Wondering where to stay in Istanbul? One of the most intoxicating cities in the world, teeming with history and one of the only places where you can visit Europe and Asia within half an hour.
Just a short and stunning ride across the Bosporus will have you ticking off two continents and two very different areas of the city.
Like many of the Mediterranean cities, you'll find adorable cats at every turn, hanging outside the bazaars and cafes and basking in the glow of the city.
Apart from museum hopping, and haggling at the markets, a perfect day in Istanbul involves drinking cay tea or Turkish coffee in one of the many tea gardens in the city, a common meeting place for locals where you can admire a splendid view of the river as you drink.
Surrounded by the smell of spices and incredible local cuisine, Istanbul is one of those cities that's very difficult to leave.
Where to stay in Istanbul [2020 Guide For First Time Visitors] - Contents
Where to stay in Istanbul
The most popular areas for visitors to stay in are undoubtedly the Sultanahmet historic hub and the upmarket Taksim area in the new city - both located on the western and European side of Istanbul.
Dotted around these areas are some truly diverse neighbourhoods and a short boat ride away takes you to the very different Asian side of the city.
In between the two lies the golden Horn so if you're hoping to hop between the two sides regularly being based near to the estuary might be the best idea.
There's an extensive transport network in the city including trams, metros, and buses.
It's easy to get around to the attractions wherever you're based and with gorgeous ancient streets and bazaars to meander through there's no better city to put your walking shoes on and just go for it.
Istanbul Neighbourhoods Map
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A quieter area with convenient access to the new and old city
Situated very close to the historical Sultanahmet but separated by the Golden Horn a flooded river valley, the two areas are connected by several bridges.
Why stay in Beyoglu
While there are some attractions based in this area namely museums and lush parks, the biggest advantage of staying here is its nightlife, and buzzing cafe and restaurant culture.
By no means cut off from the attractions, most are within walking distance or easily accessed by tram or bus as well as the modern Taksim Square.
If you like boutique style shopping, there are many designers selling their handmade items here.
Beyoglu might be missing the charm of some of the older areas, new places popping up every year and the neighbourhood is always developing.
Choosing a hotel in one of the quieter side streets is generally a good idea here since the neighbourhood truly never sleeps.
If you want to be based in a place that's always buzzing with easy access to the historical attractions, then Beyoglu is a fine choice.
Things to do in Beyoglu
- Admire the striking medieval Galata Tower, one of the most famous monuments in Istanbul
- See the paintings at The National Museum of Modern Art
- Visit The Museum of Innocence, literature meets art concept museum
- Stroll through Craftsman Park
- Experience the world's largest miniature park Miniatürk
- Do some reading at Salt Galata, a beautiful modern library and bookstore
Where to stay in Beyoglu
Sisli District & Besiktas
Old meets new with modern and historical cultural charm
Although situated further from the tourist attractions of Istanbul, these neighbourhoods have so much to offer.
Meaning 'cradle stone' in Turkish, Besiktas is a smaller district of Istanbul and is easily one of the most historic areas of the city.
Why stay in Sisli District & Besiktas
A museum and art hub, the village-like atmosphere draws musicians and artists to the area and you'll always find live music playing somewhere.
It's hard to believe that the modern Sisli district is right next door when you wander these alleyways and admire the medieval architecture.
Staying here really does offer the best of both worlds but also has some cheaper accommodation options than Sisli.
Sisli is an upscale area of Istanbul, finding luxury hotels, shopping malls (including the second largest shopping mall in the world with over 300 shops), and fine dining here is no problem.
However, the neighbourhoods also boast a plethora of museums, churches, and mosques as well as countless museums and parks.
Both of these neighbourhoods are a pleasure to walk through and really showcase modern Turkish life, you'll find a lot of the locals here enjoying the spacious areas and greenery.
Things to do in Sisli District & Besiktas
- Shop in the market district, an open bazaar of clothes, spices, and fruit
- Discover the history of Turkish ships at The Turkish Naval Museum or their military history at the Istanbul Military Museum
- Take a cruise of the Bosporus since many of the tours start here or take a boat over to the Asian side of the city
- Photography the Bosphorus Bridge for real old meets new charm
- Stroll through Yildiz Park
- Shop until you drop at Istanbul Cevahir, the largest shopping mall in Europe and second largest in the world – take a peek at the second largest clock in the world on the rooftop
- Catch a film at one of twelve cinemas in Istanbul Cevahir
- Watch a football match at the legendary BJK Inonu Stadium, one of the most beautiful stadiums in the world
- Visit the neo-baroque Ortakoy Mosque
- Wander the three hundred rooms of Dolmabahce Palace
- Admire the collections at The Museum of Painting & Sculpture
- Head to The Tomb of Barbarossa complete with four sarcophagi, a legendary sailor
- Enjoy the greenery, and cafe at Ihlamur Palace
Where to stay in Sisli District & Besiktas
The historic centre where bazaars meet outstanding architecture
On the European side and easily the most popular neighbourhoods to be based in Istanbul.
Sultanahmet area is the place to experience an 'old city' vibe and be close to all of the city's historical major attractions within walking distance.
Why stay in Sultanahmet
It's an ideal location to walk along the river, enjoy a fish taco from one of the vendors and explore nearby neighbourhoods over the bridge meaning you can enjoy the best of both worlds right on your doorstep.
Most of the accommodations here are nestled in the winding side streets and there's no shortage of restaurants, stalls, local shops, and cafes here.
Even the famous Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar are within easy strolling distance.
The Haag Sofia and the Blue Mosque, two of the most iconic sights in Europe, seem to be around every corner ready to greet you as you get lost in this traditional area (make sure you're covered up if you want to visit).
The downside is that it's very quiet at night, the city's nightlife s based elsewhere and there's a lack of evening entertainment in general.
Most of the city's accommodation is based here and there's a nice range of prices meaning there's something for everyone.
Try not to buy too many carpets while you're in Sultanahmet!
Things to do in Sultanahmet
- Wander over to The Haag Sofia Istanbul's iconic site and once considered the greatest church in Christendom
- Marvel at the Blue Mosque from inside and out
- Go spice shopping at the Spice Bazaar
- Take pictures of the Basilica Cistern, the largest surviving Byzantine cistern in the city
- Buy a Turkish tea set at the Grand Bazaar
- Marvel at the local calligraphy and rugs collection at the Ibrahim Pasha Palace Museum
- Visit Topkapi Palace, the court of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th - 19th centuries.
- Get lost in history at one of Istanbul's museums - Museum of the Ancient Orient, the Tiled Pavilion, or the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Where to stay in Sultanahmet
Connect with the local culture in this relaxed neighbourhood
Placing yourself on the Asian side of the strait literally opens up a whole new world to explore while in Istanbul.
Why stay in Uskudar
The most popular area on the Asian side but still very much off-the-beaten-track, Uskudar is an ideal area if you've been to Istanbul before and have already seen the sights.
You can get a real authentic, local experience here - going to the hammam you'll be surrounded by locals rather than tourists and get a village feel in the middle of this giant city.
A relaxed area, with incredible views across the water to the old city you'll find no shortage of exciting restaurants and cafes to visit.
Things to do in Uskudar
- Take pictures of the historic Maiden's Tower
- Hike to the top of Camlica Hill, the highest point in the city
- Visit Atik Valide Mosque
- Explore Beylerbeyi palace, a former imperial summer home
- Visit the miniature mansions built for birds at the Ottoman Bird Palaces
Where to stay in Uskudar
A chic, modern neighbourhood for a touch of luxury
A common meeting area for the local people of Istanbul, this trendy and modern hub boasts many of the city's most modern hotels, restaurants, and shopping experiences.
Why stay in Taksim
Takism is famous for its luxury hotels, you'll find most of the major hotel brands based here.
This is a great area to be based if you love nightlife as there are plenty of bars and clubs to enjoy and there's always something going on.
Stroll along the boulevards and admire the architecture in this stylish area.
There is still a lot to do, and you are walking distance from Beyoglu district.
Things to do in Taksim
- Gaze at the Monument of The Republic, commemorating Turkish independence
- Jump on the heritage tram line on the Istanbul Metro to Tunel Square and walk back for a tour of the city
- Go shopping on the nearby bustling pedestrianised Istiklal Street
- Enjoy Turkish street food and an array of traditional Turkish dishes you must try
- Meander the Turkish delight and dondurma shops for some local desserts
- Seek out the street art and local graffiti tucked away in this area
Where to stay in Taksim
A unique stay on the Asian side for a very different experience
Definitely a unique way to spend your Istanbul holiday, the Prince's Islands are a collection of nine islands off the coast of Istanbul's Asian side.
They're quite often visited as a day trip from the city but each one has far more to offer than a day trip could ever satisfy.
Why stay in Princes' Islands
Each island has its own quirks and attractions and it's a wonderful way to meet locals as you stroll the fishing villages and hike up to the ruins and castles that litter most of the islands.
Cars aren't allowed on the islands to you'll be able to get around by walking or catching a fayton, a traditional mode of transport which is essentially a horse-drawn carriage.
If you're looking for a green retreat and a tranquil way to spend your city break where you can also catch incredible views across to the main city, then this is a perfect choice.
Things to do in Princes' Islands
- Rent a bike and explore the sights
- Seek out the Ottoman-era mansions
- Explore the summer house of Leon Trotsky
- Head to Nakibey Plaj beach and go swimming
- Visit the historic Prinkipo greek Orthodox Orphanage
- Hike to Aya Yorgi Church
- Eat at Sinek Cafe, a beautiful cafe and piece of famous modernist architecture
Where to stay in Princes' Islands
Istanbul's Asian Side
Perfect for meeting the locals and epic views
The Asian side has generally been a place that's appealed more to people on business then tourists.
However, with the rise of the popular Uskudar and Kadikoy areas and some spectacular views from Camlica Hill, one of the highest points in the city it's drawing a lot more attention from visitors.
Why stay near the Asian Side
The Asian Side is also a great place to 'live like a local' and seek out some undiscovered areas in the Mediterranean style colourful streets.
There are more than a few cafes and restaurants here which serve top quality local food and the parks and beautiful views across the water make for a tranquil stay.
Things to do near the Asian Side
- Visit the art nouveau Khedive palace and gardens, stop for a coffee or lunch inside
- Get a gorgeous night-time view of the Bosphorus bridge at the Terrace of Tapasuma restaurant
- Stroll through Kuzguncuk, an art colony full of colourful townhouses and souvenir shops