As you stand in the bustling square of Karaköy, and you lift your head and examine the striking architecture surrounding you, you have already begun your discovery of this fascinating district. Karaköy became a trading post between the Ottoman Empire and Europe in the 19th century and was populated mostly by Levantines. Renowned Italian and Austrian architects had a hand in creating the Art Nouveau and Neoclassical buildings that adorn the streets, giving the area a distinctly European feel. So whether it’s the lovingly restored buildings or the newly opened upmarket venues, discover Karaköy, and enjoy the vibrancy and buzz of this wonderful neighborhood.
Among the magnificent buildings surrounding the square are the Ziraat Bank building with its enigmatic statues looking out over the district, Minerva Han, the stately Karaköy Palace, Hotel Nordstern, and the French-Ottoman architect Vallaury’s Ömer Abed Hanı.
The financial center of the Ottoman Empire, Voyvoda Street, better known as Banks Street, is lined with buildings on either side, and its narrowness means you have to lean back to fully appreciate the reliefs above. The old Sümerbank Building is now the very trendy Vault Karaköy hotel, while the old Ottoman Central Bank building has become SALT Galata, a complex of exhibition spaces, workshops and meeting rooms. It is now also home to the much-loved Robinson Crusoe bookshop, which formerly stood on İstiklal Street. Another of Banks Street’s must-sees is Sumahan Voyvoda, a creative collective of art studios, workshops, and communal areas that hosts unique events and incredible exhibitions. Back on the street, be sure to pose for a photo on the palatial Kamondo Steps.
As you come back to Karaköy Square, remember that Leonardo da Vinci walked on this very ground as he made his sketches for the design of the Galata Bridge, though his efforts were never accepted by the sultan at the time. The Tünel system, the world’s second oldest underground rail line, also has one of its terminals here. These should give you a sense of how historically important the district of Karaköy has been.
Of course, Karaköy is more than just a square. Recently, the surrounding area has experienced somewhat of a renaissance, with numerous new venues popping up in and around the French Passage. Among the most popular of these chic, upmarket spaces are Ops, Bej Karaköy, Pan Karaköy, Colonie, and Unter, all of which offer fine dining and a real taste of Karaköy’s energetic nightlife. For something a little more low-key, head to Heisenberg or Baltazar for a hamburger, Karabatak or Press for a cup of coffee, or Dem to enjoy a cup of Turkish tea.
If it’s more traditional Turkish cuisine you’re after, Bankalar Lokantası is a great choice, while Karaköy Lokantası offers some of the best meze and seafood in the city—in fact, it’s so good they’ve just opened a new branch in the UK under the name Karaköy Sofra London. The delicatessen Namlı Gurme has an incredible selection of charcuterie and cheeses, and serves some wonderful dishes as well. Be sure to indulge your sweet tooth at Karaköy Güllüoğlu, where some of the finest baklava in Istanbul is freshly produced every day.
With all this and so much more, the district is alive with a truly unique atmosphere and the winning combination of culture, dining, and architecture. So do yourself a favor: Get out and explore the streets of this wonderful district to discover Karaköy.