Many people have a love/hate relationship with the ever-bustling (Istiklal Street or Istiklal Avenue – İstiklal Caddesi in Turkish) that runs from Taksim Square nearly all the way to the landmark Galata Tower. Although it is the beating heart of the city, the three million people that pass it every day can make it rather challenging to traverse. Yet it serves as a microcosm of Istanbul itself and although chains and fast food joints are starting to edge out the more old-fashioned shops, there’s still traces of old Istanbul here.
Istiklal Avenue from a rooftop
Aside from the obvious Istiklal Street shopping opportunities, there are many other Istiklal Street attractions. Look out for historic cinemas (like Atlas, Beyoglu), historical passages (like Hazzopulo, Suriye and Çiçek), churches (St Antoine, Santa Maria), consulate buildings, and innovative art galleries (check out SALT Beyoğlu, Mesher and the Mısır Apartments), as well as stunning examples of 19th century Neo-Classical and Art Nouveau architecture to admire.
Arter Gallery along the Istiklal Avenue, Istanbul
Known as the Cadde-i Kebir (Grand Avenue) during the Ottoman period, when it attracted an intellectual crowd, it later became the place to stroll for the French Levantines, who knew it as the Grand Rue de Pera. It became İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Street) following the creation of the Republic of Turkey.
Pera Museum, housed in the former Bristol Hotel, is among the sightseeing options at Istiklal Avenue
Crowning the street at the northern end is Taksim Square, a place which has been in the news time and again as the site of many demonstrations and protests, notably the Gezi Park protests of 2013. Within it is a statue of Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, and it is a symbolic spot for many.
Taksim Square is the city centre of Istanbul
Sadly, soaring rent prices and rampant development are forcing out some of the oldest surviving shops and it has changed much when you compare it to old Istiklal street photos. It has already lost the historic Emek Cinema, İnci Patisseriei, Rebul Pharmacy, and Robinson Crusoe stores – which have all been forced to close or relocate in recent years. One of the most interesting old patisseries, Markiz, still bears its glamourous art nouveau interior and two two faïence wall panels made in France, but is now a (rather standard) fast food restaurant.
The Istiklal Street food options are seemingly endless – from the tantalizingly cheap street food such as stuffed mussels, simits, and pilaf right up to some of the best restaurants in Istanbul like our favorites: Yeni Lokanta and Ece No.9.
Yeni Lokanta is located at the top of Kumbaraci Yokusu, only a minute walk from Istiklal Avenue
There are several English language and second hand bookstores worth browsing, including Homer Kitabevi, Turkuaz Kitabevi, Eren Kitabevi, Arkeopera, Denizler Kitabevi, and Robinson Crusoe (now in SALT Beyoglu).
Beyoglu (the area around Istiklal) never sleeps, and is the most buzzing nightlife destination in the city. From grungy student caverns to fancy rooftop bars, and from underground techno to traditional Turkish live music – it has it all. Our favourite bars include Alex's place, Propaganda and Münferit. But, you could always just stay outside and enjoy the music played by a wide variety of buskers.
From grungy student caverns to fancy rooftop bars, and from underground techno to traditional Turkish live music – it has it all.
There are several good hotels, but as many find it too noisy to stay on Istiklal Street itself, the best hotels are in the surrounding areas of Asmali Mescit, Galata, Taksim, Pera, Cihangir, and Tom Tom. Some of our favorites include Pera Palace Jumeirah, Tom Tom Suites, and Adahan Istanbul.
Either take a metro or bus to Taksim Square and walk down it, or take a tram to Karakoy, from where you can ride the 19th century underground funicular (or walk up a steep hill past Galata Tower) to Tünel Square and walk up it. One of the most enjoyable ways to see the street is to ride the charming red Nostaljik Tramvay (nostalgic tram), that runs up and down the length of it.
One of the most enjoyable ways to see the street is to ride the charming red Nostaljik Tramvay
Like any other city center, when there is this many people in one place, there is inevitably some petty crime – although many find it much rarer here than comparable cities. Still, it’s best to keep your belongings where you can see them, and inadvisable to walk home alone late at night.