Istanbul is one of the world’s most exciting cities, growing from a small city to 20 million, some on the European side of the Bosphorus but most on the Asian side. The city’s origins, known as Constantinople, are on the European side, with the name changed when the Ottomans defeated the Byzantines in the middle of the 15th century. As a result, the major landmarks are on the European side of this iconic city.
When working out where to stay in Istanbul, you would look first on the European side and sensibly close to those landmarks. In that sense, Sultanahmet is one of the first places to look. Taksim is the heart of the European side, where coach transport into the city from its two passenger airports will deposit you. Besiktas is an adjoining district, not large but with nice bars, cafes and restaurants. Sisli and Sirkeci are also “European”, but an increasingly popular neighbourhood across the Bosphorus in Asia merits inspection. Kadikoy has much to offer with regular ferries meaning that the top tourist attractions are not that far away.
Many of the world’s international hotel brands have a presence in Istanbul, and not surprisingly, they are not cheap. However, if you are on a budget, you can still find clean and comfortable accommodation for the days you spend exploring Istanbul. Here are our tips on where to stay in Istanbul.
Where To Stay In Istanbul
The Ottomans took Constantinople in 1453, and for the next centuries, the Topkapi Palace in Sultanahmet was the headquarters of the Ottoman Empire and the home of its sultan for many of those years.
The palace is just a short walk from a landmark built centuries ago.
Justinian and the Byzantines constructed the current Hagia Sofia in the 6th century on a site where a Greek Orthodox Church was built in the 4th century.
It remains today an architectural masterpiece, having been a cathedral until the fall of Constantinople and, subsequently, a mosque.
It became a stunning museum in the 1930s until recently becoming a mosque again.
A short walk from Hagia Sophia is the Basilica Cistern, built by Justinian to provide the city with water.
It stores 80,000 cubic metres of water, sufficient to supply water to Constantinople from its date of construction in the first half of the 6th century.
Two minutes from there is the Blue Mosque, officially Sultan Ahmed Mosque built early in the 17th century.
Visitors are welcome outside prayer times and will immediately understand why it gets its popular name; several shades of blue fill their eyes with the hand-painted tiles, blue lighting and decoration.
Pope Benedict XVI was a visitor to the Blue Mosque in 2006, and not surprisingly, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The four places mentioned are among the highlights visitors want to see when visiting Istanbul.
That being the case, it is natural for anyone contemplating a trip to Istanbul would look for accommodation close by, and there are plenty of choices, including the recommendations below.
- Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet offers a luxurious stay in the oldest part of Istanbul. Accommodation ranges from premium rooms to suites with bar and restaurant facilities. You are just a few steps from the major landmarks of the city.
- Kare Hotel has a location that is hard to beat. It is a modern hotel with very competitive rates close to the main locations that every visitor will want to visit, whether the Blue Mosque or the Topkapi Palace, home to the Ottoman Sultans. Even the Grand Bazaar is less than 10 minutes on foot.
- Sultanahmet Nu Hotel can provide everything from a single room to triples for a family or group. Its location gives easy access to several of Istanbul’s highlights which you can walk between in a single day.
Besiktas is a reasonably small district on the European side of Istanbul with a frontage onto the Bosphorus.
Roads through Besiktas connect to the Asian side of the city via the 15 July Martyrs Bridge and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.
It became an important district during Ottoman times, and its development has won praise from well beyond Turkey’s borders.
It is a district where you will find bustling streets, coffee bars, cafes and restaurants.
It is proud of its football team, Besiktas FC, which plays in a modern stadium opposite the Dolmabahce Palace.
Besiktas is one of the three giants of Turkish football and has been champions many times.
The palace on the Bosphorus was the home of Ottoman Sultans from its construction in the mid-19th century until the fall of the Empire, effectively at the end of the First World War.
It is a place where every indulgence was satisfied at a tremendous monetary cost.
A huge crystal chandelier welcomes visitors through one of its entrances, 750 lamps and all.
The best of European luxury and décor was purchased, no expense spared.
Dolmabahce has almost 300 rooms alone.
It was by far the most advanced palace in Europe at the time, with gas lighting and water closets with electricity, central heating and an elevator added at a later stage.
After the founding of the Turkish Republic, President Ataturk used the palace as a summer residence and a government headquarters.
He died there in 1938, and the clocks were left at 0905 when he died on 10 November 1938.
You will find accommodation in Besiktas to suit every budget, with nightlife good enough to satisfy anyone who wants to walk from their hotel to bars and restaurants.
- Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul provides its guests with a real feel of history and culture. The building that was once an Ottoman Palace now offers 5-star luxury and all you would expect from that status. The location of this 19th-century palace on the Bosphorus confirms the Ottoman taste for luxury and quality.
- AC Hotel by Marriott is a 4-star hotel with the quality associated with the Marriott name worldwide. Its central location means guests in one of its 98 rooms can easily explore the best of the European side of Istanbul.
- Mia Berre Hotel offers 4-star quality at very competitive rates. Economy rooms to suites, the choice is yours, while the restaurant’s menu means you can dine there after a busy day with a wide selection of dishes.
If you are flying into Istanbul for a holiday, whether into Sabiha Gocken on the Asian side or the new airport on the European side, the buses that can take you to what is regarded as the city’s heart have their terminus at Taksim.
If you choose a hotel in Taksim, you will be close to many of Istanbul’s highlights and close to your means of returning to an airport after your visit.
When the world celebrates New Year, many of the biggest cities have a place where crowds gather, like London’s Trafalgar Square and New York’s Time Square.
In Istanbul, it is Taksim Square where the Republic Monument has stood since 1928.
It is not just New Year when crowds gather here; any special event or celebration that deserves recognition will take place here.
Taksim is also where any demonstrations are likely to occur, although official permission has to be sought for anything being planned in recent years.
Taksim looks down over Besiktas’ Stadium and the Dolmabahce Palace to the Bosphorus and Asia.
It is the central transport hub of Istanbul, with roads heading out like spokes from the Square and the main station of the metro network.
There are plentiful food and drink options and hotels for every budget.
There is a long pedestrianised street here, İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue), which is great for shopping.
- The Marmara Taksim is one of Istanbul’s most famous hotels. This is a 5-star luxury with beautiful views from your room over Istanbul. You will experience fine dining, a well-stocked bar, and a chocolate shop if you have a sweet tooth. There is a wide selection of accommodation here, including extremely luxurious suites.
- Konak Hotel Taksim is a modern hotel whose central location makes it an excellent choice for visitors unfamiliar with Istanbul and its main attractions. Transport links are good, while you can stay at the Konak for a price that belies the claim that Istanbul is an expensive city.
- Villa Pera Suite Hotel is a traditional hotel with ceramic flooring, chandeliers and gilt mirrors, yet it provides modern amenities to satisfy anyone. Rooms vary in size, with all having wi-fi, flat-screen TVs and safes. You can also arrange an airport shuttle with reception.
Şişli lies west of Besiktas and revolves around a mosque bearing the district’s name.
This is very much an area that developed in the later stages of the Ottoman Empire, having previously been entirely rural.
From the outset, it was a middle-class neighbourhood where French culture was embraced in its architecture and attractive avenues.
Istanbul’s middle class were the traders, Greeks, Armenians and Jews; hence its inhabitants were cosmopolitan from its beginnings, and that remains the case today, certainly in terms of heritage.
Şişli was one of the first districts to boast trams in the late 19th century.
Writers and poets became attracted here, and by the middle of the 20th century, hotels were quickly constructed to satisfy the demand for accommodation which remains the case today.
Cafes and restaurants sprang up, with many buildings taken by banks, offices and shops. As some looked to move out to quieter suburbs, none of the property left behind was empty for long.
Today Şişli is an important Istanbul Central Business District with modern buildings replacing some of the older constructions.
The affluence of today’s inhabitants has dropped with the working class and students finding homes here but the plethora of shops, bars and restaurants still a feature.
Cevahir İstanbul, one of Turkey’s largest shopping malls and fashion boutiques, make it a top shopping district but don’t expect to find any parking. If you stay locally, you won’t have to look for any.
- Wyndham Grand Izmir Ozdilek is a 380-room hotel in OzdilekPark Shopping Mall. It is a high-rise, of course, given the number of its rooms. Spacious rooms, a fitness centre, a pool and ease of access to transport links make it a quality option in this neighbourhood.
- Radisson Blu is a 5-star hotel with a spa and pool for relaxation after a busy day. It has a wide range of accommodation, from standard rooms to luxurious suites with great views over the city.
- Stayso by Cloud 7 satisfies a traveller’s need for good accommodation on a budget. It is simple and clean with amenities including wi-fi, a safe, and satellite/cable TV.
Sirkeci borders Sultanahmet to its east and has become an increasingly popular neighbourhood for hotels offering excellent value in recent years.
Its railway station is still important today, although at one time, it was the last stop on the Orient Express that took passengers across Europe to this exotic destination between 1883 and 2009.
These days, trains run through a tunnel under the Bosphorus, linking Europe with Asia.
If you are coming from the Balkans down into Turkey and on to Istanbul, the last stop on the railway is this station.
It has a number of commercial buildings, traditional Turkish restaurants, small shops, and boutique hotels.
The quantity of hotels means that you should always be able to find something to suit you in Sirkeci.
You are still very close to the landmarks in Sultanahmet without being in a district full of tourists.
If you are on a tight budget, Sirkeci is where you will find a good deal in a clean hotel with plenty to do just outside the hotel’s front door.
Guidebooks written a decade ago may not even mention Sirkeci as its emergence is that recent.
There are pedestrianised streets here and the initiative that was begun by local businesses to develop the neighbourhood has certainly paid dividends.
Trams link Sirkeci with Sultanahmet while heading in the opposite direction there is the railway station, the Galata Bridge, ferries across the Bosphorus or even to the Princess Islands.
- Cronton Design Hotel is a stylish hotel in Sirkeci where you can relax in a bath, look out over the Bosphorus or the Sulemaniye Mosque and enjoy comprehensive facilities. It is close to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar, two of Istanbul’s highlights.
- Grand Sirkeci Hotel is on the busy harbourside, with several of the city’s landmarks within easy reach. It provides comfortable accommodation at an affordable price, an ideal option if you are on a budget.
- Primero Hotel is a good budget hotel in a location that fits in with many Istanbul itineraries. Facilities include wi-fi and a flat-screen TV. While it is in a busy district, soundproofing ensures that the noises do not intrude during your visit.
Kadikoy, on the Asian side, is another district that received minimal attention until recent years.
It is still a residential district, but its relaxing atmosphere has begun attracting many visitors.
Its fish market is famous, while at the produce market, you will be surprised at the range of things for sale in the heart of a huge city; olives, stuffed mussels and much more.
Colourful murals are on display as you walk its streets, stopping at a café for a snack, coffee or tea. Small boutiques mix with these places while you can also wander on the Banks of the Bosphorus with views across to the famous skyline of the European side.
It was in the 19th century that Kadikoy began to develop as Istanbul expanded.
It was the first area on the Asian side to develop, and there are still some Ottoman reminders from its early days.
Its appeal resulted in its recognition as among the city’s top districts for its quality of life.
- Wyndham Grand Kalamis Marina Hotel is a luxury alternative to staying on the European side of the city. Kadikoy is an area that is developing quickly while the regular ferries across the Bosphorus make “Europe” easily accessible day and night. Choose from a wide range of accommodation.
- Parkhouse Hotel & Spa sits in lovely landscaped gardens, a real treat in such a large city. This hotel on the waterfront is a great place to relax, with spacious rooms and health treatments available. Incidentally, the fish market is close at hand.
- Holiday Inn is geared towards both tourist and business travelling. Its location in Kadikoy makes it easily accessible to both sides of the Bosphorus, with plenty of local attractions. Facilities include a fitness centre, meeting facilities and a range of rooms and suites.