If you want to experience a world which feels completely different from neighbouring countries in Europe, then Istanbul is the place to go.
It provides a great indulgence of middle-eastern culture while being only a four-hour flight away from London.
It’s also the only city in the world which is in both Europe and Asia which is why people often refer to it as the ‘gateway to Asia’.
Whether you have a long weekend or a week or two to explore this magical city, Istanbul has plenty of beautiful spots to see.
And these ones will help you get off the beaten track!
So without further ado, here are 13 Istanbul hidden gems to add to the top of your bucket list!
This article is written by Faraway Lucy writer, Emily Piper.
1. Old House Restaurant
Address: Cankurtaran, Utangaç Sk. No:23, 34000 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Phone number: +90 212 516 66 61
Located in Sultanahmet, this family-run restaurant not only provides a friendly atmosphere to dine in, but it has the most stunning views of the Hagia Sophia mosque from its rooftop.
Old House serves Mediterranean and Turkish cuisines including mouth-watering meat kebabs, grilled sea bass and grilled lamb.
Don’t forget to taste the delicious traditional Turkish apple tea before you leave!
This gem is pretty unknown, so enjoy Istanbul like a local and experience what it would be like to live in this amazing city.
2. Arasta Bazaar
Address: Sultan Ahmet, Mimar Mehmet Ağa Cd. No:2, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
When people say think of markets in Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar often comes to mind.
However, Istanbul is full of cute, local markets which are just as good if not better, thanks to their authentic nature.
Arasta Bazaar is in the heart of Istanbul city, just a stone’s throw from the Blue Mosque.
Located on a narrow street, the bazaar boasts over seventy gift shops selling carpets and kilims, travel souvenirs, tiles, and scarves on both sides of the street.
And you’ll also find jewellery, pottery, spices, and textiles in the bazaar.
I’d recommend popping into the Topkapi Ceramic store, Last Ottoman Spice Centre, and Cocoon for souvenirs!
All shops are open from Monday to Saturday 9 am – 7 pm and some are open on Sundays.
3. Cağaloğlu Hamam
Address: Alemdar, Prof. Kazım İsmail Gürkan Cd. No:24, 34110, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Phone number: +90 212 522 24 24
The Turkish bath is a centuries-old custom, perfect for those looking for a truly unique cleansing experience!
Cağaloğlu Hamam is one of the last traditional Turkish baths still around today.
Located in Istanbul’s old city, the bath dates back to the Ottoman era in 1741.
You can find it on the list of 1000 Places to See Before You Die, and for good reason!
Cağaloğlu Hamam provides a rather unique spa experience that involves exfoliation, a hot room rest and a bubble massage.
The temperature can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius under the central dome of the building, so this is one of the Istanbul hidden gems that is not for the faint-hearted!
The combined intense heat and humidity encourage the pores to open and impurities to extract from the body.
Afterwards, you can enjoy a traditional Turkish ritual with Turkish tea, homemade sherbet, and Turkish delight.
As Cagaloglu Hamam is near the Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, it’s a good place to refresh after a day of sightseeing and exploring.
In the old days, women and men had separate days to visit, but now it offers separate baths for men and women.
Choose between the €50 exfoliating and washing, and the €120 Turkish Bath Pack, which includes exfoliation, washing and a 45-minute massage.
4. Maya’s Corner Cafe
Address: Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 35/1, 34410 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Along the same street as Cağaloğlu Hamam, you’ll find Maya’s Corner Café!
This cute Turkish café is perfect for breakfast and lunch. Plus, the colourful exterior makes for a great picture.
The extremely kind owners will make you feel right at home with their tasty cooked chicken wraps, kebabs, and vegetables.
If you are wanting to stop just for a drink, some favourites include freshly squeezed pomegranate juice and tasty Turkish coffee.
Just a five-minute walk from the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, this beautiful spot is easily one of the best Istanbul hidden gems.
5. Galata Tower
Address: Bereketzade, Galata Kulesi, 34421 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
Originally named the tower of Christ, the 66.9 metre (220 foot) tall tower is one of the highest points in Istanbul.
This allows it to be seen from all around the city.
At the top, there is a panorama balcony, encircling the highest row of windows.
The tower is narrow, open to the weather and definitely not the most fun activity for anyone with a fear of heights.
If you want to see the tower at its best, visit at the time of the call to prayer, preferably the sunset call as the sunsets from up here are something else!
The balcony is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm (7 pm in the summer) after you’ve paid a small admission fee.
This neighbourhood of Istanbul was once known as the Jewish Quarter of the city.
Balat is one of Istanbul’s oldest districts, traditionally housing minority communities.
After an earthquake in the late 1800s, most of the Jewish residents fled the area, with more departing later in the 1960s.
The neighbourhood was neglected until recently when UNESCO rehabilitated historic housing.
These days, Balat is known for its colourful houses, cobbled streets and an eclectic mix of churches, mosques and synagogues.
These are all scattered among antique auction houses, trendy cafes, and vintage clothing stores.
A good place to start exploring is on the slope leading up the hill to the Phanar Greek Orthodox College or kırmızı kale (the red castle).
If you walk down the slope, you’ll find İncir Ağacı Kahvesi, arguably the city’s most Instagram-friendly cafe complete with a rainbow staircase.
But more on that later!
Why not spend some time walking along Vodina Caddesi to browse auction houses, or stop at Maison Balat for homemade cherry juice in a small antique store?
Running parallel to Vodina is Yıldırım Caddesi, lined with wonderful cafes like Balat Sahil (try a traditional Turkish breakfast), restaurants and small design stores selling clothing, jewellery, art, and crafts.
For dinner, join the locals at Balat Sahil. Inside this seafood meyhane (traditional tavern), you’ll find shelves lined with empty rakı bottles and customers can select meze from a glass cabinet.
7. Colourful streets of Kumkapi
Literally meaning ‘sand gate’, Kumkapi is located in the Fatih District, near the sea of Marmara.
The old Armenian quarter (which is now a Kurdish quarter) is a mixture of small shops, restaurants, and beautiful old apartments.
It used to be a fishing village so it’s the best place to eat and drink Turkish fish!
Near the seacoast, you’ll notice a small circle with a fountain.
This fountain is surrounded by streets lined with dozens of fish restaurants.
Every night, especially during weekends, crowds gather for excellent seasonal seafood and entertainment.
Before you start your dining experience, it’s best to ask some Turkish people for recommendations since, due to the competition, some of the owners may try to overcharge or cheat on your bill.
If you want to find something simpler yet tasty and reasonably priced, you can discover a few of the best Istanbul hidden gems in the neighbourhood’s backstreets.
8. Ciçek Pasajı
Address: Hüseyinağa, Hüseyinağa Mh İstiklal Caddesi, Sait Paşa Gç. 176/6, 34435 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
Situated at Galatasaray Square, Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Passage) is a beautiful courtyard filled with restaurants.
Each evening, the tables fill up with people who have come to talk, eat, laugh, and linger over plates of meze, kebabs, seafood, sweet desserts and traditional milky Turkish rakı, beer or wine.
This L-shaped courtyard was once home to posh shops and offices during the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century.
Then part of the building collapsed in the late 1980s.
It was later restored and eventually reopened in the 1990s when Turkey’s tourist boom arrived.
A dinner at one of the restaurants in Çiçek Pasajı is now noticeably quite refined and a little on the expensive side!
But there’s nothing stopping you from visiting and having a drink if you’re on a budget.
The dome does look particularly impressive in pictures!
9. Galata Konak Café
Address: Bereketzade, Hacı Ali Sk. No:2, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
Phone number: +90 212 252 53 46
This delightful top floor restaurant and café is loved by the locals.
And for good reason too! It offers an amazing panoramic view of Istanbul.
If the queue at Galata Tower isn’t for you and you still want to see the city from up high, head here for an almost identical view.
Order a cup of tea or coffee, watch the seagulls as they fly overhead and soak up the views.
Famous for their wide range of cakes, pastries, and other delicious baked goods, the owners have run a pâtisserie since 1975.
They also serve meat dishes, salads, and sandwiches.
This is not one to miss when visiting Istanbul!
10. İncir ağacı kahvesi
Address: Balat, Merdivenli Mektep Sk. No:1, 34087 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Phone number: +90 536 737 62 62
If you’re a lover of art and all things creative then you will love this breakfast and brunch restaurant!
İncir ağacı kahvesi is located in the Balat area which is offbeat and less touristic. It’s well known for its rainbow stairs and cosy ambience.
Once you’ve had a coffee, make sure to walk around the area which is home to the traditional Jewish quarter. You will not be disappointed!
Kuzguncuk is a neighbourhood in the Üsküdar district on the Asian side of the Bosphorus in Istanbul.
The neighbourhood is centred on a valley opening to the Bosphorus and is somewhat isolated from the main part of the city, surrounded by nature reserves, cemeteries, and a military installation.
When you arrive, you’ll find a quiet neighbourhood comprising of the cutest streets lined with antique wooden houses.
Take a wander and you’ll discover adorable cafes such as NOOP where you can grab breakfast and try one of their delicious pancakes.
12. Pudding Shop Lale Restaurant
Address: Alemdar, Divan Yolu Cd. No:6, 34400 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Phone number: +90 212 511 05 39
When people think of this popular pudding shop, they think of its delicious food and broad history.
It grew in popularity during the 1960s when it became a meeting place for travellers from around the world.
Lale Restaurant earned its name, The Pudding Shop, when travellers would tell others about the restaurant, forgetting the name, but remembering the unforgettable puddings they serve.
Today you can enjoy an affordable Turkish meal while soaking up one of the most historic restaurants in Turkey.
On the bulletin, you’ll spot notes that have accumulated over the years.
While you enjoy your treats, you can choose from a variety of seating areas and read the new and old messages shared by visitors.
13. Take a ferry ride
If you’ve seen Istanbul on land, why not see it from the sea too?
The Bosporus snakes through Istanbul joining the sea of Marmara in the south and the Black Sea in the north.
One of the most unique things to do is catch a ferry and see some of the city’s best attractions from the water.
The Şehir Hatları Ferryboats are popular with the locals and offer a range of trips including a cruise around the breathtakingly beautiful Golden Hoen.
So there you have it, the best Istanbul hidden gems!
Which of these Istanbul hidden gems are you most desperate to check out?
Please let me know in the comments below!