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Things to See in Istanbul: Top Attractions & Sights

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In Istanbul, East meets West and there are plenty of fascinating sights and attractions that demonstrate how fruitful that relationship has been. From Ottoman palaces to stunning mosques and Orthodox churches, from museums to fun new tourist attractions, there’s no way you’ll run out of things to do on your visit to Istanbul.
Anneliese O'MalleyBy Anneliese O'Malley

The 10 Best Things to See in Istanbul

We’ve collected a list of the most popular attractions and sites with tourists. A visit to one or two of these fascinating locations will add a dose of history and culture to any itinerary, no matter how long or short your trip.
Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia

This icon of Istanbul has been an Orthodox cathedral, an Ottoman mosque, and, finally, a secular museum of history, art, and architecture. One of the city’s most popular sights, you should definitely book your ticket or tour before you visit.
Details of the Topkapi Palace
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Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace was the principal residence of the Ottoman sultans and their families until 1853. You should visit to see the unique architecture and elaborate decoration, especially of the royal harem.
Blue Mosque
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Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque is also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and sits next to the Hagia Sophia, another of Istanbul’s most popular sights. It’s an active mosque, but visitors can explore inside and outside the fantastic building, admiring the blue tile decorations, five domes, and six minarets.
Dolmabahçe Palace
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Dolmabahçe Palace

This grand palace is the largest of its kind in Turkey, and was built in the 19th century to replace the Topkapi Palace as a home for the Ottoman royal family. After the empire’s fall, it was used by Ataturk until his death there in 1938. Today it’s a museum of Turkish history, and some rooms have had their interiors recreated so that you can imagine what it would have been like to live there.
Grand Bazaar
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Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is huge, with over 61 covered streets and more than 4,000 shops and stalls. It’s the ideal place to pick up a souvenir or two and to practice your haggling skills with the vendors. If you don’t know where to start, consider taking a guided tour with an expert who can show you the ropes.
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The Garden at Beylerbeyi Palace
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Beylerbeyi Palace

The Beylerbeyi Palace is on the Asian bank of the Bosphorus and was built to serve as a summer palace for the Ottoman royal family. It was also designed to impress visiting heads of state. It was also where the last Ottoman emperor was held captive until his death. The rooms of the palace have been retained in the state they were in during the final years of the Ottomans, letting visitors explore a royal palace.
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Climb the Galata Tower
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Galata Tower

This tower is one of the best places to get a good view of Istanbul and the Bosphorus. It was built in 1348 in order to spot fires in the city and has nearly been destroyed half a dozen times. In addition to the viewing platform, visitors can take advantage of a café and restaurant on the top floors.
Süleymaniye Mosque
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Süleymaniye Mosque

This mosque was designed by the famous Ottoman architect known as Sinan and was built for Süleyman the Magnificent. As a result, it’s a seriously impressive building, inside and out. Visit with a tour guide in order to learn more about its history and cultural importance.
King Kong | Flickr: D@LY3D CC BY 2.0
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Isfanbul (Vialand)

A change of pace from the palaces and mosques, Isfanbul (formerly known as Vialand) is a great place to blow off some steam. Whether you want to enjoy the huge shopping mall or visit the amusement park with a range of rides for all ages, there’s something for every member of the family at Isfanbul.
Istanbul Archaeology Museums | Flickr: David Stanley CC BY 2.0
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Istanbul Archaeology Museums

The Istanbul Archaeology Museums are comprised of three museums: the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Museum of Islamic Art. Between them, they house over one million artifacts covering millennia of human history making them a must-see for any fans of history and archaeology.
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Model of Cappadocia with Hot Air Balloons | Flickr: Boris Dzhingarov CC BY 2.0

Family-Friendly Attractions in Istanbul

City breaks can be a bit overwhelming for younger family members, so we’ve gathered a handful of attractions that are child-friendly and might provide a much-needed break from sightseeing.Istanbul Aquarium houses about 1,500 species of marine animals, with tanks organized according to the different regions and habitats of the world. Miniatürk is a park displaying models of buildings from Turkey, including ancient monuments that have been destroyed. Kids will love feeling like giants and being able to spot all of the small details. LEGOLAND Discovery Centre is a similar attraction, except that the models are made out of Lego! You’ll also find lots of opportunities for kids to build their own Lego creations, two rides, and a 4D cinema. Finally, the TurkuaZoo aquarium, also known as SEALIFE Istanbul, claims to be the world’s 5th-largest aquarium with talks, feedings, and an interactive rockpool to explore.

6 Mosques & Churches that aren’t Hagia Sophia

Most visitors to Istanbul will stop off at the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, but there are plenty of other religious buildings that are sure to impress lovers of architecture. Here are six of the best.
Little Hagia Sophia | Flickr: Sammy Six CC BY 2.0
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Little Hagia Sophia

This ex-church and ex-mosque is considered to have been a model for the Hagia Sophia in miniature. In its day, it was considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Istanbul and, as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s well worth a visit.
Fatih Mosque | Flickr: Francisco Anzola CC BY 2.0
2

Fatih Mosque

The Fatih Mosque was originally built in the Ottoman style and, after sustaining damage during an earthquake in 1766, it was rebuilt to a different design, making it one of the largest and finest examples of a Turkish-Islamic building in Istanbul.
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Eyüp Sultan Mosque | Flickr: Francisco Anzola CC BY 2.0
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Eyüp Sultan Mosque

This mosque built by the famous architect called Sinan can be found near the Golden Horn and was the traditional site of coronations for Ottoman sultans. The grounds also contain the mausoleum of Eyüp Sultan, from whom it takes its name.
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Chora Church
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Chora Church

The full name of this Byzantine Greek Orthodox church is the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora. Like many Orthodox churches in Istanbul, it was converted into a mosque under the Ottomans and then into a museum under the secular regimes of the 20th century. The building contains some of the most beautiful and oldest surviving Byzantine frescoes and mosaics.
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Hagia Irene | Flickr: Carole Raddato CC BY-SA 2.0
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Hagia Irene

This Eastern Orthodox church can be found in the grounds of Topkapi Palace and is one of the few churches that was never converted to a mosque. However, it was used as an arsenal and armory under the Ottomans, and today it contains a museum and hosts concerts. Tickets to Hagia Irene are sold separately to the rest of the Topkapi Palace.
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Church of St. George | Wiki: Dosseman CC BY-SA 4.0
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Church of St. George

This church is the main Eastern Orthodox church still in active use in Istanbul and is the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople - the title given to the leader of the Eastern Orthodox church. Visitors are welcome but should note that opening hours are relatively short and security measures are strictly enforced.
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Pera Museum | Flickr: Turkey Vision CC BY 2.0

Museums & Art Galleries

Istanbul is home to several fascinating museums and art galleries that display ancient and contemporary Turkish and international artworks.The Pera Museum was renovated in 2005 and focuses on Orientalist paintings by European and Ottoman artists, mostly from the 19th century, including works by the famous Turkish artist Osman Hamdi Bey. İstanbul Modern, as the name suggests, is the city’s modern and contemporary art museum, and is a great place to visit to learn more about Turkish artists working today. The Museum of Innocence is a unique concept, created by the novelist Orhan Pamuk as a counterpart to his book of the same name. His collection features artifacts that were used by the fictional characters in his book. The Jewish Museum of Turkey was opened in 2001 and is housed in a former synagogue. It features exhibitions on the Jewish community in Turkey and the interchange of culture between Jewish and Muslim Turks. Finally, the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum features examples of calligraphy, tiles, rugs, and other artifacts from the different cultures that live in Turkey.
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Pera Museum
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İstanbul Modern
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The Museum of Innocence
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Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum
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Anneliese O'Malley
Written byAnneliese O'MalleyAnneliese is a former Londoner, keen traveler, and total word nerd. As a Content Management Specialist she knows the TicketLens inventory inside out and curates, matches, and writes about the most interesting attractions worldwide.
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