Sprawling. Hectic. Historic. There are many words to describe Istanbul, but no matter which you prefer it’s hard to argue that the former capital of the Ottoman Empire is one of the most Instagrammable cities in the world.
From the rainbow colors of Balat to the magnificent design of the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul has no shortage of places that are begging to be photographed.
Today, I’m sharing my favorites in this guide to the 15 most Instagrammable places in Istanbul.
Bonus: I’ve created a FREE guide with 200+ targeted travel hashtags that will help you grow Instagram (including ones specific to Istanbul). Download it here.
You can also check out my travel guide to Istanbul for recommendations on where to eat, stay, and rest for a well-deserved break.
1) Balat/Fener neighborhoods
The neighborhood of Balat has all the colorful buildings you could want. Wander through the streets, pick your favorite facades, and strike your best pose!
Best Photo Spots: colorful houses on both Kiremit and Merdivenli streets (pictured above), the rainbow stairs next to Cafe Dimitri (which has its own entry further down this list), Chora Church
2) Blue Mosque
Besides the Hagia Sophia, this is the most famous spot in Istanbul…and it has the crowds to match. Despite its name, the mosque is not actually blue, at least not on the outside. Its interior is covered with blue tiles, which according to legend is how it got its name (although its official name is the Sultan Ahmed mosque). However, be warned: the Blue Mosque is under construction and much of the interior is covered by scaffolding.
I didn’t go inside the mosque when I visited because of the scaffolding and scheduling reasons. Judging by reviews and photos, I’d say the exterior is far more impressive from a photography point of view.
It’s best to go at sunrise to beat the crowds, but make sure you time it properly: the mosque is technically open 24/7 but it does close for prayers five times a day. We took this photo around 8:30am. The crowds were starting to arrive by then but most pass straight through the courtyard so just be patient and wait for the perfect moment!
Best Photo Spots: Mosque courtyard, park benches with a view of the entire mosque in the background
3) *Buyuk Valide Han rooftop
This rooftop has amazing views of Istanbul but it was closed for renovation when we went and I’m not sure when it’ll reopen. You can double check just in case. Even if the rooftop is closed, there is a cute cafe, aptly named Under the Roof cafe, beneath it if you want a tea break.
Warning: You have to go through some sketchy run-down hallways to get to the cafe and rooftop entrance. We almost turned back several times until we saw the sign for the cafe, but it all turned out ok!
Here is a detailed blog post on how to find the rooftop.
4) Cafe Dimitri rainbow stairs
There are several sets of rainbow stairs in Istanbul but the ones next to Cafe Dimitri in Balat are among the most colorful and well-maintained. There are also lots of colorful decorations around the stairs that would make the perfect bright backdrop.
Warning: There is an old man selling bread at the bottom of the stairs that will ask you to take a photo of him and then pressure you to buy his bread (2 TL each). We tried to say no because we were too full to eat anything but he was insistent. We eventually gave in and used the bread as props haha. The bread was cheap so it wasn’t a big deal but I wanted to warn you so it doesn’t catch you off guard!
Best Photo Spots: on the stairs, in front of the colorful wall decorations
5) Dolmabahce Palace
One of the most opulent estates in Istanbul, Dolmabahce Palace is known for the ornamental white gates overlooking the Bosphorus. There are several sets of gates but the largest and most impressive directly faces the palace exit.
Note: Photography is not allowed inside the palace itself.
Best Photo Spots: In front of the main white gate, on the stairs or platforms by the palace exit, gate by the entrance, garden in front of the palace
6) Galata Tower
To get the best photo of the tower, walk down one of the streets surrounding it so you can see the entire structure. There is one street that everyone takes photos on (if you walk past the entrance to the tower itself you’ll see it). That street is like Istanbul’s version of Water Street in DUMBO, where everyone takes the shot of the Manhattan bridge framing the Empire State Building in the distance. Like Water Street, there are tons of people taking photos here while cars try to drive through and it can be quite a harrowing experience!
If you go in the afternoon like we did, it’s difficult to get a clean shot, especially since the street is lined with restaurants. Go early if you want a photo with no one else in it.
Best Photo Spots: Street leading up to the Tower. Play around with where you want to stand on the street and how large you want the Tower to appear in the background.
7) Grand Bazaar lanterns
Ah, the famous lantern shot.
Here’s the thing: most lantern shops in the Grand Bazaar don’t allow photos, as indicated by their no-camera signs. However, if you ask nicely they might allow you to take a few pictures. Just be quick about it and don’t forget to buy something or leave them a nice tip! The photo above was taken in a no-cameras stall with permission from the owner, who was sweet enough to let us snap a few pics.
If you don’t want the time pressure, there is one that allows you to take photos for 30 TL. The lantern shops are scattered throughout the bazaar, but if you walk around you’ll see it – this particular stall has a giant sign with the price out front.
Best Photo Spots: Why, amongst the lanterns, of course!
8) Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia is a sight to behold, even with scaffolding – and there will be scaffolding. Like many places in Istanbul, it’s under renovation. Fortunately, there are areas that are both beautiful and scaffolding-free, though you want to go early (and preferably on a weekday) to avoid the bulk of the tour groups.
Tip: Tripods aren’t allowed inside the Hagia Sophia. If you can, bring a camera lens with a low F-stop (ideally f/2.8 or lower) to maximize your chances of getting a brighter, non-grainy photo.
Best Photo Spots: One of the two alcoves by the entrance, upper gallery
9) Kadikoy Umbrella Street
Just as there are multiple sets of rainbow stairs in Istanbul, there are multiple umbrella streets. I like the one in Kadikoy because 1) it’s on the Asian side of the city, which is less touristy 2) it’s surrounded by cute cafes (which were unfortunately closed because we went on a holiday, but on the bright side the street was completely empty!) and 3) we wanted to explore Kadikoy anyway and it was on our way.
To find the street, simply put in Cafe de Kadikoy in Google Maps.
Best Photo Spots: Anywhere! But preferably a spot where the umbrellas are plentiful and colorful as possible. Note that there are actually several streets that connect and are lined with umbrellas, so choose your favorite and snap away.
10) Kubbe Istanbul
An arts and culture center that offers panoramic views of the Istanbul skyline. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to visit but you’ve probably seen this photo all over Instagram: a person lounging on beautiful carpets on the rooftop, birds flying overhead, all of Istanbul laid out before them.
Best Photo Spots: Rooftop
11) Ortakoy Mosque
I didn’t know this place existed until I saw it on Instagram, at which point I knew it had to be a stop on my Istanbul trip. The mosque, located right on the water, is – as motivational gurus would say – beautiful inside and out. Sadly we couldn’t go inside because we visited on a holiday.
However, all you need to do is Google “Ortakoy Mosque interior” to be swept away by the dazzling crystal chandeliers, orange-and-white details, and light flooding in through the bay windows. If you get the opportunity, definitely go inside!
But, as you can see, the mosque’s exterior is not too shabby either, especially at sunrise.
Best Photo Spots: Ferry dock with view of mosque in the background, inside the mosque by the windows and chandeliers
12) Restaurant @ The Stay Bosphorus
We stumbled on this restaurant by accident after we finished shooting at the Ortakoy Mosque. Located by the ferry dock, The Stay is a gorgeous boutique hotel whose restaurant terrace offers stunning views of the mosque and Bosphorus. We came so early on a holiday that we were the only people in the restaurant, and we couldn’t resist setting up an impromptu photo shoot. They offer a breakfast buffet for 100 TL that makes the perfect spread for the ultimate #breakfastgoals capture (and the food isn’t bad either)!
Best Photo Spots: Terrace. There are only three tables so get here early to snag a prime seat.
13) Seven Hills Restaurant Rooftop
One of the most Insta-famous restaurants in Istanbul and for good reason: its rooftop has unbeatable views of two iconic city landmarks and the Bosphorus. It was too cold for us to eat on the roof when we went but we still braved it for a photo because we’re crazy.
But I mean…look at that view. Can you blame us?
Best Photo Spots: Rooftop with view of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia
14) Suleymaniye Mosque
My favorite mosque in Istanbul! Yes, I like it better than the Blue Mosque. It’s less touristy, there was no scaffolding when we went, and everything – the courtyard, the interior, the “backyard” behind the mosque – was beautiful.
Note: unlike the Blue Mosque, you are not required to wear a headscarf in the courtyard, only in the interior.
Best Photo Spots: Courtyard, interior details
15) Topkapi Palace Harem
Yes, you have to pay extra to access the Harem, but it’s worth it. The Harem is the most intricate section of the palace complex, with enough details and tiles to last you for days. Plus, since it costs extra, it’s less crowded than the other buildings, which is always a plus in my book.
Best Photo Spots: Bench in front of the tiled walls by the entrance, doorstep amidst the tiled walls…anything in front of the tiled walls, really. Find your favorite spot and make it your own (at least for a few minutes)!
There you have it: the 15 most Instagrammable places in Istanbul! Which one is your favorite?
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