All Articles The best places to stay in Istanbul

The best places to stay in Istanbul

An Istanbul insider shares her best tips.

Sevil Delin
By Sevil Delin24 May 2024 6 minutes read
Suleymaniye Mosque and Golden Horn harbor in Istanbul
Image: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

Sometimes, deciding where to stay on a trip is harder than choosing a house to live in for the rest of your life. Nowhere is this more true than in Istanbul, a massive city covering more than 2,000 square miles, with nearly 20 million residents. (That’s about the size of Rhode Island, but with 20 times the population.) In a city that has been the capital of three empires and sits on two continents, picking just one place to stay isn’t easy—the FOMO is real.

As a half-American, half-Turkish travel writer based in Istanbul for over 20 years, I’ve lived all over the city—yet I still only feel like I’ve scratched the surface. So, I’d suggest choosing the neighborhood that best suits your personality—and then come back again and again to try other districts on for size.

For first-timers, history buffs, and museum lovers: Sultanahmet

View of Blue Mosque and tops of trees from rooftop lounge
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul At Sultanahmet

Sultanahmet is the area most people (and photographers) picture when they think of Istanbul: lots of mosques, minarets, and museums. It’s known as the Historic Peninsula for good reason—this is a hotbed of human history.

Where to stay

While there are plenty of pensions and youth hostels, Sultanahmet is also home to my personal favorite hotel in the city: the magical Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet. Don’t let its location in a former prison put you off: I would happily spend the rest of my life incarcerated here. If you’re looking for something a bit less luxurious and a lot more affordable, head to the Empress Zoe, a sweet boutique where every room is like a chapter from 1001 Nights. (Just be warned—lots of stairs.) Finally, if you’d like to have a singular swim, stay at the Hagia Sophia Mansions, a Curio Collection by Hilton, set in Ottoman-era villas with a Jacuzzi in a 1,500-year-old underground cistern.

Travelers say: “Nothing beats the location of this hotel. You could walk to Hagia Sophia and Blue mosque in minutes. Plenty of restaurants around. Cağaloğlu Hamam, grand bazaar and other must do attractions are all walkable.”—@srz9

What to eat

Avoid the tourist traps and dodgy kebab places and head to one of the best Turkish meatball joints in town: Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi Selim Usta, serving tasty kofte for over a century. For a fancier dinner, try the fish and seafood at Balikci Sabahattin. If I want to introduce visitors to a wide range of Turkish meze (shared tapas-style dishes), I always take them to Giritli.

Travelers say: “Really warm, fun, casual but excellent place- adorable garden setting. Set menu but they kindly accommodated an allergy. Great guitarist playing Turkish hits- many people dancing by the end of the evening! Excellent and warm, professional service in a gorgeous garden. This place is magical.”—@LouiseinFrance

What to do

First of all, wear comfy shoes. You will be walking. A lot. The good news is that most of the sights are, well, within sight of each other. There’s the Topkapi Palace Museum with its evocative harem (yes, it is worth buying the extra ticket), the hulking Hagia Sophia mosque (definitely buy the extra ticket to see the Byzantine mosaics frescoes in the gallery upstairs), the Basilica Cistern (guaranteed to make your hair curl—it is both spooky and very humid), the famous Blue Mosque (known by locals as Sultanahmet), the ancient Hippodrome (which even has an ancient Egyptian obelisk). Shoppers won’t want to miss labyrinthine Grand Bazaar (aka Kapali Carsi), the aromatic Egyptian or Spice Bazaar (stock up on saffron and more), and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (home to 40,000 rugs, ceramics, and sarcophagi—oh my).

More to do in Sultanahmet

For the pulse of modern-day Istanbul: Beyoglu

Aerial view of hotel along the Bosphorus strait
The Peninsula Istanbul
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Centrally located Beyoglu is where Istanbul’s actors, writers, expats (and I) live, with pedestrian Istiklal Avenue serving as its backbone. This is the home of cafe culture, of days spent reading and chatting, and nights spent drinking and dancing. Its Bosphorus shore features Galataport, with an underground cruise ship terminal and above-ground shopping and restaurants.

Where to stay

Next to Galataport, the former ferry terminal and its adjacent buildings have been converted into The Peninsula Hotel, where Art Deco glam meets exquisitely personalized service. If you prefer a party vibe, then Soho House set in an Italian palazzo is never, ever dull. Right next door, Istanbul’s most famous hotel, the Pera Palace, maintains its Orient Express opulence—I adore the domed Kubbeli tea room. Or get thee to a nunnery: Tomtom Suites, set in a former Franciscan convent, is a perfect pied a terre.

Travelers say: “Tomtom suites was an outstanding hotel, in terms of location, decor & staff. The staff offered us consistent ,amazing service & hospitality with a sense of humor too.”—@Yvonne M Page

What to eat

From cafes to fine dining, Beyoglu has all your taste buds covered. Istanbul has been sprinkled with Michelin stars, and many of them landed here. If you stay at Tomtom Suites, you don’t have to look far: There’s a Michelin-starred restaurant, Nicole, right on the roof. Neolokal and Mikla also have Michelin stars, serving modern takes on Turkish cuisine. Lots of restaurants in Beyoglu have amazing views of the historic peninsula, but Gallada on top of The Peninsula wins my vote. If you want to sip aniseed-flavored raki in a classic meyhane (a tavern that serves traditional Turkish meze), head to Asmali Cavit, where I take friends. The streets of boho Cihangir—a neighborhood within Beyoglu—are filled with laid-lack, LGBT-friendly cafes. You can find me typing away at Kahve6, Journey, and Cuma. For cocktails in a cool hole-in-the-wall with tables that spill onto the pavement, try Geyik.

Travelers say: “The staff and drinks were both wonderful at Geyik. It’s a cool hip spot with a fun crowd, tasty drinks, a really friendly bartender, and free popcorn. What could be better?”—@livster1227

What to do

Art, history, culture, shopping, entertainment: Beyoglu is the hub of it all. Galataport is a nice microcosm: Check out the Renzo Piano-designed Istanbul Modern and the Istanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture. Then pop into the local shops and have a meal at one of Galataport’s many eateries. An arty walk down pedestrian Istiklal Caddesi should start at Taksim Square with a tour of the Ataturk Cultural Center (note the massive, circular red ceramic auditorium), continue with stops at Salt Beyoglu and Mesher galleries, a Sufi Whirling Dervish ceremony at the Galata Mevlevi House Museum, and end at the top of the Galata Tower. You can go antiquing in Cukurcuma, and be sure to make a detour to The Museum of Innocence, a meta-museum opened by Nobel prize winning Orhan Pamuk and based on his eponymous book. I’d end the day with a bath at the Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam with its soaring central dome.

More to do in Beyoglu

For a stylish scene: Nisantasi

Rooftop eatery overlooking buildings, trees, and water
Spago by Wolfgang Puck
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Istanbul’s upperclass are born, live, and die in Nisantasi—its Tesvikiye Mosque holds the fanciest funerals in town. This is where you’ll find branches of the top international fashion boutiques, where the well-heeled buy those sky high heels. There are also plenty of sidewalk cafes to rest your feet and watch the beautiful people pass by.

Where to stay

The living, eating, and shopping is easy in this neighborhood. Most of the action (including the best hotels) are located along the main thoroughfare, Abdi Ipekci Avenue. The tasteful St Regis has not one but three pools, and a Spago on the roof. Turkish boutique brand The Stay Nisantasi shares a building with Prada. Vakko Hotel is an exquisite extension of its own emporium next door. The Park Hyatt Istanbul Maçka Palas is set in a regal former apartment building (my favorite rooms have not only a personal hamam but also a soaking tub and a steam room).

Travelers say: “The Istanbul Park Hyatt is an exceptional property. It is located in a high end neighborhood with luxury shopping and cafes. It is not far from the Besiktas neighborhood and fairy terminal and not far from Istiklal Street. The hotel is not too close to the Golden Horn where the majority of tourist sites are. While those sites are worth visiting for 1-2 days, staying away from the crowds is lovely.”—@Hivedoc

What to eat

From breakfast to dinner, everyone eats out here, and everyone eats well. Join the lines at Cesme Bazlama Kahvalti to have a classic Turkish breakfast with tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, and eggs. If you want to try Ottoman food, with its focus on fresh, seasonal vegetables cooked in olive oil (known as zeytinyagli), check out Hunkar, with a glass display that never disappoints. For more proletarian but no less yummy fare, try Tatbak, famed for its lahmacun (like a Turkish meat pizza), or Saray Muhallebicisi for reliably high quality doner kebap (and drool-worthy puddings) in a bistro-like setting.

Travelers say: “[Saray Muhallebicisi] was amazing!!!! The best baklava. Generally all the sweets were delicious. The service was very helpful and polite. My favourite place for sweets in Istanbul.”—@Styliprek

What to do

Yes, you can shop till you drop if you want to, but there is also a lot of culture and arts. Many upmarket local brands have their flagships here, including Begum Khan (flamboyant, nature-inspired jewelry), Les Benjamins (funky streetwear with a Turkish twist), as well as Beymen, Gizia Gate, and Shopi Go No: 62 (a trio of concept/department stores). Take a break with a walk around Macka Park (I love to ride the short but exciting cable car over the valley), head to the Military Museum (where they reenact the Ottoman military band in full regalia—only slightly kitsch), and visit Tesvikiye Mosque (where the funerals of Istanbul’s elite are usually held).

Great Istanbul tours

Sevil Delin
Half-Turkish, half-American writer and voice actor Sevil Delin is the author of the Louis Vuitton City Guide to Istanbul as well as their Bodrum resort guide. She was raised in Egypt, Hong Kong, Turkey, the UK, and the US. After reading English at Oxford University, she worked at The New Yorker. Based in Turkey since 2000, she has contributed travel writing on Istanbul and Bodrum to Wallpaper*, Monocle, Condé Nast Traveller, The Guardian, and Elite Traveler, among other publications. She is also a voice actor, and stars in the radio drama Forbidden Diary. A mother of two boys, she is the founder of Momcierge, the world’s first family travel concierge, launched in Istanbul in 2013. She is quite proud of a memoir essay published by Granta.