Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul

Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul – Guide to the Most Famous Istanbul Street

I don’t think I could find anyone who plans a trip to Istanbul and doesn’t know about Istiklal Avenue, the most famous street in the entire city. It’s just in all guidebooks and on any Istanbul itinerary as one of the must-visit places and must-see highlights.

I personally am not a big fan of Istiklal Street as it is always overcrowded, noisy, and overly commercialized which detracts from its authenticity.

Yet, once in a while, I like to go there to get the most delicious doner kebab, baklava from an old historic shop, or just sit with a drink in one of the restaurants with views of Istanbul.

Also, I am strongly convinced that Istiklal (together with the nearby Taksim area) is really that place that you cannot miss if visiting Istanbul for the first time because it embodies the dynamic spirit of this city and offers a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and flavors that are interesting to see, at least once.

For this reason, I decided to make a mini guide (or a maxi guide as always, haha) with my favorite things to do on Istiklal Avenue, its restaurants, and nightlife. I also briefly cover the safety question as many people asked me about it and give tips on whether it is worth staying there or not. My big guide to Istanbul street food is on the way too which will also include some of the best locations on Istiklal Street. So don’t miss that!

Thinking of Staying on Istiklal Avenue?

Staying here is not a good option for many people because Istiklal is always loud, very loud.

If you appreciate peace and quiet (and if you are traveling with kids), it is better to choose a hotel further away from Istiklal (and Taksim area). Even many adjacent streets have bars where music is on until 4-5 am and many can hear it in surrounding houses. This area of Istanbul will suit well those who love to party and wo come to Istanbul with this goal.

Here are the accommodation options to look at if you want to stay close:

  • Mr Cas Hotel – hear the noise is big but right on Istiklal and price is ‘low’ compared to other hotels of this type in the area
  • Ravouna 1906 – historic hotel right on Istiklal with plenty of quiet rooms and such a beautiful terrace with views of Istanbul!
  • Louis Rooms – central location best for visiting different neighborhoods. But request a quiet room, away from the bar
  • Come&Live Apt – good example of the area where to look for flats if you want to be close to Istiklal and other central neighborhoods

Please note: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a commission if you make a purchase or booking by clicking a link (at no extra cost to you).

Where Is Istiklal Street?

Istiklal street restaurants

Considered the most central place in Istanbul, Istiklal Avenue is the long, narrow street that connects Taksim Square to Galata in Beyoğlu district, the European side of the city. It starts in Taksim Square and ends in the area known as Tünel (the Tunnel is actually the name for the area where the depo for a historic tram is) where you start to enter Galata.

Istiklal Street is 1.4 kilometers long, surrounded by mostly shops of almost every nature on each side with some cafes, restaurants, and passages (where you can enter and discover a variety of shops, galleries, cafés, etc.)

It is easily reachable both on foot (from many neighborhoods) and by public transport such as the subway (it would be the easiest if you are on the European side, but you can use the Marmaray connection to get there if you are on the Asian side) and taxi, of course if you are lucky enough to get one in İstanbul.

Why Is İstiklal Street So Popular?

Well, it is in the most popular area (Taksim) of the most popular city in Turkey (İstanbul). So no wonder it is still the most visited single street in the city -and in the country- both by tourists and locals.

Istiklal has become a symbol of the city and besides its symbolic value, things to do here are almost limitless.

You can go shopping, just mix into the crowd and walk, check out the beautiful apartments on each side, find some good cafés, visit art galleries, bars and restaurants (some of which I will mention shortly), do shopping, jump to the nearby neighborhoods worth seeing, and of course, you can, as I have just mentioned above, easily reach there both by public transport, as well as with a private ride.

So İstiklâl Street remains the most popular street in town, and in the rest of the article, I will explain other reasons why, with examples!

Is İstiklal Avenue Safe?

Istiklal street
Taksim square

Mostly, yes. It is alive almost 24/7, with an endless current of people moving towards both directions (especially on weekends), and there are a lot of cops -civil, and in uniform- patrolling it. So you will be mostly safe walking there at almost any part of the day, alone or with someone else.

A few things to keep in mind though – at very, very late hours (like after 3 am) it will be less crowded, and you may encounter some shady people, who might try to talk to you or ask for money. During the day, when it is the most crowded, keep an eye out in case there are pickpocketing attempts – just in case.

In the past, there have been a lot of bomb attacks on İstiklal Avenue, but I guess there is no way for you to know these types of things beforehand. Just keep in mind that it might be extra risky to visit Istiklal in that sense in turbulent times of the country, such as elections. And I don’t mean just one particular day of elections but the whole period before the election day comes (it usually lasts a month). 

Another thing to mention – Istiklal has historically been a gathering point for protests/marches, which are usually frowned upon by the government. So as a “precaution”, the street might be closed by police for entry during daytime on certain days, such as Gay Pride, International Women’s Day, or the 1st of May.

Top Things to Do on Istiklal Street

And now, let’s talk about the attractions here as the number of them is quite big. Depending on your interests, there will be either lots to do for you there or you will be bored and will want to leave fast.

Generally speaking – there is a lot to do on the always colorful Istiklal Avenue. It will be difficult to list all the activities, but here are my top picks:

Visiting Istiklal Street & Short on Time?

Then take this walking tour with a guide to see the best of Istiklal, Taksim, and Galata neighborhoods together!

Explore the heart of modern Istanbul together with side streets and historical passages:

Take the Nostalgic Tram

Probably the most famous symbol of the Taksim area and Istiklal, the Nostalgic tram started running in 1990 (the year İstiklâl was closed to traffic) and you can see it multiple times on your way when walking down or up the street, as it crosses from the middle of it.

Istiklal tram
Istiklal street during the day

The tram comes and goes between Tünel (more or less the start of Galata) and the Taksim square (basically through the whole street) and you can take it just for the experience, or if you are tired of walking and need to get to the other end of the street.

Another such tram is in Moda, Kadikoy. That one is less touristy and feels more authentic.

Get Dundurma From Street Vendors

Ice cream vendors are kinda famous along Istiklal Street (and other parts of İstanbul too in fact) mostly for the antics they perform when “giving” you the ice cream.

I put the word in quotation marks, as when the ice cream on cone you ordered is ready, they perform a series of tricks to take it back literally from your hands just when you think you are getting it.

And they do it not once, not twice, not three times, but till the point they pity you and finally let it go. It is quite fun but can be annoying too for some people, so if you are not big on tricks, you can ask for just an ice cream without any shenanigans and hope that they won’t do it!

Dondurma seller
All dondurma (Turkish ice cream) sellers on Istiklal Avenue scam tourists (this one scammed us too). Always ask about the price in advance before the show and have exact change to pay for the ice cream

Do Some Shopping/Window Browsing

Istiklal Street shopping is a serious matter as the whole avenue is filled with shops of all kinds on both sides. Don’t expect luxury brands that you would encounter in the Nişantaşı neighborhood, but there are a lot of shops from different brands of all categories that you can browse here, as well as small souvenir shops.

When it comes to shopping in İstiklâl Avenue, some of the brands I can think of are the following:

Zara – The globally beloved Zara has lots and lots of shops in Istanbul and one of them is located on the İstiklâl Avenue. It is a three-story building, so you will be able to find a very wide range of items there.

Nike – Nike has a very large (probably 4 stories long or so) store on Istiklal Street that you can visit, and you should visit it if you are into sportswear. It has a separate section for Air Jordan shoes, which some people are crazy for…

Mango – Another Spanish fast-fashion brand, Mango actually has two shops in the İstiklâl street. (One is closer to Taksim Square, while the other is more towards the Tunnel area.) They are quite big too, and if you are lucky you might be able to catch them at a discount!

House of Superstep – Another large sportswear store, located towards the end of the İstiklâl Avenue. It has a very large collection of shoes, t-shirts, pants, sweatshirts, and other stuff from a variety of sports brands, including Adidas, Nike, Converse, New Balance, etc. Another must-check if you like sportswear.

Arabian Oud – Arabian Oud is a perfumery, probably designed for rich Arabs by the looks of it. It looks more like a room that is torn from an Ottoman Palace, instead of a perfumery. It has an interesting range of perfumes (I remember seeing many of them in perfume stores in Dubai and Doha), not really my thing, but you might want to check it out.

Jewellers/Goldsmiths – No, this is not a famous, luxury jewelry brand on İstiklâl Avenue, but there are a lot of Turkish goldsmiths (called “kuyumcu”) where you can buy golden accessories. I don’t need to name any specific ones here, as you can find them all around!

Check Out Some Beautiful Historic Buildings

Istiklal architecture

A relatively small area of Istiklal hosts a vast number of beautiful buildings that are worth a look. The best ones in my opinion are:

  • Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church (One of the largest Orthodox sanctuaries in Istanbul, which took more than 4 years to build)
  • Galatasaray Lisesi (school for boys during the Ottoman times, these days it is a school for gifted children of any gender. You can’t go inside but take a look from outside)
  • St. Anthony of Padua Church (main Catholic sanctuary in Istanbul from the 18th century in neo-Gothic architectural style. Only Italian priests conduct services here. Open to the public)
  • Kirim Kilisesi (Crimean Memorial Church, built between 1858 and 1868 to commemorate British soldiers who fought in the Crimean War)
  • French Consulate (just an interesting building to look at which is also a cultural center with different events and festivals throughout the year)

Have Rakı Night at Çiçek Pasajı

If you want to have some rakı while in Beyoğlu -and why not, while you are there, as there is not a better place to do it!- you have tons of options.

But one of the most meaningful options would be to visit the famous Çiçek Pasajı, originally called Cité de Péra, a beautiful, historical passageway on Istiklal Street where you can find a series of meyhanes (traditional restaurants that serve alcohol) that you can choose from to sit and enjoy a Turkish night of rakı, mezes, and good food.

There are a lot of restaurants inside and I won’t be recommending a single one, so you can just go there and discover them yourself, and choose one to your liking.

Interesting Tours That Cover Istiklal Street & Nearby Area


Have Turkish Coffee at Mandabatmaz

Mandabatmaz is a famous Turkish coffee joint in one of the side streets of Istiklal Avenue (close to the Galatasaray area) that you should definitely visit if you are in the Taksim area and would like to have a proper Turkish coffee, which is sadly not very easy to do (a lot of places can mess it up.)

Especially if you have not tried Turkish coffee before, Mandabatmaz would be a very good choice for the introduction! The exact location is here.

must do in Istanbul
Turkish sweets on Istiklal

Get Some Chocolate From the Historical Beyoğlu Chocolate Shop

There is a very small chocolate shop that has been open for more than half a century on İstiklâl Street, known as “Tarihi Meşhur Beyoğlu Çikolatacısı”, meaning the famous, historical chocolate shop of Beyoğlu.

It has, as the name suggests, chocolates of different kinds, and if you are a chocolate person, you should try one at this cute landmark of Beyoğlu. You’ll find it here.

Visit the Old Passages of Istiklal

There are a few passages along Istiklal Street where you can just walk in, check out the shops, maybe have a coffee or Turkish tea. You can discover them yourself while walking the street, but to list some of the passages on İstiklâl Avenue, the ones I love are:

  • Hazzopulo Passage (built in 1871)
  • Atlas Passage (from 1870 year)
  • Halep Passage (from 1885)
  • Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Passage, the one I mentioned above)
Istiklal Avenue Passage
The most famous passage – Flower Passage

Visit the Art Galleries

There are, as I have mentioned at the beginning of the post, art galleries in the İstiklâl Avenue as well, with lots of interesting exhibitions. Some of them are free to enter and view, while some require a certain fee.

I think you will notice them if you look close enough to your surroundings while walking the avenue, but some of the ones that I’d recommend are:

  • Salt Beyoğlu (contemporary art gallery with various exhibits and interesting monuments inside)
  • Akbank Art Gallery 
  • Meşher Art Gallery

Check Out a Couple of Insteresting Museums

Surprisingly, among all the museums in Istanbul, Istiklal Street has some of the most interesting ones. Even if you are not really a museum person, I’d still recommend you to look at my list and reasons why to check out at least one of them. Note, you won’t be able to visit all the museums, but these are really the most interesting ones:

  • Whirling Dervishes Museum (Galata Mevlevihanesi Müzesi) – best museum (!) to learn about the Mevlevi Order and whirling dervish ceremonies
  • Museum of Turkish Jews – about the history and contributions of the Jewish community to Turkey
  • Istanbul Cinema Museum – best place where to learn about Turkish movie production and cinema history
  • Museum of Innocence – a bit away from the street, but very close. If you read a novel with the same name written by Orhan Pamuk, you’ll love this museum that provides a look into the lives and stories of characters from the book. And if you didn’t read it, it would be a nice read before visiting Istanbul.

Return at Night to Hang Out on Nevizade Street

There are dozens of alleys and side streets adjacent to Istiklal with interesting layouts and quirky restaurants. One of them where many of my acquaintances in Istanbul like to go for the night out on Istiklal is Nevizade Street, at the back of the Flower Passage.

It is full of lively bars and different eateries like fish restaurants and meyhanes along a narrow street. You can come here in the evening to eat dinner or just sit with a drink while listening to music. 

This place is also popular among locals who come here to watch football matches broadcasted in numerous bars. You’ll find the exact location of this street here.

Istiklal Street Food

Among all the streets in Istanbul, Istiklal Avenue is the leader in a diversity of street food and a number of small cafes selling food on a budget.

It is here where you can try the famous wet hamburger from Kızılkayalar, have a bite of baklava in the oldest pastry shop Hafiz Mustafa from 1864, eat the most delicious doner kebab, or try coffee from one of the oldest coffee shops (the one I mentioned above Mandabatmaz coffee, open since 1967).

wet burger of Istanbul
Famous Istanbul wet burger. If you want to try it, do it on Istiklal as it is here where it first popped up

On Istiklal, you can find pretty much everything – traditional Turkish foods, restaurants with international cuisine, street food, and establishments serving alcohol. But street food scene here is really big. In the evening, there are also vendors selling stuffed mussels.

Throughout the street, you’ll come across numerous döner stands, roasted chestnuts, pide eateries, juice stands, street baklava and lukum, and other treats that help you gain weight, haha.

If you are on a budget, there will be plenty of options where to grab a bite and if you want a place with homemade food, stop by one of the lokantas (there are a few of them, so the choice is big).

Best Restaurants in Istiklal Avenue

The best restaurants in Istanbul are not necessarily located on İstiklal Street, but still there are some very nice restaurants and meyhanes (Turkish-style taverns) where you can have lunch and dinner on this iconic street, even in a romantic setting.

Here are my top recommendations…

– Eleos – Eleos is a beautiful meyhane, located towards the end of İstiklâl Street, where you can enjoy some good Turkish-style tapas -called “meze”- delicious seafood, and of course, drink rakı. It has a terrace, so if you are lucky to find a spot there (you might want to make a reservation at least a few days ahead) you can eat while admiring a breathtaking view of the beautiful Bosphorus (in the distance, but you get to see it!), especially during the sunset.

– Saray Muhallebicisi – Saray Muhallebicisi is a restaurant chain, that has been in operation for almost a century now. It has restaurants all over Istanbul, both on European and Asian sides. It is at heart a dessert place -“Muhallebi” in the name is a type of milk pudding, and “Muhallebicisi” means here the place that makes/serves muhallebi- but here you can also have a Turkish breakfast, as well as meals such as soups and döner kebab.

hidden street with restaurants
Istiklal restaurants

– Parole – Parole is a café & bar & restaurant that sits at a very nice spot on Istiklal Street. Here you can either sit inside or in a small outdoor area that feels like you are sitting on the street itself (which is not actually possible as it is not allowed for restaurants and/or cafés to place chairs outside in İstiklal), so this is about as close you can get to that experience on this street. It has a warm atmosphere and a decent menu. A nice place to have a lunch break while exploring the street.

– Midpoint – A nice restaurant with a relaxed setting and a very rich menu ranging from signature cocktails to children’s dishes to bar snacks, steaks, pastas, and pizzas. Midpoint is another good breakfast/lunch/dinner spot that you can check out if you are in the area. It also has an impressive view of the Bosphorus – not a very rare thing in restaurants in Beyoğlu, admittedly, but always a very welcome sight!

– Hayvore – Located on a side street of Istiklal Avenue near Galatasaray High School, Hayvore is a lovely restaurant where they serve traditional meals from the Black Sea area of Turkey. It is a must-try if you are into different tastes, which are many here- “hamsili pilav” (anchovy rice) and “karalahana çorbası” (savoy cabbage soup) are must-try dishes, among others. Just note that although it looks -and feels- like a modest restaurant, the prices are very high when compared to other average prices of Istanbul.

– Esmer Chef – Although it has a kind of a weird name -meaning “Brunette Chef” in Turkish, and written in half English half Turkish for some reason- and it looks like just a regular, not-so-special restaurant at first glance, Esmer Chef is definitely worth trying, especially if you are a pasta person. They have a very wide selection of pastas, prepared from scratch, and freshly served to your plate.

– Asmalı Mescit Area – Getting its name from a small mosque (“Mescit” means small mosque in Turkish) that was built hundreds of years ago (it is not around anymore), Asmalı Mescit is a small neighborhood with an adjacent street to Istiklal. It is known for its meyhane, and is a great place to have a traditional Turkish rakı night. Asmalı Cavit is more or less the most famous meyhane in the area, but I also recommend Sofyalı 9 and Zeytinli Meyhane – and you can check out others too.

Wondering What Else to Do in the Area Near Istiklal?

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