Travel across the Bosphorus by ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. Here, you can escape the tourist crowds while exploring the Kadıköy market, discover antique bargains on Tellalzade Street and tuck into steaming hot borek.
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The ancient city of Istanbul straddles two continents, divided by the Bosphorus (also known as the Strait of Istanbul). Kadıköy, on the Asian side, is where the city began, although the European side became the centre during the Ottoman and Roman periods and remains the main historic and touristic hub. Fewer tourists and more locals make for an authentic experience of this vibrant city.
Things to do on the Asian side of Istanbul
Eating your way around the “other side” of Istanbul is a great way to get intimate with the soul of the Asian part of the city. A local-led food-tasting tour will take you on a sensational journey through the diverse tastes on offer here. From the ubiquitous simit (circular sesame bread), through traditional borek (stuffed pastry) and Turkish-style ice creams to black Turkish tea, sipped from small shapely glasses.
With a full belly, you can explore the colourful neighbourhood of Kuzguncuk in Üsküdar. Once settled by Jews, then Greek-Orthodox and Armenian Christians and currently Muslims, this area of leafy lanes filled with brightly coloured traditional houses is a sight to behold. Stop in one of the many cafes for a cool drink before continuing your stroll through the peaceful, pretty streets.
If you’re in town on a Tuesday then you can’t miss the spectacle of the Kadıköy Tuesday Market, where you’ll find everything you need and more. A far cry from the ostentation of the Grand Bazaar, this is where the locals come for their weekly shop.
While exploring the east side, stop at The Fighting Bull statue on Altıyol Square and find out about this bronze bovine beast’s chequered past, before heading towards the water to enjoy views across the Sea of Marmara and sip a strong Turkish coffee at Moda Pier.
If you fancy a break from the city, it’s about half an hour’s drive north of Kadıköy centre to Khedive Palace in the Cubuklu area. Built in 1907, it’s not one of the oldest palaces, but its pretty woodland setting offers a serenity not often found in this city of 15m people.
What to eat on the Asian side of Istanbul
Eating and drinking in Istanbul is one of the city’s primary pleasures. Head over to Ciya Sofresi in Kadıköy to sample one of their many traditional classics. Thin crispy lahmacun (Turkish pizza), warming soups, fluffy pilafs (rice dish), delicious stews, more types of kebab than you could ever eat and something sweet to finish. The baklava here shouldn’t be missed.
The area has its fair share of third-wave coffee shops too, including Walter’s Coffee Roastery, based heavily on the Breaking Bad series. Get your cold brew coffee hit, and buy any number of coffee-making kits to make your own. Walter’s sells their own cheerful yellow mugs too.
The five brothers who own Meshur Dondurmacı Ali Usta offer the best dondurma (ice cream), with 40 flavours from which to choose. Don’t forget to ask what toppings they have available. Chocolate and nuts are a classic combo. Make your choice, then take an evening stroll with the locals down Moda Caddesi.
For a taste of the local nightlife, join the youths on Kadife Sokak, also known as Bar Street for good reason. It’s always crowded here and has a jubilant atmosphere, especially on warm summer evenings. Grab a beer from any of the bars and kiosks along the street and soak up the buoyant Turkish atmosphere.
Shopping on the Asian side of Istanbul
The European side may have the super cosmopolitan Istiklal Caddesi, but the Asian side puts up a glamorous fight with the Istanbulite Champs-Élysées, Bağdat Caddesi. Used for trade and military purposes during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, today you’ll find elegant shops, high-end fashion boutiques, large shopping malls and luxury car showrooms here.
In sharp contrast, you could while away a few hours down Kadıköy’s Tellalzade Street, known as Antique Street, due to the array of shops selling vintage record players, lanterns, telescopes and other jumbled oddities. Further on is the Kadıköy Antiques Bazaar, for a finer selection of antiques.
How to reach the Asian side of Istanbul
The best way to arrive in Asia is by boat. There are regular ferries running from Eminönü Ferry Terminal on the west side of the Bosphorus to Kadıköy. Alternatively, take a 20-30 minute taxi from the Sultanahmet area and they’ll drop you in Kadıköy. The tram/bus combo takes a little longer, as you’d need to take the T1 tram from Sultanahmet to Kabatas, then take the 129T bus from Istanbul Beyoglu Teknik Üniversite to Kadıköy, which takes 90 minutes in total.
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