Breaking Bad themed cafes, lucky bull’s testicles, Fenerbahçe football stadium and the occasional riot. It’s time to leave boring Europe behind and take a walk on the wild Asian seaside, with Laurel Steele as your guide.

Every introduction ever written about Istanbul touts that it’s the only city in the world to span two continents, yet tourists seldom make it to the Asian side of the metropolis. Perhaps they find the transcontinental commute daunting. I’m here to tell you that it’s time to wave goodbye to the aggressive carpet salesmen and overpriced alcohol of European Istanbul and hop a ferry to Kadikoy.

…it’s time to wave goodbye to the aggressive carpet salesmen and overpriced alcohol of European Istanbul and hop a ferry to Kadikoy.

This area of Istanbul has a long history and archaeologists have found relics dating back to 5500-3500 BC. In 685 BC, it became the first settlement by the Greeks on the Bosphorus, then called Chalcedon. It came into the hands of the Ottomans in 1353, exactly one century before Mehmet II conquered Constantinople. The area was then put under the jurisdiction of the courts and renamed Kadıköy or Village of the Judge.

A mural by German street artist, Dome

Today, it’s filled to the brim with cafes, record stores, antique dealers, quirky jewelry workshops, used bookstores, and cinemas. There’s a nostalgic tram that slowly loops around the Kadıköy center, but the area can easily be explored on foot. The district is also home to Fenerbahçe Stadium and on match days you’ll see hoards of fans decked out in navy and yellow.

Kadikoy’s milieu is easygoing, a touch devil-may-care, and very hip, but not so cool that you feel pressured to grow flamboyant facial hair

Kadikoy’s milieu is easygoing, a touch devil-may-care, and very hip, but not so cool that you feel pressured to grow flamboyant facial hair (looking at you Cihangir), although handlebar mustaches are very welcome. Not surprisingly, the district has become increasingly popular with expats, but is still relatively off the beaten touristic path.

Kadıköy street cats DGAF.
Kadıköy street cats DGAF.

Much of Kadikoy’s lovable personality is owed to the Kadıköy Belediyesi, a municipality that champions any cause with the word street, art, or animal in it. The street cats and dogs of Kadıköy reign supreme and many stores have a resident cat that spends all day basking in the breeze of the AC or heater, depending on the season.

By Day

The most well-known landmark in Kadıköy is the Bull Statue (boğa heykeli). Origin stories for this well-endowed beast vary, but it definitely came from Germany and you definitely need your picture taken next to it. Your friends might tell you that it’s good luck to rub the bull’s testicles, but they’re only messing with you. The statue is also a popular meeting point for political marches. Several days a week, scores of people with flags and banners congregate around an individual with a megaphone. Protesters are usually joined by riot police and occasionally receive a tear gas shower for their efforts.

The bull statue in Kadıköy

The district is home to a handful of unconventional attractions worth checking out, including the Istanbul Toy Museum, the 19th century Haydarpaşa Terminal, the Florence Nightingale Museum, and the Barış Manço Museum. Kadikoy is also a great place to get lost, so take time to explore its side streets. That’s where you’ll find most of the lavish Ottoman Era houses and remarkable street art.

Your friends might tell you that it’s good luck to rub the bull’s testicles, but they’re only messing with you.

For a gargantuan breakfast, stop by Thales. Their breakfast for two comes with all the traditional fixings of a full Turkish breakfast along with some bonuses. Wear your elastic waist pants and tuck in. Note that Turks don’t usually go out for breakfast on the weekend until 11 or noon, so the place might be a bit deserted before then.

Ambrosia
Ambrosia

Get caffeinated at Çekirdek, a compact and perfectly organised cafe run by Tunca, the nicest man in Kadıköy. He prepares everything himself, including the pastries. Have a piece of the tahin-pekmez cheesecake and your general outlook on life will skyrocket. If Çekirdek is closed, Dört (home to Zeus the friendly Great Dane) or Walter’s (a Breaking Bad themed cafe where the espresso is served in beakers) are both excellent options.

Get caffeinated at Çekirdek, a compact and perfectly organised cafe run by Tunca, the nicest man in Kadıköy. He prepares everything himself, including the pastries.

After breakfast and coffee, take a walk to Moda, a neighbourhood in Kadıköy popular with writers, artists, and Turkish celebrities. As you continue walking downhill to the seaside (sahil), the canine population changes from mangy sunbathing street dogs to small purebreds with their humans in tow. Conversely, the street cats get fatter and lazier.

A morning view of the Sea of Marmara from the Moda seaside

The seaside offers a great view of the European peninsula, the Princes Islands, and the Sea of Marmara. A favorite haunt for all Kadıkonians, you’ll see walkers, cyclists, runners, and rollerbladers who just won’t let the 90s die. The parks along the coast have tennis and basketball courts, playgrounds and plenty of space for picnics or just lounging in the grass.

By Night

If you’re after the best mantı (Turkish ravioli) in town, look no further than Salkım Soğut. The friendly staff serve the handmade pasta in generous portions and also make top-notch hünkar beğendi (lamb stew over eggplant purée). Down the street, Rulo prepares affordable and filling vegetarian meals. For just 6 TL (£1.5) you can get a huge wrap loaded with falafel, chickpeas, and every imaginable vegetable.

One mantı to rule them all
One mantı to rule them all

For high-quality and wallet friendly entertainment, check out the Süreyya Opera House. Inspired by the Champs-Elysees Theater in Paris, this art deco theater delivers professional opera and ballet performances for around 25TL (£6).  Tickets sell out fast, so keep an eye on the official website.

Kadife Sokak, known locally as Barlar Sokak, is a street lined with eclectic pubs and tattoo parlors (a hazardous combination). Here, you’ll find live music, aspiring DJs, and trendy pubs. Head to Karga for a noisy, but cozy night with friends. For imported beers and the best bacon burgers in town, try Zeplin.

If you’re on a tight budget, buy some bottles of Efes and join the locals drinking at the seaside. The area is well lit and full of people until the early hours of the morning.

Resident’s Perspective

London born, Antalya raised, and Cyprus educated, Aylin settled in the Kadıköy district three years ago where she works as a senior software developer. “What I really love about the area is that you can see, do, eat, or drink anything you like. Also, you’re never more than a fifteen minute walk from the seaside.

Aylin, a happy Kadıkonian
Aylin, a happy Kadıkonian

One of my favorite cafes is Mambocino. They make an excellent americano and amazing desserts. Plus, it’s a nice place to sit and read. I also love walking along the seaside. It’s relaxing and fun to see all the street cats laying around. With the grassy areas and rocks along the water, it’s the perfect area to have a picnic.

 “What I really love about the area is that you can see, do, eat, or drink anything you like.”

The only thing I dislike in Kadıköy is the smell near Yoğurtçu Park, but it’s not so bad if you breathe through your mouth.”

Local Digs

For backpackers on a budget, Hush Hostel is the place to be, with dorm beds starting around £10. The hostel is just a five minute walk from Barlar Sokak and the metro and ten minutes from the ferry station.

If you’ve got a more liberal budget and want a private toilet, the Double Tree Hilton offers an impressive view of the Istanbul skyline across the Bosphorus.

Kadıköy can easily be reached by ferry from Kabataş, Karaköy, Beşiktaş, or Eminönü ferry piers as well as by Marmaray or bus. If you’re partying in Asia, but sleeping in Europe, there are yellow minibuses (dolmüş) ready to whisk you from Kadıköy to Taksim all night long.

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