European Istanbul, sitting next to the famous Bosphorus strait of Turkey, is the beating heart of this famous Turkish city. From historical tourist landmarks like the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Dolmabahce Palace to new and modern landmarks like Istanbul airport, the Istanbul European side commands respect from all who cross her path. Although some just associate European Istanbul with the Ottoman Empire, this site is about much more. Being a cultural centre and hub of business, education and finance, the European part is the most crucial place in Turkey.
Everything happens here, from tourists visiting the old city centre to residents crossing the Bosphorus bridge for work and pleasure. From the foreign investors who arrive via Istanbul's new airport to invest in real estate to patients who come for expert medical surgery, the European city centre attracts people from all over the globe with excellence, style and ambience. So, whether your planned visit is for business or pleasure, let's look at what to know about the European part of the Istanbul province.
All About the Istanbul European Side in Turkey
1: Geography of the European City Centre
Often described as the bridge between East and West, Istanbul straddles two continents, Europe and Asia. On the Bosphorus western side, European Istanbul is the more famous and populous side. It is also the historic centre of the Istanbul province and the location of many iconic landmarks, like the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Ottoman Topkapi Palace. To understand the geography of European Istanbul, we must first examine the Bosphorus Strait and the Golden Horn.
The Bosphorus Strait, a narrow, winding waterway, connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, effectively dividing the Istanbul province into European and Asian halves. This natural strait has facilitated trade, transportation, and cultural exchange for centuries between East and West. Numerous bridges span the waterway, the most famous being the Bosphorus Bridge and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, linking the two continents and symbolising the Istanbul province's role as a bridge between different civilisations.
The Golden Horn Bosphorus inlet forms a natural harbour on the Istanbul European side. The distinctive shape resembles a horn, hence the name. The Golden Horn has played crucial roles in Istanbul's Byzantine and Ottoman history as a safe anchorage for ships, fostering maritime trade and commerce, and is famous as home to the Galata Bridge. European Istanbul's waterfront neighbourhoods, like Eminonu and Karakoy, have evolved around the Golden Horn and are known for vibrant markets, historic mosques, and prime property spots.
2: Istanbul European Side Landscape and Architecture
European Istanbul boasts diverse landscapes that range from densely populated urban areas to lush green spaces. The city's historic core, Sultanahmet, is characterised by narrow, winding streets, where centuries-old buildings stand shoulder to shoulder and reflect Byzantine, Ottoman, and European architectural styles.
An iconic feature of the Istanbul province landscape is the stunning waterfront. The Bosphorus promenade offers breathtaking views, Ottoman waterfront restaurants, and bustling ferry terminals. This picturesque setting has made the Bosphorus ideal for leisure and recreation, and the most expensive place in Turkey to invest in real estate. Indeed, European Istanbul is the global face of Istanbul. In contrast, Asian Istanbul provides quieter, more residential experiences, emphasising green spaces and modern living.
Over the last ten years, much development and investment has gone into outskirt districts to cope with the growing population. Hence, the European city centre mainly focuses on business and tourism, centred around the old-style architecture of bygone eras. While outskirt districts are more residential and feature many modern apartments are in large lifestyle complexes. Let's look at prominent architectural styles on the European side.
Beşiktaş and Ortakoy: Venturing to Beşiktaş and Ortakoy, we discover traditional Ottoman architecture with modern influences. Ortakoy Mosque, at the Bosphorus waterfront, displays neoclassical designs with ornate details, making this charming building an iconic landmark of the Istanbul European side.
Luxury in Nisantasi: Nisantasi, an upscale neighbourhood within Sisli, offers different architectural perspectives. The area boasts elegant Belle Époque-style buildings reflecting European design trends during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The ornate façades, wrought-iron balconies, and neoclassical elements create an ambience of sophistication and luxury.
Levent and Maslak: In the northern districts of Levent and Maslak, we encounter Istanbul's emerging skyscraper landscape. These modern business districts feature sleek glass towers, corporate headquarters, and ultramodern facilities. The juxtaposition against the backdrop of historic Bosphorus neighbourhoods reflects Istanbul's dynamic urban growth.
Dolmabahce Palace: The Ottoman Dolmabahce Palace, on the Bosphorus, represents 19th-century modernity in Ottoman architecture. Designed with blended neoclassical, baroque, and rococo styles, this opulent palace served as the administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire during the Tanzimat period. The palace's grand interiors, European furnishings, and imposing chandeliers reflect Ottoman sultans' changing tastes and influences.
3: The Touristic Sultanahmet District of Istanbul
Sultanahmet historic centre testifies to Turkey's illustrious past that spans millennia, and encapsulates Istanbul's rich cultural heritage. The area, named after Sultan Ahmet I, who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1603 to 1617, is steeped in history. It is the top-visited place, not only in Istanbul but throughout Turkey. People flock to see the following landmark buildings.
Hagia Sophia: The Hagia Sophia displays architectural ingenuity and spiritual significance. Originally built as a cathedral in 537 AD under Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, the Ottomans turned the building into a mosque. The Hagia Sophia's grand dome, adorned with intricate mosaics and varied colours, seems to touch the heavens.
Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque): Adjacent to the Hagia Sophia stands the Blue Mosque, also called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Commissioned by Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I in the early 17th century, this mosque has six towering minarets and a breathtaking interior adorned with thousands of blue Iznik tiles, hence the nickname. The Ottoman Blue Mosque's architecture harmoniously blends geometric patterns, calligraphy, and Islamic artistry.
Topkapi Palace: A short stroll from the Blue Mosque leads to Topkapi Palace, the seat of Ottoman power for nearly four centuries. This sprawling palace complex offers windows into the opulent lifestyles of Ottoman sultans and their courts. Topkapi Palace is a labyrinth of opulent rooms, courtyards, and gardens. The Harem, where the Ottoman sultan's family resided, reveals hidden chambers, exquisite tiles, and ornate furnishings.
Basilica Cistern: Descending beneath the bustling streets of Sultanahmet, discover the Basilica Cistern, an awe-inspiring underground water reservoir. Built during the reign of Emperor Justinian I, this underground wonder once stored water to supply the Great Palace. The cistern's most famous features are the Medusa heads, which form the bases of two columns.
Hippodrome of Constantinople: Just outside the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque lies the ancient Hippodrome of Constantinople, where chariot races, public events, and political gatherings took place for centuries. Today, the Hippodrome offers tranquil respite, open spaces, and historical monuments. The surviving treasures include the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpent Column, and the Walled Obelisk.
Grand Bazaar: No visit to Sultanahmet would be complete without the Ottoman Grand Bazaar, Turkey's oldest and largest covered market. Stepping inside feels like entering a labyrinth of bustling streets lined with shops, stalls, and bazaars selling everything from exquisite textiles to intricate ceramics, jewellery, and spices. The Grand bazaar from the Ottoman era is where everything and anything is sold.
Suleymaniye Mosque: A short walk from Sultanahmet leads to Suleymaniye Mosque, one of Istanbul's largest and most magnificent Ottoman mosques. This mosque is an architectural masterpiece commissioned by Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and designed by renowned 16th century architect Mimar Sinan. Suleymaniye Mosque's massive dome and four towering minarets dominate the skyline.
Archaeological Museums: Sultanahmet boasts three archaeological museums for history enthusiasts craving deeper understanding of Istanbul's past. Istanbul Archaeological Museums consist of the Archaeological Museum, Ancient Orient Museum, and Museum of Islamic Art. Together, they house an astounding collection of artefacts, including ancient sculptures, pottery, jewellery, and manuscripts.
4: Beyoglu and Taksim Destinations
Head over the Galata bridge to Taksim and Beyoğlu, situated in the other European part of Istanbul. To truly appreciate Taksim and Beyoğlu, one must understand their historical significance. The area's roots date back to Byzantine times when the area was known as "Pera," a Genoese colony outside Constantinople's city walls. Over the centuries, the area evolved into thriving trade, culture, and diplomacy hubs. The multicultural character was enriched by Greeks, Armenians, Jews, and Levantines who settled here.
Taksim Square: Our exploration begins in bustling Taksim Square, often called modern Istanbul. The square is surrounded by hotels, restaurants, and shops. The European centrepiece, the Republic Monument, commemorates the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923.
Istiklal Avenue: Stretching downhill from Taksim Square is Istiklal Avenue, a lively pedestrian street that traverses Beyoğlu district. The historic tram, which rattles along cobblestones, adds nostalgia. Lined with 19th-century buildings, ornate facades and bay windows, Istiklal Avenue reflects architectural Ottoman grandeur.
Galata Tower: A short walk from Istiklal Avenue, head to Istanbul's most iconic landmark, the Galata Tower. This cylindrical stone structure, built by the Genoese in 1348, has stood tall for centuries, offering breathtaking city and Bosphorus views. Climbing the tower's spiral staircase rewards with panoramic vistas that stretch from the historic peninsula to Asian Istanbul and beyond.
Karakoy: Once a bustling commercial port, Karakoy thrives with culinary delights and art galleries. Savour Turkish coffee at traditional cafes or indulge in mouthwatering seafood feasts at local waterfront restaurants. Karaköy's narrow streets are also dotted with contemporary art galleries and boutiques, making this area a hotspot for art.
Nightlife: When the sun sets over Taksim and Beyoğlu, the district transforms into nightlife meccas. Bars, clubs, and live music venues come alive, catering to every taste. Rooftop bars offer panoramic city views, while intimate jazz clubs and historic taverns provide more laid-back atmospheres. Beyoğlu's nightlife has something for everyone, making the area perfect for dancing or enjoying leisurely evenings.
5: About the Galata District in European Istanbul
Nestled along the northern Golden Horn shores, the Galata district in European Istanbul testifies to vibrant cultures and contemporary allure. With winding streets, historic landmarks, and artistic flair, Galata captures the attention of both residents and tourists.
The district's history dates to ancient times when the area was known as "Peran," a substantial settlement during the Byzantine era. However, Galata truly became prominent during the medieval period when the Genoese established thriving colonies in the 13th century. The Genoese constructed the iconic Galata Tower to display their power and presence.
The 67-metre-high Galata Tower, known locally as "Galata Kulesi," and built-in 1348, has served various purposes throughout history, including observation tower, fire lookout, and prison. Today, visitors ascend the building to take in breathtaking 360-degree city views. While Galata Bridge is the fifth iteration that continues to serve both pedestrians and vehicles.
The Karakoy neighbourhood within the Galata district emerged for creativity and contemporary culture over the last decade. Karakoy features art galleries, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants, making the area ideal for artists, hipsters, and food enthusiasts. The district's historic streets are dotted with art studios, galleries, and live music venues, and this is a prime property position in Istanbul.
6: The Stylish New Istanbul Airport
In an era where air travel has become an integral part of our lives, airports play pivotal roles in connecting people, cultures, and economies. Istanbul New Airport, also called Istanbul Airport (IST), testifies to the boundless possibilities of modern aviation and architectural design. On the European side of Istanbul, this sprawling transportation hub has rapidly gained global acclaim for efficiency, and state-of-the-art facilities.
Istanbul's aviation history traces back to the early 20th century when the city established itself on international air travel maps. Istanbul Atatürk Airport, the city's former international airport, was the primary gateway to Turkey for decades. However, due to growing passenger numbers, Istanbul needed a larger, more modern airport to accommodate air travel demands. The dream of Istanbul New Airport took shape in 2013 when construction commenced in Istanbul’s European part. The vision was clear: creating an airport that met air travel demands and set new industry standards.
With the ability to handle over 200 million passengers annually when fully operational, Istanbul New Airport will become the world's largest airport by passenger numbers. The layout minimises the distance between terminals, allowing passengers to move seamlessly between domestic and international flights, and the Istanbul Airport Metro provides direct and rapid links to the city centre, ensuring passengers reach their destinations quickly and comfortably.
7: Shopping Malls in the Istanbul European side
Istanbul, where East meets West, is renowned for its history, stunning architecture, and thriving shopping scenes. Amidst bustling streets and historic sites, world-class shopping malls cater to all tastes and preferences. Istinye Park boasts lush gardens, water features, and a picturesque lake. Venture into Levent, one of Istanbul's bustling business districts, to discover Kanyon. In Beşiktaş, Zorlu Center integrates shopping, dining, entertainment, and the arts. Cevahir Istanbul, in Sisli, is one of Europe's largest shopping malls and also features an indoor roller coaster, an ice rink, and a cinema complex, making the mall ideal for entertainment and shopping.
Forum Istanbul, in Bayrampasa, also features attractions like the SEA LIFE Istanbul Aquarium and LEGOLAND Discovery Center. In Basaksehir, the Mall of Istanbul features high-street brands, international retailers, and a bustling food court. Metrocity, in the Levent district, houses curated selections of fashion boutiques, electronics stores, and gourmet dining options. (More about shopping in Istanbul.)
8: Best European Neighbourhoods in Istanbul
Stylish Beşiktaş: Beşiktaş city centre neighbourhood appeals to many residents, thanks to numerous shops, restaurants, and cafes along the bustling Beşiktaş Çarşı (market street). The area also offers beautiful Bosphorus views and is within easy reach of European districts and major attractions. Despite the higher property prices than other districts, Beşiktaş attracts many young professionals and expats.
Upmarket Nisantasi: Nisantasi is a place for those who enjoy high-end shopping, dining, and entertainment. The neighbourhood features tree-lined streets, luxury boutiques, and thriving social scenes. Nisantasi attracts affluent residents and expatriates looking for cosmopolitan lifestyles in Istanbul.
Delightful Sisli: Diverse Sisli features residential and commercial areas with easy accessibility, shopping options, and cultural attractions. Popular neighbourhoods within Sisli include Bomonti and Mecidiyekoy. The district also earns fame for the Feriköy Antique Market every Sunday. Vendors sell vintage items, from jewellery and furniture to books and trinkets.
Etiler: Upscale Etiler attracts attention for the elegant villas, luxury residences, and Bosphorus proximity. It's quieter than more central districts but offers easy access to restaurants, shopping, and prestigious schools. Etiler is popular among wealthy families and expatriates and sits within the official Besiktas district.
Bebek and Arnavutkoy: Sitting side by side, these two Bosphorus neighbourhoods offer relaxed, seaside atmospheres, waterfront cafes, upscale residences, and scenic views. They appeal to those seeking tranquil yet exclusive lifestyles. In recent years, both have earned fame for their iconic Ottoman mansions that bring in day trippers via the ferry route.
Fatih: For those interested in experiencing Istanbul's historic heart, Fatih is home to many historical landmarks, including the Sultanahmet area with the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. Living in Fatih offers blended history and culture, and the area attracts residents interested in exploring the city's heritage.
Emirgan in Sariyer: Emirgan, another Bosphorus-side neighbourhood, earns fame for lush greenery and historic Yali houses. The area is quieter than bustling districts, making Emirgan suitable for serene and scenic settings. Emirgan sits within the Sariyer district, with urban and suburban regions offering several housing options, from apartment complexes to villas. Sariyer features waterfront neighbourhoods and attracts families looking for peaceful environments.
9: How do I get from European Istanbul to Asian Istanbul?
Istanbul Ferry Terminals: Ferries are an iconic way to cross from Europe to Asia, while enjoying breathtaking city views. There are several ferry terminals along the European city centre side, like Eminonu, Karakoy, Kabatas, or Beşiktaş, and they arrive on the Asian side at locations like Uskudar or Kadikoy. Ferry schedules are frequent, and tickets are reasonably priced.
By Metro and Marmaray: The Marmaray commuter rail system runs beneath the Bosphorus, connecting the European and Asian city centre sides of Istanbul. Access the Marmaray from various European stations, including Sirkeci and Yenikapı. The convenient Marmaray integrates with the metro system. The Metrobus transit system connects European and Asian Istanbul via the Bosphorus Bridge. Board the Metrobus at European points like Avcilar or Zincirlikuyu and ride across the bridge to the Asian side. The Metrobus system can be pretty crowded during peak hours.
By Car: Use the Bosphorus Bridge (Bogaziçi Köprüsü) or Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge (Fatih Sultan Mehmet Köprüsü) to cross by car or taxi. These bridges are vital transportation links between the two continents. Remember, traffic can be heavy, especially during rush hours. Taxis and ridesharing services in Istanbul, like Uber, take passengers to the Asian side via the Bosphorus bridge. This option provides flexibility and convenience but may be subject to traffic conditions.
More About Istanbul in Turkey
Asian Istanbul: From the Istanbul European side to the lesser-known Asian side, this article focuses on the lesser talked about districts. The Asian side is up and coming, with many people choosing to relocate there, thanks to the modern developments and infrastructure. Give it another ten years, and we will see many changes that will put this part of Istanbul on the global map.
Invest in Istanbul: We are Property Turkey, and we hope we have given you lots of practical information about the European part of Istanbul. Our local agents offer advice and helpful information to anyone looking to buy property. If you would like to invest, contact us today and chat with an agent or drop into our office in the Sisli district of Istanbul.
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