Areas to visit in Istanbul
2010 seems is the perfect year to visit Istanbul, especially because the city was nominated as the European Capital of Culture for the current year. Charged with an incredible amount of history and tradition, Istanbul is known for its multicultural roots divided between Asia and European. If you are hoping for a different type of experience, Istanbul will definitely not let you down, so indulge into the Turkish hospitality and Oriental influences.
Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey and the fifth most populated in the world with its 12.8 million inhabitants. Located on the border between Asia and Europe, Istanbul is delimited by the Bosphorus Strait and the Golden Horn. It is the only city in the world located on two continents: Istanbul’s European side is called Thrace and the Asian is called Anatolia. The city of Istanbul is organized into 27 districts which form what is called The Greater Istanbul, while another 12 districts complete what is called the Istanbul province. The city is mainly formed by three main areas: The historic peninsula, the districts of Üsküdar and Kadıköy and the districts of Beyoğlu and Beşiktaş.
The historic peninsula
This area corresponds to what previously was the extension of Constantinople, in the 15th century, and is formed by the districts of Beyazıt, Eminönü, Fatih, Kumkapı, Sirkeci, Süleymaniye, Sultanahmet, and Tahtakale. Located in south of the Golden Horn, this area separates the old from the new, by dividing the old historic center from the Northern European parts. This area is surrounded by the Marmara Sea and the entrance of the Bosphorus on the east part.
In the historic center of Istanbul you will find Sultanahmet, which represents the most important borough for the history of Istanbul. Considered to be the heart of the historical center, this area has been the center of the city during the Byzantine, the Constantine and the Ottoman empires. From this location you can start your tour around Istanbul and see the Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, the Basilica Cistern, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Place. The Beyazıt is located near the Sultanahmet Square, and here you will see the Beyazit Tower and the Beyazit University. This institution was founded after Mehmet II the Conqueror, who captured Istanbul in the year 1453. While you are in this area you should also make sure you visit one of Istanbul’s most representative symbols, the Grand Bazaar.
In the south-west area of the Spice Bazaar, you will find the Tahtakele, a place known for its excellent coffee. Turkish people have a special way of preparing coffee and they use sand to provide coffee lovers with a special and unique taste. Coffee represents has been an Istanbul tradition since the year 1519, when the plant was brought to the city. Coffee and tea are associated with intellectuals and the artists in Turkey because people who used to visit the first coffee and tea bars loved to socialize while playing chess or backgammon.
For a taste of what conservative Istanbul means we recommend you don’t miss the borough of Faith. The tombs of one the most representative and important figures of the Turkish history are located in this area, like the one of Mehmed II the Conqueror (Fatih Sultan Mehmet), Selim I the Grim (Yavuz Sultan Selim) or Gazi Osman Pasha.
More information about this area: here
The districts of Üsküdar and Kadıköy
These two districts are located in the Asian part and were previously separated cities, before being integrated into the city of Istanbul and becoming its districts. Nowadays, this area is one of the most modern one, it has become a financial and business district of the city, and it shelters more than one third of the city’s population.
The Üsküdar was previously known by the name of Scutari because the Scutario Palace was located here in the 12th century. The palace was located right in front of the Leandro Tower which marked the starting point for all commercial shipping in Asia. Nowadays, the district is mainly famous for accommodating a high number of mosques and for the multitude of residential areas.
This Asian part of the city isn’t as famous as the European side because tourists have to travel a long distance in order to get there, but only here you can taste the incredible Turkish ice cream in the Moda borough or relax in a sunny and warm park in the Fenerbahçe borough. For oriental shopping we recommend you visit the Bagdad Caddesi Street, which is famous for its shops and where you can find anything, from oriental souvenirs to beautiful hand sealed clothes.
The districts of Beyoğlu and Beşiktaş
This area is mainly known for accommodating the last Sultan’s Palace and the most luxurious mansions in Istanbul. Located on the Northern part of the Golden Horn, these two districts are situated on both continents. This area is also known as the modern part of Istanbul.
The area called Beyoglu, located in the European side of Istanbul, is an international home for tourists, expats and students from all over the world, but also a great place to savoir the modern face of Turkey and the local culture without the hassle of gadget shops or other tourist traps.
Taksim Square, the most central and main square, is the living proof that Istanbul is a city awake 24/24 hours, as this is packed with shoppers during the day and animated by party people during the night. Although Taskim Square represents the heart and the center of modern Istanbul, we advise you to be watch your personal belongings while walking here.The amount of people that circulate the place attracts a lot of scammers and pick pockets, so make sure you don’t lose focus on your stuff or get tricked by clever scammers. More information about unsafe zones in Istanbul: here
From Taksim you should walk down a main semi-pedestrian avenue called Istiklal Caddesi (La Grande Rue). This connects Taksim Square, the most central square of Istanbul, to Tünel and the panoramic Galata Tower. The whole avenue throbs with life: a stream of young people, locals and tourists, stroll along the avenue and fill the modern and traditional cafes, open-air brasseries, patisseries, as well street food markets and international brands shops. The area is always buzzing with life and especially at night it is livened up by the lights and sounds of clubs, bars and restaurants.
This is a zone that has always attracted the attention of people with its incredible riches and incredible landscapes. In the Byzantine period, the district was known for accommodating the Emperor’s residence, the Ayios Mamas Palace, the Fokas Monastery and the Ayios Mihael Church. By the end of the 18th century, the area was transformed into a residential area for Ottoman sultans, with its beautiful gardens and oriental architecture, summer houses and historical buildings. This area is also perfect for high class shopping; Istanbul’s largest shopping centers are located in this area.
More information about the modern part of Istanbul: here
Istanbul is all about richness mixed with oriental influences, marking the rise of a strategically placed city with the potential of becoming one of the world’s biggest financial centers. Istanbul’s history has had an important influence over the current culture and the development of the city over the years, and also it represents an important element when considering visiting the city. Visiting Istanbul can be a surprising trip, either if you go to indulge into the culinary delights of the Turkish cuisine or to seek business opportunities from the Oriental world.