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Exploring Karaköy: Istanbul's coolest neighbourhood | Insight Guides Blog

Exploring Karaköy: Istanbul's coolest neighbourhood

Drinking coffee at Karabatan, Karakoy, (photo by Pat Yale)
Drinking coffee at Karabatan, Karakoy

Istanbul writer, Pat Yale, takes us on a tour through Istanbul's coolest neighbourhood.

 

Time was when Istanbul was a sedate and traditional town, inward-looking and slow to change. No more though. Today it’s as fast-paced and fashion conscious as the next city, which means, amongst other things, that the place where it’s all happening keeps changing. Just a couple of years ago the buzz was all about Asmalimescit, near the Galata Tower. Now it’s about Karaköy, a once workaday part of town best known for its hardware stores that is now gearing up to become a new tourism centre as hotel chains rush to get a foot in the door before the new Galataport facilities for cruise liners materialize.

 

In the meantime this is a great place to while away a couple of hours, ambling along tight-knit streets that, as much as anywhere in the city, reflect its old multiculturalism in the many low-key churches and mosques. Best of all, the plethora of new cafes and restaurants mean that there’s always somewhere close at hand to take a break whether your fancy runs to an English-style cream tea (yes, really, at Dem), a sticky baklava blowout or a full-on three-course meal.

 

The best place to start a tour of Karaköy is the quay to the east of the Galata Bridge. Standing here you get a fantastic view across to Sarayburnu, the wooded peninsula that is home to Topkapi Palace, Ayasofya and the Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque. Venture one street back from the waterfront and you will come upon the Yeralti Cami (Underground Mosque), built over the tombs of two Arabs killed during a siege of Byzantium in the eighth century. The mosque is believed to stand on the site of the Galata Fortress, a medieval tower to which the Byzantines attached a chain in a fruitless attempt to stop the Ottomans entering the Golden Horn.

Karakoy waterfront

 

Continue heading east until you see the landmark Denizyollari Building that used to house the offices of the Turkish Maritime Lines. Immediately facing it on the ground floor of an ugly multistorey car park is Namli Gurme Karaköy, a gourmet food shop selling a mouth-watering range of cold meats, cheeses, honeys, olives etc. Right next door, Karaköy Güllüoglu offers a range of baklavas that is second to none.


If you stroll along Kemankes Caddesi parallel to the water you will pass the old austere Karaköy Yolcu Salonu, where cruise passengers disembark. Across the road are the excellent Lokanta Maya and Karaköy Lokantasi restaurants, the latter housed in a turquoise-tiled building that briefly served as the Estonian Consulate.

Turkish Maritime Lines Building

Karakoy Lokantasi


Continue walking until you reach the entrance to the Cite Francaise shopping arcade on the right. As you amble through it look up and you will spot the small red-painted dome of St Pantaleimon, one of four secretive Russian chapels tucked away on the Karaköy rooftops. Turn left out of the arcade and then right along Karatavuk Sokagi and you will come out on Hoca Tahsin Sokagi facing the office building that hosts St Pantaleimon on its sixth floor. Well attended services still take place here every Sunday morning.

 

St Pantaleimon

 

Turn right along Hoca Tahsin Sokagi to find what was once the Greek Orthodox church of St Mary (Meryemana) but is now the patriarchate of the obscure Turkish Orthodox Church. Minuscule congregations attend the Sunday morning services.

 

Turkish Orthodox Church

Turkish Orthodox Church

 A stroll along Hoca Tahsin Sokagi takes you past some of Karaköy’s many trendy cafes including Ops, Naif and Karabatan (Cormorant), the coffeeshop that was first off the blocks. The road finally peters out facing the newly restored Kiliç Ali Pasa Cami, a magnificent work of the Ottoman architect Sinan dating back to 1580.

 

Karabatan

 

Kilic Ali Pasa Cami


After visiting the mosque and perhaps frequenting its luxurious hamam turn back along busy Kemeralti Caddesi, the main road used by the tram. On the left you will see the huge soot-blackened Armenian church of Surp Krikor Lusaroviç, modelled in 1966 on an iconic church in Armenia. Use the entrance under the clocktower to get inside.

 

Kemeralti Caddesi will take you back to the Galata Bridge. Just before it does so you will see on the right the imposing Minerva Han dating back to 1911 which now houses the stylish Gradiva Hotel (www.gradivahotels.com, tel 0212-249 7700). If you walk in front of the Han you will be looking up Bankalar Caddesi, once Istanbul’s main banking street but now fast metamorphosing into a new tourism hub.

 

Before you return to Galata Bridge you might want to visit Karaköy’s one official tourist attraction, the Jewish Museum that is housed inside the old Zülfaris synagogue in narrow Persembe Sokagi, beside the entrance to the Tünel (funicular). Open every day except Saturday, it offers an insight into the way of life of a lost community that used to play a big part in Karaköy life.

  

Places to eat and drink in Karaköy

Dem, www.demkarakoy.com, tel: 0212-293 9792

Karabatan, www.karabatak.com, tel: 0212-243 6993

Karaköy Güllüoglu, www.karakoygulluoglu.com, tel: 0212-249 9680

Karaköy Lokantasi, www.karakoylokantasi.com, tel: 0212-292 4455

Lokanta Maya, www.lokantamaya.com, tel: 0212-252 6884

Naif, www.naifistanbul.com, tel: 0212-251 5335

Namli Gurme Karaköy, www.namligida.com, tel: 0212-293 6880

Ops, www.opscafekarakoy.com, tel: 0212-245 0288

 

Karabatan

 

Text and pictures by Pat Yale. Follow Pat on Twitter: @patyale

 

Read more about Istanbul here.

 

Explore more of Istanbul 

Explore Istanbul


Whether you are new to the Turkish city or a repeat visitor, Explore Istanbul will help you discover the very best of this exotic city - however long your stay. This brand-new, full-colour guide contains 16 easy-to-follow routes that take in the city's best sights. Marvel at beautiful mosaics with our tour around Topkapi Palace and sample spices galore with our walk through the Grand Bazaar. Cross the Bosphorus and discover the Asian shore with our route around üsküdar and admire the architecture of one of the city's grandest former mosques with our tour of Hagia Sophia. 

Learn about the history and culture of the city as you go and stop off at our recommended cafes along the way. All routes are plotted on a useful pull-out map and beautiful photography throughout the guide shows off Istanbul's alluring charm. 

Buy Explore Istanbul as a book or ebook here.

 

 

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