Karaköy, Istanbul: a guide

Located near the Golden Horn, Karaköy is Istanbul's hottest new neighbourhood. Our expert searches out the best places to eat, sleep, shop and sip.

Karaköy has all the makings of a hip neighbourhood. Located on the water in a former port district, this area of Istanbul has an industrial feel, proximity to major art institutions and lots of green space. The past few years have seen some major development projects in the neighbourhood, and it has quickly become a destination for locals and tourists alike.

Yet whenever a neighbourhood has a meteoric rise like that of Karaköy, new shops, cafes, even art galleries pop up on the regular. Many change hands or swiftly close, only to replaced by another hopeful entrepreneur, making it difficult to discern which places are the real deal. We’ve put together a guide to Karaköy so that you can get the most out of any visit to this up-and-coming neighbourhood.

Where to grab a cup of coffee
Istanbul has started taking its espresso seriously. Over the past three years, the city has seen a huge increase in the number of third wave coffee shops; now an espresso machine is practically a requirement when opening a cafe. Karaköy is one of the city’s hubs for coffee in all its forms. There are the old standbys, the cafes that started it all in Karaköy: Karabatak, with its outdoor seating under a beautiful and cooling arbour, and Cafe Ops, with its comfy interior and excellent food selection, both serve a delicious cup of brew and are consistently popular spots. If you’re looking for a takeaway coffee, Coffee Sapiens is your best bet.

coffee-sapiensCoffee Sapiens

Related: A guide to Turkish tea and coffee

Where to find the best fine dining
While Karaköy boasts some Istanbul landmarks for fine dining, the area is also full of newer, contemporary restaurants that are pushing the envelope and, at the same time, serving some of the best food in the city. Colonie, with its sleek industrial decor, offers some amazingly rich seafood like octopus carpaccio and seared ginger salmon. If you’re looking for some place a bit more warm and intimate, you should head over to Lokanta Maya. It has an excellent wine list, and brilliant chef/owner Didem Şenol creates a menu that is exquisite in its simplicity.

lokanta-maya-1Lokanta Maya

Related: Istanbul's best rooftop bars

Where to go shopping
The best one-stop shopping in Istanbul is not at one of the city’s many malls, but rather at Souq Karaköy. Souq, as it’s most often referred to, embodies the spirit of Karaköy, and its rise mirrors that of the neighbourhood: what began as an underground pop-up bazaar that would sporadically and somewhat mysteriously materialize in a dilapidated former ice-cream-cone factory is now a very well-organized and ever-expanding market that has permanently set up shop in the same space. Held on most weekends, Souq provides a space for smaller craftsmen and artisans to sell their wares, although the organisers are beginning to invite bigger Turkish brands to participate. Despite this expansion, each weekend’s bazaar is expertly curated around a specific theme and features different artisans and businesses from Souq’s growing roster of participants.


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Where to take in a spot of art
Considering its proximity to the Istanbul Modern, the premiere centre of contemporary art in Istanbul, it’s no surprise that Karaköy has attracted some art-minded individuals. Two galleries of note are Mixer and Space Debris. The former, with an industrial space that lends itself to installations, was opened with the aim of making art accessible for everyone; its group exhibitions often feature talented Turkish artists. The latter was originally founded by Seyhan Musaoglu in New York, but is now based out of Karaköy, where it is known for displaying interactive new media works and its focus on interdisciplinary subjects.


Related: Istanbul for history lovers

Where to enjoy a leisurely brunch
Despite its rising status, Karaköy still does not offer much in the way of bars or nightclubs, mainly because it can be difficult to obtain a liquor license. As a result, the time to see and be seen in the neighbourhood is on the weekend, over the course of long, leisurely – albeit alcohol-free – brunch. One popular spot that is always packed to the gills is Pim Karaköy. With its beautifully-restored open-air dining room and freshly-baked breads, you won’t ever want to leave. Another delicious option is the newly-renovated Ragione. Pancakes are on the menu for breakfast, or you can choose a breakfast plate with all the fixings. The best thing about both restaurants is that they have an extensive lunch menu for those in your group who would prefer to tuck into a burger or salad rather than the traditional breakfast fare.

Pim-Karakoy-2Pim Karakoy

Related: Best breakfasts and brunches in Istanbul

1 Lokanta Maya
2 Mixer
3 Space Debris
4 Pim Karaköy
5 Ragione
6 Souq
7 Karabatak
8 Cafe Ops
9 Coffee Sapiens
10 Colonie