Situated at the end of the İstiklal Avenue, in Beyoğlu, Galata was home to Jewish, Georgian, Greek, and Armenian minorities during the Ottoman Empire. Thanks to its eclectic heritage and recent gentrification, its winding streets are now one of the most enjoyable places for tracing the roots of old Istanbul.
The Galata Tower constitutes the heart of Galata neighborhood where seven roads connect. Bankalar Avenue is the main street, crossing the smaller Galata Kulesi, Bereketzade Medresesi and Yüksek Kaldırım. Some other prominent streets are Serdar-ı Ekrem for clothing shops, Galip Dede for musical instruments and Meşrutiyet Avenue for cafes and restaurants. Finally Kemeraltı Avenue is a main road stretching down to the Galata Bridge.
A Walk Through History…
When you reach the end of Istiklal Avenue and continue down Galip Dede Avenue, Galata Mevlevi Lodge on the left will welcome you with all its pure beauty. The rooms that used to be the cells of dervishes now serve as a museum of Mevlevi culture. The materials belonged to dervishes, and the traditional Turkish art exhibits inside are worth a look. You can also watch the dance of whirling dervishes on every Sunday at 5 p.m. for 45 TL. For more information click here.
As you keep walking on Galip Dede Avenue, music shops selling all different kinds of instruments line the street. Those who are into jazz music shouldn’t miss Lale Plak, a music shop with a great collection, founded in 1954.
Next you may want to visit Doğan Apartment, the leading actor of many old Turkish films, built in 1895 in Italian-style. Giyçek Photo Studio inside the building gives you the best souvenir by shooting you with Ottoman costumes. This yellow apartment sits on Serdar-ı Ekrem Avenue on the left, where also the elegant works of famous designers as well as small vintage shops are found. To give an example; Atelier 55 is a very sophisticated place where you can find clothes, jewelery and home items of both Turkish and international designers. As a small tip; famous TV series on Ottoman era, Muhteşem Yüzyıl, gets its outfits from Lilipud on this street. If you usually prefer cafes for lunch, Mavra Cafe would be a nice stop with its vintage decor and delicious dishes.
The road on the right would take you to Galata Tower, built in 1348 by a Genoese colony as a fire tower. Following a restoration in 1967, the Tower is open to the public and provides a fantastic Istanbul view from the top. A favorite legend of the tower is that Hezarfen Ahmed Çelebi, a savant in the 17th century, achieved flight from the Galata Tower, all the way to Üsküdar, on the Asian side, with wings he created.
Your great spot to photograph the tower is Küçük Hendek Street , where the tower peeks out from behind old-fashioned apartments. Another street, Camekan, has nice shops, especially Lal Istanbul, selling unique t-shirts, hats, bags and more.
If you are a fan of meatballs, don’t miss “Galata Köftecisi” at the entrance of Galata Kulesi Street. Another great option is Georgian cuisine in The Galata House, an English police station during invasion of Ottoman Empire, down in the same street. For more information click here.
A little further on Galata Kulesi Street you will see two churches opposite each other. One of these, Church of SS Peter and Paul, is important for its over 400 years of history. It was converted into a church from an ordinary house in 1604 after Sultan Mehmet II converted San Paolo Church, today known as Arap Mosque, into mosque in 1475. After that you can stop by Wisteria Restaurant (14 Galata Kulesi Sokak) on your way to have a cup of coffee under wisteria trees. Also near Wisteria, check out the Genoese Palace and related buildings, built in 1314 in Gothic style.
Bankalar Avenue, home to ornate former bank buildings from the late 19th-century, also leads to the first mosque established in Istanbul. On Galata Mahkemesi Street, Arap Mosque has stood since 717, when a Muslim army made temporary inroads into the Byzantine Empire. After the army was gone, it served as San Paolo church until Sultan Mehmet II converted it back to a mosque in 1475.
Also now on Bankalar Avenue is SALT Galata, an ambitious art space in a renovated 1890 bank. For exhibitions check out here.
Nearby, the Camondo Stairs curve up back toward the Galata Tower. The beautiful stairs were the gift of Jewish Camondo Family in 1870, after their escape from Spain to the Ottoman Empire. Sadly, most of the family later died in Paris during World War II.
You can have dinner at Le Fumior in Georges Hotel, located in Serdar-ı Ekrem Avenue, which is the glowing spot of French cuisine in Istanbul. Delicious food with very beautiful view of Istanbul from the terrace is simply a priceless experience. After that you can enjoy the nightlife in Asmalı Mescit Avenue.
Other Places to Eat
If you are looking for a vegetarian-friendly restaurant with great food for lunch, Gram makes the perfect match. Founded in Meşrutiyet Avenue, its desserts deserve the adjective “unforgettable.” For its website click here.
This chic place decorated in Manhattan style, would be a great choice for those who prefer meat dishes. It is open until 2 a.m. at night in Meşrutiyet Avenue. The only bad thing about it is the necessity of reservation. For reservation you can call +9 0532 395 87 23.
Galata may only cover a small area, but its steep streets will walk you through much of old Istanbul’s history.