Escaping the Crowds: Offbeat Places to Visit in Istanbul
So, on these repeat visits, what is there to do, after the well-known touristic sites? Actually, there is a lot to put on your bucket list, from the less well-known attractions to places where the locals hang out.
Head over to the Asian sideMost well-known historical sites of Istanbul are on the European side so to get away from the hordes of tourists, head to the Asian side by taking a short ferry cruise to Kadikoy. On a Tuesday and Friday, browse the local market that has been going strong since 1969 and hosting hundreds of stalls to browse through.
If shopping is not your ideal pastime, stick around the ferry port and wander the back streets. It is full of small cafes with roof terraces or you can turn back to the nostalgic days and hop aboard the tram. To see how the other half live, explore the area around Bagdat Caddesi. This long street has an upmarket ambience, including posh shops and restaurants with international menus.
History buffs should explore the Haydarpasa Railway Station in Kadikoy, which was built by the Ottoman sultan Abdulaziz in 1872. Further changes to its architecture happened in 1906, to add neo-classical influences. Yet the original building still faced turmoil when a large fire destroyed the roof in 2010 and plans to convert it into a luxury hotel in 2012, enraged Ottoman history experts. It is now on the World Monuments Fund, who whole-heartedly supports upkeep of the original appearance.
Uskudar is another prominent part of the Asian side and the first port of call should be Beylerbeyi Palace. Although it is smaller and as not as famous as other royal residences of the Ottoman Empire, the interior decor and exterior facade are just as impressive. Built in 1861, it is open every day apart from Mondays.
Also worth exploring is the Buyuk Hamam Sokak, which hosts many antique shops but wander around the neighbourhood streets to discover a collection of unknown gems including Ottoman mosques and Jewish synagogues. Alternatively, if a Turkish bath is your passion, the historical Cinli hamam provides the perfect ambiance. Built in 1640, expats living in the area as well as local Turks, frequent it often.
Another famous landmark of Istanbul is Maidens Tower, reached by a 200-metre boat ride from Uskudar shoreline. Dating from the medieval Byzantine period, previous uses include a watchtower and a lighthouse but these days, locals who cannot get enough of the views and interior cafe make it a popular hotspot.
The Back Streets of BeyogluAlthough Istiklal Avenue is popular with exploring tourists, very few head off down the side streets of the area known as Beyoglu. At nighttime, bars down these side streets fill with locals eager to hear live singers or the latest Turkish pop songs.
If you are not a night owl, the area is also respected for its contribution towards the art scene. A couple of streets back from the Galatasary high school is Cezayir Sokagi (French Street). Although the service, music, and food are not typically French, the exterior decor of the buildings and the street itself promotes a cosy atmosphere - a perfect day out from your Istanbul hotel.
The Conservative Eyup NeighbourhoodStarting from the Golden Horn and extending to the shores of the Black Sea, the Eyup Neighbourhood is prominent and renowned for its Muslim citizens, who stick strongly to their beliefs. Regularly, street parties occur to celebrate a circumcision or the up-and-coming event of a wedding.
Those seeking to delve into the cultural side of Istanbul, Turkey, would do well, simply to explore the streets of Eyup. Rather than a touristic ambience, it has a working class vibe and when it comes to property sales, is ideal for conservative Muslims. Outside of prayer time, the Eyup Sultan Mosque is worth a visit. Built in 1458, the interior decor is quite stunning.
A small market selling typical Islamic items such as prayer mats and beads has also sprung up. After you have finished exploring, end the day with a traditional cup of Turkish coffee or tea, sold at the hang out spot for locals called Pierre Loti Cafe. Named after a French naval writer, turned writer, the café has a magnificent panoramic view over the Golden Horn.
The Diversity of OrtakoyThe neighbourhood of Ortakoy only features in mainstream magazines because of its historic mosque sitting on the shores of the Bosphorus but there is a lot more to the small district. The nighttime scene has extended to accommodate everyone; from chic, sit down restaurants to large nightclubs playing the latest dance tunes and on Sundays, a large arts and craft market, makes for interesting exploration and you can buy handmade souvenirs.
One small street, nicknamed “Potato Alley,” does a huge amount of business selling cheap food but in particular kumpirs (jacket potatoes with fillings.) Alternatively, head to the shoreline where fish restaurants do a roaring trade because of their scenic Bosphorus view and freshness of seafood and large fish.
Historical Princess IslandsPrincess Islands seem to be further down on the list of touristic hotspots, but in our opinion, it should be one of the first. Consisting of nine islands, reached only by ferryboat, they were previously used as a place of exile for members of Ottoman royalty.
Later, towards the 19th century, they became known as a place for elite members of society with real estate prices reaching into the millions. Still popular with wealthy members of Turkish society, the most frequented island is Buyukada, where the latest mansion to be advertised on the real estate market is seven bedrooms, built in the 1920s and going for a cool 1.5 million USD.
Buyukada is also rather unique in that no motorised traffic is allowed so the only form of transport is horse and carriage or bicycle. The island is filled with pine trees and after you have finished exploring the architecture of the Ottoman Mansions, sit down in a seaside cafe and pick up traditional Turkish pastries from local shops. Overall, Buyukada is an intriguing place to visit, simply because it appears to have been stuck in time.