No city bridges the divide between East and West quite like Istanbul. The buzzing metropolis occupies a geographic location where Asia meets Europe, and although the European side is home to more touristy hotspots, plenty of interesting sights await visitors who venture across the Bosphorus. If you’re only in town for two or three days, the excursion might not be worth it, but with some extra time on your hands, you won’t want to miss a day trip to Istanbul’s Asian side.
Here’s what you should know before you go.
In Istanbul, all that separates Europe from Asia is the bright-blue Bosphorus Strait. This zigzagging aquatic passage connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, and boasts palaces and mansions on both sides of its shore. Although ferrying across the Bosphorus isn’t the only way to move between the two continents, it’s undoubtedly the most scenic and only costs a few Turkish lira, making it the preferred route for both travelers and locals.
So hop on a ferry and nab a spot on the top deck, if you can. Throughout the 20-minute ride, keep an eye (and a camera) on the sumptuous buildings you’ll cruise past — there’s plenty to take in on both shores. You’ll disembark at Kadıköy on the Asian side, where the tourists are fewer and farther between.
Once you arrive, take some time to explore the lively market scene in the area. The largest bazaar is only open on Tuesdays and Fridays, and it’s located relatively far from the pier, but you can get there via bus 8A or a local taxi. (Just ask the driver to drop you off at the Salı Pazarı, or “Tuesday market,” a name that applies to the Friday bazaar as well.) At the market, you’ll discover an astonishing variety of textiles, electronics, and food items, but most regular customers agree that travelers should gravitate toward the produce stalls. After all, the fruits and vegetables aren’t just extremely fresh and colorful; they’re also inexpensive.
If you’re not visiting on a Tuesday or Friday, you can still enjoy a vibrant bazaar experience with local shoppers. A smaller market is open every day in the pedestrianized area just across the street and around the corner from the main pier, letting foodies purchase everything from fish to spices, cheese, and dried goods. Bon appétit!
Once you’re done shopping, your next stop should be Moda. With its sophisticated streets, seaside views, and abundance of cafés, this classy neighborhood makes for a perfect afternoon of exploring. Don’t miss the ornate Süreyya Opera House, which opened in 1927 but never actually staged an opera until 2007. If you need to refuel, catch a bite of seafood at Koço, or get a table at one of the tea gardens overlooking the Marmara.
To check out Istanbul’s answer to the Champs-Élysées, take a stroll down Bağdat Caddesi. Upscale restaurants, designer stores, banks, and even car dealerships line the street, and its wide sidewalks are perfect for browsing and window-shopping. While you might not be able to afford everything you see, you’ll still enjoy the outing down one of Istanbul’s prettiest and trendiest streets.
If you’d like to visit a mansion before returning to the European side, you have quite a few options. Whether you venture to Khedive Palace (an Art Nouveau estate that’s home to one of Istanbul’s largest rose gardens), Kuçuksu Palace (an Ottoman hunting lodge built on the Bosphorus), or Beylerbeyi Palace (a lavish summer residence), these buildings are sure to impress. Each one admits travelers (Kuçuksu and Beylerbeyi as museums that charge admission, and Khedive as a café) — so pick your favorite, and enjoy your visit.
When you board your return ferry at the end of the day, you’ll have a newfound appreciation for Istanbul’s Asian flank. After all, even though the European side has an undoubtedly higher number of historical and cultural sites, the city’s eastern half still packs a punch. Its non-touristy streets offer a better chance to experience Istanbul like a local, all while delivering gorgeous architecture and gasp-worthy views of the Bosphorus.
Enjoy your excursion to Asia!
Did we miss any of your favorite stops on Istanbul’s Asian side? Let us know in the comments below!
Cover photo by Heather Parker