Istanbul the exotic city of Europe, nestled within continents, on the treacherous Bosphorus straight, European, Asian and Ottoman all at once. Just like balancing all these conundrums is a city so vast it stretches beyond the senses enveloping all in a mix of food, culture, and hundreds of neighborhoods that can seem generations apart.
Inhabitants seldom travel far afield into the abyss of neighborhoods deep within , while visitors stick with the pack, visiting eternal tourist destinations over and over including restaurants, shops, and people supported by them. Of course here you can get communication for the cheapest price, no translator needed, and aeasoned veterans in tourist sales.
There is however an immersive, thought provoking neighborhood culture existing steps from traditional touist areas where one can communicate with simple gestures of the heart, through hands, smile, and laughter. Don’t miss the opportunity to jump into at least one of these enclaves that hearken back to the slower times of Istanbul, before train, taxi, and plane.
Scattered accross the edges of the Golden Horn are a handful of neighborhoods well worth the trek, where even for a moment you can taste life from Ottoman Istanbul to well-educated westerners.
NOT A PLACE TO VISIT AT NIGHT TIME
From the site of the ancient palace and dungeons of Blachernae, where the walls of Constantinople meet the Golden Horn is the historic neighborhood of Balat. The sephardic jews from Spain began to settle here in the late 15th century safe from religious persecution and able to practice trade.
Here you can find the Chora(Kariye)Monastery, ruins of the Palace of Porphyrogenetus aka Tekfur Palace containing the dungeons of Blachernae.
While Chora is a popular attraction, hardly anyone enjoys its near neighbors with a simple walk down towards the Golden horn. Crumbling, dilapidated wooden homes, are scrunched between, distasteful modern apartments , while various late ottman jewels are dotted throughout the neighborhood.
Enjoy a walk in the daylight, as you’ll find Ottoman fountains, street kids playing football, picturesque backstreets and the average retirement cafe filled with men playing backgammon. Head towards Mahkeme Alti Cadessi for excellent local fare including fish, kebap, and lahmacun(lah-ma-joon).
The Ahrida Synogogue one of two remaining of 100+ synogogues in Istanbul is located on the edge of Balat as you walk east on Mahkeme Alti Cadessi. Notice the Ottoman Baroque architecture and look for various Stars of David above the entrances to houses along the roads.
NOT A NIGHT TIME VISITING GROUND.
Fener and Balat are so intertwined its hard at times to figure where one ends and the other begins. The Intersection of Mehkeme and Vodina Cadessi seems to be an agreeable point. It is also the location of the synogogue mentioned previously.
In the hills and backstreets of Fener and Balat is where you can find some of the most colorful Ottoman homes now favored by the working class citizens. Don’t hesitate to wander these backstreets, during the day and get an exceptional feeling of daily life in Istanbul while kids run all over and the beauty of these homes takes your breath away. Visit Little House Cafe on Vodina Cadessi for a down to earth espresso and snack.
This historic dockside has been looked over for the past 100 years and only in the last few has started to seen a revival. Tourists by the millions would wander straight through Karakoy, never looking in the old shops, or finding the old greek churches, they preferred the bold sites.
Today this is not to be missed on any itinerary throughout Istanbul Many young local creative inhabitants have found this to be their second home with retaurants and cafes popping up throughout the tiny backstreets while icons of Istanbul dinner scene such as Meze and flourish on the main street.
True rustic buildings, built brick by brick and huge flat iron doors are a few of the leftovers of times gone pass including symbols above doorways meant to signify what kind of trade each building took part in. From wine merchants, to fisherman, and dockworkers this neighborhood hosted many of the sea faring working class that made Istanbul so rich in trade and culture throughout the Ottoman reign.
In The Cut Pinterest board for Karakoy
Situated above Karakoy, at the edge of a bluff stretching towards Taksim is the now eclectic, artsy neighborhood of Cihangir. A disrespected jewel with stunning views at the intersection of Sea, straight, estuary and the historic penninsula Cihangir has many flavors of modern life in Istanbul.
From Cihangir cafe the anchor of social life for artists, actors and bohemian celebrity, traditional Turkish food at Datli Maya and Van Kahvalti Evi to Journey Cafe and White Mill Cafe with full liquor cabinets Cihangir is place to catch the vibe of the laid back artistic life
In The Cut Pinterest Board / Cihangir
The nighttime playground of the city s drinking and socializing youth, mixed with travellers and well known meyahanes, Asmuli Mescit is a packed labyrinth of youthful energy. Over 30 bars and restaurants are stacked within a handful of tiny backstreets connected and crisscrossing an area roughly the size of a football field.
Within the streets early 20th century buildings peer over while protecting the secrets of many youth from disdainful eyes of the religious public. All night music venues like Babylon and Ghetto bring in international Djs, while bar / restaurants Hardal and Lokal are staples of youth culture. Outside of any club this is where you will find the streets packed until early morning with revelers of all kinds.
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SERDER-i-EKREM CADESSI GALATA
Steps away from the Galata tower is Serder-i-ekrem Caddessi a street which very few tourist actually wander down unless the are staying at the George or one of the small boutique hotels on the block. This small street has quietly blossomed into a top destination for the young design creative, with shops, upscale boutiques, furniture and lighting to a few cafes lining the street. Here is a small oasis of locality located on one of the most picturesque streets in all of Galata.
In the backsteets between Cihangir and Galata is a small area known for its antiques and photography studios. Walk all around these streets looking for late Ottoman Era architecture influenced by local French, Italian and Eastern European builders. Cobblestone streets and overhanging balconys create a sense of wonder in quaint quarters.
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