Top Attractions in Istanbul
Collected by Meg Alcazar , AFAR Local Expert
Istanbul has been the capital city of more than one great civilization and peeling back its layers of rich history is fascinating. With roots in two continents, it’s a buzzing modern city, as well, one that wrestles with political and religious issues while remaining a place of wonder.
Sultan Ahmet, Ayasofya Meydanı, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Walk into Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) and look up to the heavens to see why so many conquerors and their respective religions claimed this basilica turned mosque turned museum as their own. Visitors will swoon over the Byzantine gilded mosaics,...
Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Atmeydanı Cd. No:7, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Adorned with more than 20,000 blue handcrafted İznik tiles, stained-glass windows, and the golden brushstrokes of a 17th-century calligrapher, the Blue Mosque is the legacy of Sultan Ahmet I (1590–1617). The young sultan audaciously wished...
Dervişali Mahallesi, Kariye Cami Sk. No:8, 34087 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
According to Islamic tradition, only God can create images of holy beings, including angels and prophets. Therefore, when the Ottomans converted Chora Church into a mosque in the 16th century, they covered the 14th-century Byzantine mosaics and...
Beyazıt, Kalpakçılar Cd. No:22, 34126 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Soon after conquering Constantinople and defeating the Byzantines in 1453, Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II commissioned the beginnings of the Grand Bazaar to reinvigorate trade with the city. More than 550 years later, the bazaar is one of the oldest...
Rüstem Paşa Mahallesi, Erzak Ambarı Sok. No:92, 34116 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Smaller than the Grand Bazaar but more intense, the Spice Market is equal parts tourist trap and necessary shopping stop for cooks and foodies. Meet the original spice girl at Ucuzcular (remember Area 51 to find her booth), one of the few...
İstiklal Cd., Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
The lifeblood of modern Istanbul is the two-mile-long pedestrian street Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue), running from Taksim Square to the Tünel train station. It's equal parts touristy and local, commerce and culture, and strolling down...
Hobyar Mahallesi, 34112 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Whether you take the ferry between Europe and Asia or trace a loop up the Bosphorus toward the Black Sea, the must-do Bosphorus cruise gives you a chance to view the city’s best landmarks from the water. The two-hour cruise from...
Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
A city as ancient as Istanbul has many layers of history, and you’ll have to go below the surface to see the Basilica Cistern, the largest of the underground cisterns. Built in the sixth century for the Byzantine emperor Justinian, the...
Cankurtaran Mh., 34122 Fatih/Istanbul, Turkey
If these walls could talk they’d recite plans for military campaigns and tales of love, lust and betrayal that make this former residence and imperial seat of the Ottoman Empire so intriguing. Walk the dazzling tile-and-mosaic-lined...
Vişnezade, Dolmabahçe Cd., 34357 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Turkey
This decadent palace, which overlooks the Bosphorus from the European side, holds great importance to Turkey. The late-19th-century sultans resided here and ruled the Ottoman Empire from here, and while the Turkish Republic's capital is in Ankara,...
This beautiful 19th-century palace on the Asian shoreline near the First Bosphorus Bridge served as a summer retreat for sultans and visiting dignitaries. Designed in a French neo-Baroque style, the palace features six halls and 24 rooms adjacent...
Bereketzade, Galata Kulesi, 34421 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
The medieval round Galata Tower built in 1348 has played many roles for Istanbul over the years: A watchtower for Bosphorus trade, an observation deck for spotting fires, the setting of a legendary flight across the Bosphorus, and now a tourist...
Firuzağa Mahallesi, Bostanbaşı Cd. No:19, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
The Çukurcuma neighborhood, just a short walk down the hill from Istanbul’s busy İstiklal Caddesi, is an antique, vintage, and retro lover’s delight. Step onto Faik Paşa Street or Turnacıbaşı Street and you step back in time....
Sinanpaşa Mahallesi, Mumcu Bakka Sk., 34353 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Turkey
While the banks of the Golden Horn in tourist-friendly Eminönü have plenty of fish sandwiches, stuffed mussels, and a small seafood market, most locals travel to Beşiktaş for its extensive daily fish market and surrounding meyhanes ...
Hasanpaşa Mahallesi, Fahrettin Gökay Cad No:2, 34722 Kadıköy/İstanbul, Turkey
While a Bosphorus cruise is very much deserving of a spot on your Istanbul itinerary, a quicker and cheaper option to see Istanbul’s sights by boat is to take a commuter ferry to the Asian side. Several companies provide regular service...
No:, Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Küçük Ayasofya Cd. No:19, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Turkey has a strong textile tradition: carpets, of course, but also tapestries, pillows, and clothing. Cocoon boutique has a beautiful collection of these goods, along with embroidered suzani fabrics from Uzbekistan and Central Asia, felted wool...
Hak Pasajı No :22 Nişantaşı, Teşvikiye, Teşvikiye Cd., 34365 Şişli/İstanbul, Turkey
Nişantaşı is the posh “Upper East Side” of Istanbul, home to the priciest designer boutiques and old-fashioned couturiers, especially along Teşvikiye and Abdi İpekçi streets. Beymen department store was Turkey’s first luxury...
Harbiye Mahallesi, Teşvikiye Cd. 47/A, 34365 Şişli/İstanbul, Turkey
Pick up any glass in Turkey and chances are there’s a letter P on the bottom of it, standing for Paşabahçe, Turkey’s top manufacturer of glassware and housewares. Blue-glass eye amulets (nazar in Turkish) that ward off the evil eye are...
Mecidiye Mahallesi, Mecidiye Köprüsü Sk. 1/1, 34347 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Turkey
The waterside neighborhood of Ortaköy is a favorite of locals and tourists looking to spend a lazy afternoon strolling its cobbled streets, playing backgammon over a few glasses of tea, or finding a spot for a picnic with an overloaded kumpir...
Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa Mahallesi, Fransız Gç Sokağı, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
You may need to spend some time in Istanbul before you can really appreciate the clever design items in this shop in buzzy Karaköy, such as the simit (bagel) coasters, street sign notebooks, and tea-saucer wrapping paper. Enjoy browsing for a...
Emirgan Mahallesi, Sakıp Sabancı Cd. No:42, 34467 Sarıyer/İstanbul, Turkey
Similar to the American Rockefeller family, the Turkish Sabancıs are a wealthy business family known for their philanthropy and art patronage. The Sakıp Sabancı Museum was originally a showcase of the family’s collection of Ottoman and...
Asmalımescit Mahallesi, Meşrutiyet Caddesi No:99, 34430 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
A cultural hub for Turkish and international art, Istanbul Modern opened in 2004 as a permanent home for the contemporary Istanbul Biennial. The 8,000-square-foot warehouse sits along the Bosphorus next to the Golden Horn, a historically important...
Asmalı Mescit Mahallesi, Meşrutiyet Cd. No:65, 34430 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
The Pera neighborhood of Istanbul has long been a culturally important area, particularly in the 19th century when İstiklal Avenue (then the Grand Rue de Pera) and its backstreets were lined with stately embassies, fashionable cafés, and...
Rüstem Paşa Mahallesi, Hasırcılar Cd. No:62, 34116 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
After a few days in Istanbul you will have likely heard the name Mimar Sinan (1489–1588) many times, and before long you will have seen some of the architect's works, from the kitchens of Topkapı Palace to the city's largest mosque, the...
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