Sights of Old Istanbul Outside of Sultanahmet
Venture further into the old city to discover more!
Wherever you go in Istanbul, you're bound to run into historic landmarks and beautiful sights. This is my follow-up post to my Guide to Sultanahmet. I've always loved the walk from the historic peninsula down to Eminonu, across the Golden Horn to Karakoy, then onwards to Tunel, Galata, and Sishane. If you have the time and energy this is definitely a route I recommend you walk. In either case, here are some of my favorite attractions along the way.
Kapalicarsi / Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı in Turkish), built in the 15th century, is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. It covers an absolutely enormous area, with more than 4,000 shops (I obviously didn't count), It's a treasure trove of colorful textiles, intricate carpets, stunning jewelry, traditional ceramics, spices, and more. It's definitely a sight to see and one that is still visited by the locals for shopping or buying/selling gold and foreign currency.
Misir Carsisi / Egyptian Bazaar
Built for the upkeep of nearby Yeni Camii (New Mosque, one of the prettiest in Istanbul) in the 17th century, Egyptian Bazaar is a much newer bazaar. It has shops selling a delightful array of spices, dried fruits, nuts, sweets, teas, and traditional Turkish products.
What always impresses me most, is the walk from the Grand Bazaar to the Egyptian Bazaar (around a kilometer or so) where the tiny streets are all lined with shops. It's a fascinating walk through crowds of sellers, buyers, and fellow tourists.
Photo from Wikimedia
Constructed in the 19th century, Galata Bridge is an iconic structure of Istanbul. Reconstructed a couple of times, the current iteration of the bridge has two stories. The bottom level is lined with fish restaurants (sadly they're all tourist-traps) and a pedestrian walkway. The top level has a motorway, dedicated tram lanes, and another walkway. No matter the time and season, you'll see tens of local fishermen fishing from the top of the bridge.
Photo from galataport.com
Built just a couple of years ago as an outdoor shopping mall and a world class cruise ship dock, this new development is a vibrant seaside spot with spectacular views. If you want to do some shopping, now might be the time (though I don't know what you'd do with the bags). More importantly, it's a great spot to relax by the coast and grab a coffee or cocktail. My favorite spots here are Vakko Cafe for cocktails, Divan for something sweet, and Selamlique for Turkish coffee.
Istanbul Modern, the modern art museum of Istanbul, in its beautiful new building designed by Renzo Piano, is also here. The design is said to be inspired by the glittering waters and light reflections of the Bosphorus.
Although Galataport is known to be Istanbul’s new hub of arts, design, culture and shopping, it is in an area which has been the center of commerce and culture for centuries, so the site contains some lovely historical buildings. Don't miss the extremely pretty Tophane Clock Tower, the Post Office building and Tophane Fountain.
This historic funicular built in 1875 is the world's second-oldest underground funicular after that of Lyon, France. It's also a very convenient way of getting up to Sishane where you'll find cute cobblestone streets lined with shops and new and old cafes, and restaurants.
Galata Kulesi / Galata Tower
When I was a child, this was my favorite of all of Istanbul's sites — I once built a cardboard and mosaic model of it for school. I still love this tower, and the views from atop are absolutely gorgeous. It's definitely one of the pricier attractions though (especially for foreigners) and the lines may be a bit long at times. It's still worth it.
Istiklal and Beyond
Photo from Wikimedia
Short walk up from Galata Kulesi, or at the upper exit of Tunel lies Sishane and Istiklal Caddesi: a famous pedestrian-only street that goes all the way to Taksim Square. It's been a highlight of the city since the 19th century, passing through the famous Pera neighborhood to Taksim, and boasts a bustling atmosphere of locals, tourists, restaurants, shops, street performers, and much more. A historic red tram passes through the street and makes for great photo ops!
While passing through the Pera neighborhood, I suggest you drop by the Pera Palace hotel and take a rest at the hotel's exquisite cafe: Patisserie de Pera. Built in the late 19th century, this iconic hotel has welcomed a distinguished list of guests, including royalty, diplomats, and literary figures like Agatha Christie (the rumor is that she wrote her famous novel The Murder on the Orient Express in room 411, her favorite room at the Hotel).
Photo from akmistanbul.gov.tr
Taksim is one of Istanbul's best-known and most important public spaces. Originally a water distribution center during the Ottoman era, it has since evolved to a prominent public space that has witnessed many significant political rallies, demonstrations, and celebrations. It houses the famous Taksim Gezi Park, a brand new Opera House and cultural center: Ataturk Kultur Merkezi (with a spectacular bar/restaurant on top: Biz Istanbul) and a new grand mosque.