What neighborhoods should I check out while I'm in Istanbul?

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Sultanahmet

Divided from Asia by the Bosphorus Strait and Sea of Marmara and from Beyoğlu by the Golden Horn inlet, this peninsula was home to 3 empires (Byzantine, Latin, Ottoman - for those looking for extra credit), and bears the architectural marks of each.

As the heart of the old city, Sultanahmet holds many Constantinople-era historical sites, such as Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, Basilica Cistern, etc.

The area is a must-see for these destinations, though I would recommend staying across the Golden Horn in Beyoğlu (see below). As with many cities’ primary tourist zones, Sultanahmet can be overrun with visitors, leading to inflated pricing and less authentic experiences. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and you can find some charming hotels in Sultanahmet as well as good eats near the sites. Check out the linked articles for some ideas. Critical to a visit to Sultanahmet, though, is a spin through the major sites, perhaps a Turkish bath in a hamam designed by Sinan the Great, and a rooftop view at sunset.

Beyoğlu

This area, just across the Golden Horn from Sultanahmet, actually encompasses a number of different neighborhoods, including Karaköy, Galata, Tünel, Cihangir, Pera, Taksim and more.

The spine of Beyoğlu, Istiklal Avenue, a broad pedestrian street lined with a mix of Turkish and international shops and restaurants stretches from just above the Galata Tower to Taksim Square.

Perhaps because it houses many countries’ consulates, Beyoğlu maintains perhaps the most European sensibility of any neighborhood in Istanbul.

Along Istiklal and the labyrinthine streets that curl off of it, ornate 19th century buildings feature geranium-filled window boxes and café tables spill out onto the sidewalks.

While the design shops in Galata and the sophisticated coffee shops and restaurants in Karaköy would be at home in any European capital, don’t expect a spotlessly preserved cityscape like you’d find in London or Paris.

Even in Beyoğlu, Istanbul continues to have grittiness – uneven cobblestones, soot-darkened building facades, pan-handling gypsies – that contributes to its unique character.

Nişantaşı

(check out a deeper dive on the neighborhood here)

Break out the Manolos, ladies. Or, better yet, buy some new ones in Istanbul’s version of Rodeo Drive.

Historically a middle-class neighborhood, and the center of Istanbul’s Jewish population, Nişantaşı has become the hilltop mecca for top international and Turkish brands. Beyond shopping, the neighborhood houses well established art galleries and several popular cafés, which can be quite a see-and-be-seen scene.

For creative and fresh international food just off of the main drag, try Delicatessen. Just don’t forget to bring your extra-large sunglasses…you never know when the paparazzi might appear.

Bebek

(check out a deeper dive on the neighborhood here)

Up the Bosphorus, between the two bridges to Asia, lies leafy Bebek, a fishing village-cum-yuppie outpost.

Set on an inlet, Bebek roughly marks the middle of the European Bosphorus communities, which include Ortaköy, Kuruçeşme, and Arnavutköy to the south, and to the north Rumeli Hisarı, Emirgan, Yeniköy, and several others.

Not unlike California’s Sausalito, these neighborhoods sit on the water, with cafés that offer views of Asia and parks that retain a cool breeze even when the center of the city roasts.

Bebek provides a meeting point for the wealthy residents of this part of town, who stroll on the path along the Bosphorus, admiring the moored pleasure boats, and sit for drinks at Lucca, which serves a posh crowd from breakfast through the wee hours. (Even more detail on Bebek here.)

Kadıköy

(for a deeper dive, check out this post)

A perfect first stop in Asia, Kadıköy has everything - a beautiful coast line for rambling...

...squirrely streets to explore...

...dusty vintage and antiques shops...

...a famous market...

...and loads of quaint spots for refreshments, from tea and coffee...

...to flowing booze, particularly on Bar Street.

20-minute ferries run all day from Eminönü, Karaköy, Kabataş and Beşiktaş.


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Emily Von Kohorn •Istanbul, Turkey

American Expat living in Istanbul - working, exploring, and eating all the mezes she can get her hands on.

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