Golden Horn was the natural harbor of Istanbul during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. Goods brought from the Silk Road and Spice Road were exported to Europe from the port of Galata in Golden Horn.
Today, the Golden Horn separates Istanbul’s Historical Peninsula from Beyoglu. While there are historical districts such as Sultanahmet and Eminonu in the Historic Peninsula, there are more modern places such as Karakoy, Galata and Taksim in Beyoglu.
In this article you can find information about the history of the Golden Horn. Also, the must-see districts of Golden Horn are noted. At the end of the article, you can also find the map of Golden Horn.
Table of Contents
History of the Golden Horn
The history of Golden Horn dates back to the period when Istanbul was an Ancient Greek colony. Istanbul was first established as a Greek city-state in the 7th century BC. This first city was roughly where the Topkapi Palace is today.
This waterway separating the two important sides of Istanbul resembles a horn in its shape. Early settlers watching this waterway from the hill where Byzantium was founded at that time gave it the name “Golden Horn” because of the sun shining on the water.
Things to Do in Golden Horn 2024
The neighborhoods surrounding the Golden Horn are home to a magnificent cultural heritage. Some of the best places to visit in Istanbul are located in these districts. In the list below you can find best things to do in Golden Horn in 2024.
These districts have a remarkable Byzantine heritage. There are also remains of the Venetian and Genoese colonies that existed in the city. On the other hand, the largest number of historical artifacts around the Golden Horn have survived from the Ottoman period.
Eminonu serves as the transportation hub of Istanbul Old City. It is possible to reach both Sultanahmet and Taksim by tram from here. You can also go to Kadikoy and Uskudar on the Asian side by taking the ferry.
The most iconic building of Eminonu stands out as the Spice Bazaar. This nostalgic bazaar and the magnificent New Mosque (Yeni Cami) right next to it are among the must-see places. In addition, Rustem Pasha Mosque, decorated with the best Iznik tiles of its kind, is located here.
You can find the best local restaurants in Istanbul around Sirkeci square inside Eminonu. Also, the most famous dessert shops of Istanbul are located here. Thus, you can find the best examples of famous desserts such as baklava and Turkish delight in Eminonu.
Unkapani is home to Ataturk Boulevard, which divides the Historic Peninsula into two. It is possible to reach Beyoglu by crossing the Golden Horn via the bridge from the north of Unkapani. On the other hand, when you continue to the south in Unkapani, you can reach Fatih, the heart of Historical Istanbul.
To the east of Ataturk Boulevard is the Sehzedabasi district. In this district, you can see Sehzade Mosque, one of the most beautiful mosques in the city. On the other hand, in the Zeyrek district to the west of Ataturk Boulevard, there is the Byzantine-era Monastery of Christ Pantocrator (Today Zeyrek Mosque).
The biggest surprise waiting for you in Unkapanı is the Valens Aqueduct, an aqueduct from the Roman period. This structure, known today as the Bozdogan Aqueduct, was built by the Roman emperor Valens in the 4th century.
Zeyrek is home to Christ Pantokrator Church, which was the third largest church of Constantinople during the Byzantine period. This church was also the burial chapel of the late Byzantine emperors.
Christ Pantokrator Church was named “Zeyrek Mosque” during the Ottoman period. Today, it still serves as a mosque. The structure was recently restored and is in pretty good condition today.
While wandering the streets of Zeyrek, you can see wooden houses from the Ottoman period. These houses will give you clues about the past architecture of the city. Zeyrek is one of the hidden gems to visit on the Golden Horn shores.
Cibali was one of the cosmopolitan neighborhoods of the city during the Ottoman period. For this reason, there is a hidden treasure like St Nicholas Church here. Cibali is also the starting point of Fener Balat walking tours.
Walking tours that include Cibali, Fener and Balat give you information about the life of non-Muslim citizens in the Ottoman period. Great cafes and restaurants have opened in these neighborhoods, which have been very popular lately.
Fener Balat walking tours generally start from Kadir Has University, the landmark of Cibali district. This large building with a very distinctive architecture was originally a 19th century tobacco factory.
Fener was the place where citizens of Greek origin lived during the Ottoman period. For this reason, there are many Orthodox churches here. The most important among them is the Church of St George.
St. George’s Church is located in the Ecumenical Greek Patriarchate. After visiting the patriarchate, the honorary spiritual center of the Orthodox peoples, you can discover other hidden gems of Fener. Among them is Fener Orthodox College, a magnificent 19th-century building with its red bricks.
In the picture above, you can see the old houses in Fener. These colorful houses on Kiremit Street are one of the most frequently shared photos about Istanbul on Instagram these days.
Balat was the Jewish quarter of the city during the Ottoman period. Today, some of the city’s most important synagogues can be seen in this district. Especially the Ahrida Synagogue stands out with its interior decoration.
Balat has been a district famous for its taverns since the Ottoman Istanbul. Today, it still has beautiful places that reflect the Turksh tavern (Meyhane) culture, such as Agora Meyhanesi. You can taste Turkish mezes and drink “Raki” in taverns like Agora.
If you want to take pictures of colorful houses in Balat, you can go to the street called Merdivenli Yokus Sokak. Seven classical Ottoman-era houses are lined up side by side on this street. This is one of the most popular stops of Fener Balat walking tours.
Ayvansaray, like Fener and Balat, was one of the cosmopolitan places on the Golden Horn coast. The Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, an old Byzantine palace, was opened here recently.
The palace is known locally as “Tekfur Sarayi Tile Museum”. There is a collection of tiles from the Ottoman period in the building. However, in addition to this, it is possible to find many clues about medieval Byzantine architecture.
In the late Byzantine Empire, the emperors lived in a large palace complex called the Palace of Blachernae. This palace was located exactly in the Ayvansaray district. Although not much remains of the palace, you can get an impression thanks to its surviving extension, the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus.
Eyup is located towards the end of Golden Horn. For this reason, when you go to Pierre Loti hill in Eyup, you can watch the Golden Horn in all its glory. This is definitely one of the best photo spots in Istanbul.
In Eyup there is the Eyup Mosque, which is a very sacred mosque for Muslims. This mosque is dedicated to Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, who has an important place in the history of Islam.
Getting to Pierre Loti Hill by cable car from Eyup is among the best things to do in Golden Horn. This hill takes its name from the French poet Pierre Loti, who wrote poems looking at this magnificent view.
Miniaturk has small models of historical artifacts both in Istanbul and all over Turkey. Some of these historical artifacts belong to the ancient period and have not survived to the present day.
Here you can see a model of the ancient wonders of the ancient world, such as the Temple of Artemis and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. Miniaturk will also give you an idea about the must-see historical places in Turkey.
Miniaturk is one of the best places to visit in Golden Horn for families with children. It should be added that besides the historical artifact models, many activities are organized for children.
Haskoy is a district located on the north side of Golden Horn. So far, we have introduced the districts in the Historic Peninsula. Starting from Haskoy, we will be talking about the districts within the borders of Beyoglu district.
The most important feature of Haskoy is that it hosts the Rahmi Koc Museum. You can see many nostalgic cars, ships, planes and even submarines at the Koc Museum, Turkey’s first industry museum.
Rahmi Koc Museum offers its visitors a wonderful eating and drinking experience apart from historical artifacts. In this way, you can drink your coffee by the sea and watch the wonderful Golden Horn view.
Galata is one of the fastest developing districts of Istanbul in recent years. Galata, which was home to the Genoese trade colony in history, has many historical artifacts from this period.
For example, the Galata Tower, which is the best example of the Genoese heritage in Istanbul, is located here. Galata Tower was erected by the Genoese to observe the port of Constantinople at that time.
Today, Galata has both wonderful boutique hotels and Airbnb places. There are great streets to shop in the surrounding area. Also, some of the city’s most unique art galleries and jazz bars are located here.
Karakoy is a district that has been on the rise for the last 10 years. The complete renewal of the Istanbul Cruise Port with the project called Galataport has further increased the importance of Karakoy.
In Karakoy, you can visit the 16th century Kilic Ali Pasa Mosque and enjoy the Turkish Bath at the adjacent Kilic Ali Pasha Hamami. This hamam is among the best Turkish baths in Istanbul in recent years.
Karakoy hosts some of Istanbul’s best breakfast places and local restaurants. You can have breakfast at Namli Gurme or Naif and taste traditional Turkish cuisine at “Karakoy Lokantasi”.
In addition to these, Gulluoglu, the most famous sweet shop of Istanbul, is also here. After visiting the streets of Karakoy, you can also visit the Istanbul Modern Art Museum in Galataport.
Map of the Golden Horn in Istanbul
On the Golden Horn map, you can see the 12 districts we have listed in this article. When you examine it more closely, you will see that some historical artifacts mentioned in the article are also noted.
The history of Istanbul dates back to ancient times and basically consists of three layers. You can visit the Golden Horn districts to see historical artifacts from Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times.
Bridges in the Golden Horn
Bridges in the Golden Horn connect the two most touristic areas of Istanbul, the Historical Peninsula (Fatih) and Beyoglu. Among these bridges, Galata Bridge is the most used by Istanbulites.
1. Galata Bridge
Galata Bridge is a historical bridge and is the most touristic among the Golden Horn bridges. You can cross the Galata Bridge, which connects Eminonu, the transportation hub of the Historic Peninsula, and Karakoy on the opposite side, by tram or on foot.
2. Ataturk Bridge
Ataturk Bridge (aka Unkapani Bridge) connects Tarlabasi Boulevard and Ataturk Boulevard stretching between Taksim Square and Fatih. Thanks to this bridge, vehicles can quickly pass to the Old City and reach the shores of the Marmara Sea in the south.
3. Metro Bridge
Metro Bridge has been added to the Golden Horn in recent years and can be easily selected even from afar with its steel ropes. You can see this new bridge on the map with the metro sign. This new bridge connects the Metro M2, which comes from Sisli and Taksim districts, to the Historic Peninsula (Yenikapi Station).
4. Golden Horn Bridge
Golden Horn Bridge (aka Halic Bridge) provides access to the Bosphorus bridges connecting the Asian and European sides of Istanbul. Unlike the Golden Horn bridges in previous titles, this bridge is not for pedestrians.
Golden Horn is one of the most important parts of Istanbul and stands out with its historical importance. In the Middle Ages, when Istanbul was under siege, the Byzantines would close the entrance to the Golden Horn with a giant chain.
Italian trade colonies operating in Istanbul were present in the Golden Horn during both the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. Thanks to the skilled sailors of Venice and Genoa, Silk Road trade went through this port for centuries.
If you need more maps to navigate around Istanbul, I recommend the article called Istanbul Tourist Map. In this article, you can find more information about Istanbul’s Historical Peninsula (Sultanahmet), Beyoglu (Taksim) and Asian Side (Kadikoy and Uskudar).
Written by Serhat Engul