It’s a well-known fact that the city of Istanbul is unique for spanning two continents. This was my second visit and having spent my time previously exploring the European side, I thought it was time to take a stroll over to Asia. Here I share with you the sights I saw and the things I learnt along the way.
Starting in Taksim Square
The Titanic City Hotel (the end hotel on our popular Turkey Unplugged tour) is just a stone’s throw from the heart of modern Istanbul – Taksim Square, and what better place to start my journey? Standing in the middle of the square is the Republic Monument, built to commemorate the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. This double-sided monument shows the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and his comrades in early dress and more modern attire symbolising the change from him being a military Commander-in-chief to a statesman. If you glance across from here with the square behind you, you will see a Burger King, which is at the top of Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue) and demonstrates Istanbul’s modern face.
Riding the tram
Istiklal Caddesi is one of Istanbul’s most famous streets stretching nearly a mile long from Taksim Square to Karakoy on the waterfront. The avenue is full of boutique shops, music stores, famous restaurants, international consulates and much more. The T2 line of the famous historic trams of Istanbul runs down the whole avenue and costs under 2 lira per journey. About half way down the avenue sits the oldest school in Turkey – Galatasaray High School. Galatasaray means Galata Palace and the school is also very close to the famous Galata Tower.
Continuing south you’ll come across Tunel station, which is the second oldest underground railway line in the world (after the London Underground). This two-stop funicular line was built in 1875 to connect the two neighbourhoods of Pera (now Beyoglu) and Galata (now Karakoy), which were full of international and Ottoman businesses. You’re now at the end of Istiklal Caddesi in the Karakoy district where you can board your ferry bound for the Asian side of the city. But before you do that, why not take a refreshment break at Karakoy Gulluoglu?
Stopping for sweets
Karakoy Gulluoglu is one the most famous baklava bakeries in Turkey. Originally from Gaziantep in the east of the country (near the border with Syria), the family set up their only site in Istanbul in 1949 and are proud of the fact that this is a true original. Baklava is a very sweet dessert made of filo pastry filled with nuts and bound together with honey or syrup and is very popular in Turkey. Once you’ve had your fill of baklava and tea, take a walk to the ferry terminal just a short stroll to the right out of the bakery.
Crossing the Bosphorus
For 2.45 lira (just under USD $1) you’ll take a 10 minute ferry ride from Karakoy (Europe) to Kadikoy (Asia). If the weather is good then head out onto one of the outside decks for great views of Sultanahmet including Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. Also keep your eyes on the water as you may see a few playful dolphins pop their heads up from time to time. Before you know it you will have docked at Kadikoy – welcome to Asia!
Eating in Asian Turkey
Kadikoy is a lively local district with lots of international and local shops and restaurants as well as the famous Kadikoy Market. Kadikoy Market is an easy walk from the ferry terminal and is a foodie’s paradise! Less touristy and with fewer touts than the markets on the European side, you’ll be greeted with delicious smelling fruit, colourful vegetable and huge olive stalls. There is also lots of tea, coffee and dried fruits on offer as well as fresh fish and meat stalls.
If you’ve not filled up on too many tasters from the market it is well worth grabbing a spot of lunch here. Lahmacun (rolled pizza) is a cheap and delicious lunchtime option. This flat dough is topped with minced meat (usually lamb or beef) and minced onions and tomatoes. It is served flat with pots of lemon and parsley. You need to add the parsley to the pizza and squeeze out the lemon on top. You then roll it up and devour it. It usually only costs a few lira too.
When you’ve eaten all you can and shopped for souvenirs, head back to the European side the way you came for all the incredible sights that make Istanbul such a magnificent city.
If you fancy crossing from one continent to another in the same city, check out our full range of Turkey tours or share your own inside tips in the comments section below.