When talking about Istanbul, most travel websites and guidebooks focus on the old city district holding all the ancient Byzantine and Ottoman landmarks. For shopping and a vibrant nightlife scene, recommendations are to visit the Taksim / Beyoglu district, also home to Istiklal Avenue, the country’s busiest street. Yet for repeat visitors and tourists with more time in the city, the Asian side of Istanbul is also worth exploring. As the eastern half of the city, it is home to roughly 4 million people and a splattering of place to go and attractions to see.
In 1973, the completion of the Bosphorus Bridge, now officially called the 15 July Martyrs Bridge cemented the connection between the Asian and European sides of Istanbul. Many travellers also enter via the city’s second airport, Sabiha Gokcen, or the popular choice of ferryboats, bus, or train. Presenting a different side of Turkey’s biggest city, there is plenty to do for the more discerning and curious traveller.
Exploring the Asian side of Istanbul
Discover KadikoyKadikoy, known as the cultural centre. As well as being the primary commute hub for workers to get to the European side, roughly 500,000 people live in the sprawling network of streets. A good place to start exploring is the large market, especially if you are a foodie fan as it is the biggest in Turkey. Dine in one of the local restaurants or if you are self-catering, buy fresh fish and cook it Turkish style. But if religious tourism is more to your suiting, seek out the nearby old churches including the 19th century Armenian Surp Takovar or the Greek Orthodox Saint Eufemia.
The Asian’s side alternative to the European Istiklal Avenue is the 14-kilometre Bagdat Avenue. It’s crowded with many shopping opportunities, and can certainly keep you busy all day but also visit the Moda district nearby. Attracting young and hip clientele, Moda also has small churches receiving little or no recognition at all. In this area, a small museum dedicated to Baris Manco receives much praise from Turkish visitors. Adored during the 1970s, the Turkish pop singer devastated thousands of fans when he passed, and this small house is an iconic symbol of his mass popularity.
Haydarpasa train station is another old building with iconic status. Dating from 1909, it was one of the busiest transport hubs in the country until 2012. It might be a case of see it while you can because long time rumours suggest it will eventually open as a private luxury residence. In 2016, a tender to convert the upper levels into a hotel was withdrawn, but in Turkey, anything can happen.
Walk Around UskudarAsian side of Istanbul, Uskudar is completely in that while Kadikoy holds some old churches, Uskudar has more than 180 mosques dominating the skyline. The harbour (Isekele) Mosque dating from the 16th century is another landmark building by Sinan, the Ottomans empires most famous architect. Sultan Ahmet the Third commissioned the large but relatively simple 18th Yeni Valide Mosque in honour for his mother. The list of old mosques to visit goes on and on, but Uskudar also has fabulous antique shops to rummage through that hold unusual everyday items from the past, and its antique market is more than 90 years old.
The Kuzguncuk old quarter depicts a fantastic insight into old Istanbul with its colourful houses. Many tour agencies on the Asian side offer walking tours of the district to visit mosques, churches and the Jewish and Greek cemeteries as well as the famous houses that have appeared in Turkish soap operas.
Around 200 metres from the shores of Uskudar is Maidens Tower, a landmark wrapped in intrigue and urban legends of a beautiful princess imprisoned by her overprotective father, fearful of her death. She died anyway, apparently from a bite by a snake hidden in a basket of fruit. Even if you scoff at this fanciful tale, it has achieved international fame when it appeared in the James Bond film, “The World is Not Enough”, and its onsite cafe and restaurant are rather unique places to dine.
Roughly, 4 kilometres from Uskudar, Camlica Hill is the best spot for a fantastic view over Istanbul, especially at sunset. Otherwise, the 19th century, the imperial Ottoman summer residence of Beylerbeyi is not as elaborate as other palaces such as Dolmabahce but is still worth exploring for a marvellous insight into the last days of the now defunct empire.
Head a short distance away from Uskudar to the Kucuksu Palace, another small but impressive residence where sultans relaxed from ruling their kingdom. The palace, consisting of just nine rooms with elegant decor, is closed on Mondays and Thursdays.
Heading further upstream and past the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, Khedive Palace, also known as the pavilion or mansion receives much praise for its view, gardens, and restaurants. Sitting in the Cubuklu district, and commissioned in the early 20th century, it is the former residence of Abbas the 2nd, the last Ottoman viceroy of Egypt and Sudan. After he sold the building in the 1930s, it was left to rot for many years until restoration work in the 1980s restored it to its former glory.
Also, keep an eye out for….
Many of the landmarks and attractions centre on the Bosphorus shorelines and no doubt, through travelling around, by either bus or ferry, you will spot noble houses lining both sides. Although they are not open to the public, they have an iconic status in the Istanbul property market as Yali houses. This name was given to waterside mansions in the Ottoman empire of which all belonged to members of royalty or notable and highly respected families. These are the most expensive houses not only in Istanbul but also in Turkey.
If you have more time….
Visit Buyukada that is the largest of the Prince’s Islands of Istanbul. Turyol runs regular ferry services direct from Kadikoy to this picturesque destination that was also home to exiled royalty of the Ottoman dynasty. Old but magnificent mansions sit on either side of the tree-lined streets covering roughly 2 square miles, and since cars are banned on the island, the best way to get about is a traditional horse and carriage. Finish your day by feasting in one of the waterside restaurants before heading back to the Asian side of Istanbul, ending your alternative adventure in Turkey’s biggest city.
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