Looking for the most famous landmarks in Istanbul? Worry not.
Istanbul is a city where east meets west and history intertwines with the present, with every corner unfolding a new story. This bustling metropolis was once Greek, Eastern Roman, Ottoman, and now the Republic of Turkey, and is a treasure trove of stunning architecture, historical landmarks, and cultural richness that leaves visitors in awe.
From the iconic Hagia Sophia to the majestic Blue Mosque, and from the sprawling Grand Bazaar to the opulent Topkapi Palace, Istanbul’s landmarks are a testament to the city’s vibrant past and cosmopolitan spirit.
We’ve had the blessing to visit all of these historical sites in, and today we are here to show you 17 of the most famous landmarks in Istanbul!
What Are The Most Famous Landmarks In Istanbul?
1. Hagia Sophia
Easily one of the most iconic landmarks in Istanbul, if not all of Turkey – the Hagia Sophia is one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. This important and influential mosque was constructed in 537 A.D. by Emperor Justinian, and interestingly it began its life as a cathedral!
In fact, at the time, it was the biggest Christian church in the Eastern Roman Empire, aka the Byzantine Empire. It wasn’t until nearly 1,000 years later, in 1453, that Turkey, under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, converted the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
On a visit to the famous mosque, one can still see evidence of where the face of Jesus Christ has been covered in parts – that’s because faces are not allowed to be displayed in mosques! Be sure to spend at least an hour here, and you may want longer as you’ll be mesmerized by the giant pillars and intricate mosaics.
The grand dome is the true masterpiece here; it stretches 107 feet wide and is over 1,500 years old. Without a doubt, this is one of the most historical sites in Istanbul.
2. Blue Mosque
Also known as the Sultanahmet Mosque – the Blue Mosque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is another recognizable landmark on Istanbul’s skyline. As you can guess from its name, this mosque is famous for the blue Iznik tiles that line the walls inside.
These hand-painted tiles inside are worth seeing up close, but so too are the marvelous stained glass windows (there are over 200 of them!) and stunning marble mihrab. This mosque was built in the early 17th Century under the reign of Sultan Ahmed I. You’ll find his tomb adjacent to the mosque.
Just like the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque has a total of six minarets, which at the time, was the highest symbol of Islam and only the Mecca mosque was allowed such recognition. The sultan ended up paying for the seventh minaret to be constructed at Mecca.
On your Istanbul itinerary, try to combine a visit to the Blue Mosque with a stop at Hagia Sophia, as they are conveniently located across from one another.
3. Suleymaniye Mosque
The Suleymaniye Mosque was constructed between 1550 – 1557 by one of the most famous Imperial Architects of the time, Mimat Sinan, on the order of Suleyman I (more commonly known as Suleyman the Magnificent). And here you can view his tomb, that of his wife Hurren Sultan, and their son Prince Mehmed.
It’s one of the largest mosques in the city and the largest in the Suleymaniye District, with a particularly impressive central dome thatstands at a whopping 47 meters tall! You’ll be spellbound by this light-filled and intricately decorated interior!
Built atop the Third Hill of Istanbul, the views of the city from here are astounding. So, if you’re a keen photographer – this famous Istanbul landmark is a must-visit for your time in “The City on Seven Hills”, which is Istanbul’s nickname!
4. Galata Bridge
Spanning across the Golden Horn, the Galata Bridge is more than just a famous landmark in Istanbul; it connects the old and new parts of the European side of Istanbul, most notably Karaköy on the north side and Eminönü on the south.
The current bridge you see is the fifth iteration and was completed in 1994. It’s a bascule bridge, which means it can be drawn up to allow tall ships to pass through.
But the Galata Bridge is more than just a bridge that connects two parts of the city, it’s a significant social hub for locals and tourists alike.
Its most iconic feature is the array of fishermen who line the sides, casting their lines into the Golden Horn below. This has become such a common sight that it’s now seen as emblematic of Istanbul itself.
While traffic zooms past on the upper level, on the ground floor a line of bustling cafes and Restaurants is in full swing. On your vacation to Istanbul, be sure to stop by one of these for a drink or delicious meal and admire the stunning sea views
5. Bosphorus Bridge
Connecting the two continents of Istanbul (Asia and Europe), the Bosphorus Bridge is an iconic construction of Turkey’s most populous city. The bridge spans a total of 1,560 m across the Bosphorus Strait, making it one of the longest bridges in the world.
It provides one of the city’s best views; in fact, you’ll probably recognize the view from here from your Instagram feed. Bosphorus Bridge is one of the most photographed spots in Istanbul.
Earlier attempts to construct the bridge failed, and it wasn’t until 1973 that the construction of this suspension bridge was successful.
Unfortunately, pedestrians are not permitted on the bridge except for special events, such as the Istanbul Eurasia Marathon, when the bridge is closed off to vehicles. The best time of day to see this bridge is at night when it twinkles with LED lights! If you are looking for things to do in Istanbul at night that aren’t partying, check out the Bosphorus Bridge!
6. Galata Tower
The skyline-dominating Galata Tower is a 63-meter-tall iconic structure that can be seen from pretty much everywhere in Istanbul. This former watchtower was constructed by the Genoese in 1348 their colonial expansion in the area. At the time of construction, it was the tallest building in Istanbul (or should we say Constantinople) and played a significant role in the city’s defense for centuries.
Over its rich history, the Galata Tower has served many purposes. It was originally part of a fortification system, later turned into a prison, and then used as an observatory. In the 17th century, it was used by the Ottoman Turks as a fire lookout tower due to its commanding view over the city.
Nowadays, the Galata Tower is most known as one of the best viewpoints of Istanbul. Visitors can take an elevator to the top of the tower, where there’s a restaurant and cafe with panoramic views of Istanbul.
The 360-degree viewing gallery offers a bird’s eye view of the city, including notable landmarks like the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace.
Read More: Is There Uber In Istanbul?
7. Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace was built in 1459 under the order of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror and it served as the main residence of the Ottoman sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856) during their 624-year reign.
After the end of the Ottoman Empire, the Topkapi Palace became a museum that displays an extensive collection of art and artifacts from the Ottoman period, including porcelain, weapons, shields, armor, Ottoman miniatures, Islamic calligraphic manuscripts and murals, as well as a display of Ottoman treasure and jewelry.
The most famous pieces on display at Topkapı Palace include the Topkapi Dagger and the Spoonmaker’s Diamond (an 86-carat pear-shaped diamond)!
Would you believe millions of tourists visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site annually? With most coming specifically to see the Treasury of the Sultan and the Ottoman Imperial Harem!
8. Basilica Cistern
The largest cistern in Istanbul (basically a massive water storage tank), the Basilica Cistern, was built way back in the year 532 under the instruction of Emperor Justinian. It features 336 columns, most of which were saved from ancient ruins.
It was designed to provide water for the Great Palace of Constantinople (and later the Topkapi Palace) and nearby buildings, especially during droughts.
The symmetry of the columns and the sheer size of the cistern are breathtaking, plus it’s nice and cool here making it a welcome escape from the Turkish heat, especially in the summer.
The Basilica Cistern was only opened to the public in 1987, and on a visit here, you’ll get to walk along the raised wooden platforms as drops of water fall on you from the vaulted ceilings.
Since its opening, the cistern has made quite a name for itself and has featured in big-hitting Hollywood movies such as the James Bond movie, From Russia with Love and Inferno, featuring Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones.
9. Grand Bazaar
No visit to Istanbul is complete without a visit to the sprawling, sense-awakening Grand Bazaar! A shopper’s paradise with over 4,000 stalls, stores, and souk markets spread across 61 covered streets. Today it is one of the most-visited attractions in the city and remains one of the largest covered markets in the world, but the Grand Bazaar was much smaller back in 1455 when it first opened.
You can find pretty much everything here, from Turkish rugs and lamps, spices, unique Turkish souvenirs, and plenty of sweet treats like the famous Turkish delight!
Pro Tip: If you are planning on doing any shopping in the Grand Bazaar, do dedicate at least half a day. It is seriously massive in there and you can spend countless hours just walking up and down the market, browsing
10. Spice Bazaar
A few hundred meters from the Grand Bazaar is another one of Istanbul’s most recognizable places – The Spice Bazaar. Also known as the Egyptian Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar is a vibrant market that sells everything from spices and teas to dried fruits, nuts, and oils.
The moment your step into the bazaar, you’ll be hit by the fragrant aromas of the spices, but that only adds to the overall experience! Set up in 1660, the Spice Bazaar in Eminönü quarter of the Fatih district was set up to raise funds for the adjacent Yeni Cami Mosque. Nowadays, you will find more than 85 shops here selling a variety of Turkish merchandise!
11. Camlica Mosque
Camlica Mosque is one of the newest Istanbul landmarks, having been built in March 2019. Though the Camlica Mosque might now have as much historical significance as the Hagia Sophia, it does make up for it by being the biggest mosque in Istanbul.
Matter of fact, the historical site is so massive that the main dome of Camlica Mosque can be seen from just about everywhere in Istanbul city. It stands an impressive 72 meters tall and represents the 72 different ethnic groups in Turkey!
On the dome’s interior, 16 names attributed to Allah are artistically drawn. The number 16 is significant because it refers to the 16 great Turkish empires before the modern Turkish Republic.
The overall design of Camlica Mosque was inspired by the works of famed architect Mimar Sinan (who also designed the Suleymaniye Mosque). The four impressive minarets on the exterior signify the Manzikert Victory of 1071, an important historic battle.
Inside, one will find a museum, eight monumental doors representing the Muslim’s belief in the eight gates to heaven, and a prayer hall that can accommodate 60,000 people!
12. Maiden’s Tower
One of the most unique Istanbul landmarks, the Maiden’s Tower, enjoys a prime position on a tiny island in the Bosphorus Strait. Also known as Leander’s Tower, this ‘tower on the sea’ was built back in 408 BC and was then just a small-ish wooden structure on a rock!
The Maiden’s Tower has lived many lives – from being an essential part of defense for Constantinople under the Byzantine Empire to a watchtower under the Ottoman Empire to even a filming location in 1998 for the James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough.
Today, it’s a popular tourist attraction on the Anatolian side of Istanbul that houses a café and restaurant which offers panoramic views of the city.
13. Ortaköy Mosque
The Ortakoy Mosque is one of the most significant architectural symbols in Istanbul. Nestled on the banks of the Bosphorus Strait, it enjoys a unique view of the Strait and the Bosphorus Bridge. This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in Istanbul. The view during dawn and sunset is particularly breathtaking.
The Ortakoy Mosque is one of the smallest mosques in Istanbul with only two minarets. But its unique Ottoman Baroque style architecture and unique location show that historic buildings and natural beauty can coexist harmoniously.
It was commissioned by Sultan Abdülmecid I, and construction finished around 1854.
14. Dolmabahçe Palace
Dolmabahçe Palace is not only one of the most stunning palaces in Istanbul, but it also has tons of historical significance. This building in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul served as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1887 and 1909 to 1922.
Covering an area of about 45,000 square meters, the palace consists of 285 rooms, 46 halls, 6 baths (hamam) and 68 toilets. Besides being an impressive statement in terms of architecture, the Dolmabahçe Palace is home to the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier, a gift from Queen Victoria herself.
Constructed between 1843 and 1856 by Sultan Abdülmecid I, the palace features architecture from Ottoman, Neoclassical, Baroque, and Rococo styles. It served as the home for 6 Ottoman Sultans over time!
Nowadays, Dolmabahçe Palace is open to the public as a museum, offering insights into the late Ottoman era and the early years of the Turkish Republic.
15. Beylerbeyi Palace
Located in the Beylerbeyi neighborhood of Üsküdar district is one of Istanbul’s landmarks that is often overlooked. Beylerbeyi Palace is a historical palace in Istanbul, somewhat similar to the aforementioned Dolmabahce Palace.
However, Beylerbeyi Palace was used primarily by reigning Sultans as a summer home and as a place to entertain visiting heads of state. With its glorious English-style landscaped garden, pool, extensive sculpture collection, and gorgeous views of the Bosphorus Strait from the Asian side, it’s one of the most beautiful historical landmarks in Istanbul.
Best described as a smaller version of Dolmabahce Palace – there are 24 rooms here as well as 6 halls and a hammam.
It was constructed between 1861 and 1865 under the orders of Sultan Abdulaziz. Years later, in 1909, Sultan Abdulhamid II was imprisoned here and later died after being overthrown.
16. Istanbul Museum of Modern Art
Founded in 2004, the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art (also known as the Istanbul Modern) was the nation’s first museum of modern art! With a commitment to sharing Turkish creativity with the rest of the world, it houses both local and international contemporary art pieces across its exhibition halls. You will also find a photography gallery, restaurant, cafe, library, and museum store here.
Recently, the museum has relocated to a brand new building inside the Galataport complex in the Beyoğlu district. Designed by world-famous architect Renzo Piano, the new Istanbul Modern boasts elongated glass facades, which not only allow for an abundance of natural light to flood into the interior spaces but also provide breathtaking views of the Bosphorus.
This is one of the newest art museums in Istanbul, so make sure you check it out next time you are here!
17. Sultanahmet Square
Easily one of the most historically significant sites in Istanbul, the bustling Sultanahmet Square is a park that features both the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. This pedestrian-only square is a hive of activity at any time of the day and is top of most tourists on Istanbul’s bucket list!
The square was once the Hippodrome of Constantinople, a social and sporting center during the Byzantine period. It was built by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus in 203 AD and later expanded by Emperor Constantine the Great in 330 AD.
It was where public events and chariot races took place, with competitors having to race around the hippodrome seven times to be declared winners.
Hence, if you look at the shape of Sultanahmet Park, you’ll notice that it is shaped like a Hippodrome!
Map Of The Most Famous Istanbul Landmarks
Istanbul Landmarks FAQs
What Are The Most Famous Buildings In Istanbul?
The most famous buildings in Istanbul are Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Galata Tower. These landmarks showcase the rich history and culture of Istanbul and are unmissable on any Istanbul itinerary.
What Are The Three Most Famous Landmarks In Istanbul?
The three most famous landmarks in Istanbul are Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace. These are some of the most historical sites in Istanbul, showcasing the city’s rich history and culture.
As you might have expected, the city of Istanbul is full of historical landmarks. Many mighty empires and civilizations have once called Istanbul its capital or home, and they have each left traces of their glory.
And nowadays, travelers can once witness the entire timeline of Istanbul through its iconic landmarks – from Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern to the Grand Bazaar and Istanbul Modern, there are many stories to be told here.