Istanbul is a truly immense city. With its 14 million inhabitants, it is one of the the most populous metropolises in Europe by far. But beyond the number of inhabitants, it is precisely the geographical extension which is more impressive: from west to east, from one end to the other, the distance turns out to be more than 100 km. These are some figures that would scare anyone.
Let’s start with eliminating these initial fears from the minds of the typical tourists who arrive at Istanbul for the first time in their lives. These are unfounded fears. Just because it is populous, it shouldn’t mean that the city is untidy, disorganized and dangerous- there is no real feedback for this equation. (Read our article: Istanbul is not Dangerous).
Istanbul, just like Rome, is built on seven hills and is bisected by the Bosphorus. There are two bridges connecting the European and Asian sides, and within a few years there will be the third one built. The whole city is divided into 27 districts. Italian cities are much smaller and for that reason it is very hard to get conceptualize the magnitude of the city and its organization with too many neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are actually districts, each with its own local government, however, still very efficient.
In practice, Istanbul is a city with its own center, but many individual cities with several centers.
Unfortunately, typical visitors are addressed to the “old town” of the city by tourism industry for convenience and for lack of real information and spend 95% of their total visit time in these areas. Thus, they deprive themselves of staying and eating in the best places (which are obviously somewhere else!) and often succeed at getting decent crop of disappointments.
We would like to avoid all this, and if you are interested in visiting Istanbul, our advice to you is to keep reading our articles!
Let’s move on to practice, then. Here is a map (which is highlighted in nine main areas, and has a bigger scale than the previous one) of the main areas we will examine in our article.
As mentioned before, the vast majority of tourists stay and visit only Sultanahmet district which has turned into a “tourist center ” from a “historical center” by meaning all the downsides of the definition of “tourist center”. The prices are higher on average, the quality of the restaurants is lower, the outline of people is formed by a 50% of tourists and by a 50 % of the local population who work in tourism industry again.
Sultanahmet is definitely a neighborhood to visit, but not the first and the only choice to stay at.
It may be preferable to choose the Beyoğlu district as a basis of the vital and pulsing center of the modern city. On the route leads you from Taksim to the Galata Tower through Istiklal Street, you will find the real spirit of Istanbul.
Crossing the Galata Bridge (definitely on foot!), admiring the wonderful spectacle that offers the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus… Also, you can visit the Eminönü district and the Bazaar on the way. Even for the locals, it’s very easy to get lost in those intricate alleyways in which you will still discover some of the most beautiful mosques of the city.
Fatih is the true historical district of Istanbul. It will feel like time has stopped when you climp up the steep streets of Fener and Balat full of colorful Ottoman houses with hanging clothes (laundry) from the windows and children playing football. If you want to taste a real kebab, it is a must to end up in Horhor in the evening to get lost among hundreds of excellent restaurants.
The other districts are more distant from the classical tourist routes, but there are no less important, and they all deserve to be visited.
Eyüp Mosque and the romantic view of Pierre Loti, Şişli district and its modern skyscrapers and shopping areas, Beşiktaş residential neighborhood with the splendidness of Dolmabahçe Palace and the poetry of Ortaköy and finally important Asian side districts Kadıköy and Üsküdar will all surprise our more discerning visitors in a very positive way.