Istanbul’s most up-and-coming district was once a hive of metal workers and light shops, docks and brothels, schools and churches, banks and tax offices. Today, don’t be surprised to find a nightclub in a street of utility shops. Between the two bridges (now joined by a third metro bridge) is Perşembe Pazarı, the wonderful hardware district. Above it is old Bankalar Caddesi, full of light shops, and home to SALT Galata, the majestic former Ottoman Bank. Along the shore of the Bosphorus is the new arts zone, including the grandest private art galleries and Istanbul Modern itself, next to the antrepos, former warehouses that now host the contemporary art biennial.
Karaköy delights those who like well-ordered parts in a well-oiled machine. Amidst the chaotic traffic jostling on and off the Galata Bridge are hardware shops with a seemingly impossible degree of specificity – shops selling electrical switches, light switches, copper pipe, copper wire, door knobs, door handles… The Tünel from here to Galata claims to be the second oldest underground railway in the world, after London’s Tube. That might be stretching it a bit. Practical as it is, the Tünel is a funicular, not a train.
Curiously placed among all this work-a-day tangible functionality are the headquarters of Turkey’s major banks. The former home of the Ottoman Bank (a fascinating institution. Originally private and British-owned, it won the tender to become the Ottoman central bank, thus becoming the state’s public kitty and main creditor simultaneously) has been renovated into SALT Galata, a more research-orientated sister space to the one in Beyoğlu.
The Camondo steps are baroque reminder of the area’s former prominence, which looks as though it might return quite soon.
Some of the most interesting new art spaces have opened in the backstreets of Karaköy near Istanbul Modern. These include the conceptual art gallery Mana, which opened in 2011. Photography specialists Elipsis also moved here from Tophane. The galleries are peppered amongst chic cafés and bars, giving the neighbourhood an achingly bohemian vibe. The cream of the crop is Karabatak Café, serving up perfectly brewed Julius Meinl coffee and treats. Also try Ops and Muhit.
From İstiklal take the ‘Tünel’ undergound. Otherwise use the tram. Driving is usually a nightmare.
For a meal with a view go to SALT Galata’s excellent brasserie, or the more traditional Tarihi Karaköy Balıkcısı, opposite the Yolcu Salonu, the old passenger lounge. Maya, a fashionable Turkish-European fusion restaurant is also worth a look. And for a really fast filling meal, Güllüoğlu does make excellent su böreği and baklava. No cheating on butter and sugar. This is the father’s establishment and as such has no branches.