Istanbul is a city with a rich history and a diverse culture. It is a melting pot of different civilizations, religions, and traditions. The city is home to some of the most famous tourist attractions in the world, such as the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the Grand Bazaar. However, there is much more to Istanbul than meets the eye. In this article, we will take you on a journey to explore the hidden gems of Istanbul like a local.
The purpose of these walking guides is to assist you in exploring Istanbul at your own pace. In my opinion, the best way to experience Istanbul is by walking, but feel free to use public transportation as needed. These notes are intended to highlight points of interest and provide direction
The locals are well-acquainted with the Beşiktaş-Taksim route, where you can explore the bustling Beşiktaş bazaar and indulge in some fried mussels at the fish market. As you walk towards Akaretler, you’ll come across some noteworthy bookstores, and once you arrive at Akaretler Square, which is adorned with galleries and cafes, you’ll be enveloped in a cozy ambiance, especially during the winter months.
Maçka Park is situated nearby and is an expansive park that draws in many city dwellers, especially during the spring and summer months. You can relax on the grass and take part in local customs, such as enjoying a picnic or listening to music!
If you’re in the mood for some luxury shopping, head to Nisantasi, where you’ll find an array of high-end stores. Additionally, you can take advantage of the Maçka Gondola, which passes over Maçka Park and provides a shortcut to Taksim Square. Don’t forget that you can conveniently pay for the Maçka Gondola ride using your Istanbul Card.
Along your route, there are several fantastic dining options to explore. The Grungy offers delicious burgers, while Hünkar Restaurant is a must-try (You should try Hünkar Begendi in English: Sultans Favorite) for those seeking traditional cuisine. You’ll also come across the Cafe Kapicciiiinoo, known for its Instagram Celebrity owner Nusret, which I highly recommend. Try a Flat White at Kapicciiiinoo. For those willing to splurge, the gold cappuccino is also an option.
Nearby, you’ll find the neo-Baroque style Tesvikiye Mosque, which, although not particularly significant historically, is well-known for hosting funeral prayers for deceased celebrities. You can find the Places and Locations on the Map down below.
Taksim – Karaköy
This walking route begins at Taksim Square and offers several sights along the way. One of the most famous landmarks in Istanbul, the Galata Tower, is located on this route. As you walk down Istiklal Street, take your time to explore the area, which offers many opportunities to shop, eat, and drink. After exploring the area, continue on the route to Sishane and Cihangir, where you can find many great restaurants and cafes. If you’re interested, you can ride the nostalgic tram on Istiklal Street, although it’s typically crowded, so its value may be questionable.
There are also several museums to visit, including the Pera Museum and Madame Tussauds. If you are interested in modern art, there are several galleries nearby. As you walk along the route, be sure to take plenty of pictures to capture the beauty of the city. This route is a great way to explore Istanbul and experience its rich history and culture.
When strolling down Sıraselviler from Taksim Square, you’ll encounter the vibrant district of Cihangir. Similar to its counterpart on the Asian side, Kadıköy, Cihangir is a hub for creative types in the city and is also home to a large number of expats.
Amongst the area’s numerous coffee shops, cafes, bars, galleries, and boutiques, you’ll also find supermarkets, hardware stores, and butchers. Cihangir’s picturesque appearance is also noteworthy, with tree-lined streets, low-rise apartment buildings, and scenic views of the Bosphorus around nearly every corner.
You can take the Nostalgic Tram in this Route
You can include a visit to the Galata Tower on your itinerary, but be prepared for long queues if you want to get on top of the tower. If you have limited time in Istanbul, it might be best to skip the tower and opt for a nearby rooftop cafe or bar with similar views and refreshments.
Keep your stroll going in Karaköy, Karaköy is a hip neighborhood that is home to some of the best cafes, art galleries, and street art in Istanbul. Try the delicious Baklava at Karaköy Güllüoğlu and check out Galataport and Istanbul Modern Arts Museum to round out your route.
Kadiköy – Moda Route
We proceed with our local tour on the Asian, or Anatolian, side of Istanbul. Kadikoy, known for its quirky vibe, is just a brief stroll away from the ferry terminal and boasts vibrant street art, coffee shops, bars, as well as traditional bakeries and cafes.
Another neighborhood in close proximity to the ferry terminal is Moda, which features a picturesque seaside park and walkway, ideal for activities such as cycling, having a picnic, and walking one’s dog.Booking.com
The walk between Kadikoy and Moda is generally pleasant and scenic, with the option of taking a slight detour to see famous landmarks such as the Bull Statue of Kadikoy, as well as several churches and old buildings in the area. Along the way, you can also stop by the renowned restaurant Ciya Sofrasi to taste traditional dishes or visit the Walters Coffee Roastery, a coffee shop inspired by the popular series “Breaking Bad.”
There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, and ice cream shops to choose from along the route, so you won’t have to worry about running out of options for food and beverages. Once you reach Moda, you can enjoy a drink by the seaside or take a leisurely stroll around the area.
To end your day, a visit to Bagdad Street, one of the most famous streets in Turkey, for some shopping is a great option. Starting from Moda, you can walk to Bagdad Street, which begins around Fenerbahce Stadium. However, if you feel tired from the Kadikoy-Moda walk, you can also take a taxi or public transportation to a more convenient location along the street, such as the Göztepe or Erenköy areas.
The street is filled with numerous cafes, bars, and dining options, so you can enjoy a meal or a drink while you’re there. It’s important to note that ferries and the Marmaray train are not available 24 hours a day, so plan your return to the European side accordingly. In case of an emergency, you can take a taxi, but it can be expensive.
Kuzguncuk – Çengelköy – Vaniköy Route
The coastline on the Anatolian side is more tranquil and peaceful compared to the European side. To enjoy a serene experience of the Bosphorus, you can begin your journey from Kuzguncuk, where you can relish bright-red herbal tea at one of the cafes located amid picturesque wooden houses and art galleries.
Afterward, head to Çengelköy, which has served as a filming location for several Turkish television series and is renowned for its delicious street food such as kokoreç (tripe) and mussels. You can mingle with the bustling crowds of people and pigeons at a waterfront café and take a leisurely stroll to Vaniköy Park to enjoy fishing and the tea gardens.
While on your way, you can visit and explore the magnificent Beylerbeyi Palace and the charming Küçüksu Pavilion. Additionally, you will come across several stunning mosques and the prestigious Kuleli Military High School. The route offers picturesque and breathtaking views, and I would suggest getting a coffee to go and taking a stroll along the coastline to relish the beauty of the Bosphorus.
In conclusion, Istanbul is a city that offers a rich and diverse cultural experience. There is much more to the city than just its famous tourist attractions. By exploring the city’s vibrant neighborhoods, savoring the local cuisine, experiencing its rich cultural heritage, and discovering its natural beauty, you can get a true taste of Istanbul like a local.
There are many walking routes to choose from when exploring areas such as the historical peninsula, Fatih, Balat, and Vefa. If you have limited time, it is recommended to opt for a guided tour since these areas are often crowded with tourists, and finding your way around quickly can be challenging.
Additionally, guided tours and the Istanbul Welcome Card offer Skip the Line tickets for the main attractions, saving you at least 1-2 hours of waiting in line. However, if you prefer to plan your own route, you can select the specific attractions you wish to visit and draw a route accordingly.