Istanbul off-the-beaten-path: 5 Spots

Prepare to be amazed as we take you on a journey through Istanbul’s hidden gems. From the unknown Magnaura Palace to beautiful sea-side parks of Moda, these extraordinary places have remained a secret for far too long, hidden away from the prying eyes of the guidebooks and mainstream tourism.

But fear not, for we are here to share our most treasured and exclusive discoveries with you. Join us on this off-the-beaten-path adventure, as we unveil the true heart of Istanbul, one breathtaking spot at a time.

Are you ready to experience the city like never before? Then follow us, as we lead you towards the road less travelled, and the most unforgettable adventures that Istanbul has to offer.


Built by the Roman Empire in 425 AD, The Magnaura Palace housed the prestigious University of Constantinople, and some argue it was the first university in human history. Buried underground for centuries, this remarkable site remained shrouded in mystery until a private business partially restored it two decades ago. Now, a portion of the underground Magnaura Palace is open to visitors, completely free of charge.

Magnaura Palace, Sultanahmet, Istanbul (Wine tasting on The Other Tour 2011)
Photo taken inside Magnaura Palace in 2011. During one of the earliest The Other Tour’s when we did wine tasting to wrap up the day.

Located in the heart of the Oldtown, right next to the Four Seasons Hotel and just a stone’s throw away from the iconic Haghia Sophia, the Magnaura Palace is easily accessible. Look out for Palatium Cafe – enter through the main gate, and head down the stairs towards the back of the café, where you’ll find the entrance to the underground palace. While the cafe above the ruins uses the site to impress potential clients, visitors are under no pressure to order anything.

As you explore the Magnaura Palace, you’ll realize that there’s so much more to discover if you keep digging in. Despite its incredible historical and cultural significance, the Magnaura Palace has not been recognized as a historic monument by either UNESCO or the Turkish government, a fact that may leave you feeling frustrated with officials. Nevertheless, prepare to be amazed by what you’re about to see. Get ready to step back in time and uncover one of Istanbul’s most awe-inspiring hidden treasures.


Located in Fener, one of the most culturally diverse and picturesque neighborhoods in Istanbul, Fener Rum High School is the this city’s first high school. It was established in 1454, only one year after the city was conquered by the Ottomans. Sultan Mehmed the II actually paid for the school himself.

As many know, half of the Eastern Romans (we call them ‘Rum’) could not really put up much of a fight against the Ottomans when their city was taken over by them in 1453. This school and entire neighborhood was given to the Rum people as a gift, as part of the effort for keeping the city of Constantinople as cosmopolitan and relevant as possible.

The current building was built in 1881 and believe it or not, it is earthquake-proof!

The school is still operating. There are only 56 students studying in this huge school. Only members of Eastern Ortodox Church can study in this school. The administration is actually very welcoming. All you have to do is ring the bell and they will let you come in for a quick look around. The yard has magnificent views of the Golden Horn.



Prepare to be transported back in time as you explore the charming neighbourhood of Arnavutkoy, which translates to ‘Albanian Village’ in English. Once home to Albanians, this area has a rich history of diverse ethnic and religious groups coexisting in harmony. Nestled between the two lively party towns of Kurucesme and Bebek, Arnavutkoy is a traditional neighbourhood that has managed to retain its old-world charm.

Admire the historic wooden houses that lend the neighbourhood its unique character and sample some of the best fish restaurants in the city, while taking in the breathtaking views of the Bosphorus. Arnavutkoy is the only place in Istanbul where you can behold both bridges connecting the European and Asian sides simultaneously! This hidden gem is a must-visit destination that is vastly under-appreciated. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to discover the magic of Arnavutkoy and experience the true essence of Istanbul.


While Trinity College in Dublin, Pepperdine and Stanford in California, and Peking University in Beijing are all renowned for their stunning campuses, there is one hidden gem that is often overlooked: Bogazici University in Istanbul. This picturesque campus boasts beautiful old stone and brick buildings, reminiscent of Trinity College, but it’s the breathtaking views that truly set it apart.

Located just 5 miles up the Bosphorus, above the glitzy and glamorous Bebek neighbourhood, Bogazici University offers unparalleled vistas of the world-renowned waterway. From the campus, you can gaze upon the winding curves of the Bosphorus, the largest continent on the other side (Asia), and the lush forested areas that surprisingly surround this bustling metropolis. Despite its stunning beauty, Bogazici University often goes unrecognized as one of the world’s most beautiful college campuses, making it the perfect hidden gem to explore.


We recommend heading to the university sometime in the morning, grabbing a cheap cup of Turkish coffee and sitting back among an attractive college crowd while gazing into the waters below you and the land beyond.



Nestled within the bustling Kadıkoy district on the Asian side of Istanbul lies Moda, a charming and picturesque neighborhood that has managed to retain its quaint small-town feel. Despite its proximity to one of Istanbul’s largest and most populated areas, Moda is a hidden gem that boasts a plethora of fantastic cafes, restaurants, boutique shops, and gift stores, all offering stunning views of the Marmara Sea and the European side of Istanbul.

As the sun begins to set, the atmosphere in Moda becomes truly magical, making it the perfect spot for a late afternoon or evening stroll. But it’s not just the beautiful scenery that makes Moda so special; it’s also the people. The neighborhood is home to a modern and open-minded Turkish population, and you’ll find that the locals are friendly and welcoming, always happy to engage in casual conversation and even make new friends. For those seeking a unique and authentic experience in Istanbul, a visit to Moda is an absolute must.

In conclusion, Istanbul is a city that never fails to captivate visitors with its rich history, stunning architecture, and vibrant culture. While there are plenty of well-known tourist attractions to explore, there are also countless hidden gems waiting to be discovered off the beaten path. From the ancient underground Magnaura Palace to the charming Moda neighborhood on the Asian side, these five spots offer a unique and authentic glimpse into Istanbul’s lesser-known treasures. So, next time you find yourself in Istanbul, make sure to venture beyond the guidebooks and explore these hidden gems for a truly unforgettable experience.