The Best Districts in Istanbul to Visit
Altogether, the best neighbourhoods in Istanbul present a world-class Alpha city that easily matches Rome, Milan or Paris. Istanbul is where ancient history blends seamlessly with modernity. Each neighbourhood offers unique charm and daily life for different experiences and ambience. Whether you're looking for lively nightlife, evening walks, shopping streets, historical landmarks, or quiet streets in a peaceful residential area, it can be found in the beautiful neighbourhoods of Istanbul.
Istanbul's neighbourhoods represent rich and diverse characters. These districts, with their historical sites, contemporary allure, and unique identities, offer a multifaceted perspective on dynamic and ever-evolving Istanbul. Whether you want somewhere different to explore or to settle down and live here, Istanbul City provides it.
Best Neighbourhoods in Istanbul
1. Sultanahmet in the Fatih District: Best for Tourist Attractions
The historical neighbourhood of Sultanahmet, in the Fatih district, is often referred to as the "Old City" of Istanbul, and most first-time visitors head here on their trip to see major tourist attractions. This beautiful neighbourhood with narrow streets has been the epicentre of power and culture, beginning with the 7th century BC founding of Byzantium. Top tourist attractions include the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome of Constantinople, and Topkapi Palace, the Ottoman Empire's first home and capital centre.
The 6th-century Basilica underground cistern, also called Yerebatan Sarnıcı, stored water for the Byzantine Palace with rows of ancient columns, dim lighting, and an otherworldly atmosphere. The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts also showcases a vast collection of Islamic and Turkish art, including carpets, ceramics, manuscripts, and calligraphy.
Sultanahmet welcomes millions of visitors annually who admire historic buildings and cultural treasures. This tourism fuels the local economy and provides opportunities for businesses and artisans. While Sultanahmet promotes international tourism, it's also home to local residents. This duality creates a beautiful neighbourhood where old and new coexist harmoniously. You'll find small shops, cool cafes, traditional bakeries, and local cafes amidst historical landmarks.
2: Beyazit Square for an Authentic Neighbourhood
During the Byzantine period, Beyazit Square was called "Forum Tauri" and was a centre of commerce and public life. It was home to the Forum of Theodosius, a grand square with monumental columns and statues. Beyazıt Square played a crucial role in Istanbul's development. The Grand Bazaar, Turkey's oldest and largest covered market, was established here during the Ottoman era. Today, Beyazıt Square boasts historical attractions, and Beyazit Square is a popular cultural meeting spot for locals.
Sitting next to Beyazit Square, A world-renowned treasure, the 15th-century Grand Bazaar blends Ottoman architecture and bustling commerce, with thousands of shops selling jewellery, textiles, ceramics, spices, and more. Beyazıt Square, home to the Istanbul University and Beyazıt Mosque, showcases major attractions of architectural and cultural significance.
Beyazıt, a thriving cultural and educational centre, offers many enrichment opportunities. Istanbul University, one of Turkey's most prestigious institutions of higher learning, is located in Beyazıt. The university's historical buildings and campus provide significant backdrops. Beyazıt features several historical libraries, including Beyazıt State Library and Suleymaniye Library, housing rare manuscripts and invaluable documents.
Beyazıt's lifestyle is deeply rooted in tradition, community, and a passion for knowledge. The residents of Beyazıt take pride in preserving their district's history. Many are actively involved in restoration and conservation efforts, ensuring the character of Beyazıt remains intact for future generations.
2. Taksim Square: Transport and Culture
Taksim Square, a bustling Istanbul public transportation hub, testifies to Istanbul's vibrant history, with trendy cafes, upscale hotels and evolving identity. Spread over approximately 12,000 square meters, Taksim Square is where tradition, modernity, history and contemporary life unite in unique harmony. Taksim Square dates from Byzantine times when the area was called "Arkadios Forum" but transformed into the vibrant urban centre we know today in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Construction of "Taksim Artillery Barracks" (currently hosting the Marmara Hotel) in 1806 and the Republic Monument in 1928 marked two pivotal moments in Taksim Square's development. Taksim Republic Monument, designed by Italian sculptor Pietro Canonica, stands tall as a symbol of the Turkish Republic's foundation and transcends its historical roots. It is where various artistic expressions and cultural elements converge. Diverse cultural scenes around Taksim Square make the area a hotspot for art, music, and entertainment.
Beyond culture, Taksim Square has witnessed significant demonstrations and protests. The Gezi Park protests and various other rallies and marches have solidified Taksim Square as the epicentre of political activism in Istanbul. Taksim Square's architectural landscape also reflects Istanbul's evolution. The square features a mix of Ottoman and modernist buildings, including the historic Taksim Palace Hotel and the Atatürk Cultural Center. The Atatürk Cultural Center, or AKM, portrays the modernist architectural movement in Turkey. These structures encapsulate Istanbul's past and present.
3: Neighbourhoods Around Istiklal Avenue
Taksim Square sits next to Istiklal Street, a bustling pedestrian street with shops, cool cafes, and theatres. It's where to shop, have breakfast, dine, and enjoy Istanbul's thriving cultural scene. Istiklal Caddesi stretches for about 1.4 kilometres and is instantly recognisable by the historical tram that rattles along the cobblestone road. There are also many surrounding narrow streets that throw up delightful gems.
Istiklal Caddesi has undergone significant transformations over the years. It has adapted to changing times while retaining its unique character. The avenue, adorned with elegant buildings housing everything from sweet shops and trendy cafes to international fashion brands, also features numerous historic buildings. Beyoğlu, where Istiklal Street is located, is the bustling heart of modern Istanbul. This vibrant neighbourhood boasts of historical charm and contemporary energy. Beyoğlu was a key destination for European tourists in the 19th and early 20th centuries and retains much of that cosmopolitan character.
Beyoglu's history is intertwined with the 19th-century Pera Palace Hotel, which hosted luminaries such as Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway. Other notable landmarks in and around Istiklal Avenue include Flower Passage, French Street, and the Galatasaray High School. Given the high profile, buying property around this area means paying premium prices.
4: Galata Tower and Bridge Area of Istanbul
This neighbourhood, with quiet streets, portrays Istanbul's medieval past. Standing at over 60 meters, the 14th-century Galata Tower offers breathtaking panoramic views of Istanbul and is the main landmark. It has served various purposes over the centuries, including as an observatory and fire tower.
Meanwhile, Galata's traditional buildings, converted into boutique hotels, shops, restaurants, and cobblestone streets, transport visitors back in time. The neighbourhood's restaurants, cool cafes, and eateries also provide diverse culinary experiences, from Turkish cuisine to international flavours. Altogether, Galata has an indescribable atmosphere that is better experienced when the tourist crowds have dispersed. Following the streets down, we arrive at Galata Bridge. Galata Bridge is a dynamic cultural and culinary hub, a link between Istanbul's historical and modern districts, and a symbol of Istanbul's vibrant life.
Galata Bridge encapsulates Istanbul's unique history, tradition, and contemporary living, and on the walk to it, specific Jewish neighbourhoods of bygone days are still traceable. Whether crossing the bridge on foot, enjoying a fish sandwich, or simply soaking in views, Galata Bridge offers an unforgettable experience that defines Istanbul's captivating spirit. Galata Bridge also links to the other side of European Istanbul, with the Grand Bazaar and Sultanahmet attractions earning fame.
5. Kadikoy Neighbourhood: The Ferry Terminal Transport Hub
Meanwhile, cross over the Bosphorus Bridge to Asian Istanbul and the vibrant neighbourhood of Kadikoy. This is one of Istanbul's coolest neighbourhoods, home to popular cafes, restaurants, and bars, as well as antique shops and vintage boutiques. From lively street markets to delicious breakfasts, cute cafes and beautiful views of the Bosporus Strait, Kadikoy has something for everyone.
Originally called Chalcedon, Kadikoy was a prominent 7th-century BC Byzantine city and key naval base. With the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453, Chalcedon became an important Asian district. Today, Kadikoy earns fame for modernity and bustling city life. It has retained its historical charm while embracing contemporary worlds. The iconic Haydarpasa Railway Station, a beautiful example of neo-classical architecture, symbolises Kadikoy. This station has been connecting the Asian side of Istanbul to Anatolia since the 20th-century construction.
Bustling markets, like Kadikoy Fish Market, sell fresh seafood and local products, and the weekly Kadikoy Tuesday Market offers fresh fruits, vegetables, textiles, and more. Kadıköy's vibrant cafe culture includes many quirky cafes selling Turkish coffees and teas. The district provides frequent ferries connecting Asian and European Istanbul. In addition, ferry terminals run services to the Princes islands of Istanbul.
4. Nisantasi: The Coolest Neighbourhood
For more luxurious experiences in Istanbul, Nisantasi offers the most incredible vibes. This stylish neighbourhood features luxury options, fashion boutiques, designer stores, chic cafes, and some of Europe's most exclusive nightclubs. Its tree-lined streets are also filled with grand 19th-century and charming historic buildings.
Nişantaşı's roots can be traced to the 19th century as a quiet district on Istanbul's outskirts. During Ottoman times, Nisantasi was primarily residential for Istanbul's social elite. Its name, "shooting range" in Turkish, was the practice grounds of the Sultan's troops. In the 19th century, Nisantasi underwent rapid development and became fashionable with wide boulevards and elegant architecture.
Nisantasi boasts of several architectural styles, reflecting historical and modern affluence. The neighbourhood, adorned with Art Nouveau and Neoclassical structures, promotes European flair. These buildings are elegant examples of Western architectural styles during the late Ottoman and early Republican periods. Aside from that, there aren't many historic attractions because this district is more about luxury options and fashion boutiques.
Nişantaşı's nightlife offers various entertainment venues, from jazz bars to theatres, and culinary scenes are just as diverse. Cafes, patisseries, and traditional Turkish tea houses sell classic and contemporary flavours, while prestigious Abdi İpekçi Street, lined with luxury boutiques and designer stores, is ideal for shopping sprees.
8: Cukurcuma Neighbourhood in Beyoğlu for Vintage shops
The enchanting Cukurcuma neighbourhood earns fame for Bohemian vibes and antique and vintage shops that line the streets. Çukurcuma's name is derived from the Turkish word "çukur," meaning "pit" or "hollow." However, Çukurcuma began to take shape during the late Ottoman period and early years of the Turkish Republic. The neighbourhood is dotted with historic Ottoman-era buildings, many of which have been meticulously preserved.
Still, Çukurcuma's ancient heritage is integral to its identity. The neighbourhood is renowned for antique and vintage shops, selling vintage furniture, exquisite jewellery, paintings, and rare books. Strolling through cobbled streets feels like stepping into a living museum. Çukurcuma's charming streets include cosy cafes and independent bookstores that are perfect backdrops for sipping Turkish tea, indulging in pastries, and engaging in conversations about art, culture, and literature.
One of Çukurcuma's most remarkable attributes is its architectural diversity. The neighbourhood boasts of several architectural styles, showcasing its journey through time. The neighbourhood's unique architectural character has sparked restoration and conservation. Many old buildings have been meticulously renovated, preserving the neighbourhood's historical essence while accommodating contemporary needs.
9: Arnavutkoy and Bebek: Beautiful Istanbul Neighbourhoods on the Bosphorus
Along the Bosphorus shores, the beautiful neighbourhoods of Bebek and Arnavutkoy stand as two picturesque enclaves, nestled between sparkling waters and lush hills. Many people take day trips from other parts of Istanbul to visit and enjoy a Turkish breakfast by the Bosphorus. At the same time, those with hefty house budgets also look at buying property.
Bebek is a beautiful neighbourhood of unparalleled elegance with a history as rich as its natural beauty. During the Ottoman years, Bebek was favoured by sultans and their retinues. Its serene atmosphere and breathtaking scenery made it an ideal location for palatial residences and summer mansions.
In addition to historic mansions, Bebek features modern, upscale residences, blending old and new. The neighbourhood's cafes, seafood restaurants, and high-end dining establishments cater to locals and visitors, offering gastronomic journeys through Turkish cuisine.
Meanwhile, next door is Arnavutkoy, a neighbourhood renowned for historical mansions. Prestigious Arnavutköy was where the Ottoman elite built waterfront yalıs (mansions) for retreats. Many still stand today, making this neighbourhood a property hotspot. Arnavutköy's yalıs are iconic structures, including Said Halim Pasha Yalı and Hacı Şerif Yalı. Ornate facades and opulent interiors characterise these mansions.
While preserving its historical charm, Arnavutkoy has also embraced contemporary architectural developments. Modern homes, boutique hotels, and trendy cafes coexist with classical heritage. Bebek and Arnavutköy, nestled along the picturesque Bosphorus, are two of Istanbul's most beautiful neighbourhoods. Bebek's elegance and serene ambience blend with modern attractions. Arnavutköy's historical significance is celebrated through grandeur and vibrant community life.
10: Daily Life in Eyup for Conservative Locals of Istanbul
Eyup neighbourhood, on the Golden Horn's shores, signifies deep spiritual roots. This district is a culture trip into daily conservative life. Alongside the influx of tourist establishments in other districts, Eyup stands out for its religious and historical attractions. The district is associated with Eyüp Sultan, a revered Islamic figure. Eyüp Sultan Complex, with its mosque, tomb, and courtyard, is a historical and spiritual focal point and pilgrimage site for Muslims worldwide, a place of deep religious significance.
Eyüp's architecture blends historical and contemporary elements through Eyüp Sultan Mosque, with its stunning Ottoman architecture. The mosque's interior is adorned with intricate tilework and calligraphy, creating a serene atmosphere. Eyüp has also seen contemporary developments, with modern residences, shopping centres, and restaurants adding modernity while respecting the neighbourhood's historical character.
Eyüp's natural beauty attracts those seeking outdoor activities. Pierre Loti Hill, reached by cable car, offers panoramic views of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. Overall, Eyüp, a district rooted in spirituality and tradition, provides unique perspectives on Istanbul's diverse cultural tapestry.
11: Balat and Fener in the Fatih District for Culture and Traditions
The quiet streets of Balat and Fener are two hidden gems in Fatih, in the northern peninsula. With their history and captivating ambience, these neighbourhoods offer an enchanting journey through past and present. These Fatih neighbourhoods were once the heart of Constantinople, with Balat being an important commercial and residential district during the Byzantine era. Fener, on the other hand, housed Istanbul's Greek Orthodox population.
The Fatih neighbourhoods thrived during Ottoman rule, home to diverse communities, including Greeks, Jews, Armenians, and Turks. This multicultural heritage has left an indelible mark. Balat and Fener previously significantly revived their quiet streets, drawing renewed attention for their architectural beauty and as a culture trip. Fener houses the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, a magnificent landmark with stunning architecture and significance to the Greek Orthodox Church, as well as numerous synagogues and churches.
Aside from that, both districts offer authentic culinary experiences steeped in tradition and local flavours. The Fatih neighbourhoods feature historic eateries and traditional teahouses to enjoy Turkish coffee, delight in baklava, and indulge in classic Turkish dishes. Balat & Fener's local markets also provide opportunities to sample regional flavours, including spices, fresh produce, and artisanal products. Daily lifestyles are steeped in tradition, creating warm and close-knit communities. Residents take pride in preserving Fatih's history and quiet streets. At the same time, recreational opportunities offer a refreshing contrast to Istanbul's bustling city life.
12: Amazing Views from Uskudar in Asian Istanbul
On the Asian side of the Bosphorus Strait, Uskudar is an emblem of Istanbul's timeless beauty and incredible views. Uskudar was a favoured residential area for Ottoman elite figures, with waterfront mansions and palaces. Ornate facades, wooden detailing, and exquisite courtyards characterise Ottoman-era architectural landmarks. Famous landmarks include Paşalimanı Mansion and Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi Complex.
Uskudar also boasts splendid mosques like Şemsi Pasha Mosque and Mihrimah Sultan Mosque. Beylerbeyi Palace, a magnificent Ottoman imperial residence, adds to the architectural splendour. Other iconic sites include Camlica mosque, the biggest mosque in Istanbul's city centre. Alongside historical sites, Uskudar has seen contemporary developments, with modern residences, shopping streets, and restaurants adding modernity while preserving historical character.
Trendy cafes and traditional teahouses are perfect for sipping Turkish tea, savouring baklava, and indulging in traditional Turkish coffee. Üsküdar's famous traditional Turkish restaurants serve authentic dishes like kebabs, pide (Turkish pizza), and seafood, often accompanied by stunning Bosphorus strait views. Camlica Hill is a notable landmark, and high points offer fantastic Golden horn views.
13: The Excellent Location of Famous Besiktas
In European Istanbul lies dynamic and culturally rich Beşiktaş. This vibrant neighbourhood reflects history, culture, contemporary life, and an infectious energy that never seems to rest. Although tourist crowds are less than famous sites in Sultanahmet, Besiktas still deserves praise and admiration. This bustling district excels in excellence, from luxury hotels to budget accommodation options.
Beşiktaş's captivating history stretches back centuries as a shipyard for constructing naval vessels, and this can be seen in Beşiktaş Naval Museum. The most iconic landmark, however, is Dolmabahce Palace, the 2nd Ottoman administrative centre. Ciragan Palace Kempinski is also a former Ottoman palace but is now a five-star hotel in a central location.
Ortaköy Mosque, on the Bosphorus waterfront, is an architectural gem with elegant design and picturesque setting. The square in front is also a popular meeting place for locals. The Akaretler Row Houses, designed by renowned Sinan, also reflect Ottoman architecture. These houses were built initially for palace personnel and have now been repurposed into a trendy area with boutiques, cafes, and restaurants.
Beşiktaş's Bosphorus location and green spaces offer ample opportunities for outdoor activities through significant attractions. Yıldız Park is a lush green space with walking paths, picnic areas, and beautiful flora. A robust public transport system, including buses, trams, and the Marmaray commuter rail line, serve Beşiktaş. From its historic attractions and architectural marvels to its bustling culinary scene and vibrant artistic community, Beşiktaş reflects multifaceted Istanbul. It is a highly sought-after place for foreigners and Turks to buy property.
More About Istanbul in Turkey
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