Top 7 "off the beaten path" in Istanbul

Top 7 "off the beaten path" in Istanbul

May 17, 2013
  • Zeyrek | Photograph by Jürgen Horn
  • Vefa Bozacı | Photograph by Jürgen Horn
  • Arnavutköy | Photograph by Jürgen Horn
  • Büyük Camlıca | Photograph by Jürgen Horn
  • Land Walls
  • Energy Museum | Photograph by Jürgen Horn
  • Land Walls | Photograph by Jürgen Horn

Contributed by the bloggers behind Istanbul for 91 Days.

We're two guys who travel around the world, spending 91 days in each new destination. Currently, we're in Istanbul. With three months to explore the city, we've had time to hit all the major tourist sights, but also have been able to discover a lot of the quieter neighborhoods and lesser-known monuments. We've still got a lot left to see, but after two months in the city, here our top seven sights which don't often appear on the traditional Istanbul itinerary.

1. Büyük Çamlıca

Istanbul is a city of hills, and the very highest is the Büyük Çamlıca in Üsküdar. The views from here stretch for miles and, especially on a clear day, there's no better place to get a sense for how ridiculously big Istanbul truly is. It's not too hard to reach, just a quick mini-bus or taxi ride from the Üsküdar piers. And if you're hungry, enjoy traditional Dagestani dumplings at the excellent Hangi Manti, found at the bottom of the hill.

2. The Museum of Energy (Santral İstanbul)

Found in the Santralİstanbul cultural complex at the very end of the Golden Horn, the Museum of Energy preserves the equipment which was used by the Silahtarağa Plant to power Istanbul for decades. You're free to wander around the massive turbines and generators, explore the spaceship-like control room, and play around with interactive exhibits. It's one of the most unique museums we've seen, and a must for anyone who enjoys old industrial sites. Kazım Karabekir Caddesi No. 1

3. Yavuz Selim Mosque

We've seen a ton of mosques during our time here, and think that the most overlooked is the Yavuz Selim Camii, in Fatih. It was built in 1527 for Sultan Selim the Grim, father of Süleyman the Great, on the top of a hill. The mosque is large, with an interior that's refreshingly simple, well-lit, and beautifully adorned with Iznik tiles. The true star, though, is the mosque's lovely courtyard, shaded with trees and boasting a fantastic view over the Golden Horn. Balat Mahallesi, Fatih.

4. Vefa Bozacısı

Boza is a thick, delicious drink made of fermented wheat, which has been popular in Istanbul for centuries. Atatürk was a big fan, and his favorite boza haunt is still one of the best places in the city to try it out: Vefa Bozaçısı. Near the aqueduct, this quaint and photogenic shop has been around since 1876. You can even see Atatürk's favorite drinking cup displayed proudly on the wall. Vefa Katip Çelebi Caddesi No. 104

5. Zeyrek

Near the Vefa Bozacısı, Zeyrek stretches to the north past the Aqueduct of Valens, and is one of our favorite neighborhoods in the city. It's a very lively place, with markets opened out to the streets, vendors clamoring for customers, men hustling by with carcasses hoisted over their shoulders, and seemingly everyone in permanent good spirits. Tourists are few and far between (despite Zeyrek having been recognized by UNESCO as a historic neighborhood), and locals seem almost eager to chat with visitors.

6. Arnavutköy

Our favorite European Bosphorus village is Arnavutköy, found just south of Bebek. With narrow, twisting streets, beautiful old yalıs along the waterfront, excellent restaurants and a refreshingly down-to-earth atmosphere, it's the kind of place you could happily spend an entire day. On the Asian side, Çengelköy rates a close second. Situated on a bend in the strait, it boasts a superb view of the Bosphorus Bridge, and is a great spot for a long Sunday breakfast.

7. The Theodosian Walls

The city walls built during the reign of Theodosius the Great protected Constantinople for over 1000 years. They were eventually breached by the Ottomans and are today in a state of semi-ruin, but walking along their six-kilometer length, from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn, makes for a wonderful day out. Along the way, there's plenty to see, including churches, museums, and mosques, and the views from atop the towers are unforgettable.

To read more of Mike Powell's articles accompanied by the photography of Jürgen Horn, visit their blog, Istanbul for 91 Days. We want to know what sights you would include on your list. Please let us know using the comments section below.