Top 10 Things to Do in Istanbul’s Asian Side
Originally published by Farah in April 2020 and Updated by Ruth in July 2022
Istanbul, the city situated between the East and the West, straddles the Bosphorus Strait that divides it geographically. With an estimated population of about 15 million inhabitants, it is the city that never sleeps. If you have a few days in this huge city, then check out the top 10 things to do here!
With the historical and commercial districts on the European side, many forget it’s Asian half. This area is largely residential and suburban. Moreover, It’s also much smaller when compared to the European districts which extends much further. Nonetheless, it’s jam-packed with great restaurants, a walkable seaside promenade, sprawling neighbourhood markets in the main Kadıköy district.
Explore each of Kadıköy’s neighbourhoods to discover some local gems. Many inhabitants from other parts of Istanbul come to this district for its popular spots to shop, eat and party. The area has tons of options for all budgets, both for accommodation and food.
1. Spend a Lazy Day in Moda
Sipping tea or enjoying a Turkish coffee with a book in Moda is a great way to spend a day away! The right place to do so is the Moda Tea Garden with a great view. It’s enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
Weekends are especially busy with people enjoying the outdoors. You can grab a great Turkish breakfast at one of the many great breakfast spots such as Naan Bakeshop and Moda Van Kahvaltı. Later, take a nice stroll to the Moda Pier jutting out into the sea.
Moda has a great mix of old architecture and religious sites, as many Ottoman minorities settled in the area. When you pass by Ali Usta Ice Cream Shop, you’ll be amazed to find Sarıca Paşa Köşkü, a stone mansion from the 1900s that’s still inhabited by descendants of the original owner. Mansions with some great architectural features can be found throughout the area so be on the lookout.
If you have a sweet tooth, there seems to be way too many options in Moda. You can head to the extremely popular Chocolate Shop and Asuman. Both stores are great for a romantic date. It seems that choices in Moda are endless.
Moda is not only Kadıköy’s multicultural neighbourhood but also Istanbul’s sweet spot!
2. Ride the Nostalgic Tram
There are two nostalgic trams in Istanbul and one is located in Kadıköy. It loops around and takes you to Moda, the multicultural neighbourhood loved by artists, students and young people.
You could, of course, walk there but take a trip down memory lane with an old tramway! There are barely 20 seats inside but it takes you along one of the busiest intersections. Then, you get to travel the neighbourhood’s smaller streets and it brings you back in around 30 minutes.
If it’s your first time in Istanbul, then it’s something you should experience. The route is different than the Istiklal-Taksim tramway as that one’s just one long straight line. Here you get to see the busy downtown area and then go up to the famous Bull statue.
From here, as you move into Bahariye, you’ll see wonderful local boutiques and coffee shops. The Sureyya Opera House is unmissable to your left. It’s home to Istanbul’s Opera and Ballet Company.
Further up the route, you’ll see some great architecture and religious places of worship. Small coffee shops have opened on the street level of old buildings. One hole in the wall cafe is Fika. Have some great coffee here with some delightful Scandinavian desserts. Back on the tram, you’ll be brought back towards the sea to Moda Park. A ride downhill towards the port/metro area will bring you towards the main bazaar.
Get off at the Mosque (Cami) stop, and you’ll soon see the metro and ferry stations. Additionally, you’ll also see a Starbucks which has turned into a place to meet up with friends before you go elsewhere.
Roam the small streets here and enjoy the milieu. Then, try some snacks at the Beyaz Fırın bakery or get some shopping done. There are also second-hand book shops near Akmar Alley for you to discover!
3. Taste the Cuisine
In the main Kadıköy area, there are endless food and drinks venues for you to discover. Some are established institutions while others have gained popularity in the last few years.
Located near the Osmanağa mosque, the main local market is sure to entice you with its fish, fresh fruits and vegetables. Shopkeepers tend to invite tourists in with tasting of local specialities such as pickles, olives, cheese and honey.
There’s an endless list of food and drinking establishments in the area. Among them are Aida, Hayalperest, Borsam Taşfırın, Basta! Street Food, and Viktor Levi’s Wine House.
Great Turkish breakfast with pişi at Küff Bahariye is a great choice, for instance. Give Eastern Turkey-style (from the city of Van) breakfast a chance at Van Kahvalti Evi in Moda. You can try some Turkish street food!
It comes with unlimited tea and stuffed flatbread called gözleme. Finish your big breakfast with a great Turkish coffee here, served in decorated cups.
Mouth-watering regional and Anatolian village dishes can be had at Çiya Sofrası (of Netflix’s Chef’s Table fame). A unique dessert called Kup Griye at Baylan Patisserie will be the best way to end your foodie adventure.
A number of established venues are sure to entertain you on a night out. Find them on or near Bar Street, for example. Arkaoda, Ayı and Zeplin are some famous names.
Given the popularity of K-pop music with the youngsters in Turkey, it seems there are a few new Korean restaurants in the area. If that’s something you want to try in Turkey, then there’s Desserts Café Cheongdo behind the Sureyya Opera. Koreköy Restaurant, however, is on the other side of Söğütlü Çeşme Street.
Vegetarians and vegans are not left behind at Tonton Efendi and at Muhtelif Mekân, where you can have a meal with cats!
4. Check out the Architecture in Yeldeğirmeni Neighbourhood
A now gentrified bohemian neighbourhood with hip cafés, bakeries with delicious bread and old historical buildings, the Yeldeğirmeni area is a great way to spend an afternoon away.
The neighbourhood was where Sultan Abdulhamid I built windmills (hence the name in Turkish) to grind flour. Since the 1800s however, the area has become more residential.
The street opposite the Haydarpaşa Terminal Station is where you should start your day, aptly named Port (Iskele) street. You’ll find some great wooden houses on this street. The uphill roads into the neighbourhood bare witness to some old colourful residential buildings built side by side. Today, they’ve been converted to hotels, hole-in-the-wall cafés and kindergartens.
Later, discover some wooden architecture of old Istanbul, small parks and many religious sites in this neighbourhood. Small streets with some colourful historical buildings, great big murals and art galleries will keep you occupied here for quite some time.
5. Go Mural Hunting
Kadıköy has a number of great murals that are commissioned by the municipality. You’ll find them in some surprising places!
Most were painted by international artists. Some murals are depictions of local street life, in cars and tramways, street signs and the view that one encounters when you walk down steep hills towards the sea in some parts of the main Kadıköy area.
These scenes become so familiar to you — an integral part of your daily routine. On the other hand, dingy building façades are transformed into imaginative scenes. With flying saucers and alien beings, they help you escape the daily grind.
Find some of the art in the Ayrılık Çeşmesi area of the neighbourhood. Others are in small parks and parking lots or sprinkled around the busy central shopping district.
Walk all the way from Rıhtım street to Reşit Efendi Street and you’ll see some of them. Most are near the Municipality’s Population Office as well as the Main Municipal Government Office near the Metro Bus station.
6. Shopping on Bağdat Avenue
A long street with many options stretching from the Söğütlü Çeşme area all the way to Maltepe, Bağdat avenue is around 15 kilometres long.
However, the main shopping area is one way. This tree-lined part is great for shopping at international and local brands. In between, you can rest your feet at great bars, restaurants and coffee joints.
The Göztepe area here has a huge park. During the spring/summer months, the park has flowers, especially tulips in full bloom for the Istanbul Tulip Festival.
Alternatively, you can head to the seaside area which is great for a jog or a leisurely stroll. From the Migros supermarket heading north, you can try a few drinks at the cobblestoned Caddebostan street which is this area’s Bar Street.
7. Explore Historical sites in Üsküdar
The Üsküdar area has a big concentration of historical imperial residences such as the Beylerbeyi Palace and religious sites like the newly constructed Çamlıca mosque.
At the port, you can witness the spectacular mosque of Mihrimah Mosque complex by the imperial architect Mimar Sinan. It is beautifully decorated inside in colourful patterns with stained glass windows prominent throughout.
Old mosques and completely new ones are far too common in this area. Another mosque complex is the Yeni Valide Mosque and Şemsi Ahmet Paşa mansion a few minutes away. Both are great examples of classical Ottoman architecture. Later, explore the newly built Ottoman coffeehouse/library venue Nevmekan. It was constructed by the Turkish government and it’s worth a visit.
Kuzguncuk in the north has some great examples of old wooden houses. Some are now occupied by colourful bistros and cafés. It’s become a popular place for Instagrammers.
8. Maiden’s Tower
A well-known landmark of Istanbul visible from the sea is the Maiden’s Tower. Located on a small islet in the Bosphorus, it’s easy to spot while you ferry across the city. It mysterious name is connected to quite a few legends.
Today, it’s an important tourist attraction in Istanbul with a small museum and top-floor restaurant. It can be a romantic option for dinner. Take a boat from the Üsküdar seaside costing around 30 liras, and try to go before the sun sets.
At night, the tower is brightly lit and is a great setting for sunset at the Bosphorus. You can see the Sultanahmet Mosque and the Galata Tower in the distance. Later, back in Üsküdar, grab a seat at the waterfront promenade, where you can sip your tea and enjoy the panoramic view at this beautiful spot.
9. Visit the Beykoz Area
When you visit Beykoz, walk on Körfez street as that’s the roadside entrance to many waterfront mansions. The survival of the many architectural gems in this area such as the waterfront wooden mansions (called yalı ) from Ottoman times is important to the preservation of cultural heritage of the city.
A fortress located above the Göksu Creek called the Anadolu fortress (Anadolu Hisar) is even older than the conquest of Constantinople. Although the castle is inaccessible to the public today, the area and its port offer a few architectural delights. A few restaurants in the river mouth offer some unique views of the Bosphorus.
Next, south of the fortress, you see the 17th-century Neo-Baroque Ottoman waterfront pavilion called Kücüksü Kasrı. With a great view of the first bridge, this Ottoman summer residence offers entry for 20 liras.
Find elegantly decorated rooms with influences from Western European architecture and Rococo art here. The façade with its stone relief and an imposing Baroque stairway all showcase the grandeur and status of its earlier imperial inhabitants.
10. A Ferry to the Princes’ Islands
A relaxing day walking on the Bostancı seaside will bring you to a few great cafés in this lesser-known part of the Asian side. From here, you can access the big island of the Princes’ Islands group in the Sea of Marmara. Escape for the day here and enjoy Istanbul, free of cars and noise, for instance.
The islands were settled by wealthy Greek and Armenian residents and continue to offer an escape from the chaos of mainland Istanbul.
Princes’ Islands is time well-spent, so opt for the weekdays if you plan to go. Pack a picnic ahead and you’ll be able to enjoy the visit even more. Additionally, there are a few gems at the big island: churches, horse-drawn carriages and Ottoman homes. In Büyükada, take a hike up to Aya Yorgi Church or rent a bike to go around the island and experience some great scenery.
11. Take a Photo at the Kadikoy Bull Statue
The Kadikoy Bull Statue is one of the most iconic locations on the Asian side of Istanbul. Located at a busy crossroads where six roads intersect, the statue is a popular meeting point for locals and tourists alike.
Originally created by the French sculptor Isidore Bonheur in 1864, the statue came to Istanbul in 1917. It wasn’t until 1990, however, that the statue arrived at its current location.
This is a popular attraction and there is usually a long line of people waiting to pose with Istanbul’s most famous bull.
12. Stroll to the Kadıköy Lighthouse
Located near Kadikoy’s ferry terminal at the southern entrance to the Bosporus Strait, the Kadikoy Lighthouse is a quiet place to escape Istanbul’s notorious crowds.
The lighthouse provides a great view of the Sultanahmet area on the European side of the city. It is also a fabulous location from which to watch the sunset.
The lighthouse can be reached by walking along Kadikoy’s coastal area and onto a concrete wall that juts into the Bosphorus.
13. Shopping on Bahariye Street
Bahariye Street is another bustling area of Kadikoy that is filled with restaurants and cafes, along with some trendy stores. The street begins at the Bull Statue and follows the Kadıköy-Moda tram line all the way to the Moda neighborhood.
If you’re planning to go shopping, this is a good place to start. Also on Bahariye Street is the famous Süreyya Opera House. Another great place to go shopping in Kadikoy is Bağdat Avenue, further to the south.
14. Visit the Haydarpaşa Train Station
Nestled on the edge of Kadikoy’s harbor, the Haydarpaşa Train Station is a famous historical landmark with a grand neo-classical façade. The building has drawn thousands of visitors since its construction in 1909.
Haydarpaşa was the busiest train station in all of Turkey until 2012. Since that time, railway traffic was suspended due to the construction of the Marmaray commuter rail line.
In 2021, the Train Station was undergoing renovation. Even though the exterior was covered in construction materials, it was easily one of the most magnificent buildings on the harbor.
15. Explore Akmar Passage
Akmar Passage is just the place for you if you enjoy reading books and like listening to heavy metal music.
This narrow passage just south of Kadikoy Market is lined with hundreds of independent booksellers. Here, you can find tomes for sale on every possible subject.
The bottom floor also includes a few music shops that specialize in heavy metal music. Both of these activities combined are what gives this passage its special charm.