AD | As the city that covers two continents and blends the food, art, and music of many cultures, Istanbul is one of the most visited and popular tourist destinations on the planet. But while the majority of the 13 million visitors are more than happy to explore the best-known attractions, there is so much more to the Turkish capital than Aya Sofya, the Topkapi Palace and the Turk Telekom Stadi.
While you should certainly make time to visit those universally known places too, taking yourself off the beaten path is how you’ll truly embrace the magic of Istanbul. Here’s all you need to know about the hidden gems of Augusta Antonina.
Sultanahmet & The Beauty of Hagia Sophia
As the heart of the historic Old Istanbul, Sultanahmet is actually a very popular part of the city. It offers a journey back in time thanks to the preservation of landmark buildings, museums, and the distinct culture. It truly is a place where natural and human beauty entwine.
While this part of the city is visited by millions each year, only a small percentage get to truly unlock the true potential of Sultanahmet. The Hippodrome in Sultanahmet Square, the Blue Mosque, and Basilica Cistern are all historical places to visit. However, Hagia Sophia is the true gem in the crown.
The best way to take in the breathtaking architecture of Hagia Sophia is to book a Hagia Sophia private tour. This enables you to learn about the background to what was world’s largest building at the time o construction way back in 537AD while taking the most enjoyable paths, such as using the stone ramps that will take you to the beautiful mosaics.
While all visitors are guaranteed a good time, it’s very easy to miss out on the best parts of Hagia Sophia. When you explore it in style, the magical memories will last a lifetime.
Fener & Balat
The Fener-Balat area of the city is far less known than Sultanahmet, but it’s equally blessed with historic beauty. Some of those hidden gems are sure to take your breath away, providing you with the type of experiences that the vast majority of visitors miss out on.
These parts of the city were once the Jewish and Greek Orthodox neighborhoods, which is evident in the beautiful buildings. Many of the streets are lined with houses that still pay homage to those roots while the Greek Orthodox College, which was established in 1454, and Church of St George are incredible places to visit.
Other venues of historical relevance and architecture include the Bulgarian St. Stephen Church situated next to the Golden Horn and the 16th-century imperial mosque at Yavuz Selim. Meanwhile, foodies will love delighting their taste buds at Forno Balat and other places that specialize in local cuisines that can date back centuries.
Taverns, coffee shops, and vintage boutiques all offer the perfect platform for relaxed enjoyment and a break from the hustle and bustle of other areas. Every visitor should add a Fener Balat tour to their itinerary.
Football fans will know Besiktas due to the country’s third most successful team being based here. On match days, the atmosphere around the Vodafone Park is electric. However, this part of the city has so much more to offer.
Foodies will love the various kebab shops, the fish market, and various food vendors that create delicious local treats and delicacies. Bordered by the shore of the Bosphorus strait, it is additionally the perfect place to find a cruise to explore the waters.
This area isn’t short of architectural beauty either as Dolmabahce Palace is one of Turkey’s most beautiful, particularly when you catch its reflection in the water. Its historical context is rooted by the Ottoman Empire, which was one of the most important eras in Turkish and European history. When supported by a local tour guide, you’ll gain in-depth insight into the design of what is the country’s largest palace (it boats 285 rooms!) as well as other local attractions.
Modern attractions in this part of the city include the Zorlu Centre, MetroCity, and Istanbul Sapphire. The shopping mall, in particular, is a place that is loved by visitors of all backgrounds.
Beyoglu is, like Besiktas, a territory located on the European side of the city and is separated from the old city by the Golden Horn. So, you won’t have to travel far to explore the beauty of this area. It is most definitely worth your time and effort.
Walking down Istiklal Avenue is a must for all tourists, although you should be prepared for how busy it gets. Up to 3 million people can pass through it in a day, but the atmosphere, noise, and culture will stay in your mind forever. The street, which is just under a mile long, is home to cinemas, boutiques, cafes, music, galleries, and various other attractions. There is something for everyone.
This district of the city is heralded for its nightlife, so is a particularly good place to head in the evenings for a night of food and entertainment. Winehouses like Pano have been around for over 100 years too, and offer cultural history lessons as well as plenty of fun for a day excursion. The intersecting avenues mean that the next adventure is only ever around the corner.
The Pera Museum is another hidden gem in this area and, better still, is free to visit. The Istanbul Modern Art Museum and Tophane-i Amire Culture & Arts Center ensure that those seeking artistic culture are satisfied too.
Located on the Asian side of the city by the northern shore of the Sea of Marmara, Kadikoy is another fantastic part of the city. While it still attracts thousands of visitors, it is far less packed than some of the European areas. Yet, with relics dating back to circa 5500-3500 BC, it is easily one of the most historically rich areas in the beautiful country.
Travelling between Kadikoy and the European locations by boat is an immensely enjoyable experience in itself. Once you arrive, the serenity and natural beauty will be sure to provide the wow factor you’re after. This is supported by stunning eateries and a plethora of independent shops that are distinctly different from other parts of the city.
In addition to exploring the markets, restaurants, and coffee shops, this is the perfect place to relax in the Turkish baths at Aziziye Hamam. They date back to the 19th century and are truly luxurious. Meanwhile, time spent at HUSH Lounge, the jazz bars, and Ayaküstü Masaj can take the calming vibes to another level. Whether it’s a mid-trip break or some relaxation at the end of your time in Istanbul, Kadikoy is superb.
Besides, it would be madness to visit the unique city of Istanbul without experiencing both the European and Asian sides of the city. This is the perfect way to celebrate the difference while also realizing that we are all one.
Making The Most of Your Stay in Istanbul
The fact of the matter is that one trip to Istanbul never feels long enough. After all, even the residents that live here never get to uncover everything that the city has to offer. Still, if you truly want to take your experiences to the next level, it’s imperative that you combine the touristy areas with some of the hidden gems.
Hiring a local guide in Istanbul is the perfect way to discover the local culture and attractions in style. When you do, it will truly be the trip of a lifetime.
* This is a sponsored guest post