In Istanbul, historical places are everywhere. This city is a melting pot of cultures, and its history is rich and fascinating. Here are three of the best historical places in Istanbul that you cannot miss.
Hagia Sophia: A Wonder of Istanbul’s Historical Legacy
Hagia Sophia is one of the most iconic historical sites in Istanbul. It was originally built in 537 as a cathedral by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The building has gone through many transformations and was turned into a mosque after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople. Today, it serves as a museum, showcasing the best of Byzantine and Ottoman art and architecture. Hagia Sophia is a must-visit for any traveler who wants to experience the city’s rich historical and cultural legacy.
What to do:
- Admire the incredible architecture of the building, including the impressive dome and the intricate mosaics.
- Learn about the history of the building through the museum’s exhibits and displays.
Entrance Fee: Free
As of 2023, Hagia Sophia opening hours are between 10:00 in the morning and 22:00 in the late evening. However, since it is a mosque, it is partially closed to touristic visits during prayer hours. As of January 2023, Hagia Sophia does not completely close during prayer hours. In the middle of the mosque, there are barriers that separate the prayer section. If you visit Hagia Sophia during prayer hours, you cannot cross these barriers.
Topkapi Palace: The Heart of Ottoman History
Topkapi Palace was the residence of the Ottoman Sultans for over four centuries. The palace is located in Sultanahmet, the historical heart of Istanbul. This sprawling complex is a testament to the grandeur and opulence of the Ottoman Empire. Today, it is a museum that houses a vast collection of artifacts, including the famous Topkapi Dagger and the Spoonmaker’s Diamond.
What to do:
- Explore the palace’s many rooms and courtyards, including the harem and the treasury.
- Take in the stunning views of the Bosphorus from the palace’s terraces.
- Topkapı Palace + Harem + Hagia Irene = 650 ₺
- Topkapı Palace + Hagia Irene = 500 ₺
- Summer Period Hours (1 April – 1 October): 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM
- Winter Period Hours (1 October – 1 April): 9:00 AM – 5:00 P
The Blue Mosque: A Symbol of Islamic Architecture
The Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is one of the most beautiful historical places in Istanbul. It was built in the early 17th century during the reign of Sultan Ahmed I. The mosque is named after the blue tiles that adorn its interior walls. The Blue Mosque is still an active place of worship and is open to visitors outside of prayer times.
What to do:
- Marvel at the mosque’s intricate tilework and calligraphy.
- Take in the panoramic view of Istanbul from the mosque’s courtyard.
These three historical sites in Istanbul are just the tip of the iceberg. Istanbul is home to many other historical places, including the Basilica Cistern, the Galata Tower, and the Grand Bazaar. With so many historical sites to explore, Istanbul truly is a city that celebrates its past.
Fun fact: The oldest place in Istanbul is the Kadikoy district on the Asian side of the city, which dates back to the 7th century BC. However, in terms of historical buildings, the oldest is probably the Byzantine-era city walls, which were built in the 5th century AD and still stand today.
As a local from Istanbul, I can attest to the fact that the city’s historical legacy is intertwined with its modern-day culture. From the food we eat to the music we listen to, Istanbul’s past is always present.
Entry fee: Free.
Opening Hours: In general, the opening hours of the Blue Mosque are from 9 am until one hour before dusk each day, excluding 90 minutes each prayer time, and two hours during Friday noon prayers.
Other historical sites in Istanbul worth visiting include the following:
The Basilica Cistern: A Mysterious Underground World
The Basilica Cistern is an ancient underground water storage system that dates back to the Roman Empire. Columns support the cistern, and it has a vaulted ceiling. Today, the site remains a popular tourist attraction that continues to intrigue and mystify visitors.
What to do:
- Walk through the dimly lit corridors and marvel at the cistern’s impressive architecture.
- Look for the two famous Medusa heads, which are located at the base of two of the columns.
Entry Fee: 300,00 TL (330 TL online).
The Galata Tower: A Bird’s Eye View of Istanbul
The Galata Tower is a medieval stone tower that stands in the Galata district of Istanbul. The Genoese built it in the 14th century, and today it provides one of the best panoramic views of the city.
What to do at Galata Tower:
- Take the elevator to the top of the tower and enjoy the breathtaking views of Istanbul.
- Visit the Galata Mevlevi House Museum, which is located at the base of the tower and showcases the history of the Mevlevi Order.
Entry fee: 175 TL for adults.
Opening Hours: The tower has different opening hours depending on the season. During the summer period, from 1 April to 1 November, it opens at 08:30 and closes at 23:00. During the winter period, from 1 November to 1 April, it opens at 08:30 and closes at 22:00..
It is also possible to purchase a museum pass Turkey, which includes admission to over 300 museums and historical sites across the country.
The Grand Bazaar: A Shopper’s Paradise
The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. The 15th century saw the construction of this building, which has served as a hub for trade and commerce ever since. Today, the bazaar is home to thousands of shops and stalls selling everything from jewelry and textiles to spices and souvenirs.
What to do at Grand Bazaar:
- Get lost in the maze of alleyways and discover hidden treasures.
- Bargain with the shopkeepers to get the best prices.
Entry Fee: Free
Working Hours: 08:30–19:00
Sultanahmet District: A Must-Visit for History Buffs
If you are interested in exploring more of Istanbul’s historical sites, the Sultanahmet District is a must-visit. Located in the heart of the old city, this district is home to several significant landmarks, including the famous Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia Museum. While in the area, you may also want to explore the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, which offer a fascinating insight into the city’s rich history.
Dolmabahce Palace: A Glimpse into Ottoman Luxury and Art
Another notable historical site worth visiting is the Dolmabahce Palace. This magnificent palace served as the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century and boasts an impressive collection of artwork and furniture. The palace is surrounded by beautiful gardens and offers stunning views of the Bosphorus.
Entry Fee: From 150 TL. Check prices here
Working Hours: 09:00-18:00.
Gülhane Park: A Tranquil Oasis in the Heart of Istanbul
For a more tranquil experience, head to Gülhane Park. This beautiful park was once part of the grounds of the Topkapi Palace and features landscaped gardens, historic pavilions, and a small museum dedicated to the history of Istanbul.
Entry Fee: Free.
Working Hours: 06:00–21:00.
Chora Museum: A Must-See for Byzantine Art and Architecture Enthusiasts (Currently Under Renovation)
If you are interested in Byzantine art and architecture, the Kariye Museum is a must-see. Located in the Edirnekapi neighborhood, this museum houses some of the most impressive examples of Byzantine mosaics and frescoes in the world.
Entry Fee: Free.
Working Hours: Closed. Check Prayer time here. (It’s closed for tourist during this time!)
Suleymaniye Mosque: A Masterpiece of Ottoman Architecture in Istanbul
Finally, no trip to Istanbul is complete without a visit to the Suleymaniye Mosque. This majestic mosque was built in the 16th century and is considered one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture. With its impressive dome and four towering minarets, it is a true masterpiece of Islamic design.
Entry Fee: Free.
Working Hours: 08:00-21:30 Check Prayer time here. (It’s closed for tourist during this time!)
In conclusion, Istanbul, Turkey is a city rich in history and culture, with countless historical places to explore. From the oldest buildings in Istanbul to famous landmarks and historical sites, visitors can immerse themselves in the fascinating history of the city. Whether you’re interested in learning about the history of Istanbul itself or the history of Turkey as a whole, there are plenty of historic areas of Istanbul to explore.
Some of the must-see sites to see in Istanbul include the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore the many historical sites in Istanbul and discover the fascinating history of this incredible city.