I came by three extraordinary Istanbul museums because I was suffering from a case of culture overdose! For four days, I had ‘done’ all the obligatory Istanbul sights: I admired the tiles in the Blue Mosque, visited the soaring columns of the underground cistern, jostled with the crowds in the Grand Bazaar and the spice market, and I duly stood in line to visit the treasures of Topkapi Palace. With a spirit of adventure and exploration, I craved to find the out-of-the-way places, to toss my guide book aside and to venture out on my own. Surely there must be museums in Istanbul that few tourists know about, and with many promising surprises. Asking around and perusing the internet brought the desired result. I found three extraordinary and almost totally hidden museums in Istanbul which I set out to visit without a moment’s hesitation. All three are in Istanbul suburbs which provided the added joy of discovering and exploring beautiful out of the way neighborhoods. On a more practical side, I was also challenged to find my way around by public transport.
Magic Ice – Istanbul’s Ice Museum
Located within the Forum Shopping Mall in Bayrampasha, Magic Ice covers a good part of the ground floor. The museum was made possible by a vast investment of the Lofoten Trading Company of Norway and is the world’s only ice museum located in a warm climate. Tons and tons of ice were brought over the Black Sea to make the sculptures whereas the ice for the museum’s walls comes from the Turkish mountains.
The fun starts at the entrance. After paying your admission of approx. $10, you are handed a thick, blue thermal coat, complete with hood and little gloves dangling from the sleeves. You put it on over your clothes so you won’t freeze to death after entering the blue world of Magic Ice through an ice tunnel.
The first section of the museum is dedicated to the story of the Vikings’ arrival in Istanbul in 880. The history is written down on sheets of ice and where ever you look, you are surrounded by ice sculptures of elks, a Viking ship, a house complete with ice furniture and much more. The posted story tells about a Viking soldier by the name of Halvdan who, upon visiting the Hagia Sofia, scratched runes into one of the columns. Graffiti is obviously not an invention of modern times.
Following the meandering ice walls takes you through a series of archways into another section with more sculptures and a fantastic chandelier. You then end up at an ice bar where you are handed a vitamin drink in a container made from ice. That’s where the gloves come in handy, otherwise your fingers will certainly stick to the ice cup.
Magic is truly the operative word for this experience. The lighting is dim with various shades of blue, which enhances the stark, cold sparkle of the walls and sculptures. Once you are outside and you have removed your protective coat, take the opportunity to visit the museum shop. What I liked best were some reproductions of the sculptures made from glass.
Of course, since the museum is located in one of Istanbul’s most fashionable shopping malls, you can take a stroll around the many designer outlets, too .
How to get there
Getting to Magic Ice is easy. Just take the metro from ‘Aksaray’ in the direction of the airport and alight at the stop ‘Bayrampasha’. Signs indicate the way to Forum Istanbul which is only a few steps away. Take the escalator to the lower level and you have arrived. It’s useful to know about the metro line as it also leads to the airport and to the central bus station. Make sure you buy enough metro tokens at TYL 2 for each journey.
Opening times for Magic Ice: daily from 10am to 10pm
Istanbul’s Toy Museum
Upon hearing of Instanbul’s Toy Museum and because I am a child at heart, I certainly couldn’t resist a visit. It’s located in the very green and peaceful residential district of Göztepe on the Asian side of Istanbul.
Well into the 1800s a great part of Istanbul consisted of wooden houses. Fires, earthquakes and general neglect have destroyed many, so it is a special treat to find a beautifully preserved traditional wooden villa which is exactly where the toy museum is housed.
Painted white and decorated with fairy lights, the toy museum is the creation of renowned Turkish writer and poet, Sunay Akin, whose private collection of over 4000 toys from all over the world is displayed on the four floors of the villa. Pay your admission of approx. $3 and become a child again. At least 20 different doll houses – from replicas of shops to workshops to hospital rooms and living rooms – catch your eye. You will also enjoy seeing the fabulous, life like dolls, teddy bears, musical instruments and..yes.. space ships, which cover every nook and cranny of the building.
How to get there
Visiting Istanbul’s Toy Museum is also a fine chance for a ferry ride on the Bosporus. Make your way to Eminönü and the Galata Bridge and take the ferry to Kadiköy on the Asian side. If you have the time, make sure you get a ferry that stops at the Haydarpasha train station. I suggest you get off the ferry and take the opportunity to visit and admire the art deco train station building where, at one time, all trains to Bagdad and beyond commenced.
From here, you’ll want to buy your next token and board the light railway (from platform 2) in the direction of Kartal. Get off at the Göztepe stop. Once you are outside the station, cross the road and walk straight down Tanzimal Street. After the bend, you’ll come to Dr. Zeki Zeren Street on your left. The museum is located at the end of the street.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday 10.30 am to 5.30 pm. Monday closed.
Sadberk Hanim Museum/Sariyer
I owe the discovery of the Sadberk Hanim Museum/Sariyer to a Turkish newspaper article which caught my eye because of the drawings fabulous Ottoman clothes. Not being able to read the newspaper myself, yet again, the hotel owner came to the rescue and explained to me that these garments and much more are displayed in a private museum in the most northern district of Istanbul: Sariyer. More over, Sariyer, on the shores of the Bosporus and very close to the Black Sea, is a fashionable and very expensive suburb, famous for the freshest fish markets and many exquisite fish restaurants. In addition, the museum is housed in yet another wooden building, one of the few remaining villas known as ‘yalis’ which are actually summer palaces of the sultans and other nobles.
Given the distance I had to cover, I decided to make my visit to this museum a day trip, taking in all the sights along the way. I took the bus from Kabatas, clearly marked Sariyer, settled into a window seat and enjoyed seeing the Dolmabace Palace, Ciragan Palace, the Four Seasons Hotel on the Bosporus, and the colorful square and pier of Besiktas.
Many small seaside villages and ports with fishing boats as well as private yachts line the coastal road, each one different and well worth a separate visit. The driver kindly dropped me off just short of Sariyer in Büyükedere and pointed to the white yali across the road. No problem finding the place.
One of Turkey’s wealthiest families, the Koc family, bought the yagli in the 1950. They restored it and used it as a summer home until they decided to transform the building into a private museum, open to the public. Members of the Koc family were avid collectors of Ottoman art and, in particular, authentic clothes worn to court by the affluent bourgeoisie. The museum is a treasure trove and, in my opinion, surpasses the collection at the Topkapi museum.
Exploring the yali is itself is a real treat. Four stories high and entirely made of wood which is richly carved, painted and decorated with original furniture, paintings and chandeliers, the museum provides a unique insight into the life of times gone by.
In addition to the original building, the Koc family acquired the dilapidated yali next door which today houses a collection of Bronze Age, Byzantine, Greek, and Roman artifacts. At least 30 different garments are on display, dating from the 1500s to wedding dresses of the 20th century which were then pastel colored and embroidered in gold and silver with pearls and tiny gemstones.
There is also a reproduction of a birth chamber and a circumcision chamber with explainations of the elaborate ceremonies which accompany these important events. Sadly, you are not allowed to take pictures inside the museum. You can, however, walk around at your heart’s content and closely examine the exhibits, an experience which is not possible in the crowded and better known museums in Istanbul.
How to get there
Take the tramway T1) to Kabatas. Get off, cross the road, walk towards the pier and then look out for the 25E bus to Sariyer. Get off at Büyükedere, the museum is at the left.
You can return the same way or take a ferry from Sariyer Pier to Besiktas. They don’t run very often, so consult the time tables in advance.
Opening times: 10am to 5.30 pm. Wednesday closed. Avoid going on a weekend. Sariyer and the fish restaurants are very popular and the coastal road which has only two lanes, tends to be bumper to bumper which makes progress very slow.
For a very special experience which combines history lessons, extraordinary museums, and exploring beautiful Istanbul suburbs and their seaport views, follow this trail and don’t be afraid to use public transport. It’s much cheaper than’ City Tours’ and easier than you might think.
Written by Inka Piegsa-Quischotte for EuropeUpClose.com
Inka has written a literary guidebook to Istanbul: Istanbul,City of the Green-Eyed Beauty. Having happened upon the books of Pierre Loti, Barbara Nadel and Orhan Pamuk, Inka got hooked by their descriptions of extraordinary and often off-beat places in Istanbul and decided to follow their footsteps, and take the reader along with her.