Seven Charming Bosphorus Villages to Visit While in Istanbul
Tourists or house hunters in Istanbul who want to get away from touristic areas would do well to look at the charming Bosphorus villages lining both the European and Asian shores. Formerly fishing villages that no-one had ever heard of, their popularity is rising as more people seek to discover the cultural side of Istanbul for themselves.
The internet can take credit for a large part of their fame, as independent travel became the new norm. However, their real estate markets have also become Turkey’s most expensive and desirable. Hence visitors are often keen to find out just what makes them so special. Local delicacies, outstanding scenery, historical mosques, and churches and waterside Ottoman Yali mansions are just a few reasons.
Avid travellers with time can tour all 29 villages lining both sides. However, if you are just passing through, here are our favourite picks of great villages to spend a day exploring. All are accessible by road, but the best and most enjoyable way to see them is travelling local style daily ferry routes departing from the main hubs of Eminonu and Besiktas.
7 Bosphorus Villages Worth Visiting
1: The Fishing Haven of Arnavutkoy
Arnavutkoy, in the Besiktas district, is everything a charming fishing village should be. During summer weekends, the population doubles with day-trippers from other areas of Istanbul, eager to grab a slice of that laid-back lifestyle.
They wander small cobbled streets, admire wooden mansions dating from the last century and dine in famous seafood restaurants serving up a feast of caught fish and seafood. Often called the most beautiful of all villages, its name means “Albanian village” a reflection of its multicultural history.
While there, also visit the famous Ayos Taksiarches, a Greek Orthodox church, that in the past, many believed held a sacred healing spring. Arnavutkoy’s historical claim to fame is no more. It used to be a significant grower of strawberries, but this trade has died down. However, you will still hear locals talk about the famous Arnavutkoy berry, that had a delicious and addictive taste.
2: Bebek: A Stylish Bosphorus Lifestyle
Sitting side by side with Arnavutkoy, Bebek is the Bosphorus’s trendy darling where rich people like to hang out and be seen. Its name translates as “baby” and known by all Istanbul locals for its stunning views; it has always been a place for upmarket society hence its reputation for Ottoman summer places.
Bebek is much about hanging out rather than touring touristic sights, and locals like to do breakfast, walk the promenade, and then people watch in seaside cafes and bars. After dark, it also turns into a popular place to party until dawn.
3: Ortakoy: The Village to Hang Out in
Istanbul locals also enjoy hanging out in Ortakoy, whose name translates as a middle village. Belonging to the Besiktas district, its name is an apt reflection of its middle position on the European Bosphorus shores. The favourite thing to do is drink tea, people watch and admire the beautiful scenery, but curious travellers will also enjoy seeing the famous Ortakoy Mosque with its stunning neo-baroque architecture, that often appears on picture postcards of Istanbul.
On a Sunday, open-air crafts markets are a great place to shop for authentic, handmade souvenirs, and when you feel peckish, sample kumpir that Ortakoy is famous for. Every day, vendors in specific areas sell hundreds of kumpir, which is a large baked potato with many fillings.
4: Popular Kilyos: The Go-to Beach Village
Although rarely talked about on the mainstream travel scene, Kilyos in the Sariyer district is a popular weekend getaway village for Istanbul locals. Sitting on the northern tip of the European side, and facing the Black Sea, its sandy beaches attract thousands in the summer as well as windsurfing and kite surfing enthusiasts.
Other reasons people like it, is the great outdoors. Beautiful scenery, hidden coves, and bays, alongside a host of outdoor activities, including fishing, hiking, and alfresco dining style make up the social agenda. Anyone can get there by catching a ferry to Sariyer, and then the minibus north.
5: Enjoy Breakfast in Charming Cengelkoy
Belonging to the larger Uskudar district, and sitting on the Asian Bosphorus shores, Cengelkoy is another favourite of locals. Landscape painters and photographers love it, while others enjoy small cafes and a traditional, full village breakfast by the Bosphorus.
Throughout Ottoman rule, it was home to many mansions of which the famous red Sadullah Pasa Seaside mansion still stands today. Without a doubt, Cengelkoy is a beautiful Bosphorus destination. It is not because of things to do or see, although a car museum receives a steady trickle of visitors. No, it's popular because, with a touch of nostalgia, it portrays a simple, yet delightful village.
6: Zekeriyakoy: How the Other Half Lives
While visiting Kilyos, drop by Zekeriyakoy to see a tale of two stories. The village separates into two halves; traditional and upmarket. The latter has in recent years shot to fame on the real estate market because of high-end luxury developments.
Now counting itself as a wealthy area of Istanbul, many working professionals have homes in Zekeriyakoy and commute into the city. Another great lure for Istanbul property buyers is that Zekeriyakoy sits next to Belgrade forest, which is 5,500 hectares and includes many picnic parks, walking trails and beautiful flora and fauna.
7: Kanlica and a Touch of Nostalgia
Kanlica’s reputation stems around beautiful scenery, and the famous Kanlica yoghurt topped with sugar. Many Istanbul locals admire the small village and almost stuck in time; it is hard to believe it belongs to Turkey’s biggest and most prominent district on the Asian shores of Istanbul. A Turkish composer once penned “One learns the secret of Istanbul in Kanlica” which sums it up perfectly if you take the time to soak up the ambience and vibes.
While there, visit Iskele square, the village heart and home to local tea and pastry shops. Then explore side streets to come across artisans in action like the glass maker, carpenters, barbers, and tailors. Kanlica is last on our list of favourite Bosphorus villages of Istanbul, yet it is one of the best and a chance to see Istanbul culture in action.
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