No other neighborhood of Istanbul reflects the city’s centuries-old, diverse history, better than Beyoğlu. In between the new, yet not necessarily well-executed ideas, it is still possible to find places where many memories were created, as well as those that pay tribute to the authentic spirit of the neighborhood. All you need to know is where to look.
Taksim Square and Galatasaray
When it comes to exploring Beyoğlu, Taksim Square has been the natural starting point of any sightseeing tour for many decades. Although the scenery of the square has dramatically changed, there are several noteworthy places within a short walking distance from this spot, which will help you see the neighborhood in the right light. The main pedestrian boulevard of Beyoğlu, İstiklal Caddesi, will be our main reference point for directions.
On your right hand side, at the beginning of İstiklal Caddesi you’ll find the French Cultural Institute, which occupies the former space of a seventeenth century hospital. Managed by the French consulate since 1926, today the complex serves as a home to various cultural and educational events, featuring a large garden and a café.
The Surp Ohan Vosgeperan Armenian Catholic Church is located right behind the French Cultural Institute. As the largest Armenian church in Istanbul, it’s been serving worshippers since 1837, and the current version was completed in 1863.
Take the time to explore nearby streets in search of exciting dining experiences: opposite the church you’ll see the Japanese Culture Center and Cafe Bunka sushi restaurant, which is small but as authentic as it gets. Follow the same street to reach Zencefil, the most established vegetarian and vegan eatery in town, as well as the social project restaurant Hayata Sarıl Lokantası, which helps those in need to find a new purpose, employment, and support. Once you reach Zübeyir Ocakbaşı on the corner, keep the place in mind for a night out with friends. Rest for a moment over a glass of Turkish tea from Marmara Çay Ocağı, and continue straight down.
The second turn on the left is Mis Sokak, where the Balyan family of renowned Ottoman architects used to live. This is also where İnci Pastanesi (patisserie), famous for its profiterol, relocated when the historic Cercle d’Orient building was closed down for renovation.
The third turn on the left onto Atıf Yılmaz Caddesi will take you to the historic Hacı Abdullah Lokantası for a tasty encounter with local cuisine and centuries-old tradition. Heading back towards İstiklal Caddesi, don’t forget to take a look at the sixteenth century Hüseyin Ağa Mosque’s courtyard fountain, which was designed by Mimar Sinan for its original location, Sinan Paşa Mosque in the Kasımpaşa neighborhood of Istanbul.
If you choose to start your sightseeing on the left side of İstiklal Caddesi, Aya Triada Greek Orthodox Church is your first point of interest. Built in 1880 as the third Greek Orthodox place of worship in the city, and the largest one to date, it was mostly destroyed during the Istanbul pogrom in 1955, and reopened after partial restoration in 2003. (Click here to check out the other must-see churches in Istanbul.)
Continuing down İstiklal Caddesi, on your right you’ll stumble upon Akbank Sanat, one of the most relevant, privately-held culture centers, where contemporary art exhibitions are held. The multi-purpose venue also serves as a workshop, library, café, and a concert hall during festival seasons.
Take the second turn on the left to find yourself on Büyükparmakkapı Sokak. Pandora Bookstore is a great place to browse through books about the city, and Suat Usta Mersin Tantuni is the best place to try this regional delicacy. Turning right at the end of the street, you’ll pass by Beyoğlu Sports Club, open since 1914. Follow the street to turn right next to the police station, and you’ll find yourself in the district of Çukurcuma.
Çukurcuma, Galatasaray, and the fish market area
Known as an endless treasure hunt destination, Çukurcuma is filled with antique and vintage shops, as well as designer studios that put all the treasures to good use. Our favorite hubs include Faik Paşa Caddesi and Çukurcuma Caddesi, and if you need an expert opinion on interior design, head to Aslı Günşiray. While in the neighborhood, you can’t miss a meal at Cuma (and if that happens on a Thursday, a cocktail at Salon upstairs as well), a visit to Museum of Innocence, based on the novel of the same name by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. Passing by TomTom, which is a new favorite area for local creatives, you have to remember to make a dinner reservation at Nicole, one of the city’s best restaurants.
Walking up the hill towards Galatasaray have a coffee at Muz, and continue back towards İstiklal Caddesi. (Click here for more information about Muz and the top 7 plat design in Istanbul.) Reaching your destination, on your left you’ll see Yapı Kredi Culture Center, presenting an opportunity to take a look at their rich program, and on your right Galatasaray High School—Turkey’s first secular school offering a western style of education. If you’re interested in the history of the school and the sports club under the same name, cross the street to visit Galatasaray Museum. Right behind it, in the area known as the Fish Market (Balık Pazarı) is where nightlife memories used to be created. From Çiçek Pasajı to meyhane-filled Nevizade street, you’ll have everything there is to know about traditional entertainment at your feet. Culturally significant restaurants include Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi and İmroz.
From Galatasaray to Tünel
Keep walking down İstiklal Caddesi and on the right hand side you will find SALT Beyoğlu, which reopened in 2018’s spring after renovation. At this six floor building, SALT’s rich program of exhibitions, film screenings, talks and other events are held. Nearby you can find Meşher art space, born into the former Arter venue on Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoğlu.
Known for its cosmopolitan spirit, historic Beyoğlu was home to numerous diplomatic missions, many of which still occupy their centuries-old, beautiful residences. Between Galatasaray and Tünel one can come across the French, Italian, Swedish, Russian, Dutch and British consulates. Although not available to general public for visits (except one exclusive tour a year taking place on May 9), from time to time they organize cultural events that present an opportunity to take a peek inside.
If you walk down towards Tünel, you can either continue on the main street, passing by the Saint Antoine church, or take the parallel route down Meşrutiyet Caddesi, where Pera Museum and the temporary location of Istanbul Modern museum are located. The street is also home to the historic Büyük Londra Hotel and Pera Palace Hotel, as well as Mikla restaurant on top of The Marmara Pera hotel, and Kıraathane Istanbul Literature House (İstanbul Edebiyat Evi) where literature and arts related events are frequently held.
Asmalımescit quarter has a rich gastronomic history. It is known for the family-run tradesmen restaurant, Şahin Lokantası, which has remained in the same spot since its opening in 1967, as well as for its traditional meyhane restaurants, such as Refik and Sofyalı 9. The section of Asmalımescit on the other side of İstiklal Caddesi—Kumbaracı Yokuşu—is home to Yeni Lokanta, a modern Turkish cuisine restaurant by chef Civan Er. (Click here for the top 7 chef restaurant in Istanbul.)
Wandering around the streets near Şişhane metro station, you can stop by Misela boutique, which sells signature handbags that gained popularity all around the world. You can eat at Pera Thai, one of Istanbul’s first foreign cuisine restaurants, and head to the Nejat Eczacıbaşı building; which serves as the main office of Istanbul Culture and Arts Foundation (IKSV)— which is home to Salon (hosting some of the hottest concerts in town)—and includes Firuze restaurant and Monkey Bar on top floor, the perfect location to watch the sun setting over the Golden Horn.
The ride on the world’s shortest metro line, Tünel, should definitely be on your to-do list. You can also save it for your way back up, and since it’s physically not as challenging, continue down the hill on foot. Passing next to the old Beyoğlu municipality building, stop by Kameleon, where you can find local designer and vintage pieces, or have a snack at Bakkal cafe next door. From there you can see the Galata Tower, the heart and focal point of the Galata neighborhood. Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak on the left is where you can find designer shops, cafés, and the essence of the area’s character. Galip Dede Caddesi will take you down all the way to Bankalar Caddesi, where the historic, former bank buildings have been turned into restaurants, hotels, and offices. Our favorite example of restoration work at its finest is SALT Galata, in the former Ottoman Bank building, which now serves as a library, gallery, research center, and home to chef Maksut Aşkar’s splendid Neolokal restaurant.