İstanbul is one of the world’s oldest cities, home to people from many civilizations over thousands of years. This diversity is palpable no matter how much time has passed. The ancient stone structures that maintain the texture of the city, historical streets, the architecture, the Bosphorus palaces, and many more attractions provide us with a taste of the atmosphere of old İstanbul. What follows is a selection of several sites where you may witness these reflections. Crowded, yet sometimes shockingly tranquil. Are you ready to embark on a historical journey through İstanbul’s oldest districts?
One of the first locations that come to mind when we are nostalgic for old İstanbul is the streets of Balat. The streets of this historical district, located on the shore of the Golden Horn, are lined with colourful houses with bay windows, some wrapped in green ivy. The laundry you can see hanging on the ropes stretched between the houses adds a homemade touch the pristine composition of a framed photo. Concept businesses, antique stores, nostalgic areas, and modern cafés demonstrate how beautifully diversity coexists in this district. You should certainly try one of Balat’s gorgeous, boutique breakfast spots and start your trip early, and play up to a one-day excursion if you want to explore this location in detail.
With its outstanding historical buildings, Balat offers a distinct atmosphere. Phanar Greek Orthodox College (Fener Rum Erkek Lisesi), a longtime symbol of Balat, is one of them. The building, also known as “The Red Castle” or “The Red School” (Kızıl Mektep), is located at the crest of a hill reached by crossing extremely steep and challenging streets. When viewed from a distance, it is an intriguing late 19th century structure that will undoubtedly captivate your interest. Thankfully its majestic structure has been preserved so that you can observe its architecture going back to the 1880s. Balat, which retains its historical texture with mosques, churches, museums, and food and beverage culture, is a place to explore İstanbul’s history. In recent years, it has become increasingly popular to escape the crowds and enjoy the friendly ambience of İstanbul.
One of the most prominent symbols of İstanbul’s silhouette, Galata Tower, is one of the spots where you can experience the vibrant atmosphere while wandering around. Galata is the cultural and historical heart of İstanbul. Walking through its streets, your interest will be piqued by the numerous historical structures such as the Camondo Stairs, The Galata Mevlevi Lodge (Galata Mevlevihanesi) or the Tailor’s Synagogue pique one’s interest. Even on a familiar street, your attention will be drawn can come across a small detail or decoration which you have not seen before.
The areas of Kuledibi, the environment’s centre, are arranged to encircle the tower. You may sit and enjoy a drink in these areas while admiring the stunning construction around the Galata Tower. The sloping streets that run in various directions around the tower take you to old İstanbul. You go to different eras based on the streets you pass by at random – a genuine Beyoğlu atmosphere!
Galip Dede Street is known for its music shops; Büyük Hendek, Yüksek Kaldırım, originally a stairway leading from the port, and trendy Serdar-ı Ekrem streets are among the noteworthy pedestrian locations near Galata.
The Karaköy neighbourhood is 15 minute-walk away, reachable by descending Galata’s hillside streets. It will be a pleasure to walk, particularly when crossing Bankalar Street the financial centre of olden times boasts many ornate buildings. The Galata Bridge, which stretches to Eminönü, awaits you as you descend the slopes of Galata.
Karaköy is the tourist port district of Beyoğlu, located at the junction of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. With its view of the Historic Peninsula, fish restaurants on the beach, boutique cafés, and entertainment venues, it is constantly hopping. Karaköy’s brightly coloured venues appeal to everyone in some manner. Walking through the streets of this lovely and lively district is enough to get a sense of the old İstanbul atmosphere.
Colourful Kuzguncuk, one of the warmest areas on the Anatolian side, is a relaxing spot to walk while smelling the scent of the sea. You may start your weekend trip with a lovely breakfast on the beache before you start exploring the streets of this picturesque district. Kuzguncuk is one of the locations where you can go on an impromptu stroll. Admire the wooden houses on the majority of the streets you happen to walk along. Tranquillity is enhanced by ample coverage of trees and greenery, windows adorned with flowerpots, and colourful nearby houses covered in geraniums and bougainvillaea.
Kuzguncuk Orchard (Kuzguncuk Bostanı) is one of the local attractions. The 700-year-old orchard, located in the district’s centre, is designated as a protected natural area for the survival of its planted orchards. Only Kuzguncuk residents are allowed to plant in and work the garden; however, it is open every day at specific hours for people who are interested in visiting this natural setting.
Rumeli Fortress is one of the most stunning structures along the Bosphorus coast between Bebek and Emirgan. The fortress, which has a 600-year history and retains its magnificence, is also one of the most outstanding landmarks on the Bosphorus. The streets on the fortress’s slope overlooking the Bosphorus, on the other hand, are stunning. Hisarüstü’s narrow sloping roads, big houses, captivating tree-lined and ivy-strewn cul-de-sacs entice you to the point of becoming lost in your explorations. You may also overhear the sounds of seagulls and ferries as you wander through the streets.
Hisar is also well-known for its breakfast places. Breakfast with a view of the Bosphorus from any perspective makes for a lovely start to the day.
Aşiyan Hill and Museum, The Haunted Mansion (Perili Köşk), and Surp Santuht Armenian Church are all nearby attractions around Hisar.