Istanbul is one of the most photogenic cities that we’ve ever visited and is crammed full of breathtaking photo locations. The sprawling metropolis, where East and West meet, is an eclectic mix of Europe and Asia and is steeped in history and culture reflecting the many empires that once ruled the city. We spent weeks exploring every corner of this massive and amazing city in search of the best photo spots and have put this list together this list of the 16 best photo spots in Istanbul. It’s our guide on where to take the best photos in Istanbul. Enjoy!
1 | Sultanahmet Arkeolojik Park
The Sultanahmet Arkeolojik Park is one of our favourite photo locations in Istanbul! It’s situated between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque and offers stunning views of the Sultanahmet area. Its fountain centrepiece frames Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque perfectly. We could spend hours sitting in the Sultanahmet Arkeolojik Park, people watching, relaxing and taking in the iconic Istanbul sights.
When to go: The best time for the park is just after dawn when the gorgeous warm hues of the Turkish sunrise hit the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Another benefit of an early start is that the fountain in the centre of the park is only turned on a little after dawn so you’ll be able to capture some nice reflections of the Hagia Sophia in the water.
Where to stay in Istanbul
We recommend staying in Sultanahmet as it’s within walking distance to many of the major Istanbul sights including Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern and the Grand Bazaar.
Our favourite hotel in Istanbul is the White House Hotel.
- White House Hotel Istanbul: our go-to hotel in Istanbul located in the heart of Sultanahmet. Great rooms, breakfast and views and within walking distance of Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Topaki Palace – check prices now
2 | Hagia Sophia
Initially built as a Greek Orthodox Christian Basilica the Hagia Sophia was also a mosque before it became the museum it is today. At the time of its construction in 537AD, Hagia Sophia was the largest building in the world. Today the museum is one of the most beautiful buildings in Turkey and our visit was one of the highlights of our time in Istanbul. From the ground floor, you can capture epic shots of the low hanging lights and the ornate ceiling. Make sure to visit the first floor, accessed via a winding stairwell on the left of the entrance, where you can gaze down on the interior. Unfortunately, a lot of the mosaics on the first floor were away for restoration when we visited but the remaining mosaics, some dating back to the 9th Century, were incredible.
When to go: Our advice is to aim to visit Hagia Sophia first thing in the morning, however, if it’s busy simply detour to the Blue Mosque or the Basilica Cistern first and check on the queues after. Timing a visit to the Hagia Sophia is tricky due to the sheer volume of people that visit every day and the airport-style security upon entry slows down admission.
Istanbul best photo locations tip: There is limited light inside the Hagia Sophia so bring a camera with good low light capabilities. We found that a wide angle lens worked well inside as it really captured the scale of the building.
Istanbul best photo locations tip: on the first floor of Hagia Sophia keep a lookout for some open windows which offer a great opportunity to capture a nicely frame glimpse of the Blue Mosque.
3 | Blue Mosque
The other major building in the Sultanahmet district is the glorious Sultan Ahmed Mosque, widely known as the Blue Mosque. The mosque gets its name from the blue tiles adorning the interior walls and the domes and minarets are majestic against the Istanbul skyline. Our favourite location to photograph the mosque from is the Sultanahmet Arkeolojik Park where you can capture the fountain in the foreground with the pastels of the Blue Mosque in the background.
Isanbul best photo locations tip: it’s possible to visit the inside of the Blue Mosque outside of prayer time. There is a dress code if you want to enter the mosque itself, no shorts for men and women should cover their shoulders and legs and wear a headscarf (headscarves are available on entry).
4 | Basilica Cistern
Delve into the underground of Istanbul at the mysterious Basilica Cistern, an underground chamber with 336 Roman pillars dating back to 532AD. It was once a water storage facility for Constantinople and is now a popular museum. If the Cistern looks familiar it might be due to its role in the Jame’s Bond Movie ‘From Russia with Love’ where Sean Connery sails beneath to listen in on the Russian Consulate above.
When to go: Like most tourist sites, early is usually best. The Cistern attracts so many tourists and school groups that’s it’s often a case of good luck to hit upon it at a quiet time.
Istanbul best photo spots tip: Photographing the cistern is not an easy task as it’s very dark, there are lots of visitors walking around and you’re not allowed to use a tripod. It’s possible to get a decent shot of the Roman columns by leveraging the protective structures around the pillars. It’s frustrating not being allowed to use a tripod given how stunning the location is but the guards are on the lookout even for gorilla pods.
5 | Chora Church
After a number of trips to Istanbul, we finally made it to the medieval Byzantine Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora on our latest visit and it was absolutely worth the wait. Originally built as part of a monastery complex outside the walls of Constantinople Chora is now a museum home to some of the oldest and best preserved Byzantine frescos and mosaics in Turkey.
As at May 2018, the church is undergoing substantial restoration, however, most of main the mosaics are still visible.
When to visit: Our driver mentioned that Chora gets a steady flow of interested tourists each day but due to its location it rarely gets too busy.
Istanbul best photo locations tip: Due to its location the Chora Church might require a taxi ride. We hired a driver to for a day during our last visit to Istanbul as we wanted to visit some off the beaten path locations.
6 | Balat District
The colourful neighbour of Balat is one of the best photo locations in Istanbul. It is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city and is packed with colourful houses and lively cafes and restaurants. While the area is not very big the winding streets and Ottoman architecture offer an abundance of beautiful photo spots.
When to go: try to visit at the weekend when the area is alive with locals out having lunch or relaxing in the cafes.
7 | Ortaköy Mosque
Ortaköy Mosque is located right on the Bosporus River in the midst of a bustling neighbourhood and some of the city’s best food stands. This beautiful mosque sits right on the bank of the river and the contrast of the historic mosque against the backdrop of the modern Bosphorus Bridge makes for a perfect photo location.
8 | Rainbow Stairs
In 2013 an Istanbul resident transformed a set of grey concrete stairs into a colourful rainbow of colour which was soon painted over by the local government. In response, rainbow steps sprung up across the city and make for a colourful and fun photo location in Istanbul.
We first came across the Rainbow Stairs on Instagram when we were planning our time in Turkey and knew instantly that we had to visit them. The set we visited is located along the Bosphorus on the way to Dolamache Palace.
Istanbul best photo locations tip: Make sure to save the location on your phone as it’s quite easy to miss the steps if you’re in a taxi or on the bus.
9 | Galata Tower
The medieval Galata Tower dominates the Istanbul skyline and is visible from all over the city and visitors can climb to the top of the cylindrical tower to enjoy panoramic views of Istanbul. Our favourite photos were from the small cobbled sidestreets surrounding the tower with the Galata Tower in the background. This allows us to frame the tower between the narrow street entrances: we found the best street for photos to be Büyük Hendek street and this is the location of the photo below.
When to go: The area around Galata Tower is a busy part of Istanbul and is packed with restaurants and shops so there is a steady flow of foot traffic around the tower during the day. Early is best.
Istanbul best photo locations tip: the streets around Galata are oftne busy with locals, tourists and vehicles so we picked up some striking balloons to draw attention away from the noisy background in our photos.
10 | Grand Bazaar
The massive Grand Bazaar is a covered market with a chaotic maze of over 4,000 shops and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Turkey. It’s possible to find pretty much anything in the Grand Bazaar but the traditional Turkish lights and dried goods were our favourite for photos. The Grand Bazaar is incredible for street photography, however, do be respectful of locals and the shop owners.
Istanbul best photo locations tip: many of the shops selling the tradtional Turkish lights have signs outside stating that no photographs are allowed. Find one of the few that do still allow photos or ask the shop owner for a photo when you make a purchase.
11 | Istiklal Street
Istiklal Street is one of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon in Istanbul. It’s packed with boutiques, cafes, bakeries and big brand stores and has the potential to do serious damage to the wallet! The historic red tram is a beautiful addition to the pedestrianised street and an iconic Istanbul photo opportunity.
When to go: We prefer Istiklal Street during the day. Keep an eye out for scheduled demonstrations in the nearby Taksim Square as this can often shut down Istiklal Street.
12 | Rooftops near Hagia Sophia
The cafés and hotel rooftops in the Sultanahmet district offer great views of the Sultanahmet skyline and its iconic buildings. Our favourite hotel in Istanbul, The White House hotel, has stunning views across the Hagia Sofia and the red rooftops of Istanbul. We stay here every time we visit the city and never get tired of the breakfast views over the city.
13 | Egyptian Bazaar
The Egyptian Bazaar, known as the spice bazaar, has a magnificent array of storefronts packed to the brim with spices and is another great photo spot in Istanbul. Prepare to be wowed by the displays of spices and the enticing aroma of tea, coffee and spices.
14 | Topaki Palace
The lavish Topaki Palace served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans in the 15th Century. The colourful harem is the best photo location in the Palace.
Istanbul best photo spots tip: make sure to note the opening times of the different sections of Topaki Palace. We only managed a quick glance at the harem due to its separate opening hours.
15 | Dolmabahçe Palace
The Dolmabahce Palace served as the main administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th and 20th Century. We missed out on visiting due to a football game but the interior and exterior are stunning and the gates along its boundaries make for some great photo locations.
16 | Büyük Valide Han (now closed)
Despite this being one of the best photo locations in Istanbul we weren’t sure whether we should include Büyük Valide Han on our list as the rooftop viewpoint was closed by the government due to safety concerns when we last visited Istanbul. We were travelling with J, our 6-month-old, so didn’t try to go, but we’ve seen some incredible shots on Instagram. Apparently, you can still get some great shots of the city from above on the stairs leading up to the roof so try and visit at your peril!