Getting Oriented

Istanbul is a city divided. The Bosphorus—the 31-km-long (19-mile-long) waterway joining the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara—separates the European side of the city from the Asian side. The European side is itself divided by the Golden Horn, an 8-km-long (5-mile-long) inlet that lies between historic Sultanahmet to the south and the new town, known as Beyoğlu, to the north. In Beyoğlu, the 14th-century Galata Tower dominates the hillside that rises north of the Golden Horn; just beyond, high-rise hotels and other landmarks of the modern city radiate out from Taksim Square, not far above the Bosphorus-side neighborhood of Beşiktaş. Farther to the north, European suburbs line the western shore of the Bosphorus. The Asian suburbs are on the eastern shore.

  • Sultanahmet. The Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace, Aya Sofya, and the Istanbul Archaeological museums are just some of the impressive attractions in this historic (but crowded) Istanbul neighborhood.
  • The Bazaar Quarter and Environs. Bargain your way through the Grand Bazaar, then follow narrow streets down to the Spice Bazaar and the docks on the Golden Horn. On your way, visit the Süleymaniye and other magnificent imperial mosques.
  • The Western Districts. A gem of Byzantine art, the former Chora Church is the highlight of the western districts, which also include the historically Greek and Jewish neighborhoods of Fener and Balat.
  • Beyoğlu. With its elegant 19th- and early-20th-century apartment buildings, the so-called "new town" of Beyoğlu makes it clear that "new" is a relative term in this city. The main pedestrian thoroughfare off Taksim Square, İstiklal Caddesi, is lined with shops and cafés.
  • Galata and Karaköy. These timeworn, rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods are home to both historic sites and new attractions like the Istanbul Modern.
  • Beşiktaş and Nişantaşı. Dolmabahçe Palace—the lavish home of the last Ottoman sultans—and Istanbul’s naval and military museums are among the attractions in these parts of town, which also include the city’s high-fashion district.
  • The Bosphorus. Hop on a ferry and zigzag back and forth between Asia and Europe, past grand palaces, crumbling fortresses, fishing villages, and beautiful old wooden villas.
  • The Asian Shore. The pleasant neighborhoods on Istanbul’s Asian side have fewer "sights" but there are interesting enclaves to explore, away from the throngs of tourists.
  • Princes' Islands. This nine-island archipelago (four of which can be visited by ferry) in the Sea of Marmara has pine forests, beaches, and a welcome absence of motorized traffic—the perfect antidote to the noise and chaos of the big city.

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