Close this search box.

What to see Istanbul: Hagia Sophia & Galata Towers

Are you ready to explore one of the most vibrant cities in the world? Istanbul is a unique destination that offers a remarkable combination of culture, history, and modern delights. With its diverse array of sights and attractions, it’s no wonder why Istanbul continues to be one of the top vacation destinations for travelers from around the world. From iconic symbols like the Hagia Sophia to more off-the-beaten-path experiences such as sampling local street food, there is something for everyone in this amazing city. In our blog post today, we’re going to discuss some must-see places in Istanbul that will help make your trip unforgettable! We’ll also provide tips on getting around so you can see all the great sights without feeling overwhelmed – because with so much fun stuff to do and experience here – it’d be easy get lost amidst all its beauty! So buckle up your seatbelt while we show you what makes Istanbul truly special. 

Istanbul sights to see

1. Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia - what to see Istanbul

Are you planning a trip to Istanbul but don’t know where to start your sightseeing? Look no further than Hagia Sophia. This iconic structure has stood at the center of Istanbul for over a thousand years, serving as both a church and a mosque. The intricate domes and stunning mosaics are an absolute must-see for anyone interested in history or architecture. Plus, the surrounding area is full of cafes and shops, making it a great place to spend an afternoon. Hagia Sophia is more than just a tourist attraction – it’s a symbol of the city’s rich cultural heritage that brings locals and visitors together. Don’t miss out on this unforgettable experience. 


Arrive early in the morning to avoid the crowds and have a more serene experience.

Always open

2. Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque - what to see Istanbul

Istanbul is a city that’s bursting with history and culture, and the Blue Mosque is one of those must-see destinations. Also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, it is a stunning example of Ottoman architecture. The mosque, which was completed in 1616, is easily recognizable by its six minarets and blue interior tiles. Visitors are welcome to come inside and admire the intricate tile work, stained glass windows, and chandeliers that give off a warm, inviting glow. The Blue Mosque is more than just a beautiful building, it’s also an important cultural and spiritual center for the people of Istanbul. So, when you’re planning your trip to this historical city, be sure to add a visit to the Blue Mosque to your itinerary. You won’t be disappointed! 


Be aware of the prayer times, as the mosque is closed to tourists during these periods. It’s a good time to visit other nearby attractions.


3. Topkapı Palace

Topkapı Palace - what to see Istanbul

A trip to Istanbul is incomplete without a visit to the Topkapı Palace. Steeped in history, this former residence of the Ottoman sultans brims with elaborate courtyards, intricate mosaics, and shimmering domes. As you walk through the sprawling complex, you’ll be transported back in time to a period of grandeur and opulence. From the Harem quarters to the Imperial Council Chamber, each section of the palace offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of the Ottoman rulers. And don’t forget to take a stroll through the gardens and soak in the stunning views of the Bosphorus. Visiting the Topkapı Palace is not just a trip to a historic landmark but a chance to connect with Istanbul’s rich past and immerse yourself in the vibrant local culture. 


If you’re interested in visiting the Harem, purchase a separate ticket for it. Note that the Harem has limited capacity and requires a timed entry.


4. Suleymaniye Mosque

Suleymaniye Mosque - what to see Istanbul

One of the must-see destinations in Istanbul is the magnificent Suleymaniye Mosque. Established in the 16th century by the Ottoman Empire’s famous architect, Sinan, this mosque welcomes visitors from all corners of the world. Its towering minarets and stunning domes are a testament to Ottoman architecture’s beauty and grandeur. As you walk through its spacious courtyard, you’ll be blown away by the intricate details of the mosque’s interior. As a community-oriented place of worship, the mosque offers a serene and welcoming atmosphere where visitors of all faiths can come and appreciate the city’s culture and heritage. If you’re looking for an awe-inspiring experience that combines architecture, history, and culture, the Suleymaniye Mosque should be on your must-visit list when in Istanbul. 


You’ll be required to remove your shoes before entering the mosque. Wear socks or carry disposable shoe covers.


5. Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace - what to see Istanbul

Istanbul is a city that has captured the imagination of visitors from all around the world, and there is no shortage of incredible sites to explore. One of the most magnificent is the Dolmabahce Palace. This opulent palace offers a glimpse into the luxurious lifestyle of the Ottoman Empire’s elite. The Palace boasts stunning architecture, beautiful gardens, and intricate decoration. Visitors can wander the halls, revel in the ornate decor, and marvel at the rich history of the Empire. Whether you’re a history buff or simply looking for an unforgettable experience, Dolmabahce Palace is a must-see on your trip to Istanbul. Don’t miss the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the Ottomans and appreciate the beauty of this marvellous Palace. 


Note that photography is not allowed inside the palace’s interior rooms and exhibits. Respect this rule.


6. Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar - what to see Istanbul

If you’re planning a trip to Istanbul, you simply cannot miss out on the Grand Bazaar. With over 4,000 shops spread across over 60 streets and alleys, it’s no surprise that it’s one of the largest covered markets in the world. You’ll find everything from traditional Turkish carpets to shimmering gold jewelry to savory spices and teas. While the bustling atmosphere can be overwhelming, it’s the perfect place to truly immerse yourself in Istanbul’s vibrant culture and interact with local vendors. It’s truly a community hub – friends meet for tea and sweets after work and shoppers come from all over the world to haggle and barter for unique souvenirs. Whether you are a seasoned traveler or a first-time visitor to Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar should be at the top of your to-do list. 


Bring cash in local currency (Turkish Lira) and small bills. Some smaller shops might not accept credit cards.



7. Galata Tower

Galata Tower - what to see Istanbul

If you are visiting Istanbul, make sure to add Galata Tower to your must-see list. With its stunning architecture and breathtaking views of the city, this historical tower is a true gem. From the top of the tower, you can catch a glimpse of the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus, and the Old City of Istanbul. It is a perfect spot to take pictures or enjoy a romantic sunset with your loved one. What makes this experience even more special is the lively neighborhood around Galata Tower – a true reflection of Istanbul’s diverse culture. You’ll find plenty of restaurants, cafes, and shops to stop by and immerse yourself in the vibrant local scene. Don’t forget to grab a traditional Turkish coffee or tea while you’re there! 


If possible, time your visit to coincide with sunset. The view of the sun setting over Istanbul from the tower is truly memorable.


8. Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern - what to see Istanbul

If you’re planning a trip to Istanbul, one of the must-see attractions that should definitely be on your list is the Basilica Cistern. This ancient underground water storage system located in the heart of the city’s historic center is a true architectural wonder. The cistern was built in the 6th century during the Byzantine era and it’s one of the largest surviving cisterns in Istanbul. With its breathtaking columns and serene atmosphere, it’s no wonder that the Basilica Cistern has long been a favorite spot for visitors and locals alike. Take a stroll through the dimly lit walkways and enjoy the peacefulness and beauty of this unique attraction. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed! 


Be prepared to pay an entrance fee to visit the cistern. Consider purchasing a museum pass if you plan to visit multiple attractions in Istanbul.


9. Kariye Mosque

Kariye Mosque - what to see Istanbul

When exploring the stunning city of Istanbul, one must not miss out on Kariye Mosque. This hidden gem may not be as well-known as some of Istanbul’s more famous mosques, but it certainly does not lack in beauty or historical significance. The intricate mosaics and frescoes that adorn the interior of the mosque are breathtaking and give visitors a glimpse into the rich Byzantine art and architecture that is unique to Istanbul. Moreover, stepping inside Kariye Mosque feels like a true escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. So, if you’re looking to immerse yourself in Istanbul’s history and culture, make sure to add Kariye Mosque to your must-see list. You won’t be disappointed! 


Keep in mind that restoration and conservation work might be ongoing. This could impact certain areas or views within the mosque.


10. Galata Bridge

Galata Bridge - what to see Istanbul

Situated in the heart of Istanbul, the iconic Galata Bridge is a must-see spot for tourists and locals alike. Overlooking the beautiful Golden Horn, the timeless structure is not only a popular attraction but also a vital transportation hub connecting the bustling regions of the city. Strolling on the bridge, visitors can witness the vibrant culture of Istanbul and the busy flow of maritime activity below. As the bridge is home to numerous charming restaurants and cafes serving mouth-watering delicacies, it’s the ultimate destination to immerse in the local cuisine. Whether you want to admire the stunning sunset over the Golden Horn or experience the lively atmosphere of Istanbul, the Galata Bridge is a perfect spot for all. So, take a leisurely walk or join the vibrant crowds, and let the charm of this magnificent place captivate you. 


Enjoy panoramic views of the Golden Horn and the city’s skyline from Galata Bridge. It’s a great spot for photography, especially during sunset or sunrise.

Always open

11. Fener & Balat

Fener & Balat - what to see Istanbul

Istanbul is a city full of bustling neighborhoods, and Fener and Balat are two of the most vibrant. These districts are located on opposite sides of the Golden Horn, and both have a wealth of cultural and architectural treasures to be explored. Fener is known for its Greek Orthodox patriarchate, and the stunning Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George is a must-visit for history buffs. Meanwhile, Balat offers a glimpse into Istanbul’s multicultural past with its colorful houses and winding streets. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely stroll and soak up the lively atmosphere. Don’t forget to dive into the local cuisine, too! Fener and Balat are known for their tasty street food and traditional restaurants. So, put on your walking shoes and head to these two neighborhoods for an unforgettable day out in Istanbul. 


These neighborhoods are best explored on foot. Wear comfortable shoes and take your time to wander through the charming streets.

Always open

12. Taksim Square

Taksim Square - what to see Istanbul

If you’re looking for excitement and a vibrant atmosphere in Istanbul, Taksim Square should be on the top of your list. This bustling area is a popular meeting point for locals and tourists alike, with a plethora of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. It’s also the heart of Istanbul’s nightlife scene, with clubs, bars, and live music venues dotted around the square. But Taksim is more than just a party hub – it’s also an important cultural landmark. The square is home to the Independence Monument, a symbol of Turkey’s independence and national identity. With its vibrant energy, rich history, and diverse offerings, Taksim Square truly is a must-see destination in Istanbul. Don’t miss out on the chance to experience it for yourself! 


Taksim Square is easily accessible by public transportation, including the metro and buses. If you’re staying in other parts of Istanbul, it’s a good idea to use public transport to avoid traffic congestion.

Always open

13. Hippodrome

Hippodrome - what to see Istanbul

Visiting Istanbul is a must for history buffs and culture enthusiasts alike. One site that should be on any traveler’s list is the Hippodrome. This ancient arena served as the hub of Constantinople’s public life for centuries and was home to chariot races, athletic contests, and political gatherings. The Hippodrome shares its space with some of Istanbul’s most visited attractions, including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace. It’s a central meeting point for locals and tourists alike, where you can grab a bite to eat at a nearby cafe, people-watch, and immerse yourself in the vibrant city life. The Hippodrome is not only a historical sight but a community hub of Istanbul where ancient and modern life converge. 


The Hippodrome is located in the Sultanahmet district, near popular attractions like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace. It’s easily accessible on foot if you’re staying in the Sultanahmet area.

Always open

14. Kiz Kulesi

Kiz Kulesi - what to see Istanbul

If you’re planning a trip to Istanbul, you won’t want to miss Kiz Kulesi, also known as Maiden’s Tower. Located on a small island in the Bosphorus, this stunning tower offers breathtaking views of the city. But it’s not just a pretty sight – Kiz Kulesi is also rich in history and legend. One of the most famous stories is that of a king who was warned by a fortune teller that his daughter would die from a snake bite on her 18th birthday. To protect her, he built the tower and kept her there. However, on her 18th birthday, a gift of fruit was delivered to the tower with a poisonous snake hidden inside, ultimately leading to her death. While this tragic tale may give you goosebumps, visiting Kiz Kulesi is a unique and unforgettable experience that you don’t want to miss. Plus, once you’ve explored the tower, there are plenty of nearby shops and cafes where you can grab a coffee, chat with locals, and soak up the vibrant atmosphere of Istanbul. 


To fully appreciate the beauty of Kız Kulesi, consider taking a boat tour that includes a stop at the tower. Many local tour companies offer this service, often combined with other sightseeing.


15. Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar - what to see Istanbul

Istanbul is a fascinating city, full of incredible sights, sounds, and smells. And if you’re looking for a unique shopping experience, then the Spice Bazaar is the place to be. Located in the heart of the city, this historic market is a bustling hub of activity where locals and visitors alike come to browse aromatic spices, fragrant teas, and other exotic goods. From vibrant piles of saffron to pungent cloves, the Spice Bazaar is bursting with an array of flavors and textures that will delight your senses. So why not join the throngs of locals and tourists and explore one of Istanbul’s most vibrant and iconic destinations?


Bargaining is part of the culture at the Spice Bazaar. Don’t hesitate to negotiate the price, especially when buying items in bulk or from smaller shops.


With all its diverse culture, stunning natural beauty, and vibrant attractions, Istanbul has something for everyone. From spending days exploring the city’s ancient and majestic sites to strolling through its modern cosmopolitan districts or finding that perfect souvenir in the grand bazaars, this remarkable city is sure to captivate any traveler. So why not take a trip and discover the wonder of Istanbul for yourself? You can simply enjoy the sights and sounds of this ancient city or plunge into the hustle and bustle of modern shopping centers – whatever you choose to do, your time in Istanbul will be an unforgettable experience. So let’s get out there with open minds, curious hearts, and adventurous souls – let’s explore all of what Istanbul has to offer! 

Discover unforgettable travel experiences.