Istanbul on Travelfore

There is another side to Istanbul apart from old Constantinople

There is another side to Istanbul apart from old Constantinople

Words: Len Rutledge   Pictures: Phensri Rutledge

Roman ruins, great mosques and churches, huge city walls, palaces, 500-year-old bazaars, and intriguing museums make Istanbul a ‘must-see’ city. Despite the recent strife in the Middle East, Istanbul remains a fascinating city for visitors of all ages and my wife and I found it perfectly safe and very welcoming. It was in the 10 Top Visited Cities in 2018.

It is common to say that Istanbul is caught between Europe and Asia and while this is correct, it is just a small part of the picture. Others romanticise the fact that this has been a ‘world city’ for over two thousand years and talk up its ancient buildings and monuments as the greatest appeal of the city. They are probably right.

Much is written about the Old City that once was called Byzantium then later Constantinople. Less well known, but also impressive, is ‘New’ Istanbul just a few hundred meters across the stretch of water known as the Golden Horn. You are still in Europe but in many ways, it is as though you are in a different city.

The Asian side of the city is less visited but this too provides cultural insights that cannot be gleaned elsewhere. Walking is the best way to explore but for those who do not find this enjoyable, taxis and public transport is available. Be aware though that motorists rarely stop to let pedestrians cross roads even at major crossings.

In 1503 the ruling Sultan wished to construct a bridge between Old Istanbul and Galata and he asked Leonardo da Vinci to produce a design. His design for an unprecedented single span 240 m bridge was rejected, however, and the construction of a bridge was not completed until the 19th century.


When you cross the bridge from Old Istanbul, you enter Galata which is almost as old as Constantinople but there are few relics from the early days. The area had city walls at least 1600 years ago and there was also a fortress here during early Byzantine times. In 1261, Galata became a semi-independent colony controlled by the Genoese.

The 67 m Galata Tower is the most obvious landmark. It was built in 1348 and for many years it was used as a fire lookout tower. Today you can ride to near the top by elevator and the view from the narrow outside balcony is impressive.

For those who don’t like walking up hills, the Tünelis a godsend. It was opened in 1875 and was one of the first underground urban railways in the world.

Istiklal Caddesi

There is another side to Istanbul apart from old Constantinople

When you climb the hill from the Galata Bridge or exit the Tünel, you are on Istiklal Caddesi, one of the most important streets in the city. It is lined with hundreds of shops selling just about everything you need, and much you don’t. It has many large and small stores and street vendors of all kinds.

If you get tired and thirsty, there are plenty of cafes along the way for refreshments and there are many bars to drop in on if you feel so inclined. A kebab or freshly baked simit (circular, sesame seed-coated bread), are good choices followed by some melt-in-your-mouth Turkish Delight.

Enjoying the local food in Istanbul is one of the real joys of the city. Midway along Istiklal Caddesi, there are a couple of beautifully restored arcades on the left. The most famous is Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Passage) which is outstanding and has several attractive restaurants inside.

For something cheaper, you can head through the nearby fish market and find some local eating places along Nevizade, a small street parallel to Istiklal Caddesi. These are safe and you will find someone who speaks good English.


Istanbul has some of the best shopping to be found in Eastern Europe with modern shopping centers, ancient bazaars, independent boutiques, design shops, and thousands of street stalls. You can start shopping in Istiklal Caddesi and keep going north.

Cukurcuma is a charming area of winding side streets and alleyways where rambling apartments house some of the finest collections of antiques, boutique fashion, and kitsch in the city.

A complete contrast if provided by Abdi İpekci Street, located in the Nişantaşı district which hosts luxury retail shopping venues and is currently the most expensive street for retail stores in the city.

Visitor attractions

There is another side to Istanbul apart from old Constantinople

The area also has some excellent visitor attractionsIstanbul Modern is a contemporary art museum in a converted warehouse by the Bosphorus. If you walk further you come to Dolmabahçe Palace,home to six Sultans from 1856 until 1924, and the largest palace in Turkey.

Further on is Ortaköy, an artsy neighborhood with two structures that dominate the area- the baroque Ortaköy Mosque and the First Bosphorus Bridge. The charming waterfront hides a lattice of narrow cobbled streets filled with nice cafes and trendy small clothing boutiques.

Across the Bosphorus, there are huge suburbs on the Asian side with their own commercial centers and transport systems. You reach here by ferry or by an undersea rail tube. I strongly recommend that you check out this area.

If you go

An Istanbul Tourist Pass can be useful if you plan extensive sightseeing. It also includes a one-way transfer between the airport and your hotel by car, a Bosphorus cruise, and unlimited mobile internet access.

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Istanbul, available as an e‑book at or as a paperback at

Istanbul article in Pique News Magazine (Canada)


Where nothing is as you expect


A minaret-dotted skyline, bustling bazaars, fabulous food and monumental museums provide a compelling invitation to visit Istanbul, that gargantuan metropolis connecting Europe to Asia.

Istanbul deserves at least a week of your time as there are opportunities for memorable experiences which you will talk about for months. Many of these will be found in the backstreets and on the waterways of this intriguing city where nothing is exactly as you might expect.

Istanbul’s 14 million residents occupy an area that has been a world-city for two millennia. While many lead a thoroughly modern lifestyle, there are ever-present reminders of the city’s Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman past. No visitor should ignore the wonderful churches, mosques, museums, palaces and other remnants from the past, but equally you need to visit the ultra-modern shopping centres, the amazing bars and clubs, and the picturesque wealthy villages along the Bosphorus.

I like to start my day with a visit to the area adjacent to the historic Galata Bridge. As the morning mist rises the seagulls, fishermen and morning commuters are revealed. Street hawkers offer freshly baked bread rings while the Imam’s call to prayer from the New Mosque drifts past. Walk uphill to Gülhane Park and find a seat in the terraced tea garden with its lovely view of the Bosphorus, order a tea, and be content.

Many of the major attractions of the Old City are near here and you can spend a day or more exploring the Hagia Sophia, the greatest church in the world for 1,000 years; the Blue Mosque with its instantly recognized exterior and its six minarets; the Great Palace Mosaic Museum; Topkapi Palace where the ruling Ottoman sultans lived for 400 years; the wonderful Basilica Cistern and so much more.

The New City across the Golden Horn is a huge area. Probably the most interesting part is along the shore of the Bosphorus so I suggest you take a bus to Bebek or Emirgan. These are two of the wealthiest areas of the city and are fascinating to walk around. In fact, the walk from here back towards Ortaköy along the coast provides wonderful vistas, some nice museums and places to stop for a drink or snack. A visit to these quaint seaside neighbourhoods is a must for those who want to catch a glimpse of how Istanbul’s young and well-to-do spend their days.

Ortaköy itself is an artsy neighborhood dominated by the baroque Ortaköy Mosque and the First Bosphorus Bridge. The charming waterfront hides a lattice of narrow cobbled streets filled with nice cafés and trendy small clothing boutiques. When the sun goes down, this becomes a hotspot for Istanbul’s young and trendy set.

Nearby Galatasaray Islet is a small island on the Bosphorus owned by the Galatasaray Sports Club. It has an Olympic-size saltwater swimming pool, expensive restaurants, great parties and fantastic views. You can spend a day relaxing by the pool, and then treat yourself to a romantic sunset dinner. There’s a free boat service to the island from Kuruçe¸sme.

Another place in the New City that cannot be missed is Istiklal Caddesi, one of the most important streets in the city. This is also the original diplomatic district when Istanbul was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. See the antique red trams, the lively bookshop-cafes and a couple of beautifully restored arcades. I particularly like to walk up and down this pedestrian street on a weekend evening simply people watching and enjoying the atmosphere, but there are many bars to drop in on if you feel so inclined.

So far we have stayed in Europe but now it is time to visit Asia where there are vast suburbs generally ignored by visitors. This is perhaps not a surprise because there are few grand tourist attractions here but the whole area is different and more conservative compared to much of the European shore.

The best way to start exploring the Asian side of Istanbul is by taking a ferry to Kadköy. This is a lively place with a local feel. I never tire of watching the scene from the back of the boat with a glass of hot tea and Turkish-style bagel in hand. There are the seagulls, the call to prayer coming from a distant minaret, and the whistle of other boats to listen to, and just being out on the water produces a feeling of peace.

There are several alternative ways to go once you leave the ferry. One option is to turn right, then start walking the boardwalk. This lines the entire neighborhood, is several kilometers long and has some neat bazaars, antique shops, and restaurants along its length. If you happen to be in town on a Tuesday, then you should head to the famous Tuesday market.

Undoubtedly the most famous street on the Asian side is Bagdat Caddesi, a brand-name shopping destination. If you thought of Asian Istanbul being behind the times, come here and be amazed. It easily ranks with London, Paris and New York for sophisticated shopping. Elsewhere there are tiny villages along the Bosphorus and some of the city’s most expensive waterside homes.

Getting around has been made much easier by the construction of the undersea rail tunnel connecting Asia and Europe and various tram and train extensions that fit in with this new development. Buy an Istanbulkart and it becomes even easier because you don’t have to buy individual tickets. It can be used as a ticket on buses, trams, suburban trains, metro and even the cross-Bosphorus ferries.

I particularly recommend the modern air-conditioned trams that operate in both the New and Old City by crossing Galata Bridge. They are comfortable and frequent and go close to many of the major attractions of the city. If you stay in a hotel near this route it makes sightseeing so much easier.


There are no direct flights to Istanbul from the Canadian West Coast, however, there are numerous one-stop services. The fastest are KLM via Amsterdam, Lufthansa via Munich and Swiss via Zurich. Air Canada flies via Toronto and British Airways via London.

Information on Istanbul is available at

The latest edition of my Istanbul guide book, Experience Istanbul 2016 is available as an e‑book or paperback

The original article appeared at

All books now available

This is just a reminder that the eight 2016 editions of Experience Guides are available as e‑books and paperbacks. Probably the easiest way to find them is to go to then type Len Rutledge into the search bar. All the books in both formats should then appear. Amazon allows about 10% of the book to be read free for those who are interested.

Experience Guides books pics

Four more Experience Guide titles available in 2016 editions

Experience Istanbul, Experience India’s Golden Triangle, Experience Ireland and Experience Singapore are all now available in new 2016 editions. Each has been extensively rewritten with additional information, maps and images to make them better than ever. Each is available as an e‑book from at a cost of US$4.95.

Go to, type len rutledge in the search box, and the whole range of Experience Guides will come up. Please take a look.

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