Istanbul is such a diverse city that it's almost impossible to split it up into definable districts. The only real distinction that can be made is between the European and Asian sides, which are separated by the Bosphorus Strait. Stretching from the Black Sea, straddling across the Bosphorus, touching the Sea of Marmara, Istanbul, with an estimated population of between 10-13 million, has become a city of unlimited scope.
Most people who come to Istanbul land feet first in Sultanahmet. This peninsula (known as Sarayburnu) juts out into the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara. Rich in history, it's a natural magnet to millions of tourists every year. The home of
Situated right on the waterfront on the Golden Horn, Eminönü is the end of the tramline. It is generally buzzing with activity during the day, with street peddlers selling you things you never even knew you wanted. The vast
Beyoglu / Taksim
A veritable symphony of Occident and Orient, Beyoglu is the pulsating heartbeat of Istanbul's day and nightlife.
This is undoubtedly Istanbul's Bohemian Quarter, which not so long ago was perceived as a bad part of town, with its dark deserted streets and creepy abandoned buildings. However, the area has undergone tremendous development in recent years. Tiny cafes, live music venues, and open-air restaurants and bars now quietly coexist with art galleries, antique bookshops and music stores.
Around the first century BC, there was a tiny village situated on the mini peninsula of the Golden Horn where the modern suburb of Karaköy stands today. These days, Karaköy is a bustling port with a lively fish market, a hectic ferry terminal and a shady nightlife; an intriguing landscape at the mouth of the Golden Horn. Scores of locals fish from the Galata Bridge and an array of vendors peddle all kinds of goods along the sidewalks. A vast underground marketplace where you can buy electrical appliances and guns, among other things, provides not-so-safe passage under the busy road to the entrance of Tünel. Up the hill is Bankalar Caddesi, an historical area filled with banks, art galleries and do-it-yourself stores. All visiting international cruise ships dock in Karaköy.
The most interesting part of the Golden Horn district comprises of the stretch of land between Eminönü and Ayvansaray, up as far as Eyüp. The Selimiye Mosque, the Fethiye Mosque and St. Steven's Church grace the shoreline while the Kariye Müzesi (Chora Church) and Mihrimah Mosque are further inland. The old city walls start at Ayvansaray and snake overland to Yedikapi.
Besiktas and Ortaköy
Besiktas -- which is actually dismally devoid of places to help you paint the town red -- is at the center of the three-way fork that leads up the hill to Levent. Ortaköy, on the other hand, is a bustling suburb on the waterfront. Bubbling over with cafés, bars, restaurants and tea houses, this area is a popular weekend hangout for locals. Ortaköy's back streets are buzzing with handicraft stalls filled with trinkets and souvenirs on summer weekends. This part of town is renowned for its mosque, church and synagogue within close quarters of one another. The Bosphorus Bridge spans the waterway overhead.
Bosphorus: Arnavutköy to Sariyer
The Bosphorus shore on the European side is lined with Ottoman-style mansions, high society hangouts and fish restaurants. There is only one main road and it follows the shoreline all the way to Zekariyeköy, a popular weekend getaway for the citybound.
Sea of Marmara Coast: Kumkapi to Yediküle
Kumkapi is a distinctly touristy area filled with over-priced fish restaurants and not much else besides views of the sea. The coast road heads out toward the airport past the old city walls and Yediküle Fortress.
Asian Side & Bosphorus: Kadiköy to Anadolu Hisari
Kadiköy is a quieter version of Beyoglu with a more subdued atmosphere. The tiny cobbled lanes are filled with restaurants, cafés, bars, cinemas and shops, but most importantly, residents! The Asian side of town is where most Istanbulites live; you'll have a harder time with no Turkish language skills here, but it's worth it to pop over on the ferry and experience a more relaxed way of life. The coast road snakes past Üsküdar, a pretty suburb with plenty of fine examples of Mimar Sinan's work, including the
There are four islands in the Sea of Marmara that attract crowds escaping the summer heat: Büyükada, Heybeliada, Kinaliada and Burgazada. Ferries leave from Sirkeci, Kadiköy and Bostanci regularly. There are no cars on the islands -- the transport here is limited to horse-drawn carriages. Each island offers plenty of places to eat and sleep, and there are Greek monasteries atop the hills of Büyükada and Heybeliada.