10 Most Visited Museums in Istanbul

To better understand the fascinating history of Istanbul, you should absolutely include several museums to your itinerary during your stay in Istanbul. The historical museums of Istanbul include the Topkapi Palace and its harem, the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, the Dolmabahçe Palace where the leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk died, or the mystical Cistern Basilica. A tour through the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum right across from the Blue Mosque is also one of the classics in Istanbul. All these museums with various themes, from science to maritime, makes us understand the contemporary side of Istanbul… Art lovers will have to visit the Istanbul Modern Museum, Pera and the Elgiz Museum. Technology fans can visit the Rahmi M. Koc Museum and the Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam.

1. Topkapi Palace and Harem

The Topkapi Palace is one of the most famous Istanbul tourist attractions and part of the historic peninsula which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. The construction of the Topkapi Palace began soon after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by Sultan Mehmet, the conqueror. The first part of building was completed in 1468. Until 1478 the palace was enlarged. The palace received its present appearance at the beginning of the 18th century.

The Harem
This is the most exciting part about Topkapi Palace which was the most secluded and private section. Here was the home for Sultans, royal family members including the Queen Mother and underage children of Sultan, the concubines, favorites and wifes of the Sultan. Originally there used to be about 300 rooms in Harem. Of course, today it is possible to see only some part of it. The life in Harem has been the subject of curiosity by Europeans for decades. Harem is hiding many intrigues and interesting stories within its walls. Make sure to create some time for this amazing section as you make your way to Topkapi Palace.

Address: Topkapı Sarayı, Cankurtaran Mahallesi, Sultanahmet, Fatih
Entrance: Closed on Tuesdays
Visiting Hours: 09:00 – 18:00

2. Istanbul Archaeological Museum

The Archaeological Museum was founded in 1891 and is today the largest and most important archaeological museum in Turkey. It is located in the Eminönü quarter of Istanbul, near Topkapi Palace. Its collections include some 15.000 archeological pieces of prehistoric, Mesopotamian, Assyrian, Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods as well as pre-Islamic and Islamic Arab culture. In 1991 the museum was awarded the Museum Prize of the Council of Europe. A must-see if you are interested in seeing historical artifacts from the Ottoman period. The Archeology Museum is divided into three parts:

  1. The Archaeological Museum itself
  2. The Museum of Ancient Near Eastern Art
  3. The Museum of Islamic Ceramics (Çinili Köşk).

Address: Alemdar Caddesi, Osman Hamdi Bey Yokuşu, Gülhane
Entrance: Open everyday
Opening Hours during Summer: 09:00 – 19:30
Opening Hours during Winter: 09: 00 – 17: 30
Price: 360 TL

3. Dolmabahçe Palace

The magnificent Dolmabahce Palace on the banks of the Bosphorus served as the residence of the Ottoman sultans from 1856. Architects with European education built the 600-meter-long building with 46 halls, 285 rooms, 6 hammams and 68 baths on an area of 45,000 m². Inside the Dolmabahce Palace, visitors can marvel at the great collection of European antiquity, beautiful paintings, furniture, handmade silk carpets and the famous 4.5 tons crystal chandelier, which is the largest chandelier in the world. The palace also has a very significant feature for the Turkish people as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, who spent his last days here and died on 10.11.1938.

Tip: * With your ticket to “Selamlık “ section of Dolmabace Palace, you also get an entrance for the Clock Museum and Painting Museum in the garden of Dolmabahce Palace.

Painting Museum
After seven years of restoration work a part of the Dolmabahce Palace Celestial Office has been opened as the “National Palaces Painting Museum”. It consists of 11 sections in thematic integrity and displays about 200 pieces of Turkish and international artists of the 19th century.

Clock Museum
71 Ottoman, British and French watches of the 18th and 19th century which were kept in the warehouses, came to daylight with the Clock Museum that has been opened after renovation works of the former Interior Treasury building in the Harem Garden of Dolmabahçe Palace.

Address: Dolmabahçe Sarayı, Vişnezade Mahallesi, Dolmabahçe Caddesi, Beşiktaş
Entrance: Closed on Mondays
Visiting hours: 09:00 – 18:00

4. Beylerbeyi Palace Museum

Beylerbeyi Palace, the “Palace of the Lord of the Lords”, is located on the Asian side of Istanbul and offers a wonderful view of the Bosphorus and the old town from the other side. The palace was built under Sultan Abdülaziz between 1861 and 1865 and is one of the most important palaces of Istanbul. Beylerbeyi Palace served as the summer residence of the Sultans and as a place to entertain foreign heads of state, including Queen Eugenie the wife of Napoleon III., Queen Elisabeth, the King of Montenegro, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the Russian Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich Romanov. Visiting this palace is the best occasion for travelers to go to the other side of the Bosphorus, learn even more about the former empire and be amazed by yet another incredible monument. You shouldn’t miss it !

Address: Beylerbeyi Sarayı, Beylerbeyi Mah., Abdullah Ağa Caddesi, Beylerbeyi
Entrance: Closed on Mondays
Visiting hours: Open from 09:00 to 18:00 .
Price: 50 TL per person

5. Rumeli Fortress

Rumeli Fortress is an Ottoman fortress built in 1452, making it the second oldest Ottoman fortress. Fatih Sultan Mehmet II had this monumental structure built as part of its preparations for the siege of Constantinople. Since an extensive restoration on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople in 1953, the fortress acts as a museum. The exhibition of the museum shows relics of the time such as cannons, cannonballs and the chain that was used to block the Golden Horn. The atmosphere at the fortress is unreal and the view is breathtaking. This visit will be a peaceful moment spent outside of the Istanbul crowds.

Address: Rumeli Hisari, Yahya Kemal Caddesi, Sarıyer
Entrance: Closed on Mondays
Summer: 09:00 – 19:30
Winter: 09:00 – 17:30
Price: 30 TL

6. Museum of Great Palace Mosaics

The Museum of Great Palace Mosaics is located at the Arasta Bazaar near the Blue Mosque, in the grounds of the Great Palace, former residence of the Byzantine emperors. The mosaics were extensively restored and transported back to this place, where the museum was finally built. The impressive mosaics are from the Byzantine period around the years 450-550 AD and show mostly scenes from everyday life, mythology and nature. Fans of delicate art who want to know more about how mosaics are made and preserved will love this museum.

Address: Arasta Bazaar, Sultanahmet Mahallesi, Fatih
Entrance: Open everyday
Summer: 09:00 – 17:30
Winter: 09: 19:30
Price: 35 TL

7. Hagia Irene Museum

Hagia Irene is a former Byzantine church and today’s museum in Sultanahmet, on the grounds of Topkapı Palace. This famous church in Istanbul is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. Hagia Irene was built under the Roman Emperor Constantine I in the 4th century as the first church in Constantinople. When Hagia Irene Church had been burnt down during the Nika uprising in 532, Justinian I. reconstructed it. After the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453, the palace guard of the Janissaries used Hagia Irene Church as a weapons arsenal. The Hagia Irene is the only Byzantine church with an original preserved atrium. Since 1973, the restored architectural monument has been used for classical concerts for its impressive acoustic atmosphere.

Address: Aya Irini Müzesi, Cankurtaran Mahallesi, Topkapı Sarayı 1. Avlu, Fatih
Entrance: Closed on Tuesdays
Visiting Hours in Summer: 09:00 – 17:00
Visiting Hours in Winter: 09:00 – 16:00
Price: 80 TL

8. Basilica Cistern

One of Istanbul’s most popular museums is hidden beneath the streets of the city: the Basilica Cistern. Located west of Hagia Sophia, the cistern has a capacity of 80,000 cubic meters of water. Built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian, it served as a water reservoir for the Great Palace, a large Basilica that stood on this site in late antiquity. With an area of 9800 square meters, the Basilica Cistern is the largest and best excavated among Istanbul’s 60 underground cisterns. A visit to the museum, which impresses its visitors with a quite mystical scenery, is like a unique journey into the past. More than 300 well-preserved columns as well as two Medusa heads from the Roman period await you here. Moreover, there is an exhibition themed “light”. Read more details about the Basilica Cistern in our dedicated article.

Address: Yerebatan Cad. Alemdar Mah. 1/3 34410 Sultanahmet-Fatih
Entrance: Open everyday
Opening Hours: 09:00 – 19:00
Price: 190 TL for international visitors

9. Istanbul Modern Museum

Istanbul Modern opened in 2004 as the first museum of modern and contemporary art in Turkey. With the aim of uniting the artistic creativity and cultural identity of Turkey with the international art world, the museum offers a wide range of activities. Istanbul Modern’s global vision is to collect, preserve, document and exhibit works of modern and contemporary art and make them accessible to the general public. The museum offers a variety of cultural activities in its permanent and temporary exhibition halls, in the photo gallery, in the rooms for educational and social programs, in the library and in the cinema.

Address: Asmalımescit Mahallesi, Meşrutiyet Caddesi 99, Beyoğlu
Entrance: Closed on Mondays
Tuesday to Saturday: 10.00 – 18.00
Sundays: 11.00 – 18.00
Price: 68 TL for international visitors

10. Galata Tower Museum

Galata Tower, one of the most iconic symbols of the city, was actually built in 528 by the order of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius. When the Genoese, a kingdom in Italy, settled in this region, they enlarged the tower and used it to watch the ships approaching from afar. After the city was conquered by the Ottomans, it first served as a dungeon and then as a fire tower. It is possible to go up to the terrace of this historical building and look at a magnificent view. This is one of the favorite spots of Istanbul visitors to take pictures and get an overall view of the city from every side. Don’t miss the Galata Tower!

Address: Bereketzade Street, Galata Tower, Beyoglu/Istanbul
Entrance: Open everyday
Summer: 08:30 – 24:00
Winter: 10:00 -20:00
Price: 100 TL