Istanbul is full of balikcis, lokantas, pidecis, meyhanes and the like. While it can be great fun to explore that culinary side of the city, another excellent way to discover what Istanbul has to offer is with its cafes. Istanbul has always had many cafes, but more and more seem to be popping up all over the city. Some are known for their great coffee, others for their delicious pastries, the rest for their tantalizing food. However, all of the ones we are recommending below (organized by neighborhood, alphabetically) will provide you with a huge added bonus: great people-watching as well. Take a break, while away a few hours, sip on your coffee, nibble on your salad, indulge in a pastry or just have a glass of Turkish çay, but most of all, enjoy the pageant of people that will be passing by.
Want a glimpse into the lives of the beautiful people of Istanbul? It has been said that they all belong to the MAC Bebeköy gym (notice we said “belong to” and not “work out at”). You can park yourself at Backyard, located on the same grounds, enjoy a delicious cafe snack and watch the parade go by from the gorgeous space designed by Deniz Duru of 333KM (partner in Bej Cafe, see below).
Bebeköy Sokak No. 1
+ 90 212 287 1500
Susam Cafe’s clientele, a hodge-podge of locals, expats and tourists, create the atmosphere that has made it one of the must-see stops in the hip Cihangir neighborhood. Don’t be fooled by its low-key ambiance, all of Cihangir seems to pass through this quirky cafe at some point during the day! Open early for breakfast, all day for lunch and late for dinner and/or dessert and drinks.
Susam Sokak no: 11
+90 212 251 5995
Çukurcuma, famous for its antique shops and second-hand stores, is now also home to one of the most charming little cafes of Istanbul. Spend the afternoon antiquing ‘Istanbul-style’, then stop byHoly Coffee for a great cup of Julius Meinl coffee or any of the homemade cakes they churn out from the exposed kitchen in this tiny cafe. You may even find yourself going home with a work from a local artists from the rotating exhibitions.
Hacioğlu Sok. No:1B
+90 212 243 6869
The Galata neighborhood has seen great changes in recent years, and Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak seems to be hosting most of the new, charming little shops, design stores and cafes. Take a stroll down this appealing street, and check out Mavra Cafe Design Workshop and Sntrl Dükkan. Both have a great selection of snacks and bites, as well as interesting, thoughtfully-curated design gifts that you will not be able to find anywhere else in Istanbul. We particularly love the great homemade cakes and pies at Sntrl Dükkan, they remind of us of home!
Mavra Cafe Design Workshop
Serdar-ı Ekrem Sk No: 31/A
+90 212 252 7488
Serdar-ı Ekrem Sk No: 28
+90 212 243 1868
And for a really unique souvenir from Istanbul, take a “nostalgic photograph” in full Ottoman costume (many styles and sizes available) at the Giyçek Old Time Photo Studio, also on Sedar-ı Ekrem Sokak No: 30-C.
If you find yourself wanting to escape the crowds of Istiklal Caddesi, just wander down to Galatasaray and treat yourself to a rest at Limonlu Bahçe (the “lemony garden”), a veritable oasis in the center of Istanbul. Open from early in the morning to midnight, this garden cafe is always a peaceful place to take a rest and have a bite to eat.
Tom Tom Mah.
Yeniçarşı Caddesi no: 98
+90 212 252 1094
Locals can’t help but notice that Karaköy has been experiencing an exciting redevelopment in recent years. Here you can find innovative restaurants, boutiques, and gourmet food shops squeezed in beside the old-time electrical supply shops, working-man’s pubs and “pop-up” tea gardens. Exploring Karaköy is a great way to spend a few hours of your day.
A great first stop is Bej Karaköy. Now open all day (serving breakfast, lunch and dinner), and home to the best deconstructed milföy (‘mille-feuille’ or Napoleon) pastry this side of the Seine, the ample space is made cozy by Deniz Duru’s wonderful mid-century-modern-meets-Istanbul-in-the-new-millenium design esthetic. Be sure to set aside time to investigate not only the design store in the back of the cafe which has some really interesting items, but also Deniz Duru’s atelier just next-door, 333KM, where, if you are lucky, you may spy him in the back making one of his elegant custom pieces. If lugging a coffee table back home in your suitcase is not what you had in mind, do ask to be shown one of his gorgeous laser-cut cutting boards. You will fall in love, as we did, we are sure!
Kemankeş Kara Mustafa Paşa Mah.
Fransız Geçidi No. 11
+90 212 251 7195
Note> If you can’t make it to Karaköy, you can enjoy the same delicious food at the beautiful newBej Kahve at the Hillside Gym in Alkent (Etiler). Open as of October 2013, only locals know about it. Now you do too!
Just around the corner, Karabatak provides you with one of the greatest people-watching experiences in Istanbul. In one of the back streets of Karaköy, sip your delicious Julius Meinl coffee while the hipsters of Istanbul stroll by to go the local gastro pub and the local electricians hurry by to pick up supplies for their projects. This huge, winding cafe is a place where you can easily spend a few hours without noticing time going by.
Kemankeş Kara Mustafa Paşa Mah.
Kara Ali Kaptan Sok. No: 7
+90 212 243 69 93
Whether or not romance is on your mind, a visit to Aşşk Kahve (a play on the Turkish word for love—aşk) will give you a unique Istanbul experience. Tucked down a small hill behind a Macro Center supermarket in Kuruçeşme, this cafe, with its drop-dead gorgeous views of the Bosphorous, certainly does not come cheap, but where else in Istanbul can you snack on a delicious strawberry tart while a cargo ship splashes by on its way to the Black Sea?
Muallim Naci Caddesi No. 64/B
+90 212 265 4734
You might find yourself hunting far and wide for a cute cafe the next time you are in Tünel, as more and more bars serving cheap flights of vodka shots seem to be taking over the neighborhood. ButŞimdi Cafe, just off Istiklal Caddesi, has a great space with soaring ceilings, friendly service and a full menu where you can enjoy a bite to eat or any kind of drink you would like at any time of day.
Asmalı Mescit Mah.
Asmalı Mescit Sk Atlas Apt. No:5
+90 212 252 5443