A fascinating cityscape, famous historical landmarks and stunning sights! The Old City, the Prince's Islands, mansions on the Bosphorus, imperial Ottoman Palaces ... Come and explore the magical city of Istanbul and find hotspots and hidden gems!
Topkapı Palace Museum
One of the most impressive monuments in Istanbul is definitely the Topkapı Palace, with its maze-like layout and truly unique architectural structure that melds Turkic, Islamic and Byzantine styles. The Treasury and Harem sections are fantastic (visitors need a separate ticket for both and must be at the Harem in time for the guided tour). Other highlights are the world-renowned Archaeology Museum, the Hagia Irene Museum, the Gate of Felicity and the impressive collection of clothes, porcelain and silverware.
Dolmabahçe Palace Museum
The Dolmabahçe Palace used to serve as the main administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire. The most popular room in the palace is Atatürk’s room. The founder and first president of Turkey, Atatürk spent his last days in the room while his health deteriorated. In fact, all the clocks in the palace used to be set to 09:05 - the time Atatürk is said to have passed away.
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art
This museum, located in the Hippodrome (Old City district), displays valuable and historically important artworks from Turkey and other Islamic nations throughout the years. Objects on display include stonework, ceramics, metalwork, silver, brass, wood objects and ornaments, calligraphy and carpets. The items on display span many time periods with pieces from the days of the Ummayids, the Abbasids, the Mamluks, the Seljuks, the Beyliks and the Ottomans.
Hagia Sophia Museum
Istanbul’s most famous monument, the former cathedral and later mosque of Hagia Sophia (meaning "Divine Wisdom") was originally built in 537 A.D. under the rule of Emperor Justinian. It was later converted to a mosque after the conquest of the city by Fatih Sultan Mehmet in 1453. The interior is truly awe-inspiring, particularly the main chamber which roofed by its fabulous dome, 30 m (98ft) in diameter.
The collection of classical antiquities displayed here is world class and - rarely for Istanbul - everything is well lit and comprehensively labelled. Sitting within the grounds of the Topkapı Palace, the museum was founded in the mid-19th century in an attempt to stanch the flow of antiquities being spirited out of the country by foreigners to fill the museums of Europe. Starting with the pre-classical world, the museum covers 5,000 years of history, with artefacts gathered from all over Turkey and the Near East and grouped thematically.
The Chora Museum
The Chora Museum (Kariye Müzesi) is located in Edirnekapı, Fatih and is one of the most beautiful Byzantine churches in the city. Though it was originally a church, it was converted into a mosque and later into a secular museum in 1948. Though smaller in size than other museums, the Chora Museum’s interior features brilliant frescoes and mosaics.
Located in the courtyard of Topkapı Palace, Aya Irini, or Hagia Irene, is a former Eastern Orthodox Church that now stands as a museum. Due to its impressive acoustics and atmosphere, the venue is now used primarily for concerts. As of 1980, the Istanbul International Music Festival has been held here every summer. If there is a concert here while you are in town, we strongly recommend you attend.
The Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern is truly impressive. The largest of several hundred ancient underground cisterns, the Basilica Cistern features two giant, upside-down Medusa heads that are favourites with tourists. Rumour has it that the heads are upside-down to negate the power of the Medusa’s gaze! Fun fact: the cistern was one of the locations for the 1963 James Bond film From Russia with Love.