Cruise liners pull into the mouth of the Bosphorous. Sometimes three ships at a time saddle up along the Karaköy port.
Eager tourists pile off the gangway, guests of Istanbul for a mere nine hours. Time restrictions panic them. They turn left and head in the direction of Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s old town.
But imagine they turned right. What if they entered the dark and gloomy laneways hidden beneath Karaköy’s crumbling façades that are at times splashed with a graffitied energy.
Rather than being roped into buying a Turkish rug from the Grand Bazaar, they would instead be sipping caffeine concoctions with Istanbul locals. If only they turned right!
Lucky for us they don’t. And so, the Karaköy area remains for those Istanbulites who know of its hidden coffee pleasures.
Karaköy is the fastest growing laneway grunge caffeine scene in the city. It is a mix of hip, cute and pocket sized venues.
A vine-leaf jungle tangles the laneways from above with a mess of light bulbs placed through out, providing a cool bite in the summer and an inviting eerie tinge in the winter.
Find the earthy red dust coloured wall of the Aya Nikola church; The lanes that collide at its side are a good place to begin your caffeine fix.
Here you will see ‘Karabatak’. I am not saying go there. I am simply saying stand at that point, among the vines, surrounded by caffeine grunge and find the cute little place or nuzzled seat that appeals to you. (Corner of streets – Kara Ali Kaptan Sokak and Ali Paşa Değirmeni Sokak)
Finished your coffee? Paid your bill? It is time to place some more orders at the next laneway coffee hub.
Just around the corner you will find ‘Gran’. Again, I am not demanding Gran is the best. Sit at any café nook. You are the boss, you choose. (Corner of streets – Kılıç Ali Paşa Mescidi Sokak and Odun Meydanı Sokak)
Most places have sprung up recently, some even over night, so they are subject to the new alcohol laws; ‘no alcohol within 100 metres of a mosque’.
It is strange to think that this thriving epicentre of funky establishments will generally remain coffee and tea orientated. I suppose it will secure the innocence of the Karaköy scene with no dangers of dodgy shot bars or cheap night clubs infiltrating the system.
Louis Bistro must have gotten in quick as they serve a chilled glass of wine, with a spectacular frontal view of the Kılıç Ali Paşa hamam and mosque.
A select few other venues can also be found that are legally able to serve a conservative beer.
The Karaköy lanes are gulped by a wave of breakfast and brunch goers on a Sunday morning.
On Friday and Saturday nights, when the light bulbs are illuminating the vine leaves, people congregate where beer and wine are served.
There is no doubt this is the easiest and most compact Istanbul area guide to date.
A walking tour should not be stressful. It should be exactly like this.
Think about flying solo, take a book. Enjoy your own company and of course the company of this magnificent city.
Written by Sheldon Heyes
Karaköy pop up SOUQ market is on every month in a small hidden laneway.
For the next SOUQ dates keep an eye on www.souqkarakoy.com
Head to the famous and original baklava house, ‘Güllüoğlu’, for some moist, sweet Turkish pastry dessert. The cruise ship passengers do not miss out on this one…(Mumhane Caddesi)
Istanbul Modern Museum is at the tip of Karaköy. It is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
I don’t restrict with my written walking tours. I leave the control with you to choose your own adventures and eat where you like etc. However, what I do do is open your eyes to the hidden pockets of the city or the ‘must see’ locations that don’t bounce off the guide book pages.
You may also enjoy reading ‘Mehmet Güleryüz‘. The latest exhibition at Istanbul Modern Museum. Showcasing 200 pieces from six decades from an acclaimed Turkish artist.