Visiting the 17th-century Büyük Valide Han in Eminönü is my all-time favorite experience in Istanbul and ideal for those who wish to venture off the well-worn tourist path of the city.
The building is an old Ottoman inn that accommodated traveling merchants over 350 years ago, and it also stored the Oriental and European wares from the wooden ships moored in the Golden Horn. The han is hidden away in the bustling backstreets of the Spice Bazaar, and more recently it was featured in the montage of locations in the 007 movie Skyfall. Another reason why it captivates me is the craftspeople. They still make and repair some of Turkey’s well-known handicrafts in the timeworn workshops upstairs. But my favorite feature is the view from the roof.
To experience this you need to locate the building off Çakmakçılar Yokuşu (Street). Then go up the steep stairs and say, "Merhaba," (hello) to the craftspeople. If you’re lucky, the caretaker will find you and unlock a door that hides a secret staircase to the roof. Do give him a tip for his kindness and time, because the view of the Bosporus, dividing Europe and Asia, is memorable and worth a few lira elsewhere.
A little word of warning: The roof is flat (with some domes), and there are no safety rails—so do watch your step. Please respect the history of the building too and collect only memories and leave only your fondness for Istanbul to waft away in the Bosporus breeze.