Ah, The Asian side of Istanbul! From delectable Turkish coffee shops to historical landmarks to Bagdat Caddesi, this side of Istanbul presents alternative faces to the famous European side. That is what most travel websites and guidebooks focus on. The old city district holds ancient Byzantine and Ottoman landmarks. They also recommend the Taksim / Beyoglu district, home to Istiklal Street, the country's busiest street for shopping and vibrant nightlife scenes.
Yet for repeat visitors and house hunters looking for an alternative Istanbul that isn't so fast-paced, Asian Istanbul features many must-visit attractions, breathtaking views and desirable neighbourhoods. Covering the eastern half of Istanbul, roughly 4 million people live here, and there are many places to go and attractions to see. So, what exactly can people expect?
About the Asian side of Istanbul
Geography of Asian Istanbul
Asian Istanbul sits on the Anatolian Peninsula, while the European side is on the Balkan Peninsula. Geographically, the city is divided by the Bosporus Strait, a narrow natural waterway connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and marking boundaries between Europe and Asia. Asian Istanbul features more residential and suburban landscapes than the bustling and historic European side. Expect hilly terrain and various neighbourhoods built on slopes offering scenic sea views.
Getting to the Asian Side
In 1973, the Bosphorus Bridge, officially called the 15 July Martyrs Bridge, cemented the connection between Asian and European Istanbul. Many travellers also enter via the city's second airport, Sabiha Gokcen. If arriving by bus, head to Harem bus station. One famous travel method, though, is to arrive at the Ferry dock in Kadikoy or Uskudar.
The Asian Kadikoy Neighbourhood
Kadikoy, known as the cultural centre and the primary commute hub for workers to get to European Istanbul, is home to roughly 500,000 people living in the sprawling network of streets. Start exploring by visiting the Kadikoy market, especially if you are a foodie fan, as it is the biggest in Turkey. Dine in local restaurants, try coffee shops, or if you are self-catering, head to the busiest fish market in Istanbul, where you can choose your fish and have it cooked in nearby restaurants.
But if religious tourism is more to your suit, head away from Kadikoy market to nearby old churches, including the 19th-century Armenian church of Surp Takovar or Greek Orthodox Saint Eufemia. Bahariye Street, a significant commercial and entertainment hub, is about shopping in boutique shops and dining and offers entertainment options. Bahariye Street also reflects cultural and social life and is famous for experiencing more contemporary and cosmopolitan vibes.
For nightlife, Caddebostan turns into Bar Street (Barlar Sokağı), and Tellalzade Street, also called Antique Street, is where to take steps back in time. Do keep an eye out for street art adorning buildings because they really make Kadikoy stand out. Exploring Kadikoy and the vibrant culture is the best authentic experience in Istanbul.
The Famous Bull Statue Meeting Point
Kadikoy Bull Statue, also called Kadıköy Boğa Heykeli in Turkish, is an emblematic symbol of Asian Istanbul. Positioned at the intersection of six busy crossroads, known as Altıyol in Turkish, it has become a bustling and prominent meeting point in the heart of Kadıköy. Crafted by the renowned French sculptor Isidore Bonheur in 1864, the bronze statue initially graced a square in the French territory of Alsace-Lorraine, commemorating victory against the Germans. In 1955, the Bull Statue found a temporary home in the courtyard of the Istanbul Hilton Hotel. In 1970, the Bull Statue arrived in Kadıköy, adorning the former Kadıköy Municipality Building for two decades. Ultimately, in 1990, the statue found its current home at the Altıyol Intersection.
Shopping on Asian Bagdat Street
The Asian side alternative to the European Istiklal Avenue is the 14-kilometre Bagdat Avenue with broad sidewalks. Renowned for its vibrant culture, high-end retail stores, boutique shops, international and local brands, restaurants, and cultural venues, Bagdat Avenue is an exclusive shopping street. 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 tiny house is an iconic symbol of his mass popularity.
The Iconic Haydarpaşa Station
Haydarpaşa Station is another must-visit attraction with iconic status. Dating from 1909, it was the busiest train station in Turkey until 2012. It served as the main terminal for trains arriving from Anatolia. The station belonged to the ambitious Istanbul-Baghdad Railway project. Haydarpaşa Station is known for its distinctive architecture, blending elements of Oriental and European styles. Two German architects, Otto Ritter and Helmut Conu, designed the building, and the architectural style is often described as mixed German Neo-Renaissance and Gothic Revival. Haydarpaşa Station faced challenges in recent years and was temporarily closed for train services.
History at Anadolu Hisarı
Anadolu Hisarı, north of the Kandilli neighbourhood and south of the Çengelköy district, was commissioned by Sultan Bayezid I and completed in 1394. Built as part of the Ottoman Empire's defensive strategy along the Bosporus to control and protect the waterway, Anadolu Hisarı served as a military outpost and directed maritime traffic. It was part of fortifications built by the Ottomans to secure their capital, Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), from potential threats.
The fortress features traditional Ottoman military architecture. It has three main towers: one on the Anatolian (Asian) side, one on the European side (Rumeli Hisarı), and a smaller tower in the middle. While Anadolu Hisarı is primarily historical, it is open to the public, and visitors can explore the fortress and its surroundings. The area offers panoramic views of the Bosporus and European Istanbul. The neighbourhood around Anadolu Hisarı is known for its historical houses, waterfront cafes, and scenic beauty.
The Nostalgic Uskudar Neighbourhood
As the other most famous neighbourhood of Asian Istanbul, Uskudar has more than 180 mosques dominating the skyline. The Harbour (Isekele) Mosque, dating from the 16th century, is another landmark by Sinan, the Ottoman Empire's most famous architect. Sultan Ahmet the Third commissioned the large but relatively simple 18th Yeni Valide Mosque in honour of his mother. 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. We also recommend trying Turkish dishes in local restaurants.
Old Istanbul Culture in Kuzuncuk Old Quarter
The Kuzguncuk Old Quarter depicts authentic experiences in old Istanbul with its colourful wooden houses. Many tour agencies on the Asian side offer walking tours to visit mosques, churches, and Jewish and Greek cemeteries, as well as the famous colourful houses that have appeared in Turkish soap operas. Explore the coffee shops and try delectable delights from pastry shops.
Maiden's Tower - Kız Kulesi
Around 200 metres from the shores of Uskudar is Maiden's Tower, a historical landmark wrapped in intrigue and urban legends of a beautiful princess imprisoned by her overprotective father, fearful of her death. Also called Kız Kulesi, she died anyway, apparently from a bite by a snake hidden in a basket of fruit. Even if you scoff at this fanciful tale, Maiden's Tower achieved international fame when it appeared in the James Bond film The World is Not Enough. Its onsite cafe and restaurant are unique places to dine with stunning views.
Camlica and Ottoman Palaces
Roughly 4 kilometres from Uskudar, Camlica Hill offers spectacular views over Istanbul, especially at sunset. Otherwise, the 19th-century imperial Ottoman summer residence of Beylerbeyi is not as elaborate as other palaces like Dolmabahce but still worth exploring for marvellous insights into the last Ottoman era days. Head away from Uskudar to Kucuksu Palace, another small but impressive residence where sultans relaxed from ruling their kingdom.
Heading further upstream and past Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, Khedive Palace, also called the pavilion or mansion, receives much praise for beautiful views, gardens, and restaurants. Sitting in Cubuklu district and commissioned in the early 20th century, the palace is the former residence of Abbas the 2nd, the last Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt and Sudan.
Yali Mansions on the Bosphorus Strait
Many landmarks and historical 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 not open to the public, they are iconic in Istanbul's property markets as Yali houses. This name was given to waterside Ottoman mansions, which 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.
Princes Islands on a Ferry Trip
For more stunning views, take ferry trips to Buyukada, the largest Princes Island and visit Aya Yorgi Church. Turyol runs regular ferry trips from Kadikoy to this picturesque destination, also home to exiled Byzantine royalty. Old but magnificent mansions sit on either side of tree-lined streets covering roughly 2 square miles, and since cars are banned, get about on electric trams. Finish your day by feasting in waterside restaurants.
Natural Attractions in Asian Istanbul
Asian Istanbul offers natural attractions, green parks and forests, providing residents and visitors with opportunities for outdoor recreation, relaxation, and stunning views. Located in Üsküdar, Fethi Paşa Korusu is a spacious grove with walking paths, picnic areas, and beautiful Bosporus views. Çamlıca Hill also features green areas. Çamlıca Grove (Çamlıca Korusu) on the hill provides serene environments for visitors, with walking trails and picnic spots.
Situated within the Bahçeköy district, Atatürk Arboretum preserves various plant species, and visitors explore diverse flora while enjoying peaceful settings. Beykoz Forest is great for hiking, jogging, and picnicking. Anadolu Kavağı area within the forest is also known for seafood restaurants. Aydos Forest spans the Sultanbeyli and Kartal districts. While not strictly a park or forest, the Beykoz Kundura area combines historical architecture with green spaces. It was originally a shoe factory but has been transformed into cultural and social complexes with gardens and open areas for events.
More About Istanbul in Turkey
European Istanbul: From the Asian side of Istanbul to the European side, there are many more exciting neighbourhoods. The bustling streets of neighbourhoods like Sultanahmet and Eminönü are lined with vibrant markets, traditional eateries, and historical sites, creating an immersive experience for locals and tourists alike. Beyond the historical treasures, European Istanbul embraces contemporary life with lively districts such as Beyoğlu, known for its trendy cafes, art galleries, and vibrant nightlife.
Bosphorus Strait: The Bosphorus Strait, a defining geographical feature, not only separates but also connects the European and Asian sides, providing stunning panoramic views and serving as a vital waterway for the city. Joining the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea, this strategic strait is a crucial maritime passage that has played a pivotal role. Lined with iconic landmarks such as the Dolmabahçe and Topkapi Palaces and the distinctive Bosphorus Bridge, the strait is not merely a water route but a scenic marvel of Turkey.
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