1689527245 8 Hidden Gems To Beat The Tourist Crowds In Istanbul | phillipspacc

8 Hidden Gems To Beat The Tourist Crowds In Istanbul This Summer


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Istanbul started this summer travel season as the busier airport in europe.

While Turkey has long been a favorite getaway for Europeans, other travelers are also driving this summer’s record-breaking crowds. The Turkish capital has especially exploded in popularity among Americans.

Istanbul was the most popular destination in Eastern Europe and the Middle East for American travelers last year. and shows no signs of cooling.

This April, Turkish Airlines reached a new high of 5 daily flights between New York and Istanbul just before the summer season, adding to last year’s new non-stop flights from Denver and Detroit. Travel to Istanbul is now easier than ever for American travelers.

solo traveler woman or tourist woman in istanbul on the bosphorus

Istanbul is having its moment. It’s no surprise, then, that all these new travelers flocking to the capital signify an uncomfortable truth: bigger crowds.

Tourists in the Turkish capital this summer are piling onto trams, languishing in long lines and feeling the frustrating effects of overcrowding.

But do not worry. Istanbul still has a few secrets up its open arms sleeve. Lesser-known corners of the city welcome you to experience the magic of Turkey without the huge crowds.

Here are nine hidden gems to beat the tourist crowds in Istanbul this summer:

Many people full of tourists in Eminonu Istanbul Turkey

1. Explore the Jewish district of Balat

On the European side of Istanbul’s Golden Horn, most tourists will focus on Galata, Taksim, and Eminönü. But you can get away from those crowds without missing a thing.

Head to the Jewish district of Balat in Fatih to experience the rich culture and architectural charm of the less touristy European side of the city.

While the aesthetic here is fantastic (you’ll see plenty of photo ops along Kiremit Street), this colorful neighborhood isn’t just a pretty face.

Balat is one of the older and more authentic neighborhoods In Estambul. Even as a multi-generational residential area, it is packed with synagogues, churches, mosques, museums and historical monuments.

Now, Balat is the place where religions coexist and where the old meets the new. Young creatives, street artists and charming cafes are giving a vibrant second wind to this iconic neighborhood.

  • Phanar Greek Orthodox College – Sometimes called the fifth largest castle in Europe, this ‘Red School’ resembles a 15th century Greek Hogwarts.
  • Chora Church and Museum – This building has been a church, a mosque and a museum, all in one life.
  • Vodina street – A hotspot of restaurants and cafes, this is a great street to take a break from the steep hills of Balat.
  • The Church of Saint Stephen – The church itself is worth a visit, but this area is most famous for the rainbow stars and brightly painted street art that surrounds it.
Colorful houses of the Jewish district of Balat in Istanbul Türkiye

2. Visit the lesser-known sister of the Hagia Sophia

Almost 14 million people visited the iconic Hagia Sophia last year. This summer, wait times to enter the popular site during the day average more than an hour.

Instead of baking in the sun waiting in line for Hagia Sophia, head to its little sister, Hagia Irene.

Hagia Irene is the second largest Byzantine church in Istanbul. It was built in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine the Great. Since then, fires, riots, and even earthquakes have failed to bring it down.

While the interior of the Hagia Irene is not as grand as that of the Hagia Sophia, its history is just as fascinating.

The building has lived a long life of renovations and reincarnations. It has been a church, a Roman temple, a mosque, a military museum and even an army warehouse.! Nowadays concerts are sometimes held in Hagia Irene for its fantastic acoustics.

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Long lines and crowds of tourists at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, summer

3. Channel your inner real

Take a scenic ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul to Üsküdar, and you’ll find an Ottoman imperial palace overlooked by most tourists.

Beylerbeyi Palace is often overshadowed by Istanbul’s most famous royal sites: Dolmabahce and Topkapi palaces.

But savvy tourists can get the same gold and velvet opulence and sprawling gardens with a fraction of the crowds.

Beylerbeyi’s two dozen rooms and six corridors will take your breath away with priceless Egyptian rugs, lavish crystal chandeliers, and overwhelming luxury. The real stars of the show are the intricate ceilings, painted with elaborate scenes and mind-blowing calligraphy.

Best of all, fewer tourists visit Beylerbeyi Palace than any other royal site in Istanbul.

Beylerbeyi Palace in Istanbul, Türkiye

4. Try the trendy local nightlife

A lively hideaway in the heart of the Turkish capital? Yes please.

Cicek Passage, or ‘Flower Passage’, is a modern covered courtyard on Istiklal Street in Galatasaray Square. lovingly nicknamed “a sanctuary of the Turks’ love of long and convivial group dinners,” the narrow, L-shaped passage fills each night with bustling tables of friends and families enjoying drinks and dinners until the early hours.

El Pasaj was once a tavern street of rowdy working-class merchants in the 1960s, but it was rebuilt in the 1990s and became the beating heart of luxury Istiklal nightlife. Today, it is a fashionable favorite for locals and foreigners alike.

Ciçek Pasajı Flower Passage in Istanbul, Türkiye with restaurants and bars

5. See Istanbul from the clouds

There’s a well-kept secret about the glitzy EMAAR Square shopping mall in Istanbul’s Üsküdar district.

Head up to the 48th floor for 360° views of the city. The most daring visitors can take the glass-bottomed SkyWalk, while those of us who definitely not afraid of heights at all he could contemplate the horizon from the safety of the elegant drawing room.

EMAAR SkyView is popular with local residents (who pay only a fraction of the price of the $30 tourist ticket), especially at sunset. Tourists still haven’t noticedhowever, making this a great daytime activity to escape the crowds.

The colorful city of Istanbul, Türkiye

6. Try Syrian food on Akşemsettin street

A culinary adventure down Akşemsettin Caddesi can transport you to Damascus right in the heart of Istanbul’s Fatih district.

Unlike the tourist-packed restaurants in Galata and Sultanahmet, these family-run Syrian shops will always find space and a smile for you.

Specialty dishes that are really hard to find outside of Syria are available here. Get out of the hummus comfort zone and try:

  • Mutabal – a creamy and comforting eggplant dip with tahini and garlic
  • white enib – Slow-braised vine leaves stuffed with spiced beef and lemon rice
  • sfeeha with muhammara and cheese – You will get in trouble for calling it Syrian pizza, so we won’t…
  • jeikh el mihshi – zucchini stuffed in tasty yogurt sauce

If you’d rather have an expert walk you through Syrian cooking, try this. Syrian Food Tour. Mohamad Yaman, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo who has lived in Istanbul for almost a decade, will be happy to show you how it works.

Syrian food hummus in Fatih, Istanbul, Türkiye

7. Visit the impressive Nevmekân Sahil Library

On the Asian side of Istanbul, in the Üsküdar district, there is a true urban oasis that will not be a well-kept secret for long.

Nevmekân Sahil Library is the perfect hidden gem to escape the crazy crowds of the city.

Even if you’re not a book lover, the light-filled reading room will draw you in with its intricate turquoise skylights and $0.40 Turkish tea.

Visitors can enjoy the library’s extensive (and photogenic) collection, art galleries, and even a quirky Lady Sultans Museum. Afterward, enjoy an affordable local meal at the cafe-restaurant.

The gardens overlooking the Bosphorus may be the only non-smoking outdoor space in Istanbul, so enjoy the fresh air while you can!

Best of all, you’ll only be sharing the space with a few students and easy-going locals. While there may be a short line on weekend afternoons, weekdays are not usually busy.

Nevmekân Sahil Library in Istanbul, Türkiye

8. Enjoy the Bosphorus amid lush greenery in Otağtepe

Tons of travelers will head to the Galata Tower and the expensive tourist trap cafes by the pier for good views of the Bosphorus. But there is a better way.

Otağtepe Park is a large public park near the Sultan Mehmed Fatih Bridge. Think Central Park in New York overlooking the sea.

There’s no tourist infrastructure here, so you won’t find toilets or cafes, but that’s precisely what keeps it off the radar. Pack a picnic and enjoy the spectacular views of the Bosphorus without the huge crowds (and free of charge!)

Seagull flying over the Maiden's Tower in the middle of the Bosphorus strait with the historic Istanbul peninsula in the background, Istanbul, Turkiye, Turkey

For travelers who want to see where East meets West but avoid the throngs of other tourists, there are many nooks and crannies in Istanbul just waiting to be explored. Happy hunting for hidden gems!

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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com