The Basilica of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), now called the Ayasofya Museum is unquestionably one of the finest buildings of all time. Built by Constantine the Great and reconstructed by Justinian in the 6th century, its immense dome rises 55 meters above the ground and its diameter spans 31 meters. Linger here to admire the building’s majestic serenity as well as the fine Byzantine mosaics. (Open every day except Monday)
The Archeological Museums are found just inside the first court of the Topkapi Palace. Included among its treasures of antiquity are the celebrated Alexander Sarcophagus and the façade of the Temple to Athena from Assos.
Museum of the Ancient Orient
The Museum of the Ancient Orient Displays artifacts from the Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Hatti and Hittite civilizations. (Open every day except Monday).
Rumeli Hisari, or European Fortress, was built by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1452 prior to his capture of Istanbul. Completed in only four months, it is one of the most beautiful works of military architecture in the world. In the castle is the Open-Air Museum amphitheater that is the site for some events of the Istanbul Music Festival. (Open every day except Wednesday).
Museum of Turkish Ceramics
Originally built in the 15th century as a kosk, or pavilion, by Mehmet the Conqueror, the Cinili Kosk, which houses the Museum of Turkish Ceramics, contains beautiful 16th-century specimens from Iznik and fine examples of Seljuk and Ottoman pottery and tiles. (Open every day except Monday).
St. Irene Museum
Like the Ayasofya Musesum, the St. Irene Museum was originally a church. It ranks, in fact, as the first church built in Istanbul. Constantine commissioned it in the fourth century and Justinian later had the church restored. The building reputedly stands on the site of a pre-Christian temple. (Open every day except Monday, but requires special permission for admission).
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art
The dark stone building that houses the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art was built in 1524 by the Grand Vizier to Suleyman the Magnificent, Ibrahim Pasa, as his residence. It was the grandest private residence ever built in the Ottoman Empire. Today it holds a superb collection of ceramics, metalwork, miniatures, calligraphy, textiles, and woodwork as well as some of the oldest carpets in the world. (Open every day except Monday).
Museum of Turkish Carpets
Across the street from the Ibrahim Pasa residence is the Museum of Turkish Carpets, which contains exquisite antique carpets and kilims gathered from all over Turkey. (Open every day except Sunday and Monday).
Near Hagia Sophia is the sixth-century Byzantine cistern known as the Yerebatan Sarnici. Three hundred and thirty-six massive Corinthian columns support the immense chambers fine brick vaulting. (Open every day except Tuesday).
The Mosaic Museum, preserves in situ exceptionally fine fifth and sixth-century mosaic pavements from the Grand Palace of the Byzantine emperors. (Open every day except Tuesday).
The Kariye Museum, the 11th-century church of “St. Savior” in the Chora complex, is after Hagia Sophia, the most important Byzantine monument in Istanbul. Unremarkable in its architecture, inside the walls are decorated with superb 14th-century mosaics.
Illustrating scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary, these brilliantly colored paintings embody the vigor of Byzantine art. In restored wooden houses in the area surrounding the church you can enjoy tea and coffee in a relaxed atmosphere far removed from the city’s hectic pace. (Open every day except Wednesday).
The Aviation Museum in Yesilkoy traces the development of flight in Turkey. (Open every day except Monday).
In the Military Museum the great field tents used by the Ottoman armies on campaigns are on display. Other exhibits include Ottoman weapons and the accoutrements of war. The Mehter Takimi (Ottoman military band) can be heard performing Ottoman martial music between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. (Open every day except Monday and Tuesday).
Ataturk’s former residence in Sisli now serves as the Ataturk Museum and displays his personal effects. (Open every day except Saturday and Sunday).
The grand imperial caiques used by the sultans to cross the Bosphorus are among the many other interesting exhibits of Ottoman naval history that can be seen at the Naval Museum located in the Besiktas district. (Open every day except Monday and Thursday).
Museum of Fine Arts
Also in Besiktas is the Museum of Fine Arts that houses Turkish paintings and sculptures from the end of the 19th century to the present. (Open every day except Monday and Tuesday).
Istanbul City Museum
The City Museum, located within the gardens of the Yildiz Palace, preserves and documents the history of Istanbul since the Ottoman conquest. (Open every day except Thursday).
Museum of Historical Stage Costumes
Also within the gardens are the Yildiz Palace Theatre and the Museum of Historical Stage Costumes, with its exquisite costumes. (Open every day except Tuesday).
The Rahmi Koc Industry Museum, in the suburb of Haskoy on the coast of the Golden Horn, was an Ottoman-period building, formerly called Lengerhane, for iron and steel works. Today it houses exhibits on industrial development. (Open every day except Monday).
Sadberk Hanim Museum
Up the Bosphorus in the picturesque suburb of Buyukdere, the collections of the Sadberk Hanim Museum fill two charming 19th-century wooden villas. A private museum, which originally displayed only Turkish decorative arts, it has recently been expanded for a new collection of archeological finds. (Open every day except Wednesday).
Caricature Cartoon Museum
For something different try the Caricature Cartoon Museum in Fatih on Ataturk Boulevard under the Bozdogan Aqueduct in the 16th century Gazanfer Aga Medrese. (Open daily 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.)