One of the most popular questions I often get in messages or comments is about the Istanbul museum pass card. Is it worth buying it? Is this museum card for 5 days worth the money if you are visiting Istanbul only for 2 or 3 days?
Well, it all depends.
I personally always thought that buying the museum pass was not worth the money until the moment when I finally purchased it after living in Istanbul for more than a year. And the reason that prompted me to this purchase was a desire to visit a few museums without spending hours standing in lines with my parents who were visiting for a few days. And to my big amusement, we were also able to save a good amount of money with this card.
In our case, the Istanbul museum pass was well worth it. But I can earnestly assess this purchase and honestly say that it won’t be worth the money for many others.
Who will gain value with this card and who won’t? Let’s discuss it below and find out!
Nevertheless, the museum pass is an official ticket to the most famous Turkish city. It is definitely worth looking into it no matter if you come on a short and busy vacation to Istanbul or can spare more time to endure long walks around the old streets.
What is Istanbul Museum Pass?
Istanbul Museum Pass is exactly what it says. It is a card that allows you within 5 days to go to the municipal museums that are well worth visiting in the city. For the Ministry of Tourism, it is a great way to encourage tourists to see as much as possible. And for you as a traveler, it is a great way to save money on visiting local attractions.
To begin with, the museum card can give you a good idea of how to plan your days and how to save money if you pack those days with activities. And what is also very important for visitors on a short trip, the museum pass always saves time by letting them skip lengthy lines.
Such passes exist in many cities in Europe – Vienne, Rome, Paris, Vilnius, Budapest, etc. In some places, it works better than in others, and not in every city you need to purchase a museum pass. But let’s see if it will work for you in Istanbul.
What Museums Are Included in Istanbul Pass?
With a museum card, you can visit 10 of Istanbul’s municipal museums for free. Until recently there were 13 of them that for some reason the official website still advertises on their site. But that is not true anymore due to some changes. At this moment in 2022 you can visit 10 museums and they are:
1. Topkapi Palace Museum – one of the oldest palaces in Istanbul which served as the center of power and where ottomans lived for many centuries. Here, you’ll find exhibits of the imperial collections of the Ottoman Empire and a collection of books and manuscripts.
2. Topkapi Harem Apartments – the living quarters where the Sultans and their families lived in private.
3. Hagie Irene Museum – is an Eastern Orthodox church located on the territory of Topkapı Palace which is also the second largest Byzantine church in Istanbul.
4. Archaeological Museum – one of the largest museums reflecting Anatolian and Mesopotamian civilizations in the world. Must visit if you want to learn about the origin of Turkey.
5. Museum of the History of Science and Technology of Islam – one of the top museums in Istanbul that gives a great presentation of Muslim scholars, science, and technology during the first Golden Age of Islam from 650 to 1650.
6. Mosaic Museum – a museum that houses 1500 years old mosaics from the Byzantine period, including a mosaic floor of the Great Palace of Constantinople. A very interesting museum where you can learn a lot about life in Byzantium.
7. Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts – the first museum in Turkey to include Turkish and Islamic artworks together. It is a must-see if you are interested in Islamic history, art and religion, particularly of Turkey.
8. Galata Tower – is probably the most iconic building in Istanbul, famous for its unique design and appearance.
9. Galata Mevlevi House Museum – a unique museum about the Mevlevi culture (this culture is mainly famous for whirling dervishes dance). Here, you’ll find lots of Turkish calligraphic art items, music items, and learn about whirling dervishes.
10. Rumeli Hisari Museum – the historic site that lets you explore the story of the battle and fall of Constantinople.
What is convenient, 7 out of 10 museums on this list are in Sultanahmet. Two places, you can guess by their names, are located in the Galata neighborhood. And the Galata area is very reachable by foot if you take a nice, pleasant walk across the Galata Bridge. Or a short tram ride, if you like.
Rumeli Fortress however is quite further up north from the city center and takes around 1 hour to get to on public transport from the Galata tower. But it might be a good idea to go from the busiest city streets to the suburbs of Istanbul to one of the most beautiful neighborhoods. So plan accordingly.
What Museums Were Included But Not Anymore
These 3 museums were included in the Istanbul museum pass before 2022 and for some reason, the ministry of tourism still advertises them. However, the museum card doesn’t cover them anymore!
1. Hagia Sophia museum was and still is one of Istanbul’s most famous highlights. In 2020 the historical change was made by the order of the president to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Since then, it started to serve as the actual mosque with daily prayer times and open (free) entrance to the public. See the schedule here. Although the historical guided tours to Hagia Sophia are still on schedule.
2. Сhora Mosque – it is another former church museum that had been recently turned into a mosque with a free entrance. It is famous for the mosaics about the life of Jesus Christ and in the inner narthex about the life of the Virgin Mary. Currently, it is closed for renovation without an opening date.
3. Fethiye Museum has been long closed due to renovation. Again, no opening date as of yet.
What Places Are Not Covered By Istanbul Museum Card
The Istanbul Museum Card covers the municipal museums of the city but unfortunately, it doesn’t cover the museums run by different institutions.
Among the most famous places that all city guides include but card doesn’t cover are Dolmabahce Palace, Beylerbeyi Palace, and the Basilica Cistern.
It is also worth visiting them but for additional payment.
Istanbul Museum Pass Price
As of right now, the price for the Istanbul Museum Pass is 700 Turkish lira.
Interestingly, the price for the card has gone up 5 times since it was introduced. However, in the dollar or euro equivalent, it stayed pretty much the same over the years, which is around $40.
Locals and temporary residents (who have a residency card) don’t need to buy an Istanbul museum pass at all as there is a separate annual Turkey museum pass available for purchase.
Museum Pass For Kids
There is no actual museum pass for children. Children under the age of 8 are permitted free entry to all the museums affiliated with the Ministry of Culture. However, you still need to go to the ticket booth and get a free entry ticket for a child unless he/she is a toddler or baby in a stroller.
Getting such a ticket means you cannot skip the line. And in a very busy season, it is well worth buying passes for kids just to skip the crowds at the entrances.
If you decide to stay in line to get a free ticket, don’t forget to bring an ID for a child. On most occasions, parents get asked for it to verify their child’s age.
How Much Can You Actually Save With Istanbul Museum Pass
And now let’s actually get to a practical part and calculate the entry costs to all the museums. In this way, you’ll be able to see if the Istanbul museum card can really save you money and if it makes sense to buy it.
- Topkapi Palace Museum – ₺320
- Topkapi Palace + Topaki Harem (if visited together) – ₺420
- Topkapi Harem (if visited without the palace) – ₺150
- Hagie Irene Museum – ₺120 (or ₺320 if visiting together with Topkapi palace)
- Archaeological Museum – ₺100
- Museum of the History of Science and Technology of Islam – ₺50
- Mosaic Museum – ₺60
- Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts – ₺100
- Galata Tower – ₺175
- Galata Mevlevi House Museum – ₺50
- Rumeli Hisari Museum – ₺50
If you take just the top Istanbul sights which are extremely popular among tourists like Topkapi Palace with the Harem and the Galata Tower, the ticket price will be ₺595. It is already worth buying the pass since it will save you loads of time on queues. And then if you add any other museums from the list to a visit, you’ll go way above ₺700.
Yet, don’t forget, saving money on museum entrance is not the only gain. Even if you visit only 2 or 3 museums with the Istanbul pass and entrances to them will cost less than the pass itself, you still get good discounts on a few other attractions (that I talk about below).
And then again, Istanbul is a busy city all year round. Even in winter, skipping lines when possible is always a good idea.
Additional Discounts You Can Get With Istanbul Card
Istanbul Museum Card often provides additional discounts on other museums and historical sights. Why I say often is because museums change their rules every year by offering discounts and then stopping to offer them, and then offering again.
Depending on the time when you visit, I suggest you check the official website for these places if you are interested to go to them and wonder if museum pass can give you extra discount.
Also, with the museum pass, it is possible to receive a 10% discount at the museum’s shops and cafes. So here are some more places where the Istanbul card from time to time provides a discount on the entrance.
- Harbiye Military Museum – a museum showcasing the military history of Turkey for 1000 years. You get a 20% discount on the entrance ticket.
- Sakip Sabanci Museum – a private fine arts museum dedicated to calligraphic art, religious and state documents, and paintings of the Ottoman era. You get 30% discount on the entrance fee.
- Historical Galatasaray Hamam – a public hammam in Istanbul where you get 25% discount on all services with an Istanbul museum pass.
- Sadberk Hanim Museum – a private museum on the Bosphorus showing collections of archeological items, and Islamic and Ottoman art. Offers 30% discount on the entrance.
- Istanbul Sehir Hatlari – Istanbul ferry line that offers a 20% discount on the Bosphorus ride. There are a few companies that transport passengers on the Bosphorus, but only this one used to offer a discount on tickets for museum pass holders.
- Maiden’s Tower – a tower on a small islet of the Bosphorus strait. There is a 20% discount on the entrance and their cafe available with an Istanbul museum card. Although right now the tower is still under construction.
- Pera Museum – a small private art museum that offers 20% discount on the entrance for museum pass holders.
Where to Buy a Museum Card in Istanbul
The best way to buy the Istanbul Museum Card is online because it saves you time. This method of purchase is especially popular during the tourist season since you will not need to waste time in queues buying the actual card. The online sale is carried out by the official distributor.
After the purchase, print it, use an electronic copy, or pick up the card with confirmation at the ticket office (although again, a printed/phone copy is more than enough). Paper copy is accepted without any question in all museums that the pass covers. Electronic copy sometimes raises questions at the entrance to Galata Tower, so be aware of that and better print your pass out if going there.
Alternatively, you can go to the ticket booths of these museums to buy museum pass:
- Galata Tower
- Topkapi Palace Museum
- Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
- Mosaic Museum
- Archaeological Museum
- Rumeli Hisari Museum
NOTE: If you want to buy an Istanbul museum pass from a ticket booth, I suggest coming early. In some places, lines can be overwhelming. The easiest way to buy a card without standing in lines is to go to the Mosaic Museum or Museum of Islamic Arts. They are not too popular among tourists, thus at these museums, there are almost always no queues at all.
Some museums also started to place vending machines to simplify the process of buying a card. They don’t accept any cash, just cards and there is usually a museum worker nearby in case you need help.
You can also find vending machines on the square in Sultanahmet, but I’ve never seen them operating.
How to Use It
Whether you purchased your pass online, at the ticket booth, or at a vending machine, all you have to do to activate it is to go through the fast track of any museum on the list and scan the QR code at the entrance.
The first use of a pass at the entrances activates the card and from the moment it gets activated, you can use it for 5 days or 120 hours to be precise. Very easy!
Things to Remember About the Museum Pass
Here are a few more things to remember about the Istanbul museum card:
- The activation of a pass doesn’t start from the moment of purchase, but from the moment you use it at the entrance to the 1st museum.
- Istanbul Museum Pass is not refundable.
- It is not registered under a specific name, so you can share it with other people or use it as a gift. However, the pass lets you visit each museum only once.
- Some museums now include an audio guide which holders of a museum pass can get for free. Ask about it upon entering.
- Plan your days accordingly with the museum schedules. The regular open hours are from 9:00 to 19:00 but in wintertime Turkey museums usually stay open only until 5 pm. The ticket booth closes by 30 to 60 minutes earlier than the closing time.
- Some museums are closed on Mondays and some others on Tuesdays, but all are open on weekends.
- There is only one type of official Istanbul museum pass available for sale, this one that’s valid for 5 days. In previous years, there were also passes for 1 and 3 days. But they had been discontinued. So if there is anyone who offers you a museum card for 1, 3, or more than 5 days, that’s a scam.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Buying the Card
As with everything else, there are also pros and cons to buying Istanbul Museum Pass.
Let’s start with the advantages first. The good thing, the card saves you money and helps to plan your budget in a smart way. And second, it may save you time, which may be even more valuable on a short vacation. The pass can also give you an idea of how to plan your day, judging by the locations of the museums.
Regarding the disadvantages, the first thing is the cost. The card is becoming more and more expensive and it pays for itself only in that case when you go to many museums every day within a 5-day period. It can be difficult to do for many people as besides museums there are many other things to do in Istanbul.
Second, if you are traveling with children younger than 8 years old, the museum pass renders useless in skipping lines for you, unless you get separate passes for children which they don’t even need to get inside the museum.
Verdict – So Istanbul Museum Pass Worth the Money?
Well, in general, yes but with a small remark. Istanbul museum pass is worth the money and is a great purchase for people who know where they want to go specifically. It is also great for people on their first visit to Istanbul who have at least 4 days in the city and know they want to visit museums and historical sights that the pass covers.
Yes, the museum card includes some substantial highlights but overall, it is only 10 museums covered by the municipality. And this is not that much. If you are curious about the variety of other attractions for you to choose from, then it may not be so appealing to buy the pass and feel “obligated” to go only to the museums on the list.
It may be smart to make a list of what you really want to see on your trip. And then plan your time and budget accordingly. However, if you want to see the best of the best, there might be a better option, and that is down in the bonus section below.
Bonus: Other Istanbul Cards That Can Save You Money
There is another pass available Istanbul Tourist Pass. Sounds very similar to the Istanbul museum pass but it actually covers more than 75 attractions and services. And not just museums and attractions, but activities and tours. As a bonus, you even get things like a one way shuttle from the airport or a discount for a private transfer included.
You can choose the validation period from 2 to 10 days. Get a code on your phone and you are good to go.
The pass includes Basilica Cistern Tour in English with a guide, Dolmabahçe Palace Guided Tour in English, Bosphorus boat tour, and many other interesting activities.
This pass naturally comes at a higher price, around $105 per person. But considering how much it includes, it is well worth it and may be a much better pick for you than a Museum Card. Although there are only a few museums from the Museum Pass that you have here, so consider wisely, what you really want to do in Istanbul.
More Travel Resources For Istanbul
I have a ton of posts on Istanbul travel! I am referring to many of them throughout the post and here are some more for your planning:
- My Best Travel Tips for Istanbul for first-time visitors
- Istanbul airport transfer – how to get to the city
- Renting a car in Istanbul – do you need it? Find out here
- Travel budget for Istanbul – how much things cost
- Best Beaches from Istanbul for a quick visit – best Turkey beach destinations
- Best Restaurants in Istanbul – where to eat & drink
- Unique places where to stay in Istanbul – historic mansions, ottoman houses, and palaces
- Guide to Arnavutkoy – one of the cutest neighborhoods in Istanbul
- Guide to Burgazada – the most romantic Adalar island
- Istanbul in spring – one of the best times to visit
Do you have any other questions about the Istanbul Museum Pass? Or possibly about the Tourist Pass? Leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!