmark of Istanbul is located in the European part of the city on the Galata hill. The tower opened in the middle of the fourteenth century. Its height is 67 m. It is worth coming here for an amazing panorama of Istanbul. The tower has a restaurant, night club, cafe. High-speed elevators deliver to the top.
Opening hours: 9: 00-19: 00. Entrance to the observation deck – 15 lire (2.5 euros). Near the Galata Tower there are many cafes and coffee houses, I can recommend Guney Restaurant (lunch for two 150 lire / 22 euros), a coffee shop-bakery overlooking the Şirin Fırın tower (I didn’t have a try, but the locals praise it very much).
The most recognizable city street. Length – 1.4 m. Location – Beyoglu district. Istiklal begins near Taksim Square, and ends near the shore of the Golden Horn. On the map, the street has the shape of a boomerang. Its history starts in the XV century, when during the reign of Sultan Suleiman I, Muslim buildings began to be built on this site. Then it was called the Main Avenue, and was the center of Istanbul trade. Istiklal today is a tourist attraction.
On it are branded stores, cafes, hotel complexes. A historic tram regularly runs along the street. In addition, there are also consulates of many states, including Russia.
Another interesting attraction of Istanbul is the square in the central area of the city called Taksim. As a rule, all city street events are arranged on it. By the way, there used to be a cemetery in this place, and in the 19th century even ancient burial places were discovered here. There are several architectural monuments on Taksim: the 12-meter Republic monument, sculptures of military figures Mustafa Ataturk, who is also the first president of Turkey, Fevzi Chakmak and Ismet Inenu. In addition, there are five-star hotels nearby (The Marmara Taksim, CVK Park Bosphorus Hotel Istanbul, Gezi Hotel Bosphorus Istanbul, Elite World Istanbul Hotel), park, Holy Trinity Church. From here you can get by public transport to almost anywhere in Istanbul. The traffic intersection is just great!
What to see in Istanbul in 2-3 days on your own and with a guided tour
What to see in Istanbul in 2-3 days? The list of beautiful places, of course, is expanding.
Church of St. Irina
One of the most ancient churches of the city, founded in the 4th century. The architectural style is Byzantine. The temple is located in the historical district of the city of Sultanahmet in the first courtyard of the Topkapi Palace (this is another Istanbul landmark, but about it later). The Church of St. Irina is made in the shape of a cross. There is a sarcophagus in it, in which, according to legends, the Roman emperor Constantine the Great is resting.
This is not a mosque; Christianity used to preach here. Today the church serves as a concert hall with excellent acoustics. It hosts many musical and theatrical events. Opening hours: daily, except Tuesday from 9:00 to 16:00. For the admission you need to pay 30 lire.
Another example of magnificent architecture and the answer to the question: “What to see in Istanbul” is the Suleymaniye Mosque. Holds up to 5,000 people at a time. Built, it is not difficult to guess, by order of the Sultan Suleiman Iv 1550-1557. The idea was also brought to life by a famous person – the architect Sinan. This mosque, by the way, is considered its best project. Sulaymaniye has 4 minarets, 136 windows, a main dome 53 m high, spacious halls and a large courtyard. In the latter there are mausoleums in which the sultan himself, his wife Alexandra Anastasia Lisowska and their daughter Mikhrimakh rest.
Here, in the territory, there are educational institutions, baths, kitchens. In a word, it is a city in a city. Look for him in the district of Vef (the old part of Istanbul). You can get here by metro (line M2, exit at Veznecilier station), bus lines 26A, 26B (get off at Eminönü Kantarcılar stop), tram (T1, exit – Eminönü). The mosque is open to visitors daily, except Friday, from 9:00 to 17:00. But keep in mind when the prayer takes place (daily, from 12:30 to 13:45, from 15; 45 to 17:30) tourists are not allowed inside. I advise you to come here in the morning. Entrance to the mosque is free.
This mosque is really worth a visit, it seemed to me much more beautiful and luxurious than the Blue Mosque. And visitors are much less.
And from the observation deck next to the mosque, a gorgeous panorama of the city opens.
Do not forget the closed clothes, scarf (for women) and, of course, take off your shoes. A shoe bag is best to bring with you. Unlike the Blue Mosque, bags are not issued here.
The huge Istanbul market, it is also a tourist attraction. Located in the old part of the city (can be combined with a visit to the Suleymaniye Mosque and a tour of the Old Town). It covers an area of 30 00 m². Here are 66 streets and 4,000 shops. At the bazaar you can buy anything from jewelry to fridge magnets. Prices are higher than in the Egyptian market, and indeed in Istanbul (for souvenirs every 5J).
They write that the Grand Bazaar is a tourist attraction. Especially for lovers of bargaining. It’s hard to disagree. On the territory there are restaurants, cafes, mosques, playgrounds and even a cemetery. But the photos are very colorful.
This is a picturesque city park in the Eminenu district. Exact address: Cankurtaran Mh., Kennedy Cd. Nearby is Topkapi Palace. The park has a museum of Islamic culture and technology, picnic areas, children’s playgrounds and sports grounds, thousands of trees and shrubs. A lot of flowers, primarily tulips (in April this is one of the main central venues of the tulip festival). Fountains, benches, toilets and exit trade work all around the perimeter. Good place for a quiet contemplative vacation! It is especially beautiful here in April-May, during the flowering period.
This is the main residence of the Ottoman sultans until the middle of the XIX century. Today it is one of the largest museums in the world. Its total area is 70 thousand m². The complex is surrounded by walls, whose length reaches 1400 m. It stands in the historical Eminenu district, at Cape Sarayburnu, where the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn flow into the Marmara Sea.
The palace has a huge collection of objects that are somehow connected with the Ottoman sultans, as well as holy relics for Muslims – the sword and cloak of the prophet Muhammad. It also houses one of the largest collections of rare porcelain, weapons, precious stones. Unfortunately, photographing is not allowed in museum pavilions. So far I realized, I managed to make a couple of shots.
In the first courtyard there are service and utility buildings, earlier lower-level servants lived here. The second courtyard – treasury, office, premises for the council. In the third there was a harem, chambers of servants close to the Sultan, a school, a kitchen, a mosque. The fourth courtyard is the private chambers of the Sultan, his sons. Today, restaurants, cafeterias, souvenir shops, and relaxation areas are open in all yards.
Schedule of the complex: daily, except Tuesday, from 9:00 to 19:00. Entrance ticket to the palace – 60 lira. Harem ticket – 35 lire. At the box office, the queue, but closer to the end (at 17-18 hours), the people are becoming smaller.
You can also buy a ticket online .
Look for the large complex consisting of three museums at: Cankurtaran Mh. It is built in the neoclassical architectural style. Established in 1891 The museum features more than a million exhibits, from the time of Antiquity to the present day. Among them there are priceless ones – the Sidon sarcophagus, which tells about the life of Alexander the Great, fragments of sculptures from the temple of Zeus, artifacts discovered during excavations of Troy. The museum is open for visits daily, except Monday, from 9:00 to 16:45 in the winter and from 9:00 to 18:45 in the summer. There is also a restaurant and a shop on site. It can be reached by a large number of bus routes: No. 26, 26A, 26V, 33, 33V, 35, 36E, 37E, etc. Exit – stop Eminonu. Entrance ticket to the museum – 30 lire.
Another palace of the Ottoman sultans on the border of the districts of Kabatash and Besiktas. The total area is 4.5 hectares. The construction began in 1843. The complex is built in an exquisite baroque style. If you believe the documents, the interior design took more than 14 tons of gold. It is worth noting separately the magnificent chandelier from the rarest Bohemian glass, which was presented by Queen Victoria, and the excellent collection of paintings by Ivan Aivazovsky. The building consists of three independent complexes: Harem, State rooms, Ceremonial hall. There are 285 rooms in total. Guests of Istanbul have the opportunity to explore part of the buildings, including the main palace. You can come here daily except Monday, from 9:00 to 16:00.
But note: there is a quota for visiting the palace! 3000 people daily. And you can buy tickets only at the box office at the entrance! Therefore, the lines are huge. We stood for about an hour.
You can’t take pictures inside the Palace, but, believe me, if you choose between Topkapi Palace and Dolmabahce Palace, choose this one! The interiors are truly luxurious! It is no accident that the palace was built following the example of Versailles!
Maiden’s Tower is one of the unofficial symbols of the city. Located in the Asian part of Istanbul. The Maiden Tower is associated with many beautiful legends. The first tells of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. It is said that the monarch personally chose the site for the construction of a strong watchtower to control the Bosphorus. The second is about the sultan’s daughter, who was predicted to die at the age of 18. The inconsolable father ordered the tower to be erected, and his daughter was locked there in infancy in order to protect it from death. On the 18th birthday, the girl was brought a fruit basket, in which there was a poisonous snake. The Sultan’s daughter died from a bite, as predicted. Hence the name of the attraction – Maiden’s Tower. Today it has a viewing platform with a view of the strait, a restaurant, a shop and a bar. Schedule: daily from 9:00 to 19:00.
You can see the tower from the Bosphorus.
What to see in Istanbul for 4 days or more
If you have a trip to Istanbul for 4 or more days, I recommend that you cover such architectural monuments with your own eyes.
Rumeli Hisar Fortress
A fortress in the style of Ottoman architecture stands on the shores of the strait near the Bebek district. Date of construction – mid XV century. Includes three separate towers. The total area of the attraction is 30,000 m². The name translated from Turkish means “the one that cuts the strait.” The order to build a fortress was given by the Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. She served as a checkpoint, later a prison. Today it houses the Turkish Museum of Artillery and the Summer Theater. In addition, it offers a beautiful panorama of the Bosphorus and the Asian part of Istanbul. Opening hours: 9: 00-18: 00 (in the summer) and until 16:30 in the winter. Wednesday is a day off. Prepare 15 lire (2.5 euros) for the admission ticket.
A large park complex located in the same area. In April (during the tulip festival) – a mast visit, the rest of the time you can combine with a trip to the fortress. This is the European part of Istanbul. The park covers an area of 117 acres. A very picturesque place: there are many decorative ponds, fountains, thousands of trees, the basis of which are conifers. Pedestrian walkways, picnic areas, and children’s playgrounds are equipped. Emirgan Park today is associated with tulips. Millions of these flowers are planted in it, and a thematic festival is held annually. Read my review about the tulip festival in Istanbul here .
Kadikoy and Asian Fashion Regions
If you do not know what to see in Istanbul in 5 days, feel free to go to the Kadikoy and Fashion districts. In recent years, these places have become the center of a fun youth life in the city. They have the best pubs, night clubs, entertainment complexes. The colorful original sculptures and compositions attract attention.
A lot of cafes and restaurants. The prices in them, by the way, are lower than in the European part. The areas are often referred to as “atypical Istanbul.” There are no ancient historically important sights, and the noise and music do not stop for a second.
I recommend trying the best Istanbul ice cream at Famous Ice Cream Ali Usta (Caferağa Mahallesi, Moda Cd.), 12 lire for 2 flavors with delicious topping (about 1.8 euros).
This is the train station on the Asian side of the city. Built at the beginning of the XX century. It provides railway communication with the eastern neighbors of Turkey – Armenia, Iran, Syria. Inside there are beautiful steps made of marble, the walls are decorated with paintings, sculpting, windows are stained-glass windows. Many sculptures and arches in Turkish motifs, hand-painted. The station is right on the banks of the Bosphorus. A beautiful building that is definitely worth exploring. This is best done during the excursion route along the Bosphorus.
At the Khaidarpash station, an incredibly beautiful Chanel No. 5 commercial was shot with Audrey Tautou in the style of the Orient Express. Of course, Orient Express never stayed here, but the video was just chic! Be sure to take a look!
The name of the landmark translates as “king of kings”. It is fully consistent with this place. The beautiful summer residence of the Ottoman sultans in the Neo-Baroque style for some reason is not so popular among tourists. There are almost no queues. The complex is located on the Asian side of Istanbul. Construction began on the initiative of the ruler of Abdul Aziz in the middle of the XIX century. Around the palace is a picturesque park complex, well equipped. The interior of the room is magnificent. The complex is open to visitors every day except Tuesday. Entrance ticket – 40 lire. At the entrance you will be provided with a free audio guide.
The palace and park complex, whose name translates as “Star Palace”, is the main residence of Sultan Abdul-Hamid II (reign of 1876-1909). The attraction itself consists of a palace, numerous pavilions, a factory, a mosque and a magnificent park planted with rare exotic plants. The main hall of the palace is especially noteworthy. Its stream is generously decorated with gold stars, on the floor – a handmade carpet. A distinctive feature of Yildiz Palace from other Sultan residences is that there is no division into male and female parts. Today the place has been turned into a museum, the entrance to which is paid – 10 lire. Opening hours: 9: 00-19: 00.
An area in the Asian part of Istanbul with quiet narrow streets and ancient wooden houses. Once upon a time there lived a large Armenian community. Today it is known for two synagogues, which, however, operate only on major holidays. You can come here and just take a walk if you don’t know what to see in Istanbul in a week.
But this is the real non-Turkish quarter in the city of Istanbul. On the map is in the district of Fatih. This is the west coast of the Golden Horn. Here is the oldest Jewish synagogue, living quarters, shops, a clinic, and schools. The main population is Kurds and Gypsies. The Balat district is the most valuable treasury of the historical and cultural heritage of the city. And here you can make bright, colorful photos!
This beautiful Byzantine church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Date of construction – the middle of the XIV century. Location – Fatih district. Today, the monastery is converted into the Kariye Museum. It is divided into three spacious rooms. All of them are generously decorated with Byzantine mosaics, which are the basis of the museum’s collection. Amazingly beautiful motifs can be seen on the walls, ceilings, casement vaults, dome. Some frescoes with openwork carvings, others with gilding. They depict the faces of the saints, various images of Jesus Christ. They say that so many Byzantine mosaics are no longer in any temple in the world! The cost, however, is a little overpriced: 45 lira + 15 lira for an audio guide (about 9 euros with an audio guide).
Modern Art Museum
The Museum of Modern Art is located in the Beyoglu district. Opened at the end of 2004, the complex initially focused only on Turkish young artists. His goal was to show the work of modern little-known masters of painting. Every year more and more tourists visited the museum, and today it rightfully bears the proud name “Istanbul Landmark”. Here is an extensive collection that clearly illustrates the development of Turkey. The building occupies two floors. At the first – a cinema in which author’s cinema is shown, and an extensive library. The exhibits are on the second floor. Entrance fee – 32 lire. Schedule: Sunday – 11: 00-18: 00. Monday is a day off. Tuesday, Wednesday – 10: 00-18: 00. Thursday – 10: 00-20: 00. Friday and Saturday – 10: 00-18: 00.
Full name – Museum of the Grand Mosaic Palace. The grand opening took place in 1953. There are 90 mosaics of different genres dating back to the Roman period. There are very tiny exhibits, but you can also find large canvases larger than 6 m². The museum building itself is small but modern. The museum is located in the Sultanahmet district. The entrance to the building is between the rows of Arasta Bazaar. Come every day, except Mondays, from winter from 9:00 to 17:00, in the summer from 9:00 to 19:00. For the admission you need to pay 15 lire.
Another cognitive Istanbul attraction is the Pera Museum in the Beyoglu district. It stands near Taksim Square. The collection is based on the Orientalism style, emphasizing the uniqueness of the East as a separate world. In addition to paintings and canvases by Turkish artists, there are exhibits from the Anatolia Peninsula and pottery from the ancient Turkish city of Kutahya. The museum often hosts workshops, seminars and interesting film screenings. It is open for visits every day, except Mondays, from 10:00 to 19:00. Entrance ticket – 20 lire.
Pierre Loti hill and the same-name cafe
Look for a place of interest in the Eyup area. You can climb the hill on foot or by cable car. There is a cafe, restaurant, shop. Cafe, by the way, is at arm’s length from the cemetery. For Turkey, this is a common thing. The institution is very popular among tourists. Once he was often visited by the writer Julien Vio. It also serves delicious apple tea and cakes. The tables in the cafe are almost always busy. Come early at 10 a.m., then there may be free places. By the way, the prices in the cafe are more expensive than in the city center, almost 3 times. But from here it opens just an amazing panorama of the Bosphorus!
The skyscraper, whose height is 235 m, is located in the business part of the city, the district of Levent. Until 2016, it was the tallest building in Istanbul. This is a high-tech building with a complex architectural concept. The roof is equipped with a glazed observation deck, souvenir shops, cafeterias. Hours to visit: 10: 00-19: 00. Give 18 lire for the entrance to the observation deck.
The beautiful miniature park in Sutluge is great for travelers with children. It opened in 2003 and is open daily from 9am to 6pm. The open-air complex (total area of 60,000 m²) includes 135 layouts that depict some kind of urban attraction. The size of each exhibit to the original: 1:25. Miniatures are made of high-tech waterproof materials. Among the exhibits are St. Sophia Cathedral, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi palaces, Dolmabahce and much more. In addition to layouts, there is a picturesque garden. A lot of bonsai trees, short cut lawns, benches. Official website: https://www.miniaturk.com.tr/en Entrance fee – 15 lire.
Aquarium of istanbul
Another attraction of Istanbul that children will enjoy is the local aquarium. It is located in the southwest of the city, in the area of Floria. Construction lasted more than 8 years and came to an end in 2011. Istanbul Aquarium is one of the most visited in the world. On the territory there are 64 pools, 16 thematic zones, hundreds of fish species, penguins. Near the aquarium there is a children’s entertainment center, a restaurant, cafeterias, souvenir shops. You have to come here all day! The interior of the institution is very bright, unusual. At the entrance, visitors are given a map that will help not to miss more than one pool. Some are located on the ceiling or floor. Ticket price: for children under 2 years old free of charge. From 3 to 12 years old – 38 lire. Adult admission ticket is 62 lira.
At 18 -35 km from the Istanbul coast is a group of islands with an area of 11 km². Officially, they belong to the urban area of Adalar. They can only be reached by ferry. It will take about 30 minutes to get there. We live on one island, about 10 thousand people live on it. The rest are open to tourists, but no one lives on them. The places are very picturesque: rich red soil, magnificent untouched nature, and all this is surrounded by the purest Dead Sea.
I don’t know how long it takes to visit all Istanbul sights. But if you have a trip to the city for 4 or more days, you should try to cover at least these TOP-35 architectural monuments. Be sure they are worth it!
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Have a great trip to Istanbul!