Bucket List Travel: Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey is an iconic destination for travelers, a mix of Ottoman, Byzantine, and Roman architecture, as well as numerous traditions and cuisine influenced by the many empires that once ruled the region. But did you know that the city has a distinctive Asian side along with its European side? Located on the Eastern side of the city’s Bosphorus Strait, this part of Istanbul distinguishes itself with its plethora of greener spaces, a less-harried way of life, delectable dining options and a bustling nightlife. If you make it to Istanbul, make sure to head to the Asian side – also known as the Anatolian Side – where the relaxed atmosphere and up-and-coming neighborhoods will astound you.

Getting in is easy. The Sabiha Gökçen Airport is located on the Asian side, and from here, it’s easy to take a bus into the city. If you’re flying into Atatürk Airport on the European side of Istanbul, a quick ferry across the Bosphorus will get you to the Asian side. There are numerous ferry lines that will take you to different neighborhoods of the Asian side. If you want to take the train in, you’re out of luck – the famed Haydarpaşa Station on the Asian side is currently undergoing renovations to accommodate a high-speed railway. However, this iconic and remarkable piece of architecture still warrants a visit on its own.

Speaking of beautiful architecture, this is one of the hallmarks of Istanbul, and the Asian side is teeming with Instagram-worthy structures. The Beylerbeyi Palace, built in the 1860’s by Sultan Abdulaziz, is a fantastic example of ornate Imperial Ottoman architecture. But it is also famous among tourists for its unbroken view of the Bosphorus… from the second floor restroom. There are also several historical fortresses in the city, like Anadoluhisari, built in 1395 on the narrowest part of the Strait. Yoros Castle, overlooking the Black Sea, is also a must. Located in the fishing town of Anadolu Kavagi, this is also great place to spend the day, walk around, and dine at local eateries.

Beautiful landmarks like Yoros Castle will reveal themselves as you take a ferry ride along the Bosphorus Straight.

Make sure to make your way to the Moda Cadessi neighborhood, which once was called home by wealthy merchants. Today, it still retains its upscale charms, has several parks to wander through, as well as countless boutiques and sidewalk cafés. But most interesting is the neighborhood’s large collection of artisans – jewelry makers, handicraft workshops, art galleries, garment makers, and bazaars abound here. If you’re looking for a one-of-kind shopping experience, this is where you’ll uncover everything from notebooks to accessories to art that will forever remind you of your trip.

A leisurely walk down the beautiful, tree-lined Bağdat Caddesi is essential. Though located on the Asian side, the 3.7mile long commercial stretch (the entire avenue is 8.7miles) offers a European flair that rivals anything across the Bosphorus, and is backed by numerous shops, restaurants, and cafés. This road also connects to the popular neighborhood of Kadıköy, where you can finish your stroll with a ride in a hot air balloon. While balloons remains moored, you can head up 650 feet in the air to see some incredible vistas of Istanbul. After that, stick around for a while – this neighborhood is also home to some of the finest food markets, cafés, and restaurants in all of Istanbul. And at night, Kadıköy rivals the European side’s nightlife center of Beyoglu, with its many pubs and bars.

What is there to eat on the Asian side, you might ask? There is a wide range of dining options, from high-end to casual, from Turkish to even Japanese cuisine. But for local fare, one essential restaurant is Çiya Sofrası, which offers authentic, home-style Turkish dishes, and cannot be missed. The cozy Salkım Söğüt presents everything from Turkish ravioli to fresh caught fish. Street food, from various tost (think grilled sandwiches) simit (fried dough rings) and quintessential doner kebabs (meat cooked in layers on a vertical rotisserie), will fuel you throughout the day.

At night, for when you’re ready to retire, you will have a range of choices when it comes to hotels, from converted distilleries by the water to modern hotels complete with rooftop pools. This is an ancient city with a old soul, but also a youthful spirit that will enchant you.

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