On the Map
Istanbul is divided into the European and Asian side, even though only foreigners are the only ones who refer to them as that. The European side is then split into the region north of the Golden Horn and the region south of it. Within the northern portion of Beyoglu, there are a few hot spots like Kadikoy and Asmalimescit, that have a monopoloy on the entertainment and dining scene. Be careful not to mix Kadikoy with Karakoy which is an area south of the Golden Horn.
Until recently, the northern region has stood in the shadows of the southern region which boasted the Hagia Sophia, the Bazaars, and many of the other historical sites. However, with the presence of Taksim Square and the rise of stores, bars, restaurants, and cafes that have caught on to the global trend, this area is now becoming the place-to-be for locals. It’s kind of like being in Soho or the East and West Village of New York instead of being in Midtown.
The Beyoglu region is large and hosts many places to shop and dine. The most famous is the Istiklal Avenue which extends from Taksim Square all the way down to the center of Beyoglu. On this pedestrian-only street you’ll find many favorites like Zara, Mango, and H&M but you won’t find any luxury brands.
Get a little hungry from shopping and make sure to visit Zubeyir Ocakbasi for their lamb chops, küşleme, kaburga, or tarak.
But if you’re looking to escape the main roads, head down to Asmalimescit and walk through the alleys to find yourself many more local and casual bars and restaurants. The prices aren’t cheap for Turkish standards but also not the highest in the area and you’ll be able to find a place for every preference.
If however you did want to treat yourself to a tasting menu, my favorite style of dining, go to the top of the TomTom suites to dine at Nicole. You’ll have to make reservations and be prepared to pay $70 US without drinks, but the peaceful dining experience with a view is quite worth it. It’s really worth it if you’ve had your fill of kabobs and want a short retreat from Turkish food.
Think of posh younger professionals who have a sense of style and that’s the crowd you’ll run into in this area. Although a slight more expensive than Asmalimescit and the surrounding areas, by no means is the vibe pretentious or the food absurdly expensive (The Turkish Lira itself isn’t the most expensive currency out there so many of us have the advantage of good exchange rates). With outdoor seating in many of the restaurants, there’s a common fusion, bohemian theme that spreads through the air.
I would specifically recommend going to Kilic Ali Psa Mescidi (street name). It’s no longer than a block or two but it’s packed with some of the trendiest restaurants I’ve seen and the crowds only confirmed their popularity.
Where to Stay
Want to feel like you’re in the Presidential suite without paying the presidential price tag? I can’t rave enough about Witt Istanbul Suites which is located in the Beyoglu region. A boutique hotel right in the heart of Beyoglu, you’re a fifteen minute walk from Taksim Square and five from Akarsu Yokusu which is a cluster of a few hidden gems. Many of these restaurants are vegetarian friendly and serve great food with chill vibes. The #localsonly hashtag would be the perfect description for this area. Go try Mellow or Journey, the favorites of this area and top it off with coffee and desert at one of the two open-door cafes on the same street. Or be like me and spend an entire day posted up with a book or laptop at Kronotrop or Swedish Coffee Point getting my quota of sweets.
The service is impeccable. In fact, many of the locations I’ve discovered came from their recommendations. The room is decked out with the most modern facilities and to top it off they have an amazing rooftop with a stunning view.
Unless you’re an absolute fan of mosques and architecture, two to three days will be plenty for you to hit all the major attractions. I personally did it all in one. The rest is better spent north of the Bosphorus in the areas mentioned above just taking it a little slower. You actually won’t see many tourists outside of Taksim square and the main shopping district, so you can have a moment to breathe and enjoy some great food.