Last updated on February 3rd, 2024
One of the things that make Istanbul so beautiful is that a lot of different districts and neighborhoods have a unique character of their own, and the contrast of culture and lifestyle between seemingly not-so-distant neighborhoods is always interesting to see. Üsküdar in Istanbul is a good example.
It is more or less ten minutes away from Kadıköy by car, and it is really a different world when you get there. Uskudar is one of those old districts (and also one of the landmarks) so I think it deserves a post of its own for anyone who is interested to see a different part of İstanbul, compared to many other popular places.
Here, you will step back in time and feel the atmosphere of what Istanbul was like during the Ottoman Empire. Until our days the area has retained its original appearance, steadfast in its conservatism. It is here where scholars, dignitaries, and Ottoman elites lived and where numerous mosques and educational institutions were built.
However it may be, this district (which stretches through a big part of the Asian side) was a significant center of Islam during the Ottoman Times. It was the closest sacred land to Mecca as thousands of pilgrims once gathered here to embark on religious journeys.
So, without wasting any time, let’s go through this guide to Üsküdar…
Some of My Tips Before You Go to Uskudar
1.) There are two ways how to explore Uskudar – with a guide or on your own. If you have 4 days in Istanbul (or less) and want to add Uskudar to your itinerary, do it with a guide to maximize time and have a meaningful walk through the neighborhood. There are awesome tours even for people on a budget:
- Introductory Tour to The Asian Side (both Uskudar & Kadikoy) – free tour!
- Uskudar & Kadioy Tour With Lunch – boat ride included as well
- Bosphorus Dinner Cruise – with Turkish Night Show & many points of interest in Uskudar
2.) If you visit on your own, purchase an Istanbul Tourist Pass to save on activities. It includes more than 100 places in Istanbul, including some of those must-have experiences I include below on my list.
3.) If you visit on your own, make a stop at Payedar Kahve coffee shop to taste tea from a Turkish metal teapot – demlik. It tastes somewhat differently than the regular chai. Also, try there San Sebastian cake (amazing!) or any other dessert.
4.) If you want to stay overnight in Uskudar, consider Kuzguncuk or the Bosphorus area near the Maiden Tower. The first location has nice and affordable accommodation and the second one offers excellent views without spending much. Both are close to public transport. Examples:
5.) Rent a car in Uskudar if you plan on car hire in Istanbul. Uskudar local car rental shops often have very good deals, so you don’t need to go to the airport for this service. It will be much faster to rent a vehicle in Uskudar from where you can go on one of the getaways near Istanbul or explore the Balck Sea coast by car. Check prices here.
Quick History of Uskudar in Istanbul
The history of Üsküdar is rich and not always joyful due to the different destructions that took place here.
In the 7th and 8th centuries, when it was a separate city, Uskudar was plundered and destroyed by Persian and Arab warriors. In the early 13th century, the area was occupied by participants of the Fourth Crusade.
Times of the Ottoman Era laid the foundation for the significant commercial importance of Uskudar. A large number of caravanserais and Muslim sanctuaries started to grow in its territory which later created the intersection point of all trade routes in Asia Minor. And from there, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca started to take place.
Until the 20th century, Uskudar was an important trade center but once the Anatolian Railway was built, it lost its significance. Yet until this day, the area of Uskudar remains truly sacred with many marks on the neighborhood’s conservative style with a large number of impressive mosques.
Is Üsküdar Worth Visiting?
Simply put, yes! To explain a bit more, Üsküdar, as I have mentioned in the intro paragraph, is one of the city’s old and iconic districts, with lots to see and do.
It houses a lot of historical treasures and icons of Istanbul (just some of them are The Maiden’s Tower and Beylerbeyi Palace) which I will be mentioning in more detail shortly. Uskudar is quite beautiful and atmospheric, and, of course, it offers some of the best Bosphorus views in the city.
A day at most should be enough to spend in this old neighborhood, but before you go, just keep in mind that this won’t be a trip filled with clubs, bars, and other types of similar entertainment.
Even though alcohol is not restricted here or anything like that (actually all the places I will be recommending in restaurants part serve it), Üsküdar is still a bit of a conservative neighborhood, so it is not really the best place to have that kind of fun or look for a lively nightlife.
Is Uskudar Safe?
Yes, Uskudar is safe, during the day and at night, I can tell you this based on my own experience when I visited it dozens of times during the time I lived in Istanbul.
But you still need to use common sense and be aware of your surroundings, especially when visiting at late hours and when in the busy area around Uskudar Bazaar, Yeni Valide Mosque and Mihrimah Sultan Mosque. While there keep an eye on your belongings and be cautious of pickpocketing. This area attracts lifters.
Also, you need to remember that Uskudar is known for its conservative atmosphere which means that in some parts of the district (particularly in residential areas away from tourist parts), a modest dress code is required.
Being conservative doesn’t have anything to do with safety but to avoid criticisms directed at you (which will be in Turkish but still you don’t need it), it is smart to be mindful of the local culture and traditions when choosing what to wear on a day trip to Uskudar.
Avoid clothing that is too revealing, cover your shoulders and wear skirts and pants that cover the knees even if you don’t plan to go inside religious sites. This is especially important if you are visiting Uskudar at night.
What to Do in Üsküdar on Any Visit
Don’t Miss the Maiden’s Tower
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first…
The Maiden’s Tower is not just the symbol of Üsküdar, it is also one of the most popular symbols of Istanbul, surpassed in popularity maybe only by the Bosphorus Bridge and the Galata Tower.
There is a lore behind it, which I will leave for you to discover if you are interested, as I don’t want to turn this into a history lesson!
All it takes is a simple boat ride to the Tower, and once you are there, surrounded by the waters of the Bosphorus on each side, you will feel mesmerized to be standing on an important piece of history – a small, lonely place in the middle of the sea which was used throughout the years as a watchtower, lighthouse, and even a customs bureau!
Oh, and also, it has a very nice restaurant that is perfect for a calm, romantic dinner.
Look From the Outside & Inside at Mihrimah Sultan Mosque
Close to the Selimiye Mosque lies the Mihrimah Mosque, also known as Iskele. This architectural gem boasts a unique design, featuring a central dome soaring gracefully on arches, adorned with 16 delicately crafted windows. The supporting arches seamlessly transform into three semi-domes, creating a captivating silhouette.
Named after its visionary founder, Mihrimah Sultan, the daughter of the Sultan Suleiman, the construction of the sanctuary began in 1547 under her patronage. A testament to the artistic brilliance of its creator, Mimar Sinan, the mosque boldly incorporates tulip motifs into its decor, a symbolic touch that resonates with floral elegance.
Beyond its architectural splendor, the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque was once a comprehensive complex, housing a hospital, a welcoming courtyard, kitchens for the less fortunate, and an educational institution. Today, only the spiritual school remains there, now repurposed as a health center.
Visitors to the mosque have a chance to explore the tranquil cemetery, where the tombs of Mihrimah Sultan’s two sons, as well as Rustem Pasha’s brother and his son from his first marriage, rest peacefully.
See Unique Şemsi Ahmed Paşa Mosque
Uskudar is all about the mosque and you have to see as many as you can as they all are different.
Şemsi Ahmed Paşa Mosque, for example, is a unique place of worship with an intriguing feature – birds gracefully avoid perching upon it.
Known locally as “Kuskonmaz,” meaning “the mosque untouched by birds,” it has earned its mystique. Yet, the enchantment lies not in the mystical, but in precise architectural mastery.
The genius architect Sinan strategically crafted the mosque, aligning its roof with the convergence point of Bosporus winds. These winds blow with such vigor that birds find it impossible to land on the building.
So I highly recommend you make a stop by this interesting place in Uskudar! It pays homage to Shemsi Ahmed Pasha, a pivotal figure in Ottoman history. For years, Pasha stood as a steadfast companion to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, overseeing the realms of Anatolia and Rumelia.
Have Turkish Tea/Coffee at Çamlıca Tepesi (Çamlıca Hill)
Another popular place to visit in Uskudar, Çamlıca Tepesi is the spot to go to if you want a tasty Turkish coffee or tea against the backdrop of a magnificent city view.
Yes, views of the Bosphorus are plenty in İstanbul, but some are just better than others, and Çamlıca Tepesi is one of those. It is a very nice spot for breakfast as well but keep in mind it might be a bit chilly in Winter as you will be doing some climbing (the ideal would be to go there in Summer).
It is a couple of kilometers away from the Üsküdar center, but some buses go there, and of course you can always rent a cab, which shouldn’t take you too long to get to the entrance.
Climb the Çamlıca Tower for the Best View
Çamlıca Tower is a prominent telecommunications and observation tower that you can see in the left photo. It stands proudly atop Çamlıca Hill not far from Kisikli metro station and one hour (on foot) from Çamlıca Hill.
It serves a dual purpose – first of all as a telecommunications structure, facilitating radio and television transmissions across the city. And second, as an observation tower offering an unparalleled experience to visitors seeking panoramic views of Istanbul.
The construction was a crucial element here which made the tower one of the tallest structures in Istanbul. Its observation decks open up breathtaking vistas (360 degrees view) of Istanbul, the iconic Bosphorus Strait, and the entire European side of the city.
The best way to visit it is on a premium pass experience where you get Camlica Tower entry ticket together with Turkish coffee and dessert and then Turkish breakfast, lunch or dinner, depending on the option you choose.
However, from my own experience, I’d recommend you come here for sunset, so you get to see Istanbul at the golden hour.
Check Out Fethipaşa Korusu
If you feel like getting a bit away from the city and all its hustle, Fethipaşa Korusu, another must-see in Üsküdar (and Istanbul in fact!) will serve you just fine.
Surrounded by pine trees, it is one of the best places in the Anatolian side of Istanbul if you wish to spend some serene time near nature not leaving Istanbul. This a park and garden at the same time with beautiful views which is great for families with kids as well.
Here, there are also places to eat and drink, so actually you can spend an entire day in the area from morning till evening if you like this kind of atmosphere. And, unsurprisingly, it also has a beautiful view of the Bosphorus from above and some of the most stunning sunsets in Istanbul!
Although you can visit the Fethipaşa Korusu in more or less any season, I would say it is understandably most beautiful in Spring, with all the vibrant colors of the flowers and plants surrounding you, making it a very impressive experience – especially if you are a nature lover!
Visit Beylerbeyi Palace
If you feel like you have spent enough time in nature and are now ready to do a bit of a culture trip, you should definitely go see the Beylerbeyi Palace, a very important piece of Ottoman history and always a magnificent spectacle as you will probably notice from the ferry on your trip to Üsküdar.
Made by Sultan Abdulaziz, it is known as a type of summer place for the Ottoman Sultans, as well as a guesthouse opening its doors to important guests from around the world at the time.
The palace is closed to visits only on Mondays, but other than that you can visit it every day of the week for a very small price that is certainly worth it. Just walking its halls and rooms and admiring its architecture (which is a beautiful blend of Eastern and Western schools) is worth going there.
Istanbul tourist pass includes a visit to Beylerbeyi Palace as well as a few other things to do in Uskudar that made this list.
See the Çamlıca Mosque
With a capacity of 63.000 people, Çamlıca Mosque is the biggest mosque in Istanbul. Finished in 2019, it is seven stories long and has six minarets!
Of course, there is no shortage of mosques in İstanbul, and this one is certainly not the most impressive of them by any means. But it is truly one of the most fascinating mosques in the city, which is also a modern one. Other places where you can find mosques of this size are Qatar, UAE, and Saudi Arabia.
In addition, inside of this mosque, you can also find the Museum of Islamic Civilizations, which would be interesting to visit, especially if you are interested in Islamic culture.
Çamlıca mosque is available to visit every day of the week, while the museum is closed only on Mondays. Istanbul Museum Pass doesn’t cover this museum.
The exhibition of the museum is divided into 15 themes covering the period from the 7th to the 19th century, with a total of 600 exhibits. The collection is full of unique items sourced from the Topkapi Palace Museum, the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, and the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum.
Selimiye Military Barracks With a Small Museum
These are special barracks commissioned by Sultan Selim III for the warriors of his army. The Barracks building stands as a robust four-domed structure that some may take as a castle.
During the Crimean War, the grounds of the barracks hosted a British hospital, where the renowned English nurse Florence Nightingale tirelessly dedicated herself. She pioneered the science of caring for the wounded and sick, earning the nickname “The Lady with the Lamp” for her nocturnal rounds with a lantern in hand.
Today, that very lamp is showcased as an exhibit in the Florence Nightingale Museum which is part of the Barracks building, an enclave not casually accessed. Before stepping through its doors, visitors need to make reservations ahead of time preferably over the phone.
If you are not able to book a visit but are still in the area, make a stop in the southern part of Uskudar to take a look at the Selimiye Barracks at least. And then if interested, walk to the burial ground of British servicemen, seamlessly connecting with Istanbul’s oldest cemetery area, Karaköy-Ahmet. Once considered ideal for romantic strolls, this locale attracted illustrious figures such as Lord Byron and Théophile Gautier.
End Your Visit in Kuzguncuk – Unusual & Picturesque Quarter in Uskudar
My favorite part about Uskudar is its colorful non-touristy quarter Kuzguncuk which I highly recommend you to visit as you’ll love it too. It is a neighborhood where the history of Turkish TV series began and a place that became a vibrant setting for photo sessions. Other neighborhoods of such beauty are Balat and Arnavutkoy, both on the European side of Istanbul.
Kuzguncuk is small but so vibrant with picturesque old houses with intricate wooden windows and balconies and cute cozy cafes along its main street Icadiye Street. When you get here, you’ll be like ‘Woohoo’ because it looks so different compared to all other areas of Uskudar. It is not really conservative, yet old.
Besides Mosques, you’ll also find here Catholic and Orthodox Churches together with synagogues as for centuries, people of different nationalities and beliefs have lived peacefully in Kuzguncuk – Greeks, Jews, Armenians, and Turks. On Sundays and during holidays, you can even hear the azan sounds together with the church bell ringing, calling for prayer. Another time I heard a similar music in Sarajevo.
It is easy enough to spend here half a day or even more if you want to slow down with a book in one of its coffee shops, stroll through the backstreets, and spend time by the see on the embankment.
Best Restaurants in Üsküdar
As is the case with almost all the other areas of Istanbul, Üsküdar has some good restaurants to offer as well. Here are some of my favorite ones:
Beylerbeyi Tike Restaurant
Situated right beside the waters of the Bosphorus, Beylerbeyi Tike Restaurant is the perfect place in Üsküdar to have some quality Turkish kebap (and rakı too if you wish). You’ll find it next to Beylerbeyi Palace (mentioned above) which is a good spot where to stop for a meal after the visit.
It is a modest yet elegant establishment with a very warm and welcoming atmosphere, a rich menu of delicious food from Eastern Turkey, and of course, a beautiful Bosphorus view to accompany you throughout your dinner. Keep in mind that it is a very nice place for lunch as well.
Kandilli Borsa Restaurant
Open since mid 2000’s, Kandilli Borsa Restaurant serves a range of tasty selections from Ottoman and Turkish cuisine.
It is a Michelin Guide restaurant, with a privileged spot that oversees the waters of Bosphorus, and it is a very chic place, convenient for a long dinner on a special occasion rather than a casual lunch.
Kandilli Borsa Restaurant also has a bar & lounge section, and a “Paradise Garden”, a beautiful garden with a Bosphorus view that is open in the summer months. You’ll find it right here.
İsmet Baba Fish Restaurant
If you are looking for an old-school Turkish fish joint in Üsküdar, this is the place you should go. İsmet Baba Restaurant is situated just right beside the sea in Kuzguncuk, making you feel like you are actually sitting on the waters, which, the restaurant kinda does!
It is a Meyhane-Turkish tavern place that serves a range of mezes (Turkish-style tapas), delicious seafood, and Turkish rakı together with other drinks too.
It has a very warm, modest, old-school setting that will make you comfortable the minute you set foot inside. The food is good as well as the atmosphere, and (as you would expect) great views of the Bosphorus. Perfect for a long lunch on a lazy weekend day, or of course, dinner.
Filizler Köftecisi is a fantastic meatball place in Üsküdar next to the boardwalk which opens up views of the Maiden Tower.
The term “Köfteci”, meaning “He/she who cooks meatballs” or “meatball restaurant” is used by a lot of different restaurants in Turkey, and this is one from Üsküdar. Though it is officially a meatball place, you can also come here to have a good Turkish breakfast – and for lunch too, obviously.
This location has more casual vibes when compared to the other restaurants on my list (especially the first two), so it is a nice establishment to take a quick break and eat some good food during a busy day of sightseeing and/or shopping in Üsküdar.
And as you probably figured from the first sentence in this section, Filizler Köftecisi has also a Maiden’s Tower & Bosphorus view as it is quite close to the sea! Exact location is here.
How To Get to Uskudar From Different Neighborhoods
Although not the most central place in Istanbul, Üsküdar is located conveniently enough so that you can easily access it from many important places in the city, and, of course, vica versa.
The first mode of transportation that comes to mind in Üsküdar is the ferry, which, with a joyful ride on the waters of Bosphorus, can take you to Üsküdar Ferry Port from popular districts & neighbourhoods such as Kadıköy, Ortaköy (part of Beşiktaş, but not exactly the center), Nisantasi, Eminönü, Beykoz, and Karaköy. From Sultanahmet, you need to reach Eminonu port at first where to catch a ferry to Uskudar.
If you are coming from Beyoğlu (from places like Galata, Cihangir, Taksim, and Karaköy) you can just take the ferry in the Karaköy, which is more or less like walking distance from these areas.
There are also bus, subway, and Marmaray (the underwater subway) options if you wish to reach Üsküdar, so basically it is quite easy to get there.
Shopping in Uskudar
Üsküdar is not a district that people usually visit for a shopping experience, in other words, there is not much in Üsküdar that you cannot really find anywhere else in Istanbul.
Having said that, of course, there are a few shopping malls here, which you might want to check out for not only shopping and/or window shopping but also to have tea or coffee or to eat something.
Here are the major shopping malls in Üsküdar:
- Akasya AVM
- Capitol AVM
- Emaar Square AVM
Have you been to Uskudar in Istanbul yet? Found any other things to do that are worth mentioning? Share in the comments and let me know as well as share how you like this district of Istanbul!