A Walk Around Karaköy & Galata

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I have realized that when someone tells me about their upcoming trip to Istanbul and asks me what to do/see/eat, I drop whatever I am doing and start writing a long email with lots of links. I have written many, among them one to Sarah of Thyme, then to  Jenni‘s friend Marc, to Zerrin and then decided to spend a long nice day with Zerrin, Yusuf, Kalyn and Donna in May instead of writing all that. I wish I could do this in person and take all of you around Istanbul but since that would not be quite possible, I have decided to pile my favorites together in several posts. Starting with Karakoy and Galata area, I tried to map it in a very amateur way on Google maps for you to see where to go. I have inserted the links whenever possible for you to learn more about the locations and restaurants. There are many establishments and sometimes they don’t even make it a year. And while you are going to a location mentioned here, you might find ten more perfectly great ones on the way. Take advantage of walking and discover as much as possible. That is why I love the backstreets and hidden corners of the neighborhoods in Istanbul.

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Karakoy used to be a financial and commercial district, and still has the remains of that to be seen on Tersane and Bankalar Avenues. The area is rapidly changing with the recent gentrification efforts and old-time shop keepers are leaving the area due to rising rents and ongoing renovations or new construction. What you will see here mostly the buildings from the late 19th century, churches, synagogues and lots of cafes and restaurants. If you do not mind using public transport, there is a tram that passes through Karakoy. If you are staying in Sultanahmet region, you can take this tram and get off at Karakoy stop, which comes right after Eminonu/Spice Bazaar stop. If you are already in Eminonu, visiting Spice Bazaar, you can walk across Galata Bridge to Karakoy, take in the views of Topkapi and Hagia Sophia from a distance.

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Galata Bridge 

Once you get off the tram, cross the street to the right (assuming you are coming from Eminonu) and go down towards the sea. Here you can walk past the restaurants, the Starbucks and the ferry stop and move to Güllüoğlu for baklava or Namlı Gurme for breakfast. Once you are done with that sugar loading, you can move onto Mumhane Street, which has lots of cute cafes and some shops that sell handmade items. While I find these shops to be expensive, they do have unique and cute things to take back with you. Get some freshly baked simit or other goods from Galata Simit Fırını and move along until you reach the end of Mumhane street. Pass through some narrow streets where a torn-down wall is hiding a garage and car washing station! Go past that, and you will find a nice secluded place bursting with the trendy cafes. Have a cup of coffee at Coffee Sapiens. Or move on and go to Sahi, a store that sells handmade items of artisans and also lets you take in the views at their rooftop cafe. I love their store and also found the perfect Turkish Delight which has just the right sweetness for my taste. You can also have a lazy breakfast at Sahi and enjoy your simit. There is a restaurant called Fasuli across from Sahi and they are famous with their slow cooked bean dish and sauteed pickled vegetables. It is a comfort food perfect for winter but during summer, I am not sure if I can handle it.

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On Kemankes Avenue which is parallel to Mumhane, there is the famous Karakoy Restaurant. Would be nice for a light lunch or  meze-loaded dinner. Or you can go towards the Fish Market, and get fish sandwiches from the stands, and eat right by the sea. Akın Restaurant is famous around there for raki-balik duo however I have not eaten there so I can not really vouch for it. If you walk all the way down that street, pass the cafes and fish stands, you will end up coming to Balıkçı Kemal. Don’t expect mind-blowing great food. Good tasting food, reasonable prices and a quiet place. For lunch or snack, I prefer the fish stands. Among the fish stands, if you find Emin Usta who is a big guy with a slow motion, and wears a bright orange apron with his name on it, try his spicy fish wrap if the line is not long. He is a showman, takes his time to prepare and the longer the line gets, the more other stands get upset. They would yell and say “We have the same fish, why are you waiting there?” and in some cases it is true – why would you wait?. Depends on how hungry you are.

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Fish stands. The line on the right is for Emin Usta’s stand while the others sit idle. 

Once you are done with the fish stands and the hipster cafes of Mumhane, you can move up to Bankalar Avenue. Salt Galata building used to be the HQ of the Ottoman Bank. You can visit the museum which is located in the old bank vault, or have a drink on the second floor overlooking Halic. The buildings at the beginning of the street are a nice line up of old-style architecture. Across from Salt Galata, you will find Kamondo Stairs. Climb up the stairs and start walking up the narrow street that leads up to Galata Tower. On the way up there, you will see small stores, cafes and on a side street, entrance to Konak Cafe . The rooftop of this unassuming cafe gives you great views of Halic and the Tower as well. However, what I love the most is not the sweets or the view, it is this room!

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 Bankalar Avenue 

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Kamondo Stairs

Once you are up around the Galata Tower also known as Kuledibi, you can have a beer at Guney Restaurant and catch your breath. The restaurant  has a good selection of Turkish food.  Or get in line and go up to the Tower, see where Hazerfan Celebi  flew with the wings he made from Europe to Asia in the 17th century. After that if you feel like you need a glass of wine, there is a secluded winery called Sensus Sarapevi, in the basement of Hotel Anemon.You can find great Turkish wines for a reasonable price.

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This walk should take you until about late afternoon if you start early around 9am and prefer to stop for eating, drinking and enjoying what each turn brings. If you still have fire in you and want to go to Istiklal Avenue and Taksim, you can head up the Galip Dede Street. Or you can walk back down on Yuksekkaldirim Street to Karakoy. Maybe have a cup of tea or another beer by the sea before you head back to your hotel or have a glass of raki at Karakoy Restaurant, Akın Balık or Balıkçı Kemal.

For more pictures of Istanbul and Karakoy, you can visit my Pinterest board of Istanbul. If you have any other questions, let me know!

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3 Comments:

  1. by Irene B.
    7:57 pm
    Jun 19, 2015

    Love your pictures of Istanbul….they made me feel like I was there. Im not going to Turkey this year and I’m quite sad….but next year.
    I also love the back streets….always can spot an interesting architectural building or door of some kind…and of course the locals that live there….and the cafes’. My mouth is watering when you mention those ‘fish’ stands…
    The Spice market is fabulous for spices and things I pick up which we don’t have here…it doesn’t matter how I wrap up some of theose spices my suitcases will have that aroma of that particular spice… :-)
    Thanks for your sharing your post and pics..loved it.

  2. by Turkey's For Life
    10:46 am
    Jun 20, 2015

    Walking around cities and getting slightly lost is just the best and we particularly love this area of Istanbul. If you’d have said Mumhane St to us just a couple of weeks ago, we wouldn’t have known where you meant. However, a missed bus back to Fethiye meant we needed an emergency stopover in Istanbul and we found a great cheap hostel there. :) As for the Karaköy fish guys, yeah the competition is more obvious there now…but we do love balık ekmek around there. :)
    Julia

  3. by Cristina Silva
    5:34 am
    Sep 28, 2016

    very nice place for holidays, i will definitely come here in these vacations.

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