Ortaköy is a neighborhood in the middle section of the Bosphorus, somewhat less explored than more touristy parts of Istanbul despite the cruises that frequently traverse the river. If you’re looking to paint Istanbul with broader brushstrokes, a boat trip from Eminou along the river is an excellent way to touch on the highlights of this waterway that connects the Mediterranean and Black Seas and has long served as a border between Europe and Asia. You’ll see castles, mosques, the restored facades of 19th century Ottoman houses (especially in northern neighbor, Arnavutköy), and even palaces on such a cruise, but you won’t get a true sense of the area without at least stopping in a neighborhood like Ortaköy.
Located just across the bridge from busy tourist stop Taksim Square, this neighborhood in the district of Beşiktaş is a great collection of both classic Ottoman landmarks and more trendy cafes and eateries that have sprung up in recent years. The Ortaköy Mosque is the central attraction: an Imperial, 19th century structure that serves as a fixture on a pedestrian waterfront known for its views of the Asian side of Istanbul. The big draw, however, is the local food tucked away amid high-end hotels and Western boutiques. Favorites of the area include the incredible kumpir, a baked potato stuffed with anything from carrots to sausage; and waffles, which will deliciously burden you with a day’s calorie intake, from any of the competing vendors by the water. Wash it all down with a classic Turkish drink like Salep: a hot, milky concoction made from orchids much like a tea.
There are also some popular clubs along the shorefront for you night owls, while every Sunday there is a street market that showcases local art, which means that no matter when you find your way into Ortaköy there will be fewer tourists than Sultanahmet and a number of wonderfully authentic activities to pursue.
Note:If you’re bent on seeing Istanbul via the river, there are shorter trips available from the port near the Ortakoy Mosque that can be taken north as far as the Rumeli fortress, allowing you some greater perspective on this historic river and the Ottoman architecture preserved along its shores.