As I said before, Istanbul is a city of contrasts. A patchwork of both old and new creating a broad mosaic throughout the city. However, there are three distinct districts most travelers will come to know in Istanbul: Sultanahmet, Beyoğlu, and the Asian side. This post will discuss my thoughts and impressions of the latter two.
Fishermen trying their luck on Galata Bridge.
Beyoğlu is situated on the European side just north of Sultanahmet. Getting there requires crossing the Golden Horn waterway. Most will utilize the easily accessed Galata Bridge either by tram, taxi, or my preferred method, on foot. The Galata Bridge is a double level bridge with restaurants on the lower level while hosting traffic and fishermen on the upper, and I do mean a lot of fisherman. They are literally lined up from one end of the bridge to the other. I found myself captivated and curious each time one would reel in a fish. Watching this scene from the upper level was fun, but imagine sitting in a restaurant on the lower level and seeing a fish dance at the end of a line as it seemingly levitates to the fisherman 20 feet above. It was a strange sight indeed.
The historic underground tram.
Upon crossing the Galata Bridge you have three choices to get where the action is. You can take the historic Tünel underground tram, taxi, or hike up a very steep series of sidewalks and streets. I just couldn’t resist the historic and unique Tünel. It seems like a short ride, but it’s all up hill and I wasn’t about to wear myself out walking up streets with angles that would make even a San Francisco resident cringe. I will say, regardless of how you get to the top, your reward awaits in the form of İstiklal Avenue.
A bustling pedestrian zone lined with restaurants, clubs, high street shopping, and sprinkled with historic sites, İstiklal Avenue is where fun loving people want to be in Istanbul after dark. It quickly became my favorite place to people watch while burning the late night hours away into early morning. Dissecting the crowds of pedestrians is a lovely old red tram that chugs through the masses. I enjoyed watching it more than riding it. Kids would hitch rides on the back while tourists would overcrowd the interior to the bursting point, leaving many hanging on at the entrance barely balanced on a tiny platform of foot room. It moves at a slow pace, thereby keeping passengers and pedestrians from any real danger, but it was fun to watch as it parted the crowds of people like schools of fish in the sea.
The bustling high street of İstiklal Avenue.
As daylight starts to fade in Beyoğlu the crowds become only slightly less dense and the thumping of dance music starts to overpower the typical sounds of the bustling scene. It seems every side street is lined with multiple dance clubs. There is definitely no shortage of fun and partying to be had in Beyoğlu. Unlike the touristy Sultanahmet with its carpet salesmen and Grand Bazaar, I never once was approached by someone trying to sell me something, and it was refreshing to say the least.
Is İstiklal Avenue the only reason to visit or stay in Beyoğlu? No, it just happened to be my favorite. There are plenty of monuments and museums on this side of the city. However, I never made it to any of them except Galata Tower. From the top of Galata Tower one is afforded sweeping views of the entire city of Istanbul. Many feel it’s the first place someone should go to get oriented. I waited until my final day. As a photographer, I certainly did want to capture these panoramic images, but I also wanted to wait until I knew what I was seeing and photographing. I feel it was a great way to say farewell to a city that I had become very aquatinted with over my 8 day visit.
I only graced the Asian side of Istanbul twice. I’ll admit that I’m really not sure what a tourist would do over there outside of what I went for. It struck me as a mostly residential and business area, but with my limited time, I will have to save exploring for another trip. I’m more likely to return and take my time to discover the hidden gems that I’m sure exist, but it wasn’t going to happen on this visit. My main goal of ferrying to Asia was to photograph Maiden’s Tower at sunset with the minarets of Sultahnamet in the background.
Enjoying a tea with Maiden’s Tower in the distance.
Getting across the Bosphorus is not as daunting as one might think. There are a couple of huge bridges to the north, but they aren’t very practical for tourists. The best way to make the trip is by ferry. Taking a ferry is easy, reliable, and there are frequent departures. Your biggest challenge lies in catching the route you want. I did my research and determined the best route to get me close to Maidens’ Tower was the Eminönü – Üsküdar ferry. I kept an eye on the forecast and as it turned out, the only day predicted to be clear enough for a sunset was my last night. I caught the ferry and walked one kilometer south along the shore to view Maiden’s Tower. There are several tables down near the water maintained by little shops serving them with tea, coffee, and snacks. It was quite a pleasant atmosphere to sit back and watch the sun go down over the city while I enjoyed a tea. It was a wonderful and peaceful atmosphere, a far cry from the hustle of Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu. A fitting last glimpse of daylight that brought my holiday in Istanbul to a close.
Maiden’s Tower with Beyoğlu in the background to the right
Maiden’s tower watching over Sultanahmet.