Located just off Taksim Square and the bustling, crowded Istiklal street one can experience the Cihangir neighborhood, where a much more easy going way of life is being practiced. With its hilly tight streets and its colorful, sometimes decaying apartments, Cihangir is famously known to be the home of artists, intellectuals and writers alike. Its streets are lined with cafes where people are welcome to sit for hours sipping tea, reading, writing or socializing and taking in the scene. While Cihangir is home to a very international mix of residents, it is still primarily dominated by the secular Turkish crowd. Many famous musicians and actors have a home in this neighborhood but they go about with fairly little fanfare.
The best way to explore Cihangir is to just wander around and see what you can get into. However, be prepared to encounter some hills and steep stairways depending on where you end up. Cihangir sits on a hill overlooking the Bosphorus allowing for sometimes spectacular views from the numerous quaint apartments available for daily, or weekly rent. Due to its central location and nearness to every means of public transportation this neighborhood is a great staging point for any visit to Istanbul. But even if you don’t choose to stay, there are many appealing draws for day visitors.
Cihangir is a more youthful neighborhood with a cafe culture and many wonderful restaurants which focus on small menus of fresh, seasonal food. This makes it a great brunch area with arguably the best brunch spots in town. And, what’s great about Turks is they both are late risers and strongly dedicated to their breakfast tradition. In Turkish breakfast is called kahvalti that word will come in handy and is generally made up of many small plates of cheese, olives, honey, tomatoes and cucumbers as well as eggs and various assortments of breads. It is quite an affair. It would not be uncommon to order breakfast up to 3 o'clock or even possibly later! Along that note, while Turkish coffee has always been a part of the culture, the trend of gourmet house roasted coffee has virtually exploded onto Istanbul’s scene in the last year. Many of these are located in Cihangir. It has been a welcome addition for those of us longing for a good non-Starbucks cup of Joe. Due to the expat residents this is an easy neighborhood to get by speaking English. Asking for directions or ordering in a restaurant should not be a challenge. There are also a handful of international restaurants but, as a rule, international restaurants are not strongly represented in Istanbul.
As you wander the streets you are going to encounter many antique shops, especially along Cukurcuma and Turnacibasi streets. Some of these shops are extremely high end, while others are just great for browsing through the junk looking for treasures. There are no shortage of vintage clothing shops and a few wonderful retro furniture stores with some really nice collections. In this same area you will find a few record stores mixed among the vintage shops. For those interested in art, you won’t be disappointed by the small galleries found in that same area. It is also worth mentioning that Istanbul Modern art museum is just a short walk away in the direction of the Bosphorus.
Istanbul has many awe inspiring mosques one of which can be found in this neighborhood is no slouch. The Cihangir mosque was originally built in 1559. It was named for the son of Suleiman The Magnificent after the death of his sickly son at the age of 22. It was lost to a fire but the structure which stands today was rebuilt in 1889. It is said the best view of the Bosphorus can be seen from the mosques garden.
No matter what your interest it will most likely be represented in this quirky diverse neighborhood and truly should be on the itinerary of any Istanbul tour, even if it is just to sip tea and observe the passersby.