Exploring the Asian Side of Istanbul
The Sultanahmet Mosque is beautiful, and the view from the Galata Tower at sunset is without doubt one of the tourists highlights of any trip to Istanbul. Just sticking to these well-trodden areas, though, would be missing on an important piece of Istanbul: the Asian side. Anadolu is Europe’s ‘Gateway to the East’, with a long history of settlement and conquerors. In the context of modern Istanbul this is also the residential area, from which more than a million people are said to commute each day to work on the European side of the Bosphorus. For travelers, the Asian side of Istanbul represents a chance to get away from the general tourist sites and experience a more relaxed version of life in the city.
Getting From Europe to Asia
Though a number of options exist to get across from Istanbul’s European side, the most appealing is the ferry system. Boats leave primarily from Eminonu and Kabatas on the European side to Uskudar, Kadikoy, and Bostanci. For just a few Lira, the ride across the Bosphorus is itself one of the most scenic activities in Istanbul. Even better, on most boats vendors will walk around selling hot cups of Turkish tea and fresh-baked Simit bread to snack on for the 15 to 20 minute ride. For those in a hurry, the recently opened Marmara Metro line makes the journey from Sirkeci to Uskudar in a faster but far less scenic tunnel under the Bosphorus.
What to Do in Istanbul’s Asian Side
Part of the impetus for visiting the Asian side of Istanbul is the chance to explore a more local version of Istanbul life than what you’ll see in Sultanahmet. These areas are full of markets and mosques and cafes and baklava shops, and all the other important aspects of day to day life here. Use the highlights below as a guide to plan your exploration around, but make sure to take in the city at street level as well. These residential parts of Istanbul might be a bit more conservative that Taksim and Sultanahmet, but people are also generally a lot less inured to the presence of tourists and so more often willing to stop and engage.
Just to the south of the Uskudar docks along the Bosphorus waterfront is the Semsi Pasa Mosque. The small library area inside is a nice stop and offers something a little different from most of the other mosques you’ll visit as a tourist in Istanbul. Further down the waterfront from here you’ll see quite a number of fisherman as well as Balik Ekmek carts selling fresh fish sandwiches for 5 Lira. If you cut inside the large road beyond here, you will find several more mosques and the large active neighborhoods built up around them that make for pleasant wandering.
On the ferry ride to Uskudar you’ll probably have noticed the Maiden’s Tower just off the coast further to the south. Though access is only open to patrons of the restaurant located inside, the quays leading down to the water near here are an excellent place to smoke a nargile (shisha/hookah) pipe or drink a Turkish Coffee. On bad weather days, cafes just across the street offer the same.
Further in from the Uskudar coast is the Karacaahmet Cemetery, the oldest in Istanbul. The walk from Uskudar port to the cemetery passes through a nice variety of quiet backstreets and busy neighborhood parks, make it every bit as enjoyable as the destination itself.
For a quiet afternoon with a sweeping view of Istanbul and the Bosphorus, bus 9A leaves from near Uskudar port to Camlica Tesisleri. Camlica Hill offers plenty of shady seating and several inexpensive cafes selling snacks and drinks, and on a clear day this highest point of the city can be an excellent place to relax with friends in a crowd of Istanbul locals.
See the author’s travel blog for more information and photos from the Uskudar district.
Just south of the Kadikoy piers, a small breakwater runs a short way back towards the Bosphorus from which you will see excellent panoramic views back towards the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. There doesn’t seem to be much rubbish collection here, though, so watch your step.
The Moda neighborhood starts a short ways inland from Kadikoy and occupies the whole of the small peninsula to the south of there. Full of small cafes and restaurants, there are also a few small teashops tucked on hilltops overlooking the Sea of Marmara that make great places to stop and relax. This is one of Istanbul’s wealthiest neighborhoods, however, and some café prices will reflect that trend. In popular areas (especially along the historic tram) check menus if budgeting is an issue.
Even farther from Kadikoy port, just past Moda on the waterfront, are the marinas of Fenerbahce and Kalamis. Though this probably isn’t why you can to Istanbul, in the summer you’ll find people at these two marinas parasailing and jet-skiing with yachts anchored in the background. This and Moda are certainly the high-end districts of Anadolu, but no less interesting for that as a tourist.
This area is significantly further from the European side of Istanbul, so tourists coming here will likely be doing so for one reason: the beach. Walkable from Bostanci is the Caddebostan beach, one of surprisingly few nice public beaches in town.
If you’re only in Istanbul for a weekend, you’ll likely only see this side of the city from the terrace of your guesthouse at breakfast time. If you have more time in town, though, or are just looking for a chance to visit areas that most tourists don’t make it to? In that case, Asian Istanbul is a great way to spend a day.
Planning a big trip to Istanbul? You should read up on What it Costs in Istanbul.