You’ve had a satisfying day or two’s heavy sightseeing in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district. You’re culturally replete – but have a nagging feeling that you’ve missed something. The locals. Just what the hell do they do in this metropolis of fifteen million souls?
To find out, head across the Golden Horn to Independence Street (İstiklal Caddesi), the nation’s liveliest thoroughfare. Lined with nineteenth-century apartment blocks and churches, and with a cute red turn-of-the-twentieth-century tramway, it was the fashionable centre of Istanbul’s European quarter before independence, and it is now where young Istanbulites (it has the youngest population of any European city) come to shop, eat, drink, take in a film, club, gig and gawk, 24/7.
By day, bare-shouldered girls in Benetton vests, miniskirts and Converse All Stars mingle with Armani-clad businessmen riding the city’s financial boom, and music stores and fashion boutiques blare out the latest club sounds onto the shopper-thronged street. At night the alleyways off the main drag come to life. Cheerful tavernas serve noisy diners (the Turks are great talkers) wonderful meze, fish and lethal raki. Later, blues, jazz and rock venues, pubs and clubs burst into life – with the streets even busier than in daylight hours. You won’t see many head-scarved women here, and the call to prayer will be drowned by thumping Western sounds. But though Islam may have lost its grip on Istanbul’s westernized youth, traditional Turkish hospitality survives even on Independence Street, and you may find yourself being offered a free beer or two. This is Istanbul’s happening European heart; no wonder it has been heralded as “Europe’s Hippest City”.
From Sultanahmet take a tram to Karaköy then the Tünel funicular railway to the bottom of Independence Street; both close at around 9pm. Return to Sultanahmet by taxi after midnight.