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To say Istanbul is massive would be an understatement.
The city is spread across two continents and has more than 15 million people. There are tons of unique neighborhoods to explore, but it can be hard to decide exactly which ones to visit during your stay.
This brief guide will cover some of my favorite Istanbul neighborhoods and share some tips on what to do, eat, and drink when you go!
Istiklal Street in the Taksim neighborhood
Taksim is located in the larger neighborhood of Beyoğlu.
This area is most well known for Istiklal Street, a 1.4 km long (mostly) pedestrian avenue lined with shops and restaurants. There are also plenty of bars and clubs around it for anyone looking for a late night.
Istiklal Street is always, always, always, crowded.
While it’s worth seeing, I prefer to escape to the cozier side streets that wind around it. When you visit Taksim, you should also take care not to miss the rice, beans, and meat at the simple yet oh-so-delicious Tarihi Kalkanoglu Pilavcisi restaurant, which is my personal pick for the best cheap restaurant in Istanbul.
I live here and can recommendTaksim as one of the best places to stay in Istanbul because it’s so central – click here to book your stay in Taksim!
Galata Tower looking cozy even in the rain
Galata is also located within Beyoğlu and is also one of the best places to stay in Istanbul.
Because they’re so close together, I recommend combining this neighborhood with Taksim when you visit. Simply keep following Istiklal Street away from Taksim Square and it will turn to cobblestones and start winding downhill.
Congrats, you’re now in the Galata neighborhood!
Galata is much more artsy and hip than Taksim and more photogenic as well. It’s the best place to buy souvenirs not because of the prices, but because of all the unique, pretty things here that you just won’t find anywhere else.
Karakoy has some of the best nightlife in Istanbul
Keep walking downhill through the Galata neighborhood and you will find yourself in the most hipster neighborhood in Istanbul: Karaköy.
This up-and-coming Istanbul neighborhood branches out to the left of the Galata Bridge and is known for its hipster vibe and nightlife.
The best time to come is after dark for a drink at the lively bars. Personally, I like smoking the shisha at Insta and grabbing a 15 lira / 3 usd fish wrap at Balık Dürüm, a tiny shop with limited seating.
Karakoy Gulluoglu also has some of the most famous baklavas in Istanbul (the chocolate is a personal fav), so make sure you stop in to grab some before heading home for the night!
My tip: Karaköy is in Beyoğlu as well, so you can easily combine it with Taksim and Galata to visit all three in one evening.
The trendy BeerHall in the Besiktas neighborhood
Beşiktaş is one of my favorite Istanbul neighborhoods.
It’s a bit upscale but still affordable, so along with Taksim and Galata, I think Besiktas is also one of the best places to stay in Istanbul for a short or long trip to the city. The pretty streets are lined with restaurants and cafes and its the kind of place where you’ll find craft beer and trivia and board game bars.
Though the craft beer scene isn’t quite established yet in Istanbul, you can find one or two Turkish brews at the rowdy BeerHall or enjoy them in a more relaxed setting at the year-round beer garden in Craft Beer Lab.
Walking along the waterfront after a filling breakfast in the Bebek neighborhood
This waterfront stretch is one of the best Istanbul neighborhoods for a low-key, relaxing morning.
Just make sure to come on a sunny day because there’s not a ton to actually do here but eat, drink, and walk along the water. It’s really pleasant though and has beautiful views of the Bosporus and the bridge that crosses it.
The highlight of Bebek, for me, was a phenomenal Turkish breakfast at Rumeli Kale Cafe and Restaurant – Merkez, a restaurant that Anthony Bourdain visited on No Reservations.
Afterward, you can visit the massive Rumeli fortress for 15 lira / 3 usd to work off all those calories!
The Ortakoy Mosque is one of the main draws to the out-of-the-way Ortakoy neighborhood
Daniel and I walked the 3.6 miles from Bebek to Ortaköy because the trek was mostly along the water.
Combining the two Istanbul neighborhoods into one Sunday day trip is pleasant if you don’t mind getting some exercise.
Ortaköy is super lively and has a whole street dedicated to selling kumpir – massive baked potatoes with every topping you can imagine. Grab one, browse the market stalls on the crowded streets, and then stop in to see the pretty Ortaköy Mosque before continuing on your way.
The sunset ferry ride to Kadikoy was a highlight of our trip to Istanbul
Kadıköy is on the Asian side of Istanbul and is definitely worth visiting for a few hours.
The ferry ride is gorgeous, especially if you take it at sunset, and is part of the metro system so only costs 3 lira / .50 usd!
Once you arrive in Kadıköy you’ll see a much less touristy (but still super crowded) side of Istanbul. Walk up from the pier to the Moda neighborhood and eat dinner at Ciya Sofrasi.
The restaurant was featured on Chef’s Table on Netflix and the traditional Turkish food absolutely lives up to the hype.
The Hagia Sofia compound in Sultanahmet
Sultanahmet is the most popular Istanbul neighborhood.
It’s the center of tourism with the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Basilica Cisterns, Topkapi Palace and all the other must-see historical sites of the city. Plan to spend about two days here because there is a lot to do.
But, keep in mind that there’s not much good food or things to do at night here so it’s better to stay in other neighborhoods and just journey into Sultanahmet for a day of sightseeing rather than spend the night in the neighborhood.
The famous fish boats on the waterfront in Eminonu
Last but not least on my list of Istanbul neighborhoods is Eminönü.
It’s near Sultanahmet so you can walk here after visiting the more popular district (if you still have the energy, that is).
Afterward, walk down to the Galata Bridge for pretty views across the water and famous fish sandwiches that you can buy directly from the boats – just follow the crowds and they’ll lead you to the right place.
So, what’s the best neighborhood in Istanbul?
Well, it depends on what you’re looking for.
But, after spending two months in the city and walking miles upon miles through all the best neighborhoods in Istanbul, I’ll give you my opinion.
If you have a super short stay and only a day or two in the city, prioritize visiting Sultanahmet because it’s the historical, cultural, and tourism heart of the city.
But, stay in a hotel in the Galata neighborhood because it’s my personal favorite and also one of the most beautiful in the city. It has a central location and a good mix of shopping, restaurants, and nightlife that Sultanahmet just doesn’t have.
Of course, if you can, I recommend making time to visit all the rest of the Istanbul neighborhoods on this list (or, at least as many as you can) before you go.
Ready to visit this massive, insane, beautiful city? Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights to Istanbul and then explore accommodation like furnished apartments and unique stays on Airbnb or the top-rated hotels on Booking.com to plan the perfect night, weekend, or long-term stay in the city.
This article is part of the Instant Istanbul Itinerary series. Read the rest below:
Or, explore all 20 articles in the Turkey Series for more insider tips on what to see, eat, do, and discover in the country.
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➤ Upwork allowed me to take the leap to travel full-time because they make it so easy to find freelance clients in any field.
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