The Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi) is a 67-metre-tall watchtower in central Istanbul. Dating back to the Byzantine period and having undergone many changes since, it is one of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks and a very popular tourist attraction.
After being closed for several months for restorations, the tower reopened in 2021 with a new and improved museum inside. But most people don’t visit Galata Tower for the exhibits – they come for the panoramic city views of Istanbul that you get from the top.
Is Galata Tower worth visiting, especially now that the ticket price is so dear? When is the best time to go, and how can you avoid waiting in a long queue to get in? Are there any Galata Tower alternatives?
In this quick guide, I answer all these questions and more. Read on for my best tips for visiting the Galata Tower.
- Also see: 42 essential Istanbul tips to make the most of your visit
- Don’t miss: How to spend 4 perfect days in Istanbul
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Istanbul quick links
- Istanbul airport transfer: Private transfer from Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gokcen (from $25)
- Where to stay in Istanbul: Hostel Le Banc (budget); 38 Hotel (mid-range); Hotel Empress Zoe (boutique); Ecole St. Pierre Hotel (luxury)
- Istanbul Official E-Pass: Pre-purchase online here
- Skip the line: Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia Small-Group Tour (from $40)
- Best Istanbul food tour: Taste of 2 Continents (from $100)
- Top-rated Istanbul city tour: Best of Istanbul in 1 Day (from $60)
- Turkey car hire: Find a low-cost rental on Local Rent (from 28€/day)
Want to skip the line at Galata Tower?
The Istanbul E-Pass allows you to skip the line at 40 of Istanbul’s most popular attractions, including Galata Tower. This is a great way to save time and money when you’re in Istanbul.
I highly recommend buying your digital E-Pass online in advance so you can hit the ground running as soon as you arrive.
What is the Galata Tower? Quick Galata Tower facts
- Year built: 1348
- Height: 66.9 metres (219.5 feet)
- Diametre: 16.45 metres (54 feet)
- Floors: 9
The Galata Tower is one of the oldest watchtowers in the world. Even if you haven’t been to Istanbul yet, chances are you’ll still recognise its distinctive silhouette: The tall, slender structure with brick-knit circular arched arcades along the top and a conical roof is a symbol of Turkey.
The tower we see today was built in 1348 on the site of an older Byzantine tower called Sykai that was commissioned by Emperor Justinian in 507-508 AD but destroyed during the Crusades.
The new and improved tower was designed in the Romanesque style and built by the Genoese, who colonised this part of the city. Known as the ‘Jesus Tower’ (Christea Turris), it was the tallest building in Constantinople at the time of its completion.
The tower was actually a keep, and it was not free-standing but rather attached to a fortified city wall. In 1453, the walls were destroyed but the tower was preserved. It was then used as a prison.
In the 1700s, the Ottomans re-purposed it as a watchtower for spotting fires. (Funnily enough, I saw a fire from the tower at the time of my visit – so it still serves its purpose in a way! All was well in the end.)
The tower itself was ironically damaged by fire twice during the Ottoman period, then by earthquake, until finally in 1875 a ferocious storm landed the fatal blow and destroyed the lead-and-wood roof.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that the roof was reconstructed and the tower reopened to the public. In 2020 and 2021, it underwent two more rounds of renovations and a small museum was installed inside.
The highlight of the Galata Tower is definitely its eighth-floor observation terrace, which towers 52 metres above the city and affords incredible views of the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, and most of Istanbul’s major landmarks.
Galata Tower opening hours
The Galata Tower is open daily from 8.30am until 11pm. You can visit 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Note that the ticket office opens at 8.30am, but closes an hour earlier than the tower at 10pm.
In the winter months (between November 1 and April 1), the tower stays open late until midnight.
Galata Tower price
As of August 2022, entrance to Galata Tower costs 175 TRY (9.75 USD). The price is the same for adults, students and children.
The price seems to be constantly increasing and went up by 45 TRY in summer 2022 between the time of my visit and the time of writing. I suggest you double-check prices locally in case it has changed again.
There is an audio guide available for an additional 40 TRY. Personally I did not opt for the audio guide, but if you’re particularly interested in the history of the building, the option is there.
Entrance to Galata Tower is included in the Istanbul E-Pass. If you hold a card, you can skip the ticket queue and go straight to the tower entrance.
If you plan to visit at least four or five of the 10 attractions the Pass covers, then it does work out to be the more economical choice – not to mention all the time you’ll save by not having to queue for tickets.
How to get to Galata Tower
The Galata Tower is located in Beyoglu on the European side of Istanbul, between the Galata and Karakoy districts.
Strangely there are two Galata Towers marked on Google Maps: This is the correct location here, but the correct opening hours are pinned to another location, Galata Kulesi Müzesi, located a few blocks south.
The closest metro station to Galata Tower is Sishane, which is 350 metres or a five-minute walk from the base of the tower. From Taksim, take the M2 green line metro.
Tip: When exiting the metro station, I recommend you ignore the Galata Tower signs and follow the signs towards Istanbul Galata Universitesi instead. This will bring you out on Buyuk Hendek Cd. From there, it’s a four-minute (mostly downhill) walk to reach the tower, approaching from the western side.
Galata Tower sits atop a rise and the streets that connect it with the waterfront are very steep. Therefore if you’re coming from Karakoy or from Eminonu, I recommend taking the T1 tram or a bus to avoid having to climb up the hill.
Things to know before you visit Galata Tower
Early morning is the best time to go
One of the best decisions I made in Istanbul was to arrive at Galata Tower when it opened at 8.30am on the dot. There was hardly anyone else there, which meant we could buy our tickets immediately and walk straight in. The observation deck was nice and quiet, which made taking photos a lot easier too.
We visited Istanbul in June. In July and August, it’s even more important to arrive as soon as the tower opens. By the time we had finished our visit at around 10am, there was already a very long queue of people waiting to get in. I can only imagine how long you have to wait during peak tourist season.
Some people recommend visiting Galata Tower for sunset. While the views must be spectacular, just know that hundreds of other people have the same idea and the tower is always packed to the brim. There is a cap on how many people are allowed inside at any one time, so you might get stuck watching the sunset from the bottom of the tower if it’s very busy!
I recommend visiting Galata Tower in the early morning and choosing an alternative viewpoint for sunset. See my suggestions below.
You have to queue twice
Entering Galata Tower is a two-step process: First, you have to queue to buy your tickets from the box office outside, and then you have to queue again to have your tickets validated and be admitted into the tower.
The best way to avoid this is by buying the Istanbul E-Pass. If you have the pass, you can skip the box office altogether and simply join the line to enter the tower. Staff will scan your digital QR code on your phone on the way in.
Some websites suggest joining a Galata Tower tour as a way to pre-buy tickets and skip the line. Personally I don’t think you need a guide for the Galata Tower – especially if you’re interested in taking lots of photos, in which case you’ll want to take your time and not feel rushed. I recommend you use the E-Pass instead.
→ Buy the official Istanbul E-Pass online here via Viator
The ticket office is not inside the tower
If you don’t have an E-Pass or a Museum Pass and you want to buy a single ticket on the day, then you have to do so before you join the queue to enter the tower.
The ticket office is a separate building. It’s pretty obvious – but if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to overlook. We completely missed it and joined the queue to enter the tower, thinking we could buy tickets inside. When we got to the front of the queue, we were told to go back and we lost our place in the line. Luckily it was very quiet.
The ticket booth is located inside the red tram. You can find it in the square, adjacent to the tower. Note that the box office closes an hour before the tower.
How long to spend at Galata Tower
I recommend you set aside at least 45-60 minutes to visit Galata Tower. If it’s busy, you’ll need double or even triple that amount of time to account for time spent waiting in line.
The museum is quite small, but there are some great interactive exhibits that you can easily spend longer looking at (I really liked the touchscreen Istanbul architecture quiz).
If you want to read every didactic and take your time with the exhibits – or indeed if you want to spend longer than normal on the observation deck taking photos – then make sure you set aside 60-75 minutes for your visit.
There is an elevator, but you still have to climb some stairs
The Galata Tower observation terrace is located on the eighth floor. The elevator only goes as far as the sixth floor, so you have to walk the rest of the way up two flights of stairs to reach the deck.
To get back down, you must take the stairs, visiting the Galata Tower Museum – which is spread out over four different levels – along the way. The stairway tunnels are quite narrow in places, so keep this in mind if you’re claustrophobic. The stairs are not too steep.
The last stop is the gift shop, located on the bottom level before the exit.
The viewing deck is open-air
One of my pet peeves is paying to visit an observation deck only to find it’s glassed in, making it impossible to take good photos. Thankfully this is not the case at Galata Tower.
The observation deck is completely open-air, meaning you get uninterrupted views. There are safety rails and barricades, but they are quite low, so if you’re travelling with kids you will want to keep a close eye on them.
The deck wraps around the entire tower, so you can walk around the perimeter for 360-degree views. The best vantage points are from the south and west-facing areas, where you can see the water and the Golden Horn. There are several mounted binoculars that are free to use.
Because it’s open, it does get very windy and it can be a bit chilly. Be sure to bring a scarf or jacket if you’re visiting in the early morning.
The deck itself is quite narrow in parts, so it can be a squeeze if there are lots of other people or you encounter groups trying to pass you in the opposite direction while people are posing for photos. Tripods are not permitted at Galata Tower for this exact reason.
The inside part of the observation level is a circular hall with glass windows and several open arches. There are seats inside, so this is a good place to wait it out if it’s very busy on the deck.
See my photos taken from the Galata Tower in the next section.
Don’t skip the Galata Tower Museum
After you’re done taking photos on the observation deck, it’s time to visit the Galata Tower Museum. You can skip the exhibits if you wish and take the elevator back down to the main entrance. But even if you’re not particularly interested in the museum, I still think it’s worth taking the stairs so that you can see the inside of the tower and appreciate the architecture.
The museum is staged over four floors and has several different sections that cover Istanbul’s history and the story of the tower and city wall. There is also a temporary exhibition, which rotates throughout the year, and a simulation area.
My favourite exhibits are the Inscription of Docks and Ateliers, an inscribed stone from 1912 in French and Ottoman, and a section of the heavy chain that was used to close off the waterway and protect the colony.
Should you visit the Galata Tower Restaurant?
There is a cafe-restaurant inside the Galata Tower on the floor below the observation deck. It gets mixed reviews, so we decided to skip it.
I recommend eating in nearby Karakoy or at one of the cafes at the base of the tower. See my recommendations in the next section.
Galata Tower views
From the top of the Galata Tower you can see the Bosphorus Strait, the Golden Horn, and several of Istanbul’s most prominent mosques. You can also see the Galata Bridge, and look directly down onto the rooftops of Karakoy.
Where to get the best photos of the Galata Tower
Before you leave the Galata area, there are several places in the vicinity where you can snap beautiful photos of the tower itself.
The position and height of the tower makes it relatively difficult to photograph from the surrounding streets. For a clear view up the street towards the tower, Buyuk Hendek Caddesi is definitely the best choice (below right). This is a popular photo spot and you’ll likely find dozens of other people posing outside the cafes.
I also like the view looking back at the tower from Tersane Caddesi and from the street that leads to the waterfront. From this angle, you can get a photo of the tower with a clear blue-sky background (above left).
Finally, you can get wonderful views of the tower from the Galata Bridge, which is a great spot for sunset in Istanbul. I recommend staking out a position on the western side of the bridge, above the marina.
Other things to do in the Galata area
Be sure to walk a lap around the bottom of the tower and take a closer look at the stonework and the various inscriptions. The plaque above the main gate, with its florid Ottoman script, is particularly beautiful. It was installed in 1832 to commemorate repairs made to the tower.
Immediately outside the tower on the northern side of the square, the Bereketzade Fountain is a lovely marble drinking fountain with floral motifs.
Galata is one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Istanbul – so while you’re in the area, be sure to have a wander around. I particularly like the area between the tower and the waterfront.
Just south of the tower, Bankalar Caddesi (Bank Street) was the financial centre of the Ottoman Empire. It is lined with stunning 19th-century buildings, some of which have been restored and repurposed. Salt Galata, located inside the former headquarters of the Imperial Ottoman Bank, houses a library, galleries and multi-purpose community spaces. You are free to wander inside and see the grand interior.
Also on Bankalar Caddesi, the Art Nouveau Kamondo Stairs are a beautiful piece of architecture. They lead down to Karakoy, another excellent part of Istanbul where you’ll find some of the city’s best street food offerings and waterfront cafes.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Dervishes, the Galata Mevlevihanesi Müzesi is located north of the tower and chronicles the history and legacy of one of the world’s most famous Dervish sects. The museum also hosts Whirling Dervish ceremonies.
Where to eat & drink near Galata Tower
The streets around Galata Tower are lined with sidewalk cafes and restaurants. Not surprisingly, venues in this area tend to be quite pricey.
When we visited the tower, we opted to eat in Karakoy instead. A few days later, we found ourselves wandering through again and this time, we decided to stop for a bite to eat at one of the cafes at the foot of the tower.
We chose Viyana Kahvesi Galata, which is famous for its Basque cheesecake. The cake deserves all the praise it gets – it is absolutely divine – and the iced coffee is also very good. There is a small terrace where you can sit looking out towards the tower.
Galata Tower alternatives: Other viewpoints in Istanbul
Galata Tower is often named the best viewpoint in Istanbul. But the relatively high ticket price puts many people off visiting – after all, you can find comparably amazing views from plenty of other spots around the city, and some of them are completely free.
There are several high-rise restaurants and sky bars near the Galata Tower, including 360 Istanbul, but all of them have mixed reviews at best. We considered visiting a restaurant instead of paying for a ticket to climb the tower – but at the end of the day, we decided we’d rather eat somewhere with stellar food rather than waste a meal on something average just because it has nice views.
Another popular viewpoint in Istanbul is the Maiden’s Tower. At the time of our visit, it was closed for major renovations. Camlica Hill in Uskudar is well-known for its sunset views and is a good option if you’re looking for a free alternative. From what I’ve seen in photos, though, the city is quite far away and it’s more difficult to pick out different landmarks.
Another option is a restaurant such as Seven Hills in Eminonu, which overlooks the Hagia Sophia. This particular place was recommended to me by a friend and even though we didn’t get a chance to go this time, I’d love to eat a meal here on a future visit.
Final thoughts: Is Galata Tower worth visiting?
In my opinion, Galata Tower is absolutely worth visiting, even with the increase in ticket price. You can find great views of Istanbul from other places in the city (including views with the Galata Tower itself in frame), but this is still the best spot for panoramas of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.
It’s very difficult to find another place in Istanbul that affords 360-degree views like the Galata Tower does. The fact that the observation deck is completely open is a huge bonus, as you don’t have to worry about taking photos through glass.
The views are the main attraction, and the Galata Tower Museum is also quite interesting. Even though it’s small, it’s very well presented and the interactive exhibits about different landmarks are terrific.
Make sure you visit in the early morning before the crowds descend, and buy your Istanbul Museum Pass or E-Pass in advance so that you can skip the ticket line and go straight into the tower.
Where to stay in Istanbul
Budget: Hostel Le Banc (⭐ 9.5) – This popular hostel in Beyoglu is footsteps from the Galata Tower and Sishane metro station. It features air-conditioned rooms (private doubles and mixed/all-female 4 and 10-bed dorms), a shared lounge and a terrace.
Mid-range: 38 Hotel (⭐ 8.6) – Located in Sisli, close to Osmanbey metro station, this hotel has compact, tidy double rooms and suites.
Boutique: Hotel Empress Zoe (⭐ 9.2) – This gorgeous boutique hotel is decorated with heritage flourishes and boasts hammam-like ensuites and private internal terraces. The location in Fatih, minutes from Sultan Ahmet Mosque and the Blue Mosque, is very central yet the hotel still feels secluded.
Luxury: Ecole St. Pierre Hotel (⭐ 9.5) – Located in Beyoglu close to Galata Tower, this boutique-luxury hotel offers high-end suites with private courtyards and terraces. The building, an old Italian Dominican school with remnants of the 13th-century Galata walls inside its courtyard, is dripping with history.
Here are some of the websites and services I recommend for planning a trip to Turkey. Remember to check out my full list of travel resources for more tips.
FLIGHTS: Find affordable flights to Turkey using the Skyscanner website.
VISAS: Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Turkey and apply for an expedited visa online.
DOCUMENTATION: Use OneWayFly to obtain proof of onward travel/hotel reservation for your visa application.
TRAVEL INSURANCE: Insure your trip to Turkey with HeyMondo, my preferred provider for single-trip and annual travel insurance.
CAR HIRE: Use the Local Rent platform to hire a car from a local agent. Prices start from as little as 18€ per day.
ACCOMMODATION: Find the best Turkey hotel deals on Booking.com.
CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: Browse the Viator website to find the best itineraries and prices for Istanbul food tours, Cappadocia balloon rides and more!
More Istanbul travel resources
- The perfect Istanbul itinerary
- Guide to Arnavutkoy, a hidden gem in Istanbul
- Helpful things to know before you visit Istanbul – Istanbul tips
- My trip costs for Istanbul & money saving tips
- The best Whirling Dervishes ceremony in Istanbul
- The ultimate guide to Istanbul street food
- The most beautiful places to visit in Turkey
- Where to go in Turkey in winter