karakoyharThese days Karaköy almost feels like four separate places.

There's the frantically busy square through which the trams and buses run on their way across the Galata Bridge that is probably seen by most visitors to the city at some point during their stay.

Then there is the harbour area where the ferries from Haydarpaşa and Kadıköy tie up and disgorge thousands of passengers. This, too is probably seen by many visitors to the city.

But then there is the part of Karadöy that lies east of the harbour. This is where cruise ships dock but until recently most of them were carried swiftly away in fleets of buses to the big sights such as Topkapı Palace. Now, though, all that is changing at an astonishing speed as new hotels and restaurants crowd into the narrow, erstwhile grungy back streets as entrepreneurs eye up the potential new market that will be created when the much delayed Galataport project finally brings new cruise-ship faciities to the shore.

In the interim small art galleries, quirky shops and delightful cafes have also opened to turn this into one of the city's most happening areas. In the way of things they will probably get squeezed out as the value of the land rises exponentially.karakoy8Karabatak (Cormorant) Cafe

Finally, there is Voyvoda (Bankalar) Caddesi on the opposite side of Karaköy Meydanı (square). Once the heart of 19th-century Constantinople's banking industry, it is lined with wonderfully grand builidngs that are slowly being found a new life now that the banks have shipped out to Levent and Ataşehir.

Karaköy is one of the most fascinating parts of İstanbul when it comes to minor historic monuments. Its streets are home to an amazing selection of old mosques, synagogues and churches, some of them even on the roofs of buildings.

For the time being it also retains something of the rawly authentic feel of an area where people are still going about workaday businesses. The myriad hardward stores are an institution. Visit soon. Complete change is imminent.

Around Karaköy Meydanı

As you get out of the tram in Karaköy you will see on either side of the road some of the grand buildings created in the late 19th and early 20th century to house banks and other businesses. Some such as the Karaköy Palas (1920) are still in use today. Others such as the Nordstern Han (1889) are being given a much needed clean up. Once upon a time it housed a branch of the popular Baylan patisserie. It would be nice to think it could yet do so again. karakoymescidMerzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa Mescid as it was

What's missing from the skyline on the harbour side of the square is the small Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa Cami designed for the square in 1903 by the Art Nouveau architect Raimondo d'Aronco. When the road was being widened in 1956 it was taken down stone by stone with the intention of rebuilding it on Kınalıada. Unfortunately the boat carrying the stones then sunk, scuppering that plan. Now, however, there is a new plan to rebuild it in the square.

On the opposite side of the square and very easy to miss in a narrow side street near the Karaköy entrance to the Tünel funicular, the Jewish Museum (small admission fee, closed Saturdays, Meydanı Perçemli Sokak) is housed inside the old Zülfaris Synagogue.

The building itself is worth seeing because it was paid in for 1890 by the wealthy Kamondo family who also paid for the Nordstern Han and the nearby Kamondo Steps.

The museum still offers a good idea of what İstanbul’s synagogues looked liked at the end of the 19th century. The actual synagogue contains a history of the Jews in İstanbul as well as a collection of artefacts gathered from elsewhere. In the gallery you can find out more about the Kamondos, while in the basement there is a selection of costumes worn at weddings and circumcision ceremonies.

eyubogluAlso easy to overlook and increasingly vulnerable as urban regeneration rushes ahead is a long stone mosaic running along the facade of the nondescript shops and restaurants on the harbour side of the square. Look closely and you'll see the signature of the famous poet-artist Bedri Rahmi Eyuboğlu (1911-75).

Along Voyvoda (Bankalar) Caddesi

Voyvoda Caddesi is the street that runs uphill towards Galata from immediately behind the Tünel. Narrow and darkened by the tall buildings on both sides of the road, it is a fascinating mishmash of the architectural styles that were battling for supremacy in late 19th-century Constantinople including designs by Giulio Mongeri and Alexandre Vallaury.

The single most important building is the one designed by Vallaury in 1892 to house the Ottoman Bank that played an important role in keeping the late Ottoman Empire financially afloat. It's worth dropping in to take a quick look at the banking museum (open daily, admission free) in the basement.

The building is also home to the flashy SALT gallery, an arts research centre with a library, café and the Ca D’Oro restaurant. It was designed by seven separate architects in 2010.

Having trouble finding the street? Then look for the Minerva Han on the corner that was designed for the Deutsche Bank in 1912-13. Running beside it is Yüksek Kaldırım (High Pavement), the even steeper direct route to Galata that used to be lined with 118 steps. This was - and to some extent still is - İstanbul's red light district. The Minerva Han now houses the Gradiva Hotel and Bank Cafe. 

karaoy6"Commerce" on the parapet of TC Ziraat Bankası buidlingAround Karaköy Harbour

If you head down to the harbour from the tram stop you will pass in front  of the imposing TC Ziraat Bankası building, built for the Vienna Bank in the early 20th century and decorated with two figures that are among the earliest examples of figurative sculpture in the city.

A cobbled street runs alongisde the harbour. It's lined with restaurants and cafes but you might want to pause at the Bosphorus end to admire a cluster of fine buidings in the style known as First National Architecture. Looking across the water you will have a wonderful view of Sarayburnu (Seraglio Point), Topkapı Palace and Ayasofya as well as of the Sepetçiler Kasrı, the pretty little pavilion on the waterside at Sirkeci. 

Immediately behind the cobbled street and running parallel with it is another narrow street which still throbs with ordinary businesses catering, for example, for local fishermen. At the Karaköy Meydanı end of it the fine Ömer Abed Han was designed by Vallaury and bears his signature engraved on it in stone. 

Keep walking and you will come to the Yeraltı Cami (Underground Mosque) that was built to house the remains of two Arab holy men believed to have taken part in a effort to capture Constantinople in the 7th century. It stands on the site of a tower to which would have been attached one end of the chain used to close off the Golden Horn to shipping in Byzantine times.karakoy5

The two parallel streets emerge in a small square facing the grand Turkish Maritime Lines (Türkiye Denizcilik İşletmeleri) office built between 1912 and 1914.

If you turn left you will see the Kermankeş Cami with a beautiful fountain (1732) against its outside wall. Founded in 1643 by the grand vizier Kermankeş Mustafa Paşa, it apparently stands on the site of a 14th-century Catholic monastic complex that closed in 1606. Above the fountain the associated primary school (sıbyan mektebi) juts out on brick corbels. Beside it there is a fine view up to the Galata Tower.

karakoy4Old Customs HouseAround the Port

Perhaps the most intriguing part of Karaköy lies in the labyrinth of streets behind the port building. You will find this by walking along the road running beside the Turkish Maritime Lines building parallel to the waterfront.

On the inland side of the street stands the Karaköy Lokantası housed in a lovely building that served as the Estonian Consulate from 1936 to 1940.

Across the road, the port building itself is no great shakes in architectural terms but almost next door is the colourfully tiled Customs House built in 1911 and facing a tiny garden. karaköy3Ovacimyan Han by Nafilyan, 1920s

Facing the Customs House and in the side streets nearby are several more fine examples of First National Architecture, some of them currently under restoration. Then you will see on the water side of the road the long, low building, now redundant, that was for many years the main parcel sorting office.

Facing it across the street is the Cite Francaise, a narrow shopping arcade that leads through to the back streets. Just past it is the highly decorative mid-19th-century facade of the Voyvoda (Aziziye) Karakol (Police Station). It's still in use so don't be tempted to take any pictures. 

If you walk through the arcade you will emerge in Galata Mumhane Caddesi whose name suggests that candles were once manufactured here. It is here and in Ali Tahşın Sokak that you will discover the many hidden churches that are a characteristic of this neighbourhood.

The most conspicuous is what started life in the 16th century as the Greek Orthodox Church of Panagia Kafatiani (St Mary), was completely rebuilt in 1840  and is now the only church of the obscure, not to mention dubious Tukish Orthodox Church, whose congregation appears to consist of just one family, the Erenols.

The main part of the church is usually locked but you're welcome to wander into the icon-filled narthex where you'll see one of the model boats often left as a thanks offering to St Nicholas by grateful mariners and possibly brought here from the nearby Church of St Nicholas which was also acquired by the Turkish Orthodox church in 1922 but is now permanently locked.

The flagstoned courtyard contains the gravestones of many Ottoman Greeks although it's most obvious feature is usually a huge banner reading "Ne Mutlu Türküm Diyene (How Happy I am to Call Myself a Turk)".

karakoy1Far harder to spot are four small gems of ecclesiastical architecture built between 1870 and 1880: the rooftop churches of the Russian Orthodox Church that were used by pilgrims on their way to Jeruslaem or Mt Athos. Each boasts a small cupola, the only external clues to their existence. Beneath each of the churches there used to be a "podvoriye", a dormitory where the pilgrims could break their journey overnight. 

Today Sunday services are still held in St Pantaleimon (1878) which is full of modern icons. Baptisms and other special services are also held in St Andrei's (1870) which was beautifully decorated with paintings of the saints against a deep-blue background by the Russian Symbolist artist Mikhail Vassileyevich Nesterov. In 2013 a service was also held to reconsecrate St Ilya (Elijah, 1879) for fear that it would be lost to the redevelopment going on all around it. The Triotskoye (Trinity, 1880) has been closed for many years.karakoy2

The most obvious of all Karaköy's churches is out on Kemeraltı (Tophane) Caddesi along which the tram runs. The enormous Armenian Orthodox Church of Surp Krikor Lusavoriç (St Gregory the Illuminator) was designed in 1966 by Bedros Zobyan using the Armenian church at Echmiadzia as a model. It replaced a church dating back to 1431 which had been built on land bought by the Armenians from the Genoese which was finally demolished in 1958 to make space for a wider road.

In 2013 the church reopened to the public after restoration. It is the only church in İstanbul with the familiar high-sided Armenian dome. 

There are two other interesting churches on Tophane Caddesi although you're unlikely to be able to see the interior of either of them.

The first is up a flight of stairs near the St Benoit High School. The Church of Surp Hisus Pırgiç (Jesus Christ the Saviour) was built in 1834 for a breakaway group of Armenian Catholics who had sworn allegiance to the Pope since the 18th century. Externally austere, it is said to have an elaborately decorated interior. 

The second church actually forms part of the property of St Benoit High School and dates right back to 1427 when it was founded by Benedictine monks. In 1583 the Church of St Benedict was taken over by the Jesuits who set up a boys school here. Then in 1773 it was passed to the Lazarists. In 1839 a girls school was added to the site which merged in 1987 to form the modern co-ed high school. Buried inside the church are several of the early French ambassadors to Constantinople.


Until recently an area conspicuous only for grab-and-go lunches aimed at local workers, Karaköy has recently sprouted its own highly trendy take on cafe society. 

Bej Kahve 

First of a new generation of cool cafes to move into the streets behind the old Customs house, Bej Kahve, inside the Cite Francaise arcade, offers a great choice of hot meals as well as coffee-and-cake-style snacks.

Tel: 0212-225 7195, Kemankeş Caddesi, Fransiz Geçidi No. 11

Ca D’Oro

Great location, great views, great food – if you can afford it.

Tel: 0212- 243 82 92, www.istanbuldoors.com, SALT Galata, Bankalar Caddesi No. 11


Immediately opposite the locked Church of St Nicholas this popular little cafe specialises in serving teas from all round the world. You can even get an English-style cream tea with scones here. 

Tel: 0212-293 9792, www.demkarakoy.com, Hoca Tahşın Sokak No. 17

Karabatak (Cormorant) Karaköy

Bringing the taste of Viennese Meinl coffee to the startled locals of backstreet Karaköy, this gem of a café sprawls out onto the pavement although the shabby-chic interior is pretty inviting too.

Tel: 0212-243 69 63, www.karabatakkarakoy.com, Kara Ali Kaptan Sokak No. 7

Lokanta Maya

It took almost no time for word to get out about this gem of a restaurant that dishes up the fresh tastes of the Aegean with aplomb. Everything from the basil and pumpkin soup, through succulent köfte (meatballs) to an apple crumble good enough to make homesick Brits weep is served to perfection by owner Didem Şenol, author of a cookbook called Aegean Flavors that is on sale in the restaurant.

Tel: 0212-252 68 84, www.lokantamaya.com, Kemankeş Caddesi No. 35A


Just steps away from the Kılıç Ali Paşa Cami, Naif is a bright and colourful oasis with a particularly good choice of breakfast items on its menu. Some places in Karaköy feel a tad tiny for their growing popularity. Naif has a bit more space to spread out in. 

Tel: 0212-251 5335, Mumhane Caddesi No, 52

Namlı Gürme

On a Sunday morning impressive queues form outside this popular deli, a bigger version of the small version in Tahtakale. The draw? Super-popular breakfasts that can be eaten on the pavement on nice days. 

Tel: 0212-293 6880, Rıhtım Caddesi

Ops (Oops) Cafe

Super-stylish exposed brick-and-pipes interior with sofas, armchairs and long tables to spread yourself out over a coffee break or evening meal. Lots of laptop action attests to its popularity with the locals.

Tel: 0212-245 02 88, www.opscafekarakoy.comm Mumhane Caddesi, Nimet Han No.45/B


A new Novotel is currently being built opposite the old postal sorting office.

10 Karaköy

Gradiva Hotel. Tel: 0212-249 7700

Nordstern Hotel Galata. Tel: 0212-

Vault Karaköy: The House Hotel. Tel: 0212-244 8434

Transport info

The tram makes a handy stop at Karaköy where you can use the underpass to get to the Karaköy (Lower) station of the Tünel funicular up to İstiklal Caddesi.

Ferries from Karaköy head for Haydarpaşa station and Kadıköy. There are less frequent ferries to Üsküdar and along the Golden Horn.

Nearby areas




Galata Bridge

Golden Horn


Perşembe Pazarı




Read more about Karaköy: http://www.turkeyfromtheinside.com/blogbloggingaboutturkey/entry/15-religious-squabbling-the-hidden-churches-of-karakoy-.html 

Read more about Karaköy: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-313212-istanbul-backstreets-exploring-the-new-look-karakoy.html 

karakoy7Dome of Surp Krikor Lusavoriç







Events Calendar

October 2021
26 27 28 29 30 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31 1 2 3 4 5 6

Exchange Rates