Where to stay in Istanbul: best areas and neighborhoods

Where to stay in Istanbul
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If you’re wondering where to stay in Istanbul Turkey, this guide is for you. Choosing the best area to stay in Istanbul can make or break your holiday. It’s worth spending a couple of minutes looking at the pros and cons of each neighborhood.

Istanbul carries the proud tradition of being among the most important cities on earth. Its strategic location on the crossroads of Europe and Asia has always meant that it links the Western and Eastern worlds together.

This crucial position has helped it to have a diverse and wealthy history that has made it central to numerous civilizations, among them the ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans. This richness of civilization is best shown in the city’s varying architecture, food, and sites.

The lasting marks of the various civilizations once ruling here are profound. One can easily witness ancient Greek and Roman monuments astride Byzantine and Italian influenced churches, palaces, and architecture, near Ottoman baths and mosques.

The city clearly stands out as the point where two massive continents culturally and physically intersect, and accordingly it reaches across the Bosphorus Straits to lie on both the European and Asian sides alike.

Where to stay in Istanbul: Best areas and neighborhoods in Istanbul

Today Istanbul (Turkey’s largest city) counts 15 million inhabitants and spans an incredible 1,539 kilometers squared in area. This makes it among the several biggest cities on earth. Istanbul is segregated into 39 different districts, of which 25 lie on the European side while 14 occupy the Asian side of the Bosphorus.

Every district boasts its own charms and atmosphere and delivers a different and unique experience to visitors of the city. The best way to take in Istanbul is to make an effort to see minimally three to four of the different districts on a first trip here. There is no shortage of places where to stay in Istanbul, ranging from the budget friendly to the ultra posh and expensive accommodation.

With so many varied neighborhoods and areas in Istanbul, the difficulty here is not in finding a place to stay in Istanbul. Rather it lies in finding the best area for your tastes, interests, and budget personally. We will look at the best loved and known neighborhoods of the city in this article.

1. Sultanahmet

Without a doubt, Sultanahmet remains the most popular tourist attraction in the grand city. This area is the original heart of Istanbul back when it was Constantinople, making it the center of so many iconic sights like the revered Hagia Sophia Church and the Blue Mosque. It makes the area an ideal place to stay in Istanbul for first time tourists.

Of the many interesting neighborhoods in Istanbul, Sultanahmet is unarguably the cultural and historical heart of the city. Not only is it the original section of the city, it is also classically encompassed by various straights and seas to the south, east, and north. On the west side lie the old city’s ancient walls from Byzantine imperial days. For anyone visiting Istanbul on their maiden trip, this is the best place to stay in Istanbul.

Here within the winding streets and charming lanes visitors encounter the majority and best of the city’s many cultural, historical, and religious sites. Many if not most of these most iconic landmarks lie within a reasonable walk of one another here.

As an example, visitors may stand awed by the triumph of the Hagia Sophia church and museum built 1,500 years ago in a legendary feat of engineering and then cross a street over to the Blue Mosque. The Hippodrome long time center of Roman and Byzantine Constantinople is also nearby.

There are so many things to do here. Travelers can dine on fantastic Turkish and Greek cuisine in the 120 year old Pandeli then wander through the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum. You can go below ground to explore the wooden paths through the Basilica Cistern to see the history of this architectural triumph. Among the oldest of taverns in the city is at the Balikci Sabahattin.

You also have the Imperial Ottoman Topaki Palace where the Ottoman Emperors called home for around 400 years to explore. The Istanbul Archaeological Museums here alone boast over a million works in their fantastic collections of Greek, Imperial Roman, and Byzantine artifacts.

While budget accommodations are rare here in this stunning old quarter of the city, there are a number of mid-range priced choices and options.

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2. Eminonu/Sirkeci

Going east from Sultanahmet brings travelers to the Eminonu area of the city, where the greatest attraction is the Grand Bazaar. This chaotic and lively neighborhood boasts thousands of shops and vendors, religious sites, and working mosques. Its biggest attraction is that it proves to be among the best choices for a budget minded stay in Istanbul.

The Grand Bazaar is actually home to two markets— the Grand and the Spice Bazaars. Surrounding the pair of markets are some fantastic cultural, historical, and religious sites. Families consistently review this as among the best choices of places to stay in the city. It helps that it lies in easy walking distance of the best tourist attractions in the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia church to name a few.

Naturally the biggest immediate attraction for most staying here are the over 4,000 shops of the Grand Bazaar, which remains the biggest covered market in the country. Alternative City Tours even offers a scavenger hunt competition through the Bazaar.

There are no end to the Turkish delights, sugary sweets, and treats on offer here and at the Spice Bazaar, complete with its own 80 individual shops. Eminonu Square is a great location to feel the daily motion of busy street life, where you can partake of inexpensive, tasty, and fast Turkish food at family friendly places.

For other immediate area attractions, visitors have the Valens Aqueduct, the impressive Roman feat that rises 29 meters high and spans 971 meters. From the Eminonu Pier, you can jump on a ferry boat to cruise the Bosphorus and take in charming views of the massive city. This gives visitors a unique and fun perspective on the historic quarter of the old city that they will never forget.

Do not miss the neighbouring area of Balat (Faith). It has long been the Greek and Armenian Orthodox and Jewish neighborhood in Istanbul. Today it is replete with beautiful old churches and houses. There are a few interesting sights here, such as the Church of St. George which remains the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople seat and the Fener Lycee brick built castle-like edifice towering over the neighborhood.

There are also many younger individuals who have established businesses in the historic streets, such as ceramic ateliers, micro coffee roasters, vintage shops, and art galleries.

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3. Beyazit/Laleli

Beyazit and Laleli lie in the European portion of Istanbul. Beyazıt Square sits in the district of Fatih. It was named officially Freedom Square, but retains its old name which came from the Beyazıt II Mosque that lines one quarter of the neighborhood. Constantine the Great’s Forum of Theodosius was here until replaced by the square.

This area is mostly dominated by the Beyazıt Mosque as well as the glorious entrance to the Istanbul University, two impressive architectural monuments in a neighborhood that dates back 1,700 years.

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4. Karakoy

Karakoy has the best area nightlife in this city of well over 10 million people. It lies on the waterside and used to be among the most crucial ports of Istanbul. The neighborhood had run down until 2012 when it began to evolve into a nightlife hot spot.

Today these historical facades are bought and renovated into chic cafes, boutiques, and restaurants, a process that has been ongoing since the early 2010’s. This reputation draws in both tourists and locals who come on weekends to check out the rising popularity. This little district on the Golden Horn mouth is now called the “coolest” neighborhood in the city.

The area offers many unique shops, trendy restaurants, chic hotels, and a wide range of vendors in a stylish neighborhood. The location is perfect to take in incredible views of surrounding Istanbul. It does not make for budget friendly accommodation though.

There are a number of activities to do and things to see in Karakoy. SALT is a one-time Ottoman bank constructed of marble and with a stunning glass ceiling. There is an art gallery, a library, museum, cafe, and shop within that allows visitors to easily spend an afternoon in the magnificent structure.

After this endeavor, travelers can partake of a rejuvenating bath in the Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam. This luxury bath dates back to the 1500’s, still works, and features a unique minimalistic interior. Viennese coffee is on offer in Karabatak, the best loved cafe in the area.

You can walk across the Galata Bridge to Sultanahmet to enjoy breath taking views of Istanbul. Two mosques worth seeing in Karakoy are the Yeralti Camii underground mosque and the beautifully decorated Nusretiye Mosque that lies on the border with Beyoglu.

Following a hard day of sightseeing, classic Turkish Tavern Ma’Na beckons, as does the incredibly popular home cooking restaurant Karaköy Lokantasi.

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5. Beyoglu Neighborhood

For those budget conscious travelers come to Istanbul seeking out an optimal location to make their home base while here, the Beyoglu neighborhood is an ideal choice. It lies to the north west of Karaköy. Beyoglu and adjacent Galata are two of the city’s best nightlife spots with their substantial range of restaurants, bars, and clubs.

Visitors on any sort of budget will find accommodation here that ranges from thrifty to stylish and posh. This lively district features a few interesting attractions, one of which is the beloved pedestrianized street the Independence Avenue (or Istiklal Caddesi). This neighborhood manages to bring in both tourists and the locals by night and day.

Beyoglu deserves its reputation as the part of the city where the most choices for accommodation can be found by visitors. It has everything ranging from backpacker hostels on up to expensive boutique hotels. All budgets and hotel styles will help visitors to find the right place to stay in Istanbul while in the city here.

As for other immediate area attractions, there are a number of them. The medieval Galata Tower provides fantastic and breath taking panoramas of Istanbul and surrounding areas. There is also the no cost Museum of Painting and Sculpture here with an impressive collection of art works.

Art lovers also have the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art and its enormous collection of Turkish contemporary paintings, representing the first such establishment in all of Turkey.

For a trip back in time, visitors can ride the historic red trams around the district and fronting the water. You can finish the area off by making your way to the action packed Istiklal Caddesi. This pedestrianized street allows you to people watch, shop, and take in the sights and sounds at the heart of Istanbul.

For lovers of antiques, Istanbul’s various neighborhoods have got travelers covered. Another part of the sprawling Beyoglu district is Çukurcuma. This neighborhood boasts the lion’s share of the city’s antique dealers.

There are many found here, including Aslı Günşiray, Modern Tarih, and A La Turca for starters. By taking in the area on your own, you are sure to find still other hidden gems, as newer establishments selling antiques open up on a regular basis.

The Çukurcuma neighborhood is also well regarded and known for its Museum of Innocence. This is a literary museum created by the Turkish Nobel Prize winner and author Orhan Pamuk. The name comes from his award winning novel of the same title.

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6. Galata

Some observers of Istanbul might count Galata as part of the bigger Beyoglu district, but Galata has its own feel, character, and envied reputation separate from the larger whole. Galata’s stand out architectural monument is the historic Galata Tower overlooking both neoclassical buildings and cobble stone lined streets.

North of the Golden Horn, this unique neighborhood has a flair all its own. As among the oldest neighborhoods in all Istanbul, Galata comes by its architecture and cobblestone streets honestly. Galata is the place to stay in Istanbul for those visitors (as well as locals) who are seeking out an energetic and fun night in the town.

In only the last several years, Galata has gained this reputation as among the coolest neighborhoods in the city. This reputation has been greatly enhanced by its hot night life appeal. Here you can enjoy everything from stylish night clubs to trend setting bars to unique cafes and quiet pubs. The neighborhood offers nightlife of all kinds for all types and interests.

You can start with dinner and incredible views of the city at Leb-I Derya, take in good jazz at Nardis, then enjoy Turkish wines over at the underground wine bar Sensus, and all in one compact neighborhood of Istanbul.

Afterwards, the area offers a wilder scene still. There is an every night block party provided by the infamous shots bar Indigo. Its lively atmosphere and upbeat music will satisfy even the hardest of partyers.

For those who are looking for a more laid back end to the evening, they can head on over to Kat Restaurant and Bar, which hosts among the best rooftop bars in all of Istanbul. Music and pub lovers are sure to enjoy the live Turkish musical offerings at the cozy Galata Meyhanesi pub.

For a last minute night cap with a view, Galata area offers 360 Istanbul, the excellent bar with fantastic international wines and exotic drinks complete with panoramic views of Istanbul. Galata even hosts the city’s only hip hop club. You can dance all night at Riddim, the first and best R&B Hip Hop Club establishment in Istanbul.

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7. Cihangir

Another of the Beyoglu district neighborhoods within Istanbul is Cihangir. The area features a park, numerous narrow original streets, and street side cafes. It is found tucked in between Kabatas and Taksim Square.

This charming area gained its name when Mimar Sinan constructed a wooden mosque in honor of his son Cighangir at his untimely death. The neighborhood has used the name of this mosque ever since.

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8. Pera

Pera is the old name of Beyoglu that is separated by the historic old quarter of Constantinople in the Golden Horn. This European side district carried the old name from the Middle Ages. Visitors can reach the original city center by crossing the Galata Bridge, Golden Horn Metro Bridge, or Ataturk Bridge.

This neighborhood has the claim to fame of being the most active art scene and entertainment center for Istanbul, and vies for the title of nightlife capital of the city as well.

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9. Taksim Square

The neighborhood of Taksim Square also lies within the Beyoglu European part of the city. This significant leisure and tourism district is renowned for its hotels, shops, and restaurants. City experts call this the beating heart of modern day Istanbul.

It hosts the Istanbul Metro network’s central station as well. This is also the home of the Republic Monument designed by Pietro Canonica and unveiled in 1928. It marks the five year anniversary of the Republic of Turkey that arose after the Turkish War of Independence.

Hotel choices are more abundant here, though the prices are not necessarily budget traveler friendly. Taksim Square area is one of the most popular areas to stay in Istanbul.

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10. Sisli/Nisantasi

Sisli lies on the European side of the city. It does not front on the sea but can be reached from exiting the Bosphorus Bridge which links the two sides of Istanbul from Europe to Asia. The area of this neighborhood is large at nearly 30 kilometers squared. A newer establishment, it arose and grew after the middle 1800’s north of Taskim Square.

Following the creation of the Republic of Turkey, Sisli emerged as among the most elite Istanbul neighborhoods with the upper class city locals, non Muslim residents, and foreign inhabitants. Here you will find a great number of old Christian churches, mosques, and Jewish synagogues within the district.

In recent years it has emerged as a growing and important center of finance and small business in the city. The neighborhood boasts among the largest of modern era shopping malls in Europe, the Cevahir Mall. There are also a few hotels in this neighborhood for travelers.

Aside from this, Sisli boasts a number of other key venues, buildings, and sites. These include the Cemal Resit Rey concert hall, the Lutfi Kirdar concert hall, the military museum, stage production theaters and cinemas, faculties of the university, Galatasaray football stadium, high end shops on the Nisantasi and Rumeli streets, expensive restaurants and quality bars in the Macka neighborhood, and more. The house of the Istanbul Mayor— Valikonagi — also lies in Sisli.

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11. Besiktas/Ortakoy

Among the oldest neighborhoods and districts found on the European side of Istanbul is Besiktas. This venerable area is regarded as one of the city’s commercial and residential centers, particularly for smaller businesses.

With a dolmus terminal and important public bus terminal, Besiktas also claims to be one of the Bosphorus sea hubs where boats leave for a range of other areas on the Asian side of the city.

Following the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, Besiktas rapidly grew into a crucial residential area as the Ottomans finished off piracy in the Black Sea. The plundering of small villages lying without the Byzantine city walls stopped and the area flourished.

A 2000 population census revealed that Besiktas counts 191,000 inhabitants. Besides this large residence base, the area is well known for containing among the best known and loved Istanbul city neighborhoods.

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12. Kadikoy

Kadikoy is an up and coming official city district within Istanbul. It lies on the Asian side in the city. Kadikoy is found at the very southern end of the Bosphorus Strait where it opens up to the Sea of Marmara.

In the ancient world, this neighborhood was its own town called Chalcedon before the founding of Byzantium. The area even played host to several important Ecumenical Church Councils during the 400’s.

Today’s Kadikoy is among the most rapidly expanding districts in Istanbul, as it has been over the past 25 years. It boasts a downtown of upscale shopping complete with high-end shops, entertainment, and fine dining.

This makes it highly popular with locals who are wealthy. Waterside promenades line the district featuring both yacht clubs and marinas, adding eye appeal to the area.

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13. Moda

On the Asian side are a few interesting districts and neighborhoods that fail to receive the recognition they should get as they have not been tourist magnets. Moda is one neighborhood certainly deserving of the ferry ride trip over to the Asian quarter. Its local feel is authentic and not at all pretentious.

Visitors will find Baghdad Avenue here. This is certainly among the trendiest and most desirable dining and shopping parts of the city. The cafeterias stay full with both younger people and local residents who are out enjoying life. Moda is justly renowned for its cafeterias and restaurants.

Visitors will find several yacht clubs and a pretty marina here in the Fenerbahce and Kalamis neighborhoods. The Fenerbahce also boasts an enormous soccer stadium for its home team here.

Moda Beach is another appeal of the area. This fantastic spot allows for longer walks and appealing view across to the European side of Istanbul. For evening and later night entertainment, Moda offers Kadife Street. This is the place to go after dark in the neighborhood, as all of the happening pubs and bars lie in this part of the neighborhood.

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In Conclusion

The truth about Istanbul is that it can be overpowering if not overwhelming. There are so many interesting and classic areas in Istanbul to explore that the question of where to stay in Istanbul is among the hardest for tourists to answer.

This is not made any easier by the presence of 39 distinctive districts across the sprawling city on both sides of the Bosphorus. Understanding the neighborhoods that most connect with a person or family’s interests is the key to figuring out where to be based when coming to Istanbul for the first time.

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