Istanbul hosts a stunning balance of European and Asian cultures, knitted perfectly together with impressive architecture, friendly locals, and mouth-watering delicacies. The city hosts a mixture of old and new, with enriching culture to leave any history buff desperate for more and a modern medical tourism industry that boasts everything from a cheap hair transplant to top-quality dental care in high-tech facilities. Whether you’re looking for a short city break, or somewhere to spend a bit more time, here are some of the hidden gems that Istanbul has to offer.
To regular visitors in Istanbul, Ortakoy may not be ‘hidden’ exactly, but for those venturing to the city for the first time, this neighborhood could easily go unseen. This used to be a small village but has since grown to be part of the city directly and is a great place for those seeking out art, good food from a variety of restaurants, and an enviable nightlife. Ortakoy is most notably home to the breathtaking mosque, a Neo-Baroque style building enriched with ornate architecture and a gorgeous view of the Bosphorus waters.
If glamour is what you’re looking for during your trip to Istanbul, then the Dolmabahce Palace could very well sate that very craving. This unique 19th-century building was once the administrative center to the Ottoman Empire, but has since crossed into the hands of the Turkish Republic in Ankara, and, of course, tourists. Nowadays, visitors can get guided tours of this beautiful palace and marvel at the incredibly decorated interior, not least including the stunning painted ceilings.
For a panoramic view of a good chunk of Istanbul, there’s no better place than Camlica Hill – and all for free! This park offers unrivaled views of Bosphorus and the mouth of the Golden Horn, as well as offering a number of gardens, fountains, cafes, a restaurant and even teahouses. While this popular with visitors, the true marvel of the view offered here is certainly a hidden gem worth discovering for yourself.
Rahmi M. Koc Museum
While a transport museum might not be your first port of call during a break, the Rahmi M. Koc Museum is certainly worth a visit regardless. As the first major museum entirely dedicated to industrial history – including transport and communications – there’s plenty here to help you sate curiosity regarding Istanbul’s history. What’s more, there’s a planetarium too, so you can sit back and enjoy the stars or if a military exploration is more your style, you could head down to the ex-naval submarine currently next to the museum!
Deep beneath the street of Istanbul, the locals wander an eerily beautiful cistern originally built all the way back in the 6th century. This ancient hidden gem is one of the lesser-known examples of life in Istanbul back before it was even known as Istanbul. Under the control of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople (as it was known) was filled with these kinds of treasures but today, the Basilica Cistern is currently one of the lesser-known but particularly interesting ones. Just by the Hagia Sophia, pop down to see some incredible Medusa carvings, a sea of columns and even some carp! There’s a café too if you want a bite to eat.
Most people don’t head out on holiday and stop by a school, but Istanbul University is one of the grandest and most stunningly built Universities in the world. Established back in 1453, you’re guaranteed some stunning architecture to marvel. Watch the students mill about between lectures or simply stop by to get a glimpse of the incredible entrance archway, a true example of Istanbul’s greatest architecture. If you are interested in the university in general, you are able to enter some of the facilities, though its best to check which upon your arrival.
The Back Streets
Heading into the backstreets and away from the beaten path in Istanbul could give you the perfect opportunity to get a true taste of Turkish culture. These streets are often filled with unique shops that don’t suffer from tourist-trap prices, restaurants and cafes with lower prices but much more authentic food and, of course, a bit of peace and quiet away from the bustle of tourist hotspots – unless you get mixed in with the locals!
Istanbul has plenty to do no matter your preferences, so whether you’re seeking out a historical break or simply want something to do to help you relax, hopefully, this guide has given you a starting point for the hidden gems that Istanbul has to offer.