Must-Seen Museums in İstanbul – And Their Historical Importance

Museums play a significant role in the culture of a city. In a city like Istanbul, which has witnessed many historically significant events throughout history, there are numerous museums worth seeing to understand its history.

In fact, two of the aspects that make Istanbul “the famous Istanbul” to the world and Turkey are culture and art. Indeed, there are over 80 museums in Istanbul which represent the history, culture, values, art, and creativity of the city.

In those 80 museums, there are all types of museums, from art museums to archeology museums. It might not be possible to see every museum in Istanbul. However, there are some must-seen museums, which take place down below.

İstanbul Archaeological Museums

Istanbul Archeological Museums takes place in the Fatih district(Sultanahmet and Gülhane Neighborhoods) of Istanbul. The reason for the museum taking the plural name is that three separate museums consist of the museum.

The museum was initially built as a place to exhibit pieces from Sidon King Necropolis excavation, which was a groundbreaking excavation back then. The museum opened to visitors four years after in 1891.

Later in the 20th century, additional buildings were implemented in the museum out of necessity. The most critical significance of Istanbul Archeological Museums is that it is the first museum of Turkey, and it is among eight to ten first constructions that aimed to be a museum.

The sum of the artifacts in Istanbul Archeological Museums is over 90.000. Some of the most important artifacts and sections in Istanbul Archeological Museums include Alexander Sarcophagus, King Tabnit’s Mummy, Children’s Museum Exhibit section, Istanbul Through the Ages section, Sarcophagi section, and Collections of the Museum of Ancient Oriental Works.

Istanbul Archaeological Museums

Topkapı Palace Museum

Topkapı Palace Museum is known to be one of the richest museums of both Turkey and the world, and it is one of the most visited places by tourists in Istanbul.

For four centuries, Topkapı Palace was a place to live for Ottoman Sultans. It was built between 1460 and 1478 by Fatih the Conqueror. Beyond being a house for Ottoman Sultans, Topkapı Palace also served as a center for administration, art, and education.

The artifacts in Topkapı Palace are famous for being very rare, one of a kind, and the best samples of their kind. Additionally, the porcelain collection in Topkapı Palace Museum is known to be the best porcelain collection in the world.

The palace did not become a museum until the year 1924. In fact, the palace is complex rather than being a single construction. Some of the most essential pieces in the Topkapı Palace Museum are jewelry, Chinese porcelains, Sultan outfits, diamonds, emeralds, and weapons.

Additionally, the architectural properties of the Topkapı Palace Museum are known to be one of the best examples of Ottoman architecture. Many visitors of the museum praise the aesthetically pleasing architecture of the Topkapı Palace Museum.

Topkapı Palace Museum

See More: Sultanahmet Square and Historic Peninsula

Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts

The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts takes place in the Fatih district of Istanbul. The museum was awarded by the European Council the Museum of the Year Jury Special in 1984. UNESCO also awarded the museum due to its work towards making children love museums and cultural heritage.

The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is the first museum that is dedicated to Turkish-Islamic pieces in Turkey. The history of the museum goes back to the 16th century, in Süleymaniye Mosque’s complex. The museum was first opened for visitors there in 1914.

Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts

However, it was moved to İbrahim Paşa Palace in the year 1983. The last restoration of the museum was made in 2012.

The museum includes pieces from Ottoman, Seljuk, Abbasi, and Mamluk periods. The pieces in the museum are extremely rare, meaning that there are little to no similar pieces with them.

Additionally, The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is known for its famous carpet collection, which is known to be one of the best carpet collections in the world. In addition to the carpet collection, you can see rare art artifacts, glass pieces, manuscripts, and terracotta pieces are among the favorite works of the museum.

This museum is a must-see, especially to understand the earlier periods of Turkish history.

Rahmi M. Koç Museum

Rahmi M. Koç Museum has a different concept than the other museums in this list. The museum is dedicated to the history of transportation, industry, and communication. The museum was built by a non-profit foundation.

The museum includes three parts. The first part is an open-air exhibition area, in which the industrial archeology pieces are exhibited. The other parts are named Historical Hasköy Shipyard and Mustafa V. Koç Building.

Since the museum is dedicated to transportation, communication, and industry, you can expect to see a timeline of those categories’ development throughout history. There are thousands of real-size means of transport exhibited in the museum, which include planes, trams, and submarines.

The museum also includes an “Atatür Collection,” dedicated to the Turkey Republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Rahmi M. Koç Museum

Museum visitors typically state that their visits were fun rather than being a boring museum experience. Since the museum includes a wide range of pieces, it is possible to find things that would be enjoyable for everyone.

Istanbul Modern

Istanbul Modern is Turkey’s first modern art museum. It was founded in the year 2004 with the purpose of sharing Turkey’s artistic soul and, culture, and creativity with the world.

Even though the museum was found in the year 2004, the first found it was committed to in the year 1987, in International Istanbul Biennial. After this biennial, Dr. Nejat F. Eczacıbaşı was very much influenced by the artistic soul and its attention from the Istanbul people.

Istanbul Modern

Today, Istanbul Modern is a host of various exhibitions, cultural events, collections, and educations. Istanbul Modern aims to “make everyone love art” in the long run.

Chora Museum

Initially, Chore Museum was a church. Then, it transferred into a mosque. And finally, it has become a museum.

The history of the museum goes back to the 6th century. Initially, it was a big complex’ part, but throughout the time, the complex was destroyed, and the only thing that is left is Chora Museum.

Today, the museum is mainly known for its frescos and mosaics, which cover all the walls and ceilings of the building.

The church was transferred into a mosque in the year 1511 by Sultan II. Beyazıd. During the transition, some of the mosaics and frescos were covered with plaster. It was not until the 20th century to take the “mosque” title out of this museum to restore it. With a decade worth of work, the mosaics and frescos covered with plasters were rescued by the United States of America.

In the year 1958, the Chora Museums were officially opened for visitors.

Chora Museum

Pera Museum

Another must-see museum in Istanbul is Pera Museum. The museum was founded in 2005 by the Suna & İnan Kıraç foundation to give quality and comprehensive art service.

Pera Museum includes three main collections, named Orientalist Painting, Kütahya Tiles and Ceramics, and Anatolian Weights and Measures. Additionally, the museum aims to describe the purpose and value of those collections through events, educations, training, publishing, and scientific works.

Pera Museum collaborates with some of the most essential museums globally, including Tate Britain, St. Petersburg Russian State Museum, and New York School of Visual Arts.

Moreover, the museum contributes all kinds of artistic and cultural works and events in the country.

Pera Museum


Miniatürk is a museum that is dedicated to illustrating the most important landmarks of Turkey all at once.

In the most basic words, Miniatürk is a miniature of landmarks of Turkey aimed to describe the country’s history. The museum includes two sections, one dedicated to the landmarks in Istanbul, and the other is dedicated to Anatolia landmarks.

Additionally, there is one more extra section dedicated to the Ottoman area.

Many people state that the Miniatürk museum reminds them of a “tiny country.” The museum consists of an area of 60 thousand square meters, and it takes several hours to see every place there.

The museum is an option for those who want to see all the landmarks in Turkey but cannot due to time or budget limitations. The Anatolian section of the museum includes İzmir Clock Tower, Adana Stone Bridge, Fairy Chimneys, Artemis Temple, Safranbolu Houses, and many more.

The Istanbul section of the museum includes Süleymaniye Mosque, Taksim Square, Boğaziçi Bridge, Galata Tower, and many more.


İş Bank Museum

İş Bank Museum is an important destination dedicated to describing Turkey’s establishment and development story. The museum includes papers, documents, movies, pictures, belongings all the way back from 1924 to 2007.

The museum has two floors, and both of them exhibit the same collection mentioned earlier. The mentioned collection is in the museum all year long; however, the entrance floor hosts other exhibitions as well.

Moreover, the museum has been known to be offering workshops for students since 2011. Those workshops are mainly focused on savings and financial literacy.

It is a convenient place for finance lovers and those who want to learn more about Turkey’s history.

İsmail Çamönü

Hi! I am Ismail. I am a digital nomad from Turkey. I lived in many cities around Turkey during my life and I am passionate about traveling. At Nomad's Guide to Turkey, I share travel tips for nomads, expats, and tourists who would like to visit Turkey.

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