everything to know about istanbul
A Combination of Modern and Traditional
It is İstanbul’s endless variety that fascinates its visitors. The museums, churches, palaces, grand mosques, bazaars, and sites of natural beauty are countless. While you’re relaxing on the western shores of the Bosphorus at sunset and watching the crimson evening light reflected on the other continent, it’ll become clear why so many centuries ago settlers chose to build a city on this remarkable site. In such moments, you can understand why İstanbul is truly one of world’s most magnificent cities. Hence, We will give you here everything you need to know about istanbul.
Where is Istanbul?
Istanbul is located in north-western Turkey and straddles the strait Bosporus, which provides the only passage from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean via the Sea of Marmara.
Also, Istanbul is Türkiye’s most developed and largest city, with the latest discoveries indicating that the history of human habitation here goes back some 400,000 years. The purple years of İstanbul started in 330 when Emperor Constantine declared the city the capital of his empire – royal purple was the color of the Byzantine imperial family. Until 1453, when it was conquered by the Ottomans, the city served as the capital of the Byzantine Empire. During the reign of the Byzantines, İstanbul known at the time as Constantinople, was adorned with a number of great monuments, which made it the most magnificent city in the world – this was true even during the declining years of the empire.
Good to Know
Why Istanbul is The Best city?
Straddling two continents, Istanbul’s rich heritage is the result of European and Asian cultures intertwining for centuries. On the one hand, it’s home to artistic and architectural masterpieces, and places of legend; on the other, it’s a bustling modern metropolis full of innovation. It blends the art of ancient history together with the fast pace of 21st-century life. A marriage of Anatolian dishes and world cuisine means Istanbul has a delicious and varied menu on offer. Stunning buildings left by a range of different cultures, streets heavy with an air of history, and breathtaking views of the Bosphorus are sure to leave every visitor in awe of this incredible city. Napoleon said that “If the world were a single country, Istanbul would be its capital”, and that sentiment has never been truer than it is today.
What To Do in Istanbul?
For more than 1,500 years Istanbul was the capital of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires.
With one arm reaching out to Asia and the other to Europe, Istanbul is the only city in the world built on two continents. The Bosphorus courses the waters of the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the Golden Horn through the city’s heart.
Istanbul’s fate is sealed by its strategic location and its enchanting natural beauty. For more than 1,500 years it was the capital of three empires: The Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires. It was adorned as befitted its importance with magnificent monuments and became a metropolis where diverse cultures, nations, and religions mingled. These cultures, nations, and religions are the small colored stones that form the mosaic of Istanbul.
Striking Multireligious Identity
Istanbul’s identity began to take shape with the Byzantines and gained momentum during the period of the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror declared Istanbul the capital of Ottoman Empire after he conquered the city in 1453. Over the next 450 years the city was adorned with superb Ottoman monuments. Building works after the conquest gathered apace during the reign of Sultan Bayezid II, with the finest works built by Mimar Sinan, the Chief Royal Architect. This world-famous architect put his signature on the silhouette of İstanbul with a number of masterpieces.
The Ottomans were tolerant towards all religions and dedicated many places of worship to the Christian and Jewish communities so that they could practice their religion undisturbed. Thus, in İstanbul mosques, churches, and synagogues stood and still stand side by side as the physical evidence of İstanbul as a center and symbol of tolerance and the fraternity of religions.
As an imperial capital of 1,500 years, Istanbul is rich in architectural monuments reflecting its past splendor.
At every turn in the city you can see Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman palaces, mosques, churches, monasteries, monuments, walls, and ruins. The old city center, with its places of worship, government, trade and entertainment, was where the citizens mingled, enjoying the benefits of the security and bounty of the state while maintaining their culture and way of life.
The most magnificent of İstanbul’s monuments are clustered on the Historical Peninsula, the triangular piece of land surrounded by the Sea of Marmara to the east and south, by the Golden Horn to the north, and by the city walls to the west. This group of sites, known as the Historic Areas of İstanbul, were included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985, and continue to this day to impress visitors with their history and importance. Sultanahmet Square is the heart of the Historical Peninsula and in its vicinity one can find the most prominent examples of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture.
Living Heritage of the Byzantines
During the Byzantine period the center of the city was the Hippodrome and its environs. The palace was the center of power and Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque) was the most spectacular religious building. The hippodrome served as an entertainment center for the people and the Yerebatan Sarnıcı (Basilica Cistern) supplied most of the city’s water. All these structures can be found in the center of the city. During Ottoman times, the square where the hippodrome once stood became the site for the circumcision ceremonies of the sultans’ sons.
Great Mystic Symbols
The most glorious architectural heritage of the Byzantine Empire is Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque) which is referred to as the “8th Wonder of the World.” With a history of more than 1,500 years, it is one of the great symbols of İstanbul. The mosaics of Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque), which were uncovered after it became a museum, are the foremost examples of Byzantine art of the 9th to 12th centuries. The Kariye Mosque (former Chora Church) is another Byzantine monument famous for its fine mosaics and frescoes. The Neve Shalom, Ahrida, and Aşkenazi Synagogues are three of the most important sacred places for Judaism in İstanbul. The Topkapı Palace is particularly important for the Mukaddes Emanetler Dairesi (Chamber of Holy Relics) where Prophet Muhammed’s Hırka-i Saadet (Blessed Mantle) and Sancak-ı Şerif (Holy Banner) are kept in their golden chests. The Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, was built between 1609 and 1616, and houses the tomb of its founder, Sultan Ahmed I, a madrasah, and a hospice.
Historic Areas of İstanbul
The Historic Areas of İstanbul, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985, cover four main areas: The Archaeological Park, the Süleymaniye Mosque and its associated conservation area, Zeyrek Mosque and its associated conservation area, and the City Walls of İstanbul. In its evaluation report, the International Council on Monuments and Sites has stated that one cannot conceive of the UNESCO World Heritage List without İstanbul, which has been associated with the world’s major political, religious, and artistic events for over 2,000 years. The cultural property in this area includes unique monuments and masterpieces of universal architecture. Two of these monuments are Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque) , built by Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus in AD 532-537, and the Süleymaniye Mosque, a masterpiece of Mimar Sinan (“Architect Sinan”) or Mimar Koca Sinan (“Great Architect Sinan”). The 6,650-meter-long city walls of Theodosius II, with its second line of defenses created in AD 447, has been one of the world’s leading references in military architecture.
The Other Shore
Another historical area of İstanbul, on the opposite shore of the Golden Horn, is the former district of Pera, meaning “the other shore.” Settled by Genoese and Venetians in the 12th century, this quarter was inhabited mostly by Levantines and represented the city’s Western face. The cosmopolitan character of ancient İstanbul is reflected in the following buildings in Pera: the Galata Tower built by the Genoese, stately consulates which were embassies before the capital was moved to Ankara, and the Art Nouveau buildings of İstiklal Avenue. Church of St. Anthony of Padua, a silent and tranquil spot on this avenue, is visited frequently by devout visitors of every religion. Palaces, summer palaces, castles, and large mansions built by the Ottomans continue to adorn İstanbul. After Topkapı Palace, Yıldız Palace and Dolmabahçe Palace on the shores of the Bosphorus became the residences of the Ottoman sultans. İstanbul is also famous for the elegant wooden houses, known as yalıs, built along the shores of the strait.
Haliç, The Golden Horn
This horn-shaped estuary known as the Golden Horn divides European İstanbul in two. As one of the world’s best natural harbors, the Byzantine and Ottoman navies and their commercial shipping interests were centered here. Today, lovely parks and promenades line the shores where the setting sun casts a golden hue on the water. At Fener and Balat, neighborhoods midway up the Golden Horn, whole streets full of old wooden houses, churches, and synagogues date from Byzantine and Ottoman times, while the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople resides at Fener. Eyüp, a little further up, is full of Ottoman architecture, much of it restored, and cemeteries dotted with dark cypress trees covering the hillsides. Many believers come to the Tomb of Eyüp in the hope that their prayers will be granted. The Pierre Loti Café, atop the hill overlooking the shrine, is a wonderful place to enjoy an alternative view of İstanbul.
A stay in İstanbul is not complete without a traditional and unforgettable boat excursion up the Bosphorus, the strait that separates Europe and Asia. Its shores offer a delightful mixture of past and present, grand splendors and simple beauty.
Modern hotels stand next to yalıs (waterfront wooden villas), marble palaces abut on rustic stone fortresses, and elegant compounds neighbor small fishing villages.
The best way to see the Bosphorus is to board one of the passenger boats that regularly zigzag along the shores. Embark at Eminönü and stop alternately on the Asian and European sides of the strait! The round-trip excursion, very reasonably priced, takes about six hours. For those who want a private voyage, (Rozana Tours Agency) specializes in organizing daytime or nighttime mini-cruises.
During the trip you will go past the magnificent Dolmabahçe Palace, while further along you will encounter the green parks and imperial pavilions of Yıldız Palace. Built on the waterfront with parks extending behind it, Çırağan Palace was refurbished in 1874 by Sultan Abdülaziz, and is now restored as a grand hotel. For 300 meters along the Bosphorus shore, its ornate marble facades reflect the swiftly moving water. At Ortaköy, the next stop, every Sunday artists gather to exhibit their work in a street-side gallery where the variety of people create a lively scene. While in Ortaköy, you should sample a tasty kumpir (baked potato) from one of the street vendors. And also note its church, mosque, and synagogue that have existed side by side for hundreds of years – a tribute to Türkiye’s tolerance at grassroots level. Overshadowing İstanbul’s traditional architecture at Ortaköy is one of the world’s largest suspension bridges, the Boğaziçi Bridge, linking Europe and Asia.
The beautiful Beylerbeyi Palace lies just past the bridge on the Asian side and behind the palace rises Çamlıca Hill, the highest point in İstanbul. You can drive here to admire the magnificent panorama of İstanbul and the beautiful, landscaped gardens. On the opposite shore, the wooden Ottoman villas of Arnavutköy create a contrast with the luxurious modern apartments of neighboring Bebek. A few kilometers further along the Bosphorus stand the fortresses of Rumeli Hisarı (Rumeli Fortress) and Anadolu Hisarı (Anatolian Fortress) facing each other across the strait like watchful protectors. Göksu Palace, sometimes known as Küçüksu Palace, graces the Asian shore next to Anadolu Hisarı. As the second link between the two continents, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge straddles the waterway just past these two fortresses.
From Duatepe Hill on the European side you can admire the magnificent panorama of the bridge and the Bosphorus. Below Duatepe, beautiful Emirgan Park bursts with color when its tulips bloom in the spring. On the Asian shore is Kanlıca, a fishing village that is now a favored suburb for affluent İstanbul residents. Crowds gather in the restaurants and cafés along its shores to sample its famous yogurt.
Shortly after Kanlıca and Çubuklu is Beykoz Korusu (İbrahim Paşa Woods), a popular retreat. In its cafés and restaurants, you can enjoy the delightful scenery and clean, fresh air. Back on the European side, at Tarabya Bay, yachts seem to dance at the moorings. The coastal road then bustles with taverns and fish restaurants from Tarabya to the charming suburbs of Sarıyer and Büyükdere. Sarıyer has one of the largest fish markets in İstanbul and is also famous for its delicious varieties of milk puddings and börek (pastries). After Sarıyer, the narrow strait widens and opens into the Black Sea.
The Princes’ Islands, an archipelago of nine islands in the Sea of Marmara, were places of exile for Byzantine princes. Today, during the summer months, İstanbul residents escape to the islands’ cool sea breeze and elegant 19th-century houses.
Büyükada is the largest of the islands. Here you can enjoy a ride e-cart among the pine trees or relax on a beach in one of the numerous coves that ring the island. The other popular islands are Kınalı, Sedef, Burgaz, and Heybeliada. Regular ferryboats connect the islands with both the European and Asian shores, and a faster sea bus service operates from Kabataş in the summer.
Istanbul has a rich entertainment scene: bars, pubs, nightclubs, and discos are plentiful, and there are countless restaurants offering Turkish cuisine with all its local varieties, not to mention, among others, Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese, and Lebanese cuisine.
The meyhanes, literally “wine houses,” are a special local experience. The main drink on offer here is not so much wine but rakı, an alcoholic beverage made of grapes and anise. Nightclubs provide splendid entertainment throughout dinner, ranging from a selection of Turkish songs to belly-dancing. There are also modern discos, cabarets, and jazz clubs in the district of Taksim-Harbiye. In Sultanahmet, there are a number of restaurants set in restored Byzantine and Ottoman premises which offer a unique setting for an evening out.
Kumkapı is another attractive district with its many taverns, bars, and fish restaurants. People have been meeting for years at Çiçek Pasajı in Beyoğlu for snacks and seafood specialties. Nearby is the narrow Nevizade Street – the best place in İstanbul for eating Turkish specialties and drinking rakı.
On the shores of the Bosphorus, Ortaköy is İstanbul’s prime nightlife location with its nightclubs, jazz clubs, fine seafood restaurants, and bars. At Eminönü, don’t miss the opportunity to see the fishermen dressed in traditional Ottoman clothes serving fried fish with bread (balık ekmek) from their Ottoman-style boats.
Turkish Breakfast in İstanbul
Turkish breakfast isn’t just a meal, it’s an experience. Designed to be social, shared, and savored, Turkish breakfast consists of many small plates both sweet and savory, accompanied with bread and endless cups of tea. Usually a Turkish breakfast includes eggs, either fried or scrambled with tomatoes (sahanda yumurta or menemen). Cucumbers and tomatoes are consistently part of breakfast, as are olives, a plate of local cheeses, honey, and kaymak, a dairy product similar to clotted cream. Often there will also be jam, butter, a red pepper paste called acılı ezme, sausages, and börek, a flaky pastry that can be filled with cheese, spinach, or meat.
Serpme kahvaltı is a highly traditional way to enjoy the breakfast for long hours. Turkish people go out on weekends to have breakfast around the Bosphorus with a breathtaking view, to popular cafés and restaurants, etc. The concept of serpme kahvaltı consists of small plates with different products and tastes such as a cheese platter, a tomato and cucumber platter, herbs, jams, tahini and grape molasses, butter, kaymak and honey, different types of olives, olive oil with spices, spicy tomato paste, eggs, omlet, bread and simit, peppers, and Turkish pastries.
Street Food in İstanbul
Although İstanbul is Türkiye’s center of gastronomy with lots of local and international restaurants, street food is also very tasty! Throughout İstanbul, street food culture is a pervasive and common thread of everyday life.
Turkish people come from a nomadic background, and this is one of the main reasons why street food culture is extremely rich and popular all across the country.
While different street food is popular in different regions, the most popular (like simit) can be found nearly everywhere in Türkiye. So, if you are in a rush, or just want to enjoy the vibrant street life in İstanbul, stop and grab a delicious snack.
Here is a list of some of the most popular street foods in Istanbul:
Simit: Freshly baked, molasses-dipped, and sesame-crusted dough. It is a staple of breakfasts on the go. Even day-old simit has its use as seagull feed.
Süt mısır: Boiled corn, served with salt.
Grilled corn on the cob: Turkish for maize, mısır is corn on the cob that is steamed, then lightly grilled and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and other spices. Often a summer staple coinciding with the region’s growing season, mısır is a travel-friendly snack sold by vendors lining the bridge atop the Bosphorus.
Kumpir: The ultimate baked potato with a great variety of toppings to choose from: kaşar cheese, sausage, corn, Olivier (or Russian) salad, pickled red cabbage, olives, ketchup and/or mayonnaise as a dressing… Ortaköy is the most popular area in the city to eat it.
Balık-ekmek: A popular fish sandwich that can be enjoyed near Karaköy or Eminönü shore.
Döner: The basics remain the same: pieces of meat are seasoned with suet, local herbs, and spices, skewered on a spit and grilled vertically. Originally the meat used for döner kebap was lamb. Today, in İstanbul, it is made using a mixture of lamb and beef, only beef, or even only chicken.
Kestane kebap: Roasted chestnuts are sold on the streets for those who would like to enjoy them by peeling off the shell when still warm during cold days.
Midye dolma: “Stuffed mussels” is a generic name for plump orange mussels, stuffed with herbed and spiced aromatic rice, and occasionally currants. It is a popular street food snack in İstanbul and İzmir.
Kokoreç: Spiced and skewered sheep’s intestines, served in either half or quarter of a bread loaf with plenty of grease and salt to go with.
Islak hamburger: The simple burger is packed with garlicky flavor and buttery tomato sauce which provides the succulent texture and the spongy buns.
Fine Dining in Istanbul
Istanbul, a metropolis of both Türkiye and the world, is a gastronomic epicenter. Here you can find and taste the best of local flavors from across Türkiye. At the same time, İstanbul is also home to innumerable fine dining restaurants and hosts chefs from around the world who serve international cuisines and flavors.
Most of the fine dining restaurants in İstanbul have a magnificent Bosphorus view to enjoy every sip of your rakı, Turkish wine, or favorite cocktail!
Two of the best fine dining restaurants in İstanbul have been chosen among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants since 2015.
You will also find the fusion restaurants where you can enjoy Turkish cuisine blended with cuisine from various regions of the world.
Some of the international cuisines and delicacies that Turkish people greatly enjoy are Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indian, Russian, Austrian, French, Mexican, and Spanish. You will find high-end chef restaurants, Far East fusion cuisines, sushi places, Parisienne cafés, and a lot more in İstanbul!
With its reservoirs that supplied İstanbul with water for many centuries after its foundation, its fountains, and rich fauna, today, Belgrad Forest serves as the city’s lungs. Roughly half an hour’s drive from the city center, Belgrad Forest’s running and cycling tracks make it a matchless destination for sports enthusiasts. You can run or walk along the 6.5-kilometer trail, have a picnic surrounded by the chirping of birds, or just meditate by the pond.
Maçka Democracy Park
You will get your fill of green at Maçka Park, where you can enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the city from one of the cable cars that pass over the park. People come to this park, which is a green oasis in the heart of the city, to jog and walk, to walk their dogs, have a picnic, or meet with friends in the evenings.
Before attending the concerts and festivals held at the neighboring Küçükçiftlik Park, it’s a great idea to drop by the park for an energizing visit.
Preferred by families with children living in İstanbul who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Polonezköy should be your principal destination for breakfast on Sunday. Prepare yourself for a delightful day in nature where you can try a real Turkish breakfast and barbeque.
Renowned as Türkiye’s first living nature & tree museum, Atatürk Arboretum is an area of scientific research and observation for İstanbul University’s Faculty of Forestry. It hosts nearly 2,000 unique plant species over 296 hectares of forestland. After spending a day in the heart of nature at Atatürk Arboretum, which is located in Sarıyer, you can enjoy dinner at the area’s famous restaurants featuring Black Sea cuisine or at the local fish restaurants.
Overlooking the Bosphorus, Emirgan Park is renowned for its tulips. Here, you can enjoy a glorious view of the waterway over breakfast or dinner at the cafés and restaurants located in the Yellow Pavilion, Pink Pavilion, and White Pavilion – each named after a tulip color. Before enjoying a walk in the park, which should be at the top of your list of “Places to See in İstanbul,” take an art tour at the Sakıp Sabancı Museum situated right next to the park or walk along the Bosphorus coastline.
Frequented particularly by those who wish to get some fresh air in the summer, Bebek Park is ideally suited for a delightful morning walk. You will feel great walking in the confluence of green and blue, greeted by a view of the Bosphorus and the boats anchored at the bay as you approach Rumeli Hisarı (Rumeli Fortress). During your walk along the trials, you can sit under the centuries-old trees and enjoy the view.
Situated between Beşiktaş and Ortaköy, Yıldız Park is a paradise in the heart of the city covering an area of approximately 46 hectares of land. The biggest park in the city, Yıldız Park was cited in various historical sources for its bay tree forests and as the area where Pan played his flute along the Bosphorus according to classical mythology. Yıldız Park hosts more than 120 species of exotic trees and bushes, as well as Yıldız Pavilion (Yıldız Köşkü). You can spend your entire day in nature here, engaging in various activities. As you walk, run, or ride your bike, the squirrels and other park wildlife will be there to keep you company.
Çubuklu Park and Khedive Palace
Situated on a hill overlooking the Bosphorus on the way from Üsküdar to Beykoz, Çubuklu Park, which undergoes a complete transformation in spring and summer, and the Khedive Palace offer glorious views of the Bosphorus. In the tulip gardens surrounding Khedive Palace, you can experience spring to the fullest. Accompanied by birds chirping, you can walk along the path meandering through the pine forests, and enjoy the view at the observation terrace.
Princes’ Islands, Mimosas, and Judas Trees
Those who are willing to go a bit further in search of natural beauty can take a joyful ferry ride accompanied by the seagulls to the Princes’ Islands. Spring is the ideal time for a tour involving a long uphill hike to the Monastery of St. Georgia on Büyükada, a walk to the Monastery of St. Spyridon on Heybeliada, and a delightful dinner against the sunset in Kalpazankaya on Burgazada.
In İstanbul, early spring is mimosa time. Particularly on the Princes’ Islands, the mimosa trees dazzle visitors with their stunning appearance and fragrance. Those who miss the mimosa season, can catch the Judas trees that adorn the Bosphorus coastline and paint the city in purple in April.
The New Istanbul
Building on the assets inherited from a glorious past, İstanbul is an international city with a financial and economic center offering services in banking, telecommunications, marketing, engineering, and tourism.
International conferences and festivals, fairs, fashion shows, sports, and art performances give a new dimension to the city’s life and potential.
İstanbul is one of the busiest centers of congress travel in the world, offering every support and service to conferences of all sizes. İstanbul’s excellent transportation and communication facilities, as well as the wide choice of accommodation equipped with the latest technology provide visitors outstanding services.
Arts, Culture, And Entertainment
Istanbul is an international center for arts and culture with a rich tradition in opera and ballet, theaters performing both Turkish and international works, concerts, exhibitions, festivals, auctions, conferences and, of course, museums.
İstanbul’s private museums, which opened one after the other in the early 2000s, have hosted exhibitions showcasing the world’s finest masterpieces.
İstanbul Modern offers a permanent collection of modern art alongside temporary exhibits, featuring many of the most famous Turkish painters. Santral İstanbul not only presents the public with artistic and cultural activities but also aims to become an interdisciplinary, international platform contributing to the creation of an environment fostering intercultural dialogue and debate. Contemporary İstanbul is Türkiye’s only international fair for contemporary art. Organized every year, the fair is a meeting place for art lovers, collectors, art galleries, and artists from all over the world. The most prestigious of the city’s international cultural events are the international festivals organized by İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, including in their programs the finest examples of artistic creativity in the fields of classical music, ballet, modern dance, opera, folklore, jazz/pop, cinema, drama, and visual arts from both Türkiye and abroad. The foundation also organizes seminars, conferences, and lectures.
Superb Spots for All
On the European side of the Black Sea coast, 25 kilometers from the outskirts of İstanbul, the long, broad sandy beaches of Kilyos draw crowds of İstanbul residents in the summer. Belgrad Forest, inland from the Black Sea on the European side, is the largest forest in İstanbul’s vicinity. On weekends, İstanbulites drive out here for family picnics and barbecues in the coolness of its shade. Seven ancient reservoirs and a number of natural springs refresh the air while its Ottoman aqueducts, of which the 16th-century Moğlova Aqueduct built by Sinan is the most splendid, lend majesty to the natural surroundings. On the Asian side, Polonezköy, 25 kilometers from İstanbul, was founded by Polish immigrants in the 19th century. İstanbul residents come to Polonezköy’s pastoral landscape for walks and horseback riding, and to enjoy the traditional Polish food served by descendants of the original settlers. On the Black Sea coast, 70 kilometers from Üsküdar, the sandy beaches, fish restaurants, and hotels make Şile one of the most delightful holiday destinations near İstanbul. The cool, cotton clothing called Şile bezi is popular with tourists and is fashioned here.
Places to Unwind
Istanbul is a shopper's paradise, catering to every kind of customer. From covered bazaars and workshops that continue ancient traditions, to shopping malls and department stores, İstanbul offers a wide variety of shopping opportunities.
Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar) and Mısır Çarşısı (Spice Bazaar) are the two most-visited places in İstanbul. Kapalı Çarşı has evolved into its present form over a period of 250 years, and today sells everything from antiques to jewelry, from gold to affordable souvenirs in over 3,000 shops. Its original function, which was determined by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, was to generate income for the upkeep of Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque). Mısır Çarşısı was opened with the similar aim of supporting Yeni Cami (New Mosque). Today, both Kapalı Çarşı and Mısır Çarşısı are places for finding the perfect array of İstanbul souvenirs and mementos. As both were once primary trading centers during the Ottoman period, today some traditional wares can still be found here. Arasta Çarşısı (Arasta Bazaar), situated behind the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, is another place where authentic goods and handicrafts can be found. Sultanahmet and the surrounding areas are also great shopping destinations. Old book enthusiasts should visit the Sahaflar Çarşısı (Booksellers’ Market), which is situated between Beyazıt Mosque and Kapalı Çarşı.
Hub of Top Brands
The sophisticated shops of the Taksim-Nişantaşı neighborhoods provide a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the bazaars. On İstiklal, Cumhuriyet, and Rumeli Avenues, for example, one can browse the shops selling special pieces such as Turkish designer products and top international designer brands at leisure. Exquisite jewelers, finely designed handbags, and shoes can also be found here.
For those who do not want to spend too much time wandering in the streets while shopping, there are a number of shopping malls that bring many brands and types of goods under one roof. These malls host top fashion stores, furniture shops, and shops selling household goods. You’ll also find cafés, restaurants, and food courts in malls; some malls even have cinemas and places to entertain children.
Shopping Districts & Malls
There are many places to go if you want to shop in İstanbul. Whether your idea of a perfect shopping day involves wandering around a historic neighborhood and discovering boutique shops tucked away on side streets, or shopping in ease and luxury in one of the city’s many high-end malls, every experience is available for you.
Nişantaşı is the beating heart of luxury fashion and the capital of local boutiques in İstanbul. The neighborhood is dominated by high-quality, high-fashion shops that appeal to both an upper-class crowd and the average enthusiastic shopper. Many of Türkiye’s top designers have boutiques or ateliers in Nişantaşı, with bright and glittering and chic items on display in their well-curated windows.
This is where many of the international luxury brands have their stores in İstanbul, dotting the wide avenues of the neighborhood. The most expensive stores in İstanbulare well-established in Nişantaşı. There are also malls along with international and local brands. It’s harder to pick a neighborhood in İstanbulthat’s more suited for shopping. This is a neighborhood to see and be seen, to shop and explore.
The main shopping street in the neighborhood is Abdi İpekçi Street. The neighborhood itself was founded by the sultan in the 19th century, and these days is an affluent, diverse neighborhood with lively restaurants, cafes, shops, and other venues.
The steep, winding streets of Çukurcuma are home to some of the funkiest, trendiest shops in İstanbul, alongside many shops selling antiques and vintage items. Some people call this neighborhood the antique district, because of the wild items spilling out of the many antique shops and onto the sidewalks. It’s easy to spend hours getting lost in the bric-a-brac of these shops, laden with old lamps, statuettes, fine-cut glasses, old records, wooden knick knacks, and more.
Once you’ve managed to extricate yourself from the fascinating antique shops, you’ll see a bright array of boutiques and specialty stores. Artisanal items, boutique clothing stores, and art shops all dominate this small area. Influenced by the many galleries in the neighborhood and the proximity of fashionable neighborhoods and Taksim Square, Çukurcuma is a quieter and bolder place to find special items for souvenirs or just for your own enjoyment.
The stylish Bebek neighborhood is a place to see and be seen. Sprawled along a scenic stretch of the Bosphorus shore, Bebek is wealthy and beautiful, full of high-end shops and boutiques to pop into. Clothing and accessories beckon, while artisanal perfumes or locally-made beauty products are displayed impeccably in shop windows.
It’s easy to spend a day completely enthralled by Bebek. It’s one of the most scenic shopping districts, with its Bosphorus views and stylish restaurants dotting the neighborhood. Here, there’s no rush to get one thing you need. Instead, spend hours going in and out of shops, enjoying the vibe of Bebek, strolling along the wide seaside walking path, soaking in the scenery, and shopping for some of İstanbul’s most stylish stuff.
Istanbul’s Secondhand Shops and Flea Markets
The high-end luxury of Nişantaşı and İstiklal Avenue aren’t for everyone. While some people prefer to wear the latest trends and most popular brands, others prefer to find bargains, to dip into the fashions of yesteryear and find what’ll be the next thing tomorrow.
And in a city like İstanbul, where history goes back 2,000 years, there are some incredible finds waiting to be discovered. The antique shops feature endless pieces of indeterminate date and brands long gone by, mostly sold for a fraction of what you think they should cost.
İstanbul’s (and Türkiye’s in general) history of craftsmanship means that you’ll also find immeasurable handcrafted, handwoven, and handmade pieces of every shape and size. Some new, some old. So where should you go to dig out these bargains and masterpieces?
Feriköy Flea Market
Every Sunday, this flea market is packed with people looking to stock up on collectibles, or just browsing in case they come across a once-in-a-lifetime gem. It’s located at the bottom of the hill, past Bomonti and Taksim, maybe a ten-minute walk from Taksim Square. The market is simply massive, and it’s designed to be completely eclectic. You might find yourself lost in a stand full of cameras and old technology, and right next to it, there might be a stall with an incredible map collection, or old, foreign language books, or vinyl, or just about anything else you can imagine. Week to week the things you’ll find change a fair amount, and if you go towards the end of the day, you might get some exceptionally low prices as people are willing to lower rates to get rid of their wares rather than taking them back home with them.
Çukurcuma is known for its antique shops. When you walk up Çukurcuma Street, you’ll see dozens of shops with odds and ends that catch your attention. Everything from old photos and postcards to furniture. Most of the stores are packed to the brim with items, and just browsing is fun regardless of whether you intend to buy anything or not.
The flea market in Dolapdere is an absolute gem. Dolapdere is a more rundown neighborhood, and whereas Çukurcuma and Feriköy can sometimes serve a relatively more well-heeled crowd, Dolapdere is the real deal. On early Sunday mornings, you can find just about anything here and there are people both who are eager to sell wares and people who are looking for more than just a cute item to sit on their mantelpiece untouched for years. There are true gems in this market, and it may be the best flea market anywhere in the city.
Balat is maybe the oldest district in the city, so it’s no surprise that it houses some of the city’s best antique stores. Many of the wares you’ll find are actually new, but still handcrafted by families who’ve been crafting the same things for generations. You could easily spend an entire day wandering through Balat looking both at the old homes, the churches and mosques, and the windy alleyways while stopping in at the little antique shops you pass and checking out what amazing thing will pop up next!
The Best Places in Istanbul to Listen to Street Music
From traditional Turkish folk music to modern rock to experimental bands, you’ll find everything on the streets of İstanbul. The city is colorful and musical, and everywhere you go you’ll be accompanied by music. Just about every café, restaurant, bar, or hotel will have a different choice of music playing while different music is considered to be the ideal accompaniment to different activities.
The street is no different: whether you’re traveling, walking, shopping, or eating, there’ll be a local street musician trying to make your experience all the better. The prime locations are highly sought-after, and the best spots and best times are given to the best musicians. As a result, it’s relatively unlikely that you’ll come across a mediocre musician. Street musicians are supported by the community and in many cases play concerts to large venues in addition to playing in the open air.
In so far as music is a reflection of local customs and life, the music of İstanbul is guaranteed to be different than anything you will encounter anywhere else in the world.
Types of Street Music
Romani music is amongst the most common forms of music you’ll find on the streets. This music often features accordion players who are remarkably skilled and produce sounds from their instrument you’ll rarely hear elsewhere. Singing is a feature of Romani music as well, so enjoy the opportunity to sample their voices.
Turkish folk music, featuring traditional Turkish instruments like the bağlama or the oud, are an integral part of Turkish daily life. Singers sing traditional songs called “Türküs.” These songs often have a slight melancholic feel to them, and give the streets a sense of love and nostalgia.
South American or Native American musicians are also surprisingly common and popular in İstanbul. They play the pan flute and wear traditional Native American outfits. The music they play is common to the Andes region of South America and is very popular with locals.
Finally, expats are common to the street music scene, bringing a Western influence to Turkish music and creating some truly incredible fusions. These groups are often the most original, creating blends of folk, rock, reggae, hip-hop, and more.
But where should you go to see them?
The metro in Türkiye is (with the notable exception of the world’s second-oldest metro in Tünel), relatively new and features large, clean stations. The city center is packed almost every day, making it the perfect place for street musicians. These musicians usually congregate along the long walkways between stations and exits, and occasionally feature a crowd around the most popular ones.
Galata is the region which surrounds Galata Tower, and it’s a beautiful region full of small, cobbled streets, and local flavor. It also is one of the prime musical districts of the city. This is where the city’s best musicians come to buy their instruments. And it’s often where they play them for the first time on the streets around. Walk between Beyoğlu and the Bosphorus along Galata and enjoy the sounds of the music as it’s played all the way down.
Along İstanbul’s most famous and colorful avenue you’ll find street musicians from all over the world playing the best of their genre to a crowd of onlookers. This central street in Beyoğlu represents the heart of İstanbul’s music scene, and if you’re lucky, you’ll on occasion find a truly famous name playing the street just before they perform at some sold-out venue elsewhere in the city.
This is one of the city’s most historical districts, and the wide range of colors of its homes is equally reflected in the variety of its music. As the neighborhood is not touristy, the music is more likely to be tailored to locals, and, as a result, is likely to be of the highest quality.
The lively center of Beşiktaş near the eagle statue at its center is full of hustle and bustle, and the district is younger and full of energy. The music you’ll hear is a reflection of this – with the occasional rock band as well playing in the streets.
Ferries across the Bosphorus
The best views in İstanbul accompanied with some of its best music – what could be better? Take any major ferry across the Bosphorus and you’re almost sure to be serenaded with an excellent live performance – get yourself a cup of tea and enjoy!
This vibrant neighborhood on the Asian (or Anatolian) side of the city is jam-packed with energy, and right along the water you’ll see street performers of all kinds with crowds surrounding them. Join in on the fun!
Istanbul through Eyes of Evliya Çelebi, the Famous Ottoman Explorer and Chronicler
Wait, Who’s Evliya Çelebi?
Evliya Çelebi, whose real name was Mehmed Zilli, was an Ottoman explorer who traveled through all the lands of the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century, writing a travelogue called Seyahatname, or “Book of Travel.” He spent 50 years visiting and writing what he saw, and his epic journey began in İstanbul.
Evliya Çelebi was born in İstanbul, though his family was from Kütahya. One of the houses he lived in Kütahya has been turned into a museum. UNESCO marked 2011 as the “Year of Evliya Çelebi.” This was the year in which he would have turned 400.
Evliya Çelebi traveled a particular route when traveling around İstanbul. He told many of İstanbul’s stories, describing the conditions of the people, the city’s geography, history, language, religion, clothing, and the arts of all the places he visited. As he knew İstanbul well, his sections on İstanbul are some of the most illuminating parts in the entire corpus of his incredible work.
Ahi Çelebi Mosque
One of the first places we should think about when we’re following in the footsteps of Evliya Çelebi is the Ahi Çelebi Mosque in Eminönü. This small mosque is named after a doctor, and according to legend it is the place where Evliya Çelebi’s journey began. In a dream, Evliya Çelebi saw this mosque and the vision of the Prophet Muhammed who blessed his travels – the rest is history!
Rumeli Fortress was built along the Bosphorus by Mehmed II and was used by the Ottoman forces to conquer İstanbul in 1453. To this day, it remains one of the nicest spots in the city to visit. As you climb the ramparts you can look out over the city from the fortress’s massive walls.
Evliya Çelebi tells us that long before the conquest there was a church and a priest who lived there. The priest secretly adopted the Islamic faith, and when he learned that Mehmed was in nearby Edirne, he sent a message telling him that he would be the one to take İstanbul. The priest advised him to build the fortress and to cut off the Byzantine supplies – that fortress is the predecessor of the fortress that lies here today.
Galata Tower and the Story of Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi
One of the greatest legends of Turkish cultural history is Hazarfen Ahmet Çelebi, “the First Man to Fly.” His tale is exclusively told in Evliya Çelebi’s Seyahatname (Book of Travel).
According to Çelebi, Hazarfen made makeshift wings and wore them before jumping off the Galata Tower and soaring through the air all the way across the Bosphorus to İstanbul’s Asian side in Üsküdar. He undertook this flight in 1632, on a windy day, and made his way across a total of 3,558 meters. This journey is now a focal point for all travelers who go to the top of the Galata Tower and look down and out over the Bosphorus, imagining themselves taking this incredible flight of science and bravery.
Anadolu Kavağı and Yoros Castle
Evliya Çelebi describes the village out here along the Black Sea coast as a small harbor with fewer than 800 homes. Today, it’s not much more than that as it still represents a quiet spot on the northern coast of the city. It’s a beautiful place to come and relax, and enjoy the fortress built by the Ottomans to protect the strategically important Bosphorus Strait.
Kanlıca is another district mentioned in the Seyahatname, and it’s still one of the quaintest coastal districts (or, in the past, villages) in all of İstanbul. Çelebi discusses the mansions along the waterfront, though none have survived to his day.
Today, Kanlıca is famous for its tea gardens and the yogurt that’s made locally and sold in stalls along the main street.
Unexplored İstanbul: 6 Historical Districts That Remain Unfamiliar to Many?
İstanbul is full of history and beauty, but you already know that. You’ve read countless articles (some from us even!) on the hustle and bustle of Beyoğlu, the shopping in Nişantaşı, the history of Sultanahmet and Fatih. You’ve been up and down the Bosphorus. But İstanbul is endless! We’ve put together a list of some other districts to discover, most of them a little more off the beaten path than you’re used to. Enjoy!
Zeyrek is one of the most historical districts in İstanbul, but it tends to be slightly off the beaten path and despite the vast history and historical monuments you’ll find here, it’s still largely a residential neighborhood.
But for now, this is only all the more reason to visit! The homes all around Zeyrek are historical and locals are friendly and welcoming, with kids playing in the streets and locals sitting on the front steps of their homes.
The district takes its name from the Zeyrek Mosque, a 12th-century Byzantine church called the Monastery of the Pantocrator which was converted into a mosque. The presence of the mosque and the history of the district have placed it under UNESCO protection as part of İstanbul’s Historic Peninsula.
The district also houses a couple of spectacular Byzantine cisterns and the small Şeyh Süleyman Mosque, which is also a converted Byzantine church.
The neighborhood of Kuzguncuk is one of the most beautiful districts of the city, situated amidst the greenery of the Asian shores of the Bosphorus. It features historical homes that go all the way up its main street, and cafés and restaurants that look like they’ve been there since the dawn of time.
“Kuzguncuk” means “little raven” in Turkish. The neighborhood historically was a quiet village getaway for wealthy Jewish and Armenian minorities to congregate, and there are still two synagogues and over five churches located in the neighborhood. In fact, the neighborhood’s first mosque was built more recently than any of its churches or synagogues, and only dates to around 50 years ago.
The atmosphere is so charming that it’s often used as a film set. Rather than watching from the sidelines, come visit and feel the charm for yourself!
Beylerbeyi is a district located on the other side of the 15 July Martyrs Bridge in Üsküdar, right next to Kuzguncuk. It dates back to the Byzantine period and many of its inhabitants have lived here for centuries.
The houses you’ll find reflect this, with many historical homes surrounding the jewel of the neighborhood: Beylerbeyi Palace. This palace is one of the highlights of the Bosphorus, as its name which means “Lord of Lords” would certainly indicate. It was commissioned by Sultan Abdülaziz and was built between 1861 and 1865 as his summer residence. Its sloping angles and white marble, which are reflected on the Bosphorus, are truly stunning.
Sip a cup of tea relaxing in one of the old-style cafés overlooking the palace and the Bosphorus, and enjoy the magnificence of this as-yet undiscovered neighborhood.
Balat is one of the oldest residential districts of İstanbul, and is known for its colorful houses. It is another district that in the past was widely diverse, with many Christians and Jews calling it their home for centuries. It still features one of the most historic and imposing schools for Greek Orthodox students and has many churches and hammams as well as some of the oldest cafés and restaurants in the city. The history of this district seeps out of every corner – just take a stroll and feel what it’s like to walk through time.
Vefa is a hidden gem, and home to Ottoman treasures. Many of the homes are in the process of being restored and still give you a sense of the history of the region through the narrow pathways, the mosques, and the historical cemeteries scattered across the neighborhood. The highlight of a stroll through Vefa is a visit to Vefa Bozacısı, which gets its name from the Turkish drink boza. Boza is made from fermented wheat and has a thick consistency. It’s served topped with dried chickpeas and cinnamon. In the winter, it’s a great warming drink, and if you’re going to drink it anywhere, then Vefa is the place to do it! Plus, you’ll deserve a treat following the walk through this historical and charming neighborhood!
Emirgan is one of the prettiest districts along the Bosphorus. It is a place where people come to have breakfast, smoke nargile (water pipe, or hookah), drink tea, and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Much of Emirgan is taken up by Emirgan Park, a massive park of rolling hills, splendid flowers, historic pavilions called köşks, and lush greenery. It’s a great place to spend a day with your family.
The Best Places to Catch the Sunset in İstanbul
Sunset chasing is now one of the most popular travel activities, with everyone racing to share the best sunset photos across social media and become the envy of all their friends and followers. İstanbul lives up to its name when it comes to presenting stunning sunset shots, and we’ve put together a list of some of the best sunset spots in the city.
The Galata Tower was built in the 14th century by the Genoese and has played an important part in İstanbul’s history ever since. It is also an inextricable part of İstanbul’s skyline! This was once the highest point of the city and it is where Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi famously used artificial wings to “fly” across the Bosphorus.
Today you get a full 360-degree panoramic view of the whole city from one of its most iconic buildings. Stand at the spot where Hazarfen took off and catch every inch of the city’s amazing skyline as it turns shades of pink, purple, and red while the sun sets behind you.
The sunset in İstanbul is all about the sun changing the color of the Bosphorus before your eyes as it goes orange, red, and purple, and every color in between. This park, right on the edge of Beyoğlu as the hill slopes down towards the Bosphorus, presents some of the most open views of the entire Bosphorus, from Topkapı Palace and Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque) all the way across to the bridge connecting Europe and Asia.
As it’s a public park, feel free to pick up a bag of chips or popcorn on your way down and enjoy the sun setting before you.
You’ll have to take a boat out to this one, but it’s totally worth it! The Maiden’s Tower is now a restaurant/café. From here, you can watch the sun set right over the Historic Peninsula while you sit in the middle of the Bosphorus capturing it all.
Büyük Çamlıca Hill
Çamlıca offers one of the highest panoramas of the city, and features two hills overlooking the Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea. There are many pavilions and summer palaces where you can relax, get a bite to eat, or sip Turkish tea before you take that perfect shot of the sunset from one of the most prominent places anywhere in the city. Now one of the largest mosques in İstanbul has been built on this hill, making an especially striking shot as the minarets rise up over the city – they are perfect for you to silhouette against the background of another of İstanbul’s stunning sunsets.
Pierre Loti Hill
Looking for one of the best views as the sun sets over the Golden Horn? There’s no question where they lie – right here, at the top of Pierre Loti Hill where you can sip Turkish tea with the entire Historic Peninsula as a backdrop! Pierre Loti Hill was named after the well-known French novelist Pierre Loti, who loved the city and this view in particular. Look out at the view and make sure you catch all the colors of the Golden Horn as the sun sets behind it, the historical wonders that spread across the entire Historic Peninsula, and the Galata Tower on the other side!
Büyük Valide Han
This is one of the city’s more secret spots, but ultimately, it’s still maybe one of its best. Climb up through this secret passageway right up to the top of the Historic Peninsula and find yourself all alone on a rooftop with the whole city before you! The sun will set behind you and light up the entire Golden Horn and Bosphorus – you won’t believe your eyes!
Otağtepe Park is located at the end of the second bridge on the Asian side of the city. It’s one of the city’s lesser known parks and you’ll have a chance to get a great sunset shot from a location very few know about! The sun sets across from you, shimmering on the Bosphorus as the bridge stretches out before you and merges into the green where you stand. The park is set on a large hill, so you’re overlooking the city. It’s a truly magnificent vista which you might have all to yourself!
Beyoğlu’s 7 Most Historical Arcades
Beyoğlu is famous for its shopping arcades, arched covered passageways, known by the Turkish word pasaj. The arcades are full of shops selling all kinds of wares, with great prices and offering the opportunity for some real discoveries. These arcades were often built at the turn of the 19th century, with shops located on different floors, and sometimes you really have to search to find the hidden gems!
But we’re here to help! Here are seven of the most historical arcades in Beyoğlu.
This is possibly the most fun, colorful arcade in Beyoğlu. Çiçek Pasajı still harks back to the Taksim of yesteryear. During the Tanzimat period, Sultan Abdülhamit and Sultan Abdulaziz came to attend a performance at the famous Naum Theater on the corner of Istiklal Avenue and Sahne Street in Beyoğlu. Verdi’s famous opera Il Trovatore was staged at this theater before it was even shown in Paris. The theater was built again as an arcade after it burned down in the Great Fire of Pera. Today, the arcade features delightful mezzanines, appetizing aromas, and the sounds of wonderful traditional live music. Thanks to the florists who opened in the years of the armistice following the war, the arcade was named Çiçek Pasajı, or Flower Arcade. The building was renovated in the 1980s and has been a popular evening spot ever since.
In 1870, Armenian businessman Agop Köçeyan built this structure as a residence for himself. There was a barn underneath the building. Later, it was turned into a circus. An arcade was added here with an amendment made in the following years. The passageway and the residential building were later merged. Before he died, Köçeyan donated them to a church. In 1932, the building was transformed into an art center. It was renovated in 1948 as the biggest cinema on Istiklal Avenue, with a seating capacity for 1,400. The cinema is still in operation. The Atlas Arcade is an indispensable address for the city’s cultural and artistic life with the legendary Atlas Cinema and İstanbul State Theater Small Stage on either side. The building bears the traces of Ottoman architecture, with 44 stores still preserving its historical appearance. Original souvenirs, clothes, and authentic jewelry are sold at Atlas, and why not try to catch a show at the theater and/or the cinema which have shows just about every day.
This arcade is the first place in all of İstanbul to be supplied with electricity and gas, after the imperial palace. It was built by a Syrian national in 1901 in a neoclassical style and completed in 1908 (“Suriye” is the Turkish word for “Syria”). It’s a popular spot for secondhand clothes and unique accessories. The downstairs vintage shop feels like it’s right out of a fairy tale. There’s something for everyone, with a costume store downstairs that’s provided the costumes to various popular Turkish dramas.
Avrupa Pasaji (Europe Arcade) was also built around the turn of the century, in 1874, and is one of the oldest arcades in Beyoğlu. The sculptures that face out onto the street are among its most striking features. It’s somewhat reminiscent of a fairground, and it sells goods that are just as eclectic. The shops themselves are incredibly quaint, with all kinds of unusual souvenirs available. They also have a collection of foreign language books and clothes.
The exterior of this late 19th-century arcade is ornate and decorative, and very alluring. The building is six stories including its entrance. Like many buildings on Istiklal, there are stores and housing blocks on the front. There is a second structure in the back, which is connected to the passageway, which was formerly the Varyete Circus Theater. This part was built in 1886. Horses, and trick horseback riding and trapeze artists performed here, and it was particularly famous as a variety circus. The building was turned into a theater in 1904 and is one of the rare large-scale historic halls in İstanbul. Halep Pasajı (Aleppo Arcade) is one of the most active, oldest arcades in Beyoğlu.
Hazzo Pulo Pasajı
This little arcade is one of the hidden gems of Beyoğlu. With small cafés and shops selling souvenirs, it’s maybe one of the most charming places in the city to sip a cup of Turkish tea. In 1871, merchant Hacopulo’s passageway had houses on the upper floors and shops on the lower floor, and this original design remains intact up to the present day.
This multistory arcade is excellent for shopping with secondhand shops, and shops selling jewelry, comic books, CDs, and all sorts of eclectic items. The arcade was named after the family who lived on the upper floors. Now you’ll find a gym and a language school on the attractive upper floors.
5 Amazing Parks for a Family Day in İstanbul
When you’re traveling as a family, oftentimes you want to visit the historic sites and the rest of the family just wants to run around and play. İstanbul’s natural beauty and green spaces offer you the perfect settings to enjoy a picnic (or more!) and for your kids to play in the local playground or run around to their heart’s content. Here’s a list of 5 amazing parks, all near each other in İstanbul. You can pick and choose, or go to more than one in a single day!
Yıldız Park is İstanbul’s largest park, located between Beşiktaş and Ortaköy. It covers 25 acres right in the middle of the city and was recently completely renovated to become one of Europe’s most beautiful city parks.
The park essentially spreads across a massive hill, making for what is now a set of rolling parklands with a river running through them, leading into a number of streams and waterfalls. There are wooden bridges over the river and streams, perfect for children to run along – they are perfectly safe and high enough for them to go on!
The park was originally part of the complex that surrounded the sultan’s hunting palace, and before then, it was forestland. There are four köşks located throughout the park, each one serving tea and small snacks. There are also dozens of playgrounds scattered across the park, built for different ages and abilities.
The park is massive – it’s quite easy to get lost! – and it’s very easy to find a little corner all to yourself and just relax amidst the greenery as squirrels, hedgehogs, and other wildlife come up and ask for offerings from your picnic basket!
Just up from Beşiktaş, not far from Yıldız sits an undiscovered gem of İstanbul. Another former hunting palace, this park has no playground, but it makes up for it by having peacocks, ducks, and rabbits running around free. The park is closely manicured, so bringing in food is not allowed (beyond little sandwiches for yourself or your children) and children are discouraged from chasing the animals.
The köşks on the premises are breathtakingly beautiful, and you can wander into the main one, which is used as a dining area during the winter months. There’s a pond at the back of the park with turtles and frogs jumping about, and leading up to it, there’s a wilder garden that children can explore, possibly discovering a resting peacock trying to escape visitors!
This park is lesser known and is almost never crowded, so it’s a great place to visit with your family. You can experience the city’s history while also letting the little-ones have their fun in the sun. It is the only park on this list with an entrance fee, but it’s negligible (2.5 Turkish lira) and the upkeep is extensive, so you can certainly appreciate where the money is going.
Emirgan is another extensive park, a little farther along the Bosphorus than the other two. It’s known in particular for its beautiful flowers, and it’s a must-see during the spring for the variety of different colored tulips that are planted all across the park in various incredible arrangements. There are squirrels running around, many different playgrounds (including some excellent climbing jungle gyms for older children), and the park slopes up to a köşk which provides breathtaking views of the Bosphorus. The köşk is an excellent place to get a cup of Turkish tea and relax, looking out onto some of the most beautiful flower arrangements you’ll ever see.
Meyve Bahçesi (Fruit Garden)
Another hidden treasure, this huge park is right under the bridge in Ortaköy, and, as its name implies. It is a fruit garden with endless trees where children can come and pick their own mulberries, apples, pears, and pomegranates (when in season). There’s only one playground, located at the bottom of the park, but it’s well closed off and almost never crowded. Fruit trees line a 20-minute walk to the top of the park. Also there’s a lovely café that serves a surprisingly wide variety of things to eat and drink. The refreshments provide welcome nourishment in the summer months after the walk up. There is a major road just above the park, for those who’d rather walk down rather than up.
The gardens at Dolmabahçe Palace are free of charge and impeccably well-maintained. They are quite large and along the waterfront there’s a café which serves snacks and drinks with the best view. You’ll find anywhere in Istanbul. Look one way and you’ll see Topkapı Palace rising before you. As well, if you look the other way you’ll see the bridge crossing to the Asian side of the city. And of course, the stunning palace itself sits before you in all its glory. Children can run around and enjoy the beautiful gardens. Also, in the summer months, there are lovely flower arrangements to admire as well.