Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Street), arguably Istanbul’s most famous street, is located in the city’s Beyoglu district on the European side. Formerly called Cadde-i Kebir (Grand Avenue) or the Grand Rue de Pera, its name was changed following the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Literally millions of people visit this wide and gracious pedestrianised boulevard each day to enjoy the multitude of shops, cafes, bars, art galleries, restaurants, cinemas, churches, synagogues, mosques and embassies.
A nostalgic tram runs the almost 3km length of Istiklal Street, beginning at Taksim Square and ending at Tünel. The tram’s subway systems is the second oldest in the world, rivalling only that of London’s Underground. It’s a popular option for those wanting to escape the crowds or rest their feet, and is a quaint way to enjoy the 19th century architecture and energy of Istiklal from up high.
Shoppers won’t be disappointed, with a large array of big names like Mango and Bershka alongside smaller Turkish stores. As Turkey is one of the primary exporters of textiles to Europe, factory seconds for big European department stores like H&M can be bought cheaply on the side streets off Istiklal, particularly towards the Tünel end of the street. There are also a number of second hand and vintage stores.
On any given night, revellers pack Istiklal and the small side streets to eat, drink and sing with gusto. For a truly Turkish experience, head to the meyhanes off Balik Pazari (Fish Market) on Nevizade Street, as well as its pretty neighbour, Cicek Pasaji (Flower Passage). If you’ve got any energy left, there are a number of nightclubs which play a variety of music including rock, hip hop, reggae, blues, jazz, salsa and Turkish pop music.
Istiklal Street also has a number of popular places of worship including the Hagia Triada, a Greek Orthodox Church; the Roman Catholic Saint Mary and San Antonio di Padova churches; the Armenian Saint Mary Catholic Church as well as the Huseyin Aga Mosque.
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How to get to Istiklal Street - Taksim in Istanbul: Istiklal street is the busiest street from Taksim Square. From Sultanahmet: Taksim square is the heart of the new city and it is easily accessible from most parts of the city. From Sultanahmet, take the T-1 Zeytinburnu – Kabatas tram in the direction of Kabatas and get off at the last stop. From Kabatas, take the funicular to Taksim.
"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step" - Lao Tzu