Crowded and at times chaotic, the youthful energy of the middle-class Beşiktaş neighbourhood north of Dolmabahçe Palace is infectious. With a busy central çarşı (marketplace) full of cafes, bars and cheap eats, and lingering Ottoman splendour on its waterfront, Beşiktaş gives visitors a slice of modern Turkish life alongside a dive into history.
Beşiktaş is also the name of one of Istanbul’s biggest and most beloved football clubs, so expect the çarşı area to be packed and rowdy on match nights. If you happen to be visiting in October, don’t miss the annual Fotoİstanbul festival, which brings excellent international photography to pop-up exhibition spaces around the neighbourhood.
But there's plenty to experience even if you visit on days when there's no football buzz or international festivals. Here's what one of those days might look like.
Eagle statue in a Beşiktaş square © trabantos/Shutterstock
Fuel up for the first part of the day at one of the popular indoor/outdoor eateries along the winding intersection of Çelebioğlu Sokak and Şair Veysi Sokak – an area so full of places serving the morning meal it’s been dubbed ‘Kahvaltıcılar Sokağı’, or ‘Breakfast-Makers’ Street’. Tuck into a delicious traditional egg dish like menemen at the no-frills Çakmak Kahvaltı Salonu (Çelebioğlu Sokak 8) or linger over a full serpme kahvaltı – a table full of sweet and savoury bites – at Reçel Türevleri or Cafe Faruk. If the endless cups of black tea haven’t sated your caffeine craving, pop into the tiny Dem Good Coffee, run by a mixed team of deaf and non-deaf employees, for a quick post-breakfast espresso.
Head down to the waterfront for a peek into the former residence of the Ottoman heirs-in-waiting, now the National Palaces Painting Museum, where the evocative images of old Istanbul – including a canvas depicting the ships of the Ottoman navy arrayed along this very coastline – are a highlight of the collection. The nearby Palace Collections Museum offers a more intimate glimpse into the sultans’ daily lives, displaying their Baccarat-crystal ice-cream bowls and porcelain vases alongside their writing sets and shaving kits.
Join the local office workers for lunch at Hatay Antakya Mutfağı , a cosy corner restaurant specialising in kebabs and meze infused with the spicy flavours of south-eastern Turkey, or at Elde Börek (Ihlamurdere Caddesi 26), a cheery lokanta serving up a wide range of home-cooked dishes, all attractively displayed at the front counter.
After lunch, grab a small treat for later at 7-8 Hasanpaşa Fırını (Şehit Asım Caddesi 12), an old-fashioned bakery renowned for its almond biscuits and tahini-infused pastries. You’ll find it just down the street from the ‘kartal’, the black eagle statue that represents the Beşiktaş football club and is one of the neighbourhood’s best-known landmarks.
You won’t need a lot of time inside the imposing İstanbul Naval Museum, but it’s worth visiting for the impressive collection of Ottoman caïques, massive and often ornately decorated wooden rowboats on which the sultans and their entourages once travelled through the city’s waterways.
After revelling in the glorious seafaring past, take to the waves yourself on a short Bosphorus cruise, departing from the Dentur Avrasya ferry dock behind the Naval Museum at 3.55pm sharp. The approximately 1.5-hour ‘hop-on hop-off’ tour that stops at the Emirgan neighbourhood, the Küçüksu Kasrı and Beylerbeyi Palace is well worth the 15 TL price even if you stay on-board the whole time, gazing at the views while drinking tea and nibbling on your sweets from 7-8 Hasanpaşa Fırını.
Once back on dry land, get the night started off with a drink at Joker No: 19, just across the main road from the ferry docks. This cavernous pub has a large back garden and a vast selection of cocktails and beers, including the Turkish brewery Gara Guzu’s very respectable amber and blonde ales. From here, you can bar-hop your way through the çarşı, stopping at other local favourites like The United Pub and Thales Bistro in between sampling döner kebab, stuffed mussels, or whatever other street eats catch your fancy.
To ease into the evening in a more mellow manner, head uphill past the W Istanbul Hotel to laid-back Minoa, where you can sip a glass or two from the wine list, accompanied by a cheese plate or heartier fare.
Get your late-night groove on with live jazz at quirky, friendly Kaset Mitanni, where sets by talented local musicians playing experimental and traditional styles kick off at 9.30pm (Saturdays at 10.30pm).