Secret Istanbul: 15 Hidden Gems in Istanbul that You’ll Love

There are plenty of hidden gems; Istanbul is a city you can spend decades in and still not explore all that this magical city has to offer. While there are many popular tourist destinations in Istanbul, there are also many hidden gems that aren’t as well-known. These are the places that you’ll want to visit to get a true sense of the city and its people.

So if you’re looking for something unique and off-the-beaten-path in Istanbul, read on for some inspiration. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or have been to Istanbul before, I guarantee you’ll find something new and exciting in this blog post!

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The list of 15 hidden gems in Istanbul:

1. Kanlıca neighborhood

A quick ferry ride to the Asian part of Istanbul, and you’ll find the Kanlıca neighborhood. What makes this a real treat of all the Istanbul hidden gems is that the Kanlıca is a quiet escape from the busy city life of Istanbul. 

The historical wooden waterfront mansions, the open water swimming event in the Bosphorus, and the stunning Mihrabat Nature Park are all part of the scene here. We can’t recommend the local treat enough for foodies: yogurt topped with caster sugar. 

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2. Kadıköy Fish Market

Shoppers wandering busy kadikoy market street looking at fruit shop and fresh fish vendor, Istanbul tour

You’ll find many locals picking up their ingredients at Kadıköy Market. It’s not just fish but honey, cheeses, pickles, olives, and so forth. Kadıköy is on the Asian side of Istanbul, which means that the prices will be more reasonable than the European side.

The fish market is worth visiting to get a feel for Istanbul. However, it does have other advantages: you can get to feel the embrace of the cool winds during the ferry ride, and you can see the unique street art that’s famous here.

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3. Rüstem Pasha Mosque

Rüstem Pasha Mosque is one of the best hidden gems in Istanbul

The husband of Mihrimah Sultan built this mosque by commissioning Mimar Sinan. It’s different from the Mimar Sinan designs because the interior is minimalistic. This 16th-century mosque will also become the home to one of the Istanbul hidden gems that hardly anyone talks about: the Carpet Museum. 

Related content: The 17 Most Stunning & Beautiful Mosques in Istanbul

4. Büyük Valide Han rooftop 

View from Büyük Valide Han rooftop 

The sultan’s mother established Büyük Valide Han in 1651 as one of Istanbul’s most significant Hans (shops and hotels). However, in 1567, this was also the site of the first printing press in Istanbul. There is a Shi’a mosque in the main courtyard. It’s also within walking distance to some of the most magnificent mosques in Istanbul: Nuruosmaniye, Beyazıt, and Hagia Sophia.

One of the few hidden gems featured in a film (Skyfall – James Bond, 2012). Bring a camera to capture the marvelous views and drink tea in the cafe. 

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5. Women’s Bazaar (Kadınlar Pazarı)

Cured lamb meat hanging in restaurant window above pide breads on flavours of old city tour

Once upon a time, women would gather the types of fruits that were deemed ‘unsellable’ to the rich from the Eminönü market and bring them here to sell to other women. Still today, you’ll find a variety of nuts and dried fruit in this market off the beaten path. If you ever wanted to make trail mix or imitate the hazelnut-filled Turkish delight you just purchased, you may want to visit this marketplace. The market is close to Fener and Balat neighborhoods, and you can combine it with a day of sightseeing.

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6. Fener and Balat neighborhoods 

These suburbs were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the historical old city in Istanbul. That list includes both the Balat District and the Fatih District. Located on the western bank of the Golden horn, you’ll find a massive chunk of hidden gems in Istanbul here. 

When the Jewish people fleed the Spanish Inquisition, they settled in this area which is why it’s known as the Jewish Quarter of the city. As you walk around, check out the Phanar Greek Orthodox College, a private school established in 1454, a popular school for Greek families in the Ottoman era. 

Churches include:

The Fener Greek Patriarchate.

St George Church.

The Neo-baroque style of the Church of Our Lady of the Mongols.

St Stephen Bulgarian Iron Church (Aya Istefanos) from 1281.

The Surp Hresdagabet Armenian Church from the 16th century. 

Phanar Greek Orthodox College

Mosques include the Balat Mosque from 1562, designed by Mimar Sinan. Yavuz Selim Sultan Camii, a 16th-century mosque, is also here. It also consists of the Chora Mosque, by the walls of Constantinople, which was once a Church. 

Synagogues include the Yanbol Synagogue built in the 18th century and the Ahrida Synagogue built in the 1430s. 

You can find rare antiques at the Antiques Auction Shop (Fener Antik Mezat) if you visit between 3-8 pm. You’ll also find antique shops in Çıfıt Çarşısı (Çıfıt Bazaar). The renowned Agora Tavern was founded in the 1890s, during the Ottoman Empire, in this neighborhood as well.  

The cobbled streets around the historical colourful houses, the Balat Houses, and the Çorbacı Çeşmesi street and surrounding streets are perfect photography spots.

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7. Aqueduct of Valens (Bozdoğan Kemeri)

If you’re into historical buildings like the Blue Mosque, this is one of the hidden gems that you really can’t miss. The Aquaduct was built in the 4th century by Romans and it surrounds the Women’s Bazaar.

There’s a distribution plant near Hagia Sophia. The aqueduct brought water into the city, then stored in underground cisterns like the Basilica Cistern. After the fall of Constantinople, Fatih Sultan Mehmed repaired the system to supply water to the imperial palaces such as Topkapı Palace. 

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8. Otağtepe Park

The stunning views of the city make this grove one of the loveliest in Istanbul. The name comes from the Ottoman army forces, called OTAĞ, and tepe means hill. The Emperor wanted to see the whole of the Bosphorus after the first siege of Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1391.

Locals call it Otağtepe, but the signs refer to this grove’s official name, Fatih Korusu. There are no entry fees, no cafes, and no restaurants. There are children’s parks, bridges, ponds, and a botanical garden with 15,000 means. At the far end of the coast of the Bosphorus, there is the Anatolian Fortress, where there are cafes.

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9. Belgrad Forest

Belgrad Forest is one of the best hidden gems in Istanbul for its picturesque focus on nature. This forest is a protected woodland area by the Black Sea. It’s also referred to as the lungs of Istanbul. In the Sarıyer District, you can consider this one of many hidden gems in Istanbul off the beaten track. 

You have the opportunity to camp, walk on the walking trails, mountain biking, or picnic here. You can even BBQ in a select area, but please be careful not to start a forest fire! There are nine nature parks, marshes, historical reservoirs. The Valens Aquaduct runs through the Belgrad Forest. Please note that there are wild species if you choose to camp here. However, if you know what you’re doing, your visit to Istanbul may be cheaper than the average tourist.

Nature lovers may find the Atatürk Arboretum to be particularly fascinating. There used to be endangered deers at the Bahçeköy Wildlife Production Station. 

In Spring, it’s lovely to sit under one of the many chestnut trees with a thermos full of Turkish tea and pastries.

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10. Çamlıca Mosque 

We admit this may not count as “secret spots in Istanbul.” It is, however, one of the more unvisited spots by tourists, which is a shame because it’s one of the most beautiful mosques in Turkey. Moreover, it’s the largest mosque in the city. However, what makes this a hidden gem is not the mosque but the art gallery, library, childcare sections, and museum. Moreover, it’s next to the stunning Çamlıca Hill. If you’re heading to the Üsküdar district anyway, why not see this woman-friendly mosque designed by two women architects? 

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11. Nevmekan Sahil 

Image credit: Nevmekan Sahil

Istanbul is more than just historical buildings and museums. Istanbul is a fantastic city for bibliophiles. There’s now a new academic space in the Üsküdar district in Asia. This place is known as the new library complex in Istanbul. This hidden gem is unique, so you’ll find most visitors to be locals. There are 100,000 books – 80,000 printed (and the rest digital).

As soon as you enter, you’ll see contemporary art. You’ll find two cafes at opposite ends. They’re planning on organizing lectures, so this may be the meeting place of the brightest minds. This brand new space is part of the ever-changing face of Istanbul into modernity while keeping the history alive. It’s open 24 hours so if you find yourself in Turkey, in the middle of the night, with nowhere to go, why not visit this wonderous library? 

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12. Bebek waterfront

Bebek is one of the gorgeous neighborhoods in Istanbul’s Europe side. Even the locals love to visit here in the summer. If you’re visiting Istanbul, you may want to grab an ice cream from a local shop and chill in the park. You can watch life go by on the Bosphorus. If you have enough time, when you visit Istanbul, this neighborhood is not only a hidden gem for its views but also its food. If you want to try something sweet, visit a pudding shop in this part of the city. You can thank us later.

If you’re interested in exploring further, you might want to grab a quick ferry ride to the Anatolian side to see attractions like the Anatolian Fortress and Otağtepe Park.

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13. Theodosius Cistern

This attraction is located close to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, and it’s near Topkapı Palace. Most tourists are too busy visiting the Basilica Cistern to notice the newly discovered Theodosius Cistern entrance in the back streets. 

Theodosius Cistern counts itself among the historical hidden gems as this place predates Turkey by almost a thousand years. In 443, Emperor Theodosius II ordered this cistern to be built, and it was recently rediscovered in 2010. 

This is another one of the Byzantine attractions, but it has unique flooring and preserved Corinthian decor. There are 10-minute shows which include a 3D projection on the walls, columns, and ceilings which show you the waterways in Istanbul. Despite the shortness of the show, you may spend hours in this beautiful cistern. 

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14. Yeraltı Camii (Underground Mosque)

This is one of those unique things you have to be brave enough to try. Once, a Galata Fortress existed to control access to the Golden Horn. To prevent the Ottomans from invading, this castle held one end of a vast chain across the Bosphorus. Though the fortress no longer is there, there are two remnants of it. The first is the Galata Tower, and the other is this hidden gem: the Underground Mosque. Part of the chain is displayed in the Istanbul Archeological Museum. 

The Undergrounds mosque is one of the Istanbul hidden gems with a meditative vibe. It was a former prison in the former Byzantine fortress. Inside there is a quiet. If you decide to explore the cave-like dark mosque, you’ll find yourself at the tomb of two Arab sainted martyrs who died in the city’s first siege in the 7th century. The eerie green lights are a relic from when Sultan Murat IV ordered this shrine to be built for the martyrs. 

This may be one of the city’s quietest attractions depending on your view. 

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15. Zincirli Han at Grand Bazaar

Hans, also known as caravansarais, were where merchants could rest before selling their wares. Each Han was themed according to craft. These were the melting pot of merchants from around the world. If you visit this han, you’ll find chains as Zincirli means chains.

This enchanting building may become one of your favorite secret spots. The all-pink shop fronts, marble fountain, and trees give a photogenic vibe. You’ll find yourself splendid cobblestone streets. If you explore further, there’s a charming cafe upstairs. You may want to order some warm Turkish tea or a freshly squeezed pomegranate juice while enjoying the amazing view. You can also catch the craftsmen plying their trade. 

This is one of those hidden places that locals keep from the tourists. It’s worth visiting as it feels like a whole other world here. 

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Final words

Istanbul is a city that never sleeps. It’s an ancient metropolis, on the cusp of modernity, where East meets West and rich history blends seamlessly with new beginnings. With its mesmerizing architecture, delicious foods, and unseen gems waiting to be discovered at every corner, there are few places in the world as enchanting as this cosmopolitan treasure trove!

We have listed 15 hidden gems here – but these don’t include the hidden gems of Turkish cuisine. Join our food tour to taste all the treasures that Turkish cuisine hides!

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