"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Cool Spots Around Istanbul (Part I).

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

September-October 2020.

At long last I am edging towards the end of my Istanbul series. What an incredible city it is, something I have hopefully succeeded in showing over the last seventeen articles.

Now, as per Leighton Travels tradition, it’s time to round up the best of the rest. And boy is there a lot to get through. So much, in fact, that I have had to compile these remaining sights into two editions. With that in mind, maybe make yourself a brew of some manner. Then sit back and enjoy my Cool Spots Around Istanbul (Part I).

Istanbul sunset from Galata Bridge.

Another Galata Bridge sunset. Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Oh lord, where to start? I guess as good a place as any would be Taksim Square, Istanbul’s largest pedestrianised public space. Home to fancy hotels, restaurants and cafes, it is also a major transport hub.

Indeed this was pretty much the first place we saw after jumping out of the airport transfer bus. It was early morning, not all that long after sunrise. Thus we trudged through the empty square with our luggage, bleary-eyed and disoriented.

Taksim Square Cool Spots Around Istanbul

Taksim Square, Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Labelled “the modern heart of Istanbul”, Taksim Square has long been the site of political speeches and mass protests in addition to several unsavoury incidents. The so-called Taksim Square Massacre in 1977 and the stabbing of two English football fans in 2000 to name just a few.

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Pigeons on Taksim Square in Istanbul.

Taksim Square.

Despite this historic gravitas, there isn’t actually that much to see or do on the square. One can feed the pigeons, I guess. Or get annoyed by them, depending on one’s persuasion.

As a kid I always enjoyed my experiences on Trafalgar Square in London, which back in the 1980s was full of pigeons. So Istanbul’s mucky birds didn’t bother me, and I even managed to get a good shot of a typical moment of Taksim Square pigeon madness.

Pigeon madness at Taksim square.

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Moreover, the square is a prime spot for beggars and pickpockets, which means we always had our wits about us when passing through.

Beggar on Taksim Square Istanbul.

A beggar cup-shaking on Taksim Square.

Prior to the completion of Taksim Mosque some years after our visit, the square was home to just one sight, the imposing 11-metre Republic Monument. Crafted by the famed Italian sculptor Pietro Canonica and unveiled in 1928, the monument commemorates the birth of The Turkish Republic on the 29th of October 1923.

Republic Monument Cool Spots Around Istanbul

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Canonica created the monument from marble, while its bronze figures stand in tribute to the republic’s founding fathers. As you would expect, there is a prime spot for Atatürk, as well as Field Marshal Fevzi Çakmak and İsmet İnönü, the country’s second president. You’ll have to do a 36o of the monument in order to find all the various figures. 

Republic Market.

Visit the Republic Monument in Istanbul.

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

From the square it takes just a minute or two to enter Istiklal Avenue, the city’s premier shopping street. If like us you have little to no interest in branded stores and tourist trap restaurants, it is at least worth a wander to check out some of Istanbul’s most handsome 18th and 19th century buildings.

Istiklal Avenue Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

The street takes its name from Turkey’s transformation into a republic (Istiklal means independence). Aside from stores, cafes and restaurants, it’s generally a good place for soaking up the city’s atmosphere. Indeed a tram rumbles by every few minutes and there are nearly always street performers, models, influencers and Instagrammers strutting their stuff.

An Instagrammer posing for photos on Istiklal Avenue Istanbul

A local woman setting up an Instagram shot on Istiklal Avenue.

One afternoon we took a stroll down Istiklal Avenue on our way to the impressive Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church. With Istanbul’s many stunning mosques understandably taking centre stage for most visitors, the city’s churches often get overlooked. 

Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church Cool Spots Around Istanbul

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Designed in the Neo-baroque style and finished in 1880, it has a somewhat troubled history. In 1955, for example, it was the subject of state sponsored anti-Greek violence when a mob began attacking Greek churchgoers. Next, they attempted to burn the building down by dousing it in kerosene and flinging burning sticks on it. 

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church Istanbul.

Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church.

Somehow the church survived and decades later, between 2002 and 2003, it was completely refurbished. The work was carried out thanks to a generous donation of over $90,000 from the Greek oil magnate Panagiotis Angelopoulos.

Inside Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church Istanbul

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

That day, we almost didn’t get to see the church’s sparkling interior. This was due to the fact that the caretaker, a grizzly old man, proved to be an absolute asshole. Entering the historic structure, he received us angrily with a harsh growly monologue which basically amounted to a rude demand for money.

The history of Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church in Istanbul

Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church.

Aware that the church had no entrance fee, we tried to politely ignore him. However, he then proceeded to rush us around the joint and barely five minutes later we gave up and exited. The old goat then locked the main door and disappeared. Still, I managed to grab a cheeky photo of him moments before he left.

Rude caretaker Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church Istanbul

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

We enjoyed a far more pleasant visit at the nearby Church of St. Anthony of Padua, where the caretaker was nowhere to be seen. This church is far busier, with a steady flow of foot traffic coming in and out of the building for much of any given day.

Church of St. Anthony of Padua.

Church of St. Anthony of Padua Cool Spots Around Istanbul

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Completed in 1912 in the Venetian Neo-gothic style, this Roman Catholic edifice is run by Italian priests and serves a community of around forty thousand parishioners. Outside, just in front of the main entrance, we paused to take in the gruesome modern art statue of Jesus on the cross. There is a touch of Dali to it, methinks. 

Jesus on the cross statue outside Church of St. Anthony of Padua Istanbul

Church of St. Anthony of Padua.

The church’s main claim to fame is that a certain Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli preached here while he was serving as The Vatican’s Ambassador to Turkey between 1935 and 1944. Later, in 1958, he became the head of the Catholic Church as Pope John XXIII. 

Inside Church of St. Anthony of Padua in Istanbul

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

In recent years the church found itself embroiled in a major controversy. In 2016 there was quite a storm when a man by the name of Sebahattin Gok claimed the land upon which the church was built belonged to him and several business associates.

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Church of St. Anthony of Padua.

He then tried to sell the church to several overseas groups who had ownership connections to the original 18th century site that predated the current house of worship.

Ultimately, Gok was arrested and charged with fraud, including the creation of false documents. An investigation subsequently uncovered a real estate scam ring that was in the process of targeting numerous Christian churches across Turkey.

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Scam artist tries to sell Church of St. Anthony of Padua in Istanbul

Church of St. Anthony of Padua. 

One of Istanbul’s major draws is of course its world famous markets. I have already written up the city’s biggest network, The Grand Bazaar. If one has time, it’s definitely worth checking out The Spice Bazaar too.

The Spice Bazaar Cool Spots Around Istanbul

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

The Spice Bazaar started out in 1660, nearly two hundred years after The Grand Bazaar’s inception. Back then it was simply christened New Bazaar, though some locals labelled it the Egyptian Bazaar, a reference to the fact that much of its funding came from the Ottoman eyalet of Egypt.

The history of The Spice Bazaar in Istanbul

The Spice Bazaar.

Over the years, the focus of the market shifted to spices, dried fruits, herbs, nuts and Turkish sweets.

Exploring Istanbul's colourful Spice Bazaar

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

What’s more, it’s a good place for freshly ground Turkish coffee. Ah, if only I could stomach the stuff.

Turkish coffee at the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul

The Spice Bazaar.

And… fear not… there are plenty of stalls selling the kind of tourist tat you can find all over the city. Come on, you know you can’t go home without picking up a fez or two for your loved ones.

Fez stall in The Spice Bazaar Istanbul.

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Overall, we felt the atmosphere was less stressful compared to The Grand Bazaar. Certainly in terms of the crowds and vendors giving you the hard sell.

The Spice Bazaar.

Dried fruits at The Spice Bazaar Istanbul.

The Spice Bazaar.

One spot that’s worth tracking down is this eye-catching balcony in the bazaar’s Dua Square. It belongs to a narrow wooden building called Azan Pavilion, which dates back to the late 17th century.

This is where the market’s many tradesman and artisans used to gather to pray each morning before starting work. The muezzin would issue the call to prayer from the balcony. These days people usually do their worshipping at the nearby New Mosque.

Azan Pavilion Balcony Spice Bazaar Istanbul

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

While we didn’t shop at any of the Spice Bazaar’s many stores, we did find ourselves tempted into a lovely little Turkish sweets cafe called Güllüoglu near Gate 3.

Gulluoglu Turkish sweets store and cafe Spice Bazaar Istanbul

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Run by a trio of courteous old guys, the cafe offers all manner of Turkish dessert staples in addition to coffee and tea. Figuring we’d be happy resting our legs for a bit, we made our choices and headed upstairs where there are comfy chairs and tables overlooking a section of the bazaar.

Gulluoglu Turkish sweets Cool Spots Around Istanbul

The Spice Bazaar.

After some deliberation, we went for a piece of baklava and a healthy serving of künefe. The latter was truly a revelation, a delectable pan-cooked pastry filled with stringy cheese and pistachio.

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Kunefe, baklava and tea at the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul

Some afternoon sweetness at Gulluoglu.

I’m gonna sign this piece off with a look at a major Istanbul sight that, in usual circumstances, I would have dedicated a single article to. However, as with The Blue Mosque, the stars did not align during our visit to the picturesque and historic Galata Tower.

Galata Tower Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Built in 1348, this former Romanesque watchtower once stood at the highest point of the city’s Galata Walls. The walls (which no longer exist) served to protect an administrative and trade post known as a Genoese colony. After the conquest of Constantinople the Ottomans turned the tower into a prison.

Visit Galata Tower in Istanbul.

Galata Tower.

Today Galata Tower is a museum and exhibition space. Unfortunately for us the damn thing was closed, another example of local authorities taking advantage of the decrease in tourism during COVID times to carry out restoration work.

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Hence we made do with soaking up some of the tower’s history from outside the entrance gates. We enjoyed the ceramic mural that trumpets a particularly famous (but almost certainly untrue) Galata Tower story dating back to 1638.

Hezarfen Ahmed Celebi Ottoman scientist astronomer and poet

Could he have really….?

This is when the Ottoman scientist, inventor, astronomer and poet (among other things) Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi allegedly carried out the world’s first intercontinental flight by jumping from the tower wearing a pair of homemade wings. Those who witnessed the flight considered it intercontinental because he took off from the European side of the city and floated over the Bosphorus before landing on the Asian side. Classic.

Galata Tower.

Hezarfen Ahmed Celebi and the legend of the world's first intercontinental flight

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

We also took a moment to admire the beautifully engraved Bereketzade Fountain, located on Galata Square directly beneath the tower. Originally built in the 1450s for Sultan Mehmed II, it stood for centuries outside the now destroyed Bereketzade Mosque. Happily the fountain survived the centuries and was fully restored to its original glory prior to arriving at its new location.

Bereketzade Fountain Cool Spots Around Istanbul

Bereketzade Fountain.

I’m not gonna lie, we were bummed about not getting into Galata Tower. So we settled into a nearby cafe to lick our wounds. Next time, we promised ourselves, we’d get inside and claim those sweeping views from the top. Despite our disappointment, it was a lovely moment sitting there sipping from our flat whites, gazing up at Istanbul’s spectacular tower.

Street view of Galata Tower in Istanbul.

Cool Spots Around Istanbul.

Like this? Take a look at my series of articles on Istanbul.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

Leighton Travels logo travel reports and short stories.


  • pedmar10

    Beautiful shots indeed ! Cheers

    October 4, 2023 - 3:08 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for your comment!

      October 4, 2023 - 3:25 pm Reply
      • pedmar10

        You are welcome.

        October 4, 2023 - 3:44 pm
  • christinenovalarue


    October 4, 2023 - 4:13 pm Reply
    • Leighton


      October 4, 2023 - 4:14 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    This post paired well with my iced coffee 🙂 It is always bittersweet nearing the end of a blog series. It feels like the trip isn’t officially over until the blog is complete.

    October 4, 2023 - 4:33 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for following along Lyssy, it’s been a long journey.

      October 4, 2023 - 5:32 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Not rushing you at all to finish this series Leighton. This has been of great interest to me and you have done it justice indeed. I expect I could spend a few days getting lost in the Grand Bazaar. Oh and thanks for facing all the pickpockets, touts and beggars for me. Not my favourite group of people. Have a great Wednesday. Allan

    October 4, 2023 - 4:58 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Maybe I’m rushing myself a little ha ha. Thanks for your support of the series Allan. Just two more pieces followed by a well-earned break I’d say.

      October 4, 2023 - 5:35 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    I love this post…the bazaars are truly amazing places aren’t they. And don’t be bummed about Galata Tower – we thought it was ridiculously overpriced for what it was. The museum is so far from a museum (think 1 board per floor as you walk up) it’s untrue and the views, whilst spectacular, were no different than you could see in rooftop bars/restaurants across the city.

    October 4, 2023 - 6:54 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      You’ve made me feel much about about #galatagate, thanks. Somehow, I did suspect it might be a bit Maiden’s Tower all over again. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts Hannah 🙂

      October 4, 2023 - 7:55 pm Reply
  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    Bravo, Leighton! This is a fantastic post with wonderful photos. I’m sorry you guys didn’t get inside Galata Tower, but your photos of the outside show its beauty. I’m still trying to catch up, but I want to read all of your Istanbul posts that I’ve somehow missed. I will do it soon. You’re definitely inspiring my desire to travel there.

    October 4, 2023 - 7:31 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Kellye, it’s very sweet that you’re determined to mop up those posts you missed. Take your time, I’ll most likely be having some off time from blogging once this series wraps.

      October 4, 2023 - 7:56 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    Ok, so I grabbed a cup of tea and some biscuits and thoroughly enjoyed this first edition of your cool places around Istanbul! Looks like you’ve explored Istanbul from all sides! It was interesting to see some of the churches too and The Spice Bazaar looks like a nice place for a stroll (maybe I’ll grab a fridge magnet and some of that delicious dry fruit, but definitely not a fez). And again, sorry that you couldn’t visit the Galata Tower – as you say, next time. Oh yes, and that guy who flew with the homemade wings … keep his story away from little adventurous boys 😁.

    October 4, 2023 - 7:47 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha right, not the best role model one could have for impressionable youngsters. Thanks for your welcome and always humorous thoughts Corna, though truly I am disappointed by the fact that I’ll never get to see you and Berto in fezzes 🙂

      October 4, 2023 - 7:59 pm Reply

    Yes, so many great sights/sites. Love the intercontinental flight legend, I hadn’t heard that story before. I wonder how many dunkings in the Bosphorus before he actually made it. Love Istanbul, your posts have brought all my memories to life. (Btw, I was in the crowd at the Ataturk Stadium when Liverpool famously won the CL from 3-0 down. What a night! ). As for Michaela and I, it’s all about “Islands In The Stream”, but that’s another story entirely. Been great reading these…one to go!

    October 4, 2023 - 8:15 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I can’t imagine being in the stadium on THAT night. I remember watching it in a sports bar in the Belgian city of Leuven. Thanks for keeping up with all these many posts, there are actually 2 more to go ha ha. Or maybe 3, sorry 4, actually 5. Just kidding, it really is 2.

      October 4, 2023 - 10:52 pm Reply
  • Meredith

    It looks so beautiful there!

    October 4, 2023 - 8:37 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for your comment Meredith.

      October 4, 2023 - 8:39 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    Gorgeous photos! I visited Taksim Square (and its surroundings), as well as the Spice Bazaar; both are worthy sites to check out! It’s a shame you couldn’t go into the Galata Tower, and the caretaker at the Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church was truly an asshole; I get that some places have an admission fee, or request donations…but if there wasn’t a sign for admission fees and if it was purely donation-based, it’s not right to demand money when in fact it’s voluntary. That’s what makes traveling so exhausting at times, haha…any case, I’ve enjoyed your Istanbul series, and I’m looking forward to more adventures from you!

    October 4, 2023 - 8:51 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Happily the disappointments were far outweighed by the positive experiences, which shouldn’t always be taken for granted. Thanks Rebecca for coming along on this lengthy journey. 2 more Istanbul articles, then a break, then back to finish (at long last) the Challenged in China stories, then some new locations. Oh man, I’m exhausted already.

      October 4, 2023 - 10:58 pm Reply
  • NortheastAllie

    Istanbul looks so beautiful, and your post makes me want to visit this historic place someday!

    October 4, 2023 - 10:15 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Allie!

      October 4, 2023 - 10:58 pm Reply
  • Stan

    leighton you really did see this city inside and out. i’m left wondering what sites there are among your concluding cool spots. i think i’d like to try kunefe, sounds and looks really good. love the galata legend and the fellow with the wings.

    October 4, 2023 - 11:10 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks so much Stan, there are still some really fantastic spots to come in Part II. I reckon Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi failed to even make the nearest riverbank and the sultan span a whole other story 😉

      October 4, 2023 - 11:15 pm Reply
  • Anna

    Can’t believe Istanbul is near its end, but I can’t wait for whatever you have in store for us next. If i remember rightly you’ve been/are in Georgia lately? I really would love posts on that because I am super keen on this region lately (who am i kidding, im interested in so many regions lately 😂)

    October 5, 2023 - 3:12 am Reply
    • Leighton

      As I am trying to post ‘recent years’ trips in some kind of roughly chronological order, I’m afraid Georgia is going to be some way off. I am so badly behind with posts, whether it be the last 4 years or way back when. If I didn’t post so much on one location I might have a fighting chance 🙂

      October 5, 2023 - 9:21 am Reply
      • Anna

        Thats ok mate,will hopefully be reading you for years to come, I will await your Georgia posts in the years to come! 😂

        October 5, 2023 - 1:38 pm
      • Leighton

        That timeframe actually sounds about right.

        October 5, 2023 - 1:38 pm
  • Travels Through My Lens

    I would love to visit Istanbul just to see the beautiful mosques, but there are so many other amazing places to see, wow! Your photos and descriptions of each place are wonderful as usual. How long were you there? I’m looking forward to reading your final post. Thanks Leighton, for sharing another wonderful post!

    October 5, 2023 - 5:45 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I was in Istanbul for nearly three weeks. We taught our classes in our Airbnb apartment and for the rest of the time we were out hitting the streets. Can’t believe it’s three years ago already, thanks Tricia.

      October 5, 2023 - 9:24 am Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    I always love these cool spots posts and seeing so much of a city and what you love about it. And there is so much love to share with Instanbul! What an amazing city so rich in history, architecture, and culture:) looking forward the seeing the rest of the cool spots 🙂

    October 5, 2023 - 6:31 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Meg, I’m looking forward to seeing more from your amazing Costa Rica trip 🙂

      October 5, 2023 - 9:25 am Reply
  • bronlima

    Intercontinental flight Hahaha!

    October 5, 2023 - 6:58 am Reply
  • anoush

    I have enjoyed your detailed and insightful posts on Istanbul immensely. Interesting stories behind the two churches. The Spice Bazaar looks very photogenic with heaps of colourful spices and dried fruits. Sorry to hear about yet another city sight that was off-limits due to reconstruction. Hope you get to see them all on your third visit to Istanbul.

    October 5, 2023 - 9:25 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Anoush for your unabated enthusiasm throughout the series!

      October 5, 2023 - 9:28 am Reply
  • pam@ichoosethis

    I am DYING to get here. Thanks for sharing all of the nuggets. Definitely bookmarking!  Cheers!

    October 5, 2023 - 5:08 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Pam, eighteen Istanbul articles already published, two more to come. Hope you get some more inspiration for your trip one day.

      October 5, 2023 - 6:04 pm Reply
      • pam@ichoosethis

        already so much inspiration in one post!!!

        October 5, 2023 - 6:46 pm
  • WanderingCanadians

    You’ve certainly convinced me that Istanbul is worth exploring. It’s great that you managed to spend quite a bit of time there and discover places that aren’t overly crowded with other tourists. Thanks for sharing. Linda

    October 6, 2023 - 1:44 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Linda, sometimes those quiet non-touristy experiences are the best. 🙂

      October 6, 2023 - 8:36 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    Superb photos Leighton and a great round up of your time in Istanbul. Hope things are continuing to go well for you both and you have a great weekend.

    October 6, 2023 - 8:13 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you Marion, all is well thanks. Hope you are also good and enjoying the English autumn.

      October 6, 2023 - 8:39 pm Reply
  • ThingsHelenLoves

    Istanbul looks well worth a visit. I’m especially enticed by the idea of shopping, sweet treats and strong coffee all in one. All things I enjoy indulging in! As for the Galata Tower, the structure and history look fascinating. As for the story of flight? I’ll take it. No need to let the truth get in the way of a good yarn!

    October 11, 2023 - 6:00 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I agree that these unlikely stories usually add to the fun and atmosphere of such sites. Thanks Helen for checking into the series today.

      October 11, 2023 - 8:12 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    The photo of the bridge at sunset looks like an Impressionist painting, dabs of color. Loved the shots of the Spice Bazaar (and loved poking around there myself years ago). How long were you in Istanbul? You have, as always, done such a deep dive into the sights most people don’t uncover and the history of them.

    October 12, 2023 - 8:36 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      We were there for almost three weeks. Five days a week we taught our online classes and the rest of the time we pounded the streets, as is our way. Thanks for the kind words, doing a series like this is always a challenge and a lengthy project but I enjoy it immensely.

      October 12, 2023 - 11:09 pm Reply
  • Lookoom

    It’s a part of Istanbul that I’ve also visited quite extensively. It’s certainly less touristy than Sultanahmet, but still has a rather Western vibe. A personal suggestion: close to Galata Tower, I really like the curve of the Kamondo staircase. Also because it was funded by the same de Camondo family who established a fine museum in Paris.

    October 21, 2023 - 4:59 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for the tip. We somehow failed to catch the Kamondo Staircase and, looking online, boy did we miss something special. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      October 21, 2023 - 9:28 am Reply
  • Toonsarah

    If we do get around to visiting Istanbul, for sure I’ll be back to read all your posts about the city to compile a list of must-sees 😀 I like the look and sound of the spice market and loved the story of the first intercontinental flight!

    October 21, 2023 - 11:31 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Sarah! 🙂

      October 22, 2023 - 11:37 am Reply

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