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Concierge.com's insider take:
The former fishing villages that line both sides of the Bosphorus are inherently different in their nature from the rest of the city that has now encompassed them: They are characterized by the profusion of yalıs, old multistory wooden houses built by the Ottomans to look out over the strait, and life in the villages moves at a slower pace, with the shores often lined by scores of fishermen, quaint little ferry docks, and, by contrast, rows of lavish motor yachts. On the European side, the easiest village to access—and perhaps one of the liveliest spots in town—is Ortaköy. Just next to the colossal Bosphorus suspension bridge, it has a bustling cobbled square by the water lined with fish restaurants and a striking neoclassical mosque (pictured) that's dramatically floodlit at night. Farther up are the villages of Kuruçeşme, Arnavutköy (renowned for its wealth of fish restaurants), Bebek, Rumeli Hisarı and its 15th-century fortress, and finally, Emirgan, site of the famed Sakıp Sabanci Museum and its restaurant.
You can reach all of these places by bus or taxi, and the two-and-a-half-mile waterside walk from Kuruçeşme to Rumeli Hisarı is highly recommended. Another option is to take the public ferry, which leaves twice a day from Eminönü and Beşiktaş (see www.ido.com.tr for timetables) and sails all the way up to the village of Anadolu Kavağı, one of the last stops before the Black Sea; a trip here makes for a great day out, with a fish lunch at one of the many restaurants facing the Bosphorus and a hike up to the ruined fortress on the hill above the village. Alternatively, surrender to your inner hedonist and hire your own private yacht for the day. Boats are moored side by side along the stretch of waterfront from Kuruçeşme to Arnavütköy, many of which bearing "Kıralık" ("for rent") signs. Ada Turizm is one higher-end company with a fleet of luxury boats that start at around $3,800 for a tour of the Bosphorus, food not included (90-216-575-4775; www.adaturizm.com). A little easier on the wallet is the old-school wooden sailboat captained by the gregarious Mehmet Kaptan. His 15-person boat is available for $1,320 per day or $300 per hour; he will arrange food at your request, and you are free to BYO (90-532-797-5710).
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