Whether you want to experience traditional Turkish culture, shop till you drop or dance until dawn, everything you need can be found on Istiklal Street. Only a mile long, this broad avenue links Taksim to Tünel and is lined with grand consulate buildings, Turkish and western restaurants and cafes, shops selling local and international clothing brands and innumerable clubs and bars.
In the 19th century, when the area was in its heyday, the passages or arcades lining the street were the ‘in’ places to shops. Many of them belonged to citizens who came from lands conquered by the Ottomans, such as the Halep or Aleppo Pasaji, originally owned by a Syrian Christian. Now home to a collection of small shops, it once housed a circus. My favourite is the Suriye (Syrian) Pasaji. The imposing Neo-classical facade hides an enormous shop selling vintage clothes tucked away in the basement. Inside you can find anything from ancient mannequins garbed in period costumes to 18th-century-style wigs amidst racks and racks of old clothing.
The halfway mark of the street is Galatasaray High School, the oldest Turkish high school in the world. Just across the road is the Çiçek pasaji (Flower Passage) where Russian women who had fled the Bolshevik Revolution gathered to sell flowers. Nowadays it is home to an array of meyhane, a type of Turkish restaurant where you can eat fish and meze (Turkish hors d’oeuvres) washed down with rakı, the national alcoholic drink made from anise.
Further down Istiklal, the back streets of Beyoğlu offer numerous intimate bars good for a relaxing drink. For those on a more generous budget, soak in the glory of the Istanbul skyline from the grand terraces of establishments like 360 Bar or the Grand London Hotel. Once refreshed, have a look at the Pera Palace Hotel, built to host passengers on the Orient Express, before you head back to Tünel. From there wander the steep streets of Galata. Make time to see the Whirling Dervishes or enjoy the architectural grandeur of the nearby Doğan Apartments, built in 1895.
End your day by catching the slow moving tram that trundles along Istiklal Street from Tünel to Taksim and back.[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="14877614"]
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