Taksim Square and the adjacent Istiklal Avenue (south of the Bosphorus) form part of a famous shopping boulevard complete with its famous nostalgic trams. It is a great place to experience local street food and to undertake some retail therapy.
You get to Kabatas Station on the Istanbul Tram, and from there you take the weird little Funicular Railway from Kabatas to Taksim. This Funicular Railway requires a separate ticket but is a nice 3 minute ride underground taking you to exactly where you want to be – Taksim Square! The Independence cenotaph here in the centre of Taksim Square is quite impressive and is dedicated to fallen troops from the Turkish-Greco War.
Although I was not there on Turkish Independence Day, I still wanted to visit the area as it’s one of the main tourist areas in the city, although it’s not as famous as the Sultanahmet district, which is the location of the Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern. The first thing I noticed (apart from the all-important cenotaph) was a Simit Sarayi bakery! This is a fast food franchise that is very well respected in Turkey. I love the simits (bread rings) that they sell here, but as I had some the day before, I decided to sit inside and try some baklava, as well as dome traditional Turkish tea!
Walking on from Taksim Square, you will see before you Istiklal Avenue, which is a long, fairly narrow shopping boulevard with many international brands and the obligatory kebab shop. The crowds here are insane, and it reminded me a lot of Nanjing Road in Shanghai in terms of how cramped it felt as you window-shopped. The Turkish flags flying proudly overhead, however, reminded me precisely of where I was, and I was further entertained by the street performers here which led to even further crowds.
Aside from the significance of Turkish independence, and the potential retail therapy at hand, the main reason I came to this part of Istanbul was to see the famous nostalgic tram that runs down Istiklal Avenue and encircles Taksim Square before heading back on the return route. I did not get the chance to ride on this tram, because as you can see from my photo above, it was crazily busy (remember those similarly crazy pictures of Indians riding on the roofs of trains?!), with people even hanging on for dear life on the outside as it moved!
Despite not being able to ride on the Istiklal Tram, I did get the chance to sample one of Istanbul’s other famous icons: the doner kebab! Of course, the kebab I tried was authentic and meaty, and well worth the money, but then I wouldn’t expect anything else from an ocakbasi in Istanbul!
In addition to the doner kebabs, I was also interested in the ice cream, known in Turkey as dondurma. It was the first time I had seen this, and I couldn’t resist buying some. It has a very hard texture, and can be cut with a knife, due to it being more hardened than western ice cream. Luckily for me, it was a hot day and I had time to let the ice cream soften before I consumed it!