Istanbul has many faces, and more modern, non – Ottoman side of it is once of them. See my selection of landmarks where you can feel a vibrant and buzzing vibe of Istanbul too!
1. Istiklal street
Istiklal street, or Independence street, is an extremely busy 1,5 km long shopping street on the north bank of Istanbul where you can find all sorts of shops: from Sephora and Mango to many local ones including food kiosks. You might not be very impressed by it or might love it from the first glance: what type are you?
Anyway, you can’t ignore that many gorgeous landmarks are located around this area, and this is really the main artery of the modern Istanbul for tourists. Moreover, the historical tram called T2 (Taksim-Tünel Nostalgia Tram) runs through this street (has 5 stops in total) and operates between Taksim and Tünel.
Sadly, just a weeks after our visit this place was affected by tragic blast that took 6 lives.
2. St. Antoine Church
The Church of St. Anthony of Padua designed by Giulio Mongeri is dedicated to St Anthony, the same saint Lisbon is famous for (read about him here). It’s the largest Catholic Church in Istanbul – and it’s located right on Istiklal street! The current gorgeous neo-gothic church dates to the early 20th century: it was erected on the site of the 18th century church established by the local Italian community.
Make sure you explore its gorgeous interiors and have a look around the residential houses and the courtyard!
3. Çiçek Pasajı
Çiçek Pasajı, or Flower Passage, is another modern Istanbul gem located on Istiklal street. This L-shaped arcade is adjacent to a building called Cité de Péra, one of the most beautiful European -style buildings, and used to be one of the prettiest in the city dating back to 1876. As the title suggests, the flower shops were located over there up to the mid-20th century.
With time they were replaced with taverns (meyhanes), and in the 80s the passage came into decline. It still looks impressive but this beautiful landmark definitely calls for a proper restoration although I’ve found that the most recent one took place only this year (2022). Now you can dine or have a coffee inside the passage.
4. Pera Palace Hotel
Pera Palace is a gorgeous Belle Epoque hotel built in 1892-1895 and established exclusively to accommodate the passengers of Orient Express (see below). ‘Pera’ refers to the district of Istanbul where the hotel is located and back in time it was called the ‘Little Europe’ area of the city. Now it belongs to Jumeirah.
Pera Palace Hotel’s interior still impresses the visitors who come here for the pieces of history (you can pop in even if you don’t stay in the hotel): Tarihi elevator, first in the country made out of cast iron and wood, typing machine, sedan chair carrier are on the display for the public. Yes, it seems that the passengers were carried all the way from the Sirkeci railway station to the north bank!
Among the guests of Pera palace hotel are Agatha Christie (she stayed in room number 411), Ernest Hemingway, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (room 101), Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock, Jacqueline Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II! Head to the Kubbeli Lounge for the afternoon tea and to the super instagrammable Patisserie de Pera for some delicious cakes.
Photography is not permitted in the reception and Kubbeli saloon so I’m using the photos from the hotel’s website below.
5. Sirkeci railway station
Doubtless that you have heard about the Orient Express, a famous train service that started operating in 1883 and probably one of the things that shaped the perception of modern Istanbul. It gained the world-wide acknowledgement after the publication of Agate Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (1934) but legacy lives: its enigmatic aura has influenced many other pieces of literature and art as well especially after this service became being percieved as a luxurious.
The original route started at Gare de l’Est in Paris, France and went through Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, ending in Sirkeci station, Turkiye. In total, three out of five historical routes had Istanbul as the terminal.
Now you can visit the original train station (its modern part is still in use) with beautiful round windows, stained glasses and gorgeous architecture of that period. Also you might choose to dine at the Orient Express Restaurant – come there for the atmosphere, not for the food). The Istanbul Railway Museum is located nearby too.
GalataPort is a super new and cool area in the Karakoy district stretching over 400,000 square metres, with multiple shops, restaurants, the Peninsula hotel (opening soon!), museums and a cruise ship terminal. This is what I can truly modern part of Istanbul!
The shirt ship docked here on the 1st of 2021. Also the promenade of GalataPort gives the best views over the Bosphorus! Head here to explore the most modern side of Istanbul! As per the historical sights, you can have a look at the clock tower and Nusretiye Mosque.
7. Taksim square
Taksim square where the Istiklal street starts from is the main square of Istanbul. Although it’s notoriously known for the political events like Taksim Square massacre (1977), and anti-government protests in 2013, Taksim square remains an entertainment site for the tourists. Beautiful green Gezi park where the events of 2013 took place is adjacent to it. Have a look at the AKM Cultural Centre, or Atatürk Kültür Merkezi, and a large monument of the Republic by Pietro Canonica dedicated to the foundation of the Republic of Turkey.
Moreover, just recently, in 2021, a large mosque with 28-metre-wide dome was inaugurated to dominate the square by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s leader since 2014.
8. Zorlu shopping mall
If you’re looking for shopping malls in Istanbul, try Zorlu opened in 2013. It has a large food court, a cinema complex and a few floors of shops, from international Twinset and Mango to the many local designers.
9. Bosphorus bridge
Bosphorus bridge, also known as 15 July Martyrs Bridge, is a gorgeous suspension bridge opened in 1973, beautiful both by day and night. It connects Asian bank of Turkiye with its European bank. Probably Ortakoy gives the best views of it, but we were also lucky to have a window view over it at Ritz Carlton too.
10. Istanbul Airport, the epitome of modern Istanbul
It might sound weird to put an airport on the list, but Istanbul Airport definitely deserves to be called a landmark of modern Istanbul! It’s one of the most beautiful airports I’ve ever visited – and this is definitely a gem in terms if architecture and infrastructure of modern Istanbul. It’s enormous, one of the busiest in the world and brand new (it was inaugurated in 2018), so if you’re flying to or from Turkiye, make sure you pay attention to it!
Where to stay?
To explore the modern Istanbul history we wanted a hotel with style on the north bank. Our choice fell on the Ritz Carlton because of its location: Istiklal street starts from Taksim square just minutes from it, and Dolmabahçe palace is nearby too!
Our room had a lovely fusion vibe: Ottoman elements were mixed with some Western modernity, and George even got his own wigwam! There was a nice choice of restaurants too. We visited Atölye restaurant with Anatolian cuisine, Nobu – great as usual – and Vakko L’Atelier.
If you want to read more about Istanbul, check the following blogs:
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