Starting from Sirkeci and finishing at Sarıyer, this morning-to-morning tour of the coastline’s most beautiful districts includes eight stops.
Let us begin!
Good morning! The first stop is Sirkeci. Set in the Eminönü neighborhood of the Fatih district, Sirkeci sits at the mouth of the Golden Horn and the beginning of the Bosphorus Strait.
We begin from Gülhane Park, where huge trees tower over grass, gardens and, in season, fields of colorful tulips. Stroll through the park to Topkapı Palace, former home to sultans, and enjoy the Bosphorus view from the terrace of the Mecidiye Mansion.
The Sirkeci Train Station is next. Built in 1888, the Station was the terminus for the fabled Orient Express train. Its still-elegant interior features stained glass windows and Byzantine- and Seljuk-style accents. There’s also a small museum.
The next stop is a short walk from the train station – the Grand Post Office. Built in 1909 by Vedat Tek, the Grand Post Office, which still functions as a post office, is among the first examples of Turkish neoclassical design.
And now, we move on to the iconic Grand Bazaar. Built in 1461, the Grand Bazaar is considered by some to be the heart of tourism and commerce in Istanbul. It’s one of the oldest and largest covered markets in existence. Carpet, jewelry and antique shops co-exist with spice and candy vendors, cafes and clothing stores. One way to experience the Grand Bazaar is to get lost in its narrow corridors…or enjoy a tea and just observe the never-ending human flow.
Leaving the Grand Bazaar via the Nuriosmaniye exit brings us to the delightful Flower Market. A short walk or drive across the Galata Bridge then delivers us to Karaköy.
Karaköy is the modern name of the district formerly known as Galata. Karaköy, with a port network dating from the Byzantine Period, is among Istanbul’s oldest commercial centers and in recent years has emerged as a trendy destination for both tourists and residents.
The Karaköy Ferry Port, just at the Bridge, offers a magnificent view of Topkapı Palace and the Sultanahmet skyline. Because humans cannot exist on views alone, a stop at nearby Güllüoğlu, the famous purveyor of baklava, is next.
A few steps from Güllüoğlu are Mumhane and Hoca Tahsin streets, dotted with both long-established and recently arrived shops, cafes, wine bars and restaurants. The peaceful French Passage is an open-air pedestrian walkway lined with boutiques and coffee shops, including Tarihi Karabatak Kahveci, on the corner.
Street art is plentiful in the alleys and lanes that wind from Karaköy to Taksim. To see the most striking murals and graffiti in the area, search # StreetArtIstanbul hashtag on Instagram.
And, of course, there’s a wonderful view of the Galata Tower from Karaköy. The 70-meter-high Galata Tower, with its 1500-year history, is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and features fantastic vistas of the Bosphorus and the Historical Peninsula skyline.
Our next stop is Beşiktaş.
Lively Beşiktaş, our next stop, has a fish market, a ferry terminal and a weekly market, as well as shops, boutiques, hotels, galleries and nightlife. It’s also the home of Beşiktaş Jimnastik Kulübü, the football team.
Walking along the coastal road to Beşiktaş, we pass Vodafone Park, the home of the Beşiktaş football team, Dolmabahçe Mosque, the Dolmabahçe Clock Tower and the ornate Dolmabahçe Palace.
Completed in 1854, Dolmabahçe Palace served as a home for the Sultan and, later, as the Istanbul base for Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Architects Nikoğos and Garabed Balya employed rococo, baroque and neoclassical motifs for the Palace’s exterior, while the interiors were created by the designer of the Paris Opera at that time. In any case, the Palace’s enormous door, alone, is worth a visit to this iconic building.
We exit Dolmabahçe Palace onto Dolmabahçe Road – a tree-lined avenue with wide sidewalks and busy traffic. The Naval Museum, Turkey’s largest maritime museum, is on this road and, across the street is Akaretler, an elegant cobblestone street known for its cafes and galleries.
The Beşiktaş Bazaar is the heart of the neighborhood: residents and visitors alike come to Beşiktaş for the bars, restaurants and cafes surrounding the fish market. The Eagle Statue – a symbol of the beloved Beşiktaş football team – is a meeting point for fans, especially on game days.
Near the statue is bustling Tarihi Karadeniz Döner, a favorite of Beşiktaş residents and among Istanbul’s most notable döner restaurants.
Getting back on the coastal road and heading toward Ortaköy, we pass Yıldız Palace and Yıldız Grove. The hilltop Yıldız Palace is set amid the Grove, an enormous park. The complex is also home to the Yıldız Tile and Porcelain Factory located in the complex.
We exit the complex and, across the road, is the stately, seafront Çırağan Palace. Considered among the most important examples of oriental architecture in Turkey, this historic building is now an upscale hotel and event center.
Time flies and it’s past noon. We’ve reached Ortaköy and the first stop is the Ortaköy Mosque.
Also known as the Büyük Mecidiye Camii, the baroque-style Mosque was commissioned by Sultan Abdulmecit and built by architect Balyan Nigogos. With its elegant minarets and stone-carved interiors, the Mosque has featured in countless photographs and paintings.
In addition to the Ortaköy Mosque, other houses of worship in Ortaköy include the Ayios Fokas Greek Orthodox Church, Surp Krikor Lusavoric Armenian Catholic Church and Etz Ahayim Synagogue.
A short walk from the Mosque leads to the Esma Sultan Mansion. The former home of the Sultan’s daughter was used as an Orthodox Christian school and a tobacco warehouse before being restored in 1999; it now serves as an event venue.
Offering views of both the Bosphorus and the 15th of July Martyrs Bridge, the surrounding area has tiny streets and plazas lined with handicrafts shops and cafes, as well as local eateries. A classic Ortaköy street food is the baked potato, piled high with a variety of toppings.
Another sight worth seeing is the Kethüda Hammam, designed by Mimar Sinan. The former bathhouse is now a museum and exhibition center. And on Bulgurlu Street, side-by-side historical houses feature a line of 18 colorful bay windows. It should be noted that the 2019 Street Art Festival had a significant effect on the neighborhood and many of these works can be located via Instagram.
Continuing along the coast road, we pass Kuruçeşme Park, with views of Galatasaray Island, and reach Arnavutköy. Arnavutköy, which in Turkish is “Albanian Village’, was home to Greek and Jewish communities until the 19th century. This picturesque neighborhood is known for its pastel-colored seaside mansions called Kazıklı Yol, due to the road built on piles driven into the sea. There are also fish restaurants, and a wide boardwalk along the Bosphorus where people fish, jog and stroll.
The neighborhood also features a range of religious structures, including the Taksiarhis Greek Orthodox Church, the Profitis Ilias Greek Orthodox Church and Holy Spring and the Tevfikiye Mosque.
Walk away from the coast and up Arnavutköy’s narrow, hilly streets, which offer Bosphorus views, cafes, design workshops and souvenir shops. As well, the Ayvaz Paşazade Mansion and İzzetabad Summer Palace are notable sights in Arnavutköy.
When you reach Bebek Park, you’ve reached Bebek. Shaded by plane trees, this waterfront park is one of the loveliest in Istanbul. Next to the park is the beautiful Bebek Hümayun’u Abad Mosque, built by architect Kemalettin.
Also next to the park is the art nouveau-style Hıdiva Palace, also known as the Valide Pasha Mansion. It currently serves as the Egyptian Consulate. The story of how Emine Valide Pasha, the first woman to receive the title of “Pasha” in the Ottoman Empire, donated the Hıdiva Palace to Egypt is quite interesting.
Along this road are upscale shops, cafes and restaurants, many of which have Bosphorus views. Among them: the venerable Baylan Patisserie.
Further north is Ayşe Sultan Grove, also known as Boğaziçi University Grove, and a delightful place to sit and watch the Bosphorus.
The Aşiyan Park, the Aşiyan Cemetery and the Aşiyan Lighthouse are next. Tiny Aşiyan Park sits next to Aşiyan Cemetery Aşiyan Lighthouse, the latter two standing like ancient guardians of the Bosphorus.The last stop in Bebek is Rumeli Fortress. Built in just 90 days, the Fortress was completed in 1452 to prevent attacks from the north. Across the Bosphorus is the Anatolian Fortress. Rumeli Fortress, now used as an open-air museum and concert venue, offers excellent Bosphorus views.
North of Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, the quiet Emirgan neighborhood features Emirgan Park, cute houses, and narrow, tree-shaded streets.
The Mediha Sultan Mansion, known as Baltalimanı Hospital, is one of Emirgan’s most iconic buildings. Commissioned in the mid-18th-century by Grand Vizier Mustafa Reşit Pasha and built by Karabet Amira Balyan and Sarkis Balyan, this neoclassical mansion has a large courtyard, arched windows, and a garden with marble columns, pedestals and a pool.
The Baltalimanı Japanese Garden in Emirgan hosted the 2003 Japanese Year in Turkey events, and is a fine example of classic Japanese landscaping art.
The most important stop, however, is Emirgan Park, covering 472,000 square meters. It’s very popular – in addition to its wonderful Bosphorus views, there are hiking and jogging trails, picnic and recreation areas, ponds and landscaped gardens.
Home to more than 120 species of plants and trees, Emirgan Park is also a prime destination for the Tulip Festival, when the colorful flowers bloom in profusion.
Enjoy a drink or a meal at the Pink Pavilion, White Pavilion or Yellow Pavilion – three gorgeous former villas now operated as cafes by the Istanbul Municipality.
Leaving Emirgan and heading north, we arrive in Istinye.
Horticulture and gardening have a special place in the bayfront Istinye, known for its fertile land. After the 16th century, the village also developed a shipyard and caulking station and, after the establishment of a mosque for Neslişah Sultan, gained a neighborhood identity.
As one of the neighborhood’s most important historical structures, the Neslişah Sultan Mosque, on Değirmen Street, was built in 1540 by Beyazıt II for his granddaughter, Neslişah Sultan. The historical Istinye Bath, built in 1460, is just across the street. The more youthful Rizeli Hacı Bayram Kaptan Fountain, built in 1900, is near Istinye Pier.
The Faik Bey and Recaizade Mahmut Ekrem Mansions are other notable structures. Faik Bey Mansion – also known as Pakize Hanım Mansion – is on Istinye Köybaşı Street. Commissioned by the Gümüşhane sub-governor Faik Bey, the three-story concrete mansion, covered with wood, has an unusual balcony. Named after the famous writer and poet, it is rumored that Servet-i Fünûn literature was born here.
Last but not least, the Istinye Park complex features an open-air area with high-end boutiques and designer stores, as well as a modern shopping mall.
Our next stop is Yeniköy.
Players of Turkish Monopoly know that Yeniköy is the most expensive district. A visit to the neighborhood reveals trendy venues, magnificent villas, and wonderful scenery. Yet, Yeniköy remains tranquil and uncrowded.
Formerly called Nihori, Yeniköy was a fishing village with mostly Greek residents. While many of these families migrated after September 6-7 and the Cyprus Operation, their influence can still be seen; one of the most important of these reminders is the Panayia Kumariotisa Church, built in 1837.
Köybaşı Street, which runs along the Yeniköy Coast, has some of the city’s most famous restaurants and cafes. There are expensive structures – Erbilginler Mansion, for example, is valued at more than $100 million – and famous structures, such as the lavish Sait Halim Paşa Mansion, now an event venue.
Just above Sait Halim Paşa Mansion is quiet Yeniköy Grove, a beautiful park with Bosphorus views. Set on a quaint cobblestone street, the tree-shaded Yeniköy Coffeehouse is a neighborhood favorite.
Driving towards Tarabya, we pass more cafes and restaurants, as well as gated villas. We also see the art-nouveau style Huber Mansion. Used as the presidential residence in Istanbul, the Mansion features a blend of Chinese, Indian, Iranian, Islamic, Ottoman and European motifs.
And on to Sarıyer, our last stop and where we’ll spend the night.
Even in a city filled with stunning views, the Sarıyer sunsets over the Bosphorus are unique – and the views can be enjoyed from one of the dozens of renowned fish restaurants in this tranquil neighborhood. Take a walk after dinner, and have a Turkish coffee. Then, book a waterfront hotel and fall asleep listening to the Bosphorus roll against the shore.
Good morning! It’s time to conclude our tour with breakfast in secluded Garipçe, a small and charming village set at the foot of Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge. A wonderful breakfast against the serene Bosphorus view awaits in this village, about 10 kilometers from the Sarıyer center.
Thus ends our 24-hour route along the European side. When you’re ready, we’ll take you along the Anatolian side!
See you on our other routes!
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