Istanbul is a big, beguiling giant of a city, where millions of people live, work and play among its many varied neighborhoods. What was the center of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, the ancient city was once known as Constantinople.
For first-timers, Istanbul can be a confusing place; it’s the only city in the world to straddle two continents. With one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, Istanbul is a whirling, metropolitan city with a lively mix of culture, people and traditions.
Map of the best places to stay in Istanbul
1. Sultanahmet · 2. Bazaar District · 3. Beyoglu · 4. Karakoy · 5. Besiktas · 6. Fener & Balat · 7. Prince Islands (outside map) · 8. Asian Side
Neighborhoods range from areas that are rich with folklore and customs to regenerated fashion hubs and the heavily touristic Old Town. The city is somewhat of a paradox, with late night drinking and live-music normal in some areas, whilst modest clothing is advised in others. Istanbul is a bewildering, modern place where old and new combine in a metropolis that represents global history and modern day Turkey.
We’ve selected the top districts for you to stay during your trip to Istanbul, so you can have the best time possible. If you want to get lost bargain hunting at the bazaar, take in the old mosques, or people watch in city squares, we have the perfect place for you to stay in Istanbul.
Istanbul’s OId City is jam-packed with many of the city’s incredible sights. The perfect place to stay for first timers, Sultanahmet is where you will find the heart of old Istanbul. Numerous historic sites such as the Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace, as well as the Byzantine Hippodrome, can be found here alongside restaurants and a high concentration of hotels.
Sultanahmet makes up most of what was Constantinople. Bordered by the Old City walls on one side and surrounded by bodies of water on its other three sides, the district is essentially a peninsula. Cruise ships often pull up to the Sultanahmet harbor with many tourists keen to see the Old City. Although it is really simple to travel around on the public transport system, walking around among the dazzling decadence of the churches, mosques and palaces is easy, and the best way to soak up the area’s historic architecture.
Museums display artifacts from the city’s rich and varied past, which stretches back more than 1,000 years. As you discover for yourself the ancient wonders of Sultanahmet, and the call to prayer echoes out over the rooftops, you will find yourself being transported back to another, more ancient time.
Where to Stay in Sultanahmet
Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet – With its opulent wooden beds, carved furnishings, large windows, ornate ceilings, and Turkish rugs, Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet is a lavish option. The bathrooms here are well appointed, with antique style gold finishes, marble walls, and blue-painted porcelain. This hotel comes equipped with an 8th-floor restaurant with views of the Marmara Sea, plus a well-equipped gym.
Sura Hagia Sophia Hotel – A cocktail of grand, Ottoman style architecture and contemporary boutique chic, rooms here are large and decorated in a minimalist style with pops of colorful wall art. Throughout the hotel, guests can enjoy numerous amenities, from lazing around in the rooftop pool and strolling in its very own botanic garden to taking five o’ clock tea to the backdrop of live musical performances. Only 250 meters away from the Blue Mosque, the Sura Hagia Sophia Hotel is situated ten minutes from the Topkapi Palace.
Hotel Arcadia Blue Istanbul – Rooms at this hotel are decorated in a warm, natural color palette, complete with wood paneled walls, soft grey carpets, and modern tiled bathrooms. The hotel restaurant on the 9th floor has some beautiful views of the Hagia Sophia as well as the Blue Mosque, which makes for a breathtaking dining experience. Elsewhere at this 4-star hotel, guests will find a sauna, hot tub, and gym. In terms of location, Hotel Arcadia Blue Istanbul is very close to the Obelisk of Theodosius and the Roman-era Hippodrome.
Armada Istanbul Old City Hotel – The small but charming rooms at Armada Istanbul Old City Hotel come complete with touches of traditional European interiors, wood panels, parquet floors and windows that boast sea views. The restaurant and bar, situated on the rooftop, feature views of the surrounding city and landscape. There’s also a lounge bar decorated with a collection of vintage radios.
If you are into shopping or hunting the markets for that something special, then this is the best area for you in Istanbul. A whirling, confusing and seducing area, this district is where you will find not only the Grand Bazaar – one of the oldest covered markets in the world – but also the pungent Spice Bazaar.
Consisting of 61 streets and with over 3,000 shops, walking around The Grand Bazaar is enough to confuse most tourists. But with the hawkers calling out to passers-by, eager to sell their wares, a simple trip to the market can quickly become an overwhelming experience. It may sometimes seem more like a tourist trap, but – if you know how much you should be paying for the item you want and are willing to barter – you can pick up a fantastic bargain.
The area has plenty in the way of accommodation choices, as well as interesting places to eat. Staying near the bazaar means you can get a real glimpse into life in this Old City. Nestled inside the city walls, the area is a window into Istanbul’s long tradition of trade. Entwined in the streets, among the bazaars, are ancient mosques, tea gardens, and Turkish baths, where you can discover locals meeting up with friends, gossiping and enjoying the city’s energetic spirit.
Where to Stay in the Bazaar District
Istanbul Old City Hotel – Located very near to the bustling Sultanahmet Street and opposite the historic Laleli Mosque, this upscale hotel is the place to stay if you want to be within easy reach of some of Istanbul’s most historic parts – including the Grand Bazaar itself. The interiors are classically Istanbul, with their mix of Ottoman and European styles, complete with a spacious, impressive lobby boasting marble floors and chandeliers. The rooms at this 5-star hotel feature plush carpets, floor-to-ceiling windows, and feel traditional and decadent. Guests can enjoy the spa, which features both a pool and a gym.
The President Hotel – Boasting an onsite traditional Turkish restaurant, alongside a terrace restaurant that serves international cuisine, there is also a selection of bars – including an English pub – to choose from at The President Hotel. Guests can also take a dip at the hotel’s indoor pool, relax in the spa, or hit the gym for a workout. The rooms are a warm mix of calming colors, sleek but laid back furnishings, and soft lighting – complete, of course, with large, comfortable beds.
Packed full of good places to eat, drink and let your hair down, the old neighborhood of Beyoglu on the Left Bank is in the European section of Istanbul. What was once called Pera – meaning ‘the other side’ – Beyoglu is where to stay in Istanbul if you want to have a good time. Cosmopolitan and creative, Beyoglu is a thriving area which swarms with residents and visitors, most of which will find their way to the İstiklâl Caddesi. The pedestrianized main artery of the district, İstiklâl Caddesi connects both residential districts and entertainment areas for the perfect mix of fun and edgy.
With a thriving live music scene and a horde of fashionable hotels and trendy boutiques, Beyoglu has come a long way from its seedy, worn down past and is now the cool area to stay. The sights are packed tightly together, making exploring on foot simple. And – for when you want to see more of what Istanbul has to offer – simply hop on the metro or take the old Tünel funicular to the Galata Bridge.
Where to Stay in Beyoglu
The Marmara Taksim – This upscale hotel is large, modern, and provides everything you need for a high-end stay in Istanbul. From the gleaming gym to the onsite winery and chocolate shop, this place truly has it all. You’ll find a selection of dishes available in multiple hotel restaurants, a choice of bars to enjoy an evening drink, and soft, sultry rooms with luxury furnishings, marble bathrooms and city, and sea views. Taksim metro station is a stone’s throw from the front door, as is all the hubbub of Taksim Square itself.
Pera Palace Hotel – Set in a traditional, colonial-style building, Pera Palace Hotel is lavish and swathed in history; this grand neoclassical building dates back to 1892. The walls of the hotel itself are decorated with Art Nouveau style as well as Oriental art. The rooms feature Turkish rugs and antique furnishings; some boast claw foot bathtubs, whilst others have their own lounges. Most come with balconies and city views, too.
The district of Karakoy, formerly known as Galata, sits north of the Old City. Cool kids and foreign visitors hang out in the area, spending cash on coffee and creativity. The areas are full of old warehouses and late 19th Century architecture that’s been converted into numerous shops, restaurants, and hotels. Hop on the tram or take a stroll to the Galata Tower – overlooking charming cobblestoned streets – which boasts the busy Taksim Square lined by neoclassical buildings.
Home to the Istanbul Modern Art Museum, Karakoy was once a working-class area, where fishmongers and laborers lived. Karakoy has undergone much gentrification since 2000; both have been reborn as multicultural hubs of originality and talent. The areas hum with the energetic atmosphere of bohemian culture. Crumbling architecture and the leftover grit from the industrial past have left the perfect backdrop for a hipster stay in Istanbul.
Where to Stay in Karakoy
10 Karakoy Istanbul – 10 Karakoy Istanbul is set in an old, Ottoman-era building with high ceilings and sizeable rooms, where you’ll have no trouble spreading out and luxuriating. Despite these traditional period features, the rooms are decorated in a trendy style with parquet floors and modern, white tiled bathrooms. Guests can dine in the onsite a la carte restaurant at this 5-star offering, and try out a traditional Turkish breakfast each morning. Set in quiet, relaxed surroundings, this hotel is well located, with Galata Tower just a short walk from the doorstep.
Bankerhan Hotel Galata – The rooms at this hotel are cool and quirky and make good use of the spaces in this traditional, historic building. Featuring natural wood floors, modern furnishings, and artwork that depicts the city itself, some rooms even come with balconies with views out over the Bosphorus. There’s a hotel restaurant for guests to enjoy, which is also where you’ll get to enjoy a delicious breakfast each morning. A great location for those wanting to travel around by tram – since there’s a tram stop close by – Galata Tower is also just a short walk away.
The major transit hub of Besiktas plays an important role in transporting goods by sea. One of the best places to stay in Istanbul, Besiktas is awash with a host of historical and cultural sights, as well as great dining options and shopping. Choosing to base yourself in the bold and dynamic area of Besiktas mean relaxing in cafes, strolling around Besiktas Square and absorbing the atmosphere (and the smell) of the fish bazaar.
The area’s top attractions include Yildiz Parki, along with the showcase of Ottoman artifacts at the waterfront Naval Museum. If you are looking to stay in a slice of luxury on the Bosphorus side of the city, then you should stay here.
Some hotels are even found inside old Ottoman palaces, which is definitely a selling point. The area is the entrance to many of the Bosphorus neighborhoods, as well as being a departure point for boats to the Asian side of the city.
Where to Stay in Besiktas
Swissotel The Bosphorus – A sizeable hotel, this branch of Swissotel covers a large area with grounds boasting gardens and an outdoor pool surrounded by sun loungers. Decidedly design-led, this luxury hotel mixes touches of classic Istanbul aesthetics with modern amenities. There are various dining options, all of which come with sea views. There is a wide choice of rooms here, all boasting chic, upscale interiors. Some even feature large, panoramic windows and seating areas. In terms of location, you’ll find this beautifully stylish hotel within walking distance of Nisantasi and all its luxury shopping opportunities.
Çırağan Palace Kempinski – Situated inside a 19th-century Ottoman palace, staying at this hotel means feeling like royalty yourself. The location is perfect – right on the shores of the Bosphorus, and with a number of restaurants that line the water’s edge. You can dine here with views of Old Istanbul. The selection of luxury rooms ranges from opulent suites decorated in traditional colonial style to rooms with park views, Ottoman fabrics, and large, comfortable beds. This historic hotel comes with an outdoor swimming pool as well as a traditional Turkish spa, amongst other amenities.
The two cultural districts of Fener and Balat both connect to The Golden Horn – the primary inlet of the Bosphorus. This part of Istanbul is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the city, having been settled for over 2,000 years. Both areas have a selection of variously priced accommodation and it’s a simple bus ride from here to other districts in Istanbul.
The hotchpotch puzzle of houses around the areas are painted in an array of eye-popping colors and hark back to the Armenian, Jewish and Orthodox communities that have all called the area home in the past. Children play football in the streets under laden washing lines between houses – these are the areas to stay in Istanbul if you want to experience the life of locals.
If you would rather stay away from the busy tourist crowds of the Old City, the diverse and culturally varied areas of Fener and Balat will reveal a side of the city that you won’t see if you stay close to the main sights. For travelers who want to get off of the beaten track, wandering around backstreets and stopping off for a bite to eat at a local cafe will be the magic you’re looking for.
Where to Stay in Fener & Balat
Akin House – A cool and quirky vintage-style boutique offering, Akin House is situated across five different historic buildings near to Suleymaniye Mosque. The rooms are cozy and comfortable, decorated in lively colors, with wooden floors, wide windows, and vintage furnishings. This is a charming place to stay. It comes with its own ground floor cafe where you can watch life go by on the surrounding streets. Some of the rooms at Akin House feature their own kitchens, offering guests a more independent stay in Istanbul.
Just off the coast of Istanbul, the archipelago of the Prince Islands consists of four large and five small islands. Whilst they were previously used for the exile of Byzantine princes and then Ottoman sultans’ families (giving the islands their name), they became popular resorts for the wealthy of Istanbul during the 19th Century. As a result, there are many examples of the Ottoman-era opulent cottages and houses that they used dotted around the largest island, Büyükada – ‘Big Island’ – making for an interesting wander around. The second-largest island, Heybeliada, is unique, in that motorized vehicles are prohibited (except for ambulances and police cars), making it a charming place to get around.
Other islands boast Roman ruins, a 19th Century seminary, and some – such as Yassiada – are great locations for scuba diving. As for accommodation, Büyükada is characterized by its many high-end hotels, and all the others (aside from Heybeliada, which has only a few) have no places to stay. When it comes to getting to the Prince Islands – and traveling between them – it’s easy, thanks to frequent ferries to and from the mainland.
Where to Stay in Prince Islands
Serguzest Otel – Serguzest Otel is a boutique option set inside an old Ottoman-era villa; it makes use of all the period touches of the building itself, including tiled hallway and stone walls. Lovingly renovated, the rooms here are fresh and airy, with high ceilings, white-washed walls, and natural wood floors – along with contemporary bathrooms. There’s a cool cafe on site where you can sip on a Turkish coffee, as well as a charming garden to relax in. Close by is the Buyukada ferry port, putting this hotel in a convenient position from which to explore other islands.
More usually known in Turkish as Anadolu Yakası – ‘Anatolian Side’ – the Asian side of Istanbul was originally two separate cities – Kadıköy and Üsküda. These only became incorporated into Istanbul in the late 19th Century. Today, it’s a great place to base yourself, especially if you want to explore further into Turkey. You can do so from the beautiful Haydarpaşa train station. Elsewhere, Bağdat Caddesi (‘Baghdad Avenue’) is awash with cafes and terraces and still feels very European.
The neighborhood of Moda, just south of Kadıköy, is a place where many people love to stroll around on an evening, taking in the sights of the Old City across the water. Also in Kadıköy is the yellow Turk Balloon, a fantastic way to get to see both sides of the city from a bird’s eye view. This district is home to Turkey’s largest food market – which begins at Osman Ağa Mosque – and a number of pedestrianized streets, Bahariye Caddesi, for instance. There are many malls as well.
Accommodation here is concentrated mainly around Kadıköy, with a few offerings elsewhere and almost nothing in Üsküda. Prices are generally cheap to lower mid-range, even for 4 and 5-star hotels, making it a very affordable area of Istanbul.
Where to Stay on the Asian Side
Crowne Plaza Istanbul Asia – A large modern hotel, Crowne Plaza Istanbul Asia features a number of amenities for guests to enjoy. There’s a large indoor pool, wellness center, gym, and even a selection of different restaurants to choose from. The lavish rooms at this 5-star option are decorated in caramel colors with decor that feels definitively classic, whilst boasting luxury bathrooms. Some even feature antique furnishings and chandeliers. This hotel is next door to the Via Port Outlet Centre for all your shopping needs.