Palaces in Istanbul: The 10 Stunning Royal Ottoman Palaces

Dolmabahçe Palace

From the end of the Byzantine Period (15th century) to the 19th century, the Ottoman Sultans built numerous castles and palaces in Istanbul. While some sultans lived in other cities, such as the young princes learning to govern in different cities such as Amasya, most of these beautiful palaces are located in the capital of the empire: Istanbul.

Some of these palaces were the primary residence, and some were summer homes. If you’re interested in royal luxury and history, we have a list of five palaces and five pavilions (mini-palaces) that you may wish to visit during your stay in Istanbul.

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1. Topkapı Palace

Gates of Topkapı Palace

Sultan Mehmed II built Topkapı Palace on what used to be the acropolis during the Byzantium period, six years after conquering Istanbul, then Constantinople. That would make Topkapı Palace the first palace of all the Ottoman palaces in Istanbul. This palace is noteworthy for having a different architectural style than the prominent Western and Eastern styles of that era. 

Topkapı Palace has four main courtyards with different functions. The second courtyard, for example, was the administrative headquarters, and the fourth contains several beautiful pavilions and gazebos. To get a real grasp of the palace, you may wish to pay a little extra for a guided tour. 

Topkapı Palace is one of the most stunning palaces in Istanbul
Topkapı Palace interior

Topkapı Palace served as the principal royal residence of the Ottoman sultans until the 17th Century. After that, the sultans resided in other palaces along the Bosphorus strait. At that time, Topkapı still had some administrative functions.  

In 1924, after the founding of the Turkish Republic, the palace was converted into a museum. In 1985, this spot became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 

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2. Dolmabahçe Palace

The Armenian Balyan Family constructed Dolmabahçe Palace as ordered by Sultan Abdulmecid. The Sultan decided to have this palace built as he thought Topkapı was old and deteriorating. Further, he wanted the Ottoman Empire to possess a palace that would rival the many luxurious castles and palaces in Europe.

Dolmabahçe Palace was used in two different periods: 1856-1887 and 1902-1922. That would make this one of the last residences of the Ottoman sultans. Interestingly the last sultan to live here was also called Abdulmecid. 

Gates of Dolmabahçe Palace

In the intervening period, the sultan used Yıldız Palace. As a result of building his new palace, the royal family found themselves in a bit of a conundrum. The economy had collapsed so much that Europe has referred to the Ottoman Empire as the ‘sick man.’ 

During the republic period, this palace was converted to a Presidential House. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk used the palace as a summer house, and he wrote some of his essential works here. 

Dolmabahçe Palace interior

What’s impressive about this palace is not just the crystal chandeliers which weigh several tonnes, but the fact that Dolmabahçe Palace has witnessed the latter part of the Ottoman era and the earlier part of the modern era. 

While the main presidential palace is located in the capital Ankara, there is also a presidential office located at Dolmabahçe Palace, where the President of Turkey works and receives visitors.

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3. Beylerbeyi Palace

If you step foot into this breathtaking 19th-century palace, you may end up wishing that the typical vacation homes were just like this! Beylerbeyi means lord of the lords, and the name suits considering that Beylerbeyi Palace is undoubtedly one of the many beautiful palaces in Istanbul. 

Beylerbeyi Palace stands by the Bosphorus strait on the Asian side. Technically, it’s also the last palace that the Ottoman sultans lived in because it was where Sultan Abdulmecid II was placed when he was under house arrest. 

Beylerbeyi Palace interior

Although construction began during the reign of Sultan Mahmud, it was Sultan Abdulaziz that brought Beylerbeyi Palace to its current glory. He demolished the original building and rebuilt it after a fire. During the Ottoman period, Beylerbeyi Palace was used as a state guest house welcoming the likes of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, German Emperor Wilhelm II, and Prince Nikola of Montenegro. 

There’s a reason why Turkish president Atatürk loved to entertain guests at Beylerbeyi Palace even during the early period of modern Turkey. From the magnificent gardens to the detailed ornamental ceilings, anyone who loves architecture shouldn’t miss visiting the splendid summer residence as a relic of the empire.

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4. Yıldız Palace

Photo by Darwinek / CC BY-SA 3.0

The name translates as “Star Palace,” and it’s fitting. Yıldız Palace is another one of those palaces in Istanbul that UNESCO recognizes. It’s on the tentative list for how European architecture seamlessly blends with architecture from the Ottoman Empire. That may be because one of the principal architects working on the pavilions was Italian architect Raimondo D’Aronco.

Tourists may be pleased to know that there is a connection with Çırağan Palace via a bridge in the parks/gardens, which could give you a two-for-one shot. It’s also close to Dolmabahçe Palace, but unlike the latter, Yıldız Palace doesn’t overlook the Bosphorus. 

Yıldız Palace interior. Photo by Dosseman / CC BY-SA 4.0

Though specific pavilions date back to the Sultan Abdülaziz era, in practice, Abdulhamid used this building during the years 1876-1909. In those years, the sultan expanded the pavilions to create a small city with an opera house, carpenter shop, and even an imperial porcelain factory. The latter had furniture imported from Europe, and it revived the ceramic trade in Anatolia. 

The Palace is now a museum, and it has a library that art-lovers and bibliophiles should visit. The library hosts not only a vast collection of books but photographs too.

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5. Çırağan Palace

If you wanted to feel like one of the many Ottoman Sultans, you don’t need to travel back in time to the Ottoman period. Çırağan Palace is located near some of the palaces on this list, and its construction started in the 19th Century. It was built in the era when each sultan wanted his own place instead of living in their parent’s home, which is understandable today. Sultan Abdulaziz built this palace and then died a few years after. What he couldn’t enjoy, however, you can. 

We say you don’t need a time-traveling machine because Çırağan Palace may be the only one of the beautiful palaces in Istanbul in which you can stay. The Sultan’s Suite is ranked at number 14 on CNN’s ‘World’s 15 most expensive hotel suites’, making this the most luxurious accommodation in Istanbul. The Place is operated by Kempinski Hotels.

Çırağan Palace interior

It’s close to the tourist spots as the many palaces on this list. You can easily take a ferry ride to the Asian side to see the impressive Beylerbeyi Palace. Alternatively, you can walk or take a cab to see the crystal chandeliers in Dolmabahçe Palace or see the breathtaking gardens of Yıldız Palace. However, the historic Topkapı palace that served the majority of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire is quite a distance away from this hotel.

Football fans may also be impressed to know that the garden served as a football stadium for Besiktas during their establishment years.

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The Pavillions

A little outside the city center, you will find a series of pavilions that the sultans used. They’re a little further from the tourist path, but they’re still easily reachable in Istanbul. These are closer to recreational grounds and vacation homes than palaces. Further, they’re also a lot cheaper than the opulent palaces. If you’re feeling adventurous, we’ve listed some of them below. 

6. Ihlamur Kasrı

Ihlamur Pavilion was originally a farm that Sultan Ahmed bought in the 18th Century. It started as a spot to practice their shooting but soon became a recreational spot for the royal family. To this day, you may see the stones indicating the dates and shots of Sultan Selim III and Mahmud II. 

Over the years, Sultan Selim III expanded the pavilion with its quaint cobblestone pathways, the picturesque ponds, and the decorative art in each room. Ihlamur pavilion has hosted a wide variety of guests, from political leaders from Serbia to French poets. It’s a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul.

Ihlamur Kasrı interior

The cafe, which is located in the harem, has that inviting decadent decor. The staircase of the ceremonial pavilion has that understated elegance with its neo-baroque style—fun fact: the tiles around the fireplace were produced in the porcelain factory at Yıldız Palace. 

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7. Küçüksu Kasrı

Küçüksu Pavilion is located in a spot that used to be called the Sweet Waters of Asia due to its natural beauty.

Though it has been forgotten in time by tourists, it’s still an exciting spot to visit. The reason is that it was built to show off the splendor of the Ottoman Empire. This is the Ottoman Sultans’ version of those Instagram models that pose in front of expensive cars.

One could understand why: this may have been the first pavilion built for the Sultan rather than by him. The grand vizier built this pavilion for Mahmud I. It has also hosted many distinguished guests such as Prince Edward VII, Prince of Wales.

The stunning interior was designed by Charles Sechan – the French stage designer whose other work included the Vienna State Opera. 

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8. Aynalıkavak Kasrı

Photo by VikiPicture / CC BY-SA 3.0

Aynalıkavak Pavilion is also known as the Aynalıkavak Palace because it used to be part of the shipyard palace (also known as Tersane Palace). The audience hall where the sultan would receive his guests is so magnificent that it belongs in a movie. The windows in the Hasoda part have poems engraved upon them. Musicians may be surprised to note that the lower floor has a display of Turkish musical instruments, organized according to the musical interests of Selim III. 

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9. Maslak Kasrı

Photo by KalafatElif / CC BY-SA 4.0

Maslak Pavilion has a serenity that the bigger palaces in Istanbul aren’t quite able to portray. It was named after the water distribution. After Abdulhamid ascended the throne, this pavilion slowly turned into a farm called Çiftlikât-ı Hümâyûn (Royal Farms). Not all buildings have survived; however, the Reception Area, the harem, the Turkish Bath, the servant’s quarters, and the tent pavilion in the back are relatively good samples of the type of architecture that would be enjoyed by the upper-class in the Ottoman period.

There’s a spectacular lemon orchard that’ll transport you into another world. The greenhouse has rare species as gardening and farming was a hobby of the last sultan of the Ottoman empire. In the orchard gardens, there are lovely camellias. These are known to be the oldest of their species in Istanbul. 

The tent pavilion in the garden is now a cafe. It’s a lovely spot to stop, meditate and think about the big questions. 

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10. Beykoz Mecidiye Kasrı

Egyptian Governor Mehmed Ali Pasha initiated the construction of the Beykoz Mecidiye Pavilion as a gift. Unlike other palaces and pavilions, this one has colored stones on the walls and exterior. Anyone who grew up watching Disney may think that the stairs with the double arms may remind them of the ball scenes in Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Anastasia. Everything about this place – from the red carpets, the heavy curtains, and the double balconies – has a fairytale vibe that shouldn’t be missed. 

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Final words

Istanbul is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. With its rich history, stunning Ottoman-era palaces, and world-class food scene, it’s no wonder that this city has been ranked as a top destination for tourists to visit by many publications. It’s also home to over 3 million people who call this place their own.

If you are looking for an authentic cultural experience with delicious Turkish cuisine, Istanbul is the perfect place to start your trip! Join our food tours in Istanbul and taste some of the best traditional dishes from Turkey – like kebabs or baklava! You can find out more about these culinary adventures and book online here.

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