Asian Side and Bosphorus Walking Tour, Istanbul

Asian Side and Bosphorus Walking Tour (Self Guided), Istanbul

Istanbul is the only megalopolis in the world that straddles two continents. The Bosphorus Strait splits Turkey's biggest city into two parts: European and Asian. The latter, known locally as Asya Yakası (“Asian Side”), or more commonly as Anadolu Yakası (“Anatolian Side”), is found east of the strait, geographically on the Asian mainland.

The vast Anatolian shore, wrongly considered more “oriental” than its European counterpart, constitutes the main beauty of the city, and is a home to waterfront attractions like the ornate Beylerbeyi Palace and the 1500s Semsi Pasha and Mihrimah Sultan mosques.

On a tiny island, slightly offshore, the picturesque Maiden’s (aka Leander's) Tower offers sweeping views over the Marmara Sea and to the old city. Likely this place was built as a lighthouse to warn the ships entering the Bosphorus waters, back in the old days.

Straddling the Strait the Bosphorus Bridge is an attraction in its own right, being the first inter-continental bridge, constructed in 1973. Situated beneath it, amid a beautiful garden is another attraction, the Beylerbeyi Palace, built in 1861-1865 by Sultan Abdulaziz. Strangely, one of its key highlights is the second floor restroom, with a large window affording a great view of the Bosphorus — possibly the most beautiful restroom view in the world!

Albeit quite dense, this lively area is quite pleasant and has a very different vibe to that of Sultanahmet. To experience some of it, plus to enjoy the spirit of the Orient whilst admiring the beauty of the waterway and the historic buildings lining its shores, take this self-guided walking tour of the Eastern side of Istanbul.
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Asian Side and Bosphorus Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Asian Side and Bosphorus Walking Tour
Guide Location: Turkey » Istanbul (See other walking tours in Istanbul)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 6
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.6 Km or 2.9 Miles
Author: kane
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Maiden's Tower
  • Semsi Pasha Mosque
  • Mihrimah Sultan Mosque
  • Fethi Pasha Korusu (City Park)
  • Bosphorus Bridge (Asian Side)
  • Beylerbeyi Palace
Maiden's Tower

1) Maiden's Tower

In the middle of the Bosphorus, ships passing at every moment, looking out onto two continents and thousands of years of human history, this little stone tower – an icon of Istanbul – is a quick 2-minute boat ride from the shore. Since the times of Ancient Greece, it has served as a fort, a crypt, a tower for commercial observation, a tax collection center, a lighthouse, a quarantine hospital, and even made a cameo in the James Bond film, "The World Is Not Enough". At twenty-five centuries old, some would call this an aging maiden, but it's still an attractive one.

The lighthouse is still in working order, but on the first floor, a restaurant is operating, and on the top, up six flights of stairs, is a coffee shop providing sweeping views over the Bosphorus Strait. You can get a hot or cold drink, take lots of photos, and enjoy the atmosphere – and, of course, you'll have an opportunity to visit a little museum.

Apparently, the tower has a legend linked to it. Story has it that a powerful emperor built it to protect his beloved daughter from death after hearing a prophecy that she would die by a snake bite. Sadly, the snake did find its way to the tower eventually (inside a basket of fruits) and, reportedly bit and killed the princess. In reality, however, it is far more likely that the place was built as a lighthouse to warn the ships entering the Bosphorus about the rocky islet the tower sits upon.

Nowadays, many people use this location to propose marriage to their loved ones, expecting their bond to last as long as the lighthouse. Those planning a romantic dinner, however, should make reservations well in advance, especially if they want a table next to the window.
Semsi Pasha Mosque

2) Semsi Pasha Mosque

Built in 1580 by famous Imperial Architect, Mimar Sinan, the single-domed Şemsi Pasha Mosque is a masterpiece of Ottoman design. Although rather small in size compared to other of Sinan's creations, it is one of the most attractive constructions in the city, its scenic waterfront setting making it a popular spot for visitors. For those who love architecture, the transition between seashore, pier, and the qibla wall is seamless and fantastic.

The tomb of the Grand Vizier for whom the mosque was constructed, Şemsi Pasha, is located on the grounds, in a private cemetery adjacent to a pretty garden. Furthermore, the precinct is enclosed by an L-shaped madrasa where people come to study and research, and a seawall with grill-windows to the north, giving the impression that one is in a picture gallery looking at framed Bosphorus seascapes.

Interestingly enough, Şemsi Pasha specifically asked for a place where birds will not fly, and consequently the mosque – located at the intersection of winds coming from the north and south – has earned a reputation of being "bird-free". Due to the shape of the minaret, it is also known as "the Asparagus Mosque" among locals.
Mihrimah Sultan Mosque

3) Mihrimah Sultan Mosque

The Mihrimah Sultan Mosque is one of the most beautiful sites in Üsküdar and indeed in wider Istanbul, its proximity to the iskele (pier) lending it the nickname of 'Iskele Mosque'. Since it was built on a raised platform, the grounds provide a great vantage point from which to observe the pier area as a whole, complete with all its hustle and bustle.

The mosque itself is the first of two built by Mihrimah Sultan, the most favored daughter of Suleiman the Magnificent and the wife of Grand Vizier Rüstem Pasha. Built between 1546-48, it was designed by the great architect Mimar Sinan, whose blend of Ottoman and Byzantine architecture can be seen in the slender minarets, as well as the arrangement of the dome and semi-domes. The colorful cut glass windows inside convey a sense of happiness and femininity.

In the absence of space for a full courtyard, Sinan added a roof to cover the ablution fountain, giving the construction yet another element of individuality. As a place of worship, the mosque is served well by its location, which supplies a healthy amount of passing commuters in addition to the local population.
Fethi Pasha Korusu (City Park)

4) Fethi Pasha Korusu (City Park)

After decades of neglect, this park was recently renovated by Istanbul's municipal government and is currently one of the most beautiful and pleasant public parks in the Turkish capital. Located on one of the hills that descend from the Asian side of the city to the Bosphorus Strait, in the district of Üsküdar, the site honors Fethi Ahmet Pasha, one of the governors of the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century.

Those looking for a green escape from the humdrum of city life, where they could have a picnic or eat at affordable prices – either in a self-service cafe or a restaurant – will find this park a perfect fit. Due to being situated in a lesser-known area, the place is not so crowded, and the walkways use the space to good advantage, making it feel larger than it really is.

The climb from the shore of the Bosphorus takes about half an hour walking, as the trail makes many detours to counter the steep slope of the hill; however, at the journey's end, you will be rewarded with some lovely views of the strait.
Bosphorus Bridge (Asian Side)

5) Bosphorus Bridge (Asian Side)

The modern and scenic Bosphorus Bridge links Asia and Europe across the Bosphorus Strait – one of the world's most important, strategic waterways – since its official opening in 1973, marking the 50th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey. Over 1,500 meters in length, it was at the time the 4th-longest suspension bridge in the world and cost over $200 million to build. Traffic has become so dense and communications between Asia and Europe so important, however, that the cost was recovered in less than 10 years.

Before this symbolically and economically important "First Bridge" – as it is also known – was built and designed by British civil engineers, everyone depended on ferry boats to go to the Asian side of the city. Today, around 180,000 vehicles pass daily in both directions, with almost 85% being cars. The only way for visitors to cross the bridge on foot is by participating in the 'fun run' held in October of each year.

In 2007, a computerized LED lighting system was installed to illuminate the bridge at night, now being used to create a colorful light show each evening. To get the best views, get on one of the various cruises that operate on the Bosphorous, allowing ample photo opportunities.

Note that vehicle traffic is quite intense during rush hours, so whether you cross the bridge (by taxi or city bus) or get a view from afar, try doing so after dusk.
Beylerbeyi Palace

6) Beylerbeyi Palace

With so many amazing sights to visit in Istanbul, the Beylerbeyi Palace is nearly unknown to many self-guiding tourists. It is, however, a good way to spend some time and should definitely be included in a trip to the Asian side of the city. In the 19th century, this summer residence and guesthouse of the Ottoman sultans was much admired by contemporary visitors from Europe, and you'll either be charmed or perplexed by the fantastic detailing in the Oriental Rococo style.

Rooms decorated in Ottoman style are in a minority, most being highly influenced by French and English tastes of the period. The Bohemian-style chandeliers and other lighting fixtures (all designed for candles) are especially noteworthy, but there are all sorts of details to savor, from the hand-decorated doorknobs down to the beautiful reed matting on the floor. Another important fact (for history buffs, at least) is that Sultan Abdülaziz, after being deposed, lived the last few remaining years of his life here. An accomplished designer, he has not wasted any time, with many of his touches seen and felt throughout the palace.

Note that no individual entries are allowed, but the system in place is actually quite neat: everyone enters together after putting a deposit on a free audio guide and, basically, everyone goes at their own pace since the audio guide automatically plays for whatever room one is standing in front of. Another benefit lies in the lack of crowds, and visitors can have a relaxing breakfast/lunch at the cafe beside the duck pond.

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