Peaceful Places in Istanbul

We’d have been overwhelmed during our recent visit if not for Context Travel’s thoughtful walking tours, which brought us to peaceful places in Istanbul.

Having secured impossibly inexpensive seats on a long haul flight out of Istanbul, we’d decided to give the city another chance after a not so positive layover last year. Surely we shouldn’t judge any place solely on its airport, right? When Context Travel offered to show us around during our Istanbul stay, we were very eager to join their immersion walking tours: An Istanbul Guide to the Asian Side and Cosmopolis: Istiklal Street, which focuses on the former European “diplomatic zone.” These two experiences, we hoped, would give us an in-depth, first-timers’ look. But there was an entirely unanticipated benefit! On each of these walking tours we were able to experience very peaceful places in Istanbul. These proved to be the perfect antidote we so desperately needed for a city and cultural energy that didn’t always sync up.

Reviewing our Instagram gallery, we were reminded just how many peaceful places in Istanbul we’d experienced and thought it would be fun to share them with you in this post.

Peaceful Places in Istanbul with Context Travel Immersion Walking Tours

peaceful places in Istanbul: tahtireven sedan chair

Tahtireven sedan chair in Istanbul. Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Sirkeci Train Terminal is a very busy place today. Our docent, Alexandra Pruscha, met us here before we crossed the Bosphorus together by ferry to the Asian side. There was virtually no one in the historical section of the station, which made it easy to imagine the magnificent Orient Express train arriving in noisier days gone by: whistles and steam, discharging passengers, servants, and mounds of luggage, carriages and tahtirevan sedan chairs waiting to take them onward. Nowadays you can just about hear these echoes of the past in this beautiful space.

Beautiful 19th century details at Sirkeci Terminal in Istanbul. #istanbullife A photo posted by PassingThru (@passingthrucom) on

As it turned out, we were arriving at the ferry terminal in the magical hours between commuter traffic and tourist stampede. We love being on the water, and so we’re counting this as one of the peaceful places in Istanbul, too!

Arriving on the Asian side, we spent time on the waterfront in the conservative Uskudar and historical Kuzguncuk neighborhoods. Alexandra had lived in Kuzguncuk and she explained the concept of mahalle – the fabric of the neighborhood where everyone plays a role and is cared for. There is a surprising amount of greenery here, and residents are very proud of their collective activism which allowed for new community garden plots on Bostan street. We liked the 19th-century wooden houses and quiet streets. This was probably our favorite of the peaceful places in Istanbul.

Cat nap in an Üsküdar neighborhood window on the Asian side of Istanbul. #uskudar #istanbullife

A photo posted by PassingThru (@passingthrucom) on

Back on the “European side” in the Beyoglu (Pera) district our Cosmopolis tour with docent Nurcin Ileri focused on Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Street), which can be visited by over 3 million people a day on busy weekends. This was the center of politics and commerce during the 19th century. Today Istiklal is a popular pedestrian street with an amalgam of architectural styles in buildings which range from former diplomatic residences and embassies to early department stores and hotels. A warren of interior passageways between blocks provides intimate environments for shopping, worship, dining, and socializing. These were among the most fascinating and surprising of the peaceful places in Istanbul we were shown.

One of the fascinating aspects of our tours with Context Travel is that the backgrounds of each of our docents were somewhat reversed in terms of the subject matter they shared with us. Alexandra is from Vienna and has lived in Istanbul for the last six years. Nurcin is a student from a smaller city who came to Istanbul for university. Both had an amazing amount of knowledge which was shared anecdotally and entirely by memory. If you’re visiting Istanbul, these two tours are a great way to introduce you to the city’s complex transcontinental facets. Or perhaps you’ll find, as we did, that the peaceful places in Istanbul become your favorite memories.

Pinnable Image:

peaceful places in Istanbul

Tips and Practicalities:

Context Travel brings “together local specialists with curious travelers to educate and impassion them; to allow them access to places and cultures that might otherwise remain out of sight to the casual visitor; to invite them off the tourist track and into the real life of the people, history and culture that makes these capitals, destinations.” Context provides specialty tours in more than 30 cities and four continents. We are delighted to be part of Context Travel’s network of Deep Travelers: bloggers and content creators who travel responsibly and thoughtfully. Context Travel’s Cosmopolis – Istiklal Street and Istanbul Immersion: The Asian Side walking tours are both 3 hours in length. Pricing is $71/pp for small group of no more than 6. Also available as a private tour for $305.

We were the guests of Context Travel for both tours.


    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Paula – Yes, we love walking tours also, and Context Travel performs their mission targeted toward the “intellectually curious” traveler so very well. We stayed in the Old City. Should we return, I’d like to stay on the Asian side.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Jenny – I think with Istanbul, it’s a definite must to know where the peaceful places are. The city has grown just willy-nilly, on the Euro side in particular.

  1. says

    I agree wholeheartedly — guided walking tours — private or small group — make new places that would otherwise be bewildering, much easier to appreciate and understand. It sounds like Context Travel was perfect for you.
    Jennifer has an awesome blog post here: Fall Foliage in New HampshireMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Jennifer – Yes, we really treasure the relationship we have with Context Travel and can confidently recommend them to anyone in any location.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Suze – I think you’re right. So many times visitors are rushed into seeing as much as possible that the alternatives aren’t experienced.

  2. says

    Oh my gosh Betsy I just had to laugh because I just recently wrote an article about how taking a walking tour with Context Travels saved me in Istanbul! After spending a little time on the Asian side I too thought I might have liked the quiet there a little better.
    jen has an awesome blog post here: Turkish Hospitality in Istanbul, On FireMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Economical Excursionists – Yes, Istanbul is a very interesting and complex cultural blend.

  3. says

    I love walking tours to explore a city, it’s so much better than taking public transport (such as the underground) because this way you will see so much more than just the highlights, and really enjoy a city the best possible way. I’d still love to goto Istanbul one day, it’s relatively close however sometimes I never got around to visiting.
    antonette – we12travel has an awesome blog post here: Confessions: why counting countries doesn’t matter to me …My Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Antonette – Yes, we’ve been so pleased with the way Context Travel creates an intimate experience no matter the location.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Hugo – Yes, we were not enamored with the more chaotic aspects of Istanbul, so we were grateful to capture every peaceful moment we could.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Mar – Yes, it’s an interesting melange. We were happy to discover these counterpoints which mitigated the other aspects.

  4. says

    I have still never been to Istanbul! I know what you mean, though, about needing peaceful places. I’ve felt that way in many big cities. Rome comes to mind, and Hong Kong. They can just get overwhelming, especially on a first visit.
    Rachel Heller has an awesome blog post here: A Tourist to the DMZMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Rachel – Yes, we totally agree. While we love visiting large cities, we’re very sensitive to each vibe and they can be quite different.

  5. says

    Betsy, I’m a walking tour fan also. I’ve yet to make it to Istanbul, but have no doubt a walking tour would help me get my bearings. Local guides frequently have the best local yarns, and can be excellent interview material, too.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Ursula – I would highly recommend Context’s approach for Istanbul (as well as other cities). I have no doubt we never would have discovered these places on our own in the limited time we had.

  6. says

    We’ve done foodie walking tours in Istanbul, and loved them…but the sort of neighborhood ramble you describe with Context Tours is something different. And sounds lovely! Although we found an apartment in a relatively quiet apartment on the European side, I think next time I would also opt for Asia. Some of our best food moments happened there, too. 🙂
    Anita has an awesome blog post here: Celebrating street food in Basel, SwitzerlandMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Anita – We definitely resonated more with Kuzguncuk than any other neighborhood. The small town scale and “mahalle” vibe made this area far more appealing.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Nancie – If you thrive on crowds you’d love the Old City on the European side, as well as Istiklal and Taksim Square. 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Patti – I’d highly recommend any one of their tours for a close up experience.

  7. says

    We are flying to Istanbul in less than four hours and I have to agree, the Istanbul airport is not my favorite. Far too many checkpoints both for security and immigration but at least you can now get your visa on line and not stand in yet another line there. We love the city and have walked miles just enjoying the atmosphere – your photos brought back pleasant memories!
    Jackie Smith has an awesome blog post here: Washington’s Willows Lodge ~ Nice, Nicer, NicestMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Jackie – Yes, the online visa is very convenient. As well, entering the country on the ground was far preferable. Turkish buses are really posh with courteous tea and coffee service on board!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Shobha – Yes, unfortunately we learned we needed to make a big, nasty fuss in order to be treated fairly in more than one place in Istanbul, which is so not who we are. Pete calls it “going Turkish on them.” :-/

  8. Carol Colborn says

    I was in Istanbul decades,ago during my jet-setting days as a corporate executive. It was when all I had time to see were the chaotic magnets to tourists. But I remember stealing peaceful moments when I rode the boat that cut through the Bosphorus, the European cosmopolis on one side, the Asian neighborhoods on the other and Russia not far ahead. It was seeing what makes both experiences tick from a distance…peacefully introspective time!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Carol – Yes, we loved crossing the Bosporus, and could well imagine what that must have been like over the centuries of history in this very important place!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Michele – Context Travel addresses cultural curiosity to an astonishing level in all of its locations. Let us know when you tour!

  9. says

    Lovely photo array, I have a hard time selecting a favorite. You definitely captured the peaceful points in Istanbul and what a great perspective with which to explore the city. We’ve talked many times about visiting Turkey. We haven’t made it yet, but maybe one day. There’s always so many fabulous places to visit, right?!
    Patti has an awesome blog post here: Channeling Ma Kettle ~My Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Patti – You’re right! There are many, many places still to visit and the list keeps getting longer! 🙂

  10. says

    I had never added Istanbul to my list of places to visit — until now! Your descriptions, advice and glorious photos make it seem so inviting! Thank you!

  11. says

    Context does such a great job on their tours and the guides always have so much information at the tip of their tongues. It’s important to find quiet places Whenever you travel and I loved the way you used Instagram to illustrate your post.
    alison abbott has an awesome blog post here: 6 Super Seeds to Eat Right NowMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Alison – Yes, we really would have had an altogether different impression of the city without these two tours. Thanks!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi GypsyNesters – Yes, we were very fortunate to have great guidance with Context Travel. 🙂