Must-Visit Neighborhood: Karakoy in Istanbul

Karakoy Emerges As A Cultural Hub

It was the historic blue-collar quarter of Istanbul; now it's a thriving mix of bohemian boutiques and outdoor cafes


By Chaney Kwak
Photographs by Yadid Levy

Originally appeared in March 2015 issue of Virtuoso Life

A buzzing port at the confluence of the Bosporus and Golden Horn since the Byzantine Empire, Istanbul’s Karakoy neighborhood fell on hard times in the last century. But thanks to the arrival of cruise ships and young entrepreneurs, the dockside district’s narrow alleys have awoken, as boho boutiques and outdoor cafés with grapevine trellises vie for space among grimy electric parts shops. Ten years after the opening of Istanbul Modern, the city’s premier contemporary art museum, Karakoy is no longer up and coming – it has arrived.

Use the arrows to navigate through different experiences in Karakoy. Corresponding photos reside above this text. If interested in travel to Istanbul (or any other part of the world, honestly), click here to connect with a Virtuoso travel advisor.

 Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami: After seven years of restoration, this 1580 Turkish bath has reopened as an upscale oasis amid Istanbul’s bustle. Soothe your muscles on a heated marble platform and gaze up at its soaring dome punctuated with star-shaped skylights. After a vigorous exfoliation, a therapist swathes you in a mound of hot, fluffy soapsuds. Kemankes Mahallesi, Hamam Sokak 1;

Mae Zae: Mae Zae stocks an eclectic hodgepodge of Turkish and European accessories both new and old. Shop for anything from antique mirrors and frames to Istanbul-designed jewelry lines such as Der-Liebling. Kemankes Kara Mustafa Pasa Mahallesi, Hoca Tahsin Sokak, Akce Han 16-A;

Lokanta Maya: Trained in New York and seasoned at her father’s boutique hotel on the Aegean coast, chef Didem Senol Tiryakioglu serves bistro standouts such as fish cakes, potato croquettes, zucchini fritters with yogurt sauce, and caramelized sea bass with persimmon inside an elegantly simple, wood-floored dining room. Her cookbooks, one of which is available in English, are acclaimed by the city’s gourmets. Kemankes Caddesi 35A.

Istanbul Modern: Arguably the original force behind Karakoy’s renaissance, the cultural giant showcases a strong collection of paintings, photography, and sculptures by Turkish artists. Rotating exhibitions take place in the basement, known for its book-covered ceiling. The balcony café, with its waterfront panorama of Istanbul’s historic skyline, is worth a visit alone. Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi, Liman Isletmeleri Sahasi Antrepo D4;

Kagithane: Skip the touristy postcards and pick up witty Istanbul-inspired greeting cards and T-shirts at this shop in the newly renovated French Passage, a historic arcade that connects two streets. In addition, you’ll find sketch pads inspired by old Turkish textbooks and sassy notebooks bearing colorful hourglass teacups or simits (sesame bagels). Kemankes Caddesi, Fransiz Is Gecidi 10.

Atolye 11: Atolye 11 may be located within an Orthodox church, but there’s nothing orthodox about the design firm’s home decor store. Championing contemporary Turkish artists and many of its own designs, the intimate two-story shop showcases ornately embroidered silk cushions, glass pomegranate ornaments, screen-printed scarves, and framed stamped fabrics by celebrated Turkish painter Bedri Rahmi Eyuboglu. Mumhane Caddesi 47.

Karakoy Kulah: Every month, this grotto-like space opens its doors for designer trunk sales and pop-up fashion bazaars that bring together Istanbul’s style set. Discover some of the city’s indie and emerging brands amid the tiny stalls, which sometimes spill into the alley. Kemankes Mahallesi, Mumhane Caddesi, Murakip Sokak 12.

Karakoy Lokantasi: Settle into this traditional restaurant’s smart tiled dining room or climb its winding wrought-
iron stairs for a bird’s-eye view of the neighborhood. One bite of its Istanbul-style comfort food – roasted chard, beef ragout, cauliflower casserole with chickpeas, or smoky eggplant puree, all doused in nutty olive oil – reveals why it’s a neighborhood anchor. Kemankes Caddesi 37A;

Sahi: This airy boutique in the shadow of the Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam sells traditional silverware, Iznik chinaware, ceramics with Ottoman calligraphy, and woodblock-printed textiles, as well as flowery Turkish delight and nutty baklava. Step up to its panoramic rooftop café for strong Turkish coffee. Kilic Ali Pasa Mescit Sokak 2.

Karabatak: New cafés seem to pop up every week in Karakoy, but this Vienna-inspired coffeehouse remains the district’s most popular hangout. Grab an outside table for the best people-watching over a Wiener Mélange and a Sacher torte, two of the menu items that make Karabatak so beloved. Kemankes Kara Mustafa Pasa Mahallesi, Kara Ali Kaptan Sokak 7;

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