The hillside above the old quays, warehouses and banks lining the north shore of the entrance to the Golden Horn is where merchants and diplomats first created the European quarter. Beyoğlu is also Istanbul’s Left Bank. In the arcades and alleys leading off İstiklal Caddesi cafés are heaving round the clock. At one end is the Genoese Galata Tower, at the other Taksim Square.
These days Beyoğlu is the real centre of Istanbul: they say two million people pass through the area every day. At some point nearly all of them will walk along Istiklal Caddesi - the pedestrianised main drag running from Taksim to Tünel. It was formerly known as Le Grande Rue de Pera, once memorably described as “as narrow as the comprehension of its inhabitants and as long as the tapeworm of its intrgigues.” No doubt horizons have broadened and intrigues shrunk since the Grande Rue days, and after a few more recent dodgy decades, Beyoğlu has been well and truly rehabilitated. No longer the seedy underbelly it was in the 70s and 80s, it is home to most of the city’s key art institutions, some of the best hotels and restaurants, and the most fun places to let your hair down.
At the lower end of the district, overlooking the mouth of the Golden Horn is Galata, with its iconic and eponymous Genoese watch tower. All around are music shops and venues such as Nardis, the best place for live Jazz in the city. It all feels very young and hip, but this is a surprisingly historical music quarter. It grew up around the Dervish lodge on the corner of Tünel Square, music being hugely important to the Mevlevis.
During the day you can spend hours in bookshops and museums. Espas, Eren, Pandora, Homer, Turkuaz, Denizler, Arkeopera, Kırımızı Kedi and Robinson Crusoe all have good selections of English-language books, and there are plenty of cafes to enjoy your purchases in over a glass of çay or a latté. Try Ara, Şimdi or one of the House Cafés.
The Pera Museum can be relied on for excellent exhibitions and have a wonderful collection of Orientalist art and Kutahya ceramics. For something more contemporary visit SALT Beyoğlu and Arter, both on Istiklal Caddesi.
There are two metro stops, one in Taksim Square, the other in Şişhane, at the Tünel end of İstiklal Caddesi. The old Tünel fenicular cuts out the walk from Karaköy and the Galata Bridge.
Everything is so close together it only really makes sense to walk. Or you could leap aboard the Nostaljik Tramway – alternatively hang off the back with the street children – and glide along like they did in the 1950s.
Midway along Istiklal Caddesi, opposite Galatasaray Lysée is the ornate Çiçek Pasajı – ‘The Passage of Flowers.’ A fish market runs parallel, leading to the bars and meyhanes of Nevizade Sokak. It has its charm but generally better food and fewer TV screens can be found around Asmalı Mescit, near Tünel. Sofyalı 9, Refik, Asmalı Cavit and Yakup 2 all do the rakı and meze meal very well in varying degrees of formality. The recent resoration of the Pera Palace – with its own very good restaurant, Agatha – has breathed new life into the area nearby. Meze by Lemon Tree is directly opposite and has quickly gained a great reputation, especially for its buttery soft fried liver.