İstanbul is full of history and beauty, but you already know that. You’ve read countless articles (some from us even!) on the hustle and bustle of Beyoğlu, the shopping in Nişantaşı, the history of Sultanahmet and Fatih. You’ve been up and down the Bosphorus. But İstanbul is endless! We’ve got some more districts for you to discover, most of them a little more off the beaten path than you’re used to. Enjoy!
Zeyrek is one of the most historic districts in İstanbul, but it tends to be slightly off the beaten path and despite the vast history and historic monuments you'll find here, it's still largely a residential neighborhood.
But for now this is only MORE reason to visit! The homes all around Zeyrek are historic and locals are friendly and welcoming, with kids playing in the streets and locals sitting on stoops.
The district takes its name from the Zeyrek Mosque, a 12th century Byzantine church (called the Monastery of the Pantocrator) that was turned into a mosque. The presence of the mosque and the history of the district helps place it under UNESCO protection as part of İstanbul's Historic Peninsula, a World Heritage Site.
The district also houses a couple of spectacular Byzantine cisterns and the cute little Şeyh Süleyman Mosque, which is also a converted Byzantine church.
The neighborhood of Kuzguncuk is one of the more naturally beautifully situation districts in the city, amidst the greenery of the Anatolian shores of the Bosphorus. It features historic homes that go all the way up its main street, with cafes and restaurants that look like they've been there since the dawn of time.
"Kuzguncuk" means "little raven" or "barred window of a prison door" in Turkish. The neighborhood historically was a quiet village getaway for wealthy Jewish and Armenian minorities to congregate, and there are still two synagogues located in the neighborhood and over 5 churches. In fact, the first mosque in the neighborhood was built more recently than any of its churches or synagogues, and only dates to around 50 years ago.
The atmosphere is so charming that it's used often as a film set, so rather than be a viewer come visit and feel the charm for yourself!
Beylerbeyi is a district located on the other side of the 15 July Martyrs Bridge in Üsküdar, right next to Kuzguncuk. It dates back to the Byzantine period and many of its inhabitants have literally lived there for centuries.
The houses you'll find reflect this, with many historic homes surrounding the jewel of the neighborhood: Beylerbeyi Palace. This palace is one of the highlights of the Bosphorus, as it's name - which means "lord of lords" - would certainly indicate. It was commissioned by Sultan Abdülaziz and built between 1861 and 1865 as his summer residence, and it's sloping angles and white marble as they glint off the Bosphorus are truly stunning.
Sip a cup of tea relaxing in one of the old-style cafes overlooking the palace and the Bosphorus and enjoy the magnificence of this as-yet undiscovered neighborhood.
Balat is one of the oldest residential districts in İstanbul, and is known for its colorful homes, and is another district that was widely diverse, with many Christians and Jews living here and making it their homes for centuries. It still features one of the most attractive schools for Greek Orthodox students, and has many different churches and hamams as well as some of the oldest cafes and restaurants in the city, if not the oldest cafes and restaurants. The history of this districts seeps out of every corner, so just stroll through and feel what it's like to walk through time.
Vefa is a hidden gem, and home to some of the gems of the Ottoman empire. Many of the homes are in the process of being restored and still give you a sense of the history of the region through its narrow pathways, with mosques and historic cemetaries on all sides of the neighborhood. The highlight of a stroll through Vefa is to go to Vefa Bozacısı, where the Turkish drink of boza made its name. Boza is made with fermented wheat with a thick consistency and is served with dried chickpeas and cinnamon. In the winter it's a great warming drink, and if you're going to drink it anywhere, then Vefa is the place to do it! Plus, you'll deserve a treat after walking through all the history and charm of the neighborhood!
Emirgan is one of the prettiest districts along the Bosphorus, and is a place where people come to have breakfast, smoke the nargile (water pipe, or hookah), drink tea, and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Much of Emirgan is taken up with Emirgan Park, a massive park of rolling hills, splendid flowers, historic pavilions called "köşk"s and tons of greenery. It's a great place to spend a day with the family.