Are you preparing to visit Istanbul? In this article, you will find the Istanbul top tourist attractionsand the most beautiful places to visit in the ancient Constantinople.
Istanbul is a city suspended between the Orient and the Occident, a true crossroads that seduces and fascinates its visitors with its cultural blend and unparalleled ambiance. It’s the only city built on two continents, with the Bosphorus dividing it and separating Asia from Europe.
Istanbul aims to be a diversified city with many sublime places to visit, including monuments dating back to the Ottoman Empire and the coolest and trendiest spots. Since 1985, the historical areas of Istanbul have been included in UNESCO‘s heritage.
In any case, it offers a unique experience to those who come here. Most of your time will likely be spent on the European shores, as the majority of tourist attractions are concentrated there.
Istanbul is a city of contrasts, being both modern and historic, secular and religious, calm and bustling. You can quickly transition from one neighborhood to another, from one world to another.
Here are the main tourist attractions in Istanbul and the most beautiful places to visit.
The Blue Mosque in Istanbul
What to visit in Istanbul first? The Blue Mosque is a must-see attraction here. Its name comes from the beautiful interior ceramics that decorate it. It’s among the most visited historical monuments and, once you see the beautiful Iznik tiles, you’ll understand why. The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 by Sultan Ahmet I to assert Ottoman power. It’s the most impressive and most photographed mosque in Istanbul, with a cascade of overlapping domes and six minarets adorning the city’s skyline.
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul
One of the most beautiful tourist attractions in Istanbul is the ancient Christian basilica of Constantinople, later converted into a mosque and a museum. It was built in 573 by Justinian, who aimed to make it the capital of the Orthodox world. Hagia Sophia is known for its famous and rich mosaics, making it the second most visited monument in Istanbul after the Blue Mosque. It’s one of the greatest architectural achievements in the world and continues to be one of the most beautiful, symbolizing Istanbul’s unique position between East and West.
It was built in the 5th century and later restored several times, especially in the 11th century. It has the finest examples of Byzantine art at its peak. The church is famous for its stunning frescoes and mosaics, particularly those dating from the 13th century, which depict Christian themes and scenes from the lives of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ.
Topkapi Palace (Istanbul top tourist attractions)
Topkapi Palace is a true spectacle that you must see here. This complex of buildings surrounding four green courtyards was the primary residence of generations of sultans for 400 years. Its main attractions include the imperial harem, the imperial treasury, which houses the crown jewels and the famous Topkapi Dagger, and a collection of arms that showcase exquisite craftsmanship.
The Basilica Cistern (Istanbul top tourist attractions)
Istanbul is fascinating not only above ground but also underground. The Basilica Cistern, also known as the Sunken Palace, is an underground temple, the largest of several ancient cisterns beneath the city. It’s one of the most spectacular monuments dating back to the Byzantine Empire that can still be visited today. With its filtered light, classical music in the background, and the sound of dripping water, some consider it a very romantic place, while others find it somewhat eerie. Like a scene from a Harry Potter movie, it’s a subterranean wonderland not far from Hagia Sophia.
Istanbul Archaeology Museum
This is an often-overlooked attraction that actually combines three museums: the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Tiled Kiosk. It’s a true gem in Istanbul, exhibiting some of the world’s richest collections of classical antiquities. Inside, you’ll find Alexander Sarcophagus and a Trojan Horse, among a million other objects on display.
Leander’s Tower in Istanbul
During a cruise on the Bosphorus, you can discover this magnificent tower. It’s a monument that is definitely worth visiting. The tower has been transformed into a restaurant and will help you enjoy the most beautiful view of the city. It’s also called the Maiden’s Tower and has its own legend: it’s said that a famous emperor was told that his beloved and beautiful daughter would be bitten by a venomous snake when she turned 18. For this reason, the emperor built this tower in the middle of the Bosphorus, so the snake could never reach his daughter.
Relax in Gülhane Park (Istanbul top tourist attractions)
Located near Topkapi Palace, it is one of the most beautiful and largest parks in Istanbul. Initially, it was the palace’s outer garden. It’s a popular destination for families on weekends and a true sanctuary of the old city.
The Galata Tower is a tower located in the district of the same name. It’s an incredible place that attracts many tourists. It offers the most beautiful panorama of the city, giving you a sense of Istanbul’s magnificence.
The vibrant heart of the Eminonu district is located on the shores of the Bosphorus, between the Spice Bazaar and the Galata Bridge. On the historic Galata Bridge, you can watch the fishermen, dine at the restaurants below, listen to music in the evening, and savor the most delicious dishes. From the Galata Bridge, you can also leave the historic district to enter the more modern part of the city.
Spice Bazaar in Istanbul (Istanbul top tourist attractions)
The Spice Bazaar is another place that you must explore. It’s also known as the Egyptian Bazaar and is a very touristy place but also frequented by locals. It’s an explosion of scents for your senses. The smell of cumin competes with that of cinnamon or saffron, and the stalls are all adorned with magnificent clay or ceramic objects and colorful terracotta plates.
You can also walk from Istiklal Avenue to Taksim Square. The Beyoglu district here exudes the most beautiful atmosphere. The northern European half of Istanbul houses the most frequented pedestrian street. It’s Istiklal, often compared to the Champs-Elysées. However, here, the most delicious kebabs have replaced pancakes.
It’s a very important square and one of the most beautiful places to visit in Istanbul. At the same time, it is a very symbolic and precious place for the locals. It’s home to the Republic Monument, built in 1928, and hosts major gatherings. Taksim is undoubtedly the most multicultural place here.
Istanbul Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
It’s much more charming than its name suggests. It’s located in the former palace of Ibrahim Pasha, with a collection of over 40,000 exhibited items. Each room focuses on a different period or region of the Islamic world, reflecting Turkish daily life from the 8th to the 19th century. The most beautiful collection is undoubtedly the carpets hanging from the ceiling.
Built in the 2nd century by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus and later expanded in 324, the Hippodrome, the oldest lively center of this dynamic city, is now a long esplanade. It is a place where many relics from the Byzantine era gather, including the Obelisk of Theodosius, the Serpent Column, and the Column of Constantine. Nearby, numerous gardens allow you to take relaxing walks.
It is simply a fascinating palace. It’s enormous, measuring 600 meters in length, with no less than 285 bedrooms and 43 salons. It was built in 1856 and cost 35 tons of gold.
It is the most modern and alternative district here. It is the best place for those seeking relaxation.
Bebek and Ortaköy Districts
These are less known districts but worth discovering. You can come here for a meal or a stroll.
Vefa District Istanbul top tourist attractions
It is a very authentic, traditional, peaceful yet lively district. Here, you can truly feel the soul of the city.
It is the oldest imperial district in the city. It used to be the seat of the Ottoman Empire. Suleymaniye Mosque This mosque is an architectural masterpiece of Istanbul, with four minarets, a Quranic school, a religious college, a hospital, a hammam, and mausoleums. It is a mosque that dominates the old part of the city. Its interior is adorned with shades of white, black, and gold, accentuated by some brick-red details. Verses from the Quran cover the walls, and its dome is covered in mosaics.
Rüstem Pasha Mosque
It is probably the most beautiful mosque in Istanbul. It has the most beautiful Iznik tile panels, the best-preserved in the city.
It is the most colorful and culturally rich street in Istanbul. It features a reconstruction of Ottoman-style wooden houses. The wooden houses have two or three floors, 4-10 rooms, and date from the 19th-20th centuries. They were restored at the initiative of Celik Gulersoy between 1985 and 1986.
Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
It is the world’s largest covered bazaar with 21 gates, 58 streets, and 4,000 shops. You can do massive shopping here. It’s a place entirely dedicated to commerce and where you’ll quickly notice that each sector specializes in a certain type of production. It’s an institution where you’ll find everything you desire and you can negotiate to your heart’s content. From antiques to more contemporary products, you’ll find it all here in the warm and lively ambiance.
A must-see in Istanbul is the Bosphorus, the waterway that separates the two continents, Europe and Asia, and connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. For a different perspective on the city, nothing compares to a Bosphorus cruise. You can discover numerous monuments that are not visible otherwise.
Located over 20 kilometers south of the city, the Princes’ Islands are a genuine haven of peace, a small archipelago without cars, a paradise with colorful wooden houses, turquoise waters, and horse-drawn carriage rides along flower-lined streets.
Istanbul is the only city in the world built on two continents, where East and West merge for a truly unique result. Istanbul is not just a museum city but also a multifaceted tourist destination, a place of contradictions, and rich in a two-thousand-year history. It’s a multicultural mix with a perfect symbiosis of history, architecture, and modernity, always in motion.
Istanbul is a tourist destination like a gigantic painting, a true precious treasure waiting to be discovered to tell you its story. More dynamic than ever, it is also a grandiose destination with an even richer history. So, it’s not called the Pearl of the Bosphorus for nothing.