Best areas to stay in Istanbul

Top areas to stay in Istanbul

One of the most appealing aspects of Istanbul is its variety of exciting areas to stay in. Most visitors choose to stay around Sultanahmet, the heart of the old city, where there is a high concentration of hotels, pensions and hostels, as well as major sights. Inevitably given the demand, many establishments have opened on the fringes of Sultanahmet - in Sirkeci and towards the Grand Bazaar.

  1. Enjoy perusing the fantastic attractions in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul
  2. Make the most of the Beyoğlu and Taksim areas
  3. Head to the area from Topkapı Palace to the Golden Horn for some spectacular views
  4. Discover the Beşiktaş and Ortaköy areas
  5. Enjoy the Galata and the waterfront districts in Istanbul

Ever more visitors, particularly those for whom nightlife and contemporary arts and culture are as important as historical sights, are basing themselves across the Golden Horn in trendy Galata and Beyoğlu. If you’re looking for exclusivity, a pricey Bosphorus-front hotel may well appeal, while those looking to spend a night on an island retreat may be tempted by the Princes’ Islands. Wherever you choose you won’t be stuck for where to stay in Istanbul. If you’re tempted to jet set off to Turkey, take a look at our inspiring selection of Istanbul holidays.

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1. Enjoy perusing the fantastic attractions in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul

The heart of the historic old city, Sultanahmet is ideal for exploring on foot. Once the fulcrum of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires, the area is the heart of old Istanbul. The essence of its grand, imperial past is distilled in two truly great, domed buildings facing each other imperiously over an attractive park - the monumental sixth-century church of Hagia Sophia, today the Aya Sofya Museum, and the equally impressive Blue Mosque, built a thousand years later. There are plenty more notable, historic buildings scattered across the crown of the peninsula and in the old alleys running down to the shipping-filled blue waters of the Sea of Marmara, and you could easily spend two or three days sightseeing in Sultanahmet alone. Inevitably, tourism is Sultanahmet’s raison d’étre today, and there are legions of hotels, cafés and restaurants catering to visitors’ needs. That said, it is the best neighbourhood to stay in Istanbul with a huge range of pensions, hostels and hotels all on offer, too.

Best for: Classic Istanbul attractions

While you’re there: Cheers Lighthouse is a perfect choice for accommodation. Part of a new wave of hostel accommodation in the city, it provides hotel-like facilities without losing the communal hostel feel.

2. Make the most of the Beyoğlu and Taksim areas

Draped across the hilltop above Galata is Beyoğlu, the frenetic entertainment quarter of the metropolis. Heart of the action is one-and-a-half-kilometre-long İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Street), running from the upper Tünel station north to bland but impressively vast Taksim Square. From the seventeenth century onwards this became the European quarter of the city, home to the palatial residences of foreign merchants, ambassadors and members of the city’s Greek and Armenian communities. Typically late nineteenth-century Neoclassical, Art Nouveau and Secessionist-style apartment blocks line the streets, punctuated by grand consular buildings, churches and period arcades. Beneath their grand facades, Istanbulites and foreign visitors shop, visit a gallery, take in a film, head up to a rooftop bar to watch the sun sink over the old city across the water and while away the night at a trendy club or live music venue. There are plenty of budget hotels in the area, and five-star spots if you’re looking to splash out!

Best for: Evening entertainment

While you’re there: For live music head to Babylon. Acts include everything from world music bands to Turkish fusion.

3. Head to the area from Topkapı Palace to the Golden Horn for some spectacular views

Superbly located on the first of the old city’s seven hills, right at the snout of the peninsula pointing up the continent-dividing Bosphorus strait, the Topkapı Palace was the nerve centre of the powerful Ottoman Empire. This sprawling, walled compound encompasses not only the courtyards and pavilions of the palace itself but also Istanbul’s excellent Archeology Museum, an important Byzantine church and Gülhane Park, the only major green and open space in the congested old city. Following the busy tramline downhill to the northwest, you come to the more workaday business district of Sirkeci, best known to visitors for its late nineteenth-century station, once the easternmost terminus of the famous Orient Express. Beyond it, fronting the ferry-filled waters of the Golden Horn, is mega-bustling Eminönü, with its fragrant, Ottoman-era Spice Bazaar. Lots of hotels in the area offer roof terraces, such as Neorion and Sirkeci Mansion so you soak up glorious views of the Topkapı Palace and beyond.

Best for: Wonderful views

While you’re there: The Spice Bazaar is fantastic for souvenir shopping. Head here to find some tasty Turkish delight!

4. Discover the Beşiktaş and Ortaköy areas

Northeast along the Bosphorus-front is Beşiktaş. Home to the most working class of the city’s “big three” football teams, it’s rapidly emerging from a cocoon of urban decay and possesses a youthful vibrancy thanks to its huge student population. Further along is Yıldız Park, a vast, wooded park dotted with imperial pavilions. Beyond it, Ortaköy retains some feel of the fishing village it once was. It has a lovely Baroque-style mosque and a lively waterfront lined with posh cafés. Just to the northeast, virtually underneath the continent-spanning Bosphorus Bridge, a handful of glitzy Bosphorus-front clubs play host to the city’s glamorous elite and visiting celebrities.

Best for: Nightlife

While you’re there: The Dolmabahçe Palace, a grandiose European-style residence for the Ottoman Empire’s last sultans, is a highlight.

5. Enjoy the Galata and the waterfront districts in Istanbul

Dominated by the landmark Galata Tower, which takes its name from the vibrant district at its feet, Galata’s cobbled alleys tumble down to the busy north shore of the Golden Horn. An autonomous Genoese colony in the late Byzantine era, home to thriving Jewish, Moorish, Armenian and Greek communities since the Ottoman conquest, it has always been different from the conservative, mainly Muslim old city. Over the last decade it has blossomed from a run-down port area to a bohemian quarter of trendy shops, artists’ studios, musicians’ workshops, street art, hip bars and clubs and makes it one of the best areas to stay in Istanbul. A quaint nineteenth century underground funicular continues to toil up the hill and dervishes still whirl at the Galata Mevlevi Lodge.

Best for: Unique blend of communities

While you’re there: If you’re interested in art note that the SALT contemporary arts project hosts a variety of temporary exhibitions.

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