The Top 10 Sights of Istanbul

Which highlights and attractions are not to be missed on your holiday in Istanbul? Here you will find a list of the top 10 sights of Istanbul!

The multifaceted city of Istanbul in western Turkey is considered a multifaceted link between East and West. The only city in the world that lies on two continents attracts countless city holidaymakers to its exciting world between Orient and Occident every year.


The breathtaking buildings that characterise Istanbul range from over 2000-year-old walls to the most modern skyscrapers. Mosques and palaces tell stories of the Arabian Nights and the Grand Bazaar has been the scene of loud haggling for centuries. Office buildings and shopping centres bear witness to globalisation, which has not stopped at the time-honoured walls of the former Constantinople / Byzantium.

For over three millennia, Istanbul can boast a turbulent history. As a stop on the Silk Road, it was a hub for goods from all over the world, and served as a capital for the Romans, Byzantines and finally the Ottomans. Its architectural legacies still shape the cityscape today.

Accordingly, the sights of Istanbul are numerous and varied, of which these 10 hot spots are not to be missed on a holiday in Istanbul!

Tip: With the Istanbul Welcome Card, many sights can be visited at reduced prices or for free. A round trip on the Bosporus, for example, is included.

Hagia Sophia

In 1453, Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople. Constantinople and had his soldiers loot it for three days - the Church of St. Sophia became the Muslim Hagia Sophia, Turkey - © Maksym Gorpenyuk / Shutterstock
© Maksym Gorpenyuk / Shutterstock

No real Istanbul tourist can get past this famous mosque without entering it! In late antiquity, the once largest church in Christendom was called the eighth wonder of the world, and even today the breathtaking domed building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Hagia Sophia was once a Roman Catholic basilica, built in the 6th century by the Roman Emperor Justinian. In the mid-15th century, when the Ottomans conquered the city, all Christian traces were erased and the church was consecrated a mosque by the sultan. There is not much left of the Romans today; the artistry of the Ottomans and Byzantines dominates inside the magnificent domed building.

Since 1935, the former St. Sophia's Church has no longer been used as a place of worship, but serves as a museum. In addition to the unique architecture (the "floating" dome is particularly impressive!), mosaics and marble ornaments from the 9th century can also be admired here.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque)

The night-time illumination makes it clear why the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul is also called the "Blue Mosque", Turkey - © Luciano Mortula / Shutterstock
© Luciano Mortula / Shutterstock

Directly opposite the Hagia Sophia on the square of the same name is the no less impressive Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Also known as the Blue Mosque, it has also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It got its nickname from the blue and white tiles that dominate the dome and the interior, as well as from the nightly illumination that makes the Blue Mosque shine in a mystical blue light.


TheSultan Ahmed Mosque was built in the 17th century by the famous architect Sinan. The masterpiece of Ottoman architecture is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. The richly decorated interior under the 43-metre-high dome is topped by six slender minarets. This circumstance, unique in the world, is allegedly due to a linguistic misunderstanding between the architect and his client...

Cisterna Basilica (Sunken Palace)

The Yerebatan Sarayi (Sunken Palace) is a cistern built in the 6th century for the palace of Emperor Justinian, Istanbul, Turkey - © Luciano Mortula - LGM / Shutterstock
© Luciano Mortula - LGM / Shutterstock

To the west of Hagia Sophia and just a few minutes' walk from the Blue Mosque lies a hidden attraction of Istanbul. The Yerebatan Sarayi is a cistern built in the 6th century for the palace of Emperor Justinian. When James Bond rowed through the gloomy hall in "Love Greetings from Moscow", the "Sunken Palace" became known worldwide.

In the days of ancient Byzantium, the 80,000-litre water reservoir was located under a basilica, of which only its name remains today. The 138-metre-long and 65-metre-wide portico is bathed in mystical light from spotlights - a sight with the WOW factor! Under the 336 columns that support the vault, which is about eight metres high, you still feel like you are in an ancient cathedral.

Curious: two of the columns have artistically chiselled Medusa heads as their foundations. These were not actually intended for the Cisterna Basilica, but were used as building material because the stonemason had made a mistake in their manufacture.

Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul was for several centuries the seat of the sultans who ruled over the Ottoman Empire, Turkey - © Ruslan Kalnitsky / Shutterstock
© Ruslan Kalnitsky / Shutterstock

The magnificent Topkapi Palace on the headland between the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn was the seat of the sultans who ruled the Ottoman Empire for several centuries. It was built in the mid-15th century and has served as a museum since 1923.

The total area of the palace complex, whose current appearance dates back to the early 18th century, occupies a massive size of around 70 hectares. Up to 5,000 people once lived within the impressive walls. Of these, around 2,000 ladies formed the sultan's harem, inhabiting 300 rooms.

Entrance to the "Cannon Gate Palace" is through the imposing "grand lordly gate". The rooms, decorated with colourful ornaments, present precious porcelain and jewels, Ottoman weapons, documents and manuscripts (including one of the oldest copies of the Koran), elaborate portraits and Islamic relics, such as some of the beard hairs of the Prophet Mohammed, in four courtyards. Their furnishings of tropical woods, thick carpets, marble and gold still bear witness to the immense wealth of the sultans.

Dolmabahçe Palace

The Dolmabahçe Palace was built from 1843 to 1856 instead of the Topkapi Palace as a new residence for the sultans, Istanbul, Turkey - © muratart / Shutterstock
© muratart / Shutterstock

The overwhelming Dolmabahçe Palace was built from 1843 to 1856 in place of the Topkapi Palace as the new residence for the sultans. Due to the ever closer ties with the West, the Sultan of the time thought it appropriate to adapt his seat to European standards. And so the 46 halls, 285 rooms and 68 bathrooms were given beds, gas lighting, central heating and flush toilets.

The technology of modern living was imported from Great Britain at the time, and Versailles near Paris and Schönbrunn in Vienna served as models for the palace. The times when the sultan rolled out his sleeping carpet himself according to Turkish tradition were over.


The 600-metre-long magnificent building is located directly on the banks of the Bosporus and occupies an area of around 45,000 square metres. Some of the magnificent rooms can be visited and the view of the old city of Istanbul is also impressive.

The "palace of full gardens" can of course also boast a grandiose palace park. Here, too, the design with flower arrangements and fountains is inevitably reminiscent of those of the European ruling houses from the 19th century.

Bosphorus and Galata Bridge

The Bosphorus is the border between Europe and Asia, cutting Istanbul in half and making the metropolis the world's only city on two continents, Turkey - © CEM AYDIN / Shutterstock
© CEM AYDIN / Shutterstock

The Bosphorus is the strait that connects the Black Sea with the Marmara Sea, forms the border between Europe and Asia, and cuts Istanbul in half, making the metropolis the world's only city on two continents.

Along the Bosphorus lie many of Istanbul's sights, including the Dolmabahçe Palace, the Leander Tower on its small island, the Beylerbeyi Palace, the Küçüksu Palace or the Anadolu Hisarı, one of the first Ottoman castles on the Bosphorus.

A trip on the 30-kilometre-long Bosphorus is therefore an absolute must when on holiday in Istanbul! The ferries (Vapurs) depart several times a day from the Eminönü tram stop, which is right next to the Galata Bridge. The three-hour tour takes you to the second Bosphorus bridge and also offers Turkish tea and snacks on board.

By the way, the street food shops on the two-storey Galata Bridge are a sight - or rather a cost - in themselves. Every day, around 500,000 people cross the Galata Bridge. Many of them are fishermen, because the Bosporus is rich in fish that migrate back and forth between the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea. Their catch can be eaten right away in the popular fish restaurants at the Galata Bridge.

Tip: The Bosphorus Bridge also offers a wonderful view of the constant hustle and bustle along the famous strait.

Leander Tower (Girls' Tower)

The Leander Tower (Maiden's Tower) served as a lighthouse, a quarantine and customs station as well as a retirement home for naval officers and is one of the landmarks of Istanbul, Turkey - © Ahmed Adly / Shutterstock
© Ahmed Adly / Shutterstock

This small lighthouse on its island in the middle of the Bosphorus is one of Istanbul's landmarks. According to legend, this is where the mighty chain from the Manganga Palace ended, which once blocked the Bosphorus in case of threatening attacks on the city. During its existence, the Leander Tower not only served as a lighthouse, but also as a quarantine and customs station or retirement home for naval officers.


Today's tower is located about 180 metres off the coast of Istanbul and dates back to the 18th century. There are two legends surrounding its two names: Leander is said to have swum to his lover Hero every night. But one night the torch that usually showed him the way went out and he drowned. When Hero learned of her lover's death, she also threw herself into the sea.

Thetower is called the Maiden 's Tower because a legendary princess once lived here whose death was predicted by poisoning. To prevent this, the king locked her in this tower and yet fate struck: a snake was hiding in a fruit basket and its poisonous bite was fatal...

Galata Tower

The Galata Tower was once built by the Genoese as part of their city fortifications and is one of the most beautiful viewpoints over Istanbul, Turkey - © Artur Bogacki / Shutterstock
© Artur Bogacki / Shutterstock

On the northern side of the Galata Bridge, in the Karaköy district, lies the funicular of the same name that leads to Beyoglu. The Genoese once settled here and to this day this district of Istanbul is the hip multi-culti heart of the city.

On the north bank of the Golden Horn also stands the Galata Tower, which the Genoese once built as part of their city fortifications. It was not until the middle of the 20th century that the Galata Tower was restored according to original plans and is now one of the most beautiful vantage points over Istanbul.

A lift takes visitors comfortably to the seventh floor, and the last two floors, which also include a restaurant, can be reached via a wooden spiral staircase. The view across the Bosphorus to Asia is simply breathtaking!

Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, with around 4,000 shops, is the epitome of a Turkish marketplace and is roamed by up to 500,000 people every day, Turkey - © Tekkol / Shutterstock
© Tekkol / Shutterstock

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is the epitome of a Turkish marketplace. As early as the 15th century, shortly after the city was conquered by the Ottomans, the Grand Bazaar was the region's most important trading centre, and to this day it remains one of Istanbul's most visited sights.

The approximately 4,000 shops at the Grand Bazaar are roamed by up to 500,000 people every day. Visitors are as varied as the languages, colours and smells encountered in this vibrant city within a city. Traditionally decorated copper and porcelain, handmade clothes, woodwork and carpets, jewellery, colourful cloths, dried fruits, coffee specialities, sticky-sweet lokum and much more are on offer here.


Even those who don't want to shop should simply find a cosy spot in one of the countless tea houses and soak up the hustle and bustle with a typical Turkish Cay.

Taksim Square

Taksim Square is one of Istanbul's main traffic hubs, from which several roads and public transport lines lead in all four directions through the megacity, Turkey - © IV. andromeda / Shutterstock
© IV. andromeda / Shutterstock

As in every renowned metropolis in the world, Istanbul is also home to a main square steeped in history. Taksim Square is a main traffic junction from which several roads and public transport lines lead in all four directions through the city of millions. Istanbul's historic tram, which is of interest to tourists, also has its turning point here. Accordingly, there is always something going on here!

In the centre of Taksim Square sits the massive Monument to the Republic, which commemorates the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. Several monumental buildings are grouped around the square, including the Atatürk Cultural Centre to the east and the Marmara Hotel to the south.

In 2013, Taksim Square hit the global headlines as the centre of protests against President Erdogan. Initially, the demonstrations were "only" against the construction of a shopping mall in the neighbouring Gezi Park, but quickly voices were raised against the existing government.

PICTURES: The top sights of Istanbul