Istanbul is a city that will always surprise. Whether you follow the beaten track or choose to discover its wonders to the tune of your own inner gyroscope, it will bathe you in magic from one moment to the next.
Coming to our city requires time and curiosity as you wend your way through hidden passageways that slowly reveal their individual secrets, stumble upon unexpected lush gardens as you lose yourself in back streets, or simply set out to see a famed monument and take in all the sights and sounds along the way.
There are many hidden gems in Istanbul, many of which are easy to find, and others that you will unearth on your own as you adventure forth. This being said, we at Hotel Büyük Keban love to recommend some of our favorite spots that may not appear many of the travel guides.
The Back Streets of Sultananhmet
Head down from the Hagia Sophia and you will find cobbled streets housing ancient Ottoman homes that are quite cinematic with their crumbling facades. You will most likely be accompanied by a bevy of cats that add to the poetry of this less-touristy part of town. Stop in one of the many authentic hole-in-the-wall places to eat and then have your dessert in a fruit shop where the pomegranates just beg to be devoured.
In Karatina Sokak, Karakoy, this mysterious underground mosque was once the provenance of the Galata fortifications. Legend has it that an enormous chain was anchored here to prevent unwanted ships from passing through the Golden Horn. Converted into a mosque in 1757, the mosque’s low vaulted ceilings and side chapel with its two tombs ignites the imagination with its hallowed and arcane atmosphere.
The Basilica Cistern
We’ve written about the Basilica Cistern before, but it should go on this list too, as it’s not always mentioned in the guidebooks. You can easily walk on top of it without knowing it is there until you notice the entrance to the dark stairway leading down to the former reservoir. Built during the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century, the Cistern is dimly lit with many columns, Koi fish swim in the shallow water, and wooden planks must be traversed so as not to get wet. With a dripping that echoes throughout, you couldn’t plan a better locale for the two statues you’ll find there sporting the head of Medusa.
Boating Up the Golden Horn
Take the day for a little voyage to the Pierre Loti Café for a truly incredible view of Istanbul from another perspective. Monsieur Loti was a 19th century French naval officer who wrote the beautiful love story, “Aziyade,” which you feel in the romance of this café. Walk up from the Eyup Mosque through the cemetery or take a cable car near the port to get there. From there, hire a small motorboat to Eminonu to complete the enchantment.
These are just a sampling of Istanbul’s more obscure sights that are worth a visit… come make your own list by planning your trip today!