Sirkeci District, Istanbul, Turkey

Sirkeci means “vinegar-maker/seller” in Turkish, but this district between Sultanahmet and Eminönü, very nearGalata Bridge and the Golden Horn, is known not for its vinegar but for its hotelsrestaurants and transport.

It’s transport that made Sirkeci (SEER-keh-jee) what it is. The Ottoman sultan built Istanbul‘s European railroad terminus, Istanbul Gar on the Golden Horn right beneath the walls of Topkapı Palace, and soon the elegant sleeping and dining cars of the Orient Express were disgorging their distinguished passengers into the hubbub of cosmopolitan Constantinople.

(Istanbul Gar is commonly called Sirkeci Gar to distinguish it from Istanbul’s other historic train terminus, Haydarpaşa Gar on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus.)

With the construction of the station came the passengers, and when the passengers began to arrive, hotels were built to shelter them. Few Ottoman-era hotels survive in Sirkeci, but the spirit of hospitality is alive and well in Sirkeci as modern hoteliers have restored Ottoman-era buildings and constructed modern hotels to receive all the travelers crowding into Istanbul and wanting to stay in the historic heart of the city.

Sirkeci’s hotels offer the advantages of being only a 10- or 12-minute walk (or a short tram ride) from Sultanahmet, an even shorter walk to the Eminönü ferry docksEgyptian (Spice) Bazaar and the Galata Bridgeover the Golden Horn. In general, prices for Sirkeci hotels and restaurants are lower than comparable hotels in other districts bordering Sultanahmet (such as CankurtaranBinbirdirek and Küçük Ayasofya) just because Sirkeci is the newcomer to the Sultanahmet hotel scene.

Sirkeci Station still stands in all its Ottoman glory, and still serves as the terminus for trains to and fromEurope, though there are fewer trains today, none are elegant (in fact, most are fairly forlorn). More important to the city’s transport system are the suburban trains(banliyö trenleri) that depart every 15 or 20 minutes to round Seraglio Point and skirt the Sea of Marmara on their way westward to Halkalı, beyond Istanbul‘s Byzantine Land Walls and Atatürk Airport.

 

Orient Express Poster, Istanbul, Turkey
Orient Express Poster

The Bağcılar-Kabataş trampasses right in front of Sirkeci Station and through the hotel district, connecting the Sirkeci district with Sultanahmet, the Grand Bazaar, and ultimately (via MetroAtatürk Airport, and in the other direction with Karaköy Square, with its Tüneland ferry docks, Kabataş and its ferry docks and funicular to Taksim Square, and Dolmabahçe Palace.

All this will change in 2013 when the giant Marmaray rail-tunnel project is complete. The Marmaray will cross beneath the Bosphorus, uniting Old Istanbul with the Asian side of the city at Üsküdar, and allowing passengers to glide from Europe to Asia in comfortable regional trains in a matter of minutes.

When the project is completed, Sirkeci Station will be converted to a museum and the district around it will move upscale from being a transport hub to being a full-fledged hospitality and entertainment district.


Sirkeci Hotels

Sirkeci Restaurants

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Eminönü

Golden Horn

Karaköy (Galata)

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