The Coolest Neighbourhoods in Istanbul

Balat | © Moyan Brenn/Flickr
Balat | © Moyan Brenn/Flickr
With more than 14 million people, Istanbul is not just a giant city, but also a representation of an entire country, where no one neighbourhood is the same, due to the diversity of its residents from various cultural backgrounds and beliefs. From very traditional areas, where it would be offensive to walk the streets in a mini skirt, to very modern neighbourhoods full of boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and bars, Istanbul is a paradox in the best way possible. We picked out the best neighbourhoods where you’ll love getting lost among the historical facades and the newly opened venues.


Part of the larger Beyoğlu district, Galata is most clearly identified by the historic Galata Tower, which overlooks the old cobblestoned streets and neoclassical buildings. Walk down Galip Dede street to get to the Galata Tower Square and make sure to wander into Serdar-ı Ekrem street to check out some of the neighbourhood’s coolest shops. Every side street in Galata has something interesting to explore so getting lost is always a good idea because you’re bound to come across something amazing. If you need a rest, stop by the neighbourhood’s most popular café, Mavra, where locals like to hang out at all times of the day.

Galata © Michaela Loheit/Flickr


Also part of the larger Beyoğlu district, Çukurcuma is the city’s antiques neighbourhood where you’ll find some of the best antique dealers in the city. Some of the heavyweights include A La Turca, Modern Tarih, and Aslı Günşiray, but exploring on your own is also encouraged since the neighbourhood has new places of interest opening all the time. Çukurcuma has also become famous for the Museum of Innocence, a literary museum established by Nobel Prize winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, inspired by his novel of the same name.

Çukurcuma © tomislav medak/Flickr


Located right by the waterside and formerly one of the city’s most important ports, Karaköy was left to deteriorate until it started to become a hotspot around 2012. Now the historic facades are being bought out and renovated one by one to become trendy cafes and restaurants and boutiques. On the weekends Karaköy is full of locals and wandering tourists who have heard of the area’s popularity. One of the first openings here was the Karabatak Café and its most admired restaurant is Karaköy Lokantası, where reservations must be made in advance for dinner.

Karaköy © Charlie T./Flickr


Formerly the Greek Orthodox and Armenian neighbourhood of Istanbul, Balat is full of colourful old houses and churches. The area’s main sights include the Fener Lycee, a red brick castle-like structure overlooking the whole neighbourhood, and the Church of St. George, the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (the senior patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church). You’ll also find a lot of young people who have set up their businesses among the historic streets, including micro coffee roasters, ceramic ateliers, art galleries and vintage shops, mostly around Yıldırım and Vodina streets.

Balat © Moyan Brenn/Flickr


Currently the heart of Istanbul’s nightlife, Arnavutköy is an upscale neighbourhood right by the Bosphorus which is known for its Ottoman waterfront mansions and fish restaurants. Nowadays, you’ll find lots of cocktail and gastro bars that have taken over the neighbourhood in a youthful frenzy and, during the evenings, the venues become so full that people stand on Bebek Arnavutköy street with their drinks in their hands enjoying a late night out. During the day it’s also great to just wander around Arnavutköy and take a look at the many beautiful houses that decorate the picturesque neighbourhood right by the glittering water.

Arnavutköy © Ali Tekay/Flickr


The Asian side of Istanbul sometimes doesn’t get the credit it deserves because it hasn’t yet become a destination for visitors. However, the Moda neighbourhood is definitely worth the ferry ride from one side to the other, because of its very local feel without a hint of pretension. You’ll find a lot of cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops opened up by the neighbourhood’s young entrepreneurs in and around Moda Caddesi. The Moda beach is also a great place for a long walk in case you want to gaze at the European side from afar. Later in the evening, Kadife street is where everyone ends up going because most of the neighbourhood’s lively bars and pubs are all located in this area.

Moda © Michel Huhardeaux/Flickr