Istanbul is a city rich in history and culture, with something to offer every kind of traveler. But with so many popular tourist hotspots to choose from, it can be easy to miss out on some of the city’s most unique and hidden gems. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the top 10 hidden gems in Istanbul, from lesser-known locations.
These are the places that even the most seasoned Istanbul visitors may not know about, but are worth a visit. So, come along as we explore the city’s most underrated and undiscovered treasures.
Top 10 Hidden Gems in Istanbul
Istanbul’s charm lies in its diverse offerings, a blend of history, culture, and modernity. Let’s delve into the heart of the city’s allure.
10. Rami Library
Following the restoration, renovation and reconstruction works, the historical Rami Barracks is became the largest living library in İstanbul. The Rami Library, a historical treasure boasting 250 years of rich history, offers a diverse range of services for visitors of all ages and abilities.
With individual and group reading halls, workshop spaces, and a center specifically designed for individuals with disabilities, the library provides a wide range of resources for children, teenagers, university students, and academics. Open 24 hours a day, the library is a convenient and accessible destination for readers and researchers.
9. Mihrabat Korusu
Location: Beykoz (Asian Side)
Mihrabat Korusu (Koru is Small Forest in Turkish) is a place that was gifted to Rukiye Hanım, the daughter of Abbas Halim Pasha from Egypt, during the last period of the Ottoman Empire.
For centuries, it has hosted elegant Bosphorus entertainment during moonlit nights and has welcomed emperors and sultans, and inspired many artists with its magnificent view. Now, Mihrabat Korusu greets you with the lively scent of pine trees. From the Hill, you are left alone with a breathtaking view of Ortaköy beach, Rumeli Fortress, and Istinye Bay.
Mihrabat Korusu is a beautiful location that is often used for special events such as weddings and graduations by the local community. The area features cafes, restaurants, and walking paths, making it a great spot to spend time with family and friends. Whether you want to relax and enjoy a meal or take a walk, Mihrabat Korusu offers something for everyone.
8. Merkez Rum Kız Lisesi (Central Greek Girls High School)
Once upon a time, around 20-25 years ago, girls in middle and high school used to attend classes and play in the garden here. Now it’s abandoned and in ruins. But it has a history that’s both interesting and tragic.
The Central Greek Girls’ School was built by architect Dimitrios Panayiotides at the end of the 19th century. The school, which was established to provide education for poor girls, closed in 1999 due to a lack of students.
Today, the building, which is now home to a family who maintains the school, still preserves memories of the past with tools, paintings, and maps from that period. The building’s ground floor, which can be accessed through a narrow door, hosted last year the Istanbul Biennial. The Merkez Rum Kız Lisesi is an intriguing building in Istanbul due to its historical significance, despite not being one of the oldest structures in the city. When visiting the school, one can envision how it looked and functioned just a couple of decades ago.
Even though it’s close to packed Istiklal Street, not many people know about this building and it’s not easily seen by the public, making it all the more exciting to discover.
After visiting the Central Greek Girls’ School, located between the main streets of İstiklal and Sıraselviler in the center of Beyoğlu, you can walk down the colorful streets of Tophane or take a break in Gezi Park.
Vefa is a neighborhood, which is located on the European side of the city, in the Fatih district. The neighborhood is known for its historical significance, as it was once a center of intellectual and literary activity in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Vefa is home to many old Ottoman-era houses, as well as several notable landmarks such as the Vefa Bozacısı, a shop that has been making a traditional Turkish drink known as boza for over 150 years, and the Vefa Church, an old Byzantine church that was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman period.
The area has recently undergone a process of gentrification and it is becoming a popular location for restaurants, cafes and bars. The district is also home to the prestigious Vefa High School, which was founded in 1868, and is one of the oldest high schools in Turkey.
Vefa is an ideal location to experience traditional cuisine and beverages:
- You can visit Vefa Bozacısı to try the Turkish drink, Boza.
- You can try Gazoz, a type of carbonated soft drink that is popular in Turkey, at Sevda Gazozcusu
- You can eat Helva, a sweet made from crushed sesame seeds, sugar, and sometimes other ingredients such as nuts, honey, or fruits, at Şehzadeli Helvacı Baba
- You can also try Leblebi, a snack food made from roasted chickpeas that are often flavored with spices such as cumin, coriander, and salt, at Vefa Leblebicisi
Moda is a neighborhood in the Kadıköy district on the Asian side of Istanbu. It is known for its picturesque streets lined with historic houses, cafes, and restaurants. It is a popular spot for locals, offering a mix of traditional and modern cultures.
The neighborhood is also home to several parks, including the large Moda Park, and the seaside Moda Beach. It is considered a more upscale and trendy area, known for its bohemian atmosphere and creative community. Many artists and intellectuals live in the area, which is known for its cultural and art events. It is often considered an alternative to the more tourist-heavy areas on the European side of the city, offering visitors a chance to explore a more authentic side of Istanbul.
Chocolatier Asuman and Ice Cafe Ali Usta are trendy locations in Moda. I suggest visiting Moda in the morning and trying some of the delicious breakfast options available. Afterward, take a stroll and grab a coffee. To end your day, indulge in some chocolate at Chocolatier Asuman or ice cream at Ice Cafe Ali usta. If you have a big appetite, you can even do both!
5. Pierre Loti
Pierre Loti Hill is a hill located in the district of Eyüp on the European side of Istanbul, Turkey. The hill is named after the French author and naval officer, Pierre Loti, who was known for his love of Turkey and wrote about the country in many of his works.
One of the main attractions on the hill is the Pierre Loti Café, which offers panoramic views of the Golden Horn and the historic district of Istanbul. Visitors can take a cable car to the top of the hill or hike to the summit. On the top of the hill, you can find the Pierre Loti Tomb and Mosque, which is the final resting place of the author and is open to visitors.
The view from the hill is said to be one of the most beautiful in Istanbul, with a panoramic view of the Golden Horn, the old city, and the Bosphorus. The hill is popular among locals and tourists alike and is considered a must-see destination for anyone visiting Istanbul
4. Perili Köşk / Borusan Contemporary Art Museum
The Bosphorus in Istanbul is a picturesque area known for its villas and mansions. These historical buildings, which line the shore on both sides, each have intriguing and mysterious stories. These tales, passed from person to person and retold countless times, add to the allure of these buildings. One such story is that of the Yusuf Ziya Pasha Mansion, currently used by Borusan Holding, also known as the Perili Kösk (In English “The Haunted Mansion”).
Perili Kösk is an old building with a red brick exterior and grand tower, located on the left side of the road from Rumelihisarı to Emirgan, almost under the shadow of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.
History of the Building
Construction of the Yusuf Ziya Pasha Mansion, one of the most important and historical buildings in Rumelihisarı, known for its unique architecture and a prominent example of Istanbul’s cultural heritage, began in the 1910s.
At that time, Yusuf Ziya Pasha was serving as the Chief Aide-de-camp to Egypt’s Khedive Abbas Hilmi Pasha. However, construction was halted due to the outbreak of World War I and the conscription of the builders into the Ottoman army. Because of this, the building remained incomplete and the second and third floors were left vacant, leading it to be referred to as the “Haunted Mansion” by locals.
The Contemporary Art Museum
Today The Perili Kösk is known as the Borusan Contemporary Art Museum, is a contemporary art museum and also the company HQ of the Borusan Holding. The Borusan Contemporary Art Museum features a collection of contemporary art from both Turkish and international artists. It has exhibitions of painting, sculpture, video and new media works by contemporary artists, as well as temporary exhibitions by artists from around the world. The museum also has a library, a research center and a café.
Be sure to plan your visit to the Borusan Contemporary Art Museum, one of the most renowned contemporary art museums in Istanbul, on a weekend as it is only open then. Enjoy a cup of coffee with an amazing view of the Bosphorus while you’re there. Though it is located slightly further from the main tourist spots, transportation options such as buses and taxis are available. Keep in mind that Istanbul tends to have more traffic on weekends.
3. Küçüksu Kasrı
The meadow between the rivers of Göksu and Küçüksu was one of the imperial gardens of Ottoman sultans. In time Göksu and the surrounding area became a popular excursion place for the inhabitants of İstanbul. Evliyâ Çelebi -the famous Turkish traveler of the 17th century- said of Göksu: “This river is like the water of eternity” and described it as a quiet place where people ride in rowboats and along whose banks are rose gardens, small pavilions and water mills belonging to the state.
Küçüksu Pavilion was opened as a museum-palace in 1983 and it provides a stunning view of the Bosphorus. Visitors can explore the pavilion and its garden, as well as enjoy breakfast while taking in the scenery. It is recommended to visit during the weekdays as the pavilion may be busy with weddings or other events on weekends. The Kücüksu Pavillion is located near the Mihrabat Korusu (Number 10 on this list), making it possible to visit both in the same day.
Balat is a modest neighborhood known for its colorful houses and stone-paved narrow streets. It features a mix of popular cafes and modern galleries alongside traditional corner stores. The neighborhood’s diverse history is reflected in its religious buildings, such as the Ecumenical Patriarchate Basilica, synagogues, and Byzantine churches, which have been home to Jewish, Greek, and Armenian communities. Visitors can also see golden mosaics and colorful frescoes at the Kariye Museum.
One of the most distinctive features of Balat is the cluster of antique dealers, grocers and second-hand goods sellers. Some are old, some new, and some organize recent trendy auction sales. Some of these shops are Fener Antik Mezat , Mekan Antik and Maison Balat.
Some of the other things you can visit are:
Fener Rum Patrikhanesi
Fener Rum Patrikhanesi is the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Located in the Fener neighborhood of Istanbul, Turkey. It is the spiritual center of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the residence of the Ecumenical Patriarch, who is considered the “first among equals” among the Eastern Orthodox bishops. The cathedral was built in the 19th century and is a significant site for both religious and historical reasons.
Balat first became home to a large Jewish population in the late 15th century, when Sultan Bayezid II offered citizenship to Jewish and Muslim Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Africa, and the 1492 Alhambra Decree.
At its peak, Balat was home to 18 synagogues, though only two are still in use today: Ahrida Synagogue and Yanbol Synagogue. Opened in 1899 and designed by Gabriel Tedeşci, Or-Ahayim Hospital was originally set up to serve Balat’s Jewish population but now serves the general public.
The Jews of Balat have migrated to Israel in the 1950s. The remaining ones have also moved to other parts of the city, so there are very few Jews left in Balat nowadays.
The Iron Church
The Bulgarian St. Stephen Church (Turkish: Sveti Stefan Kilisesi), also known as the Bulgarian Iron Church, is a Bulgarian Orthodox church in Balat. It is famous for being made of prefabricated cast iron elements in the Neo-Byzantine style. The church belongs to the Bulgarian Christian minority in the city.
Overall I highly recommend visiting Balat in Istanbul, as it is a historically rich area with a diverse array of religious buildings and architecture. It would be best to start your day here, as you never know how long you may stay, and then head to the Karaköy or Beyoglu areas in the afternoon.
1. The Prince’s Islands
The Prince’s Islands are a group of nine islands located in the Sea of Marmara, just off the coast of Istanbul, Turkey. They were named after the Byzantine princes who were exiled there in the past.
The largest and most popular island among tourists is Büyükada, which is accessible by ferry from Istanbul. The islands are a popular spot for locals and tourists to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, as they are car-free and offer a peaceful atmosphere. Visitors can explore the island’s charming streets, relax on the beach, enjoy the local seafood, or take a horse-drawn carriage tour.
The islands also have several historic sites, such as monasteries, churches, and mansions, that date back to the Byzantine and Ottoman eras.
Four of the Islands are inhabited (Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada and Kınalıada). If you’re a tourist visiting Istanbul for a short time, I’d recommend checking out Büyükada first, and if you have additional time, Heybeliada. In my opinion, trying to visit all the islands in one trip could be tiring and unnecessary.
If you’re looking for a peaceful environment, I would suggest avoiding Büyükada and visiting Kınalıada instead. Especially in the Summer at the weekend, Büyükada is full of locals.
Büyükada is the largest of the Prince Islands in the Marmara Sea and is the largest and most visited of the islands near Istanbul. With a clean environment concept, motorized vehicles (excluding service vehicles) are banned, so visitors discover the island on foot, by bike (hourly bike rental), or by using electric vehicles instead of horse-drawn carriages that provide sightseeing tours around the island. For years, many Istanbul residents have been protesting the use of horse-drawn carriages due to the poor working conditions for the horses. The horses are made to work long hours in an unhealthy environment, which can result in illness or death.
Your visit to Büyükada starts when you arrive at the ferry dock. The Ottoman Neo-Classical style is showcased in İskele Square, the cafes and restaurants along the coast, and the Clock Tower. You can tour the island by foot, or bike, and enjoy a meal with a view of the island’s famous historical and natural beauty at Yüce Tepe. A stroll through the streets of Büyükada is also highly recommended.
Overall, the Prince Islands offer plenty of activities and are a must-visit for a day trip if you have the time. The best time to go is between May and November. You can enjoy seafood, explore the island, and relax. It provides a unique experience different from the usual offerings in Istanbul.
Istanbul’s hidden gems offer a captivating journey beyond the usual tourist destinations. Embrace the city’s secrets, and let the enchantment of these hidden wonders leave an indelible mark on your Istanbul experience.
FAQs about Hidden Gems in Istanbul
Certainly! Remember to respect local rules and fellow visitors while capturing your Istanbul adventure.
Absolutely, some gems are low-cost or even free, ensuring a diverse range of experiences for all budgets.
While some locations may have limitations, many gems are accessible, and Istanbul is gradually improving its overall accessibility.
Istanbul is generally safe, but it’s advisable to stay vigilant and follow local guidelines, especially in less touristy areas.
Consider a guided tour for a curated experience or use local transportation for an authentic adventure.
Yes, most of them are family-friendly, providing enriching experiences for all ages.