History. Culture. East and West. These are what make Istanbul a beloved city. After all, the city is literally where Europe and Asia meet. There is the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, separated only by the Bosphorus River. Within the European side, there is the Old City and New City separated by the Golden Horn straits. Sultanahmet (Old City) is where the historical monuments are but Beyoğlu (New City) is where the locals go to play, dine, and drink. Once you’re done with the attractions in the Old City, take time to explore the narrow cobblestone side streets in Beyoğlu [bey-yoh-lu]. The side streets offer a very much authentic experience while walking past the old historic European buildings with local shops, cafes, and restaurants. Sultanahmet is filled with busloads of tourists and though Beyoğlu is also visited by many tourists, the New City offers you the type of experience that Sultanahmet does not.
Sultanahmet is touristy and Beyoğlu is where you will find the locals and absorb a more authentic experience of the city. Sultanahmet puts you right at where the historical attractions are but come sundown, Beyoğlu is the place to relax and unwind. When traveling, T and I go local as much as we can-- local interactions are what we cherish, and so it wasn't difficult for us to decide to stay at Beyoğlu. It is afterall, extremely easy to get between Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu. We just had to decide if we wanted to walk or take the tram.
|Galatasaray Lisesi, first European high school during the Ottoman period|
|Roasted chestnuts, a winter favorite|
Known as the more European section of Istanbul during the Constantinople period, the area today continues to reflect its rich cultural past. Along the main commercial avenue of Beyoğlu called Istiklal Caddesi is where you will find a plethora of cafes, restaurants, shops, and consulates. One of the reminders of the past that remains is the 19th Century nostalgic tram that operates from one end of Istiklal Cd to the other, between Tünel Square and Taksim. Walking the entire stretch of Istiklal Cd is only 25 minutes.
Off Istiklal Cd are many, many narrow streets waiting to be discovered. Staying at Beyoğlu, we walked everyday along Yüksek Kaldırım. Along with getting a good exercise along this steep cobblestone street, we discovered beautiful and old historic European buildings with character and soul in each of them. We heard sounds of little children playing, veered off onto another side street, and found the Dutch School of Istanbul. We saw the Galata Tower looming before us everyday, decided to try a new narrow route one day, and found ourselves at the base of the tower once used as an observatory during the Ottoman Empire. We saw and smelt delicious street foods and had our fair share of fresh fruit juices everyday from vendors that popped up at almost every corner. In the evenings we went to the meyhanes (tavernas) along the other famous side streets, ate, drank, and had a good time. Oh, what lovely memories.
Generally when people are deciding where to stay in Istanbul, it's a toss-up between Sultanahmet or Taksim Square. The latter, in Beyoğlu, is at the northern end of Istiklal Cd. Depending on one's preference, staying at Sultanahmet means it's convenient for sightseeing during the day but not as convenient for nightlife in Beyoğlu. Staying at Taksim Square might put you in a good area for nightlife but since it's on the northern end of Istiklal Cd, you have to go all the way south to Sultanahmet. We stayed at the southern end of Istiklal Cd which was the best of both worlds and we were in the middle of it all.