A cultural feast for the senses, Istanbul, Turkey is a destination that delights travel enthusiasts. Europe and Asia meet in this rich historical city perched at the edges of the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. The best places to visit in Istanbul and experience this beguiling city include modern and ancient architecture, monuments and landmarks, and cultural sites unlike anywhere else on earth.
From browsing the famous and lively city bazaars to sipping traditional tea and marveling at some of the world’s most well-known structures, Istanbul will have you in a constant state of awe. Discover the best of the city with these top places to visit in Istanbul.
Perhaps Istanbul’s most well-known monument, Hagia Sophia has a long history as a religious landmark. Meaning “Holy Wisdom,” it was originally constructed as a Christian church in the 6th century. It’s also been used as a mosque, and now, a museum.
Marvel at the intricate mosaic tiles on the interior as you tour this piece of beautiful historical architecture and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Embrace the mystical feel of the massive shrine as you learn about the elaborate past of one of the best places to see in the world.
The building’s iconic dome is seen from all over the city and is best enjoyed as you take in the Istanbul skyline from a rooftop at sunset. The Hagia Sophia shouldn’t be missed and is one of the most incredible places to visit in Istanbul.
Located waterside on the edge of the famous Bosphorus Strait, the Dolmabahce Palace is a stately structure built in the 1800s by the Empire’s Sultan. Composed of 16 separate buildings, this lavish palace is full of art, carvings, and historical artifacts like tea-ware and Bohemian crystal.
Walk inside the largest palace in Turkey and admire its authentic Ottoman characteristics and design. Stroll the well-preserved palace interior as you take in the regal marble stone, Hereke carpets, and the impressive collection of oil paintings.
Step back in time as you enter the Main Hall, explore rooms such as the secretariat’s rooms, the Crystal Staircase, Red Room, and the Ceremonial Hall. On the outside, you’ll have the chance to view the Imperial Gate, beautiful gardens, Swan and Harem fountains, and the famous Clock Tower that stretches over 100 feet tall.
The Grand Bazaar
Get lost at one of the world’s most notable markets, the Grand Bazaar. Prepare for sensory overload in the best way possible as you explore the maze-like lanes lined with colorful stalls selling local art, textiles, and goods. The buzzing atmosphere combined with the sights, sounds, and smells of the market is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
As you peruse the offerings of over 4,000 vendors, you’ll find incredible Turkish souvenirs like spices, jewelry, antiques, ceramics, lamps, towels, and rugs.
Practice your haggling skills with the shopkeepers when buying souvenirs to get a better price. It’s encouraged—and part of the fun—here at the Grand Bazaar.
Take a shopping break with an authentic cup of Turkish coffee or tea within the Grand Bazaar’s restaurants and food stalls.
The Blue Mosque
One of the most popular sites in Turkey, the Blue Mosque, (also known as the Sultanahmet Mosque) is a top place to visit in Istanbul. This landmark historical building was constructed in the 1600s and combines both Islamic and Byzantine architectural elements.
You’ll be awestruck by both the striking exterior and intricate interior. The walls are adorned with more than 20,000 hand-crafted ceramic tiles. Over 200 stained glass windows provide cinematic lighting, adding to the allure and mystical atmosphere on the inside of the Blue Mosque. Spend some time in the courtyard square, where people-watching is a fantastic activity.
This former hippodrome and public square in the center of the old city has been a gathering place throughout history, dating back to the Byzantine era. Discover the history behind this famous meeting spot as you walk past monument ruins that still remain.
You’ll almost be able to imagine the lively events that occurred in the square, picturing the popular chariot and horse racing activities that it was known for.
Highlights include the Serpent Column, Walled Obelisk, and the seven Statues of Porphyrius, created to honor a famous charioteer from the 6th century. At the far end, the 16th-century German Fountain is worth a visit, too.
The Spice Market
Explore the culinary side of Turkish culture with a visit to the Spice Market, or Egyptian Bazaar, one of the best markets in Istanbul. Adjacent to the New Mosque, this market provides a glimpse into the colorful and exotic spices used in many of the amazing dishes that can be found in Turkey.
The atmosphere will draw you in as you feast your eyes on a wide array of vibrant colors, inhale the rich spice aromas, and even sample some of the traditional flavors. See if you can spot unique items like saffron, sumac, and Nar Ekşisi, a widely-used pomegranate syrup in Turkish cuisine.
Indulge your sweet tooth with lokum, also known as Turkish delight. Shop for nuts, dried fruit, and souvenirs if you’re looking to bring something home.
Read: What to Eat in Istanbul
Get transported back in time while exploring the Historical Peninsula, or Old Town of Istanbul. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is host to numerous landmarks and significant historical sites located in the oldest part of the city.
Mosques, baths, Ottoman palaces, and Byzantine churches are just some of the fantastic points of interest you come across when visiting this culturally rife section of the city. Gaze at architectural designs from empires that ruled long ago in a city where modern life thrives within a backdrop of living history.
Stroll along the ancient Walls of Constantinople that date back to Roman times. Pass the Ottoman Mihrimah mosque and the Church of St. Saviour. The Galata Bridge is a popular spot for photographs, especially at sunset. The domed skyline will take your breath away as the colors of dusk create a real-life postcard.
Located in the old town portion of Istanbul, the Topkapi Palace is a major historical landmark that houses an important cultural museum. The palace saw approximately 30 sultans ruling over the span of several centuries. This is reflected in the mix of designs with decorative elements from European, Islamic, and Ottoman styles.
View an impressive collection of exhibits showcasing artifacts, books, and manuscripts from the Ottoman Empire. Enjoy the sprawling outer courtyard and beautiful gardens on the palace grounds, and take in the spectacular views of the Marmara Sea, the Golden Horn, and the Bosphorus.
Head underground to explore the mystical world beneath the city of Istanbul. The Basilica Cistern is a popular attraction that gives a unique perspective of the city’s history. Walk back in time to the 6th century while learning about Istanbul’s largest ancient cistern that used to lie beneath the Stoa Basilica, a large public square.
View the 336 ancient columns repurposed from other buildings and temples in this intriguing underground chamber as you stroll wooden walkways in a space that used to store over 20,000 square feet of water as part of its historical function. The Basilica Cistern has also served as the backdrop for several major films.
The Golden Horn
This sheltered harbor is famed for serving as protection for the Greek, Ottoman, Roman, and Byzantine Empires and is a popular destination to experience the hustle and bustle of the city. From an aerial perspective, the inlet appears horn-shaped, giving it its name. You’ll discover the “golden” portion of its title as the sun sets, lighting the waterside with the colors of dusk.
The best way to experience this body of water is to tour it via ferry boat. As you float along, imagine the harbor as the commercial center of the city during ancient times. This is a great way to photograph and view some of the amazing places to visit in Istanbul.
Savor 360-degree views of Istanbul from atop the Galata Tower, a stone tower built in Medieval times. On a clear day, you may even see as far as the Princes’ Islands. Stretching almost 200 feet tall, you’re guaranteed a spectacular city vista from this iconic landmark.
Dive into the history surrounding the tower and its function as a surveillance location, prison, naval depot, and even watchtower in order to spot fires in the city during later years. Discover the legend of Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi, a 14th-century aviator who is said to have flown over the Bosphorus from the tower using handmade artificial wings.
Marvel at the 15th-century fortress that once protected the Bosphorus from the most narrow point on the strait. Built by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, the structure consists of a series of towers of varying sizes.
Allow yourself to be transported back in time and imagine the history that the castle has seen through its 600-year existence. You’ll be amazed by the fact that this massive structure took only four months to build. While exploring the hilltop grounds, admire the stunning views of both the city and the Bosphorus.
The Chora Church
Also known as the Kariye Mosque, this medieval Greek Orthodox Church is a popular attraction in Istanbul for its mosaics and intricate frescoes. This site is located in the western section of the city in the Erdinekapı district.
Admire the artwork from the Byzantine era that adorn the interior of this church turned museum. You’ll find yourself gazing in awe at the fine details that date back to the 6th century. You don’t have to be an art aficionado to appreciate the dazzling works of art here.
If you’re ready to visit a destination filled to the brim with history and culture, a luxury cruise is a fantastic way to explore the best places to visit in Istanbul. From medieval fortresses and gorgeous skyline views to historical monuments and thrilling market visits, there’s much to experience in this high energy city on a cruise to Istanbul. Browse itineraries on our website and book your vacation to Turkey today.