Housing some of Istanbul’s oldest churches and synagogues, Kuzguncuk historically was a cosmopolitan mix of Ottoman Istanbul’s many cultures. Today, although a little more homogeneous, it still radiates an old village feel, while also boasting numerous modern cafes and art galleries. Traditional Jewish and Christian sites are aplenty here, but the real draw are the quaint streets with the striking Ottoman style homes that line them. Exploring Kuzguncuk is a must for all Istanbul residents craving an escape from the daily grind without having to go too far.
Before you get to the main drag of the neighborhood you’ll find a mosque and church next door to each other on Kuzguncuk Çarşı Caddesi. The Armenian Orthodox Church still offers services on Wednesdays and Sundays when you can sit in and take in the church interiors while you listen to a sermon.
Once out turn left onto the main-drag, İcadiye Caddesi. This is where people end up spending most of their time in Kuzguncuk. Almost immediately on your left you’ll find one of the only operating synagogues left in Istanbul, Beth Ya’akov. Built in 1878 its interior walls are decorated with trompe l’oeil panels, while its beautiful inner dome is decorated with landscape paintings depicting Israel. If you want to visit you have to register with the rabbinate beforehand.
After that if it’s breakfast time check out Betty Blue, but you really can’t go wrong anywhere down here. If it’s lunch, Met Et Doner is rated the 4th best Dönerci in the city. Work off the food by dropping into the art galleries or figuring out a way into Greek Orthodox Church of St. Panteleimon. A store owner across the street told me they don’t open for anyone anymore, but please tell me that’s not true (in the comments). If you walk far enough you’ll find the classic Ottoman mansions or yalıs everyone talks about where you’ll be hard-pressed not to find a couple posing for wedding photographs.
If you follow the coast towards Harem you’ll end up at the great Bosphorus viewing spot of Fethipaşa Korusu. In the summers you can catch free concerts put on by musicians here as the sun goes down. Or come in the afternoon and take a stroll around the park and climb the stone waterfall with the children. Or do what I did and just nap in the grass!
I’ve slightly cheated here and included more than 5 things, but there’s really a huge amount to see in Kuzguncuk that I’ve still left out. For example the well maintained Jewish and Greek cemeteries are regarded as two of the neighborhood’s highlights and Bostanlı has great walking trails, a community garden and a basketball court. The Ayios Georgios Monastery is another attraction, and further evidence of the districts’s distinctly cosmopolitan history while the stunningly situated Cemil Molla Mansion boasts, along with its elegant castellated architecture, the earliest installed private cinema and photo studio in the Ottoman Empire.
Let me know what else I’m missing or if you’ve got a better route through one of Istanbul’s best preserved villages down in the comments.
All images courtesy of David Jaques