Beyoglu and Taksim
Beyoglu is an interesting example of a district with European-influenced architecture, from a century before. Europe’s second oldest subway, Tunel was built by the French in 1875, must be also one of the shortest – offering a one-stop ride to start of Taksim. Near to Tunel is the Galata district, whose Galata Tower became a famous symbols of Istanbul, and the top of which offers a tremendous 180 degree view of the city.
From the Tunel area to Taksim square is one of the city’s focal points for shopping, entertainment and urban promenading: Istiklal Caddesi is a fine example of the contrasts and compositions of Istanbul; fashion shops, bookshops, cinemas, markets, restaurants and even hand-carts selling trinkets and simit (sesame bread snack) ensure that the street is packed throughout the day until late into the night. The old tramcars re-entered into service, which shuttle up and down this fascinating street, and otherwise the street is entirely pedestrianised. There are old embassy buildings, Galatasaray High School, the colorful ambience of Balik Pazari (Fish Bazaar) and restaurants in Cicek Pasaji (Flower Passage). Also on this street is the oldest church in the area, St Mary’s Draperis dating back to 1789, and the Franciscan Church of St Antoine, demolished and then rebuilt in 1913.
The street ends at Taksim Square, a huge open plaza, the hub of modern Istanbul and always crowded, crowned with an imposing monument celebrating Ataturk and the War of Independence. The main terminal of the new subway is under the square, adjacent is a noisy bus terminal, and at the north end is the Ataturk Cultural Centre, one of the venues of the Istanbul Theatre Festival. Several five-star hotels are dotted around this area, like the Hyatt, Intercontinental and Hilton (the oldest of its kind in the city). North of the square is the Istanbul Military Museum.
Taksim and Beyoglu have for centuries been the centre of nightlife, and now there are many lively bars and clubs off Istiklal Caddesi, including majority of the gay venues in the city. Beyoglu is also the centre of the more bohemian arts scene.
The central quarter of historical Istanbul, where the imperial old city was also located. It is the house of the most significant historical remnants such as, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, museums, tourist hotels, shops restaurants and ancient Hippodrome at the very center which was scene of chariot races and the center of Byzantine civic life. It was the place where the Nika Riot started in 532 AD. There are an Egyptian Obelisk, a stone obelisk and the Serpentine Column which were originally brought by the emperors and used for the decoration of the Hippodrome.
Golden Horn & Eyup
This horn-shaped estuary divides European Istanbul. One of the best natural harbors in the world, it was once the centre for the Byzantine and Ottoman navies and commercial shipping interests. Today, attractive parks and promenades line the shores, a picturesque scene especially as the sun goes down over the water. At Fener and Balat, neighborhoods midway up the Golden Horn, there are entire streets filled with old wooden houses, churches, and synagogues dating from Byzantine and Ottoman times. The Orthodox Patriarchy resides at Fener and a little further up the Golden Horn at Eyup, are some wonderful examples of Ottoman architecture. Muslim pilgrims from all over the world visit Eyup Mosque and Tomb of Eyup, the Prophet Mohammed’s standard bearer, and it is one of the holiest places in Islam. The area is a still a popular burial place, and the hills above the mosque are dotted with modern gravestones interspersed with ornate Ottoman stones. The Pierre Loti Cafe atop the hill overlooking the shrine and the Golden Horn, is a wonderful place to enjoy the tranquility of the view.
Click here for gay friendly Golden Horn & Eyup tours
A stay in Istanbul is not complete without a traditional and unforgettable boat trip up the Bosphorus, the winding strait that separates Europe and Asia. Its shores offer a delightful mixture of past and present, grand splendor and simple beauty. Modem hotels stand next to yali (shorefront wooden villas), marble palaces alongside rustic stone fortresses, and elegant compounds neighbor small fishing villages. Districts lying on both sides of the Bosphorus contribute to the charm of this water passageway that is unique in the world with its quite different textures and residential forms. Kuzguncuk, Beylerbeyi, Çengelköy, Kanlica on the Asian side, Arnavutkoy, Bebek, and Istinye on the European side are the most beautiful small towns dotted along the shores of Bosporus. The best way to see the Bosphorus is to board one of the public boats that regularly zigzag along the shores. Embark at Eminonu, and stop alternately on the Asian and European sides of the strait. The round trip excursion, very reasonably priced, takes about six hours. If you wish a private voyage, there are agencies that specialize in organizing these, day or night.
Click here for gay friendly Bosphorus tours
Nisantasi district is famous for its Art Nouveau apartment buildings and its plethora of designer label stores. It is undoubtedly Istanbul’s most elegant quarter of and it's home to several prominent figures of the Turkish jet-set, culture and art. There are refreshingly large choice of excellent and stylish restaurants, bars and the stores of world famous brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, Escada, Kenzo, Prada and many more.
Nisantasi was originally an artillery range for Ottoman soldiers (the name is derived from targeting). The land was opened to settlement in the 18th century by Sultan Abulmejid, who ordered the construction of the Art Nouveau Police Station and Tesvikiye Mosque on the street which bears its name. The idea was to create a totally Europeanized district within Istanbul, and it seems to be a great success in that sense. The heart of the neighborhood is the point where Vali Konagi street dissects Rumeli and Tesvikiye Avenues. Rumeli Avenue leads down from Osmanbey, the closest metro station just one stop from Taksim. From there it's just a matter of following Rumeli Avenue for 250 meters until an intersection appears at which the traffic is at a standstill. This is the heart of Nisantasi.
Adalar (Prince Islands)
Adalar is the plural for "ada" which means island in Turkish. This a group of small islands in Marmara sea close to the main land on the Asian side. The beaches on these islands seem to be the only swimming option left close to the down town Istanbul. They consist of 9 islands, 4 of which are considerably popular and inhabited. Private cars and motor vehicles are not allowed on any of the islands. So you need to walk, hire a bicycles or Fayton (a traditional horse-drawn carriage) to get around.
Majority of the native inhabitants of these islands used to be non-Muslim citizens of Ottoman Empire (Jews, Greeks, Armenians) until the end of 19th century. Now there are mansions and summer houses of rich men of Istanbul. Buyuk Ada (Grand Island) is the biggest one as the name suggests, and it is the most vibrant one. There are public ferryboats to Adalar from Kabatas pier on the European side (closer to Taksim, easily accessible from Sultanahmet by tramcar) and from Kadikoy and Bostanci districts on the Asian side. The journey takes 30-45 minutes by boat from Kabatas. The ferryboat from Sirkeci stops on each inhabited island one after the other, in order of Kinaliada, Burgaz, Heybeliada and Buyukada. You can do hop-on hop off in this order between the islands by taking the next arriving ferryboat. On return way, the ferryboat does not stop on other islands after departing Buyukada. If you are staying around Taksim, you need to take the funicular line (Finukuler) from Taksim Metro station to Kabatas first, which takes no more than 5 minutes.
Click here for ferryboat schedules from Kabatas to Prince Islands.
Click here for gay friendly Prince Islands tours
Ortakoy was a resort for the Ottoman rulers because of its attractive location on the Bosphorus, and is still a popular spot for residents and visitors. The village is within a triangle of a mosque, church and synagogue, and is near Ciragan Palace, Kabatas High School, Feriye, Princess Hotel.
The name Ortakoy reflects the university students and teachers who would gather to drink tea and discuss life, when it was just a small fishing village. These days, however, that scene has developed into a suburb with an increasing amount of expensive restaurants, bars, shops and a huge market. The fishing, however, lives on and the area is popular with local anglers, and there is now a huge waterfront tea-house which is crammed at weekends and holidays.
The first sight of Sariyer is where the Bosphorus connects with the Black Sea, after the bend in the river after Tarabya. Around this area, old summer houses, embassies and fish restaurants line the river, and a narrow road which separates it from Buyukdere, continues along to the beaches of Kilyos.
Sariyer and Rumeli Kavagi are the final wharfs along the European side visited by the Bosphorus boat trips. Both these districts, famous for their fish restaurants along with Anadolu Kavagi, get very crowded at weekends and holidays with Istanbul residents escaping the city.
After these points, the Bosphorus is lined with tree-covered cliffs and little habitation. The Sadberk Hanim Museum, just before Sariyer, is an interesting place to visit; a collection of archaeological and ethnographic items, housed in two wooden houses. A few kilometers away is the huge Belgrade Forest, once a haunting ground of the Ottomans, and now a popular weekend retreat into the largest forest area in the city.
Relatively unknown to tourists, the suburb of Uskudar, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, is one of the most attractive suburbs. Religiously conservative in its background, it has a tranquil atmosphere and some fine examples of imperial and domestic architecture.
The Iskele, or Mihrimah Camii is opposite the main ferry pier, on a high platform with a huge covered porch in front, often occupied by older local men watching life around them. Opposite this is Yeni Valide Camii, built in 1710, and the Valide Sultan’s green tomb rather like a giant birdcage. The Cinili Mosque takes its name from the beautiful tiles which decorate the interior, and was built in 1640.
Apart from places of religious interest, Uskudar is also well known as a shopping area, with old market streets selling traditional local produce, and a good flea market with second hand furniture. There are plenty of good restaurants and cafes with great views of the Bosphorus and the rest of the city, along the quayside. In the direction of Haydarpasa is the Karaca Ahmet Cemetery, the largest Muslim graveyard in Istanbul. The front of the Camlica hills lie at the ridge of area and also offer great panoramic views of the islands and river.
Travel and Transportation Historical Landmarks Culture and Art Guide A Brief History of Istanbul
Perfect accommodation in the midst of Istanbul's gay lifeRead More
The popular gay and lesbian friendly hotel in the past few weeksRead More
A private gay guide will accompany your first nights in IstanbulRead More
Gay lesbian friendly tours in IstanbulRead More
Click here to follow all LGBT news and events in TurkeyClick Here