Summary: Just deal with the crowds and occasional entrance fees, Istanbul’s top attractions shouldn’t be missed.

Istanbul is a city full of well-known wonders and hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Of course I’d recommend getting off the beaten path during your time in Istanbul, but the city’s most popular attractions can’t be missed.

Luckily, most of Istanbul’s can’t-miss points of interest are grouped together in the Sultanhamet, or old city, district. The close proximity of these famous sites make them incredibly easy to see, especially if your time in Istanbul is limited.

Below is my list of Istanbul’s top attractions as seen through the Instagram photos I took.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is without a doubt the most impressive building I have ever been in. At different times between the years 360 and 1453, the structure served as an Orthodox and Catholic cathedral, after which it was turned into a mosque, and after which it was turned into a museum.

Hogia Sophia - Outside

Hogia Sophia Inside

 The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)

Just a few minutes walk from Hogia Sophia, the Blue Mosque is perhaps Istanbul’s best known mosque. Completed in 1616 after 9 years of construction, it’s equally as captivating on the inside as it is on the outside.

Blue Mosque from afar

Blue Mosque up close

Basilica Cistern

Located just next door to Hogia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern was a subterranean water storage facility built in the 6th century that provided water to the surrounding area, including Topkapi Palace. In a far corner of the cavernous space, at the base of one of the numerous columns, you’ll find the upside down head of Medusa. It’s upside down as to not turn the viewer into stone (which it would if it were right side up…apparently).

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern - Medusa

Topkapi Palace

Home to Ottoman Sultans for 400 years, Topkapi Palace today is a fascinating museum filled with centuries of history. Be sure to pay the extra fee to enter and explore the Harem, the one time home

Topkapi Palace - Harem

Topkapi Palace - View

The view of Galata Tower from Topkapi Palace

Bosporus River

Taking a short cruise of the Bosporus River, which divides the city of Istanbul between the European and Asian continents,  is a great way to get off your feet and relax after exploring the above mentioned sites. Order a coffee or tea and just watch as the city and scenery pass you by.

Bosphorus River Cruise

Bosphorus River Cruise

 Galata Tower

Once used as a vantage point for spotting fires, this medieval stone tower  now serves as a perfect place to get a bird’s eye view of Istanbul. Reach the top right before sunset to  hear the city swell with the sound of the day’s last call to prayer booming from the numerous surrounding mosques. It really is an incredible experience.

Galata Tower

Galata Tower - View

Want to get off the beaten path?

Take a food tour of Istanbul. Click here for more information.

Take a food tour of Istanbul

A market on the Asian side of Istanbul

Want more travel photos, information, and tips?

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Trevor Morrow

Trevor is a traveler, writer and video maker on a mission to help you craft the best travel experiences possible. From adventurous trips with friends, to romantic trips with someone special, to splurge-worthy trips of a lifetime, he's got you covered.
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