What’s the best, most central neighborhood in a city that spans over 2,000 square miles and has almost 3,000 years of history? Well, the first hurdle to get over is the idea of there being one “center” to this city and one “best” area. Many consider Sultanahmet the center of Istanbul – and although it’s a logical base to visit the main, historic sites from, it’s hardly the most interesting part of the city (unless you want chain-hotels and tourist restaurants). Many first timers choose Sultanahmet for the convenience, but Istanbul is a pretty easy city to get around in, so don’t be afraid to use public transport, and taxis are cheap. Istanbul is also one of the most vibrant, interesting cities I know and worth staying in a neighborhood that combines both the old and new, a neighborhood that feels like “home” base.
One such neighborhood, perhaps my favorite in Istanbul, is Cihangir (pronounced gee-hun-gear). This district was named by Suleiman the Magnificent during the 16th century after his son, the crown prince Cihangir, in order to compensate for the fact that he was deformed. It means, “Conquerer”.
Throughout the decades, Cihangir has become a center of multiculturalism; it is still very popular among the very crowded expat community in Istanbul. Like any other district famed for its “bohemian” qualities, Cihangir went through the stages of respectable, classic, nostalgic and now it’s part of Istanbul’s new “chic” areas, with countless cafes, and loads of great apartments for short term stays.
Currently a famous Turkish sitcom, Yalan Dünya (World of Lies), uses the district as a background to the artsy, funky, the not so traditional characters on the show.
Cihangir lies very close to the Bosphorus (Istanbul Strait) and the Golden Horn and since the neighborhood is up on a hill, many apartments and cafes have views of the Bosphorus and the Asian skyline. Moreover, it is only a 5 minute walk away from Istiklal Street – a total madhouse of shops, pubs and clubs that never dies down, no matter what the hour.
Just before opening up to Istiklal Street, Taksim Square is the final destination of many bus lines, as well as the metro system. You will find your way to the Atatürk airport easily whether you want to use the direct private bus lines (Havas or Havatas), or the metro to get there. However, a new building project is trying to move all the traffic around Taksim Square below ground allowing for better pedestrian access. So depending on the time of your arrival you might be in for a surprise. The project is planned to be completed by August, 2013.
Cihangir is a neighborhood that needs to be lived in, not just visited from somewhere else in the city. It’s a place to come home to after a day of sightseeing in Sultanahmet and the best place to wake up to and go out for a hearty Turkish breakfast.
Some of our favorite local spots:
Susam Cafe – great local hangout. Good for coffee or drinks any time of day.
Van Kahvaltı Evi – The best place for breakfast.
White Mill Cafe – Great place for a drink on their terrace.
Firuzağa Kavesi – The quintessential neighborhood tea house.
Pazi Yemek Evi – Simple, cheap and good food.