Istanbul’s umbrella streets are some of the most atmospheric hidden gems in Istanbul. While the city is famous for its Ottoman and Byzantine sites, the umbrella streets are delightful features of modern Istanbul.
But they can be notoriously difficult to find. You’ll be more likely to stumble on an umbrella street than to find it on purpose. To start with, umbrella streets in Istanbul are not very well known. Some people might know that there is an Umbrella Street in Istanbul, but there are, in fact, at least three main umbrella streets scattered among different neighbourhoods.
Hanging up umbrellas outdoors is a popular thing in Istanbul and many other cities around the world. You can often see cafe courtyards decorated with a few colourful umbrellas. But entire alleyways with umbrella canopies are rarer.
Here is my guide to the three main Umbrella Streets in Istanbul, with a bonus of Hot Air Balloon Street.
Umbrella Street in Karakoy – the Funky One
Just a 10-minute stroll from Galata Tower, you find Karakoy neighbourhood’s Umbrella Street, arguably the prettiest Istanbul Umbrella Street. The street’s formal name is Hoca Tahsin Street, and you can easily navigate to it with Google Maps.
This little street is a funky open-air gallery with vibrant street art on the walls of the buildings and a canopy of multicoloured umbrellas above them. At one end of the street, there are a few different shops, and at the other, there are lovely cafes.
If you climbed the steep street to Galata Tower, Hoca Tahsin is the perfect street for a coffee break. Even if you haven’t climbed any hills, this is a very scenic spot to people-watch and soak up the atmosphere of modern-day Istanbul.
And if you enjoy vibrant neighbourhoods, you might like to stay right next door to Karakoy’s Umbrella Street at the gorgeous Pandan Karakoy Suits.
Umbrella Street in Balat – The Colorful Neighbourhood
Balat is Istanbul’s most colourful and quaint neighbourhood so it comes as no surprise that it would have its own umbrella street. Or rather, an umbrella courtyard. The colourful courtyard is part of Dimitrie Cantemir Museum Café on Sancaktar Yokuşu Sokak.
Dimintie Cantemir was an interesting figure – a Romanian prince exiled to Constantinople, he was a prominent figure of his time as a writer, philosopher, historian, composer, linguist, ethnographer and geographer. The house where he lived in the 18th century is now a museum and a very colourful cafe
The idea behind such colourful decor is to bring to life Istanbul’s history, particularly the essence of ancient Turkish tribes expressed by these colours. The courtyard is a delightful corner of Balat and a very atmospheric spot for a coffee break.
In terms of which cafe to pick, if you are planning to have a meal, İncir Ağacı Kahvesi has a better service and menu. If you just want to sit in the courtyard with a cup of coffee, Antik Cafe will do a fine job. If you are considering a lunch or dinner at either cafe at the weekend, make sure to reserve a table in advance.
Umbrella Street in Kadikoy – The Hipster One
Leaving the European side of Istanbul and taking a ferry across the Bosphorus, you’ll arrive at Kadikoy – Istanbul’s hip neighbourhood of curving streets, quirky cafes, and elegant boutiques.
Umbrella Street in Kadikoy is called Ziya Bey Sokak. It is an easy 10-minute walk from the ferry terminal or from the Kadikoy subway station.
Like its Karakoy neighbour, Kadikoy Umbrella Street is packed with a mixture of shops and cafes but has a more buzzing atmosphere. It’s not a long street either, and a good way to enjoy its setting is from an outdoor table at one of the restaurants. Cafe de Kadikoy is a good option with a lovely owner and good food.
Alternatively, you can grab a drink in one of the bars on the street. For cocktails, head to Salpa Bar, and for a schooner, to London Pub.
And if you prefer guided exploration, you can join a Walking Tour of Istanbul’s Asian Side that includes a visit to Kadikoy’s Umbrella Street.
Hot Air Ballon Street in Kadikoy
Another quaint street in Kadikoy is decorated with colourful mini hot air balloons rather than umbrellas. This little alley is called Nazim Bay Sokak, and it’s even shorter than the umbrella streets. There is a lovely Mezze restaurant – Agapia Mezze & Meyhane on the Miralay Nazim Sokak that looks right down the hot air balloon alley.
But for the best view, walk to the other end of Nazim Bay Sokak and look back. From this angle, the balloons are framed by the colourful backdrop of yellow and blue buildings.
The Story Behind Umbrella Streets in Istanbul
The first Umbrella Street appeared in 2011, in Agueda, Portugal as part of the Ágitagueda festival’s Umbrella Sky Project. As part of the project, multicoloured umbrellas were strung on wires that connected the rooftops of buildings on each side of a street. The idea behind umbrella streets is to provide shade for a street in a creative and cost-effective way.
Before long umbrella streets became a cultural phenomenon that spread to many cities across the globe. Not only do umbrellas provide shade they also colour the light hitting the street below creating delightful urban sanctuaries. It’s public art at its most useful.
The first umbrella ‘street’ in Istanbul appeared in 2013 in Bakırkoy Botanic Park to protect children from the sun. A few years later, the ‘real’ Umbrella Streets appeared.
Have you discovered any other umbrella streets in Istanbul? Add your tips in the comments below.
More on Exploring Istanbul
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- 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