All the museums listed below are on the European side of Istanbul and they are mostly very close to one another, so you can see all of them in just a couple of days.
Magic Ice – Istanbul’s Ice Museum
Istanbul Ice Museum may sounds a bit surprising. But unfortunately Istanbul is no longer the usually-warm city visitors imagine. Sure, it still has hot summers and generally warm springs, but it also sees lots of close-to-0 days, as well as snowy ones.
Istanbul Ice Museum by Inka
Opened in April 2010, Istanbul remains to be the “hottest” city that holds an ice-themed museum. It is in Forum Istanbul, a popular and trendy shopping center. You can visit the museum every day, compliments of being located in a mall. All you need to do is to take the subway and get off on the stop that leads directly inside the shopping center.
The admission to go into the Viking-themed ice wonder is 20TL, and you need to wear protective outfits before you enter. After that all you have to do is walk around and enjoy the sculptures under blue lights and read the story of the Vikings’ Istanbul voyage (which is available in both English and Turkish.)
Istanbul Museum of Modern Art (Istanbul Modern)
This list includes several museums that contain many diverse examples of Ottoman Empire, Byzantine and Ancient Anatolian civilization’s culture, but it is not to say Istanbul doesn’t have its share of museums that exhibit modern and post-modern artworks from both Turkish and international artists.
Sculpture in front of Istanbul Museum of Modern Art by Inka
Istanbul Museum of Modern Art is the most famous and significant example of this, and in addition to exhibitions, it also features audio guides, slide shows, videos and different types of cultural events.
So if you want to explore the modern face of Istanbul your first stop should be Istanbul Museum of Modern Art (widely known as Istanbul Modern.)After satisfying your appetite for modern art, I suggest taking in the lovely view that you can see while sitting at the museum’s café, situated on the top floor.
Opened in 2004, Istanbul Modern is located in Tophane and easy to find. You just need to get on the Kabatas tram and get off at the Tophane stop.The museum is only closed on Mondays. It is open from 10am to 6pm (from Tuesdays to Sundays, with the exception of Thursdays when it closes at 8pm) and the admission is TYL15 for adults (though groups, students, the retired and people over the age of 65 get discounts.)
Just make sure you don’t take pictures in the museum as it is not permitted.
Santral Istanbul – A Different Experience
Santral Istanbul is one of Istanbul Bilgi University’s campuses, and by far it is the best and most fun one. It has lovely, wide green areas, a concert venue, several posh (as well as modest) restaurants, a Starbucks, a residence, the education buildings and…yes, a museum.Even the Turkish name “Santral” is enough to make it interesting as it means power plant, and the campus was transformed from a power plant.
The Museum consists of 2 parts: The Main Gallery and the Energy Museum. It has several floors, displaying works of art from the same or different-themed exhibitions. It boasts of being an “international platform for arts, culture and learning as well as promoting urban regeneration”.
Photo by Charkrem
The museum is open every day except Mondays, January first and the first days of religious holidays. The visiting hours are from 10 am to 8 pm.
The entrance fee is 15TL for adults and 5TL for students, teachers, retired people, public employees, people over the age of 65, Istanbul Bilgi University’s staff, students and graduates – though an ID is required to be eligible for the discount. The entrance fee covers both The Main Gallery and the Energy Museum.
It is also very easy to get to. All you have to do is to catch one of the free Santral Shuttles that leave quite regularly from in front of AKM – the best-known building of the entire Taksim district. However the shuttle hours change a lot according to seasons, so you are advised to check the university’s website before you leave from your choice of accommodation.
Built by the order of Fatih Sultan Mehmet (the conqueror of Istanbul) in 1478, Topkapi Palace is a large palace in Istanbul which used to be the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for almost 2/3s of the empire’s existence.
The palace contains four courtyards, many smaller buildings and it used to house thousands of employees. It was the main residence for the sultans, and it was pretty much like a city within a city. Its popularity and significance eventually decreased as the centuries went by, especially after Dolmabahce Palace, also on this list, was built.
Visitors get to see abundant collections of clothes, weapons, furniture, thrones and other war gear (including war gains and gifts from the leaders of other countries), jewels, Islamic relic (the most significant ones being Prophet Muhammed’s sword and cloak.). What makes the collections memorable, in addition to its variety, is that most items are fashionably adorned with precious stones-including the war gear, reflecting the richness and the hedonistic nature of the empire.
The museum is open from 9am to 5am with the exception of Tuesdays. The entrance fee ranges from 10TL to 15 TL depending on which section you want to see, while the Harem section is only accessible to guided tours, and its tickets are additionally bought at 10TL.
Photo by xiquinhosilva
Aya Irini (Hagia Irene)
Hagia Irene (Aya Irini-named after Saint Irene, and it also means Holly Peace) is the first Byzantine church built in the 4th century. It stands on the First Courtyard of the Topkapi Palace and it is close to Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya), the next museum on our list.
Photo by Truus, Bob & Jan too!
The church saw many changes to its original design and construction as it survived many fires and attacks, but it is still a beauty waiting to be seen.Hagia Irene was used for various purposes throughout its Istanbul history, including an armory and a military museum. Presently, it is the home to many music and other cultural events as it has impressive and unique acoustic quality.
It is open as a museum every day except Mondays. However, to enter, you need to get permission from the Hagia Sofia Museum Administration. In addition to being the first Byzantine church, Hagia Iren is also the first museum of the Ottoman Empire.
Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia)
Opened to public in 1935, Hagia Sophia has gone through a similar cycle as many Byzantine churches. After Istanbul was conquered, the church was turned into a mosque and after The Turkish Republic was founded, into a museum. It is considered to be one of the many symbols of Istanbul and among the first items on any tourist’s to-see list.
Hagia Sophia is unique in its design in many ways: it has a grand dome, an incredibly high ceiling and it is one of the biggest cathedrals in the world, it fascinating (and exhausting) the visitors because of the tremendous “staircase” that goes around the entire interior of the museum. It also makes you feel like you are in a movie, or you’ve just witnessed one of the rulers walk up through steps. There is also the gallery floor where you can feel the atmosphere even further. It is also special as it has become a combination of different cultures and religious beliefs.
Photo by exfordy
The museum is open every day except for Mondays. It is open from 9am to 5pm in the winter (with the latest entrant being allowed at 4pm) and in the summer, it is open from 9am to 7pm (with the latest entrant being allowed at 6pm.) The summer hours start on 5th of April and last until October 1st. The entrance fee is 20TL.
Chora Church – Kariye Museum
Former Byzantine church Chora Church (Kariye Museum) served later as a mosque and later in 1948, it was turned into a museum and welcomed its first visitors in 1958.
Chora Church is a favorite of the locals as well as tourists due to its stunning mosaics and frescoes, mainly because of the depth and motion feel given to them. While this church’s size won’t impress you, its design is sure to catch your attention and admiration.
Photo by Begemot
It’s located in Edirnekapı and it is open every day, except Wednesdays, between 9 am and 4.30 pm. The entrance fee is 15TL. To reach there, just get on the metrobus and get off at the Edirnekapi stop.
Istanbul Archeology Museum
Istanbul Archaeology Museum is a combination of 3 separate archeological museums: The Archaeological Museum, Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Museum of Islamic Art.
It presents Anatolia’s cultural legacy with a vast and diverse collection that would even impress Indiana Jones. Some of the collection pieces are The Kadesh Peace Treaty (signed between Egypt and Hittite Empire- the oldest known peace treaty in the world), parts of statues from the Temple of Zeus, The Lycian tomb, busts of Zeus Alexander the Great (Buyuk Iskender in Turkish), a collection of Turkish, Roman and Hellenistic artifacts, fragments from the temple of Athena at Assos, Troy exhibit and hundreds of thousands of artifacts that belong to the Ottoman Empire.
Photo by damiandude
The entrance fee is 10TL and the museum is open every day (excluding Mondays) from 9 am to 5pm, with the ticket booth closing at 4pm. The transportation is quite convenient as you just need to get on the Kabatas-Bagcilar Tram and get off at the Gulhane stop.
Dolmabahce Palace is my favourite Turkish palace. It is has the most convenient location (in Besiktas) and the palace entrance as well as the famous Clock Tower comes into your view whenever you are walking or driving in the direction of Besiktas. You get a constant view of the sea, the pedestrian path is quite wide and across the street, the walls are covered with different Ataturk portraits, the founder of the Turkish Republic.
Dolmabhace Palace was utilized for administrative purposes for over many decades. Ordered by the Sultan Abdulmecid I, its design is a hybrid of different architectural styles (Rococo, Neoclassical, Baroque and Ottoman) and it’s Turkey’s largest palace.
Eventually, it became the property of the Turkish Republic and was used by a presidential residence of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk until he died in the palace.
Some of the palace’s highlights include the stunning crystal chandelier, which happens to be the largest of the world, the center hall as well as an extensive collection of crystal chandeliers, the crystal staircase, the three main parts Privy Chambers, Official part and Ceremonial hall, fountains in the garden, the clock museum and the library among others.
Photo by xiquinhosilva
A visit to the Dolmabahce Palace typically includes richly-decorated halls as well as the room Ataturk spent the rest of his days at. As he died at 9.05 am, the clock in his room is stopped at that time, and on November 10th at 9.05, it is a common occurrence for the Turkish people to stand still for a minute out of respect.
Dolmabahce Palace Museum is open to public on weekdays from 9 am to 4pm, except for Mondays and Thursdays. The entrance fee is subject to change depending on which parts you want to visit.
Yerebakan Sarnici (The Basilica Cistern)
The uniqueness award on this list surely goes to The Basilica Cistern located in Sultanahmet. It is about 1500 years old, having been built by a Byzantine Emperor to provide water for the entire empire.
Photo by eleephotography
The Basilica Cistern is 145m tall, 65m wide and contains over three hundred columns. And while it was cleaned and restored by the Turkish government, it still contains 1-2 meters of water which adds to the unique atmosphere of the cistern. You walk on the piers that are both on and around the water, which is formed like a lagoon, reflecting the light.
The Basilica Cistern is open every day from 9am to 6.30 pm and it costs 10TL to enter.
More Istanbul Tips
You’ll find lot of ideas for things to do in Istanbul in our Best of Istanbul Tips.
Where to Stay in Istanbul
To help you find a hotel for your stay in the city, you can check out our round-up of the Best Places to Stay in Istanbul, which includes a range of hotels from budget through to luxury.