Exploring Eminönü isn’t simply about checking places off your must-see list. Rather, it’s about enjoying the many small discoveries in between. While wandering through the district, you may end up acquiring a new hobby or skill, or simply buying certain items you always wanted but never knew where to find.
In the hustle and bustle of Istanbul’s historic commercial center, there are few places where one can enjoy a quiet moment alone before being swallowed up by the intense local energy. Luckily, the newly restored Beta Yeni Han on Hasırcılar Caddesi in Tahtakale provides a secluded courtyard and flavored Turkish coffee, with which you can start your day on the right note. The street itself is a favored venue for cooking enthusiasts and those who can never own enough kitchenware.
To find Cankurtaran Gıda, one of the city’s best delicatessens, you’ll have to go to the famous Spice Bazaar. Here, at number 33, you’ll find the best local cheeses and deli meats, and–if you haven’t already had breakfast–you can grab a gourmet sandwich to go. The place gets crowded almost as soon as it opens, though, so be prepared to wait in line for a bit before your order is ready.
After that, you can head towards Sirkeci, where you can buy winning lottery tickets at the Nimet Abla shop; visit the Iş Bank Museum, where old money tills now serve as elegant displays; or indulge your sweet tooth at the historic Haci Bekir confectionery. If you have any time left before lunch, you can also visit the Istanbul Railway Museum. Located in the old Sirkeci train station, this is where the famous Orient Express used to set out from.
There is no better place to have lunch in the district than the landmark Pandeli restaurant on the upper floor of the Spice Bazaar. You’ll be transported a century back in time to enjoy the same dishes that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, used to have delivered to Ankara by train.
From there, you can make your way towards the spectacular Süleymaniye Mosque. But instead of taking the obvious way recommended by your navigation app, use the warren of narrow alleys and passageways. Here you will find everything from semi-precious stones and tiny beads (from which you can fashion your own jewelry) to the all-natural ingredients needed for making soap. You can also stock up on quality towels and hammam accessories, or buy sports equipment (including high-performance fishing gear) at discounted prices.
Especially popular in the winter—but open all year round—is Vefa Bozacısı, a little shop in which patrons stand in line for a glass of fermented millet drink, prepared in the exact same way since 1876. If you have never tried boza, imagine drinking a thick sour pudding with a pungent but appealing taste.
On the first day of each month, you should plan a visit to Ayin Biri Kilisesi, a Greek Orthodox church in Unkapanı, to which locals attribute wish-fulfilling powers. You must wait in line for a golden key, which you’re expected to return once your wish has been granted. Immediately opposite the church you’ll see the Istanbul Manufacturers and Textile Center (İMÇ), where—on the fifth block of the ground floor next to a tea garden—you’ll find Kaya Bakırcılık, which offers a selection of copper antiques and newly made pots and pans.