After you visit the usual tourist spots in Istanbul, be sure to check out these 10 hidden gems

Istanbul is a city that never ceases to amaze and delight visitors. With its rich history, diverse culture, stunning architecture, and delicious cuisine, there is something for everyone in this metropolis that spans two continents. But beyond the famous attractions like the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar, there are also many hidden gems that will make your trip to Istanbul even more memorable. Here are 10 of them.

Admire the exquisite tiles of Rüstem Paşa Mosque

While most tourists flock to the Blue Mosque to see its iconic blue tiles, there is another mosque in Istanbul that boasts equally stunning tile work. The Rüstem Paşa Mosque, built by the famous architect Mimar Sinan in the 16th century, is decorated with exquisite Iznik tiles that feature floral and geometric motifs in various shades of blue, turquoise, and red. The mosque is located in a busy market area near the Spice Bazaar, but once you enter its serene courtyard, you will feel like you have stepped into a different world.

Explore contemporary art at Perili Köşk

Perili Köşk, meaning “Haunted Mansion”, is a striking red-brick building that stands on the banks of the Bosphorus under the second bridge. It was built in 1911 for a pasha, but remained unfinished for decades due to World War I and other political upheavals. Today, it serves as the headquarters of a corporate group that also houses an impressive collection of contemporary art. The Borusan Contemporary museum showcases works by Turkish and international artists, ranging from paintings and sculptures to installations and digital media. The museum is only open to the public on weekends, so plan ahead if you want to visit this unique venue.

Sample local delicacies at Kasımpaşa and Bomonti markets

Istanbul is a paradise for food lovers, and one of the best ways to experience its culinary diversity is to visit its street markets. Two of the most interesting ones are the Kasımpaşa market on Sundays and the Bomonti organic market on Saturdays. The Kasımpaşa market sells rare and unusual products from the Black Sea region, such as wild mushrooms, chestnuts, honey, cheese, and cured meats. The Bomonti organic market offers a variety of fresh and organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, dairy products, breads, and pastries. You can also enjoy freshly cooked gözleme (Turkish pancakes) and chat with local intellectuals who frequent this market.

Visit the spiritual home of Orthodox Christianity at the Ecumenical Patriarchate

The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the seat of the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians. It is located in a modest complex of buildings in the Fener district of Istanbul, which was once home to a large Greek community. The main attraction here is the Church of St. George, a 17th-century cathedral that contains important icons, relics of saints, and a magnificent gold-leaf altar. The current patriarch, Bartholomew I, holds services here on Sundays and special occasions. You can also visit the patriarchal library and museum, which display rare manuscripts, vestments, and other religious artifacts.

Discover the underground wonder of Basilica Cistern

One of the most fascinating places in Istanbul is hidden beneath its surface. The Basilica Cistern is an ancient subterranean reservoir that was built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century to store water for the city. It covers an area of 9,800 square meters and can hold up to 80,000 cubic meters of water. The cistern is supported by 336 marble columns arranged in 12 rows, creating a surreal atmosphere. You can walk along the wooden platforms and admire the reflections of the columns in the water. Don’t miss the two Medusa heads that serve as bases for two of the columns, as well as the column with tear-shaped engravings that is said to represent the hundreds of slaves who died during the construction of the cistern.

Enjoy the views and legends of Maiden’s Tower

Maiden’s Tower is a small tower that stands on a tiny islet at the entrance of the Bosphorus. It dates back to the 12th century, but has been rebuilt and renovated several times over the centuries. It has served as a lighthouse, a quarantine station, a customs checkpoint, and a defence tower. Today, it houses a café and a restaurant that offer panoramic views of Istanbul’s skyline. The tower is also associated with many legends and stories, such as the one about a princess who was locked up in the tower by her father to protect her from a prophecy that said she would die from a snake bite on her 18th birthday. However, fate could not be avoided, and a snake hidden in a fruit basket brought by her lover bit her and killed her.

Marvel at the mosaics and frescoes of Chora Church

Chora Church, or Kariye Museum, is one of the most beautiful examples of Byzantine art and architecture in Istanbul. It was originally built as a monastery in the 4th century, but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest and then into a museum in 1948. The church is famous for its stunning mosaics and frescoes that depict scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. The mosaics are made of tiny pieces of glass, stone, and gold that create vivid and expressive images. The frescoes are equally impressive, especially the ones in the main dome that show the genealogy of Christ.

Experience the bohemian vibe of Beyoğlu

Beyoğlu is one of the most lively and cosmopolitan districts of Istanbul, where you can find a mix of old and new, traditional and modern, local and foreign. It is home to many cultural attractions, such as the Galata Tower, the Pera Museum, and the Istanbul Modern Art Museum. It is also a great place to enjoy Istanbul’s nightlife, with countless bars, pubs, clubs, and live music venues. You can stroll along İstiklal Avenue, the main pedestrian street that is lined with shops, cafés, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, and galleries. You can also explore the side streets and alleys that hide many surprises, such as antique shops, bookstores, art studios, and churches.

Escape to the tranquil Princes’ Islands

If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, you can take a ferry to the Princes’ Islands, a group of nine islands in the Sea of Marmara. The islands are named after the Byzantine princes who were exiled here in the past. The largest and most popular island is Büyükada, which has many historical mansions, pine forests, beaches, and monasteries. The islands are car-free, so you can enjoy the peace and quiet while walking, biking, or riding a horse-drawn carriage. You can also sample some delicious seafood at one of the many restaurants by the sea.

Witness the mystical ritual of Whirling Dervishes

One of the most unique and unforgettable things to do in Istanbul is to watch a Whirling Dervish ceremony. Whirling Dervishes are followers of Mevlana Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic who founded the Mevlevi order. They perform a ritual dance called Sema, which symbolizes their journey to God through love and devotion. The dervishes wear white robes and tall hats, and spin around in circles while listening to music and chanting. The ceremony is not a show but a sacred act of worship, so you should respect their rules and etiquette while attending. You can watch a Whirling Dervish ceremony at various venues in Istanbul, such as Galata Me

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