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At the mouth of the Golden Horn, Istanbul’s Karaköy has bustled with trade and commerce since the Byzantine era.

Long overlooked by tourists and developers because of a trifecta of fish stalls, hardware stores, and brothels, the waterfront district these days is abuzz with newcomers, from galleries to top-notch restaurants. Yet fishermen continue to hawk hamsi (anchovies) at the market, and mechanics still flock here for supplies.

With rents skyrocketing, that workaday grit won’t last. For now, though, Karaköy epitomizes a changing Istanbul, which has recently undergone episodes of isolated unrest.

Istanbul Modern

In a renovated 1950s warehouse, Istanbul’s first major contemporary art museum offers views across the Bosporus as well as a collection of artists such as Mark Bradford and Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid, whose abstract paintings blend Byzantine, Ottoman, and Western influences.

Kılıç Ali Pas¸a Hammam

Designed by 16th-century architect Mimar Sinan, this Turkish bath reopened last year after a seven-year restoration that resurrected original details and added marble massage rooms. Post-bath, relax with a sherbet under the sunlit dome.

Galata Simitçisi

The sesame-encrusted simit — a distant cousin of the bagel — is a favorite street snack of locals. In-the-know vendors source from this one-room bakery with a brick oven.

Karaköy Güllüog˘lu

Istanbul’s most beloved (and, some say, oldest) baklava shop offers a primer on pastries, 
from pistachio rolls to ceviz burma (walnut bites). Geometric-tiled flooring evokes Ottoman style.

Selda Okutan Gallery


This stark showroom presents contemporary jewelry by six Turkish designers. In the back workshop, owner Okutan 
creates whimsical pieces, such as an exquisitely detailed brooch in the shape of an ant.

Lab: Istanbul

Along the “French passage,” a historic arcade, this shop stocks quirky items by local designers, like shirts with shredded hems, as well as a covetable selection of vintage sunglasses (Emmanuelle Khanh, Dior).

Lokanta Maya

Since its 2010 opening by famed chef Didem Senol, this restaurant has become a top pick of the city’s discerning eaters. The menu changes frequently, but specialties include juicy köfte (meatballs) with mung beans.

Istanbul ’74

This cultural center organizes major exhibitions and free events, most notably “Ist. Fest” featuring talks and shows by such luminaries as Gore Vidal and Zaha Hadid. Now on view: an exhibit related to the Istanbul Biennial.

This piece, written by Amanda Ruggeri, appeared in the August/September 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.