Istanbul, Turkey is a city that has thoroughly captured my heart, like a seductive woman who lets you go, knowing all well you’ll return against any sense or will. For most visitors that first attracting glance begins in the historic Sultanahmet area – with good reason – as it’s where you’ll find the Hagia Sophia, Hippodrome, and Basilica Cistern. But the heart and lifeblood of Istanbul breathes from its many neighborhoods and the biggest inhale flows through Istiklal Caddesi (“Istiklal or Independence Avenue”) at night.
Istanbul is a city I’ve come to know well over the years and I’m currently using the city as a base to hop around the Caucuses and eastern Europe until mid-May. Throughout that time I’ve come to realize that much like that bewitching lady, despite all of what your eyes see, it takes time to learn her secrets. Some I’ll share with you at a later date and the rest you’ll find and create on your own; but for now let’s take a stroll along one of Istanbul’s most famous spots.
The entire length of Istiklal Caddesi is around 2 kilometers (~1.2 miles) and this historic trolley slowly moves up and down the pedestrian street. (Before 1961 they were the primary tram cars in Istanbul.) Although it’s less than a lira (~$.55) for this ride, if you look closely you’ll see some travelers are always looking for a better deal.
You’ll find roasted chestnuts (“kestane“), a winter favorite, for sale by vendors on small carts up and down Istiklal Avenue.
Everything is for sale and no price is non-negotiable. Of course how far you get depends on the bargaining rules you play by.
Along the side-streets of Istiklal is where you’ll find a good assortment of common Turkish street foods. Throughout my travels I’ve found anything fried on a stick is almost invariably delicious.
Or perhaps you’d prefer a larger meal, say, seafood with a side of meze (“appetizers”)?
Anchovies (“hamsi“) are a common addition to such a dinner table.
Those of you with a sweet tooth might want to pick up some baklava, with pistachios or without. (You want with pistachio, trust me on that one.)
In addition to all of the food, there’s plenty of beer to be found in the many bars along Istiklal that stay open until you go home. And where there are drunk people there is usually good hangover food. This joint at the entrance to Istiklal from Taksim Square has buffered many rough mornings for a certain travel blogger you may know.
Hybrid collections of peanuts with sesame seeds and dried chickpeas.
Kumpir is a baked potato stuffed with as many ingredients as your imagination, and stomach, will allow. One topping though is obviously a popular selection.
Have a kokoreç first and then I’ll tell you what it is. One of my favorites, you eat this common Turkish street food in sandwich form.
Finally, you can take a taste of Istiklal with you back to your hotel or home for friends.
As I look back on this photo essay I realize how much I’ve missed and how futile it would be to capture it all at once.
Great photos Anil – I am back there on Friday and can not wait. Enjoy your meet up as well, just missed that one.
Too bad we’ll miss you on Wednesday but hope you have a wonderful time in the city this weekend. Sure we’ll cross paths sooner or later 🙂
Oh, lovely, lovely photos. My night time pics are always woeful. Going to have to pick your brains I think. Just enjoying a pre-beer coffee and then we shall soon be en-route to Istiklal ourselves. 🙂
I’ve been trying to work on the night photography but it takes many more shots to end up with useful ones versus daytime. I’m so excited to say we can discuss tomorrow in person!! Hope the bus ride is treating you well at the moment…
Great shots! I suspect HDR a bit to do with the coloring?
Thanks 🙂 Most of these and my other photos are HDR which help with the contrast, not as much with the colors. It’s very bright and on longer exposures those colors tend to bleed out helping give warmth to the photos (at least I hope so!)
These photos are great… they really gave me a sense of the energy of it all!
Thank you! Istanbul really comes alive late at night, especially Istiklal; I was surprised to read it recently myself that 3 million people walk this area each *day*! Lots of social energy fueled by good food, music, drink, and dance 🙂
Absolutely gorgeous pictures. My favorite is the free tram ride and I can definitely taste the chestnuts. I’ll be curious about your trip to the caucuses. VERY exotic!
Thank you Barbara, I like the crafty kid myself as well 🙂 I can’t wait to write about Georgia and Azerbaijan from this past month. Hopefully will have stories and photos up very soon!
Great pictures! Looks like one of the best food spots in the world.
One thing Turkey does very well is food and Istiklal is a great place for a sampling from many regions 🙂
Yummmmmm! Glad I wasn’t hungry when I read this one.
I know the feeling, it was difficult on my stomach even getting the photos together for this post!
Great pictures, Anil! I was in Istanbul a couple of weeks ago and I now have the urge to go again after looking at your photos…
Too bad we didn’t make it to this part when you were here. No problem though, next time because I’m sure there will be a next time!
Istiklal Caddesi! I LOVE that place – the start of an awesome night out in Istanbul, and my hangover meal from one of the canteens the next day. I visited in summer so didn’t see the chestnuts being sold, though. I love Turkish street food, especially in summer when they sell fresh fruit juices and huge chunks of pineapple all around the area 🙂
Perfect for the eat, drink, cure hangover trilogy 🙂