Bosphorus, or the Istanbul Strait, functions not just as a border between Europe and Asia, but as one of the most beautiful sites in all of Turkey. Lined with scenic greenery, palaces, parks, and not to mention an absolutely gorgeous waterfront, Bosphorus has much more to offer than one may initially suspect.
The Bosphorus is a saltwater strait that connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara Seas, divides Europe from Asia/Anatolia. On its western shore, European Istanbul is further divided by the Golden Horn into the Old City (aka the historic peninsula) in the south and the New City in the north. There are numerous ways to explore the Bosphorus.
Along the Bosphorus literally “inside the Bosphous” is preferred when refering to the areas on the bank of Bosphorus, rather than the Bosphorus itself), the strait that lies between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, and separating Europe and Asia, lies a number of neighborhoods each with a different character (possibly due to the fact that they all started as seperate fishing villages and some are still physically seperated from each other by lush woodlands), palaces of the late Ottoman period, and parks. This is quite easily one of the most scenic yet largely overlooked by travellers parts of Istanbul, which reaches its zenith during late spring (especially in early May), when the Judas trees, which are some sort of symbol of the Bosphorus and dotting the hills along the Bosphorus, are in full bloom of their deep-pink flowers that engulf both shores of the strait.
What to See
Bosphorus Cruise is the best way to see the Bosphorus in all its beauty is to take a boat trip. This is the strategic waterway connecting the Black sea to the Mediterranean, and dividing Istanbul into two continents. As the boat zigzags between Asia and Europe, you can admire the old Ottoman wooden houses, 6 Ottoman palaces, 2 suspended bridges, and 2 medieval castles.
It is somewhat of a tourist trap. On sundays there are fewer boats. If you are not so lucky/fast to get one of the few deckseats it gets very hot inside, even hotter than in the city.
There are also daily trips from Eminönü, by 10.30AM in the morning and come back by 4.30PM in the evening. There is an additional boat by 1.30PM in summer.
For travelers that don't want to bother with getting off the boat/taking the bus to take a deeper look into some of the Bosphorus neighbourhoods, there are also boats departing from Ortaköy which allow you to see waterfront from a distance up to the Second Bosphorus Bridge in the north, though they don't allow you to get off at any neighbourhood quay you like (in fact they don't stop anywhere until they get back to Ortaköy).
- Akretler Street or officially Süleyman Seba Caddesi features upscale garment boutiques, restaurants, and sidewalk cafés housed in recently renovated late Ottoman era rowhouses initially built for the state elite, given their proximity to Dolmabahce Palace, imperial headquarters then.
- Arnavutköy, (north of Ortaköy, south of Bebek). The neighbourhood of Arnavutköy (literally "Albanian village", paying homage to its founders in 1500s) features impressive 4-storey wooden mansions which line the waterfront, all bearing significant artwork on their facades.
- Dolmabahce Palace It's the Ottoman Palace centered close to Taksim at the Dolmabahçe shore. Build on 110,000 meter square ground with 285 rooms and 43 halls where the Ottoman empire was administered in the last 150 years. Visits only in guided tours (45 min) in major spoken languages.Extra fee for Harem, the part of the palace the residents lived, expect waiting some time for another guided tour there.
- Emirgan Park about 20 min on foot away from main waterfront avenue. Situated on the gentle hill overlooking the neighbourhood of Emirgan and the Bosphorus, Emirgan Park was for long the only place in the city where Istanbulites can admire the beauty of tulips. Having lost that distinction in the last decade as tulips are now everywhere, this is still a beautiful park with artificial ponds, small waterfalls, and impressive views of Bosphorus. There are also cafes with open-air sections housed in pleasant former imperial hunting manors. Squirrels are there, too, in the middle of this metropolis of 15+ million people, though you may have to look a bit deeper (or a bit upper on the branches!) to spot them.
- Maçka Park , between Dolmabahçe Palace and that high-rise of Ritz Carlton. This is a park occupying two sides of a valley of this hilly city, with an avenue inbetween. Sides of the valley are connected to each other by a 4-person gondola lift line offering a shortcut when walking to Taksim Square as well as nice views of Bosphorus (access to northern station from Maçka Caddesi/Eytam Caddesi, every 5 minutes 8AM-8PM, and by a wooden bridge over the bisecting avenue if you prefer to take a stroll along nice footpaths of the park.
- Ortaköy, a neighbourhood on the bank of Bosphorus with the Ortaköy Mosque the baroque mosque under the Bosphorus Bridge, combination of which are one of the most iconic images of Istanbul. This artsy neighbourhood is filled with nice cafes, some of which offer kumpir a baked potato with various fillings such as mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles, sweetcorn, sausage slices, carrots, mushrooms, Russian salad among others which the neighbourhood is well-known for, and a perfect view crowded and fun. The way from Be?ikta? takes around 25 minutes on foot and is along an avenue shaded by huge plane trees, though the usually-heavy traffic may take some of its peacefulness away.
- Rumeli Citadel, on the waterfront, right next to the main avenue. Built in first half of 1400s, this is the large medieval castle under the Second Bosphorus Bridge. Its former name Bo?azkesen (Turkish) / Laimokopia (Greek) means both "strait-blocker" and "throat-cutter" in both languages and denotes the reason of its building to shut the supply routes from the Black Sea in the north into the slowly falling apart Byzantine Empire through the Bosphorus. Rumeli, literally "Roman land", was the name of the European half of Ottoman Empire, and as is usual with some other structures and villages along the Bosphorus, used as a prefix to differentiate Rumeli Hisar? from its counterpart in Asian Side, the much smaller Anadolu Hisar?, located just across the Bosphorus.
- Sadberk Han?m Museum. Th-T 10AM-5PM. A private museum housed in a yal?, traditional wooden waterfront mansions that lie along the banks of Bosphorus. Exhibition includes a number of archaeological and ethnographical artifacts from the collection of Koç Family, though just seeing the interior of a yal? is worth entering.
- Sakip Sabanci Museum. Tu, Th, F, Su 10AM-6PM; W, Sa 10AM-10PM. Museum with a rich collection of calligraphy and paintings. It also hosts temporary exhibitions of works by some world-class artists such as Pablo Picasso from time to time.
Keep in Mind
There is not much safety issues in this part of the city really, at least not as much as you'd expect from a city of this size.
There are some issues to keep in mind, though:
Some parts of pedestrian promenade at the Bosphorus side of the street in the upper (northern) sections of the district, especially between Yeniköy and Tarabya, and Tarabya and Kireçburnu, are very narrow (so narrow as not to let two pedestrians comfortably walk side by side), so watch your steps if you decide to take a stroll around there.
While you will see some people (mostly poor children, who cannot afford to swim in swimming pools) swimming in the strait, it is discouraged and is dangerous due to strong currents and depth. (There are red colored warning signs in Turkish dotting the shores of the Bosphorus, warning swimmers that swimming is dangerous due to strong currents, even though there is no ban). Nor are there any real beaches, facilities and designated swimming areas on the Bosphorus for swimmers as a result. There is indeed a cape named Ak?nt?burnu (literally, "cape of current") just east of the neighborhood of Arnavutköy, in which the current is at its strongest, and is easily visible even from outside, just like the flow of a river. Besides, the water is not that clean either, however blue it may look. So, if you can't wait for hitting a Mediterranean beach, better head for beaches on the Marmara coast, outside Istanbul instead.
You may want to steer clear of the dimly illuminated parks on the upper/northern sections of Bosphorus, especially around Kireçburnu, late at night to avoid harassment from homeless people likely abusing inhalants, who are known to stab people for whatever amount of money they can get, no matter how little. Dayhours and evenings are perfectly safe, though.