27 Epic Museums In Istanbul, Turkey We Love | Best İstanbul Travel

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Post author Mehmet

Written by our local expert Mehmet

Mehmet is digital nomad who was born in Istanbul, Türkiye and now calls the Balkans region his home-office.

27 Epic Museums In Istanbul, Turkey We Love | Best İstanbul Travel

Welcome to my guide to Istanbul’s museums. It’s a city that’s not just where I was born but also a place brimming with art and history. Growing up here, I’ve always been intrigued by our museums. They’re not just about art; they tell the story of Istanbul, from everyday life to the grand moments in Turkish history.

In this guide, I’m keeping it real with a mix of the most visited museums and a few hidden gems that are worth your time. We’re talking ancient treasures, stunning Ottoman architecture, and a great place with seriously cool modern art.

So if you are planning to visit several museums (and you should) you will be able to choose the best ones for your taste quickly.

Turkey Travel Blog_From Ancient Artifacts To Modern Materpieces: 25 Best Museusm In Istanbul

Come along with me as we uncover Istanbul’s past and present through its museums. Whether it’s the Istanbul Archaeology Museums with its ancient artifacts, like the famous Tablet of a Love Poem, or the contemporary art museums showcasing the latest and greatest, this city has something for every kind of art lover.

Think of this as your insider’s tour of Istanbul’s museum scene. There is no fluff, just straight-up great places that I, as a local, love and recommend. Ready to dive into the heart of Istanbul’s art and history?

A Word On Hagia Sophia

But first, you should know that the “Hagia Sophia Museum” you see on some lists is outdated; we converted the Hagia Sophia back into a working mosque in 2020. But never fear; you can visit it any day you like for a 25 euro entry fee (outside of prayer times).

Right, let’s get started on my list of museums.

Introduction To The Top Museums In Istanbul

Istanbul is home to some of the world’s most incredible museums. From ancient artifacts to modern masterpieces, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Sj asked me to make a list of the 10 best museums, but there are far too many, so I had a hard time listing just these ones.

Here are the top must-visit museums in Istanbul:

1. Topkapı Palace Museum

The Topkapi Palace Museum is a museum in Istanbul that is, without a doubt, one of the most popular tourist attractions. Built in the 15th century, it was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. The palace complex houses four central courtyards, many smaller ones, and numerous buildings, including the harem, a school, a hospital, and a library.

The museum’s collection includes items that belonged to the sultans and their families, as well as furniture, clothing, artworks, weapons, armor, and more. Visitors can see how the Sultans lived and learn about their culture and traditions. The harem is particularly interesting, as it provides insight into the private lives of the royal family.

The Topkapi Palace Museum is open every day except Tuesdays.

2. Istanbul Archaeology Museums – Archaeological Museum, Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Tiled Kiosk Museum

Alexander Sarcophagus

Photo credit

Founded in 1891, the Istanbul Archaeological Museums complex was Turkey’s first museum. The museum houses over a million artifacts from ancient civilizations that have existed in the area now known as Istanbul, including the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman era.

Tucked away near Topkapi Palace, this museum complex is a goldmine of artifacts from Turkey and beyond. It’s not just one museum, but three – the Archaeology Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Tiled Kiosk Museum.

The real showstopper here is the oldest known love poem, etched on an ancient tablet, which is just mind-blowing. Think about it: people expressing love thousands of years ago, not so different from us. The museums are a bit of a walk through the park, but it’s a nice stroll, and once you’re inside, it’s like a journey back in time.

You’ll see everything from colossal statues to delicate jewelry. The place is huge, so give yourself a few hours to wander around. And hey, don’t skip the Tiled Kiosk Museum – it’s smaller but has some stunning ceramics. Just a heads up: there’s a small entry fee, but it’s totally worth it. This is one of those spots in Istanbul where you get a real sense of how rich and layered the city’s history is.

In the Museum of the Ancient Orient, look for the cool collection of Anatolian weights and measures. It shows the evolution of weighing and measuring systems used in Anatolia and the wider region – I found these super interesting. 

3. Pera Museum

Turkey Travel Blog_Museusm In Istanbul_Pera Museum
Photo Credit: Pera Museum

The Pera Museum is one of the most popular museums in Istanbul. It is located in the Beyoglu district and houses a large Turkish and Islamic art collection. The museum was founded in 2005 and features a variety of permanent and temporary exhibitions.

Some of the highlights of the Pera Museum include the “Golden Age of Ottoman Art” exhibition, which showcases a selection of Ottoman art from the 16th to 19th centuries; the “Islamic World through the Eyes of European Travellers” exhibition, which features a collection of Orientalist paintings; and the “Faces of Turkey” exhibition, which explores portraiture in Turkish art.

The Pera Museum is also home to a café, library, and shop. Visitors can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while browsing the library’s collection of books on Turkish and Islamic art. The museum shop offers a variety of souvenirs, including books, postcards, and jewelry.

Other Museums In Istanbul I love

4. The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum

The Museum of Islamic Art and History is not a famous museum in Istanbul but is, in fact, one of Istanbul’s most underrated museums. 

The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, located in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, is a treasure trove of artifacts that span over a thousand years of Islamic art and culture.

The museum is housed in the former palace of İbrahim Paşa, which overlooks the Hippodrome; the museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the rich tapestry of Islamic heritage.

Here’s what you shouldn’t miss when visiting:

  • Carpet Collection: the museum boasts one of the world’s most extensive collections of Islamic carpets, with pieces dating back to the 13th century. The collection includes rare Seljuk, Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal carpets, showcasing intricate designs and craftsmanship
  • Manuscripts and Calligraphy: explore the museum’s impressive collection of illuminated Qur’ans, manuscripts, and calligraphic panels. The artistry of Islamic calligraphy is displayed through beautifully decorated Qur’an copies and other significant religious texts, highlighting the importance of calligraphy in Islamic culture

5. Chora Museum

Turkey Travel Blog_Best Museusm In Istanbul_Chora Museum
Photo Credit: Chora Museum

The Chora Museum is one of the most important Byzantine monuments in Istanbul. It is known for its beautiful mosaics and frescoes. This is one of several Istanbul museums located in the Edirnekapı neighborhood.

The building that houses the museum was originally a church, built in the early 4th century. In the 12th century, it was converted into a mosque; in the 19th century, it was used as a storage facility for antiquities. In 1958, it was opened as a museum.

The church has three naves, and its barrel-vaulted ceiling is decorated with mosaics. The main apse contains a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator, flanked by two angels. This mosaic is considered to be one of the finest examples of Byzantine art.

The Chora Museum also contains several other important Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. These include depictions of scenes from the life of Christ, such as the Nativity and the Crucifixion, as well as portraits of saints and biblical figures.

The museum has become a popular tourist destination and is one of the most visited museums in Istanbul.

6. Military Museum

The Military Museum is one of Istanbul’s top must-visit museums. The museum houses an extensive collection of military artifacts from the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic, making it a fascinating place to learn about Turkey’s rich militaristic history. Some of the museum highlights include a replica of the world’s first submarine, designed by Turkish naval hero Hasan Reis; an extensive collection of Ottoman firearms and ammunition; and a wide variety of uniforms worn by Turkish soldiers throughout the ages.

7. Tile Museum

The Tile Museum is one of Istanbul’s lesser-known gems, but it is well worth a visit for anyone interested in art and history. The museum houses an extensive collection of Turkish tiles dating back to the 14th century. The displayed tiles are incredibly beautiful and provide a fascinating glimpse into the country’s past.

8. Rahmi M Koc Industrial Museum

Photo Credit: Wiki

Rahmi M Koc Museum is one of the top must-visit museums in Istanbul. The museum is dedicated to the industrial history of Turkey. It is located in the historic city center of Istanbul. The museum has a collection of over 100,000 items on display. The museum is open every day from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

9. Istanbul Military Museum

The Istanbul Military Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in the history of the Ottoman Empire. The museum houses an impressive collection of artifacts from the Ottoman period, ranging from ancient weapons and armor to modern military equipment. Visitors can also learn about the history of the Turkish army and see how it has evolved over time.

10. Istanbul Naval Museum

Istanbul is home to many galleries, each with unique museum collections and exhibits. The Istanbul Naval Museum is one of the most popular museums in the city, and for a good reason. The museum houses an extensive collection of maritime artifacts, from ancient ships to modern naval vessels. Visitors can learn about the history of the Turkish navy, see some of the world’s oldest shipwrecks, and even take a tour of a real submarine.

11. Miniaturk

Miniaturk Istanbul

Miniaturk is a must-visit museum for anyone interested in art and history. The museum is located in the heart of Istanbul and houses an impressive collection of miniature works of art. The collection includes works from the Ottoman, Byzantine, and Seljuk periods and modern Turkish artists. Visitors can also view a number of important archaeological artifacts, including a statue of Hercules and a sarcophagus from the 5th century BC.

12. Istanbul Toy Museum (İstanbul Oyuncak Müzesi)

The Istanbul Toy Museum is one of the most unique museums in the city. It is housed in an old Ottoman mansion and has a collection of over 10,000. You can see toys dating back to the 1700s.

Sunay Akın is a renowned Turkish poet, writer, and journalist who established the İstanbul Toy Museum in 2005. The museum is divided into two sections; the first is devoted to traditional Turkish toys, and the second showcases toys from around the world.

Some of the museum’s highlights include a room full of dolls from different cultures, a life-size replica of a traditional Turkish wedding, and a section devoted to transport-themed toys. There is also a café on site where you can enjoy views of the Bosphorus while sipping on some Turkish tea.

13. Basilica Cistern

Istanbul - Roko & Vladimir with Medusa head at Basilica Cistern

If you’re ever in Istanbul and looking for something a bit different, the Basilica Cistern should definitely be on your list. Imagine stepping away from the bustling city streets and descending into an ancient underground world.

This place isn’t just a big old water tank; it’s a marvel of engineering from the 6th century, built by the Byzantines to supply water to the city. Walking through it, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a different era, with its dim lighting and the soft echoes of water droplets.

The cistern is supported by hundreds of columns, each with its own story, but the real showstoppers are the two columns with the Medusa heads at the base. And look how cute family pictures are there! (That’s Mrs. Chasing the Donkey’s family there this year)

Why are they upside down? Well, that’s a mystery that adds to the charm of the place. Remember to wear comfy shoes, as it can get slippery down there, and bring a light jacket — it’s cooler underground.

The Basilica Cistern offers a peaceful escape from the outside world, and it’s a unique slice of history right under the streets of modern Istanbul. Don’t just take my word for it; seeing this place for yourself is like stepping into another world right in the heart of the city.

14. Pelit Chocolate Museum – The City’s Only Chocolate Museum

The Pelit Chocolate Museum, located in the Esenyurt district of Istanbul, is dedicated to the world of chocolate. This museum, created by the Pelit pastry and chocolate company, offers a unique experience where visitors can explore a variety of chocolate sculptures and displays.

The museum features impressive chocolate sculptures, including models of famous landmarks, historical figures, and fairy tale characters, all crafted from chocolate. There are also sections that detail the history of chocolate and its production process. Additionally, the museum provides workshops and activities for visitors, especially appealing to children and those interested in learning about chocolate making.

The Pelit Chocolate Museum is a fun and educational destination for chocolate enthusiasts and families looking for a unique experience in Istanbul. It’s a great place to explore, learn, and, of course, taste some delicious chocolate.

15. Museum Of Great Palace Mosaics

The Great Palace Mosaic Museum in Istanbul is a hidden gem for history buffs and art lovers alike. Located near Sultanahmet Square, this museum is somewhat overshadowed by seeing the famous nearby attractions like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, but it’s absolutely worth a visit.

The museum is home to a remarkable collection of Byzantine mosaics unearthed from the Great Palace of Constantinople, which was the royal residence of the Byzantine emperors.

These mosaics are not just impressive because of their size and age; they’re a colorful peek into the daily life and culture of the Byzantine era. The scenes depicted are lively and detailed, showcasing people, animals, and mythical creatures in vivid and expressive designs. What makes it even more fascinating is that these mosaics were originally part of the palace’s decoration, so you’re literally walking on history.

Visiting the Istanbul Mosaic Museum is a straightforward affair. It’s not very large, so you won’t need a whole day – a couple of hours should suffice. This makes it a great addition to a day of sightseeing in the Sultanahmet area. Plus, it’s indoors, so it’s a good choice if you need a break from the weather.

16. Galata Mevlevi House Museum

Semazen, Dervishes. Whirling Dervishes Ceremony in Istanbul.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY – OCTOBER 20, 2016: Semazen, Dervishes. Whirling Dervishes Ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey. Mevlana Dervish Dancing.

The Galata Mevlevi House Museum, which can be found in the bustling Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, is a must-visit. This museum, once a dervish lodge, offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of the Mevlevi Order, famously known for their Sufi whirling rituals. The Mevlevi, or Whirling Dervishes, are followers of Jalaluddin Rumi, a 13th-century poet and mystic, and their ceremonies are a captivating blend of music, prayer, and dance meant to seek spiritual transcendence.

As you step into the museum, you’re transported into the serene and spiritual world of the Mevlevi. The exhibits include a wide array of artifacts, including musical instruments, robes, and items used in their ceremonies, all of which help to tell the story of this unique spiritual practice. The highlight for many visitors is seeing the sema-hane, the hall where the dervishes performed their whirling rituals.

 The museum is relatively small, so a visit won’t take up much of your day, making it easy to fit into a busy itinerary.

17. Ara Guler Photography Museum

The Ara Güler Museum in Istanbul is a captivating destination for those who appreciate photography and modern history and is a great place to spend an hour or two.

Dedicated to the works of Ara Güler, an acclaimed Armenian-Turkish photographer nicknamed “The Eye of Istanbul,” the museum showcases a vast collection of his photographs, particularly from the 1950s and 1960s. Güler’s black and white images are more than just photographs; they’re windows into the soul of Istanbul during a transformative period in its history.

Güler had an incredible knack for capturing the essence of daily life, the spirit of the city’s streets, and the faces of its people. His photographs range from intimate portraits of everyday Istanbulites to panoramic shots of the city’s evolving landscape. Each image tells a story, reflecting the cultural, social, and urban transformation of Istanbul in the mid-20th century.

The museum itself is thoughtfully designed, and in addition to the permanent exhibitions of Güler’s work, the museum often hosts temporary exhibitions and events from international artists, making it a dynamic space that celebrates both historical and contemporary photography.

18. Galata Tower

Istanbul in January - Galata Tower

Galata Tower is one of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks, offering an unparalleled view of the city’s sprawling landscape. This medieval stone tower, which dates back to the 14th century, is a symbol of Istanbul’s rich history and a testament to its enduring appeal. Originally named the Tower of Christ, it was built by the Genoese as part of the defense wall surrounding their district of Galata.

Climbing up the tower is an experience in itself. Inside, a narrow staircase winds up to the observation deck, where you’re greeted with a 360-degree panorama of Istanbul. From here, you can see the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, the Asian side of the city, and many of Istanbul’s famous landmarks. It’s an ideal spot for photography enthusiasts or anyone who wants to get a bird’s eye view of the city.

Rooftop Restaurants In Istanbul - Galata tower Istanbul and night

But Galata Tower isn’t just about the view. The building also holds a significant place in Istanbul’s history. It has served various purposes over the centuries, from a watchtower to a fire observatory. The tower’s history is as layered as the city itself, with each period adding a new chapter to its story.

Located in the Beyoğlu district, one of the best things to do after the Galata Tower is wander the narrow, cobbled streets lined with cafes, shops, and boutiques around it.

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More Famous Museums In Istanbul

19. Panorama 1453 History Museum

This museum offers a captivating visual representation of the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453, marking a pivotal moment in history. The Panorama 1453 History Museum utilizes immersive 360-degree paintings and exhibits to bring the epic siege to life, allowing visitors to step back into a critical point in time where the city transitioned from Byzantine to Ottoman rule.

20. Rumeli Fortress

Constructed in 1452 by Sultan Mehmed II, the Rumeli Fortress stands on the European side of Istanbul, directly across the Bosphorus from the Anatolian Fortress. It played a crucial role in the Ottomans’ successful conquest of Constantinople, offering not only an incredible view but also a glimpse into the strategic military architecture of the 15th century.

21. Fethiye Museum (Pammakaristos Church)

This museum, once a Byzantine church, is renowned for its exquisite mosaics, considered some of the finest examples of Byzantine art in Istanbul. The Fethiye Museum showcases the religious and artistic sophistication of the Byzantine period, featuring detailed mosaics that tell stories of faith and empire.

22. Tekfur Palace Tile Museum

Situated near the ancient city walls of Istanbul, the Tekfur Palace, dating back to the late Byzantine period, now houses an impressive collection of Ottoman tile art. The museum highlights the evolution and craftsmanship of ceramic and tile work that flourished during the Ottoman Empire’s later years.

23. The Museum of Turkish Jews

This museum delves into the centuries-old history of Jewish life in Turkey, showcasing the cultural, social, and historical journey of Turkish Jews. Through a variety of artifacts, photographs, and personal stories, visitors can learn about the contributions and experiences of the Jewish community in Turkey.

24. Istanbul Modern Art Museum

Turkey’s first museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art, the Istanbul Modern Art Museum, located in the heart of Istanbul, offers a comprehensive look at Turkey’s modern art scene. The museum showcases a wide range of works from Turkish and international artists, making it one of the best art museums for contemporary art enthusiasts.

25. Madame Tussauds Istanbul

Located on the European side of Istanbul, Madame Tussauds allows visitors to snap photos with wax figures of famous Turkish and international celebrities. The museum combines entertainment and artistry, presenting lifelike figures in various settings.

26. Museum of Innocence

 Inspired by Orhan Pamuk’s novel of the same name, the Museum of Innocence is set in a historic 19th-century house. It offers a unique museum experience that blends literature and real-life artifacts to evoke the atmosphere of Istanbul from the 1970s and 1980s, focusing on themes of love and social change.

27. Sakip Sabanci Museum

Located in Emirgan, one of Istanbul’s most prestigious neighborhoods, the Sakip Sabanci Museum hosts temporary exhibitions featuring famous artworks from around the world alongside its permanent collection. The museum, housed in a historic mansion with views of the Bosphorus, also focuses on calligraphic art, religious and state documents, as well as paintings of the Ottoman era.

Map Of İstanbul Museums

Wrap Up Of Best Museums In Istanbul

Istanbul Palace - Braided Guards (Zuluflu Baltacilar), Topkapi Palace, Istanbul_Depositphotos_595477328_S

Can you believe that this is not an exhaustive list of the best museums in Istanbul? There are still more. Maybe I’ll write bout more next visit. But, as you can see, no trip to Istanbul would be complete without a visit to one of the world-class museums.

Whether you’re interested in ancient history or modern art, there’s sure to be a museum in Istanbul that piques your interest.



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