For more than 1,500 years İstanbul was the capital of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires.
With one arm reaching out to Asia and the other to Europe, İstanbul is the only city in the world built on two continents. The Bosphorus courses the waters of the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the Golden Horn through the city’s heart.
İstanbul’s fate has been sealed by its strategic location and its enchanting natural beauty. For more than 1,500 years it was the capital of three empires: The Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires. It was adorned as befitted its importance with magnificent monuments and became a metropolis where diverse cultures, nations, and religions mingled. These cultures, nations, and religions are the small colored stones that form the mosaic of İstanbul.
Striking Multireligious Identity
İstanbul’s identity began to take shape with the Byzantines and gained momentum during the period of the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror declared İstanbul the capital of Ottoman Empire after he conquered the city in 1453. Over the next 450 years the city was adorned with superb Ottoman monuments. Building works after the conquest gathered apace during the reign of Sultan Bayezid II, with the finest works built by Mimar Sinan, the Chief Royal Architect. This world-famous architect put his signature on the silhouette of İstanbul with a number of masterpieces.
The Ottomans were tolerant towards all religions and dedicated many places of worship to the Christian and Jewish communities so that they could practice their religion undisturbed. Thus, in İstanbul mosques, churches, and synagogues stood and still stand side by side as the physical evidence of İstanbul as a center and symbol of tolerance and the fraternity of religions.
As an imperial capital of 1,500 years, İstanbul is rich in architectural monuments reflecting its past splendor.
At every turn in the city one can happen upon Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman palaces, mosques, churches, monasteries, monuments, walls, and ruins. The old city center, with its places of worship, government, trade and entertainment, was where the citizens mingled, enjoying the benefits of the security and bounty of the state while maintaining their culture and way of life.
The most magnificent of İstanbul’s monuments are clustered on the Historical Peninsula, the triangular piece of land surrounded by the Sea of Marmara to the east and south, by the Golden Horn to the north, and by the city walls to the west. This group of sites, known as the Historic Areas of İstanbul, were included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985, and continue to this day to impress visitors with their history and importance. Sultanahmet Square is the heart of the Historical Peninsula and in its vicinity one can find the most prominent examples of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture.
Living Heritage of the Byzantines
During the Byzantine period the center of the city was the Hippodrome and its environs. The palace was the center of power and Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque) was the most spectacular religious building. The hippodrome served as an entertainment center for the people and the Yerebatan Sarnıcı (Basilica Cistern) supplied most of the city’s water. All these structures can be found in the center of the city. During Ottoman times, the square where the hippodrome once stood became the site for the circumcision ceremonies of the sultans’ sons.
Great Mystic Symbols
The most glorious architectural heritage of the Byzantine Empire is Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque) which is referred to as the “8th Wonder of the World.” With a history of more than 1,500 years, it is one of the great symbols of İstanbul. The mosaics of Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque), which were uncovered after it became a museum, are the foremost examples of Byzantine art of the 9th to 12th centuries. The Kariye Mosque (former Chora Church) is another Byzantine monument famous for its fine mosaics and frescoes. The Neve Shalom, Ahrida, and Aşkenazi Synagogues are three of the most important sacred places for Judaism in İstanbul.
The Topkapı Palace is particularly important for the Mukaddes Emanetler Dairesi (Chamber of Holy Relics) where Prophet Muhammed’s Hırka-i Saadet (Blessed Mantle) and Sancak-ı Şerif (Holy Banner) are kept in their golden chests. The Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, was built between 1609 and 1616, and houses the tomb of its founder, Sultan Ahmed I, a madrasah, and a hospice.
Historic Areas of İstanbul
The Historic Areas of İstanbul, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985, cover four main areas: The Archaeological Park, the Süleymaniye Mosque and its associated conservation area, Zeyrek Mosque and its associated conservation area, and the City Walls of İstanbul. In its evaluation report, the International Council on Monuments and Sites has stated that one cannot conceive of the UNESCO World Heritage List without İstanbul, which has been associated with the world’s major political, religious, and artistic events for over 2,000 years. The cultural property in this area includes unique monuments and masterpieces of universal architecture. Two of these monuments are Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque) , built by Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus in AD 532-537, and the Süleymaniye Mosque, a masterpiece of Mimar Sinan (“Architect Sinan”) or Mimar Koca Sinan (“Great Architect Sinan”). The 6,650-meter-long city walls of Theodosius II, with its second line of defenses created in AD 447, has been one of the world’s leading references in military architecture.
The Other Shore
Another historical area of İstanbul, on the opposite shore of the Golden Horn, is the former district of Pera, meaning “the other shore.” Settled by Genoese and Venetians in the 12th century, this quarter was inhabited mostly by Levantines and represented the city’s Western face. The cosmopolitan character of ancient İstanbul is reflected in the following buildings in Pera: the Galata Tower built by the Genoese, stately consulates which were embassies before the capital was moved to Ankara, and the Art Nouveau buildings of İstiklal Avenue. Church of St. Anthony of Padua, a silent and tranquil spot on this avenue, is visited frequently by devout visitors of every religion. Palaces, summer palaces, castles, and large mansions built by the Ottomans continue to adorn İstanbul. After Topkapı Palace, Yıldız Palace and Dolmabahçe Palace on the shores of the Bosphorus became the residences of the Ottoman sultans. İstanbul is also famous for the elegant wooden houses, known as yalıs, built along the shores of the strait.
Haliç, The Golden Horn
This horn-shaped estuary known as the Golden Horn divides European İstanbul in two. As one of the world’s best natural harbors, the Byzantine and Ottoman navies and their commercial shipping interests were centered here. Today, lovely parks and promenades line the shores where the setting sun casts a golden hue on the water. At Fener and Balat, neighborhoods midway up the Golden Horn, whole streets full of old wooden houses, churches, and synagogues date from Byzantine and Ottoman times, while the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople resides at Fener. Eyüp, a little further up, is full of Ottoman architecture, much of it restored, and cemeteries dotted with dark cypress trees covering the hillsides. Many believers come to the Tomb of Eyüp in the hope that their prayers will be granted. The Pierre Loti Café, atop the hill overlooking the shrine, is a wonderful place to enjoy an alternative view of İstanbul.
A stay in İstanbul is not complete without a traditional and unforgettable boat excursion up the Bosphorus, the strait that separates Europe and Asia. Its shores offer a delightful mixture of past and present, grand splendors and simple beauty.
Modern hotels stand next to yalıs (waterfront wooden villas), marble palaces abut on rustic stone fortresses, and elegant compounds neighbor small fishing villages.
The best way to see the Bosphorus is to board one of the passenger boats that regularly zigzag along the shores. Embark at Eminönü and stop alternately on the Asian and European sides of the strait! The round-trip excursion, very reasonably priced, takes about six hours. For those who want a private voyage, there are agencies that specialize in organizing daytime or nighttime mini-cruises.
During the trip you will go past the magnificent Dolmabahçe Palace, while further along you will encounter the green parks and imperial pavilions of Yıldız Palace. Built on the waterfront with parks extending behind it, Çırağan Palace was refurbished in 1874 by Sultan Abdülaziz, and is now restored as a grand hotel. For 300 meters along the Bosphorus shore, its ornate marble facades reflect the swiftly moving water. At Ortaköy, the next stop, every Sunday artists gather to exhibit their work in a street-side gallery where the variety of people create a lively scene. While in Ortaköy, you should sample a tasty kumpir (baked potato) from one of the street vendors. And also note its church, mosque, and synagogue that have existed side by side for hundreds of years – a tribute to Türkiye’s tolerance at grassroots level. Overshadowing İstanbul’s traditional architecture at Ortaköy is one of the world’s largest suspension bridges, the Boğaziçi Bridge, linking Europe and Asia.
The beautiful Beylerbeyi Palace lies just past the bridge on the Asian side and behind the palace rises Çamlıca Hill, the highest point in İstanbul. You can drive here to admire the magnificent panorama of İstanbul and the beautiful, landscaped gardens. On the opposite shore, the wooden Ottoman villas of Arnavutköy create a contrast with the luxurious modern apartments of neighboring Bebek. A few kilometers further along the Bosphorus stand the fortresses of Rumeli Hisarı (Rumeli Fortress) and Anadolu Hisarı (Anatolian Fortress) facing each other across the strait like watchful protectors. Göksu Palace, sometimes known as Küçüksu Palace, graces the Asian shore next to Anadolu Hisarı. As the second link between the two continents, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge straddles the waterway just past these two fortresses.
From Duatepe Hill on the European side you can admire the magnificent panorama of the bridge and the Bosphorus. Below Duatepe, beautiful Emirgan Park bursts with color when its tulips bloom in the spring. On the Asian shore is Kanlıca, a fishing village that is now a favored suburb for affluent İstanbul residents. Crowds gather in the restaurants and cafés along its shores to sample its famous yogurt.
Shortly after Kanlıca and Çubuklu is Beykoz Korusu (İbrahim Paşa Woods), a popular retreat. In its cafés and restaurants, you can enjoy the delightful scenery and clean, fresh air. Back on the European side, at Tarabya Bay, yachts seem to dance at the moorings. The coastal road then bustles with taverns and fish restaurants from Tarabya to the charming suburbs of Sarıyer and Büyükdere. Sarıyer has one of the largest fish markets in İstanbul and is also famous for its delicious varieties of milk puddings and börek (pastries). After Sarıyer, the narrow strait widens and opens into the Black Sea.
The Princes’ Islands, an archipelago of nine islands in the Sea of Marmara, were places of exile for Byzantine princes. Today, during the summer months, İstanbul residents escape to the islands’ cool sea breeze and elegant 19th-century houses.
Büyükada is the largest of the islands. Here you can enjoy a ride e-cart among the pine trees or relax on a beach in one of the numerous coves that ring the island. The other popular islands are Kınalı, Sedef, Burgaz, and Heybeliada. Regular ferryboats connect the islands with both the European and Asian shores, and a faster sea bus service operates from Kabataş in the summer.
İstanbul has a rich entertainment scene: bars, pubs, nightclubs, and discos are plentiful, and there are countless restaurants offering Turkish cuisine with all its local varieties, not to mention, among others, Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese, and Lebanese cuisine.
The meyhanes, literally “wine houses,” are a special local experience. The main drink on offer here is not so much wine but rakı, an alcoholic beverage made of grapes and anise. Nightclubs provide splendid entertainment throughout dinner, ranging from a selection of Turkish songs to belly-dancing. There are also modern discos, cabarets, and jazz clubs in the district of Taksim-Harbiye. In Sultanahmet, there are a number of restaurants set in restored Byzantine and Ottoman premises which offer a unique setting for an evening out.
Kumkapı is another attractive district with its many taverns, bars, and fish restaurants. People have been meeting for years at Çiçek Pasajı in Beyoğlu for snacks and seafood specialties. Nearby is the narrow Nevizade Street – the best place in İstanbul for eating Turkish specialties and drinking rakı.
On the shores of the Bosphorus, Ortaköy is İstanbul’s prime nightlife location with its nightclubs, jazz clubs, fine seafood restaurants, and bars. At Eminönü, don’t miss the opportunity to see the fishermen dressed in traditional Ottoman clothes serving fried fish with bread (balık ekmek) from their Ottoman-style boats.
Turkish Breakfast in İstanbul
Turkish breakfast isn’t just a meal, it’s an experience. Designed to be social, shared, and savored, Turkish breakfast consists of many small plates both sweet and savory, accompanied with bread and endless cups of tea. Usually a Turkish breakfast includes eggs, either fried or scrambled with tomatoes (sahanda yumurta or menemen). Cucumbers and tomatoes are consistently part of breakfast, as are olives, a plate of local cheeses, honey, and kaymak, a dairy product similar to clotted cream. Often there will also be jam, butter, a red pepper paste called acılı ezme, sausages, and börek, a flaky pastry that can be filled with cheese, spinach, or meat.
Serpme kahvaltı is a highly traditional way to enjoy the breakfast for long hours. Turkish people go out on weekends to have breakfast around the Bosphorus with a breathtaking view, to popular cafés and restaurants, etc. The concept of serpme kahvaltı consists of small plates with different products and tastes such as a cheese platter, a tomato and cucumber platter, herbs, jams, tahini and grape molasses, butter, kaymak and honey, different types of olives, olive oil with spices, spicy tomato paste, eggs, omlet, bread and simit, peppers, and Turkish pastries.
Street Food in İstanbul
Although İstanbul is Türkiye’s center of gastronomy with lots of local and international restaurants, street food is also very tasty! Throughout İstanbul, street food culture is a pervasive and common thread of everyday life.
Turkish people come from a nomadic background, and this is one of the main reasons why street food culture is extremely rich and popular all across the country.
While different street food is popular in different regions, the most popular (like simit) can be found nearly everywhere in Türkiye. So, if you are in a rush, or just want to enjoy the vibrant street life in İstanbul, stop and grab a delicious snack.
Here is a list of some of the most popular street foods in İstanbul.
Simit: Freshly baked, molasses-dipped, and sesame-crusted dough. It is a staple of breakfasts on the go. Even day-old simit has its use as seagull feed.
Süt mısır: Boiled corn, served with salt.
Grilled corn on the cob: Turkish for maize, mısır is corn on the cob that is steamed, then lightly grilled and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and other spices. Often a summer staple coinciding with the region’s growing season, mısır is a travel-friendly snack sold by vendors lining the bridge atop the Bosphorus.
Kumpir: The ultimate baked potato with a great variety of toppings to choose from: kaşar cheese, sausage, corn, Olivier (or Russian) salad, pickled red cabbage, olives, ketchup and/or mayonnaise as a dressing… Ortaköy is the most popular area in the city to eat it.
Balık-ekmek: A popular fish sandwich that can be enjoyed near Karaköy or Eminönü shore.
Döner: The basics remain the same: pieces of meat are seasoned with suet, local herbs, and spices, skewered on a spit and grilled vertically. Originally the meat used for döner kebap was lamb. Today, in İstanbul, it is made using a mixture of lamb and beef, only beef, or even only chicken.
Kestane kebap: Roasted chestnuts are sold on the streets for those who would like to enjoy them by peeling off the shell when still warm during cold days.
Midye dolma: “Stuffed mussels” is a generic name for plump orange mussels, stuffed with herbed and spiced aromatic rice, and occasionally currants. It is a popular street food snack in İstanbul and İzmir.
Kokoreç: Spiced and skewered sheep’s intestines, served in either half or quarter of a bread loaf with plenty of grease and salt to go with.
Islak hamburger: The simple burger is packed with garlicky flavor and buttery tomato sauce which provides the succulent texture and the spongy buns.
Fine Dining in İstanbul
İstanbul, a metropolis of both Türkiye and the world, is a gastronomic epicenter. Here you can find and taste the best of local flavors from across Türkiye. At the same time, İstanbul is also home to innumerable fine dining restaurants and hosts chefs from around the world who serve international cuisines and flavors.
Most of the fine dining restaurants in İstanbul have a magnificent Bosphorus view to enjoy every sip of your rakı, Turkish wine, or favorite cocktail!
Two of the best fine dining restaurants in İstanbul have been chosen among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants since 2015.
You will also find the fusion restaurants where you can enjoy Turkish cuisine blended with cuisine from various regions of the world.
Some of the international cuisines and delicacies that Turkish people greatly enjoy are Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indian, Russian, Austrian, French, Mexican, and Spanish. You will find high-end chef restaurants, Far East fusion cuisines, sushi places, Parisienne cafés, and a lot more in İstanbul!
The New İstanbul
The New İstanbul
Building on the assets inherited from a glorious past, İstanbul is an international city with a financial and economic center offering services in banking, telecommunications, marketing, engineering, and tourism.
International conferences and festivals, fairs, fashion shows, sports, and art performances give a new dimension to the city’s life and potential.
İstanbul is one of the busiest centers of congress travel in the world, offering every support and service to conferences of all sizes. İstanbul’s excellent transportation and communication facilities, as well as the wide choice of accommodation equipped with the latest technology provide visitors outstanding services.
Arts, Culture, And Entertainment
İstanbul is an international center for arts and culture with a rich tradition in opera and ballet, theaters performing both Turkish and international works, concerts, exhibitions, festivals, auctions, conferences and, of course, museums.
İstanbul’s private museums, which opened one after the other in the early 2000s, have hosted exhibitions showcasing the world’s finest masterpieces.
İstanbul Modern offers a permanent collection of modern art alongside temporary exhibits, featuring many of the most famous Turkish painters. Santral İstanbul not only presents the public with artistic and cultural activities but also aims to become an interdisciplinary, international platform contributing to the creation of an environment fostering intercultural dialogue and debate. Contemporary İstanbul is Türkiye’s only international fair for contemporary art. Organized every year, the fair is a meeting place for art lovers, collectors, art galleries, and artists from all over the world. The most prestigious of the city’s international cultural events are the international festivals organized by İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, including in their programs the finest examples of artistic creativity in the fields of classical music, ballet, modern dance, opera, folklore, jazz/pop, cinema, drama, and visual arts from both Türkiye and abroad. The foundation also organizes seminars, conferences, and lectures.
Superb Spots for All
On the European side of the Black Sea coast, 25 kilometers from the outskirts of İstanbul, the long, broad sandy beaches of Kilyos draw crowds of İstanbul residents in the summer. Belgrad Forest, inland from the Black Sea on the European side, is the largest forest in İstanbul’s vicinity. On weekends, İstanbulites drive out here for family picnics and barbecues in the coolness of its shade. Seven ancient reservoirs and a number of natural springs refresh the air while its Ottoman aqueducts, of which the 16th-century Moğlova Aqueduct built by Sinan is the most splendid, lend majesty to the natural surroundings. On the Asian side, Polonezköy, 25 kilometers from İstanbul, was founded by Polish immigrants in the 19th century. İstanbul residents come to Polonezköy’s pastoral landscape for walks and horseback riding, and to enjoy the traditional Polish food served by descendants of the original settlers. On the Black Sea coast, 70 kilometers from Üsküdar, the sandy beaches, fish restaurants, and hotels make Şile one of the most delightful holiday destinations near İstanbul. The cool, cotton clothing called Şile bezi is popular with tourists and is fashioned here.
Places to Unwind
Bayramoğlu-Darıca Bird’s Paradise and Botanic Park, 38 kilometers from İstanbul, is a unique place to relax. Many species of birds and plants from all over the world can be seen in this vast park, which also has restaurants and a promenade for pedestrians.
The charming fishing town of Eskihisar, on the southeast of İstanbul, boasts a marina where yachtsmen moor their boats after a day of sailing on the Sea of Marmara. In the town, the house of Osman Hamdi Bey, Türkiye’s great 19th-century painter, was made into a museum. Neighboring sites include the tomb of Hannibal, one of the greatest military commanders of all time, between Eskihisar and Gebze, and a Byzantine castle.
Many İstanbul residents have summer houses near Silivri, a popular vacation area about 65 kilometers from İstanbul. As a large holiday resort town, it offers sports, health, and fitness facilities, while the conference center attracts businesspeople who want to escape the city’s fast pace for a working holiday. A regular sea bus service connects İstanbul to Silivri.
İstanbul is a shopper’s paradise, catering to every kind of customer. From covered bazaars and workshops that continue ancient traditions, to shopping malls and department stores, İstanbul offers a wide variety of shopping opportunities.
Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar) and Mısır Çarşısı (Spice Bazaar) are the two most-visited places in İstanbul. Kapalı Çarşı has evolved into its present form over a period of 250 years, and today sells everything from antiques to jewelry, from gold to affordable souvenirs in over 3,000 shops. Its original function, which was determined by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, was to generate income for the upkeep of Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque). Mısır Çarşısı was opened with the similar aim of supporting Yeni Cami (New Mosque). Today, both Kapalı Çarşı and Mısır Çarşısı are places for finding the perfect array of İstanbul souvenirs and mementos. As both were once primary trading centers during the Ottoman period, today some traditional wares can still be found here. Arasta Çarşısı (Arasta Bazaar), situated behind the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, is another place where authentic goods and handicrafts can be found. Sultanahmet and the surrounding areas are also great shopping destinations. Old book enthusiasts should visit the Sahaflar Çarşısı (Booksellers’ Market), which is situated between Beyazıt Mosque and Kapalı Çarşı.
Hub of Top Brands
The sophisticated shops of the Taksim-Nişantaşı neighborhoods provide a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the bazaars. On İstiklal, Cumhuriyet, and Rumeli Avenues, for example, one can browse the shops selling special pieces such as Turkish designer products and top international designer brands at leisure. Exquisite jewelers, finely designed handbags, and shoes can also be found here.
For those who do not want to spend too much time wandering in the streets while shopping, there are a number of shopping malls that bring many brands and types of goods under one roof. These malls host top fashion stores, furniture shops, and shops selling household goods. You’ll also find cafés, restaurants, and food courts in malls; some malls even have cinemas and places to entertain children.
Shopping Districts & Malls
There are many places to go if you want to shop in İstanbul. Whether your idea of a perfect shopping day involves wandering around a historic neighborhood and discovering boutique shops tucked away on side streets, or shopping in ease and luxury in one of the city’s many high-end malls, every experience is available for you.
Nişantaşı is the beating heart of luxury fashion and the capital of local boutiques in İstanbul. The neighborhood is dominated by high-quality, high-fashion shops that appeal to both an upper-class crowd and the average enthusiastic shopper. Many of Türkiye’s top designers have boutiques or ateliers in Nişantaşı, with bright and glittering and chic items on display in their well-curated windows.
This is where many of the international luxury brands have their stores in İstanbul, dotting the wide avenues of the neighborhood. The most expensive stores in İstanbulare well-established in Nişantaşı. There are also malls along with international and local brands. It’s harder to pick a neighborhood in İstanbulthat’s more suited for shopping. This is a neighborhood to see and be seen, to shop and explore.
The main shopping street in the neighborhood is Abdi İpekçi Street. The neighborhood itself was founded by the sultan in the 19th century, and these days is an affluent, diverse neighborhood with lively restaurants, cafes, shops, and other venues.
The steep, winding streets of Çukurcuma are home to some of the funkiest, trendiest shops in İstanbul, alongside many shops selling antiques and vintage items. Some people call this neighborhood the antique district, because of the wild items spilling out of the many antique shops and onto the sidewalks. It’s easy to spend hours getting lost in the bric-a-brac of these shops, laden with old lamps, statuettes, fine-cut glasses, old records, wooden knick knacks, and more.
Once you’ve managed to extricate yourself from the fascinating antique shops, you’ll see a bright array of boutiques and specialty stores. Artisanal items, boutique clothing stores, and art shops all dominate this small area. Influenced by the many galleries in the neighborhood and the proximity of fashionable neighborhoods and Taksim Square, Çukurcuma is a quieter and bolder place to find special items for souvenirs or just for your own enjoyment.
The stylish Bebek neighborhood is a place to see and be seen. Sprawled along a scenic stretch of the Bosphorus shore, Bebek is wealthy and beautiful, full of high-end shops and boutiques to pop into. Clothing and accessories beckon, while artisanal perfumes or locally-made beauty products are displayed impeccably in shop windows.
It’s easy to spend a day completely enthralled by Bebek. It’s one of the most scenic shopping districts, with its Bosphorus views and stylish restaurants dotting the neighborhood. Here, there’s no rush to get one thing you need. Instead, spend hours going in and out of shops, enjoying the vibe of Bebek, strolling along the wide seaside walking path, soaking in the scenery, and shopping for some of İstanbul’s most stylish stuff.
İstanbul’s Secondhand Shops and Flea Markets
The high-end luxury of Nişantaşı and İstiklal Avenue aren’t for everyone. While some people prefer to wear the latest trends and most popular brands, others prefer to find bargains, to dip into the fashions of yesteryear and find what’ll be the next thing tomorrow.
And in a city like İstanbul, where history goes back 2,000 years, there are some incredible finds waiting to be discovered. The antique shops feature endless pieces of indeterminate date and brands long gone by, mostly sold for a fraction of what you think they should cost.
İstanbul’s (and Türkiye’s in general) history of craftsmanship means that you’ll also find immeasurable handcrafted, handwoven, and handmade pieces of every shape and size. Some new, some old. So where should you go to dig out these bargains and masterpieces?
Feriköy Flea Market
Every Sunday, this flea market is packed with people looking to stock up on collectibles, or just browsing in case they come across a once-in-a-lifetime gem. It’s located at the bottom of the hill, past Bomonti and Taksim, maybe a ten-minute walk from Taksim Square. The market is simply massive, and it’s designed to be completely eclectic. You might find yourself lost in a stand full of cameras and old technology, and right next to it, there might be a stall with an incredible map collection, or old, foreign language books, or vinyl, or just about anything else you can imagine. Week to week the things you’ll find change a fair amount, and if you go towards the end of the day, you might get some exceptionally low prices as people are willing to lower rates to get rid of their wares rather than taking them back home with them.
Çukurcuma is known for its antique shops. When you walk up Çukurcuma Street, you’ll see dozens of shops with odds and ends that catch your attention. Everything from old photos and postcards to furniture. Most of the stores are packed to the brim with items, and just browsing is fun regardless of whether you intend to buy anything or not.
The flea market in Dolapdere is an absolute gem. Dolapdere is a more rundown neighborhood, and whereas Çukurcuma and Feriköy can sometimes serve a relatively more well-heeled crowd, Dolapdere is the real deal. On early Sunday mornings, you can find just about anything here and there are people both who are eager to sell wares and people who are looking for more than just a cute item to sit on their mantelpiece untouched for years. There are true gems in this market, and it may be the best flea market anywhere in the city.
Balat is maybe the oldest district in the city, so it’s no surprise that it houses some of the city’s best antique stores. Many of the wares you’ll find are actually new, but still handcrafted by families who’ve been crafting the same things for generations. You could easily spend an entire day wandering through Balat looking both at the old homes, the churches and mosques, and the windy alleyways while stopping in at the little antique shops you pass and checking out what amazing thing will pop up next!