Istanbul is home to a wide variety of excellent museums. While many of its galleries and pavilions are rightfully well established in art and history spheres, the city also offers a great selection of the unexpected for those looking to go beyond the popular museum mainstays.
Istanbul, a city with millennia of history behind it, is today home to some of the world’s best museums. In recent decades, the city has also built up a reputation as a hotbed of modern art. Several museums have opened their doors to the public, adding to the already dizzying array of exhibitions. Whether it’s ancient artefacts, contemporary sculpture or high-concept literature you’re interested in, Istanbul’s museum scene really has something for everyone.
Housed in a converted 19th-century mansion on the shores of the Bosporus Strait, the Sadberk Hanım Museum is a little-known cultural treasure that contains an impressive collection of artefacts (some 18,000 pieces) from the Anatolian civilisation. Dating from prehistoric times to the Byzantine era, some of the collection’s most beautiful pieces include woven Ottoman textiles and a world-class selection of İznik tile art going back to the 16th century. Relatively unknown even among Istanbul residents, the museum is a great way to take in some history and get away from the crowds. Sadberk Hanım is open on weekdays only.
Located at the Neve Şalom Synagogue Complex in Beyoğlu (just a short walk from Galata Tower), this museum is a living chronicle of Turkey’s Jewish population, containing photographs and videos that detail the long contribution Turkish Jews have made to the country. The museum itself is separated from the neighbouring synagogue by a glass barrier, allowing visitors a glimpse into modern Jewish practices. The museum café is known for cooking up excellent Sephardi cuisine for visitors to try. For security reasons, you may be asked to show your passport at the entrance. The museum closes on Saturdays.
Founded by Turkish poet Sunay Akın, the Istanbul Toy Museum is a great place for families and history lovers to see toys dating back to the 1700s. The museum takes visitors on an unexpected historical journey through the time periods in which the toys were produced, from World War II to modern day. Located in the laid-back residential neighbourhood of Göztepe on the Asian side of the city, the museum regularly offers children’s activities and other creative events. Like most museums in the country, it is closed on Mondays.
This museum is actually made up of three units: the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, the Ancient Orient Museum and the Tiled Kiosk Museum. They are all worthwhile, but visitors should start with the first, which contains over a million artefacts from every corner of the Ottoman Empire. Important pieces include the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great and objects from pre-Islamic Arabia, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Located in the heart of the tourist district next to Gülhane Park, the museum is one of Istanbul’s best and most popular. Closed on Mondays, there is no parking available, so take the T1 Kabataş-Bağcılar tram line to get there quickly.