Turkey flaunts an endless amount of history, grandeur, and mythical tales to enchant even the most seasoned traveler. Marinated in its own traditions for centuries, Turkey dazzles visitors with scandalously rich cultural assets that include underground cities, century-old mosques, majestic national parks, and more.
Straddling both Asia and Europe, Turkey is also home to a plethora of bucket list museums where visitors can travel back in time and learn about some of the world’s most significant events.
In the Topkapi Palace Museum, expect to come across one of the finest porcelain collections in the world, while in the Zeugma Mosaic Museum you’ll be able to see the famous Gypsy Girl mosaic, which is nearly 2,000-year-old.
Whether you’re seeking to delve deep into Turkish history or marvel at whimsical decorative items, you’re sure to find the perfect museum for you in Turkey.
Here’s a thoughtful guide to the 8 most amazing museums to visit in Turkey. Have a look below and pick your favorite!
The 8 Best Museums in Turkey
Hagia Sophia Museum, Istanbul
Hagia Sofia is the shiniest gem in Istanbul’s jewel box. Considered the embodiment of Byzantine Architecture, this architectural marvel fascinates visitors with its array of strikingly beautiful features, as well as its rich history that dates back centuries ago.
The mosque was originally built between 532 and 537 by the eastern Roman emperor Justinian I as the Christian cathedral of Constantinople for the state church of the Roman Empire. It was artfully designed by the Greek geometers Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, and is said to have “changed the history of architecture”.
Due to its architectural splendor and historic significance, Hagia Sofia started functioning as a museum in 1935, and become the most visited museum in Turkey by hosting 3.7 million people in 2019. However, in 2020, the building was reclassified as a mosque by the Council of State.
Although no longer a museum, Hagia Sophia still manages to transport visitors on a glorious journey throughout Turkish history. There, expect to come across ancient-old treasures such as the mausoleums of 5 Ottoman Sultans, and the tombs of princes located outside the building.
Inside, you’ll stand in awe with the mosque’s gold-plated, silver-plated, glass, terracotta, and colored stone mosaics, as well as the original ceiling mosaics of the 6th century, beautifully decorated with floral and geometric motifs. Some of the most famous mosaics, including a Deisis panel and imperial portraits, are found in the southwest gallery, which was used for religious meetings and ceremonies.
Hagia Sophia also boasts 104 majestic columns, some of which are brought from ancient cities, two massive marble lustration urns brought from Pergamon during the reign of Sultan Murad III, and an ornate door dating back to the 2nd century BC.
Hagia Sophia tells many stories from the Byzantine era to the Ottoman Empire, making it the greatest symbol of Istanbul.
Address: Sultan Ahmet, Ayasofya Meydanı No:1
Opening Hours: 24 hours
Recommended Read: 12 Amazing Art & Cultural Attractions In Turkey
Istanbul Archaeology Museums, Istanbul
History buffs will have the time of their lives while visiting the Istanbul Archaeology Museums. This is actually a compound of museums consisting of three major sections: The Archaeological Museum, The Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Museum of Islamic Art (also known as the Tiled Kiosk Museum).
The first museum of the Ottoman Empire, the Archaeology Museum was founded in 1891 and it’s home to about a million artifacts from a variety of cultures, brought from the imperial lands. Ancient treasures that you’ll see in this museum include the Lycian Sarcophagus, which depicts scenes from Greek mythology as well as griffons, centaurs, and sphinxes, and The Alexander Sarcophagus, which is covered in scenes of Alexander the Great, although it’s believed to hold Abdalonymus, the king of Sidon.
Located just in front of the main Archaeology Museum building lies the Museum of Ancient Orient, known for displaying precious artifacts from the vast history of Anatolia, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. Must-sees are the Treaty of Kadesh – the oldest peace treaty in the world, written in cuneiform script, signed in 1274, and discovered in the Hittite capital of Hattusa –, and the oldest love poem from the Ancient Babylonian Era of the 8th century BCE.
Make sure to also visit the splendid Islamic Art Museum, home to the world’s richest Islamic art collection. The museum is beautifully set within the Tiled Kiosk a pavilion located on the outer walls of Topkapı Palace, and it boasts beautiful glassware, and terracotta artifacts, as well as rare 13th-century Seljuk carpets that cannot be found elsewhere.
Address: Cankurtaran, 34122
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 9 am to 7 pm
Istanbul Modern Art Museum, Istanbul
Standing majestically on the western bank of the Bosphorus, the Istanbul Modern was founded in 2004 as Turkey’s first museum of modern and contemporary art. The museum is about to occupy a new building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, which developed several renowned museums and art institutions, among them Centre Pompidou, Whitney Museum, Centro Botín, and Beyeler Foundation Museum.
The Istanbul Museum of Modern Art holds temporary and permanent exhibitions of modern and contemporary art from Turkey and abroad, including eye-popping photographs, watercolor paintings, and new media.
Most of the works exhibited in this private museum are from the collection of the Eczacıbaşı family, as well as the founder of the museum.
Address: Kılıç Ali Paşa Mahallesi, No:1/1
Opening Hours: Opening Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday and Friday to Sunday 10 am to 6 pm | Thursdays 10 am to 8 pm | Closed on Mondays
Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul
Once the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Topkapi Palace Museum harbors hundreds of rooms and chambers, as well as Ottoman clothing, weapons, armor, and religious relics, and illuminated manuscripts.
The palace complex is located on Seraglio Point, a promontory overlooking the Golden Horn, where the Bosphorus Strait meets the Marmara Sea. Inside, you’ll stumble upon a dazzling wealth of treasures — from opulent pavilions to a sprawling harem — that will provide you with a glimpse of the life of the court of the Ottoman empire.
Topkapi Palace is the biggest museum in Istanbul. Some of the treasures you’ll find in this history-filled building include the massive Imperial Gate, which dates from 1478 and it’s covered in 19th-century marble, and the palace kitchens (Saray Mutfakları), which were built when the palace was first constructed in the 15th and considered the largest kitchens in the Ottoman Empire at the time. The kitchen is home to an alluring collection of 10,700 pieces of Chinese porcelain that is among the finest porcelain collections in the world.
Address: Cankurtaran, 34122
Opening Hours: Wednesday – Monday 10 am to 4 pm
Konya Mevlana Museum, Konya
Set within the shrine of Mevlana, the Konya Mevlana Museum is dedicated to Rumi, a Persian mystic and poet who founded the Mevlevi order of dervishes, commonly called the Whirling Dervishes.
The museum, which is also considered a holy place, is home to the artfully decorated mausoleum of Rumi himself, as well as the tombs of his family and descendants. There are also two rooms once used for the Mevlevi Whirling ceremony, which are now filled with glass cases holding exhibits of historical artifacts. While browsing through the museum, you’ll come across Rumi’s conical caps and his prayer carpet; the clothing of his son and successor, Sultan Veled; and the hat of Rumî‘s spiritual companion Şemsi Tabrizi. Other relics include old dervish musical instruments such as the Mevlevi flute, made of bamboo.
Aside from artifacts that are over seven centuries old, the museum also holds antique prayer carpets—one, of silk, with more than four million knots—as well as illuminated Kur’ans, Hadith (sayings of the Prophet).
Address: Aziziye Mah, Mevlana Cd. No:1
Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday 9 am to 5:30 pm
Dolmabahce Palace Museum, Besiktas
Spiked like a jewel on the banks of Bosphorus, in Besiktas, the Dolmabahce Palace was inhabited from the year 1856 by six Sultans and the last Caliph. From 1938 to 1949 it was used as a presidential residence, and in 1984 it opened to the public as a palace museum, maintaining its original furnishings.
The museum complex consists of several buildings, including a glass factory, foundry, aviary, and stables, as well as the Apartment of the Crown Prince, the Clock Tower, and Departure Kiosks. Dolmabahce flaunts 285 rooms, 44 halls, 68 toilets, and 6 Turkish baths, making it the biggest palace in Turkey.
What draws visitors to this magnificent palace is the assembly of architectural features such as the marble staircases, as well as decorative elements like giant crystal chandeliers, lush carpets, Baccarat crystals, and 142 ceiling hangers, Hereke carpets, and Sèvres and Yıldız porcelains. Harboring over 50,000 objects in hundreds of rooms, the museum is a sight to behold!
Address: Vişnezade, Dolmabahçe Cd., 34357
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9 am to 4 pm
Zeugma Mosaic Museum, Gaziantep
Located in the town of Gaziantep, Zeugma is the biggest mosaic museum in the world. The collection includes 2.448 m² of mosaics from the Roman and Late Antique period, 140 m² of frescoes, 4 Roman fountains, 20 columns, 4 limestone statues, a bronze Mars statue, tomb stelae, sarcophagi, and architectural fragments.
One of the most famous pieces in the museum is the nearly 2,000-year-old mosaic of the Gypsy Girl, discovered 20 years ago during an excavation of the old city of Zeugma, founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals, near the modern city of Gaziantep.
Address: Mithatpaşa, Hacı Sani Konukoğlu Blv., 27500
Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday 8:30 am to 10 pm
Pera Museum, Istanbul
Pera Museum is an art museum with a particular focus on Orientalism in 19th-century art. The museum is beautifully set within the former Hôtel Bristol, which was built in 1893 and was among Istanbul’s most important hotels. Restored by architect Sinan Genim in 2003, the building is home to three permanent art collections “Orientalist Paintings”, “Anatolian Weights and Measures”, and “Kütahya Tiles and Ceramics”.
Bringing together important works by European artists inspired by the Ottoman world, the Orientalist Painting Collection is one of the most elaborate collections in Turkey. Some of the highlights are works by Osman Hamdi, including his most famous painting “The Tortoise Trainer”.
While browsing through the Anatolian Weights and Measures Collection, you’ll catch a glimpse of nearly 10,000 objects belonging to various civilizations of Anatolia, from the prehistoric period, the Classical Period, and the Principalities to the Ottoman Period, and the Early Republic period.
Over 800 outstanding pieces represent various periods, especially the 18th – 20th centuries, making the Kütahya Tiles and Ceramics Collection one of the most spectacular of its kind in the entire world.
Address: Asmalı Mescit, Meşrutiyet Cd. No:65
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10 am to 7 pm | Sundays 12 pm to 6 pm | Closed on Mondays
What are the most visited museums in Turkey?
The most popular museums in Turkey are:
- Hagia Sophia Museum, Istanbul;
- Istanbul Archaeology Museums, Istanbul;
- Istanbul Modern Art Museum, Istanbul;
- Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul;
- Konya Mevlana Museum, Konya;
- Dolmabahce Palace Museum, Besiktas;
- Zeugma Mosaic Museum, Gaziantep;
- Pera Museum, Istanbul.
Does Turkey have a modern and contemporary art museum?
Yes. Turkey is home to an array of modern and contemporary art museums, including the Istanbul Modern Art Museum, in Istanbul, the Cernmodern, in Ankara, and the Elgiz Museum, in Maslak.
What are the best Istanbul museums?
The best museums in Istanbul are:
- Hagia Sophia Museum;
- Istanbul Archaeology Museums;
- Istanbul Modern Art Museum;
- Topkapi Palace Museum;
- Pera Museum.
How many museums does Turkey have?
There are more than 200 museums in Turkey.
How many museums are in Istanbul?
Istanbul has more than 80 museums.
What is the most visited museum in Turkey?
Hagia Sophia Museum became the most visited museum in Turkey by hosting 3.7 million visitors in 2019.
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