Last updated on September 14th, 2023
Karakoy in Istanbul is one of the most vibrant and vivid neighborhoods that stands out as an ideal spot for tourists.
It boasts centrality, prestige, sophistication, and a bohemian atmosphere in the European part of the city. It also serves as the hub of nightlife, offering upscale accommodations, trendy bars, and immaculate, brightly adorned streets in the European style.
With roots tracing back to the 19th century, Karakoy held the financial pulse of the Ottoman Empire, housing prominent banks and insurance companies that shaped the course of history.
Today, it remains a sought-after destination, a canvas for captivating photographs, and a testament to the neighborhood’s timeless charm.
As you walk along its streets and soak in the echoes of history that linger in its walls, you’ll discover that Karakoy is more than just a neighborhood. It’s like a colorful patchwork blending together culture, heritage, and modern life.
Come with me to explore Karakoy with its waterfront, street food and fine dining restaurants, its nightlife, and interesting things to do. All of them turn this Istanbul area into a must-visit place for anyone with a curious spirit.
Planning a Trip to Karakoy Soon?
Here are my top tips & recommendations to plan a trip quickly!
Top Hotels Where to Stay in Karakoy for All Budgets
- Casa Rosa Suits (for nightlife, yet best for a quiet stay)
- FAMA Karakoy (best location)
- ADA Hotel (boutique on a budget)
- Nomad Hostel (for a very tight budget, excellent reviews)
- Ferman Port Hotel (upscale in 14th century building)
Tours from Karakoy Not to Miss
- Sunset Boat Cruise with Snacks (and audioguide)
- Tour of the Galata District (walking distance from Karakoy)
- European & Asian Sides Tour (with the most famous spots)
Other Useful Resources
- Turkey E-Visa for individuals – check if you need it before flying to Istanbul
- Taxi/private transfer to Karakoy – from any airport
- Cheapest Istanbul Car Hire – if you want to explore on your own outside the city
- Istanbul Pocket WiFi – unlimited 4G Internet
- Istanbul City Transport Card – saves money on buses, metro, trams & ferries
- Istanbul Museum Pass – skip the line at the most famous sights
FAQs About Karakoy in Istanbul
Why is Karakoy Istanbul So Popular?
Shortly speaking – because it is one of those special neighborhoods in Istanbul that blends historical charm and modern vibrancy.
Karakoy has an impressive maritime heritage, artistic ambiance, delectable cuisine, and close proximity to some of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks. People love coming here for different reasons but what unites them all is that visiting Karakoy gives that special feeling which differs from a feeling after visiting other neighborhoods of Istanbul.
One of the biggest reasons that make Karakoy special is undeniably its history. Many people think that the old part of Istanbul Sultanahmet is the place where they can find all the history. But the reality is – many neighborhoods are historically rich with their own flavor. And Karakoy is one of those neighborhoods.
It hosts some of the most fascinating histories in Istanbul as well as a couple of famous churches, mosques, synagogues, and even a school that belong to different sects and religions. Many of them still stand and even today, you can feel this maritime heritage in every corner.
The bottom line is that you will have the opportunity to see unique and different historical structures from many civilizations all together in one small neighborhood and before (or after that) have a cup of coffee, eat delicious food, and even join a party in these historic structures. That’s why it brings me to the next point – you should definitely visit Karakoy when you are in Istanbul.
Is It Worth Visiting Karakoy If You Are Not Staying Anywhere Near?
Absolutely, especially considering how centrally located this neighborhood is. Reaching it from any part of Istanbul is easy since it is well connected with the entire city thanks to different modes of transportation.
Even though small, it has an abundance of architectural and historical landmarks.
Since Karaköy is located on the border of the Bosphorus Strait and the Golden Horn Bay, it has been revered by representatives of the merchant class throughout many centuries, including Jews who fled here from Spain in the 1500s and then the Greek and Armenian minority. All of them left their trace on the way Karakoy looks and feels today.
The active development of the district began during the Byzantine era when Genoese merchants settled and traded in this region and turned the neighborhood into a maritime trade center which today became the largest transportation hub in Istanbul.
Nowadays, Karakoy is in transformation and attracts attention with its rise, impresses with its cafes and restaurants in different concepts. I find it impressive how Karakoy has managed to maintain its historic charm while also embracing modernity.
Its transformation into an artistic and creative hub is admirable and has brought a new vibrancy to the neighborhood. The abundance of art galleries, design studios, and trendy boutiques is a testament to the creativity and innovation that Karakoy fosters. It’s wonderful to see a neighborhood thriving in such a way.
Is It Worth Staying in Karakoy?
Yes and yes!
Karakoy is one of the best neighborhoods in Istanbul where to stay for tourists. It is a central, prestigious, a bit bohemian, yet inexpensive. The best part about it is that it’s the epicenter of nightlife (very different from Taksim) with good hotels, trendy bars, and vibrant European-style streets.
I always recommend my tourists who are visiting Istanbul for the first time to choose Karakoy or Sultanahmet as a base. If this is your return visit but you haven’t seen much of Istanbul yet, I also recommend considering Karakoy as a place where to stay, especially if you are tired of mosques and Ottoman palaces.
Karakoy’s strategic location, which provides easy access to several iconic Istanbul landmarks, is the number one reason to add this neighborhood to your list of best places to stay in Istanbul.
You can conveniently reach the historic Sultanahmet area from Karakoy, where the magnificent Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace await.
Additionally, you can take a romantic stroll to the famous Cihangir or Galata Tower neighborhood, another historic neighborhood with panoramic views and hilly streets. Or go to other areas all on foot, including Eminonu, and even all the way to Balat and Fener if time allows.
It’s clear that Karakoy makes for an exceptional starting point to explore Istanbul’s major attractions. And it’s perfect for any type of traveler, even for families with kids as there are some quiet streets away from bars and nightlife.
Karakoy on a Map – What to Know
Karakoy neighborhood in Istanbul is small but it connects with other neighborhoods such as Galata, Cihangir, Kabatas where it can be difficult to distinguish exact borders.
Google maps show the boundaries of Karakoy only partially not including the entire Karakoy waterfront area that ends near the ROKA restaurant. Also, it doesn’t include the Fish Market and Sahil Park here.
That area between the two bridges (Ataturk Bridge and Galata bridge) below the main Tersane road is also Karakoy. It has some incredible fish restaurants and nice (rather cheap) accommodation options with views of Golden Horn and Eminonu, like Roya Rooms for example.
Things to Do in Karakoy On Any Visit
If you’re planning a trip to Karakoy in Istanbul, there are some must-see attractions you simply can’t miss! From exploring its rich history to indulging in its culinary delights, there’s something for everyone in Karakoy.
You basically shouldn’t miss out on this chance to immerse yourself in the culture and art of one of Istanbul’s most fascinating areas!
Spend Time on Karakoy Waterfront & Galataport
I want to start my list of the best things to do in Karakoy with its recent addition Galataport which became part of the Karakoy waterfront.
It is truly a marvel, with the capacity to dock three cruise ships at once and a state-of-the-art underground cruise terminal that gives you an uninterrupted view of the breathtaking Bosphorus.
There is also a promenade, which stretches for 1.2 km along with cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops, in total 250 of them together. Next to it is the city’s historical heritage buildings such as Paket Postanesi post office, the Merkez Han and Çinili Han commercial spaces, and the Karaköy Yolcu Salonu building.
Once you enter the Karakoy waterfront, make sure to take a lovely stroll along its promenade and discover the magnificent Galataport. You’ll see there the picturesque Golden Horn on one side and Bosphorus on another one with the bustling boats surrounding you on the waterfront.
Galataport is a great place where also to enjoy exceptional outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment experiences. Depending on the time of the year when you are there, there is a chance to attend some events. Find out about them on Galataport’s website.
Try Local Street Food on the Karakoy Waterfront
Once on the waterfront of Karakoy (it starts near the Karakoy Pier and continues to the Ataturk Bridge as you can see here), you should also experience the love of Istanbul’s renowned street food culture.
And number one thing to do is to treat yourself to the mouthwatering delight of a freshly grilled fish sandwich garnished with crisp lettuce and onions. You’ll see a few vendors selling it along the waterfront. Try it from anyone you wish.
I also highly recommend the street food stall located across from Namlı Gurme near the ‘Galata’s 4-star’ hotel for the most delicious fish sandwiches (on the second street away from the waterfront). However, please keep in mind that the stall is only open in the evenings.
Another option is the restaurant Balıkçı Tufan (my favorite), which is also known for its tasty fish sandwiches. Give them a try and see which one you like most!
Among other street foods to try in Karakoy are chestnuts, boiled or grilled corn (I tried it in many places and the best one was in Karakoy and Sultanahmet), simit, and meet or liver dürüm.
Make a Stop at Karakoy Gulluoglu Baklava
While you are in the Karakoy, you should also treat yourself to the most iconic and mouthwatering traditional Turkish dessert baklava at Gulluoglu Baklava.
This well-known bakery is the top destination to savor baklava and other traditional desserts in Istanbul and one of the best in all of Turkey. The bakery has a delicious variety of sweet pastries crafted with layers of flaky pastry, nuts, and syrup.
There are two locations (one near the waterfront and another one a bit farther away here) but both are equally great.
Pop Into a French Passageway
Karakoy was a bustling trade hub, attracting foreign merchants and ambassadors to Istanbul. Karakoy and Galata were one of the first places travelers to Istanbul would arrive, and they would traverse streets named after their home countries.
This is how the French Passageway, one of such places, appeared in this area. Constructed in the 1800s, it is a shining example of this rich travel history of the past.
Simply, the French Passageway brought together French sailors and merchants and got its name from this. Its design and atmosphere are a testament to the diverse cultural landscape of Ottoman times, and it captivates modern-day visitors with its stunning architecture and scenery.
When you’re in Karakoy, you should come and visit here. Have a cup of coffee or eat your lunch in one of French Passageway’s fancy cafes and restaurants while seeing the unique style of the neighborhood and looking at the classic French-style architecture of the passageway.
Walk Along the Umbrella Street
Umbrella Street is a vibrant and colorful installation that features a canopy of hanging umbrellas above this street in Karakoy where Parsa Coffee Roasters cafe is. The umbrellas create a beautiful and whimsical sight, providing shade and adding a lively atmosphere to the area.
But the entire street is overall one photogenic location with a few unusually looking colorful cafes. Adjacent to this street are other streets with no less quirky coffee houses, cozy shops, and galleries (as you can see in my photos). And it is from here that you can walk into the world’s first baklava factory – Gulluoglu that I mentioned above.
In order to take beautiful photos here without people in the background, come in the early morning (it will be easy to do if you are staying in Karakoy) or simply when traveling outside the busy season, for example in winter in Istanbul or even in the spring. Another popular attraction in the area is the numerous graffiti.
Check Out the Istanbul Modern Museum in the Heart of Karakoy
I know that not many people may appreciate the idea of visiting a museum of modern art when in Istanbul, considering how many museums of Ottoman heritage are in the city.
But this museum is quite special, in some ways reminding of artsy projects in the Expo exhibition in Dubai.
Istanbul Modern Museum is Turkey’s first modern art museum that plays a vital role in the transformation of Karakoy today and in balancing the neighborhood’s historic charm with modern art.
It offers a beautiful waterfront setting and helps artists establish international collaborations. You’ll find there collections and exhibits of modern and contemporary works in various fields, including design, architecture, photography, new media, and cinema.
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Even if you are not really into modern art, still come to Istanbul Modern Museum when in Karakoy at least for a quick visit.
First, because this is the best modern art museum in Istanbul with a unique approach. Second, its rooftop terrace provides amazing views of the Bosphorus and Asian side of Istanbul.
Salt Galata & Ottoman Bank Museum
While not directly in Karakoy (it is already in the Galata neighborhood), it is still a major Karakoy thing to do as the location is near.
Salt Galata, located on Bankalar Caddesi (Banks’ Street), is a true masterpiece of architecture. The French-born architect Alexandre Vallauri did an outstanding job designing the building in 1892 for Bank-ı Osmanî-i Şahane (Ottoman Bank), which still stands as a unique structure in Istanbul today.
The combination of neoclassical and orientalist architectural styles on the front and rear faces is simply breathtaking.
One of the most fascinating things about Salt Galata is its safe that can you can enter and visit in the Ottoman Bank Museum, which is now located in the basement. It’s truly amazing to see this historical safe up close and personal.
Additionally, the Ottoman Bank Museum is home to one of Turkey’s most interesting official archives and exhibitions, including Ottoman banknotes, instructions from palace officials, and photographs of bank branches. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in history and culture, including families with kids visiting Karakoy.
See Karakoy’s Places of Worship
The Karakoy neighborhood is truly remarkable, boasting a rich multicultural history that is reflected in its many places of worship. The stunning architecture of these religious sites is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
While it would take a full day to visit them all, the Aya Nikola Church, St. Gregory Lusavorich, Orthodox Armenian Church, Saint Pierre Church, Church of SS Peter and Paul, Crimean Memorial Church, Arabian Mosque, and Kılıç Ali Pasha Mosque are among the most breathtaking and definitely worth visit destinations.
Relax at Kilic Ali Pasha Turkish Bath (Hammam)
Kılıç Ali Pasha Hammam is one of the masterpieces of the well-known architect Mimar Sinan. Established in 1580 it belongs to the mosque Kilic Ali Pasha with the school and mausoleum nearby it.
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This is one of the best hammams in Istanbul as well as one of the best places where to de-stress. It is a haven for those seeking an authentic and immersive hammam experience.
Kilic Ali Pasha Turkish bath features a grand dome that allows sunlight to flood its interiors, creating a majestic ambiance. Even if you don’t plan to enter to soak your senses, the building itself has still a unique charm and allure making it a must-see destination in Karakoy.
See an Underground Mosque Yeralti Camii
There is one unique, I’d say truly a hidden gem place in Istanbul that not many people know about. And this place is Yeraltı Camii underground mosque located right in the heart of the Karakoy neighborhood.
It used to have a tower during the Byzantine era which held significant strategic importance and served as an observation point from where it was possible to monitor the movement of ships. Some resources say it was even connected with underground passages to a Galata Tower.
Descending into this mosque will bring you into a labyrinth of dark narrow passages with the remains of soldiers and two Muslim saints Abu Sufyan and Amiri Wahibi who died during the first Arab siege of the city in 714.
It is also interesting to see a low vaulted hall inside the mosque supported by massive wide columns, small compartments for individual prayer, and the mausoleum of fallen Arab warriors illuminated by green lanterns.
Walk From Karakoy to the Galata Tower
Here is one more place on my list which is not directly in the Karakoy neighborhood, but you can (and should!) conveniently access it via a short and pleasant stroll from anywhere in Karakoy.
Galata Tower is undoubtedly one of Istanbul’s most remarkable and iconic landmarks with a nice view of the city. If you are visiting Istanbul on a quick trip and base yourself in Karakoy, do not miss a walk to Galata Tower which is also on the UNESCO World Heritage Temporary List. Visit it for a bit of history and views.
While it is not really my favorite place where to go for views in Istanbul, I’ll still admit that there is something indescribably special about watching out at the breathtaking 360-degree panoramic view from the top of the 72-meter-high tower, which by the way has stood tall since the 6th century during the Genoese era.
An incredible feat of human ingenuity and courage occurred in 1630 when Ottoman aviator Hazerfen Çelebi flew from the tower’s peak to Uskudar with wings he had made himself, and that is also one of the events that made Galata Tower a special place.
Karakoy, being a vibrant neighborhood in Istanbul, is not only known for its historical charm and bustling daytime activities I mentioned above but also for its lively and diverse nightlife scene.
During the day, Karakoy streets are bustling with activity, and there’s so much to see and do. But it’s at night when Karakoy truly comes alive. From some trendy bars and rooftop lounges to nice nightclubs and live music venues, the neighborhood offers an incredible variety of entertainment options for night owls seeking unforgettable experiences.
You can find Istanbul’s some of the most breathtaking rooftop restaurants, cafes, and bars in Karakoy. Just some of them to mention are Zindan cafe with live music, Rooftail Galata, Restaurant 24 at georges Hotel Galata, and The Bank Roof Bar. These places not only offer panoramic views but also serve up excellent cocktails, delectable dishes, and a sophisticated atmosphere that sets the mood for a night to remember.
If you’re looking for a classic pub experience in Karakoy, the options are ample. FINN, Hunhar, and Cheers Karakoy are just some great choices, where you can enjoy a vast selection of beers, spirits, and lively conversations.
For a more upscale setting, choose Karakoy The Wolf Irish Pub which also has its brewery and fine music venue (sometimes offering live music performances) with a lively bar scene that’s hard to resist.
Once you’re ready to call it a night, Karakoy’s street food stalls and late-night eateries are the perfect way to satisfy your cravings. The street vendors offer delicious doner kebabs and Kokorec, while Karakoy Lokantasi is a great choice for traditional Turkish dishes served until the early hours of the morning.
Karakoy Restaurant Scene
Food lovers have a ton of reasons to visit Karakoy! As I mentioned above with some examples of great street food places and pubs, this neighborhood is a gastronomic paradise.
Karaköy has also successfully blended historic charm and modern excitement in terms of food culture. There are not only traditional Turkish restaurants but also many modern fusion dining establishments, coffee shops, and some international cuisines. So you can indulge in delectable flavors and explore both local and international culinary experiences.
Here is a quick list of my favorite best restaurants in Karakoy but if you need more places beyond Karakoy, check out my guide to where to eat in Istanbul:
- Fasuli Galataport – famous for a signature dish made of beans. In the menu you’ll find it by the name “Meşhur Akif Usta’nın Dünyaca Ünlü Kuru Fasulyesi”
- Kapi Karakoy – they have the best grilled lamb and beef
- FINN – during the day it is a restaurant with delish traditional Turkish dishes but during the night is it a bar with a wide selection of cocktails and a dance floor
- Chez Moi Karakoi – offers a choice between French cuisine on the lower floors and a Turkish tavern (meyhane) experience on the upper floors and terrace
- Güllüoğlu Baklava – here you’ll find signature baklava in Istanbul, produced since 1800 in a nice restaurant setting
As you can see, Karakoy Istanbul is that place where you can easily spend the whole day in Istanbul or even more!
It is a fantastic area where to stay for anyone, including families with children and people with disabilities since there are no hills here which makes it easy to move in wheelchairs and with strollers.
Karakoy also has a great transport hub which helps to travel to other parts of Istanbul with ease, especially distant ones like Arnavutkoy or Uskudar, for example!
Where Else to Go in Istanbul
- Most beautiful places to visit near Istanbul – cities, villages, beaches & nature spots
- Posh Nisantasi – shopping center of Istanbul
- Areas in Istanbul that are better to avoid – know where to go & where not to
- My guide to Burgaz island – avoid the crowds and visit the best beaches in Istanbul on this island
- Beach destinations from Istanbul – if you feel like getting outside the city
- Weekend Getaway Places from Istanbul – where to go for 2 or 3 days near Istanbul
More Turkey Guides to Plan a Trip
- Istanbul or Antalya – how to decide which one to visit first
- Turkey in December – what to expect from this month
- One Week in Turkey Itinerary – 4 different routes packed with activities
- Hot Springs to Visit in Turkey – including those close to Istanbul
- Honeymoon in Turkey – with the top places where to go
- Turkey Travel Guide – all my posts about Turkey in one place!