Things to Do in Eminonu
Anyone searching for things to do in Eminonu will be pleased at the wonderful attractions and places to go. Despite coming second on the tourism scene, to the Sultanahmet district, which holds the famous Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, Eminonu can stand on its own and always delights tourists who come here.
This is a great place to soak up the authentic Istanbul atmosphere because it reflects a lot more than tourism. This major transport hub offers glimpses into the daily life of Istanbul locals. Just sitting on a bench and watching people go by their business opens a different world that no travel magazine could describe.
About Eminonu: Need to Know
Eminonu belongs to the Fatih district, one of 39 official areas that make up Istanbul. Its claim to fame shows in three major films; Taken 2, Skyfall, and Argo but during the Byzantium period, it was the heart of old Constantinople. Its location, next to the Golden Horn and near the Bosphorus entrance, was and still is important.
By the 12th century, merchants from all over the world sold their products here making it a vital sea trading port. Even though the construction of essential landmarks like Galata Bridge and the 19th century Sirkeci Train Station changed daily dynamics, mass use by average people on the street continues.
As Istanbul’s busiest ferry port, and publishing industry central hub, it is home to a major university, Turkey’s biggest market, and other shops, offices and government buildings, leading estimations to say 2 million people pass through every day.
Things to Do in Eminonu
1: Eminonu Square
Right next to the port area, Eminonu square is a good place to start. Grab food from a street vendor, sit on a bench, admire the Golden Horn view, and watch the world go by to glimpse what makes this area tick. After feeding pigeons, enter the New Mosque (Yeni Camii) for an insight into Islam and spectacular architecture. Locals call it the Mosque with birds, but the name is misleading because it dates from the 17th century. As one of the Ottoman’s empires last imperial mosques, it holds many untold secrets.
2: Egyptian Spice Bazaar
Head across from the mosque to the 17th century Egyptian Spice Bazaar nearby, where you can pick up souvenirs, and practise bartering skills. Stunning and colourful architecture, seen in the ceiling, wows everyone. Belonging to the Yeni Mosque complex, these days it stands proud as a separate tourist attraction. Every day, smells of spices and herbs hangs in the air. Other things sold include Turkish delight, coffee, and kitchen condiments, which make a unique souvenir for loved ones back home.
3: Rustem Pasha Mosque (Closed)
A short five-minute walk leads to the 17th century Rustem Pasha Camii. Although it is one of Istanbul’s smallest mosques, this architectural gem is famous. Currently closed for renovation, but still open for prayers, the most famous Ottoman architect, Mimar Sinan, designed the simple but artistic interior décor.
4: Suleymaniye Mosque
An excellent alternative to Rustem Pasha sits 15 minutes’ walk away. The 16th century Suleymaniye Camii sits on the third hill of Istanbul, one of seven which the city was designed around. As another imperial Ottoman place of worship, its huge size dominates the landscape and once again, credit goes to Mimar Sinan for this architectural masterpiece. The interior use of natural light shows up innate décor and makes this landmark worth visiting.
5: Sirkeci Station and Istanbul Railway Museum
Heading in the opposite direction from Eminonu square, these two will delight Orient Express fans and give a glimpse into Turkish Railways’ history. The railway station’s 19th-century Gothic architecture makes it stand out in among today’s modern buildings and makes for a unique and original Instagram picture. Near the first platform, a small museum displays intricate artefacts including conductors’ uniforms, advertising posters, tickets and photos depicting a bygone era.
6: Do Shopping in Tahtakale District
If shopping is your idea of fun, head to Tahtakale, next to the Egyptian bazaar. Vendors sell everything and anything, and you need to never shop again and one interesting quarter is an art and craft centre. Think of it as Istanbul’s equivalent of Portobello road but rather than emphasis on antiques, artisans and handcrafters display and sell their goods. There is also nothing posh about Tahtakale because it portrays an unfiltered look at daily life in Eminonu.
7: Get Lost in the Grand Bazaar
Prepare to get lost in the Grand Bazaar, Turkey’s largest and oldest covered market, but this is part of the fun. Thousands of shops within a large maze of narrow passageways sell souvenirs, including Turkish carpets, coffee, trinkets, lamps, and ceramics. Don’t forget to bargain over prices. The Grand Bazaar also groups sellers according to what they sell, an old Ottoman tradition that shows no signs of disappearing, so seek the Zincirli Han to see a craftsman in the middle of creative inspiration.
8: Take a Ferry Ride
Being a ferry port, locals and tourists use Eminonu as a springboard to explore other areas of Istanbul like Besiktas, Ortakoy, and other small villages. Princes’ Islands, a group of small landmasses near the Asian side is the locals’ go-to place at weekends. Explore traffic-free streets to discover old Ottoman mansions, some of which would sell for millions of pounds. Another popular pastime is to buy a cheap ferry ticket for a Bosphorus cruise to spot landmarks like castles, and old Yali mansions as you go.
9: HodjaPasha Whirling Dervish Show
When they come to Turkey, many people watch a whirling dervish ritual. As part of the Sufi sect of Islam, followers perform the Sema ritual which involves circling to be at one with God. The Hodjapasha cultural centre often sells out of tickets well in advance as they perform every day at 7 p.m. for 60 minutes. Other shows include Rhythm of the Dance and White Rose, of which both combine traditional village dances, Ottoman harem shows and modern choreography.
10: Walk Across Galata Bridge
Beginning at the port area and heading across the Golden Horn, the Galata bridge is just as important as Eminonu. While bars and restaurants sit on the bottom level, anglers line both sides of the top-level, watched by seagulls waiting for their catch of fish. From here, a walk takes you to Galata Tower, and then further up to Beyoglu, Taksim Square, and Istiklal Avenue, the hub of shopping and nightlife in Turkey. From iconic streets to churches, to old whirling dervish museums, read about what to do on Istiklal avenue here.
11: Relax in Gulhane Park
In between the Eminonu and Sultanahmet districts, Gulhane Park means house of roses in Turkish, although, the best time to visit for masses of colour is during April when the annual tulip festival takes place. For centuries, only Ottoman royalty used it but opening to the public in 1912, these days, tourists and locals visit for peace in among the hustle and bustle of Turkey’s busiest city.
12: From Eminonu to Sultanahmet
After you have completed the wide range of things to do in Eminonu, head to the old city, Sultanahmet district, which itself needs a full day to explore. As the former capital ruling centre of both the Ottoman and Byzantine empires, Sultanahmet boasts of historical landmarks like Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, and the old Hippodrome. All are Turkey’s top tourist attraction hosting millions of visitors every year and a must-see when in Istanbul. (More about the attractions of Sultanahmet.)
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Additional Note: One popular place to eat in Eminonu has always been the floating boats sitting next to Galata Bridge. This time-honoured tradition captivates everyone who visited Eminonu and pictures of the floating restaurants often appeared in travel magazines. Serving balik ekmek, otherwise fish, onions, tomatoes, and lettuce in bread, was cheap, delicious and a popular street food option of Istanbul.
However, in October 2019, their future was uncertain after newspaper reports said they were to close after the local council refused renewal of their licenses. The fish boats have since gone to court, and they revoked the decision. The local council says it is also not getting rid of the tradition, just changing the way the contracts come up for tender.