Istanbul attractions

Istanbul attractions


The metropolitan region of Istanbul, a metropolitan area with an area of ​​more than 5.000 square kilometers and 15 million inhabitants, can look back on more than two and a half thousand years of history. Historical sources show that the city was founded in 660 BC under the name of Byzantion (Byzantium). Travel guides name countless sights of the Turkish megacity. It takes weeks to get an idea of ​​palaces, mosques, squares, museums and more.

Cruise ships at Kadikoy TerminalCruise ships at Kadikoy Terminal


Travelers who stay in Istanbul for only a short time, such as cruise ship passengers, are willy-nilly forced to limit themselves to a few outstanding sights according to their interests. For us, the secular and religious buildings and places presented below are among the most important sights in Istanbul and those that visitors should most likely see. 

Two unique palaces

According to relevant Internet travel guides, Istanbul has about seven palaces. The information varies depending on the source. There are also a number of palatial villas. Our recommendation applies to the two properties listed below.  

Dolmabahce Palace

Before Ankara was designated as the capital of Turkey, Istanbul was the seat of Turkish rulers. These originally resided in the medieval Topkapı Palace. Under Sultan Abdülmecid I, two architects were commissioned to build a representative palace on the European banks of the Bosporus, the appearance and furnishings of which should stand up to comparison with European palaces.

Dolmabahce Palace and Bosphorus

Dolmabahce Palace and Bosphorus


Between 1843 and 1856, the Dolmabahçe Palace was a two-part palace complex stretching 600 meters along the Bosporus. Its southern wing contains the public representative rooms. In the northern part were the living quarters of the sultans and their harem. The link between the two areas is the 2.000 square meter reception hall, which is crowned by a 36 meter high dome. Until the proclamation of the republic in October 1923, the palace served six sultans and one caliph as the seat of government and residence. 

Dolmabahce Palace
Dolmabahçe Palace - Gate to the Treasury
Dolmabahce Palace - detail
Dolmabahce Palace - Clock Tower

The palace, still used for representative functions, can be visited.
Address: Vişnezade, Dolmabahçe Cd.; accessible with the tram line T1
Entrance fee 2023: 120 TL (6 euros). Access to the harem requires a special ticket. The combination ticket for the palace and the harem costs 150 TL (7,50 euros). 

Topkapi Palace

Between the years 1459 and 1853, Topkapı Palace was the residence of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire. The palace has served as a museum since the republic was proclaimed in 1923. It is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the city. Different values ​​are given for the area of ​​the palace. The figures vary between 400.000 and 690.000 square meters.

Topkapi Palace in the evening light

Topkapi Palace in the evening light


Address: Cankurtaran, 34122 Fatih; accessible by tram line T1 (exit Gülhane istasyonu and Sultanahmet).
Entrance fee 2023: 500 TL (25 euros). 

Two outstanding mosques

When walking around the districts of Istanbul, visitors to Istanbul are faced with the question of how many mosques characterize the cityscape. As early as July 1996, the daily newspaper DIE WELT stated that there were 3.000 mosques. An Internet travel guide currently speaks of 3.113 prayer houses. In addition to mostly insignificant mosques, travel guides name a good dozen outstanding sanctuaries, of which we present two.

Dolmabahce Mosque


Dolmabahce Mosque


Rustem Pasha Mosque in Eminonu


Rustem Pasha Mosque in Eminonu 


Sultanahmet mosque

A landmark on Istanbul's skyline that cannot be overlooked is the Sultanahmet Mosque. Completed in 1616, the mosque is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is often called the "Blue Mosque" because of the blue ceramic tiles inside the temple.

Sultanahmet mosque

Sultanahmet mosque


The characteristic and outwardly visible feature of the mosque are its six minarets. They are considered a unique selling point among Ottoman mosques. The legend describes the six towers as a misunderstanding between the builder Sultan Ahmet I and his architect. On the instructions of the sultan, only four minarets were originally to be built.

The interior features outstanding interior decorations. They are a successful mixture of more than 20.000 tiles and hundreds of glass windows. From the outside, the 43 meter high main dome and several semi-domes characterize the appearance of the building.

Sultanahmet mosque


Sultanahmet mosque


Sultanahmet Mosque - Interior


Sultanahmet Mosque - Interior 


Visitors enter the inner courtyard through one of three large gates. There are several buildings in the courtyard, including a medrese (college), a soup kitchen and the caravanserai.

Tourists are allowed to visit the Sultanahmet Mosque. The visit is recommended outside of the five daily prayer times. These can be read online.
Appropriate clothing is essential. Women are encouraged to cover their hair.
Admission is not charged.

Hagia Sophia

The Sultanahmet Mosque faces the Hagia Sophia. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hagia Sophia has long been considered one of the most important churches in the world and was the main church of the Byzantine Empire. Between the years 1453 and 1935 it was a mosque. After that it was used as a museum for decades. Since 2020 it is a mosque again.

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is adorned with four minarets added in the Ottoman period. The church is famous for its ornate mosaics. One is in the vestibule. It shows the Virgin Mary with the child and the two Byzantine emperors Constantine and Justinian. The upper galleries are characteristic of the main room. The space is crowned by a monumental central dome and two semi-domes.

Hagia Sophia - Nave


Hagia Sophia - Nave


Hagia Sophia - Mosaic


Hagia Sophia - Mosaic 


Entry for tourists: same as Sultanahmet Mosque.

Two interesting places

Sultanahmet Square

One of the most important squares in Istanbul, Sultanahmet Square, is located in the district of Fatih. The square borders on the "Blue Mosque" in the east. With the hippodrome, it was the sporting and social center of ancient Constantinople. The hippodrome no longer exists. A remainder of the bronze serpent column, an obelisk from an Egyptian temple complex in Luxor and the German fountain have remained.

Sultanahmet Square - Serpent Column and Obelisk

Sultanahmet Square - Serpent Column and Obelisk


From today's perspective, the column of snakes and the obelisk belong to the category of looted art. The German Fountain was a gift from the German Emperor Wilhelm II to Sultan Abdülhamid II. The German Emperor donated the artistically designed pavilion, the "Pickelhaube", to the Ottoman ruler in memory of his visit to Istanbul in 1898. The neo-Byzantine, octagonal fountain was manufactured in Germany, brought to Istanbul in individual parts and set up at its current location.

Sultanahmet Square - the German Fountain


Sultanahmet Square - the German Fountain


Sultanahmet Square - German Fountain ceiling mosaic


Sultanahmet Square - German Fountain ceiling mosaic 


Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue

Taksim Square is located in the European part of the metropolis. Centrally located Taksim Meydanı is now a transport hub with roads going in all directions. Originally it was the end of a long-distance water line coming from the north with a connected water distributor.

Taksim Square has been closed to traffic since 2013. The traffic routes run underground. The square borders on the tree-lined Gezi city park in the north.

From the square, the busy and varied pedestrian street Istiklal Caddesi leads down to Tünel Square below. Visitors can cover the distance on foot or by historic tram. Another unforgettable experience is a ride on the funicular that connects Tünel Square with the Karakoy Embankment. The height difference is 62 meters. The route is considered the second oldest subway in the world.

More Attractions

From the wealth of Istanbul sights, five others are particularly important to us. They are of different nature.

Galataturm

The 67-metre-tall Galata Tower in Beyoğlu district is one of the city's most famous attractions and it's hard to miss. The tower is a remnant of a former Genoese colony. The Galata Tower is now used as a museum. The contents of the exhibitions are historical events and finds.

Galata Tower seen from the Bosphorus

Galata Tower seen from the Bosphorus


The tower has nine floors. Two elevators go up to the seventh floor. From there, a spiral staircase leads to the ninth floor to an observation deck that offers a 360-degree view of the city, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.       

Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarsi)

Istanbul's Grand Bazaar is located in the Eminonu district near the aforementioned mosques. Its origins go back to the 15th century. As is so often the case, different sources give varying sizes for the market. The covered area of ​​the Grand Bazaar therefore measures between 31.000 and 45.000 square meters. More than 4.000 traders use the room. Everything your heart desires is offered. In Kapali Çarşı one can find herbs and spices, sweets, household goods and clothing. Antiques are just as important as carpets, jewelery and handicrafts. The shops are located on 60 trade routes, which are divided into trades.

Grand Bazaar


Closed Çarşı


Grand Bazaar


Closed Çarşı 


The Grand Bazaar is said to have 22 gates. The main entrance is the Beyazit Gate.

Rumeli Fortress

Located on the European banks of the Bosphorus, the Rumeli Hisarı Ottoman fortress was built in 1452 by order of Sultan Mehmed II. The fortress, measuring 250 by 125 metres, was reportedly built by 3.000 workers in four months. Three mighty towers dominate the fortress, which is currently used as a museum.

Rumeli Hisari Fortress
Rumeli Hisari Fortress
Inside the Rumeli Hisari Fortress
Inside the Rumeli Hisari Fortress

On the Asia Minor shore of the Strait is the smaller fortress of Anadolu Hisarı. The shipping traffic on the Bosphorus, which is about 700 meters wide at this point, was controlled by the two opposite fortresses.

Anatolian Fortress

Anatolian Fortress


Theodosian Wall

Constantinople, now Istanbul, has always been surrounded by water on three sides. Only the west flank of the city was unprotected. To protect this flank, a defensive line consisting of land and sea walls was created in the early 5th century. Their length is estimated at 19 to 20 kilometers. Experts regard the technically sophisticated complex, which is up to 70 meters wide, as one of the most effective constructions of its kind. In the beginning, the walls were intended to protect the expanding city from the Huns. Protection from the Huns did not stop there. The wall also proved itself in other crises. The reward: protection of the population from enemy incursions and an entry in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. Well-preserved remains of the defense system can be seen in the Fatih district.

Watchtower of the Theodosian Wall


Watchtower of the Theodosian Wall


The Theodosian Wall


The Theodosian Wall 


Yerebatan cistern

In the southwest of the Hagia Sophia is the gigantic underground cistern called Yerebatan Sarnıcı. The name stands for "sunken palace". Emperor Justinian had the 138 meter long and 65 meter wide reservoir built in the first half of the 6th century as a water reservoir for the Topkapi Palace. It has a capacity of about 80.000 cubic meters.

Row of columns of the Yerebatan Cistern


Row of columns of the Yerebatan Cistern


Head of Medusa in the Yerebatan Cistern


Head of Medusa in the Yerebatan Cistern 


A “basilica” supported by 336 columns towered over the basin system to protect it, and was nine meters high. The water was brought into the cistern from the highlands north of Istanbul via aqueducts. The cistern has been a film location for several films. A scene from the James Bond film From Russia With Love takes place in the water reservoir. 

Address: Yerbatan Cd. In the district of Fatih near the Hagia Sophia.
Opening hours: daily 9:00am to 19:00pm 
Entrance fee for foreigners 2023: 330 TL (16,70 euros).