Istanbul’s hidden gems

Umbrella Street, Karakoy

Umbrella Street, Karakoy

Discover the hidden gem of Karakoy neighbourhood in Istanbul – Hoca Tahsin Street, also known as Umbrella Street. This delightful little street is an open-air gallery that boasts vibrant street art and a canopy of multicoloured umbrellas strung across the street. On one end, you’ll find various shops to explore, while the other end offers some charming cafes. Take a leisurely stroll from Galata Tower, and you’ll find yourself in this picturesque street in just 10 minutes. And if you’ve climbed the steep street to get to the tower, Hoca Tahsin is the perfect place to take a coffee break. But even if you haven’t, you can still enjoy this scenic spot, soak up the atmosphere of modern-day Istanbul, and watch the hustle and bustle of the city. Don’t miss the chance to visit Umbrella Street – a truly unique and memorable experience.

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Camondo House Stairway

The Camondo Steps located in Karakoy are a true hidden gem that many Instagrammers have discovered. Although they may not be the typical tourist attraction that one might find in brochures, they are worth a visit. The steps were designed by Abraham Salomon Camondo, a highly influential Jewish banker in the 1870s. Their unique hexagonal shape and fusion of Neo-Baroque and early Art Nouveau styles make them an architectural marvel in Istanbul. While the city is well-known for its Byzantine and Ottoman architecture, the Art Nouveau movement also thrived in Istanbul during the late 19th century and left stunning traces throughout the city. The Camondo Steps were created to provide a shortcut between Bankalar Caddesi and Banker Sokak, two of the most prominent banking streets in 19th-century Istanbul.

Balat and the Iron Church

Balat and the Iron Church

Located in the charming neighborhood of Balat, Istanbul, and the Bulgarian St. Stephen Church is a hidden gem that often goes unnoticed. While Balat is famous for its colorful houses and quaint streets, this remarkable church stands out as the last remaining iron church in the world. Constructed using a whopping 500 tons of cast iron, the church is a true testament to human ingenuity and innovation. Despite recent restoration efforts that have altered some of its original features, the Bulgarian St. Stephen Church remains a one-of-a-kind structure that is well worth a visit.

Theodocian Walls

Theodocian Walls

In the vicinity of Chora Church lies a remarkably well-preserved segment of the Theodosian Wall, serving as a grandiose testament to the magnificence of Constantinople. Throughout the ages, this city was encircled by walls, with numerous gates embedded within its defensive fortifications. The Edirnekapi Gate is one such gate, which provides access to Chora Church. It is certainly worth exploring the neighboring section of the renowned dual walls that were constructed during the reign of Emperor Theodosius II (402–450).

Zeyrek Camii or Pantokrator Monastery

Zeyrek Camii or Pantokrator Monastery

Zeyrek Camii, located in Istanbul, was originally constructed in the 12th century as two churches known as Pantokrator Monastery during the Byzantine era. It was the second-largest religious building in the empire, following Hagia Sophia. Despite being a UNESCO world heritage site, Zeyrek Camii is often overlooked by visitors due to the city’s more iconic attractions. Unlike Hagia Sophia, which features minarets and surrounding Ottoman structures, Zeyrek Mosque boasts a Christian facade. The interplay between the Christian exterior and Muslim interior of the mosque creates a surprising effect, similar to Cordoba’s Mosque-Cathedral in Spain.

Theodosius Cistern

Theodosius Cistern

The Theodosius Cistern can be found among several ancient cisterns beneath Istanbul’s streets. It was constructed by Roman Emperor Theodosius II to store water brought to the city by the Valens Aqueduct. While many tourists are familiar with the Basilica Cistern, the Theodosius Cistern remained hidden until its opening to the public in 2018. You can find the entrance to the cistern underneath a modern building at Piyer Loti Caddesi No: 2/1, just a five-minute walk from the Basilica Cistern. With its mystical atmosphere, the Theodosius Cistern is a must-see for those who enjoy visiting its Basilica counterpart.

Rustem Pasha Mosque

Rüstem Pasha Mosque

One of Istanbul’s most adorable mosques is Rustem Pasha Mosque, near the spice market in Eminönü. The interior of the mosque is decorated with famous blue Iznik tiles combined in various intricate patterns. The appeal of Rustem Pasha Mosque comes from its very low-key atmosphere. Being smaller than other imperial mosques, it feels more intimate and more down to earth. A fun way to enter Rüstem Pasha Mosque is through a window cut in the stone wall next to the main entrance. It’s a tight squeeze, but on the other side, the window opens onto a stairwell that brings you to the front yard of the mosque. It feels very ‘Middle Ages’ climbing into a stone fortress through a small window.

Pierre Loti Hill

Pierre Loti Hill

Another fantastic viewpoint is Pierre Loti Hill. It is located further from the center, in the Eyup neighborhood, but it can be easily reached by T4 tram from the wharf. And you don’t even have to climb the hill, you can catch the cable car to the top.

There is a cafe at the top, so you can refuel with delicious Turkish coffee and desserts while admiring the views. And if you are wondering why a hill in Istanbul has a French name, you can check out the small museum dedicated to the French author Pierre Loti, who was known to frequent the hill.

Buyuk Valide Han

Buyuk Valide Han

Buyuk Valide Han is the worst-kept secret in Istanbul. Located in the Eminonu neighbourhood among the maze of backstreets around the Grand Bazaar, the Buyuk was popular for some time because you could access its roof and see some photogenic views of Istanbul. In all honesty, the view wasn’t that spectacular, it was mostly the aura of a ‘secret spot’ that made it so attractive. And because the streets around the Grand Bazaar are such a tangled mess, finding the Buyuk was a real quest. The roof is no longer accessible, but there is a cafe on the second floor that has nice views of the city.

The Aqueduct of Valens

The Aqueduct of Valens

a 20-minute walk from the Grand Bazaar brings you to one of the most impressive Roman aqueducts that exist today. Double-arched, like the Segovia Aqueduct, the Valens Aqueduct was commissioned by the Eastern Roman emperor Valens in the 4th century and took nearly 30 years to build.

The aqueduct brought water from the surrounding countryside to underground storage systems like Basilica and Theodosius cisterns. Like many ancient structures in Istanbul, Valens aqueduct had been assimilated into the modern cityscape. It towers over the Atatürk Bulvarı – a multi-lane road with heavy traffic.

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