For many people living on the European side of Istanbul, crossing over to the “other side” (the Anatolian side) seems like a trek, especially after spending all week commuting for work. Maybe they will make to effort to get to Kadıköy for a night on Bar Street or a walk through Moda, but rarely do you hear of someone planning a trip to Üsküdar.
What is there to do in Üsküdar anyway? Explore, I say! Üsküdar offers plenty of things to do and is only a 10 minute ferry ride across the Bosphorus. So for those who have yet to cross over and explore one of Istanbul’s oldest residential neighborhoods, here are some ideas of things to do to get you pumped about making the journey.
From the iskele just follow your nose to the Fish Market/Balık Pazarı and you will discover a rich assortment of culinary delights and, of course, fish. You can join the queue for a roasted chicken, load up on fresh fruits and vegetables, or tame your sweet tooth with lokma, bite-sized honey-dipped donuts that will give you such an intense sugar buzz you’ll be flying around the çarşı in no time.
What better way to get the vibe of a new place than by chilling in the square and people watching? Observe how the everyday unfolds here in Üsküdar by hanging around the Mimar Sinan Çarşısı, and check out another building by the famous architect, Mimar Sinan. Originally a hamam, this Ottoman delight is now a small shopping center. After being in the midst of all the action, take a time-out in Yeni Valide Mosque. “Another mosque?” you say, but this one – like all of them – has its own charms and beauties that make it different from the rest. Built by Sultan Ahmed III between 1708-1710 for his mother, Emetullah Rabia Gülnuş Valide Sultan, Yeni Valide has a dream-like quality because of its enormous iron cage structure.
Spiritually recharged, how about a treasure hunt? Browse around Üsküdar’s antique shops, which are like tiny museums overflowing with a splendid menagerie of objects. As you rummage through other people’s memorabilia, you may find a connection to your own past. It’s a good atmosphere for sparking the imagination.
Something to look forward to every Friday on the main drag is Friday Market/Cuma Pazarı. An open-air market that offers an eclectic variety of items for sale. Everything from fresh village-sourced food to imitation namebrand T-shirts mixed in with an assortment of odds and ends. Celebrate cold weather with a new pair of crocheted patik (booties) handmade by a nice teyze! This is also an opportunity to test your patience as it will be slow moving through this jam packed herd. Be not afraid to push your way through the crowds, as this is how it’s done here.
Now, when was the last time you had a massage? Have you ever tried salt therapy? A foot detox? Maranki Kozmik Merkezi is a great place to help realign your chakras. The main floor has shelves full of organic and natural products ranging from essential oils to vitamins. There are also crystals available that can help attract positive energy and avert the negative. Downstairs is where the magic happens: there are three rooms for therapy and detox treatments. At the end of the hallway there is a meditation room where the walls are covered with pink Himalayan salt crystals. A waterfall in the center creates a soothing atmosphere and helps you to relax.
From here, you can hop in a dolmuş to Karacaahmet Cemetery and wander around this 700 year old burial ground. Karacaahmet is the oldest cemetery in Istanbul and the largest in Turkey. It’s a peaceful place for contemplation amongst the cypress trees and a guaranteed no-crowd zone, so a perfect spot if you want to spend some time alone. After you get your fill of peaceful alone time, you can wind your way back to the sea and take a leisurely stroll along the promenade towards the Maiden’s Tower/Kız Kulesi. Break for a tea on the stairs lined with pillows and lounge like a paşa. If you so desire, you can puff away on a nargile to add to the ambiance. Hungry? Filizler Köftecisi is right near the tower, so you can pop in for a cheap meal with a great view. If you’re in the mood for something other than köfte, head further down the shoreline where there’s a cluster of cafes and restaurants (many of which serve alcohol) to choose from. The rocky coast line stretching all the way to Harem is also a good place to just kick back with some beer and sunflower seeds, and watch the ships roll in.
You could also head in the opposite direction from the iskele down Paşalimanı Caddesi until you reach Fethipaşa Sosyal Parkı. Here you’ll be surrounded by trees and nature in one of the few remaining green spaces in this ever-expanding city – it’s the perfect spot to unwind and reconnect with nature. Climb your way to the top of the park and get a glimpse of the Bosphorus from above.
After spending a full day cruising around this vast terrain, climbing hills and treasure hunting, how about getting your hamam on? Sweat it all out at Tarihi Ağa Hamamı, a small wooden haven that is less flashy than more upscale bathhouses on the European side and located on the same street as the Friday Market. Let the steam whisk away all your troubles and get an old-fashioned scrub down. You’ll no doubt emerge feeling renewed and relaxed.
Üsküdar… you may like it or love it. This Anatolian sweetheart is layered with history and full of hidden gems. So why not spend a day in a less touristic part of the city and experience one side of Istanbul’s many faces?
Marga Patterson is a contributor to Yabangee.