Every day, 3 million people visit the 1.4-kilometre Istiklal street, that is the heart of new Istanbul and the shopping and nightlife hub of the city. Some work in establishments on and surrounding it, while others visit as tourists eager to experience the many things to do in Istiklal Street including theatres, libraries, art galleries, boutiques, music and bookshops.
Then there is, of course, the masses of places to eat indulging hungry diners with all varieties of cuisine, Turkish, international and street food. Even though it is the heart of new Istanbul, and the modern side of the city, its historical past shines through in many of the buildings lining both sides of the street that display diverse types of architecture including Ottoman, art novae, Genoese and gothic.
The famous Galata high school is also the oldest secondary school in the country, but the most widely recognised aspect of Istiklal street is the red tram running up and down it every day. Called Grande Rue de Pera during the Ottoman era, Istiklal Street was a favourite hangout spot for consulate dignitaries and foreign intellectuals. The name Istiklal, meaning independence came about after the Turkish war of independence in 1923.
Also called Istiklal Avenue or Caddesi, Turkey’s most famous street underwent renovation in 2017 to modernise it and improve sewerage, gas, electricity, and drainage. The result is a pleasant introduction into the busiest street in Turkey.
5 Things to Do in Istiklal Street
Flower passage, known in Turkish as Cicek Pasaji, got its name from Russian immigrants that used to sell flowers there during the early 20th century. Initially starting life as a theatre, it is now a collection of traditional Turkish restaurants serving up a feast of mezes, main dishes and desserts. Also, admire the tall glass ceiling and famous portraits of previous visitors adorning the upper levels of shops.
Saint Anthony of Padua Church
Even if you are not Roman Catholic, still drop by to see the impressive Venetian neo-gothic architecture of the Anthony of Padua church. The architect, Giulio Mongeri paved the way for its completion in 1912, after the first church built in 1751 was demolished.
At the time of its completion, the estimated size of worshippers was 40,000. Steeping through the gate, visitors first see the statue of Pope John XXIII who preached in the church for ten years and was nicknamed, the Turkish pope because of his love for the country. Mass in this church occurs in four different languages on different days of the week.
Galata Whirling Dervish Museum
With its foundations dating from 1491, the Galata Whirling Dervish Museum and house hold regular evening shows, where you can buy tickets to see the whirling dervishes perform their memorising Sema routine. The house is also a marvellous collection of antiques and items portraying life for followers of this sect of Islam.
Sitting in Taksim square, at the beginning of Istiklal Street, the 11-meter-high independence statue is one of the most famous landmarks of new Istanbul. Whether you are a local or tourist, it is tradition to have your photograph took there. Also called the Republic Monument, it was unveiled in 1928.
Two famous art galleries sit on Istiklal Street. The Pera Museum is home to one of the most famous paintings in Turkey called the tortoise trainer by prominent ottoman artist Osman Bay Hamdi. Its value is a staggering 3.5 million USD. The Misir Apartment is also an up and coming gallery gaining mass attention for its contemporary art collections and exhibitions.
Further Reading: Our walking tour of new Istanbul features many more things to do in Istiklal Street. From the new to the old, we will give you the perfect introduction into Turkey’s longest and most significant street.