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Bucket list experience:

Last updated: 07 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Dana Facaros

They may not attract the crowds of the nearby Topkapi Palace, but this trio of world-class archaeology museums set in the gorgeous Gulhane gardens is well worth a visit.

The main Archaeology Museum has a predominantly classical collection dating from the 19th century; the Ancient Orient Museum has spectacular finds from Babylon and Assyria; while classic Turkish ceramics star in the lovely Tiled Kiosk building.

Don’t miss

The star attraction is the Roman Alexander sarcophagus, a late 4th-century BC Hellenistic stone sarcophagus adorned with bas-relief carvings of Alexander the Great. It’s believed to contain Mazaeus, a Persian noble and governor of Babylon – but no-one is quite sure.

Also look out for the lion and auroch mosaics, part of a collection of about 120 original materials (now housed in museums around the world) that were taken from the walls of the Processional Way, that ran through the world-famous Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon.

The Ishtar Gate was one of the eight gates of the inner city of Babylon, built circa 575 BC by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II and dedicated to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Berlin’s Pergamon museum houses a stunning reconstruction.

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Price from: £5
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 6+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

The museums are located on Osman Hamdi Bey slope, which links Gulhane Park with the Topkapi Palace; it’s a short walk from the Gulhane stop on the T1 Tram. Avoid the queues by purchasing museum tickets online and printing them out at home or your hotel.

After your visit, head over to the Bosphorus side of Gulhane Park to the charming al fresco tea garden, serving Turkish tea from Ottoman-style pots, with gorgeous views.

When to do it

The museum is open all year round, Tuesday to Sunday. Closed Monday.

Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay near this experience, closest first

Sirkeci Mansion Hotel

Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey[0.3 miles]

Convenient for the major sights and plugged into Turkish culture, this charming, historic hotel is ideal for families and first-timers.  

Official star rating:

Yasmak Sultan Hotel

Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey[0.3 miles]

Close to Istanbul’s top sights, this friendly hotel with a spa and rooftop restaurant is a dream for first-time visitors. And good value too.

Official star rating:

Four Seasons Istanbul Sultanahmet

Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey[0.5 miles]

Superbly staffed, relaxing oasis in an unbeatable location – the luxury choice in central Sultanahmet.

Official star rating:

Hotel Ibrahim Pasha

Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey[0.8 miles]

This stylish, friendly and affordable boutique hotel is in sights-packed Sultanahmet, perfect for first-time visitors.

Official star rating:

Destination guides including or relevant to this experience


Marmara Region, Turkey

Exotic, inexhaustible and dynamic – East meets West head-on in this mesmerising city metropolis, famed for its extraordinarily rich history, superb food and shopping, and mind-blowingly magnificent, over-sized mosques.

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Our writer’s recommendations of other bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination, closest first

Topkapi Palace

Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey[0.2 miles]

Built in 1459 to become the 15th and-16th century home of the Ottoman Sultans, this magnificently decadent palace is a perfectly preserved time capsule of life at the top in this most exotic of empires.

Best for ages: 8+ | £17

Hagia Sophia

Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey[0.4 miles]

A masterpiece of Byzantine architecture, this world-renowned 6th-century marvel encapsulates the essence of the lost Ottoman Empire. Initially a cathedral, it’s now a museum as well as a functioning mosque – and a must-see in Istanbul.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

Other worthwhile experiences near this experience if you have time or interest..

Exterior of white museum with trees lining the entrance

Museum of Turkish Islamic Arts

Istanbul , Marmara Region, Turkey[0.8 miles]

One of the world’s finest collections of Islamic-influenced glassware, rugs, ceramics, metal work and ethnographic items.

Best for ages: 18+ | £4

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Mosaic of man's face

Great Palace Mosaic Museum

Istanbul , Marmara Region , Turkey[0.9 miles]

Lovely, lively 5th and 6th-century AD mosaics depicting nature, animals and people from the palace of the first Byzantine Emperors.

Best for ages: 18+ | £2

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Islamic man with traditional dress smoking shisha, drinking tea

Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi

Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey[1.1 miles]

Super authentic spot near the Grand Bazaar where you can smoke nargile (a water pipe or hookah) and drink tea in the courtyard of a mosque from 1709.

Best for ages: 18+ | £5

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Man and a woman looking at paintings in a modern art gallery

Istanbul Modern

Istanbul , Marmara Region, Turkey[2.2 miles]

A modern art museum housing the finest collection of modern and contemporary art in the country. The Modern’s temporary exhibits by Turkish and international artists – often organized in collaboration with MoMA (New York) and the Centre Pompidou (Paris) – are particularly exceptional.

Best for ages: 18+ | £4

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