The Best Places to Stay in İstanbul– Tips and Advice
- Why visit İstanbul: İstanbul is a deeply historic city rife with archeological sites, architecture from antiquity, and a storied colonial past filled with several different occupations. If you’ve enjoyed Athens, Rome, or Cairo and have never been to İstanbul, it’s time to book a trip.
- What is the weather like in İstanbul: Winters here can be chilly, but it usually only snows once or twice a year. Summers are hot but manageable, and balmy temperatures extend well into the fall.
- Can you visit İstanbul on a budget: Definitely. İstanbul is one of the most affordable cities in Europe. Or in Asia, depending on which side of the Bosphorus you’re on. Hostel beds start at around $6 a night, and entire apartments, though maybe sparse, can be found for as little as $10-$15.
The jewel of the Turkish Republic, İstanbul is an ancient city. Straddling the Bosphorus, with half of the city in Asia and the other half in Europe, this storied city has the influences of both on full display.
It’s a massive city – 15 million people live here – and if it’s your first time visiting, you may feel overwhelmed deciding what to do and where to stay. Thankfully, İstanbul has incredible public transportation and is neatly divided into 39 districts that are further subdivided into neighborhoods.
While this won’t alleviate all of your worries, a little knowledge about the major districts of İstanbul and the individual character of each should make picking a property in the city a little easier.
İstanbul Neighborhood Guide
Historically, İstanbul was thought to be in the middle of the world. To the powerhouse nations ringing the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, it served as a center for trade, diplomatic relations, and for a time, the Eastern Orthodox Church.
While these days it’s not seen quite the same way, it’s still a very connected city, with easy access by plane to Europe, Asia, and Africa, with a few non-stops a day to North America.
Despite the ease of getting here, it can be difficult to navigate, especially if it’s your first time. While its many hills and winding streets may be beautiful to look at, they’ll soon have you lost if you don’t have a solid plan.
While wanderers are rewarded in İstanbul, it’s much more the type of city that you plan an itinerary for in advance, mostly because it’s incredibly big. With so much to see, you’ll have to prioritize the sights you want to see the most lest you miss something you love.
Part of this planning stage will be picking a place to stay. The district you stay in will dictate how quickly and easily you can get around town, so it can be crucial to make the best choice, particularly if you’re limited on time. To aid in your planning, here’s a handy guide that includes a little background on each of the main tourist districts.
The 6 Best Areas To Stay In İstanbul
The center of contemporary İstanbul in many ways, Taksim Square and the surrounding neighborhood might be your first stop in town. This is the central hub for public transportation in the city, with trams, the subway, busses, airport shuttles, and even one of İstanbul’s funiculars passing through here. Because it’s so connected, it’s simple to get from Taksim to any other part of the city.
Far more than just a neighborhood to pass through, Taksim is a bustling community full of retail shops, street food, and some of İstanbul’s craziest clubs. Staying near Taksim will not only give you easy access to either airport but also put you within walking distance of some of İstanbul’s must-see sights.
One of the first things you can do fresh off the plane is to visit İstiklal Caddesi, or Freedom Avenue, which begins at Taksim square and ends at Tünel. Along this pedestrian mall, you’ll find boutique and big-box retail, souvenir shops, restaurants, and tons of places to get Turkey’s famous dondurma, or Turkish ice cream.
If you’re craving a quick snack, stop at one of the many vendors along İstiklal for a simit, a circular bread dipped in grape molasses and sesame seeds. Or if you’re out for a stroll in the evening, it’ll be the perfect time to catch the vendors serving up midye dolma: a stuffed, steamed mussel of which you’re encouraged to eat 10 or more at a time.
But if you’re looking for a full meal, try one of the neighborhood’s many local fast food shops. These are the types of places where you’ll find Turkish staples like kofte, pide, lahmacun, and of course the ubiquitous Turkish wet burger, a kind of western-hybrid takeaway standard that is far more delicious than it sounds.
If you’re headed down to Fatih and aren’t in a hurry, instead of the subway you can take the T2, or the Taksim-Tünel Historic Tram. This connects Taksim square with Karaköy and travels along İstiklal. But riding the tram isn’t about just transportation, it’s an experience in itself.
But before you leave İstiklal, be sure to stop it its most historical shop, Haci Bekir. Still owned by the same family who invented the iconic İstanbulite sweet, lokum, Haci Bekir has been doling out candies to locals and tourists alike since 1777. If lokum sounds unfamiliar to you, you might know them by their other name: Turkish Delights.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN TAKSIM
Located to the north of the Golden Horn, Karaköy, once a Genoese stronghold, is one of the most important neighborhoods in all of İstanbul. When the city was still a part of the Holy Roman Empire, then still called Constantinople, Karaköy was a completely different, largely unaffiliated municipality altogether.
Today, it has been long annexed into İstanbul, though it still retains the influences of its Italian past.
If you’d like to experience a bit of the history of the neighborhood, head to Galata Tower, the former fortress under the Genoese occupation. At the time that it was built, it was the city’s tallest structure. It was used for various military and civic purposes until the 1960s when it was opened to the public following a renovation.
Today you can enjoy the upper floor cafe and restaurant, which both have some of the most fantastic views of the Bosphorus in all of İstanbul.
Right on the shore is the Karaköy pier, which in addition to being a destination in its own right, offers ferry connections to various points around İstanbul. From here, you can catch the ferry to Kadıköy on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, or you can just admire the view across the Golden Horn before moving on.
Karaköy is also where you’ll find the oft Instagrammed Rainbow Stairs. Painted as part of a guerrilla street art project, you can find the base of them on Meclis-i Meblusan Caddesi near the Merdivan Art Space.
But as one of the oldest neighborhoods in İstanbul, one of the best things to do is wander around. Beyond every corner and down every alley you’re bound to find hidden gems: comfortable cafes, hip little bars, and tons of incredible architecture. If you’re an experienced shutterbug, you’re bound to find plenty of inspiration here.
Some of the most interesting architecture in all of Karaköy can be found along Bankalar Caddesi, or Bank Street, which has been home to various iterations of İstanbul’s financial institutions since the Ottoman Empire. Some of them, like Ottoman Bank, has now been converted into some of İstanbul’s most luxurious hotels.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN KARAKÖY
The district that contains some of the most well-known attractions and the oldest neighborhoods in the entire city, Fatih today roughly follows the borders of the former Constantinople. Spread across the peninsula south of the Golden Horn on the European side of the Bosphorus, Fatih has been continuously inhabited since 657 BCE.
Since then it has changed hands many times, and the remnants of each regime can be seen in its food, people, and especially in its houses of worship.
With one of the most complicated histories of any mosque in İstanbul, the oft-toured Hagia Sophia began its life as a Christian church, built under the rule of Justinian during the era of the Roman Empire. It wasn’t converted into a mosque for nearly 200 years when the Ottoman Empire took control of Constantinople in 1453.
It was converted into a museum when the Turkish Republic was established in 1935 and remained a secular space until it was reverted to a mosque once more in 2020. Hagia Sophia is considered the seminal piece of Byzantine architecture and draws thousands of tourists a year.
But possibly the biggest draw on this side of the Golden Horn is the awe-inspiring Sultan Ahmed Camii, or Blue Mosque. So named for the thousands of blue tiles that adorn its interior, the Blue Mosque sits right next to the Hagia Sophia, so you can arrange to see both of them in a single outing.
This impressive piece of Ottoman architecture contains 13 domes and six minarets, dominating the skyline of Fatih from its vantage point atop Çamlıca Hill.
Like many tourists who choose to stay in Fatih, you’ll almost certainly wind up at the Grand Bazaar at some point, if even by accident. This enormous market is both one of the largest and the oldest covered markets and is thought of as the world’s first shopping mall, originally built in the mid-1400s.
Inside you’ll find all manner of Turkish goods – rugs, textiles, tea, and even musical instruments. Dispersed throughout are also a number of tea houses and cafes for when you need a break from winding through the seemingly endless stalls.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN FATIH
Just along the Eastern shore of the European side of the Bosphorus is the quaint Beşiktaş. Known for having some of the most picturesque views of the Bosphorus in all of İstanbul, it is also a very connected neighborhood, with the Taksim funicular line, several of the public Bosphorus ferries, and the Bosphorus bridge all terminating here.
This is the perfect place to stay if you plan on spending time on both the Asian and the European sides of İstanbul. Under the Ottoman Empire, Beşiktaş was where Sultans and other Ottoman elite built their elaborate homes, hunting lodges, and palaces. One of them, still the largest palace in Turkey, is open to the public to tour.
Dolmabahçe Palace was originally built in the mid-19th century when Topkapi palace proved to lack the comforts of more modern buildings. Its construction nearly bankrupted the city, but nonetheless was home to six Sultans before the Caliphate was disbanded in 1924.
Inside you’ll be struck by the extravagance of the decor. The commissioning Sultan, Abdül Mecit, spared no expense in assuring that Dolmabahçe would be considered the greatest palace in all of Europe. At the time, it cost 5 million Ottoman gold coins, the equivalent of $1.9 billion USD or 35 tons of gold today. 14 of those 35 tons were used to gild the ceiling alone.
But today Beşiktaş is far more than the playground of the wealthy, it is in fact one of the most prosperous working-class neighborhoods in İstanbul, with a few pockets of rather extravagant homes. Here is where you’ll find mom-and-pop restaurants, gorgeous winding streets, and hilltop views so incredible that you may never want to leave.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN BESIKTAS
Once an extremely elite district on the European side of İstanbul, Şişli’s demographics are changing rapidly as many of its more moneyed residents have eschewed city life and moved to the suburbs. This has left Şişli extremely diverse, and now everyone from the oldest İstanbulite families, students, and even a burgeoning Chinese community have made it home.
Anchored by skyscrapers with colorful residential neighborhoods radiating out from them, Şişli is the major hub in İstanbul for all types of commerce, especially shopping.
While there are a number of stand-alone shops and stores in the neighborhood, Şişli is known for its malls. There are several you can visit here, but the one you can’t leave without visiting at least once is Cevahir.
The largest mall in Europe and the second largest mall in the world behind only the Mall of Dubai, Cevahir is home to 343 stores and 48 restaurants spread throughout 3.47 million square feet on six floors. Inside, you’ll find international brands, outposts of local stores, and everything from super casual to fine dining.
If you can drag yourself away from the mall, head to Feriköy Antika Pazarı for a completely different kind of shopping experience. Here you’ll find antique and vintage items from hundreds of sellers, and a few food stalls selling coffee and gozleme near the entrance.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN SISLI
Rife with creatives and their ilk, Kadıköy, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, is the preferred hangout of İstanbulites in the know. Its cobblestone streets are lined with athleisurewear boutiques and third-wave coffee shops, all without the persistent crowds of Taksim or Karaköy.
And though İstanbul has a bit of a reputation for being somewhat regimented, Kadıköy has a much more bohemian vibe that makes tourists and ex-pats feel right at home.
The Kadıköy Carsisi, an outdoor market, is probably the most visited attraction in the area. Inside you’ll find hundreds of historic shops and stalls that sell handmade cheeses, pickles, olives, and of course Turkish coffee.
For the latter, be sure to stop at Fazil Bey’s Turkish Coffee for their signature cup of the heady brew. This family-owned coffee shop has been treating visitors since 1923.
Kadıköy is also home to the historic Süreyya Operası, or Opera House, which has recently benefitted from a complete restoration. It’s been through many iterations over the years, including some time spent as a cinema and as the base for an NGO, but is currently the home of the İstanbul State Opera and Ballet.
They offer live performances three days a week, occasionally hosting other events on their off-days.But the jewel of Kadıköy isn’t an Opera House or a Market, but rather is the bayside living room of the district: Moda Park.
While it has recreational facilities like TKTKTK, many visitors come here just to lounge on the lawn and gaze out over the water on a nice day. You can bring a picnic and a blanket, and spend an afternoon. If you bring along a few beers and a deck of cards, you may want to stick around even longer.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN KADIKOY
This quiet district north of Kadıköy, overlooking the Bosphorus on the Asian side of İstanbul, is the quiet district of Üsküdar. Throughout the many iterations of the city, including Byzantium and Constantinople, Üsküdar was frequently left to its own devices, acting as a completely separate municipality.
Having escaped much of the turmoil from the many different occupations over the years, it is rife with historic sites, lush green parks, and even a massive public water fountain in the district’s center.
The first thing you might notice when you’re approaching Üsküdar by ferry is the iconic Kız Kulesi, or Maiden’s Tower, beckoning you closer. Over the years it’s been a lighthouse and even a prison, but today you can visit its quaint restaurant for some of the finest views and dining in all of İstanbul.
They generally do a single seating a night with a prix fixe menu, and there is a ferry that will shuttle you between the tower and the Üsküdar mainland. Something unique to see while you’re in the neighborhood is the charming Nevmekan Sahil, a public library and cafe right on the Bosphorus.
The views from here are incredible, the tea and cakes are a favorite, and the wifi is free, so be sure to bring your laptop. While the cafe is only open from 10 am until midnight, the library is open a shocking 24 hours a day, except on public holidays.
But probably the best, most iconic thing to do in Üsküdar is to watch the sunset. Its prime position exactly opposite Beşiktaş makes it possible to watch the sunset over the Bosphorus and city of İstanbul at the same time.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN USKUDAR
Each neighborhood in İstanbul has its own style, and they are diverse enough that İstanbul can suit those looking to sleep in the lap of luxury and those who prefer lounging in bohemia.
It’s is one of the largest and most diverse cities in the world, so whether you’re looking for somewhere to relax with your better half, or somewhere to bring the whole family, there’s the perfect property waiting for you there.