Looking to experience centuries-old cafe culture? Then drop by one of these best cafes in Istanbul and soak up the ambience. Whether you are exploring Sultanahmet, strolling along Istiklal Caddesi, or getting lost in the twisting streets of Balat, we’ve got you covered.
Coffee may have been discovered by a goat herder in ancient Egypt, but cafe culture was born in Ottoman Istanbul. The legend has it that the world’s first coffee shop was opened by two Yemenis in Istanbul during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) in the era that came to be known as the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire.
The early cafes in Istanbul were the centres of social activity in the empire and were themed around their customers’ social and professional interests. There were Craftsmen cafes, Minstrel cafes, Janissary cafes, Storytellers cafes and later, Intellectuals cafes.
It comes as no surprise that traditional Turkish coffee is a distinct brew. It’s very dark, strong, and sweet. As a Turkish saying goes: Coffee should be dark as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love. Although in modern times, you can just as easily find a more westernized coffee in Istanbul.
So if you are keen to experience the 500-year-old cafe culture in the land where it was born, here are some of the best cafes in Istanbul that serve a wide range of mouthwatering deserts and traditional Turkish food from Sultanahmet to Eyup. Istanbul’s coffee and cafe culture is part of what makes Istanbul one of the best holiday destinations in Turkey.
Hafiz Mustafa 1864
Hoca Paşa, Muradiye Cd. 51
Founded over 150 years ago, Hafiz Mustafa 1864 still has patrons’ mouths watering to this day, and this dessert cafe is a must-do when in Istanbul. The original cafe can still be found near the Egyptian Bazaar in the Fatih district.
Thanks to its fantastic desserts, pastries and snacks, it’s very popular with locals and tourists alike. You can now find several branches scattered across Istanbul. The branch in Sultanahmet, right across from the Blue Mosque, makes a sweet spot for a break from sightseeing.
Hafiz Mustafa 1864 is famous for its various kinds of lokum (Turkish delight), baklava, halva, milk pudding and other hard candies and other confectioneries.
Besides baked goodies, you can also indulge in incredible dondurma (Turkish ice cream). The dondurma comes in either chocolate, vanilla or pistachio flavours, and is served on a plate with a knife and fork. If you like your ice cream in thick slabs that cutlery to eat it, then you know where to go!
Turkish tea or coffee is the perfect match to balance out all that sweetness.
Those looking to take a bit of Istanbul home with them after their visit will be glad to know that most of the baked goodies, cakes, puddings and sweets are available to take home as presents.
After choosing your sweets from the display window, they are carefully packed and wrapped for you to take home. All of this makes Hafiz Mustafa one of the best cafes in Istanbul to immerse yourself in centuries-old cafe culture.
Alemdar, Divan Yolu Cd. 62
Çiğdem Pastanesi (Cigdem Patisserie) in Fatih is a short walk from Sultanahmet Square, across the street from the ruins of the Fifth-Century Palace of the Antiochos. It is a fantastic historic and non-too-touristy spot to eat like a local close to Istanbul’s main attractions.
Join the locals early in the morning, making their breakfast pitstop on the way to work when the bakes are at their freshest. Simple, well-made food is the name of the game, and the fact that they have been in business in this location since 1961 attests to that.
Out in the front, there are plenty of pastries and breads that can be taken away quickly and eaten on the go. It is impossible to walk past and ignore the shop window piled high with all kinds of baked treats. Take your pick from flaky, savoury börek with meat or cheese or one of the many cakes on display, such as the strawberry tart.
There is also a cafe inside where you can feel like you have stepped into another era and order food all day and well into the evening. You can have a Turkish kahvaltı spread of cold cuts, cheese and salad or eggs, but they (and I) would recommend the menemen, a dish of scrambled eggs, capsicum and tomatoes with plenty of bread to mop up the delicious, meatless mess.
The obligatory Turkish coffee and teas, along with the options of espresso drinks, go well with breakfast and with sweets like homemade baklava.
Cafe Naftalin K
Balat, Yıldırım Cd. 27/A
One of the most iconic cafes in Istanbul is Cafe Naftalin K, otherwise known as the cat cafe. Located in the Jewish district of Balat, this cute cafe is situated on Yıldırım Cd, a street that is filled with the neighbourhood’s best cafes and restaurants.
As the name suggests, the cat cafe earned its name from the numerous cats that just happen to reside in the cafe at any time of the day. Where else in the world can you have a cup of Turkish coffee or tea and cuddle some adorable kittens at the same time?
Besides the cats that overwhelm the cafe with cuteness, the interior decor of the cafe is antique and very nostalgic. You’ll find tons of old paraphernalia, such as antique clocks, a typewriter, and the like. The cozy and relaxed atmosphere immediately makes any guest feel welcome.
When it comes to food, Cafe Naftalin K has the typical cafe menu and more. Their vegetarian plate is quite unique and delicious, and a blessing since it can be hard to find vegetarian food in Istanbul.
The cafe is open until 11 PM daily. So if you are looking for things to do in Istanbul at night but don’t want to party, head over to the Cafe Naftalin K cat cafe!
Kuloğlu, İstiklal Cd. 107
If you are looking for the best of the best cafes in Istanbul with some of the best Turkish desserts, then walk into Saray Muhallebicisi on Istiklal Street. Founded in 1935, this is one of Istanbul’s oldest restaurants and definitely one of the best.
Saray Muhallebicisi serves some of the most amazing traditional Turkish sweets, and they claim to be the first pudding makers in Turkish history.
No doubt, you have to taste their rice pudding or firin sutlac when you get here. Some of the other interesting and delicious desserts on the menu are kazandibi (a chicken breast pudding), tres leche (a three-layered cake), and kunefe.
If you are looking for some good foodie Turkish souvenirs to take back home, packing some of their baklava and burma kadayifi is a good idea. Their soups and kebabs are good too, but their desserts are the best.
Saray Muhallebicisi has several branches across Istanbul, but the one on the lively Istiklal Street in Beyoglu has a great vibe.
The restaurant is several floors tall and has terrace seating where you can enjoy some great coffee and snacks while watching people on the street below. They are open every day from 6:00 am – 4:00 am.
Mimar Sinan Teras Cafe
Demirtaş, Fetva Ykş. 34
The Süleymaniye Mosque is one of the highlights of Istanbul. Although it gets less traffic from tourists than other popular mosques in the historical city, like the Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque is a lesser-visited (and less crowded) gem.
Perched high on top of a hill overlooking the Old Town of Istanbul, the Süleymaniye Mosque is a 20-minute walk from Taksim Square. Commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent and designed by the famous architect Mimar Sinan all the way back in 1550.
After hiking up the hill where the Süleymaniye Mosque is perched, you’ll probably work up quite an appetite. The best place to dine while appreciating gorgeous sweeping views of Istanbul and the Bosphorus is the Mimar Sinan Teras Cafe.
Named after the architect who designed the gorgeous mosque behind the cafe, Teras Cafe is actually located within the mosque complex.
Teras cafe carries all traditional Turkish treats like Baklava, Turkish Coffee, and Ottoman Sherbets, as well as full meals like Kofte and Kebabs. The cafe also has all types of western food like hamburgers, pasta, and pizza.
Recommended by Katie from KatieCafTravel.com
Alemdar Restaurant & Cafe
Alemdar, Alemdar Cd. 7 D:2
Alemdar Restaurant & Cafe is located in Sultanahmet, a 2-minute walk from the Basilica Cistern. It is one of the best cafes in Istanbul to experience the best classic Turkish food with a distinctly Turkish ambience.
The restaurant also offers Dervish ceremonies every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 8 pm (time can vary), giving you a chance to combine delicious food with a unique cultural experience in Istanbul.
The specialty of this restaurant is the Turkish way of seating arrangement and ethnic Turkish decor all around. You will feel like you have reached to Turkish historical era. The servers and waiters, too, are clad in traditional attire and serve the food in a traditional way.
It is difficult to find vegetarian or vegan main courses spread lavishly in Istanbul. Here you will find the best vegetarian Turkish food with warm hospitality.
The main thing to try out here is vegetarian Testi kebab, which comes in a sealed clay pot on flames of fire. Then with a unique trick, they break the clay pot in front of you to take out the kebab.
This dish is tasty, but its special presentation is also worth trying out. You can also order a vegetable fry pan, vegetable Moussaka (Turkish style), and Turkish stuffed bread – gozleme.
Eyüp Merkez, Karyağdı Sk. 20, Eyüpsultan
Named after Pierre Lotti, the French novelist and Istanbul lover, Pierre Lotti Hill is one of the best places to visit during your trip to Istanbul to enjoy a cup of hot coffee with splendid views of this historic city.
The café on the top of Pierre Lotti Hill offers a traditional setting where you can enjoy a cup of the famous Turkish coffee or tea paired with a piece of scrumptious cake while the outstanding views of the Golden Horn take your breath away. In fact, it is one of the best cafes in Istanbul with a view. The best time to visit the café is during sunset to catch the beautiful sunlight or in the morning for breakfast with Turkish delicacies.
Pierre Lotti Hill is located in the Eyup neighbourhood, and the best way to get there is to ride the exciting cable car. The ticket costs as much as a metro or bus ticket, or you can use your Istanbulkart, the city’s public transportation card. Expect long queues at the cable car, so plan your visit accordingly.
However, the ride takes less than three minutes, and the views from the cable car are totally worth it. Once you arrive on the hill, before getting to the café, you will find an observation deck that offers panoramic views of the Golden Horn.
Incir Sğacı Kahvesi
Balat, Merdivenli Mektep Sk.1
Perhaps the most photogenic cafe in Istanbul is İncir Ağacı Kahvesi in Balat, next to one of Istanbul’s Umbrella Streets. Located in one of the most popular neighborhoods in Istanbul, this cafe attracts tons of visitors no matter the time of the day.
İncir Ağacı Kahvesi is more than just the typical cafe. Yes, it does have excellent coffee, tea, and an array of foods, but this cafe in Istanbul is a hub of creativity.
At the entrance of the cafe, you’ll find a set of colourful and artistic steps, which is often filled with people looking to take the perfect Instagram photo. Venture deeper, and you’ll find a small narrow walkway with hanging umbrellas.
Finally, you’ll get to the cafe and its outdoor and indoor areas, where you can find a place to sit down and enjoy the creative spaces around you.
What makes this cafe so special when compared to the other ones is that it is not only just a dining experience but one that encompasses the energy and creativity of Istanbul (and Balat) and the culinary arts of Turkey. Don’t miss this place!
İncir Ağacı Kahvesi closes at midnight daily. At night, the place comes even more to life. It is not unusual to find live music and plenty of people chatting away and out to have a good time.
The Dervis Cafe
Sultanahmet Mah, Kabasakal Cd.1 D:2
The Dervis Café in Sultanahmet Park, very close to the Blue Mosque, is a fabulous Istanbul café to choose to take refreshments in the city.
In this super Istanbul café, which has an outside patio and covers for inclement weather, you’ll not only get to try good Turkish coffee and specialties, but you can also experience one of Turkey’s cultural traditions too.
Istanbul is a great place to explore the Islamic Sufism sect, known as the Whirling Dervishes, most famous for their traditional form of worship – where those within the sect wear white skirted outfits and constantly twirl, one hand to the ground, one pointed up reaching for the divine. Observing a true ceremony is expensive, and there are no photographs or videos allowed.
However, if you just want to see what the dance looks like, then Istanbul’s Dervis café is perfect. This isn’t a proper ceremony, but it will allow you to see the dance. And to photograph or video the performance.
And here at the Dervish Café, so long as you buy a coffee or a snack, it’s free. There are all types of food and drink served here, but the most recommended are Turkish coffee and desserts. The dance happens at 7 pm.
Yunus Emre Teras Cafe
Evliya Çelebi, Meşrutiyet Cd., Beyoğlu
Two streets away from the ever-crowded İstiklal Caddesi in Beyoğlu is a café that checks all the boxes. Yunus Emre Teras Cafe serves an excellent Turkish breakfast, has great views over the Golden Horn, offers indoor and outdoor seating, is close to sights, museums, and public transportation stops, and as a bonus, the staff has that genuine Turkish hospitality.
They specialize in a regional breakfast from very far away called Van kahvaltı. Van is a city in southeastern Anatolia, not far from the Iranian and Iraqi borders. The rare item from this region is murtuğa, which is a creamy dip made of flour, butter, and eggs topped with walnuts. The staff will tell you to eat it together with bread and honey. Before you order: it’s best to share this breakfast with at least one other person.
Over a long time, your city-view table will fill up with freshly-cut vegetables, Mediterranean olives, cheeses from stringy to hard, honey on the comb, a sesame paste-molasses dip called tahin pekmez, jams, fruits, spicy and salty condiments (acuka), fresh cacık (tzatziki), cream (kaymak), sausages, and a delicious pan of steaming hot menemen. The staff will fill up your bread basket with a variety of bread including warm simit.
Turkish tea refills are unlimited and make sure to leave some space for coffee after breakfast. The price of this feast is reasonable at about 150 Turkish Lira (€12.50 at that time).
Zoya’s House, Nisantasi
Harbiye Mahallesi, Bostan Sokak, Sadiye Vefik Apartmanı, No:13, İç Kapı No:1, Şişli
Located in one of Istanbul’s upscaled neighbourhoods, Zoya’s house is a boho-styled restaurant that offers a unique dining experience to its visitors. The menu features a variety of international dishes from different cuisines, including French and Italian.
The atmosphere of Zoya’s house is casual and relaxed, and the service is attentive without being intrusive, making it the perfect place to enjoy a meal with friends or family. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it is highly recommended to make a reservation before going as it gets quite busy.
Zoya’s house is located in a tricky place in the Nisantisi neighbourhood, but it shouldn’t be hard finding it with the help of Google Maps. So, if you are looking for a leisurely meal away from traditional Turkish food, Zoya’s is the perfect place to eat in Istanbul.
And there you have it – the 11 best cafes in Istanbul to get a taste of centuries-long cafe culture that began in the days of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and spread like wildfire around the globe.
More on Exploring Istanbul
- 11 Best Cafes in Istanbul to Experience the Centuries-Old Cafe Culture
- Guide to Vising Topkapi Palace & Harem: Sultans and Concubines
- How Many Days in Istanbul is Enough? Guide to Exploring the City
- 16 Charming Istanbul Hidden Gems and Underrated Sites
- 3 Umbrella Streets in Istanbul – Colorful Urban Sanctuaries
- Where to find Constantinople Today: On the Trail of Constantinople in Istanbul
- Finding Birds in Istanbul without Looking for Them