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Must visit: Karaköy in Istanbul

Formerly an industrial area, Karaköy, is now one of Istanbul’s most vibrant and vital neighbourhoods, offering a host of new museums, galleries, boutiques and restaurants for an alternative view of the city

Karen Munnis portrait
Karen Munnis,

A great sense of renewal pervades Karaköy, a former industrial area in the Beyoğlu district. This historic neighbourhood near the Golden Horn is now one of Istanbul’s most up-and-coming quarters, filled with contemporary art spaces, modern shopping options and great dining and nightlife venues.

Derelict warehouses and mechanics’ workshops once dominated the district, but in 2004 the opening of Istanbul Modern, the city’s contemporary art gallery, signalled the start of a cultural renaissance. A converted warehouse of 8,000 square feet, the gallery is set on the banks of the Bosphorus and plays host to an impressive permanent collection including works by Turkish artists such as Haluk Akakçe. It also hosts temporary exhibitions featuring international artists and architects.

Inspired by Istanbul Modern, a cultural hub called Istanbul ’74 was launched in 2009. Established by Demet Müftüoğlu Eşeli, a consultant for the Vakko fashion label, and her filmmaker partner Alphan Eşeli, this gallery and office space hosts innovative exhibitions, workshops and festivals. Its Istancool festival, known as IST, is held every May and has attracted such luminaries as architect Zaha Hadid, actress Kirsten Dunst, photographer Mario Sorrenti and artist Daphne Guinness.

There’s sure to be something to suit everyone at Atölye 11, a store offering contemporary and Turkish-made jewellery, clothing and home furnishings. The two-storey boutique is located in the bell tower of a former chapel and was opened in 2011 by design duo Burcu and Levent Çipiloğlu, who also run a design consultancy of the same name. Expect to find brightly coloured silk cushions decorated with Anatolian motifs, and gorgeous jewellery boxes. This is a great place to buy a souvenir to take home ‒ the Turkish tea glasses are highly recommended.

Kağıthane (‘house of paper’) is known for its fun and quirky range of paper products, from notebooks and wrapping paper to coasters and postcards. A short walk from Karaköy’s piers, the store is set in Fransız Geçidi, an elegant shopping arcade built in the 1800s. Kağıthane was established by designer Emine Tusavul, who is also a lecturer at Işık University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and many of its products feature traditional Turkish motifs or offbeat caricatures designed by Tusavul and her students. After browsing, stop for a coffee at Bej café.

While in Fransız Geçidi, be sure to pay a visit to Lab Istanbul. The eclectic range in this store includes vintage sunglasses of every shape and size imaginable, as well as design-led home interior pieces such as a large Polaroid mural board or a curved coffee table.

If you are looking for one-of-a-kind jewellery pieces, head to Selda Okutan Galeri, the boutique of the eponymous Turkish designer, which is strikingly decorated with human figurines and elaborate window displays. Okutan studied jewellery and design technologies before opening her gallery in 2011, and here she displays jewellery and sculpture in one space. Don’t miss her dramatic floral-motif rings.

After browsing Karaköy’s many enticing shops and galleries, visit Komodor to refuel. At this intimate pizza restaurant diners can sit at the bar on high stools. Thin-crust pizzas with an Aegean twist are a speciality: choose between the Hektor, topped with homemade spicy sausage, or the Buonofile, featuring sliced steak and beetroot. The restaurant also offers an array of lighter options such as soups and freshly prepared salads. A refreshing ginger juice or a cappuccino made with a Nuova Simonelli espresso machine will be sure to set you up for the rest of the day.

Continuing the Italian theme, Colonie is one of Istanbul’s most fashionable dining establishments. Founded by Yücel and Gülin Özalp, who also established the city’s much applauded Topaz restaurant, this bistro is a modern space with a varied menu that features everything from burrata and carpaccio to Turkish köfte. The restaurant is pet-friendly so you might spot a designer dog or two while you dine. This is a particularly popular late-night venue, attracting a suitably hip clientele. Join them and order one of Colonie’s signature cocktails while enjoying the DJ’s soundtrack.

Restaurant and nightclub Gaspar is a Karaköy hotspot: a large, two-storey former print shop in a striking, neoclassical building. Design duo Autoban has created an interior with dramatic, multi-coloured wood panels and modern leather furnishings. Expect to enjoy an international menu featuring meat, fish and pasta before dancing the night away to the soundtrack from the in-house DJ.

Fosil Lounge Bar, found on the third floor of an historic Karaköy building, is another perfect place to end the day. With a cocktail in hand, gaze out across Eminönü, Topkapı Palace and Haliç Bridge, and enjoy the view of the sun setting over the Bosphorus.



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