Istanbul’s once-sleepy Asian side is undergoing something of a renaissance thanks to Kadıköy-Moda, a dynamic neighbourhood positioned on the Bosphorus Strait’s southern tip. The best way to arrive here is by ferry, still one of the city’s cheapest thrills at less than a dollar, and a transcontinental commute for many over the Bosphorus, the city’s raison d’être. Much of Kadıköy hugs this arterial strait, and nowhere competes with its three-kilometre-long waterside park (otherwise known as Moda’s seaside) for sunset views of The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Linger in its promontory Çay gardens and backgammon houses and you’ll soon realise life here is about sea, tea and more tea. Even the hood’s docile stray cats, beloved by the city’s residents since Ottoman times, have embraced Kadıköy’s easy-going milieu.
Beyond the beach, which you’re never more than a 15-minute stroll from, are flea markets full of curios, raw juice bars, spice sellers, and cultural-bar hybrids like Arkaoda, pushing the neighbourhood’s creative envelope.
Boarding Bahariye streets’ historic, rattling tram (that circles in a clockwise loop), is a good way to get your bearings. Hop on and off at streets like rainbow umbrella-shaded Ziyâ Bey, Bağdat Avenue – the Champs-Élysées of Istanbul – and Kadife Sokak, lined with pubs, tattoo parlours and live music haunts. Then hit up a vintage fashion storm on Leylek Sokak, which more than lives up to Kadıköy Moda’s moniker.
Long before the bearded baristas moved in, Armenians and elite Ottomans were renaming the neighbourhood formerly known as Chalcedon, ‘Moda’, meaning “trendy”. Alongside the pop-up galleries and art-house cinemas sits thousands of years of history. In 685 BC Kadıköy Moda became the first settlement on the Bosphorus, and it claims the city’s oldest mosque, built 100 years before the Fall of Constantinople. Its no wonder residents call themselves Kadıköylu rather than Istanbullu; there’s plenty to be proud of here.
Barış Manço Museum
The chances are you’ve never heard of Barış Manço, despite him ranking as one of Turkey’s most internationally successful recording artists, whose death provoked an outbreak of national mourning two decades ago. You don’t need to be an Anatolian rock fan to appreciate the national treasure’s wonderfully wacky 19th Century mansion-cum-museum, though. Its here the Turkish Elvis recorded over 200 songs and edited his popular children’s TV shows. Between his flamboyant concert outfits and jewellery designs, there’s prized collections of Belle Époque glassware and Napoleon III furniture, spread over three floors linked by a keyboard staircase. Don’t skip the basement’s Knight’s Room or Winter Garden, chock-full with instruments that include a 1905 harmonium.
Caferağa Mahallesi, Yusuf Kamil
Paşa Sok. No:5, 34710 Kadıköy,
+90 216 337 94 13
A six-minute walk
Upgrade your wardrobe with hand embroidered clutches from Kyoto, nineties Fendi sunglasses and French taffeta cocktail dresses at this just-opened boutique. Its proud Kadıköylu owner, Zelig Toplar, is a former industrial engineer who now scours ateliers from Singapore to Berlin for vintage treasure. The interior; a vision of crystal chandeliers, antique armchairs and walnut sideboards – is as gorgeous as the apparel. Not for sale but worth the visit alone is Zelig’s Great Grandmother’s 200-year-old velvet bindallı, an Ottoman wedding gown – framed like a museum piece on the wall.
Caferağa Mahallesi, Leylek Sk 8a, 34710 Kadıköy, [email protected]
An eight-minute walk
Kadıköy Antiques Street
A multi-century journey in one short street, eye up Persian carpets, dusty gramophones and porcelain tea sets between steaming cups of Turkish tea with convivial shop owners.
Tellalzade Sokak, Kadıköy
A seven-minute T3 tram
We recommend you leave calorie counting at the door of this temple to chocolate. Decadent desserts like feraye (a Belgian waffle with molten chocolate) and Müjgan (a posh éclair drenched in steaming coffee) are worth the 20-minute table wait, but for an instant sugar hit, follow your nose to its Wonka-styled chocolate room. Belgian-sourced with novel Turkish flavours is Asuman’s M.O. – think rose petal-studded tablets and tahini-flavoured truffles, which fly off the shelves. Die-hard chocoholics can even smell the part with their namesake cologne, layered with subtle chocolate aromas.
Caferağa Mah Şair Nefi Sokak 9 9, D:a, 34710 Kadıköy, +90 216 338 69 54, asuman.com
A four-minute taxi
Moda Aile Çay Bahçesi
Shaded by old sycamore trees, this open-air tea garden’s westward facing views of the Marmara Sea make it the perfect sunset perch. Do as locals do and BYOS like street-stall-bought Simit (Turkish bagel with sesame) and mastic ice cream from Ali Usta, a local institution. Then let veteran waiters settle your Turkish tea and coffee bill the old-fashioned way, by counting up your glass empties.
Caferağa Mahallesi, Park İçi Yolu, 34710 Kadıköy, +90 216 337 99 86
An eight-minute taxi
Süreyya Opera House
Built by a Turkish politician and designed by an Armenian, this state-owned, art nouveau opera house’s charm is its eccentricity. The city’s first musical theatre on the Asian side has spent most of its 92 years as a movie house, only raising the curtains on its first operetta in 2007. Making up for lost time, the Istanbul State Opera and Ballet now wows an unstuffy, sneaker-wearing crowd, with thrice-weekly performances and nosebleed seats starting from as little as 40 TL (US$7). Arrive early to toast a few pre-theatre drinks to its art deco foyer, modelled on Paris’ Champs-Elysées Theatre.
Osmanağa Mah., General Asım Gündüz Cd. No:29, 34714 Kadıköy, +90 216 346 15 31, [email protected]
A four-minute T3 tram
With past lives as an iron sculptor workshop and painters studio, this three-storied Anatolian mansion has been reborn as an elegant new restaurant-slash-cocktail-bar. Its creative spirit endures thanks to an experimental drinks menu and eclectic décor of mid-century furniture, art deco detailing and lashings of petrol blue and dusky pink velvet. Bow-tied barmen whip up hot pomegranate margaritas and pumpkin spice espresso martinis at its ceramic-tiled bar, whilst upstairs, a stylish crowd dig into sharing platters like topik, a traditional Armenian meze. Feeling adventurous? Order the grilled lamb intestines with chilli pepper jam, and (for added kick) their ‘Oh Eliza’ cocktail, blended with Jalapeno-infused Tequila.
Caferağa Mah. Şair Nefi Sokak No:14 Kadikoy, +90 216 338 72 72