Istiklal Street has been Istanbul’s most popular and cosmopolite area since the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, there are a lot of places to visit such as historical passages, centuries-old restaurants and colorful shops in Istiklal Street.
There is no doubt that the fancy boutiques and shops under the buildings on Istiklal Street will attract your attention. However, don’t forget to look up too. If you look carefully, you can see the most beautiful examples of Art Nouveau and Neo-Classical architectural movements on these buildings.
Istiklal Avenue is also one of the best places to go for shopping in Istanbul. In this article, you can find information about places to visit, things to do and shopping on Istiklal Street.
Table of Contents
History of Istiklal Street
The history of Istiklal Street dates back to 150 years ago. New embassy buildings began to be opened here, therefore initiating cultural activities on Istiklal Street. This new era gained pace after Sultan Abdulmecid moved to Dolmabahce Palace in 1856.
In Karakoy, Banks Street was opened and Galata neighborhood started to become lively. The part from Tunnel Square to Galatasaray High School began to be more active.
Istiklal Street was known as Cadde-i Kebir (Grand Street) by the Turks while the foreigners called it “Grand Rue De Pera”.
Italians and French, known as the Levantine (Europeans doing trade in the East), increased the trade in Istanbul. Thanks to the rich families and ambassadors who moved to this area, Istiklal Street and the nearby areas witnessed an architectural richness, creating fancy mansions, hotels, and theater halls.
The area that became the pioneer of this transformation is Pera, known as “Mesrutiyet Street” today. Pera Palace Hotel used to welcome guests arriving via the Orient Express and the length of Istiklal Street reached the Consulate of France.
Most buildings on and around Istiklal Street were built in the 1800s. Therefore, Beyoglu was the first district of Istanbul that experienced the first examples of modern city planning and municipality works. We should also note that these buildings reflect modern European architecture, two of which are Neo-Classical and Baroque style.
Istiklal Street and Mesrutiyet Street, two iconic Streets of Beyoglu district, are connected via various passages. These passages offer an opportunity to do shopping and these places have been listed in detail in another post titled Best Shopping Places in Istanbul.
Things to Do in Istiklal Street 2024
Things to do on Istiklal Street include the city’s best museums, restaurants, cafes, and Turkish baths. In addition to the main Street, the side streets of Istiklal Avenue are also filled with historical monuments, boutique coffee shops and shopping places.
1. Taksim Square
The name of Taksim Square comes from the fact that it was a water distribution center in the past. The water was distributed here (distribution in Turkish translates as “taksim” in Turkish) and there is still a building here named “Taksim Maksemi”. Even Istanbulites who pass by it several times may not know this building. You can have a look at this historical place when you visit Taksim.
It’s not wrong to say Taksim Square is the heart of Istanbul. It’s because Taksim is the first place when it comes to organizing celebrations or protests in Istanbul. However, in terms of aesthetics, Taksim doesn’t offer much to its visitors. The construction of the opera building in Taksim needs to be finished and the square should be reorganized in a brand new architectural style to revive its old charm. Actually, the newly elected mayor of Istanbul has opened a contest to redesign the square and the three last finalists are being voted by the public online.
There is a sculpture at Taksim Square that symbolizes the foundation of the Turkish Republic. On one side of the sculpture, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is depicted while leading the Independence War. On the other side, he is building Modern Turkey in his suit.
The Nostalgic Tram that you can travel Istiklal Street from one side to the other departs in front of Taksim Square. The tram carries its passengers from Taksim Square to Tunnel Square the same way it began its journey in the 19th century.
2. Galatasaray High School
Galatasaray High School has a monumental entrance on your way to Tunnel from Taksim Square that you can notice instantly. The gate where hundreds of people meet on Istiklal Street every day opens to Galatasaray High School, which is one of the best high schools in Istanbul and Turkey.
The history of Galatasaray High School dates back to Bayezid II who succeeded Mehmed the Conqueror. According to the story, the Sultan was hunting on Galata hillside and he came across someone named Gul Baba. Gul Baba led a simple life in a small cottage, but he decorated the garden surrounding the house beautifully. Bayezid II admired Gul Baba’s elaborate life and he built a school and a hospital after that encounter.
This cute story narrated by Evliya Celebi makes Galata Square even more special. The fact that a busy district like Beyoglu used to be an area for hunting merely a few centuries ago is also beyond imagination.
Galatasaray High School also functions as a junction to visit places on Istiklal Street. You can turn left to Cukurcuma, go right to Mesrutiyet Street, or straight to Tunnel Square or Galata Tower a little further from the square.
Moreover, if you walk to Yenicarsi Street right next to Galatasaray High School, you can visit Ara Café. This café belongs to Turkey’s most famous photographer Ara Guler. However, he passed away recently and his funeral was held at Three Horan Church at the entrance of Beyoglu Fish Market. This church is another underrated historical monument in Istanbul that is worth visiting.
If you continue walking on Yeni Carsi Street, you can reach Cukurcuma easily. There are some restaurants on the parallel side of this street named Cezayir Street. Cezayir Street, known formerly as French Street, is a nice area where you can dine&wine and listen to live music.
3. Cicek Pasaji
The building where Cicek Pasaji stands was built in 1870 and it’s located right in the center of Istiklal Street. When you enter the building, you can see fish restaurants heaped together. It’s a live area where local musicians play nice music and famous restaurants offer delicious dishes and appetizers. Right next to Cicek Pasaji, you can find Beyoglu Fish Market and souvenir shops.
If you take a walk at Beyoglu Fish Market, you can also visit Three Horan Church, Avrupa Pasaji, and Uc Yildiz Sekerleme, one of the best Turkish Delight shops in Istanbul.
4. St. Anthony of Padua Church
St. Anthony of Padua Church is one of the best places to take pictures. When you leave the chaotic crowd on Istiklal Street behind and enter the yard of this beautiful monument, you feel like in Venice.
During my Venice trip in 2007, I took pictures of the windows of all buildings. Since then, Italian architecture has always attracted my attention. Moreover, the Neo-Gothic architecture of St. Anthony of Padua Church gives it a similar look to Notre-Dame.
Dedicated to St. Anthony, this Catholic church was built in 1763 for the French and Italians living in the area. The original building was demolished during the renovation of the Street and it was rebuilt in 1911.
The interior of St. Anthony of Padua Church doesn’t have distinctive architecture. However, it looks stunning from the outside. If you use it as a background for your portrait shots, you can have some nice ones for your Instagram profile.
5. Asmali Mescit
Asmali Mescit derives its name from a small mosque that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s one of the most active streets on Istiklal Avenue and it stands out with its fish restaurants and historical meyhanes. The fish restaurant named “Mavi Melek” is my personal favorite due to its fresh fish and delicious appetizers.
Asmali Mescit functions as a passage between Istiklal Street and Mesrutiyet Street that is parallel to Istiklal Street. You can see some of the best hotels in Beyoglu, Pera Palace Hotel and Soho House. Moreover, Meze by Lemon Tree and Mikla Restaurant is also located in Mesrutiyet Street. These two restaurants are regarded as two of the best restaurants in Istanbul.
If you wish to take a food break on Istiklal Street and nearby areas, you can have a look at my post Best Restaurants in Taksim.
6. Tunnel Square
Tunnel Square derives its name from Taksim-Karakoy Tunnel, the third oldest subway system in the world. This is a two-stationed underground system that has been in service since 1875.
The tunnel that was built in the last years of the Ottoman Empire has an interesting story. A Frenchman named Eugene Henri Gavand grows tired of climbing the steep hill and he lays out a subway system. As Beyoglu was the fastest developing district back in time, he finds a chance to realize his project.
As a result, the oldest funicular system was built in Beyoglu after London and New York. Funicular collects its passengers from Karakoy station and brings them to Istiklal Street. Therefore, Yuksek Kaldirim Yokusu, which turned Henri Gavand’s life into hell, is covered easily.
Tunnel Square is also the last stop of the nostalgic tram that leaves from Taksim Square, which means if you take the Nostalgic Tram from Taksim Square and interchange with the subway at Tunnel Square, you can reach Karakoy neighborhood without walking.
However, I recommend you to walk as walking is the best way to discover a city. Therefore, you can follow Galip Dede Street going down from Tunnel Square. This way will take you to Galata Mevlevi House and Galata Tower respectively.
Visiting museums is among the best things to do in Istiklal Street. Three of Istanbul’s most important museums are located on Istiklal Avenue and the streets surrounding it. Of course, shopping on Istiklal Street is also an enjoyable activity.
7. Madame Tussauds Istanbul
Madame Tussauds Istanbul is only a 10-minute walk from Taksim Square. You can see the statues of people who have an important place in both the world and Turkish culture in the museum.
8. Pera Museum
Pera Museum is located on Mesrutiyet Street, which is the parallel street of Istiklal Avenue. Odakule, located opposite the St. Anthony of Padua Church, is a passage connecting these two streets. When you pass through the passage, you can find the Pera Museum right next door. Pera Museum has an amazing collection of orientalist paintings.
9. Museum of Innocence
Turkey’s Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence is also walking distance to Istiklal Street. This museum takes its name from a novel written by the author. While visiting the museum, you can feel like you are on a time travel.
10. Clothes Shopping
Shopping on Istiklal Street is of course one of the top things to do in Istanbul. One of the two most important shopping streets in Istanbul, Istiklal (the other is Bagdat Street on the Asian Side) is full of fashion boutiques and is ideal for clothes shopping.
The place you see in the picture is a passage known as Beyoglu Is Merkezi (Beyoglu Business Center). Here you can find quality clothes at cheap price. There are many passages on Istiklal Street where you can buy cheap clothing like this.
11. Galatasaray Hammam
The Historical Galatasaray Hammam, which dates back to 1481, is also located here. If you want to have a Turkish bath experience, you can choose this famous hamam.
Places to Visit in Istiklal Street Map
The map of Istiklal Street shows you the places I mentioned in this article in general. Most of the places to visit in Istiklal Street are located between Galatasaray High School and Tunnel Square. In order to diversify the things to do in Istiklal Street, it is necessary to explore the side streets and neighborhoods that branch out from the avenue.
How to Get from Sultanahmet to Istiklal Street
First of all you need to find the Tram Station in Sultanahmet. You can take the tram in the direction of KABATAS. You can leave the tram at the last station named Kabatas and take the Funicular F1 from there to Taksim Square. Funicular is one stop vehicle that helps you climb up Taksim Square from last tram stop (Kabatas).
Written by Serhat Engul