The list of Istanbul neighborhoods can be a little overwhelming at first glance. There are a lot of them and each is unique. It’s almost like the city has many little cities inside it.
When I first came to Istanbul I felt like every day I was hearing about a new neighborhood in Istanbul. The truth is that you could live in Istanbul you’re entire life and never see all of the neighborhoods the city has to offer.
Luckily for us though, the neighborhoods that you’ll want to visit while you’re in Istanbul are pretty close to each other— since most of the tourist attractions and “cool” areas are lining the bospherous.
Since each neighborhood has it’s own vibe, I can’t say what the best areas in Istanbul are, it depends on what you like. That’s why I’ve put together this guide to the Istanbul neighborhoods, so you can decide for yourself.
Directly in the center of the city, there’s Taksim, which is one of the more popular neighborhoods with tourists. It’s famous for Taksim Square and Istikal Street— which is a shopping street that has store after store for 1.5km.
Taksim is where a lot of the nightlife happens in Istanbul. The streets off of Istikal are lined with clubs and rooftop restaurants that stay open till late into the morning.
This area always has a lot going on and can get pretty crowded.
Old-School Red Tram Line
Rooftop Bars/ Restaurants: Balkon, Klein Garten, 360 Istanbul
Karaköy is one of Istanbul’s oldest neighborhoods— but don’t let that throw you off it’s a super vibrant area of the city. The narrow streets are Instagram famous for their umbrella coverings and overgrown grape vines that give the cafes below shade from the sun.
The neighborhood has some of the city’s best boutiques and coffee shops. Since it’s at the edge of the golden horn, Karaköy is one of the easiest neighborhoods for getting around the city. It has easy access to the old city just across the Galata bridge, ferries to the Asian side, and trams to Taksim and Kabataş.
Known for the Galata tower, which is a staple in the Istanbul Skyline. Galata is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Istanbul. With winding cobblestoned streets and neoclassical-styled buildings— wandering around this area is always a treat.
The area around the tower can get pretty crowded during the day, but just a few streets away things start to thin out. The neighborhood has great vintage shopping and an abundance of artisan shops. Plus it’s directly up the hill from Karaköy so it’s also well connected, and if you know the right spots to go you can catch a pretty great view of the Bosphorus.
Rooftops: Snog Roof & George’s Hotel
The Whirling Dervish hall
The epitome of a bohemian neighborhood. Streets lined with cafes, vintage and antique stores— the vibe is laid back and artistic. It’s even home to some famous Turkish directors, actors, and singers.
Within Cihangir, there are many nooks. Head down Kılıç Ali Paşa Caddesi for great cafe’s and bars — my favorite is Journey. Over in the Çukurcuma area, you’ll find all the best antique shops, and Tom Tom has declared itself the design district.
Being a forward-thinking area with lots of young people, it’s no surprise that there’s a plethera of vegan food options in this neighborhood.
Kılıç Ali Paşa Caddesi Bars/Cafes
Lots of Vegan Food Options
Best Antiquing in Istanbul
Young, Trendy Crowd
Large Expat Community
Known as the “old city” Sultanahmet is where you’ll find all the major tourist attractions. The grand bazaar, the spice bazaar, the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi palace, and the Blue Mosque.
This area is known for being one of the more conservative areas of the city, so it really does feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you’re there.
Wandering the streets in the market district is a great way to spend a day in Istanbul. You’ll find all sorts of incredible treasures, from fragrant teas to luxury towels at bargain prices.
The Blue Mosque
Located on the banks of the golden horn, Balat is a colorful neighborhood that is worth making the bus ride up from the Galata bridge.
The old-school charm of the area that was where the Jewish people first settled during the Byzantine period is what makes it so special.
Today the winding streets are filled with artisanal shops, local bakeries, and of course places to get a cup of coffee.
You can’t miss the greek orthodox high school, the beautiful brick building stands high on a hill and has become a landmark of the area.
Greek Orthodox High School
Rooftop cafes: Cafe Popstel has a great view of the Bosphorus and the high school
Streets with colorful houses
incir agaci kahvesi historic colorful staircase leading to a cute cafe
Artisan shops and antique stores
Nişantaşı is a bit off the tourist path, but if shopping is on your agenda— I’d say skip Istikal Street and head to Nişantaşı. The area is upmarket and gorgeous with numerous art nouveau buildings. The area is super trendy with restaurants serving international and Turkish cuisines.
While most come for the shopping— if you head a few blocks off the main drag to an area referred to as “Teşvikiye” you’ll find incredible little boutiques, health food stores, and cafes. It’s a good area to spend an afternoon browsing.
Teşvikiye: Quaint area to walk around
Shopping: From luxury to Vintage, to local brands and boutiques
Healthy Eats: Plus Kitch & Healin Foods
While most districts don’t have an area also called the same thing, Beşiktaş is the exception. When someone refers to Beşiktaş they are most likely talking about the area surrounding the Beşiktaş Ferry station.
This neighborhood is filled with pubs and cafes which gives the area its vibrant nightlife. It’s the main hangout spot for young, 20-somethings. There’s an entire street dedicated to breakfast cafes and you’ll often hear live music as you wander the narrow streets.
The neighborhood is home to one of the areas in Istanbul most famous with the locals, Akaretler, which is known for its lively gastropubs. Since it’s a more local neighborhood, drinks and food tend to be less expensive than those in other districts.
Akaretler Gastropubs: Peppe Rosso, No Fish Today, and Craft Beer
Ferry Connections to Asain Side
Ortaköy is a lively neighborhood along the Bosphorus. Known for the grand Ortaköy Mosque that was commissioned by Ottoman sultan Abdülmecid and was built in the 1850’s. The mosque sits under the Bosphorus bridge, making for an incredible sight and place to get your perfect Istanbul photo.
Other than being a great place to take in the beauty of the city, Ortaköy has a bustling nightlife with numerous bars and clubs in the area. On the weekends the streets fill with vendors as one of the most popular markets in Istanbul commences. You’ll be able to find everything from souvenirs to fresh produce.
Weekly Markets at Ortaköy Square
Ortaköy Hamam: Hamam renovated into a traditional Turkish restaurant
Yıldız Park: Beautiful park with bridges and lots of green space
Waterfront area: Ortaköy Square
If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, head to Bebek. This upmarket neighborhood feels more like a resort town than a neighborhood in one of the world’s most populous cities.
Bebek has a long stretch along the Bosphorus that is perfect for long walks or a bike ride. You’ll be able to spot the Midevil Rumeli Fortress that sits on the banks of the Bosphorus.
If you want to rub shoulders with the socialites of Turkey, head to the trendy cafes and bars that come to life in the evening.
Aşiyan Museum: Literary museum at the home of the famous poet Tevfik Fikret
Between Bebek and Ortaköy there’s a quaint little neighborhood sandwiched in-between that shouldn’t be overlooked. Arnavutköy is one of Istanbul’s prettiest neighborhoods.
This charming little area has breathtaking ottoman-style architecture that gives you a taste of what the city must have been like in the prime Ottoman period.
There are plenty of cafes to wander in and out of or sit along the Bosphorus enjoying a Turkish Breakfast.
Incredible cafes: Wohha & Shelly
Breakfast with a view
Cute little green square near the waterfront
On the Asian side of Istanbul on the northern shore of the Marmara sea is a lively local neighborhood called Kadıköy (not to be confused with Karaköy).
This area is known for its bustling markets, incredible food scene, and the laidback artistic vibe.
It has a long stretch along the Marmara that’s referred to as the Moda Beach— while it’s not a beach with sand, it is a great place to have a picnic and watch the sunset.
Incredible restaurants: çiya was on Chef’s Table on Netflix
Great vintage shopping
Cool bars with artistic type crowds
Daily and weekly markets