24 Top Places to Visit in Istanbul

Truly East meets West – Istanbul straddles two continents to flourish into a cultural menagerie.

Greeks, Romans, Venetians, and the victorious Ottomans all put down roots here, leaving behind architectural triumphs and culinary secrets.

In this guide to the top places to visit in Istanbul, you’ll sample that famed Istanbul diversity!

Map of Places to Visit in Istanbul

top places to visit in istanbul map
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1. Jaw Drop at the Blue Mosque

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the blue mosque

The name gives it away – built in the 17th-century, the Blue Mosque has made history with its famously blue interior.

Over 20,000 hand-painted blue tiles adorn its walls, highlighted by the glow of natural light.

The arched beams and majestic build will no doubt have you gaping in awe too.

Impressed? Visit more exquisite mosques in Istanbul:

2. Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia)

Hagia Sophia Istanbul
Hagia Sophia Exterior

What was once the largest cathedral in the world had been converted into a mosque in the 15th century; marvel at its iconic transcendent dome and stunning Byzantine mosaics.

3. Rüstem Pasa Mosque

Rustem Pasa Mosque Istanbul Turkey
Rüstem Pasa Mosque

So very pretty; step up close to its gorgeous Iznik tile panels.

4. Süleymaniye Mosque

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Süleymaniye Mosque

Another recognizable landmark within Sultanahmet, this Ottoman-designed mosque features a notable 53-meter dome and interesting tombs of previous Sultans.

5. Fatih Mosque

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Fatih Mosque

Marked by multiple minarets and domes, it’s one of the first grand imperial mosques ever built.

6. Go Underground for the Basilica Cistern

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Basilica Cistern

You’ve never seen an underground complex quite like the Basilica Cistern, capable of storing 80,000m³ of water.

More intriguingly, it was built in the 6th century to feature ancient Ionic and Corinthian columns. The Byzantine Empire’s water system is nothing to scoff at!

Keep an eye out for the upside-down heads of Medusa and other fascinating features.

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7. Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace Istanbul
Interior of Topkapı Palace (Seraglio)

Topkapi Palace is a familiar name in any guide to Istanbul and has a top spot for being one of the most Instagrammable places in Istanbul.

Overlooking the Marmara Sea, this extensive palace-turned-museum once housed Ottoman sultans for over 4 centuries!

From hoards of weaponry, religious items to jewelry (like the 86-carat Spoonmaker’s Diamond); it’s a walk through Istanbul’s royal history.

8. Dolmabahçe Palace

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Dolmabahçe Palace

Lavish Dolmabahçe Palace is another study in excess, featuring thick drapes and gold décor.

Don’t just admire its frescoed ceilings and crystal chandeliers – the formal gardens are a breathtaking array of ornamental basin, fountains and flower beds.

9. Grand Bazaar & Spice Bazaar

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shopping at brand bazaar

These cavernous halls are stocked with vendors after vendors, all ready to bargain for the sake of bargaining.

Grand Bazaar is a massive spread of trinkets, carpets, clothing and everything else spanning dozens of streets. Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, visit for its incredible atmosphere.

Spice Bazaar is a slightly smaller cousin, featuring spices, teas, sweets and dried goods. Pick up herbal remedies or bite-sized snacks.

9. Shopping Haven: Istiklal Avenue

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Shop ‘til you drop at the modern and pedestrian-friendly Istiklal Avenue.

Known for its trendy boutiques and luxury brands, many flock there for a wardrobe revamp.

You can simply chill at its plethora of restaurants and cafés too, or make your way up the hill to Taksim Square via tramway.

There are plenty of ornate buildings around the area so take a walk.

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History isn’t just classroom teachings and memorizing dates. Explore Istanbul’s vast museum collections and marvel at the depth of its culture.

10. Istanbul Archaeology Museums

Browse for Ancient Greek, Roman and Turkish artifacts, Islamic Art and more historical relics.

11. Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts

kaaba covering Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
Kaaba Cover

Within the palace of Ibrahim Pasa is a stunning collection of textiles, ceramics, calligraphy and more art from 9th century AD to the 19th century.

12. Istanbul Carpet Museum

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Carpet Museum in Istanbul

For your Turkish carpet obsession.

13. Museum of Innocence

Inspired by novelist Orphan Pamuk, this museum is a trove of cultural and material history tied to a literary masterpiece.

14. Pera Museum

Find all things Ottoman era.

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Istanbul is brimming over with visual goodies, many with ancient history and displaying immense artistry.

Here are some iconic attractions to include on your bucket list:

15. Chora Church (Kariye Mosque)

Interior of Church of Holy Saviour in Chora

Famous for its 14th-century mosaics and frescoes, incredible Byzantine artistry with wide-ranging stories.

16. Çiçek Pasajı

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The Flower Passage, Istanbul

The Flower Passage is no doubt Istanbul’s most stunning arcade.

17. Galata Tower

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Galata Tower

A jutting Genoese tower with stunning city views; climb to its circular balcony.

18. Belgrad Forest

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Belgrad Forest

1300 acres of verdant forest and canopied trails.

19. Gülhane Park

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Tulip Bloom at Gülhane Park

For the tulip bloom festival in spring.

21. St Antoine Church

St Anthony of Padua Church
St. Anthony of Padua Church

The Venetian Neo-Gothic façade isn’t what makes St Antoine the most prominent Catholic church in town; Pope John XXIII once preached here as a Vatican delegate.

22. Make Reservations for the Whirling Dervishes

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Whirling Dervishes performance

Watch those skirts twirl but don’t just laugh and clap your hands – the Whirling Dervishes is more than a simple performance.

The dance is in worship of Mevlana; these whirling Dervishes enter a prayer-trance to bridge humans and the God.

Do reserve seats in advance as many plan for the show as a last-minute addition, only to find it’s sold out.

23. Sightsee on a Bosphorus Cruise

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sunset Bosphorus Cruise, istanbul

Taking the ferry across the Bosphorus Strait isn’t the same as taking a cruise.

As you travel along both European and Asian shores, take in the fabulous palaces and waterfront mansions, the dynamic façades and characterful streets.

Some even take you out to the Black Sea; others take you to quaint neighborhoods you wouldn’t otherwise traverse.

Remember to pack your camera to nail those postcard-worthy shots!

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24. Get the Full Hamam Experience

Interior of turkish bath hammam

Turkish baths are famous, not just for their stunning composition, but also for its rejuvenating bathing rituals.

Enter the echoing chambers and steaming waters to wash away the day’s exhaustion. Then lie on hot marble, relax into the sound of running water and settle in for a deep tissue massage or scrub.

Popular hamams in Instabul include Çemberlitaş Hamam and Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam.

Final Thoughts

There’s no end to the various faces of Istanbul, only countless treasures to discover.

Seeing is believing.

So remember to be respectful, stay curious, venture into its dynamic districts and embrace what this city has to offer.

Which activity are you looking to cross off your Istanbul bucket list first?