When visiting Istanbul, most people’s automatic thought is to go visit the most famous tourist sites – The Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace. Not everyone thinks to visit across the water. Galata/Karakoy offers a whole new, amazing side of Istanbul – one of European style streets, fancy malls, art galleries, boutique fashion shops, and HUNDREDS of cafes. Here are the top things to see and do on your visit to the area:
1. Galata Tower
Galata Tower is perhaps the most famous tourist attraction of the area and it is definitely a must see. Built in 1348 this Medieval stone tower was the tallest building in Istanbul at the time (67 meters)! It was originally a part of the area’s defensive wall and used as a surveillance tower overlooking the harbor.
Inside they also have a beautiful restaurant with amazing rooftop views of so many sides of Istanbul. In case it’s closed or you can’t get a table at sunset, right across from the tower is also an amazing and cute restaurant with an Italian vibe.
2. Taksim Square
Visiting the Republic Monument is a great start for those wishing to see the artwork commemorating the foundation of the Turkish Republic (1923). This monumnet is located at “Taksim Square” while the general Taksim area spreads to include many shops, a main road, and rows of endless cafes.
If you love shopping, this is the area for you! Countless boutique fashion shops, art galleries, vintage shops, and more…the choices are endless. You can choose from upscale malls, international shopping chains, and one of a kind pieces.
Even if you’re not that into shopping, the area and vibe of this main road is unmatched! Most of the shops are located on the main street, Istiklal Caddesi, which is a beautiful and bustling pedestrian boulevard liens with European style architecture from the 19th Century. Sometimes I felt more like I was in Vienna than in Istanbul. I was very pleasantly surprised by the unique beauty of this area of Istanbul.
4. Take a Ride on A Vintage Tram
Ever want to take a ride on a vintage tram? At first glance I thought it was purely for decoration, but when I saw it gliding down the main street, Istiklal Caddesi, I was thrilled. It adds such a quaint touch to the already lovely area lined with ice cream parlors and coffee shops.
At night this road goes from quaint to magical. The entire road lights up with cozy fairy lights all through the year giving it a romantic and sweet atmosphere.
5. Cafe Hop
Local, homemade coffee. Organic. Cold brewed. Every possible option. As you roam around this lovely area of Istanbul you will immediately notice that it is DEFINITELY the cafe central of the city. Literally every street corner has at least one cafe, usually more. The options are endless. The atmosphere is perfection. Whether you want cozy and quaint or fancy and sophisticated, you’ll find it all.
How to Get There
The area of Galata, Karakoy, and Taksim is across the Bosphorus Strait from most of the other famous tourist attractions that Istanbul has to offer. If you’re staying anywhere in Istanbul, this area can be just a taxi drive away. If you are staying in the area, most of the places can be reached by foot.
Everything on the list above can be seen on this pathway shown below. All within a 20 minute walk of each other! We took our time exploring and spread out the activities through two days as it was a lot to take in.
Where to Stay
The entire area is overflowing with hotels- boutique hotels, expensive chain hotels, Airbnb’s. We decided to stay at an Airbnb during our stay. It was a small room in a quaint building with winding stairs. Here is the link. It was just a few minutes walk from all the main tourist attractions, with plenty of conveniences right nearby. If you’re looking for a hotel experience, here is a list of many great options.
- What to Wear – I found this area of Istanbul to be much more liberal in terms of dress than some other areas. While I avoided shorts in the Sultanhamet district, I noticed that most of the Turkish girls here were dressed in very European style. As a matter of fact, the whole vibe here was very open and European.
- Don’t skip it – At first I was tempted to skip this area all together. The pictures I found online didn’t seem too appealing, but I decided in the end to try out a different area of Istanbul and I couldn’t have been happier. Seeing the young, student and artsy vibe here really showed me a different side of Istanbul that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.
- Discounts – A lot of the stores that we visited while shopping offered Tourist Discounts! Mind as well give it a try and see if they offer anything if you’re in the mood for shopping.
- Hotels – Nearby is the very affluent area of Istanbul boasting very fancy hotels and upscale malls. If you’re looking for a one day experience most of the hotels have rooftop swimming pools and you can buy a pass for the day. We visited The Conrad Bosphorus and had an amazing time. Great views and a fun, different experience!
- Open and Close Time – Everything in this area of Istanbul seemed to stay open very late. Most shops were open and operating up up until midnight (and sometimes later). However, in the morning, even the chain shops didn’t seem to open until 10:00/11:00 at the earliest! So if you were planning on early morning sight seeing, you may want to reconsider as many of the places may be closed!
Looking for more amazing things to do in Istanbul or Turkey in general? Check out our blog post here: 2 DAYS IN ISTANBUL? HERE ARE THE TOP 7 THINGS TO SEE AND DO! and here: THE PERFECT 12 DAY TURKEY ITINERARY.
Lots of Love and Safe Travels,
Danielle and Brooke, Colorful Sisters