A Guide To Surviving Taksim, Istanbul, With Your Sanity Intact
If you’re visiting Istanbul soon or even thinking about it, you’ll no doubt have Taksim on your shortlist of places to head to. And so it should be. Taksim is a fantastic place. It’s the literal heart of this huge and sprawling city. It’s where you’ll hear countless languages spoken at any one time, people from all walks of life mingling together in one huge and bustling spot.
But, Taksim is also a complicated place to visit if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Taksim can drive the most patient person towards distraction. It’s a place where you will not be able to walk in a straight line for more than a couple of seconds and somewhere that will have you swearing, even if you don’t usually. It’s also a place that’s renowned for scams, and if you have zero knowledge of the site, you’ll probably get lost.
But, it’s also a magnificent place too. After all, you can’t have sunshine without rain, eh?
What And Where Is Taksim?
Istanbul doesn’t actually have a city center because it’s so big and made up of many different districts. But, many people deem Taksim to be the central point. It’s certainly where most people go to party, it’s a shopper’s dream, and if you love food, it’s a great spot to head to.
It’s the home of famous Istiklal Caddesi and Taksim Square. It’s also where you’ll find Gezi Park, the flashpoint of protests several years ago, and the Republic Monument, built to commemorate the Turkish Republic’s formation in 1923.
You can easily reach Taksim from any part of Istanbul. It’s connected by buses, Metro, and taxis. But remember that traffic in Istanbul is worse than it’s ever been, and Taksim is a hectic place. For that reason, if you can take the Metro, it’s probably the fastest and easiest way to get to and from Taksim.
Many people choose to stay in Taksim, mainly because of the nightlife and because it’s pretty easy to get to any other part of Istanbul. You’ll find countless hotels and hostels here, including some International hotel chains too.
However, if you want a quiet base for your time in Istanbul, Taksim isn’t the best option. This is where nightclubs play their music until at least 7 am and it’s certainly not quiet music either. You’ll also still see traffic at 4 am and people walking around (often quite crowded) until the wee hours.
Is Taksim Dangerous?
This is a very common question.
Any big city has parts that are a little more dangerous than others, extending to most city center areas the world over. Taksim isn’t dangerous per se, but the fact that it’s so busy and has a considerable amount of nightlife does mean that there is a possibility of drunken fights occasionally. There are some shady people around, but again, that’s true of any big city.
If you do any research into this part of Istanbul, you’ll also find that Taksim is usually where protests occur. Despite that, they’re very few and far between. The best advice is that if you see any protest going on, just move away and don’t participate. Stay out of it and enjoy your time in the city instead.
If you do run into any trouble or you need any help, you’ll find police around, both on Istiklal and at the top of the street, in Taksim Square. If you get lost, or you’re not sure where to go, you can also ask any shop or restaurant staff, and they’re sure to help you – people are pretty helpful in Taksim, even if it is so crowded!
Of course, pickpocketing is generally a problem in Istanbul, especially in any crowded area. Taksim is indeed crowded. There are times when you can’t walk that easily. So, make sure that you keep your belongings in your bag and that you don’t flash your phone or expensive camera while you’re walking.
If you’re wearing a backpack or any type of bag that you wear on the side of your body, hold it very close to you, and in the case of a backpack, consider wearing it on your front instead – you’ll see countless people doing the same thing.
The other thing you’ll notice about Taksim is that there are a lot of children asking for money, people selling tissues, and begging. It’s a contentious subject. For sure, some are genuine and do require help, but some aren’t. It sounds awful to say that it can be a nuisance, but the fact is that Taksim, along with Sultanahmet, is the most touristic part of Istanbul. Tourists mean money, right? So, it’s not surprising that you’re going to find this sort of thing happening.
What should you do? That’s up to you. If you feel that someone is genuine and you want to help, do so. If you’re not sure, continue walking. You shouldn’t feel pressured because you can’t help everyone, but it’s a decision you need to think about for yourself and do what sits right with you.
Why Is Taksim Stressful
If you stand at the top of Istiklal Caddesi (street) and look down, you will have your answer.
It is BUSY. If you think you’ve seen busy before, you haven’t actually seen it until you’ve been to Taksim. Go on a Friday or Saturday, and it goes up ten notches more.
Istiklal Caddesi is basically one very long, a pedestrianized street that is remarkably narrow considering how many people use it. On either side of the road, there are bars, restaurants, shops, cinemas, even Madame Tussaud’s. Then, also on either side, there are side streets which shoot off and have a million and one other things to see and do on all of them.
Add to that the taxis and police cars that need to get across the pedestrianized part from those side streets, and you can see how it could be pretty stressful, especially when an ambulance is trying to get down to help someone.
But, that’s not all.
You also have musicians playing for money, which causes crowds to gather. Then, you have to try and get around the crowd when people are walking at you from all directions.
Trust me, in Taksim, people do not seem to know how to be around others. They become so enthralled at everything that’s going on around them, and trust me, and it’s an assault on the senses that they forget they’re among other humans. People walk into you; they nudge you out of the way without meaning to; they stop right in front of you when you’re walking so that you pile into the back of them. They refuse to move, so you have to move instead. You get people posing for selfies and photos right in the middle of the street – RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE! I can feel my anger rising just by typing this.
It’s one of those situations that you won’t get until you’ve been in the middle of it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Taksim. Love, love, love it. But it’s pretty stressful.
So, how can you enjoy Taksim without feeling like you need to lay down for a few hours in a darkened room afterward?
How To Enjoy Taksim Without Requiring Anger Management
There will probably be a certain amount of stress attached to your visit to Taksim, even if you follow the advice below. But, by following it, you’ll be able to enjoy your holiday too. Remember, this is one of the most wonderful and fascinating parts of the city, and it’s so cosmopolitan and international that it’s extraordinary. It’s also pretty historic.
So, here is my advice on how to enjoy Taksim and make the most of it without feeling like you’re about to burst a blood vessel.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
If you’ve ever been to Las Vegas, you’ll be familiar with this concept. You look at the Strip, and you think, “oh, that’s not far; I can walk.” But it’s a literal desert mirage because four hours later, you’re still walking. Istiklal Caddesi is precisely like that. You think it’s not that far, but it goes on and on. There are a million and one things to see and do too, so you’re sure to forget the time.
The best advice? Wear comfortable shoes. You might want to be all city glam, but there’s a reason most people wear trainers. Also, make sure you stop regularly and drink plenty of water – dehydration will not help you!
Try And Avoid Using An Umbrella
It rains a fair amount in Istanbul, and of course, you don’t want to get wet. But Taksim and umbrellas do not mix. You will have someone’s eye out. Of course, you’ll see lots of umbrellas, but my advice is to avoid those people like the plague because the chances of you escaping unscathed are pretty narrow. Just put your hood up, or, even better, wear a raincoat
Look After Your Belongings
We mentioned this one earlier, but it’s essential to note it again. Backpacks should be worn on your front if you can. Don’t flash your valuables, and make sure that you keep an unyielding hold on your bag. You don’t want to carry too much either, because the chances are you’ll have quite a few shopping bags by the end of the day.
Walk In The Right Direction
Generally speaking, and I mean generally because hardly anyone adheres to this, it’s best to walk down Istiklal on the right side and up on the left. But don’t expect everyone else too. This is just the general flow of “traffic.” Truthfully, if everyone did this, Taksim wouldn’t be half as stressful.
Take Your Time
It’s not worth rushing anywhere in Taksim because you just won’t get where you need to be in time. Instead, take your time and enjoy what you’re seeing. The sheer number of people around you makes it very difficult to move at any type of speed, and even if you manage it, you’ll find yourself weaving in and out, causing nothing short of sore feet and a headache.
Get Your Bearings First
Taksim is one of those places that when you emerge from the taxi, bus, or Metro station, you’re suddenly so overwhelmed with “wow, look at this,” you want to get straight into it. But, you forget how big it is and how much there is to see. There are so many hidden places that you don’t want to leave and then read about something and wish you’d gone there.
My advice? Just soak it all up first and then explore calmly. Take a walk down and back up to get your bearings before you try to go into any shop, restaurant, attraction, old building.
If You Need To Stop, Move To The Side
Seriously, this is common sense, for sure, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t do it. By reading this, I hope that more people do it and then the place becomes calmer! If you need to stop for whatever reason, maybe to tie your shoelace or take a selfie, don’t just stop in the middle of the street! Please don’t – there are so many people who will be cursing you. Instead, move to the side and do whatever you need to do.
Don’t Try To Do It All In One Day
When you’re short on time, it’s easy to think that you can visit Taksim and see whatever you need to see in a day. Once you get there, you’ll quickly notice that’s not the case. There are many nooks and crannies full of interesting buildings, delicious local restaurants, museums, and galleries that you don’t want to miss out on. It’s best to schedule at least two days in, if not more.
You could even try and do one side of Istiklal and its side streets on one day and then go back to do the other side on another day.
It’s best to avoid weekends if you can. Saturdays are not fun. They’re so busy with locals as well as tourists that you’ll not get very far. It’s best to go midweek if you can, but even then, it’s super-busy.
Another time to avoid? New Year’s Eve. You might think the location would be fantastic for such a special occasion, and for sure, it is, but you CANNOT MOVE. Literally.
Take A Deep Breath!
Look, Taksim is so unique, and you’re going to love every second there, but you will feel like screaming at some point. My advice? Just take a deep breath and embrace the madness as part of the experience.
For sure, there’s nowhere in the world like Taksim, stressful or not!