Think Istanbul and what springs to mind? Mosques, markets, kebabs, Turkish Delight? Well, yes probably, if, like me, you’d never been to Turkey and just had stereotypes to go on. But surprise surprise, there’s another side to the city that straddles two continents. Once you’ve ticked off all the usual suspects, hip and happening Beyoglu is definitely an area you should spend a day wandering around.
Amidst trendy, tourist magnet shops, much of the area is dotted with grand Ottoman era mansions. Once known as Pera, Beyoglu’s Greek, Italian (particularly Venetian and Genoese) and western European influences are evident in the Neoclassical and Art Nouveau styles of the beautiful buildings you see on every street. They’d been left empty and crumbling for decades, but the young are moving in, the buildings are being done up and cafes, restaurants and bars are doing a huge trade. The area is still very rundown, but walking around the streets it’s very easy to imagine the grandeur of the past. And it’s easy to see how that grandeur may soon return. Personally, I kind of like the current shabby/cool vibe.
Street art seems to be quite popular here too.
This one was much more to my liking as it’s less 80’s cartoon, more artistic expression.
Enjoying a free ride on the Istiklal tram.
The Galata Tower, conspicuous in Beyoglu not just for its size, but also because it seems to be the most well preserved building in the whole area. Despite being built in medieval times, up close it seems brand new. This might have a little something to do with the constant queues wrapped all around the base and an entry fee (25TL) almost as steep as the hills you need to climb to reach it. I’m sure they’re not short on maintenance funds. The square around the tower is a lively part of town most of the day and night and as the sun sets, people flock to sit on the steps just off Galipdede Street, giving it a feel not unlike the Spanish Steps in Rome.
Stuff to Know:
The area of Beyoglu actually comprises the neighborhoods Galata, Karakoy, Tophane, Cihangir and a few more. If you cross the Galata Bridge from the Old Town European side, start walking uphill and you’ll have found it. You don’t need an itinerary here, throw out the map and get lost. Who knows what you’ll stumble upon.
Just a little warning, those hills are steep with a capital ‘oof’. Depending on your fitness, you might need a couple of rests before you get to Istiklal Street at the top. But then there’s plenty of shops and cafes to pop into on the way to catch your breath.