Ahh, Istanbul – one of the most populous cities in the world that straddles between Asia and Europe, hugging the Bosphorus strait. It is a feast for the senses. In Istanbul, life is thrown in your face – noise, cats, pungent smells, hordes of people, grit, non-stop car horns, uncontrolled yet controlled, and I love every aspect of it. It's not hard to be tantalized by all of the unknowns this ancient city has to offer.
This is what propelled me to make the move from rainy Vancouver to sunny Istanbul.
I first went there for a two week vacation in September 2016. My trip was infused with so many unbelievable experiences, I ended up having a full-blown love affair with the city! After dragging myself back to my corporate slave job and downtown apartment surrounded by nothing but high-rise buildings that all looked the same (talk about lack of architectural diversity!), I realized I was no longer fulfilled by the Vancouver lifestyle.
I was desperate to get out of a robotic and mundane cycle that always seemed to leave me stressed, tired and bored out of my mind. So, I packed up my entire life into four suitcases, gave my two weeks notice to my job and my landlord, and off I went with a one-way ticket to Istanbul. One chapter was ending while another was just beginning.
Istanbul is a city that has many dimensions to it. It's a city that allows you to find inspiration in every corner. I encourage everyone to travel here with the intention of getting lost.
It is rich in every element (history, culture, consumables, to name but a few). Some of the discoveries that you'll make in Istanbul will leave you astonished but wanting more. You can walk down the same street 50 times and always discover something new. It's multifaceted, it's diverse, it's chaotically beautiful…it is Istanbul.
Since my full blown love affair has developed into calling Istanbul home, I've discovered certain areas of the city that still enchant me. The following neighborhoods are areas I believe every visitor should take the time to visit and experience. They are cool, trendy, handsome and full of unique culture.
The 5 Best Neighborhoods to Visit in Istanbul
Located in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, Cihangir is my ‘sweet spot’ of neighborhoods to stay in. Cihangir has an abundance of epic street cafes blasting house music, overflowing with abstract and surreal street art, colorful European influenced architecture, award winning cocktail bars, narrow cobblestone streets, and cutting-edge fashion boutiques. It is the home to many film directors, actors, poets and other creative individuals. It's a beautiful oasis of a neighborhood that always seems to draw me back in.
If you want upscale, bougie, and expensive – Nişantaşı is your spot. Saunter down the streets and be bombarded (in a good way) with extravagant storefronts such as Chanel, Gucci and Prada, to name just a few. Whether you’re on the lookout for posh patisseries with a display of colorful macaroons, designer clothes, white tablecloth restaurants, or organic juice bars, Nişantaşı has it all. It is hustling and bustling at all hours of the day, so be prepared for overwhelming crowds and honking cars. Apart from the noise and flocks of people, it is a gem.
Take a stroll down Rumeli Caddesi street and let your eyes be overwhelmed with shopping boutiques! This is one of the best shopping districts in all of Istanbul.
Karaköy is a district that has a special spot in my heart. It's a contrast of old and new, with casual bars and traditional fish restaurants, hugging the seaside. You are just steps away from the Bosphorus and the infamous Galata bridge which is lined up with fisherman waiting for their catch of the day. It’s also very centrally located for those who like to get around on foot. You're walking distance to the Galata Tower – a medieval tower that is one of the must-see attractions of Istanbul. Karaköy is also just a few tram stops away from the infamous and oldest market in the world: the Grand Bazaar. Don’t forget to go to Karaköy on a night out and head to bar street – it's buzzing with cool bars and great beats.
There are many restaurants to choose from in Karaköy with cool vibes and really good cuisine. Eat some amazing street food – head over to Meşhur Emin nü Balık for some fresh fish sandwiches and pickle juice!
Located on the European side of Istanbul, Sultanahmet is the epitome of tradition. It reveals the rich history of Istanbul by holding all of the historic attractions the city has to offer. You'll be spoiled for choice in terms of what to see and do. The Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace and Hagia Sofia are some of the famous places that you'll need to experience. Stroll down ancient streets that are aligned with Turkish carpets, traditional handmade nic nacs, and the smell of döner kebab and Turkish çai.
Once you’re finished getting a tour of the Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace and Hagia Sofia, hop back on the tram for just a few stops and explore the incomparable Grand Bazaar (you will get lost and you will enjoy every aspect of it, promise)!
Come to Balat to see the real face of Istanbul, especially if you like to get off the beaten track. This area is primarily residential and used to be the Jewish quarter of the city. It is by far one of the most fascinating and traditional areas of Istanbul. Your eyes will be overwhelmed by rainbow-colored buildings that are exuding with character. Balat is filled with religious monuments, steep hills, children playing soccer in the streets, and neglected ruined buildings. It is such a contrast from some of the other areas of Istanbul, which is what makes it so captivating.
Filled with rainbow coloured apartments and old traditional shops and markets, Balat is an absolute hot spot for taking epic Instagram shots. Even the local photographers flood to this area, as the beauty is truly undeniable.
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About The Author – Dominique Durosier
Native of Vancouver, BC but living in Istanbul, Turkey, Dominique is multi-disciplined Graphic Designer with a passion for all aspects of design including poster design, fashion editorial and print work. She believes that art should intricately reveal the core of who we are. Check out her Website and Instagram.