Beyoglu is the most European district in Istanbul and there are many places to visit here. Therefore, it’s hard to imagine Beyoglu as forestland where Ottoman sultans used to go hunting considering it’s the most active district of Istanbul today. Beyoglu used to be outside the city center until the last century of the Ottoman Empire and was known as “Pera”. However, it witnessed a tremendous change in the 1800s.
In the Byzantine Empire era, Beyoglu was called Pera, which means “beyond”, by the residents who looked at it from the Historical Peninsula and it began to be called Bey-Oglu (son of a lord/master) later. And I would like to provide more information about Beyoglu in this piece. This district started to become active after the Sultan moved to live in Dolmabahce Palace and embassies were opened in its neighborhoods. I hope you will enjoy this article about Beyoglu.
History of Beyoglu District
The history of Beyoglu neighborhood dates back to the Byzantine Empire. Istanbul was called Constantinople when it was the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Being a busy port city, Constantinople was a central part of the Silk Road that stretched from China to Europe.
Life as we know back then was limited to the Historical Peninsula. The Byzantines saw “beyond the Golden Horn” when they looked at the other side from the Historical Peninsula. Therefore, they called it Pera, a Greek word which means “beyond”.
Pera was also a term that described distance because there was no Galata Bridge that would connect the Historical Peninsula and Pera back then. While the Byzantines lived on the Historical Peninsula, Latin origin Europeans lived at Pera, which was also a Byzantine soil.
The silk fabrics from China and the spices from India would reach Constantinople by land and they were exported to Europe. The Venetians and the Genoese were the two colonies that would manage this trade.
The order at Pera stayed the same until the last century of the Ottoman Empire’s last century. This is because Mehmed the Conqueror granted privileges to Venetian and Genoese colonies and the trade continued in the same fashion. However, the name of the neighborhood changed in Suleiman the Magnificent era.
In the 16th century, when the Ottoman Empire was at the peak of its power, a Venetian aristocrat lived in Pera. Alvisa Gritti, the illegitimate businessman son of Venetian Duke Andrea Gritti, was a figure who was close to the Sultan.
Pargali Ibrahim Pasha, Suleiman the Magnificent, and Alvisa Grittie would often meet and chat. Gritti lived on one of the hillsides of Pera and he was known as “Beyoglu” (son of a lord). In time, the neighborhood began to be called Beyoglu.
Neighborhoods of Beyoglu
Karakoy, Galata, and Tepebasi, the neighborhoods of Beyoglu today, used to be where non-Muslim communities of the Ottoman Empire lived for a very long time. However, it was the second half of the 19th century when these areas on the north of Golden Horn began to be called “Modern Istanbul”.
The biggest factor in this change was the embassies that were opened in the area during the 1800s. While there was only Karakoy-Galata area outside the walls surrounding the Historical Peninsula in the beginning, the settlement spread to higher areas and it went beyond Galata that was a colony of the Genoese.
The new buildings covered Tepebasi and Galatasaray Square first. Then, it reached Taksim Square via Istiklal Street.
Beyoglu: Paris of the East
Located on the north of the Golden Horn, Beyoglu used to be regarded as “Paris of the East” until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s.
With its spectacular embassy buildings, luxury shops, palaces, and mansions, Istiklal Avenue used to be known as Grand Rue De Pera (the main avenue of Pera) by the foreigners. The Muslim, on the other hand, lived a simple life on the other side of the Golden Horn at the Historical Peninsula.
Another reason that contributed to the cultural difference of the two sides was Sultan Abdulmecid as he built Dolmabahce Palace on the coast of Bosphorus and moved out of the traditional Topkapi Palace at the Historical Peninsula.
Sultan Abdulmecid would also attend cultural activities such as balls, theater performances, and concerts organized by the foreign ambassadors, tradesmen, and bankers. Mesrutiyet Caddesi at Pera Palace was very colorful during this time.
Places to Visit in Beyoglu
Beyoglu is one of the four most popular areas where tourists stay in Istanbul. There are many places to visit in Beyoglu, which is full of beautiful hotels, restaurants and cafes. We divided the district into 6 parts in order to explain the things to do in Beyoglu.
Karakoy has been the rising star of Istanbul in recent years. Various nice restaurants and boutique coffee shops have been opened here. You can also find Karakoy Gulluoglu, the most famous baklava place, and Namli Gurme, one of the best breakfast places in the city, at Karakoy.
Karakoy used to serve as a port in the Byzantine and Ottoman Empire eras and it was where one of the chains stretched at the entrance of the Golden Gate during the conquest of Istanbul was tied. A piece of that famous chain can be seen at Maritime Museum today.
Like Fener and Balat, Karakoy is one of the interesting neighborhoods of Beyoglu. As you wander around the side streets of Karakoy, you can discover the historical buildings of the Genoese, Byzantine, and the Ottoman era.
In addition to having fancy and splendid buildings, Bankalar Street is a clear reflection of the radical social and economic change the Ottoman Empire experienced in the 19th century.
Moreover, you can see Arap Mosque, which is a reminiscent of Italy. This mosque used to be a Catholic church. However, it’s used as a mosque today.
If you need a guide to discover Karakoy, you can have a look at Things to do in Karakoy piece. In that article, I drew a tour map and introduced the historical monuments of the neighborhood.
Galata was populated by the Genoese, a privileged trade colony, both in the Byzantine and Ottoman Empire era. Galata Tower, one of the important historical monuments of the city, was also built by them.
Galata square and the nearby streets have become one of the intellectual corners of the city, thanks to the recently opened modern cafés, boutique hotels, and art galleries.
Neve Shalom Synagogue, the most important synagogue of the city, is also very close to Galata Tower. Moreover, you can spend a good time at Serdar-i Ekrem Street by shopping and stop by at Nardis Jazz Club, one of the best bars in Istanbul.
For more information as to what to do at Galata, I recommend you to read my other post titled Things to do in Galata. It can guide you through to make a plan to visit Galata that has a little complicated route.
3. Istiklal Street
Istiklal Street is one of the most beautiful avenues to take a walk in Istanbul. It is approximately 1.5 km long and there are embassy buildings, shopping malls, movie and theatre halls, restaurants, and books shops on it.
Moreover, you can also visit colorful streets like Nevizade and Asmali Mescit or iconic monuments like St. Anthony of Padua Church near Istiklal Street. 360 Istanbul, one of the best restaurants in Istanbul, is located on Istiklal Avenue.
Istiklal Street is full of people 7/24 and it looks like a crazy river running through the city with millions of people visiting it every day. Istiklal Street is the biggest symbol of Beyoglu and it is also the backbone of the list of places to visit in Beyoglu.
4. Mesrutiyet Street
Mesrutiyet Street reflects the fancy Pera in the last century of the Ottoman Empire. You can still see some hotels opened in the 19th century when Beyoglu started to rise.
We should mention Pera Palace Hotel, the most famous building in the area. It’s because the passengers of the Orient Express that would end its journey at Sirkeci Train Station would usually stay here.
Agatha Christie, a famous murder novelist, also stayed here before he wrote his novel “Murder on the Orient Express”. Another thing worth mentioning about Pera Palace Hotel is that Ataturk stayed at this hotel. The room he stayed in serves as a museum today.
Furthermore, Mesrutiyet Street houses some of the most elegant restaurants in Istanbul. Mikla, Meze By Lemon Tree, and NuPera are some of the restaurants worth mentioning at Mesrutiyet Street.
Cihangir is known as the neighborhood of writers and movie directors. Orhan Pamuk, for example, has become a symbol of Cihangir. This neighborhood feels like the center of intellectual life with its boutique hotels, elegant restaurants, and cafes.
Cukurcuma Street at Cihangir is included in the places to do shopping in Istanbul. It’s famous for its antique shops and it’s a good choice for photographers. Moreover, Museum of Innocence that bases the foundation of the novel by the same name by Orhan Pamuk is also on Cukurcuma Street.
Although it’s not well-known, one of the historical hamams of Istanbul, Aga Hamami, is at Cihangir too. The history of the Aga Hamam goes back to 1454 and is one of the oldest baths in Istanbul. For this reason, it has an important place among the places to visit in Beyoglu.
Tophane stands out with Mimar Sinan’s Kilic Ali Pasa Mosque and Tophane Fountain next to it. Karakoy, Tophane, and Findikli neighborhoods are next to each other and they are highly active due to the cruise ships harbor here.
A spectacular hundred years old cannon-ball casting factory, known as Tophane-i Amire, from the Ottoman Empire, stands out with its architecture. This building is a museum named Tophane-i Amire Culture and Art Center in Fine Arts academy at Mimar Sinan University today. Moreover, Istanbul Modern, one of the nicest museums in Istanbul, is also in Tophane.
You can walk to Kabatas from Tophane on foot and visit Dolmabahce Palace. On the way, you can also visit Nusretiye Mosque, Molla Celebi Mosque, and Bezmialem Valide Sultan Mosque. These mosques were built during different periods of the Ottoman Empire.
Things to Do in Beyoglu
Things to do in Beyoglu include dining at the best restaurants in Istanbul, visiting museums and experiencing Turkish baths. You can also eat the best street food in Istanbul and visit the most delicious baklava shops.
1. Dinner with a View
The best restaurants of Istanbul such as Mikla, 360 Istanbul and Lebi Derya are located in Beyoglu district. For this reason, if you are staying around Taksim Square, you can have a great dinner at these restaurants within walking distance.
Most of Beyoglu restaurants promise a dinner with a Bosphorus view. You can find more information in our article titled the best restaurants in Taksim, which introduces the restaurants in Beyoglu.
2. Delicious Street Food
Beyoglu is one of the indispensable addresses of Istanbul food tours. The oldest local restaurants and dessert shops in Istanbul are located here. If you wish, you can get off the tourist route and mingle with the Istanbulites and eat delicious Turkish street food at very cheap prices.
3. Visiting Museums
Museum of Innocence, Pera Museum and Istanbul Modern are three important museums to visit around Beyoglu. In addition, there are art galleries such as Salt Galata, where many temporary art collections are exhibited.
4. Going to a Turkish Bath
Istanbul’s most important Turkish baths such as Kilic Ali Pasa Hammam, Aga Hammam and Galatasaray Hammam are located in Beyoglu. If you want to refresh yourself in Turkish baths that date back centuries, Beyoglu is the right address.
Istanbul Beyoglu District Map
There are many places to visit in each neighborhood of Beyoglu, which we divided into 6 parts in the upper lines. You can find all the places we mentioned on the Beyoglu District map below.
Taksim Square is the heart of the Beyoglu district. On the map below, we can see how the roads from Taksim cover all of Beyoglu. You can go to Dolmabahce Palace through these roads. Or you can reach Besiktas district on the Bosphorus and go to exclusive nightclubs by the sea. Or you can go to the Historical Peninsula (aka Fatih district) and visit the historical monuments around Sultanahmet.
Places to Visit in Beyoglu by Serhat Engul