13 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Istanbul

Jul 22, 2021

One of the most intriguing cities in the world, Istanbul's also one of the most historically important, drawing tourists and international visitors for nearly a thousand years. Its citadel, Hippodrome, and aqueduct are among its top sites.

But Turkey's famed Ottoman legacy also includes turquoise-domed mosques, cobbled alleys and brightly colored bazaars, aromatic Turkish teas, and delicious feasts of spit-roasted meats and flatbreads. The city is full of affordable treasures for the savvy traveler who knows when and where to go.

Most first-time visitors come here for a quick glimpse of Istanbul's top sights. But savvy travelers can make the most of their time by planning a day trip to one of Turkey's spectacular natural and historic landmarks: the beach at Bodrum, the cave at Lascano, the rock monasteries at Pamukkale, the ancient metropolis of Ephesus, or the ruins at Troy.

Istanbul, Turkey, is the perfect introduction to the country. Discover why this Mediterranean crossroads between East and West continues to be one of the top tourist destinations in the world, with our guide to the top attractions in Istanbul.

Grand Bazaar

Photo of Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul: en.wikipedia.org

The vast Grand Bazaar (Kapal─▒ ├çar┼č─▒) is the world's largest covered bazaar with a history stretching back more than 800 years. It is a fascinating collection of different stores, including shops selling clothes, silk, antiques, carpets, silverware, jewelry, and traditional souvenirs. Since the bazaar is closed on Fridays, take a walk on a Sunday morning to see what the market has to offer.

The Blue Mosque

Photo of Sultan Ahmed Mosque
Sultan Ahmed Mosque: en.wikipedia.org

Built in the early 19th century, this magnificent, bright blue octagonal-based building is regarded as the finest surviving example of its kind in Istanbul. Designed by Haci Halet Efendi, the architecture is a mix of Ottoman style and western influences. Inside, spectacular domes and mihrab are adorned with fine Turkish paintings and Ottoman calligraphy. One of the many Islamic mosques that can be found in the city, this is of particular interest as it is situated on the site of the Hagia Sophia, which was converted into a mosque by Sultan Mehmet II in 1459. It's possible to tour the mosque and see inside the upper dome, which is covered with a vibrant, vibrant blue fabric, which gives it its name.

Topkapi Palace

Photo of Topkap─▒ Palace
Topkap─▒ Palace: en.wikipedia.org

Built in 1462, Topkapi Palace is one of the world's most historically significant buildings. Perched on a promontory in the old city of Istanbul, the palace serves as the official residence of the Sultan and features an architectural style (courtyard with long porticos and huge gate-gates) more European than Turkish. If you're in Istanbul, take the metro to Sultanahmet and walk to the palace grounds, which are accessed through the great gateways of the G├╝lhane Park. To see the interior of the building, a guide must accompany you, as there is no photography allowed inside.

S├╝leymaniye Mosque

Photo of S├╝leymaniye Mosque
S├╝leymaniye Mosque: en.wikipedia.org

The largest of the world's mosques and one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture, S├╝leymaniye is located in the heart of the sprawling city of Istanbul, just across from the S├╝leymaniye Mosque. Only one of the Ottoman architectural wonders, the S├╝leymaniye is a domed monument rising in solemn majesty to a blue and grey dome. Adorned with a magnificent collection of tiles and carpets, marble inlay, and brightly-painted mihrab niche, it stands as one of the world's greatest examples of Islamic architecture.

Kariye Museum

Photo of Chora Church
Chora Church: en.wikipedia.org

When Sultanahmet was originally built, the area was the fashionable part of Istanbul. It is today lined with 19th-century Ottoman townhouses and luxury hotels that surround a famous bazaar. This museum is located on the edge of the Old Town and faces the Galata Tower and the Golden Horn. The museum has a small collection of early Byzantine pottery, liturgical objects, iconography, and religious and scientific articles. The museum offers a great vantage point from which to explore the area. You can also find Ottoman dishes, tea, jewelry, and rugs from this period.

Hagia Sophia

Photo of Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia: en.wikipedia.org

Hagia Sophia is one of the best-known and most-visited buildings in the world, and rightly so. Its allure is almost entirely due to the graceful proportions of the six-tower basilica, an exquisite architectural blend of Byzantine and Islamic styles. The design is attributed to the architect Isidore of Miletus, although it was under his successors in the 12th century, and the glory of the building is largely due to the lavish proportions and lavish gold mosaics that are the masterpieces of Byzantine art.

R├╝stem Pasha Mosque

Photo of R├╝stem Pasha Mosque
R├╝stem Pasha Mosque: en.wikipedia.org

One of the largest mosques in the world is the R├╝stem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul, located near the shore of the Bosphorus Strait. The R├╝stem Pasha Mosque was built in 1454 by Ottoman ruler Mehmed II and completed by his successor, R├╝stem Pasha in 1459. It contains four sections: the mihrab, the most important part of a mosque which indicates the direction of Mecca; the gate, which encloses the central hall; the harem, a section on the left of the gate used by the male members of the family; and the veli, the main prayer hall, which has a large dome made of beautifully decorated concrete. Inside the mosque are various exhibits depicting Turkish history from the Ottoman empire.

Golden Horn

Photo of Golden Horn
Golden Horn: en.wikipedia.org

Golden Horn is a beautiful strip of waterfront in Istanbul. Shaped like a crescent, it is located between the Bosphorus straits and the Golden Horn bay. The upper level is known as Seraglio Point, the middle as Barbaros Point, and the lower as Galata Point. The only interesting buildings in this area are the Mausoleum of Suleyman the Magnificent and the Selimiye Barracks. At the Selimiye Barracks there is a small museum, the Suleymaniye Mosque and many shops. Tram 26 runs along the seafront promenade, passing the New Mosque and continuing to the historical parts of the city through the Grand Bazaar and the S├╝leymaniye Mosque. Tram 12 runs parallel to the Bosphorus, linking it to the city center.

The Hippodrome

Photo of Sultanahmet Square
Sultanahmet Square: en.wikipedia.org

Named after its founder, Emperor Hadrian, the Hippodrome of Constantinople was the most splendid venue in the ancient world for chariot racing. It stands on the open ground of today's Hippodrome of Istanbul, a busy area of entertainment, restaurants, and souvenir shops. In addition to being one of the largest medieval Byzantine stadiums in the world, today's Hippodrome, with its seating capacity of 60,000, is a modern venue for soccer and other sports. When you visit, tour the facility as a modern stadium, and see the arena from its original perspective by climbing to the highest point of the original podium.

G├╝lhane Park

Photo of G├╝lhane Park
G├╝lhane Park: en.wikipedia.org

Located in central Istanbul, G├╝lhane Park is an architectural masterpiece, built between 1876 and 1880 by English architect John McMullen and French designer Eug├Ęne Viollet-le-Duc. As a legacy of Sultan Abd├╝lhamid II, the imperial palace and park in the area became an impressive example of Oriental and European influence. The main building, constructed in an eclectic style mixing Ottoman, Byzantine, and Renaissance elements, is a large French-style chateau crowned by a dome and flanked by four towers, while the Neoclassical mansion of the current sultan is next to it. A wealth of trees and ornamental gardens are spread across the expansive grounds, which have caf├ęs, restaurants, and a wide array of museums and shops.

Taksim Square

Photo of Taksim Square
Taksim Square: en.wikipedia.org

Taksim Square is one of the world's most famous and attractive squares and the site of the perfect Istanbul-Makaronia sunset. The Istanbul that you see today is a city rebuilt after a major fire in 1732. Perhaps the square's most noticeable feature is the towering white minaret of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, which dates back to 1660. Just off the square is the Palace of Justice and the national museum, with the Dolmabah├že Palace nearby. Turkish, Kurdish, and Azeri immigrants settled the district when it was still marshland. In 1977, the square became the first site of a new Turkish republic, and the "Central Park" has become a symbol of modern Istanbul.

The Spice Market

Photo of Spice Bazaar
Spice Bazaar: en.wikipedia.org

The great variety of spices, herbs and other ingredients available in this indoor market has spawned a popular annual festival, where you can taste samples of almost two thousand ingredients. The festival is open from the late October to the late November and lasts around five days. The whole market is located in the Emin├Ân├╝ district of Istanbul. Emin├Ân├╝ station on the tram line number 11 can take you here. You can walk to the Spice Market from the old town along Yenikapi Street. On the way to the Spice Market, you can visit the American College and the Blue Mosque. For all details, see the article about Spice Market in Istanbul.

The Maiden's Tower

Photo of Maiden's Tower
Maiden's Tower: en.wikipedia.org

Built in 1522, The Maiden's Tower (K─▒zlar Kapl─▒ca─č─▒) in Istanbul, Turkey, is an iconic symbol of the city. The highest of the city's two remaining minarets, it has beautiful views of the city, and affords a good chance to see one of the last reminders of the Ottoman Empire's splendor. A visit to this tower is almost always at night when it is lit by LED lights and sparkling with fairy lights, making it one of the most spectacular views of Istanbul. Located in the ─░stanbul Archaeological Museum, the tower's history is not all that ancient, although some speculate it is related to the Palace of the Byzantine emperors. In 2002, UNESCO added it to the world heritage list.