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.

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istanbul historic trolley

You’ll find roasted chestnuts (“kestane“), a winter favorite, for sale by vendors on small carts up and down Istiklal Avenue.

istiklal kestane istanbul

Everything is for sale and no price is non-negotiable. Of course how far you get depends on the bargaining rules you play by.

street vendor istanbul

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.

taksim street foods

Or perhaps you’d prefer a larger meal, say, seafood with a side of meze (“appetizers”)?

istiklal seafood

Anchovies (“hamsi“) are a common addition to such a dinner table.

istiklal anchovies hamsi

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.)

istiklal tatli cesitleri

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.

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istiklal mehsur islak hamburger

Hybrid collections of peanuts with sesame seeds and dried chickpeas.

istiklal kuru yemis

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.

kumpir istanbul taksim

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.

kororec istanbul istiklal

Finally, you can take a taste of Istiklal with you back to your hotel or home for friends.

istiklal shops

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.