The best museums in Istanbul are mostly located on the European side of the city. The most visited museums can be found in Sultanahmet (Old City), Beyoglu (Taksim) and on the shores of the Bosphorus (Besiktas and Sariyer).
In this article, you can find the 30 most visited museums of Istanbul. Some of these museums are churches from the Byzantine period, some are palaces from the Ottoman period, and others are modern museums opened in the Republican period.
As a tourist guide working in Istanbul for nearly 20 years, I tried to briefly convey my knowledge about each museum. If you need more detailed information, you can find it in the “Museums” category of this site.
Best Museums to Visit in Istanbul 2021
The list of the best museums to visit in Istanbul consists of 30 titles. I placed the numbers only to make them easy to follow. So the numbering isn’t to favor one museum over another.
In addition, I would like to state once again that there is a more detailed article on the site about each museum. The words marked in blue in this article are shortcuts to each museum’s own article.
1. Topkapi Palace
You will be mostly outdoors during your visit to the palace. Because the palace consists of 4 large courtyards and rooms surrounding each courtyard. The most important of these rooms are the imperial council, the treasury, the holy relics and the harem sections.
Within the walls surrounding the Topkapi Palace are the Hagia Irene, the Istanbul Archeology Museum and the History of Science in Islam museum. In addition, there is the Gulhane Park, which promises a wonderful walk among the trees.
2. Dolmabahce Palace
Dolmabahce Palace shows us the architectural change that the Ottoman Empire went through over time. Built in the 19th century, the palace has Neo-Classical and Baroque influences.
Dolmabahce Palace is located in one of the most beautiful places on the Bosphorus and has a sea view from almost every room. Built in the last years of the empire, the palace is decorated with ostentatious furniture and chandeliers.
Dolmabahce Palace offers great photo opportunities to its visitors. Although it is forbidden to take photos inside the palace, there are many instagrammable spots in its gardens.
3. Hagia Irene
Hagia Irene was part of the same church complex as Hagia Sophia in Roman times. The union of the two churches was called Megale Ekklesia, meaning “Great Church”.
Both churches were rebuilt during the reign of Justinian. Hagia Irene was overshadowed because Hagia Sophia had a superior architecture. Hagia Irene, which was built once again during the Iconoclasm period, has a very simple interior decoration today.
Hagia Irene, a museum within the borders of Topkapi Palace, is an impressive place with its mystical atmosphere. However, since it is a very simple structure, you may need to use a little imagination to enjoy it.
4. Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern is definitely one of the most mysterious historical monuments in Istanbul. Basilica Cistern, an underground water reservoir, was built in the 6th century shortly after Hagia Sophia.
The most important feature of the Basilica Cistern is the Medusa Statues. The Heads of Medusa were placed as supports under two relatively short columns deep inside the cistern.
Some scenes of the James Bond movie starring Sean Connery were shot in the cistern. The scenes of the movie Inferno, adapted from Dan Brown’s novel, were also shot in the Basilica Cistern.
Basilica Cistern, a world-famous Eastern Roman structure, ranks first among the best museums to visit in Istanbul. It should also be noted that the Museum Pass Istanbul is not valid here.
5. Theodosius Cistern
Theodosius Cistern is the oldest of the Roman cisterns in Istanbul. This cistern, which is even older than the Basilica Cistern, was recently restored and opened to the public as a museum.
Known as “Serefiye Cistern” in Turkish, there is now a light show in the Theodosius Cistern. You can go to the cistern at the beginning of an hour during the day and watch this light show that lasts for 10 minutes.
During the light show, you can see images that refer to the Byzantine period, Ottoman period and the foundation of the Republic in Istanbul’s history, reflected on the walls and columns of the cistern.
6. Galata Tower
Galata Tower is among the most iconic structures of Istanbul. Built by the Genoese in the 14th century, the tower and its square are today one of the city’s most vibrant tourist destinations.
During the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, the Italian Genoese trade colony would take the goods coming from the Silk Road from the port of Constantinople to Europe. There are castles, walls and towers that these skillful sailors left in Istanbul.
Galata Tower was recently restored and became a modern museum. Around the Galata Tower are some of the best shopping streets in Istanbul. Creative souvenir shops and art galleries can be found in this area.
7. Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum
Turkish and Islamic Art Museum is actually an Ottoman palace from the 16th century. This palace belonged to Sultan Suleiman‘s right-hand man, Grand Vizier (Prime Minister) Ibrahim Pasha.
8. Istanbul Archaeological Museum
Istanbul Archaeological Museum houses the magnificent heritage of Anatolia. Sculptures, sarcophagi and manuscripts from Anatolia, which has hosted civilizations throughout history, are exhibited here.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum is located within the walls of Topkapi Palace. If you go down the slope next to Hagia Irene in the first garden of the palace, you can find this magnificent museum.
Anatolia hosted some of the first civilizations in history. You can see an important part of this heritage in the museum in Istanbul. In addition, the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in the capital Ankara also has a very rich collection.
9. Great Palace Mosaic Museum
Great Palace Mosaic Museum is one of the hidden jewels of Istanbul. The little-known museum houses floor mosaics from the Great Palace of the Byzantine emperors. The mosaics dating to the reign of Emperor Justinian are impressive.
In order to find the Great Palace Mosaic Museum, you need to enter the Arasta Bazaar next to the Blue Mosque. While walking in this historical bazaar, you can see the signs directing you to the museum.
10. Beylerbeyi Palace
Beylerbeyi Palace is one of the Ottoman palaces built on the shores of the Bosphorus in the 19th century. Standing out with its unique location on the Bosphorus, the palace is one of the best museums on the Asian Side of Istanbul.
Beylerbeyi Palace was originally designed as a summer palace for sultans. Later on, it became a guest house for foreign aristocrats visiting Istanbul. The most important guest of the palace in history was Empress Eugénie de Montijo, the wife of the French emperor Napoleon III.
In the 1800s, palaces with baroque and neoclassical architecture were built in Istanbul. Although the most famous of these is Dolmabahce Palace, Beylerbeyi is also an elegant building. The most striking decoration of the palace is the blue marble columns in the main hall.
11. Yildiz Palace
Yildiz Palace is located in a giant park in Besiktas. The palace, which was used in the late Ottoman period, consists of pavilions spread over a large area. This place is identified with Abdulhamid II, one of the sultans of the last period of the Ottoman Empire.
Yildiz Palace is a hidden paradise in Istanbul with heavy traffic and crowds. You can take a pleasant walk in the gardens of the palace, visit the tile factory and have a drink at the Malta Pavilion. Yildiz Palace complex is one of the best museums in Istanbul to observe Ottoman history.
12. Galata Mevlevi House Museum
Galata Mevlevi House Museum is a place that carries the legacy of the famous philosopher. Rumi lived in Konya (Iconium) in the center of Anatolia in the 13th century. The teachings of the famous philosopher attract attention all over the world today.
Galata Mevlevi House Museum is within walking distance of both Taksim Square and Galata Tower. Here you can watch one of the two best whirling dervish shows in Istanbul. There is a similar performance at the Hodjapasha Cultural Center in the Old City.
13. Panorama 1453 Museum
Panorama 1453 Museum is located in Zeytinburnu, one of the districts in the center of the Historical Peninsula. The museum basically depicts the war in which Istanbul was besieged by the Ottomans.
The Walls of Constantinople surrounding Istanbul had protected the city from enemy occupation for 1000 years. These walls, which were built during the reign of Emperor Theodosius II, could only be demolished with the development of artillery.
Panorama 1453 Museum visualizes how the city was taken by the Ottomans after a long siege during the reign of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. If you are interested in war history, you will like the realistic visuals in the museum.
Miniaturk is located in Sutluce district at the end of Golden Horn. In this charming museum, there are small models of historical artifacts in Turkey from ancient times to the present. Visiting Miniaturk is one of the most kid friendly activities in Istanbul.
One of the most important features of the Miniaturk Museum is that it visualizes ancient structures that no longer exist. For example, you can see the wonders of ancient times such as the Temple of Artemis and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in this museum.
15. Rahmi Koc Museum
Rahmi Koc Museum is a wonderful museum located on the shore of the Golden Horn. After seeing the collections of the museum, you can enjoy Turkish cuisine at the restaurant by the sea.
Rahmi Koc Museum is known as Turkey’s first industrial museum. Here you can observe the evolution of many household goods and means of transportation that we use in our daily life.
There are old planes, a nostalgic ferry and even a submarine in the museum. As an Istanbulite, I really enjoy visiting this museum. According to many locals, this is one of the best museums in Istanbul.
16. Rumeli Fortress
Rumeli Fortress was built in the 15th century before the conquest of Istanbul. The giant fortress was built to control the passage of ships through the Bosphorus. Today, it serves as a museum with a magnificent view.
There are some of the best breakfast places in Istanbul around the Rumeli Fortress. Rumeli Hisari district, named after the fortress, is the first choice of those who want to have breakfast by the Bosphorus at the weekend in Istanbul.
17. Sakip Sabanci Museum
Sakip Sabanci Museum is located in Emirgan, one of the most beautiful districts of the Bosphorus. The works of world-famous painters can sometimes be seen in the temporary exhibitions in the museum.
Sakip Sabanci Museum also has a nice restaurant like the Koc Museum mentioned above. You can have a nice meal by the Bosphorus at this restaurant called Müzedechanga. After Sabancı Museum, you can also visit the nearby Emirgan Park.
18. Fethiye Museum
Fethiye Museum is home to some of the most beautiful mosaics from the Byzantine period. The museum is actually an extension of the Pammakaristos Church, one of the late Byzantine churches.
The most famous of the Byzantine churches in Istanbul is undoubtedly Hagia Sophia. However, two other important places where you can observe Byzantine art are Fethiye Museum and Kariye Mosque (former Chora Church).
19. Tekfur Palace Tile Museum
Tekfur Palace Tile Museum is actually the last piece of a Byzantine palace from the Middle Ages. Also known as the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, this small Byzantine palace is located in the Ayvansaray district.
Inside the museum, there is an exhibition of pieces from the late period of Ottoman tile art. In Tekfur Palace Tile Museum, you can see these tiles and examine the late Byzantine architecture.
In fact, in this district was the Palace of Blachernae, the second largest palace in Constantinople. According to historians, the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, identified with Constantine VII, is the last surviving part of that palace.
20. Ara Guler Photography Museum
Ara Guler Photography Museum introduces its visitors to the recent history of Istanbul. It is possible to see photographs of Istanbul from the 50s and 60s in the museum.
Ara Guler, Turkey’s most famous photographer, won many awards around the world in his career. The artist had taken photographs of painters such as Picasso and Salvador Dali. One of the most important moments in Ara Guler’s life was discovering the ancient city of Aphrodisias while taking photographs.
The Ara Guler Photography Museum displays the best photographs of this famous photographer. Ara Guler Museum is considered one of the best art museums in Istanbul. In order to see the museum, you can go to the activity center called Bomontiada.
21. Museum of Innocence
Museum of Innocence refers to a book by Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk. Located in Cihangir, one of the coolest districts of Istanbul, the museum takes its visitors back 50 years.
While Orhan Pamuk was writing his novel the Museum of Innocence, he was also designing the museum. For this reason, he collected nostalgic items about all the places he mentioned in the novel.
Orhan Pamuk bought a building in Cukurcuma, which is famous for the antique shops of Istanbul, and worked on its restoration for many years. The result was an award-winning museum.
22. The Museum of Turkish Jews
The Museum of Turkish Jews is located in Neve Shalom, the largest synagogue in Istanbul. In the museum, the origins of the Jews who lived in Turkey for centuries and the history of Judaism are explained.
Jews always existed in Istanbul during both the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. Especially during the Ottoman period, with the addition of Sephardic Jews from Spain, the Jewish community in Istanbul grew.
Today, you can visit districts such as Galata, Ortakoy and Balat to follow the traces of the Jews in Istanbul. Neve Shalom, Ahrida and Etz Ahayim, the most important synagogues of the city, are also located in these districts.
23. Istanbul Naval Museum
Istanbul Naval Museum tells about the maritime history of the Turks. Located in the Besiktas district of Istanbul, full of luxury hotels, the museum is also very close to the Bosphorus.
While the Ottoman Empire was at its peak in the 16th century, Turkish ships were dominating the Mediterranean. Famous Turkish admirals such as Hayreddin Barbarossa, Dragut and Piri Reis also served during this period.
At the Istanbul Naval Museum, you can see both the historical development of the Turkish navy and the characteristics of the Turkish navy in the Republican period. This is among the best museums to visit in Istanbul for those who are keen on maritime.
24. Istanbul Military Museum
Istanbul Military Museum is a museum that history buffs must visit. Located in the middle of touristic districts such as Taksim Square, Nisantasi and Besiktas, the museum is easily accessible.
You can observe the Turkish military tradition from the Seljuk and Ottoman periods at the Istanbul Military Museum. You can trace these empires that came from Central Asia and dominated Anatolia and Mesopotamia for centuries.
25. Istanbul Modern Art Museum
Istanbul Modern Art Museum is located inside Galataport, the city’s cruise port. It is very easy to reach the museum located in Karakoy, one of the transportation centers of Istanbul.
Modern art is developing rapidly in Turkey as well as in the rest of the world. Modern artworks have been the subject of many temporary exhibitions in the city, especially in recent years.
If you want to follow the traces of Turkish modern art, you can visit the Istanbul Modern Art Museum. One of the things that has become the symbol of the museum is Richard Wentworth’s work called False Ceiling.
26. Pera Museum
Pera Museum is located in Beyoglu, the most touristic place of Istanbul. The museum is located on Mesrutiyet Street, where famous hotels such as Pera Palace are located.
Pera Museum, one of the best art museums in Istanbul, has a collection of Orientalist Paintings. In this section, you can see the life in the East in the 18th and 19th centuries through the eyes of Western painters.
Pera Museum also preserves the legacy of Osman Hamdi Bey, the founder of the Istanbul Archeology Museum. The Tortoise Trainer by Osman Hamdi Bey, an Ottoman bureaucrat and painter, is also exhibited here.
27. Sadberk Hanim Museum
Sadberk Hanim Museum is located in Sariyer district on the shores of the Bosphorus. The museum is in a historical building in the center of Sariyer, which is famous for its fish restaurants.
Sadberk Hanim Museum is somehow connected with Rahmi Koc Museum mentioned above. Because Sadberk Hanım was one of the respected members of the Koc family of Istanbul.
The tile collection and traditional clothing collection that Sadberk Hanim collected during her lifetime can be seen in the museum. You can find many clues about Turkish culture in this museum.
28. Istanbul Aquarium
Istanbul Aquarium is located very close to Ataturk Airport, the old Istanbul airport. You can have a great time with your children in the museum located in Bakirkoy district.
Istanbul Aquarium fascinates its visitors with the diversity of sea creatures in it. It is also possible to take short dives and swim alongside sea creatures in the aquarium. You can also visit Florya Shopping Center, which is in the same complex after the aquarium.
29. Madame Tussauds Istanbul
Madame Tussauds Istanbul is a great place to take pictures with both local and foreign celebrities. All local celebrities are represented in the field of politics, science, sports and cinema.
Apart from local celebrities, you can also see singers, movie actors, politicians and sportsmen who have made world history. Madame Tussauds Istanbul is a good place to take beautiful instagram photos in Istanbul.
30. Istanbul Toy Museum
Istanbul Toy Museum was opened with the initiative of Turkish poet Sunay Akın. In order to establish this museum, Sunay Akın collected toys from all over the world for many years and created a huge collection.
Thanks to the initiatives of the Toy Museum, Istanbul was once chosen as the toy capital of the world. Representing the Asian Side of Istanbul, this museum is undoubtedly one of the best museums in Istanbul.
Written by Serhat Engul