To analogize Istiklal Street for you, imagine a heart. It is made of four chambers, with blood circulating inside. Istiklal Street is one of those chambers and Istanbul is the entire human body. Now a question arises, what is the blood? Well, the blood are the tourists. They are the ones exploring—running through the body (i.e. Istanbul) and the heart (major tourist sites) such as Istiklal Street, Galata Tower, Hagia Sophia, and Grand Bazaar. Last week, you roamed around Galata Tower; today, you’ll enter another heart’s chamber—Istiklal Street.
The Adventure Starts at Beyoğlu Tram Stop
You’ve just ended your walk on a hilly narrow road that brought you from Karaköy, heading north toward Taksim, passed Galata Tower and now you arrived at one end of Istiklal Street. You pause a moment and inspect the pace where the intersection happens—between Istiklal Street and the Galata Tower shopping road. There is a small tram station called Beyoğlu that leaves from there and heads north. From what you notice, it seems like it follows Istiklal Street, steering straight for Taksim Square. You’re Jobe is to follow the tracks as they carve through Istiklal Street, splitting the street into two sides. After a brief look around, you head north, passing the intersection and entering Istiklal Street.
The first thing you notice is that Istiklal Street is not a regular street. There are no cars because no road or street exists. Only pedestrians such as yourself are on the clean, cobble street. One the sides there are shops, many of them. Most of them are food shops, but you believe there more up ahead as you notice a man carrying Nike bags. There are mini gardens and chairs for people to enjoy and take a rest on. On the side, you see a handful of police men and women. They have small police cars parked nearby.
Now, depending on the day and time of year you’re visiting, you’ll either find Istiklal Street crowded or really crowded. It’s never slow or with little tourists. There are always people around and exploring, just like the heart never takes a rest from the blood flow.
As you’re walking, you keep turning left and right, window shopping. Each store has different foods, sweets, teas, and items. Some stores are very colorful, popping out to the eye. They stand out, pulling your gaze away from other stores and toward itself.
At one point during your walk, your eyes want to a very high-end desserts shop called Mado. A man stands outside and greets people walking by. You move closer, wanting to listen to his greeting. His voice is very soft, pleasant and alluring. He speaks English, so you understand every word he says.
“Hello! How are you my friend? Welcome to Mado! Welcome to Istiklal Street. I love you!”
You give him your best smile and continue walking. Although you left, you cannot but help maintain a positive mood within yourself. The good mood from the man rubbed off onto you.
There are more shops that are high-end with a few coffee shops. You recognize a coffee shop named Nero. Some side roads and streets begin presenting themselves. These side streets lead to more shops but they’re not popular with tourists so you avoid them for the most part and enjoy the atmosphere that Istiklal Street leaves you with. At one point, you begin smelling the scents of food—Kebab, Döner, and even Hazelnuts. Then the scent changes to sweets of baclava and Turkish delights.
Your eyes, with the help of your nose, search for its location. Where is the baclava? Your eyes search a bit longer and then pinpoint the location. The best baclava in Istanbul and Turkey—Hafiz Mustafa. Many locals boast about the place and agree that there is no better place to purchase baclava than there. You look below the sign and see that it was founded in 1864. Most likely the oldest shop here.
Istiklal Street’s Sent Antuan Kilisesi
You continue forward and then spot a small alley that takes a right. But before you reach there to see what it may contain, your eyes are drawn to the large amount of people who are entering the tunnel-like alley. The people are not locals. You recognize them as tourists from the looks on their faces.
This could only mean one thing. There must be a landmark or a touristic site in there.
As you inch closer, you continue guessing at the gem that lies inside the tunnel-like alley. First think that appears to mind is your answer is only one click away via your phone’s Google Map. But there is no fun in that. You gaze above the stories and try to have a peak. Maybe the landmark will tower over the stores. No, the large Nike store covers three stories. You cannot guess at it, but you arrive at the area—no more waiting.
You turn around and enter through the small entrance/alley—following the crowd of people. It’s almost like a tunnel for a few feet and then it opens up to a large open courtyard. The sun shines inside like a beacon. As you search the courtyard, you cannot miss the main attraction. It stares at you the moment you pass through the tunnel-like alley. It pulls your eyes’ gaze the moment you passed through, but you’ve been resisting so that you could inspect the courtyard first. But your eyes cannot wait any longer. They must feast on the beautiful, imposing, Neo-Gothic-Style church. You find its name: Sent Antuan Kilisesi.
The courtyard is filled with tourists, each person wanting a picture with Sent Antuan Kilisesi. You pull your phone, snap a few pictures and ask a lady to take a few pictures of yourself with Sent Antuan Kilisesi looking down at you. You’re not much of a picture person, but since you’re surrounded by everyone there, you cannot help but feel the pressure of getting some pictures of yourself with Sent Antuan Kilisesi in the background, looking at you.
Arriving at Taksim Square
Leaving through the small, short tunnel, you return to Istiklal Street. The rail still carves through the center of Istiklal Street, and the street takes a slight curve, finally giving you the view of the end of Istiklal Street. The street opens up to Taksim Square, like a river opening into a large body of water.
For the rest of the walk, there isn’t much interesting things that happen. You continuing soaking in the atmosphere — the tramway, the green plants with benches separated a few feet apart, shops and shopping malls, pleasant faces from shop owners, tourists carrying bags of their purchases, tram passing by every once a while, and many conversations—in different languages—clouding the air around you. Towards the end, you pass by a few stores that you’re familiar with—McDonalds, H&M, and Adidas. Then you finally reach the end of Istiklal Street, merging into Taksim Square. Continue exploring and read into Taksim Square and Maçka Parkī.
If you’d like to watch the walk, check out this YouTube video! There are four main landmarks that make Istanbul famous. Here’s the links to the other three: Grand Bazaar (coming soon), Hagia Sophia, Galata Tower.