Naturally, from a visitors point of view, Sultanahmet should be first on the list because it is a UNESCO world heritage site brimming over with historical landmarks from the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. The choice of hotels from hostels to five stars is mind-blowing and as with any other touristic destinations, restaurants cater for the masses by serving a variety of domestic and international cuisine. If your main reason for visiting Istanbul is to see the highlights like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace, then Sultanahmet is the place to stay.
Typically characterised by Istiklal Caddesi, the central pedestrian thoroughfare and busiest street of Turkey, Beyoglu is the alternative face of Istanbul. As a favourite hangout in history for foreign dignitaries, it is now a centre for shopping and nightlife, and some of the city’s most prestigious hotels. The new and modern hasn’t overtaken all of it, though.
Sitting next to the entrance of the famous Galata Bridge, Eminönü is the place to pick up a cheap ferry tour of the Bosphorus. Balik Ekmek (fish sandwiches), is the favoured cheap street food otherwise, restaurants under Galata Bridge serve delicious albeit pricey fishmeals. In the Bahcekapi district of Eminönü, a small shop and living museum showcases the rise to fame of the humble Turkish delight.
For a shopping experience, the busy spice market fairs well, but it is worth walking the extra distance into the Beyazit area, home of one of the world’s oldest and largest marketplaces. The chaotic Grand Bazaar and its labyrinth of shops and passageways may seem intimidating to the newbie shopper in Turkey, but you will eventually get into the swing of exotic bargaining and banter of the 4000 unique shops.
Technically, the Princess Islands are not a neighbourhood but are worth knowing about because Büyükada (the largest island) and its pedestrian streets are a recommended tourist attraction. Originally, places of exile for Byzantine and Ottoman dignitaries, old mansions lining the streets display typical Ottoman architecture trends, and because vehicles can’t be used, horse driven carriages are the best method to tour the island.
Often overlooked in mainstream travel guides, Nisantasi is an elite and upmarket neighbourhood where the main word on the tongue is money! Osmanbey, which is the heart of the area, is home to Abdi Ipekci Street, the most expensive street in the whole of the country. Its premier status stems from luxury shopping brands including Louis Vuitton, Armani, and Dolce Gabanna, who have rented shops in the district. Combined with the international eateries, if money is no object, Nisantasi could be right up your street!
Most people probably associate Besiktas with the famous football team, but it is about a lot more than that. Easily reached via a walk or bus ride from the Taksim area, the famous Dolmabahce Palace, sitting next to the clock tower and mosque of the same name is worth visiting. As last home to the Ottoman sultans, the wealth and decadence within those walls boggle the mind.
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