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Your Guide to Galata, Istanbul: Türkiye’s Coolest Neighborhood

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3 months ago

I have visited Istanbul more times than I can count. While it may be a little busy, I always stay in Galata.

Here’s why:

I think Galata offers the best of Istanbul: tourist attractions, boutique designers and some of Istanbul’s finest dining options. If it’s your first time in Istanbul, Galata is ideally located with great public transport options (or a very scenic walk over) to key sites like Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque.

But trust me, you will want to spend time exploring Galata itself. Whether you have only a short layover in Istanbul or you are visiting Istanbul for 3 days on the way to the Turkish Riviera, here are my suggestions for an ideal afternoon in Galata, Istanbul.

Where is Galata?

Galata sits in the heart of European Istanbul, just south of Taksim Square.

Many Istanbul hotels are located in Taksim, although I always recommend staying in Galata (more on that later). While you will definitely want to visit the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia and Topkapi Palace – trust me on this – you do not want to be staying around there (Sultanahmet).

From Galata, it is a lovely 15-minute walk down towards the Galata Bridge and over towards Sultanahmet and the big-ticket Istanbul tourist attractions. There is nothing more Istanbul than crossing over Galata Bridge, watching the fisherman at work or stopping in the lower level of the bridge for a freshly barbecued fish sandwich.

Best hotels in Galata, Istanbul

I recommend staying as close to Galata Tower as possible.

Istanbul is one of the few cities in the world where I have a regular hotel I always return to: The Wilson Galata.

I have been staying at the Wilson Galata for years. It’s not flashy and probably sits close to what you might expect from a 4 star apart-hotel. But overall, I find the price, location (right on trendy Serdar-I Ekram Street) and consistent standard to be exactly what I need for an ideal Istanbul trip.

When is the best time of year to visit Istanbul?

The best time of year to visit Istanbul is during the shoulder seasons (March – May and September – November).

Summers in Istanbul can get very hot (averaging about 29°C/84.2°F) and the streets are often crowded with European tourists on their summer vacation.

If you know me, you know I avoid traveling during winter at all costs. In saying that, I do find Istanbul particularly atmospheric in winter (despite the often icy temperatures).

Galata tends to be busy all day, every day.

With a mixed local and tourist population, the cafes are generally full and streets abuzz with energy. I prefer Galata in the afternoon – the ideal neighborhood to have a cup of tea (or piece of cheesecake) after a long day of sightseeing.

Top things to do in Galata, Istanbul

1. Galata Tower

Life in Galata revolves around Galata Tower.

With layers of civilization in its story, the history of Galata Tower is a microcosm of the history of Istanbul.

Built in 1348 by the Genoese, Galata Tower has served many purposes, including as a watchtower and prison. Renovated under the Ottomans, today, Galata Tower has become one of the iconic symbols of Istanbul.

If viewpoints are your thing – and, let’s be honest, in Istanbul, it’s everyone’s thing – I would recommend trying to time your visit to Galata Tower closest to sunset. The elevator goes basically to the top, but you will need to climb a short staircase to reach the balcony.

Galata Tower often has a line, so factor that into your afternoon plans. If, like me, your patience is limited, you can pre-buy fast-track tickets.

2. SALT Istanbul

SALT is Galata’s primary cultural institution.

Set in a magnificent 1892 bank, the cutting-edge contemporary art institution and cultural space offers regular exhibitions, an arts research library, the Robinson Crusoe 389 Bookshop, Salt Galata café and an excellent restaurant.

If you get unlucky with Istanbul weather, SALT is a top choice for a rainy day activity in Istanbul.

3. Street art and colorful staircases

One of the best things to do around Galata Tower is simply walk the hilly and windy alleyways. Galata’s cobblestone streets are famous for being a hub of street art – and in particular for their colourful staircases. 

As you wonder down the little alleys of Galata, keep an eye open for the often politically-motivated murals.

4. Serdar-I Ekrem street

Serdar-I Ekrem street is one of the coolest shopping streets in Istanbul. Known for its eclectic boutique clothes stores, home design ware and vintage shops.

5. Jewish Museum of Turkey

In the late 1400s, the Ottomans welcomed Jewish refugees expelled from Spain to settle in the Ottoman Empire.

Galata quickly become the hub of Jewish life in Istanbul. With countless synagogues, schools and institutions, the Jewish community were instrumental in building Galata into what it is today.

The Jewish Museum of Turkey is housed in the beautiful Neve Shalom Synagogue. I would advise pre-buying tickets and making sure you arrive with your passport (or other official ID).

6. Crimea Memorial Church

You might be surprised to find an Anglican church in Istanbul. The land for this church was donated by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in 1858. An Anglican church was then built in the memory of British soldiers who fought in the Crimean war.

Keep an eye open for the church’s roosters – which often just roam about the gardens!

Best places to eat in Galata, Istanbul

1. Aheste

If you only splurge on one dinner in Istanbul, make it Aheste.

I love restaurants that work to fuse traditional cuisines and ingredients with new innovative flavors and ideas. Aheste can best be described as a modern fusion Turkish-style restaurant.

Set in a beautiful exposed brick dining space with low level lighting and Turkish slow pop in the background, a dinner at Aheste is a magical experience.

Personal favorites included the tuna katayif, which combines fresh tuna with a smokey mayo on a bed of katayif (pastry typically used for Middle Eastern desserts). The dudi Persian rice and celeriac rolls with Jerusalem artichokes are also a highlight of the menu.

The menu is paired with an excellent cocktail menu (special shout out to the Rosita), as well as an elaborate selection of Turkish wines.

Vegetarians and vegans in Istanbul will be pleased to know that Aheste offers a separate vegetarian a la carte menu. If you are really looking to splurge, there is a vegetarian tasting menu – although the price is a little steep!

2. Sirinfirin Bakery

This may look like any other touristy bakery in the Galata vicinity, but Sirinfirin holds some special treats.

I may be guilty of trying Turkish boregi in every small town in Türkiye. Boregi is like a soft lasagne style dough filled with salty white cheese. In my opinion, Sirinfirin has some of the better boregi in town – although my opinion may be jaded by being able to sit outdoors with a gorgeous view over Galata Tower.

Sirinfirin also has a great selection of cakes, pastries and a nice hearty Spanish omelette should you so crave.

3. Viyana Kahvesi

If you have spent more than about 10 minutes walking around Galata, you will notice there is cheesecake everywhere. Now there is good reason for this: Viyana Kahvesi.

I wouldn’t normally recommend a café that sits directly across from a major tourist attraction (generally a red flag). But Viyana Kahvesi either started this cheesecake trend or perfected it – and you will not want to miss this.

You are here for the San Sebastian cheesecake, and when the waiter asks if you want chocolate with that, there is only one correct answer (see above photo for guidance).

If you can’t get a table at the main Viyana Kahvesi by Galata tower, there is a second outpost just up the street (across from Sirinfirin Bakery).

4. Community Kitchen

It’s all the in the name.

Vegetarians and vegans in Galata will want to check out Community Kitchen, a friendly space which makes Turkish food accessible to vegetarians!

I really enjoy the vegan döner plate here and don’t forget to leave room for dessert (you want the brownie, trust me).

Galata after dark

1. Monkey Istanbul

Perched on a hill overlooking the main Istanbul landmarks, it’s no surprise that Galata is home to some pretty excellent rooftop cocktail bars. Have I found a competitor for the best nightlife Türkiye?

If you prefer to have your sunset with a cocktail in your hand, Monkey Istanbul is the place for you. After dark, Monkey will often set up fire pits while a DJ set will play. Have I convinced you yet?

2. Nardis Jazz Club

Just around the corner from Galata Tower, this old school Jazz club has a live performance every night of the week (except Sunday). Friendly bartenders, great cocktails and live jazz.

You will need to pay an entry free and Nardis can get quite busy. I always recommend reserving a ticket beforehand.

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