22 Best Museums in Istanbul that Every Traveller Must Visit

Istanbul is the only city on two different continents. With a rich history, if you visit Istanbul, it would be a shame not to stop by the many Istanbul museums to absorb the culture. If history is your thing, we have a list of the best museums to visit.

You should be aware that if you’re going to visit quite a few places, you may wish to invest in a Museum Pass Card. It will help you skip long queues as well as get a discount at some private museums, hammams, and museum cafes.

List of Best Museums in Istanbul:

1. Topkapı Palace Museum

Topkapi palace is one of the best museums in Istanbul

Open Wednesday to Monday

Although Topkapı Palace used to be the administrative headquarters and primary residence of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire, it has now been converted to one of the most famous museums in Istanbul. It’s not just the objects from the Ottoman Empire but the Ottoman Architecture that’s sure to fascinate any history buff.

Moreover, Topkapı Palace is in the Old City, recognized by UNESCO as being a World Heritage Site. 

Visiting hours & admission: Topkapı Palace Museum website

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2. Rahmi M. Koç Museum

Open Tuesday to Sunday

One of the richest men in Turkey, Rahmi M. Koç, decided to create his own private museum with his personal collection. Visitors will get to see exhibitions that focus on the history of transport, communication, and industry. The museum is located on the northern shore of the Golden Horn.

Visiting hours & admission: Rahmi M. Koç Museum website

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3. Istanbul Archaeology Museums

Open everyday

These are three museums in one: the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, The Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Tiled Kiosk Museum. Combined, the museums have a collection of over one million objects that represent all eras and civilizations in World History from Greece to Egypt. 

The museums were established in the late 1800s when Sultan Abdülaziz was impressed by the museums in other cities in Europe. He wanted his own archeological museum. The first curator was Osman Hamdi Bey.

Visiting hours & admission: Istanbul Archaeology Museums website

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4. Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts

Open everyday

Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum is located in the Sultanahmet District. This institution dates back to 1913; however, it’s built on the former Ibrahim Pasha Palace. 

If you want to soak in some culture in the city, this is one of the best museums to visit in Istanbul because it is located just across from The Blue Mosque. Unlike other museums, this was the first to collate all Islamic arts in Turkey, and also it participated in international exhibitions. Its collections are recognized by the world as it has won several European prizes and been recognized by UNESCO for its rare artifacts. 

Visiting hours & admission: Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts website

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5. Istanbul Naval Museum

Photo by CeeGee / CC BY-SA 4.0

Open Tuesday to Sunday

The largest of all the naval museums in Istanbul, this spot dates back to 1897. Although there is a separate Istanbul Military Museum, this spot may be considered the first military museum in Turkey.

The collection has historical artifacts that pre-date the Ottomans. There are real stories from real people, and this is one of the few history museums with perfect English in the descriptions. They are usually closed on the first day of religious holidays. 

Visiting hours & admission: Istanbul Naval Museum website

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6. Istanbul Museum of Modern Art

Open Tuesday to Sunday

This modern art museum is one of the newer art museums, and it focuses on Turkish art. Despite its name, it occasionally houses art from international artists and artists from an earlier period. The top floor houses a restaurant, permanent collections, and seminar rooms. The lower floor has a cinema, a library, and temporary exhibitions.

Visiting hours & admission: Istanbul Museum of Modern Art website

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7. Pera Museum

Open Tuesday to Sunday

This is another art museum, but its focus is on the ancient orient. Just down the street from the Pera Palace Hotel, this foundation houses an extensive collection of the most famous art pieces in history. You will find Osman Hamdi Bey’s well-known Tortoise Trainer painting here. 

Visiting hours & admission: Pera Museum website

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8. Galata Tower

Open everyday

Included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, the tower dates back to the Byzantine Empire. It’s a favorite amongst tourists due to its panoramic view of Istanbul. It’s also considered a symbol of Istanbul’s skyline. Recently, restored a museum hosting exhibitions that depict a significant part of the history and culture of the city. 

Visiting hours & admission: Galata Tower website

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9. Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya Mosque)

Open everyday

Until recently, this was known as the Hagia Sophia Museum. In 2020, it was repurposed to serve as a mosque again, which was a controversial decision, but the landmark still welcomes visitors. One may visit the mosque outside of prayer hours. Since the change, this critical bit of culture no longer has an entrance fee. This building dates back to 537 and is considered one of the most famous tourist attractions in Istanbul. 

Visiting hours & admission: Hagia Sophia website

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10. Chora Museum (Kariye Mosque)

Open everyday

This is another church that was converted into a museum in the 1940s. Just like Hagia Sophia in 2020, it has been converted into a mosque. This means that it can be visited outside prayer times for free. When it was built in the 4th century, it was part of a monastery. The mosaics and architecture must be seen to be believed. 

Visiting hours & admission: Chora Museum website

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11. Basilica Cistern

Open everyday

The largest cistern in Istanbul started life in the 3rd or 4th century as a basilica. Later, it was converted into a cistern in 476, which provided water to the Great Palace of Constantinople and then Topkapı Palace in the Ottoman. This is one of the most breathtaking Turkish touristic landmarks you will visit. When you do visit, you’ll be directed to find one of the Medusa heads on the column. 

Visiting hours & admission: Basilica Cistern website

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12. Panorama 1453 History Museum

Open everyday

1453 is one of the most significant years in Turkish history. It was the year that Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror overpowered Byzantine forces to gain control over Constantinople.

It is located near the point where the Ottomans breached the walls of the Byzantium Empire. It’s famous for its panoramic painting. The optical illusion coupled with the sounds will make you feel like you’re in the midst of the battle. If you can’t make it, you may want to visit their website. You can download an app to get a feel for the painting. 

Visiting hours & admission: Panorama 1453 History Museum website

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13. Miniaturk

Open everyday

One of the world’s largest miniature parks, you will find models representing Turkey’s most prominent cultural heritage here. You won’t find everything as the park only has 135 models, but there is extra space for newer models to arrive. When you visit, you’ll be taking a tour of not just Istanbul but all of Turkey. You will also find models of places important to Turkish culture, but they may not be in Turkey. An example will be the Mostar Bridge that is located in Bosnia. 

Visiting hours & admission: Miniaturk website

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14. Hagia Irene Museum

Open Wednesday to Monday

This is one of the few churches in Istanbul that remains a museum. It stands on a temple erected before the Christians arrived in Constantinople. This building was built before the Hagia Sophia. After the siege, this building was located within the walls of Topkapı Palace. It was used as an arsenal to store weapons. Although it operates as a museum, it also hosts concerts such as the Istanbul International Music Festival. It also contains stunning art, and the atmosphere is phenomenal.

Visiting hours & admission: Hagia Irene Museum website

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15. Museum of Great Palace Mosaics

Open everyday

Unfortunately, The Great Palace of Constantinople has been lost to time. The excavations have left us with an idea of the splendor of the Palace. They also unearthed magnificent mosaics, which are now stored in this building. Although total excavation is impossible, as the building lies under Ottoman buildings, you can see the remnants of the culture if you visit. 

Visiting hours & admission: Museum of Great Palace Mosaics website

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16. The Museum of Innocence 

Photo by Fuzheado / CC BY-SA 3.0

Open Tuesday to Sunday

Established by Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk to complement his novel. You may want to visit to understand the culture that the Turkish novelist grew up in. The dates of the items are from the 1970s to the early 2000s. Its collections are based on the fictional characters in the novel.

Visiting hours & admission: The Museum of Innocence website

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17. Pelit Chocolate Museum

Photo credit: Pelit Chocolate Museum

Open everyday

The only chocolate museum in Turkey, you’ll find a host of wonderful chocolate pieces, including mini-Topkapı Palace chocolate. Over three tonnes of chocolate was used to create this spot, and it’s challenging to refrain from eating the showpieces. 

Visiting hours & admission: Pelit Chocolate Museum website

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18. Salt Galata

Photo by SALTOnline

Open Tuesday to Sunday

This is another modern art museum with its focus on Turkey. A member of the European museums confederation L’Internationale, this museum also doubles up as a research institution. If you’re interested in the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic, you may want to pop in. 

Visiting hours & admission: Salt Galata website

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19. Sakıp Sabancı Museum

Photo by Edal / CC BY-SA 3.0

Open Tuesday to Sunday

Founded by the head of Turkey’s largest business conglomerate. This is a private museum dedicated to Islamic calligraphy and paintings.

It gained worldwide attention when it hosted the words of Picasso and Rodin. Still, its focus is on the Ottoman era – from painting to religious and state documents. They’ve also lent their exhibitions to Spain. 

Visiting hours & admission: Sakıp Sabancı Museum website

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20. Galata Mevlevihanesi Müzesi

Open Tuesday to Sunday

The home of the Whirling Dervishes! Established in 1491, turned into a school, it is now a museum. Suppose you’re a fan of Rumi (Mevlana in Turkish) or Sufism. In that case, you may wish to visit the tombs, see the art or just have a moment to meditate away from the busy Beyoğlu streets.

Visiting hours & admission: Galata Mevlevihanesi Müzesi website

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21. Harbiye Military Museum

Open Wednesday to Sunday

Considered one of the finest Military Museums, it has a collection of over 55,000 items. Although not all of them are on display. The museum attempts to explore Turkish history from the pre-Ottoman eras to the modern Republic. Whether you’re pro-military or a pacifist, it is an interesting museum to visit for history fans.

Visiting hours & admission: Harbiye Military Museum website

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22. Florence Nightingale Museum 

Open on Saturdays

A beloved figure in Turkish history, you’ll find hospitals are named after her as well as a museum in the Selimiye Barracks where she lived. However, to visit the museum, you will need to arrange it beforehand. It’s only open on Saturdays, and it’s free, but you’ll have to send in a photocopy of your passport as well as hand in your phones beforehand. The reason is that the barracks are closed to civilians; however, they do allow people to visit the museum to its historical importance. 

Visiting hours & admission: Florence Nightingale Museum website

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Final words:

Istanbul is a vibrant city with so much to offer. We’ve created this list of the best 22 museums in Istanbul for you so that when you visit, it won’t be hard to find something new and interesting! There are tons of amazing places here where culture can easily overwhelm your senses.

Be sure not to miss out on some great food while you’re here too – we have tours that will help guide you through all the delicious flavors this city has to offer! Check out our 4 different food tours here.

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