10 Great Museums in Istanbul

Home > Destinations > Europe > 10 Great Museums in Istanbul

10 Great Museums in Istanbul

If you can’t visit a city without a museum visit, or three, you’ll love Istanbul. A city with thousands of years of rich history and culture, Istanbul is home to countless must-see museums. There are art museums and ancient palaces, mansions to roam through and underground cisterns to explore. You’ll be dazzled and dizzied by the array of artifacts, sculpture and historic literature and art, from the Ottoman era to today. Here are our suggestions for the top ten Istanbul museums you must visit during your visit to this glorious east-meets-west city.

Insider Tips for Visiting Istanbul Museums:

  • Most Istanbul museums are open six days a week.
  • Most Istanbul museums are closed on Mondays.
  • Check the opening and closing times as many museums have later opening and closing times on the weekend.
  • During the winter, some museums may open later or close earlier.
  • In general, go early or late to avoid the biggest tourist crowds.
  • Most museums will be closed on Turkey’s national, religious and public holidays.
shutterstock 1017684592navsumo.com
Photo Credit : Shutterstock
1. Topkapi Palace
Start with the big one, Topkapi Palace, sitting on a historic peninsula overlooking the Golden Horn and Bosphorus Strait. As you wander through the museum, you’ll see what life was life for the royals of the Ottoman era, who resided here between the 15th and 19th centuries. Take at least half a day to visit all the halls and pavilions, noticing the beautiful İznik tiles, the Umayyad and Ottoman artifacts and the harem section, where the sultan’s concubines lived (this area gets crowded and closes early). Finish with a walk around the four courtyards, including the treasury.
shutterstock 505556230navsumo.com
Photo Credit : Shutterstock
2. Hagia Sophia Museum
Originally a Byzantine church, the Hagia Sophia Museum, in the Sultanahmet district, is as impressive from the outside as it is on the inside. The church was converted into an Ottoman mosque and later, in 1935, into a museum. Look for the Islamic inscriptions and Christian mosaics on the domes and walls. Be aware that the Hagia Sophia pulls in a large number of tourists every day (partly why they are now open on Mondays, when most other public museums in the city are closed), so go early or later, if possible.
shutterstock 124975664navsumo.com
Photo Credit : Shutterstock
3. Basilica Cistern Museum
Visit one of Istanbul’s most mythical and historic buildings, the Basilica Cistern, in the southwest of Hagia Sophia. The underground cistern was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Marvel at the two Medusa heads, used as supports under the two northwest columns of the cistern. There are several legends swirling around about the Medusas, one view believing that Gorgona paintings and sculptures were used to preserve large structures, hence why the Medusa was placed here.
shutterstock 1843318360navsumo.com
Photo Credit : Shutterstock
4. Sadberk Hanım Museum
Escape the crowds of the popular Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace and head to the lesser-known Sadberk Hanım Museum, a 19th-century mansion on the Bosphorus Strait. Get your fill of art and culture as you peruse nearly 18,000 artifacts from the Anatolian civilization. Look for gorgeously woven Ottoman textiles, İznik tile art from as far back as the 16th century and other pieces spanning from prehistoric times to the Byzantine era.
shutterstock 1078262762navsumo.com
Photo Credit : Shutterstock
5. Istanbul Modern
Art enthusiasts will love the Istanbul Modern, the city’s celebration of modern and contemporary art. Read up on the evolution and main features of Turkish art and view the collection exhibitions, which change periodically, to reflect the varied artistic media used by Turkish artists starting in the early 20th century. The Photography Gallery displays the evolution of photography in the country and abroad, as well as prominent pieces by Turkish photographers. There is a small collection of contemporary art from around the world.
shutterstock 1393943675navsumo.com
Photo Credit : Shutterstock
6. Sakıp Sabanci Museum
Another popular art destination, the Sakıp Sabanci Museum in the coastal neighborhood of Emirgan holds one of Turkey’s most revered collections of historical art and world-class exhibitions. Take time to enjoy the beautiful gardens surrounding the museum, then head inside to marvel at historic manuscripts (including one from Sultan Mahmud II) and paintings by Osman Hamdi Bey and dine at the acclaimed museum restaurant, which is run by the Culinary Arts Academy of Istanbul. Admission is free every Wednesday.
shutterstock 1529637443navsumo.com
Photo Credit : Shutterstock
7. The Quincentennial Foundation of Turkish Jewsy
Chronicling the story of 700 years of goodwill between Turks and Jews, The Quincentennial Foundation of Turkish Jews collects, preserves and exhibits knowledge and artifacts about Turkish Jews and their life, history, religion and culture as it manifested itself in the Ottoman era and modern Turkey. Learn about the history of the Jews in Anatolia from the 4th century BC, as well as the arrival of the Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 and later from Portugal. Hear religious hymns from Edirne Maftirim, read about the Struma incident and even witness a religious ceremony in the Neve Shalom Synagogue. Interactive maps show all of the synagogues and settlements of Jewish life in Turkey. You can even take home a printed recipe for Sephardic cuisine to try at home.
shutterstock 1890241060navsumo.com
Photo Credit : Shutterstock
8. Istanbul Toy Museum
Embrace your inner child, or impress the children in your life, at the Istanbul Toy Museum. Turkish poet Sunay Akın opened the museum to display toys dating back to the 1700s. There are often children’s activities and creative workshops happening at the museum, set in the residential neighborhood of Göztepe on the Asian side of the city. Learn about how toys were produced through the centuries.
shutterstock 33944989navsumo.com
Photo Credit : Shutterstock
9. Istanbul Archaeology Museums
Three museums in one, the Istanbul Archaeology Museums include the main archaeology-focused section, the Ancient Orient section and the Tiled Pavilion. With its impressive collection of prehistoric, Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman artifacts, the museum immerses you in the oldest of human civilizations.
shutterstock 277807247navsumo.com
Photo Credit : Shutterstock
10. Dolmabahce Palace Museum
Wander through the strikingly beautiful rooms of the Dolmabahce Palace Museum, on the banks of the Bosphorus in Besiktas. There are more than 50,000 objects at which to marvel, all of which reflect a typical Baroque style. The last six Ottoman Sultans and Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, all resided in this white-marble palace.
shutterstock 262471556navsumo.com
Photo Credit : Shutterstock
11. Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
Set in the Ibrahim Pasha Palace, an important building from the 16th century, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts was the last one opened during the Ottoman era. It houses more than 40,000 objects, including carpets and manuscripts, wooden, glass, metal and ceramic items, and ethnography exhibits.

Get Our Best Stuff First.

Sign up for our newsletters.

Don’t Forget
Your U.S. Passport

and Travel Visas