Istanbul is the epicentre of Turkey and Turkey is the place where Europe, Asia and the Middle East all come together. In older days, Istanbul was regularly contested by invaders from every point of the compass. Turkey was the connecting pathway to new territories and new markets, so it was invaluable to any nation or tribe trying to make their mark. Today, Istanbul is a blend of all cultures.
But, where should you go to truly experience Turkish culture? There are several areas of Istanbul that you should focus on.
First on the list is Beyoglu. The Beyoglu neighbourhood is young, hip and busy. There are lots of shops, pubs and nightclubs and tons of people. Although the neighbourhood is best explored on foot, you can always jump on a tram. Most shops are open late and prices are usually negotiable.
If you’ve ever wondered what a whirling dervish was, Beyoglu can help you out. A special Muslim sect known as the Sufis uses an exhausting spinning dance to get closer to Allah. Dervishes are the apprentice Sufis and you’ll be able to watch the dervishes whirl in Beyoglu.
You should also make sure to pass through the Cicek Pasaji, or Flower Passage. You won’t find many flower shops in this courtyard, but you will find lots of Turks, tourists and ex-pats enjoying long and slow dinners together. At one time, most of the shops in the courtyard did sell flowers, and thus the name Flower Passage.
Cihangir is another Istanbul neighbourhood you should spend time in. Cihangir is known for its bohemian mix of writers, artists and musicians, so you can imagine what treasures await you in the tiny shops that dot each street. It’s often favourably compared to New York City’s Soho neighbourhood and London’s Monmatre and the writers in Cihangir are known as Istanbul’s “literary mafia.”
This neighbourhood is more residential than Beyoglu, but there’s still plenty to see and do here. The Cihangir mosque sits at the top of a hill with an amazing view. But, Cihangir is also home to Istanbul’s antique dealers. You’ll find old books, carpets, furniture and more as you browse antique shops.
If you want to people watch, find a seat along Siraselviler (Cypress Avenue) and grab a cup of Turkish coffee while surrounded by art dealers, artists and their patrons. Mixed in you’ll also find little shops filled to the brim with all types of items.
Foodies, and especially foodies who love dessert should pay homage to Oxhanak is a must-see destination. They serve all manner of puddings and other desserts.
Cukurkuma is an Istanbul neighbourhood where old and new really meet. Stop by Cukurkuma Koftecisi for meatballs before touring the area. What you’ll see is an eclectic mix of renovated homes and businesses blending into buildings that still show their character and age.
You’ll find more antique and art shops here, as well as very small trinket shops. The more you leave the main roads, the more you’ll enjoy exploring this neighbourhood as it appears to closely guard its local treasures.
Bahcesehir is probably the only cultured destination in Istanbul’s true suburbs. Anchored by a large university, Bahcesehir is a typical college town with lots of small pubs and eateries. The people are notably younger here and the area quiets down a lot when there are no classes.
In any of these neighbourhoods, you should expect two things. First, very little English is spoken, so a basic understanding of Turkish will help you, but Turkey’s welcoming spirit means that most shopkeepers, taxi drivers and others will do whatever they can to help you navigate.
The second expectation is that you’ll want to look at Istanbul real estate prices. Despite being some of Istanbul’s trendiest neighbourhoods, you will probably be shocked at the low real estate prices. Many foreigners are taking advantage of rapidly rising prices, strong local and global demand and the broad variety of property types to set up boutique hotels, purchase buy-to-let homes or build their retirement home.
If you want to be where the coolest people are, these are the neighbourhoods you should visit while in Istanbul. Despite being new or rebuilt and trendy, don’t be surprised when you are often offered tea everywhere you go in the true Turkish spirit.
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