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Where to Stay in Istanbul
Istanbul is separated into two continents by the Bosphorus Strait, and the overwhelming majority of its hotels are on the European side. The densest concentration of hotels is in Sultanahmet, also called the Old City and the Historic Peninsula. This peninsula juts out into the southern mouth of the Bosphorus and is the core of the ancient city that has since sprawled out over almost 100 square miles. Many of Istanbul’s historic structures, bazaars and monuments are located in Sultanahmet. It’s convenient for sightseers, but is also one of the loudest and most expensive neighborhoods.
The second-biggest hotel district is Beyoglu, situated north of Sultanahmet on the other side of the Golden Horn estuary. Beyoglu is as modern as Sultanahmet is historic, and includes five-star hotels, upscale boutiques and major nightlife destinations. You can often find cheap hotel deals in Istanbul by checking in Beyoglu in early spring or autumn.
Across the Bosphorus, Istanbul’s Asian Side is generally residential, though there are several clusters of hotels. You’ll need to budget extra time for traveling during the day if you stay there, but the hotels to the east have two significant advantages: they’re much cheaper than those across the strait, and many offer the best views of the Old City.
Istanbul Hotel Tips
It wasn’t long ago that there was very little variety in Istanbul’s lodging market, but today, the city offers luxury high-rises, swanky boutique hotels, family suites, enchanting B&Bs and small, simple rooms at discount rates. In general, you’ll find the newer and more luxurious hotels in Beyoglu and the business districts to its north. In the Historic Peninsula, many accommodations are located in older buildings where rooms tend to be smaller. Preservation of the old-world charm of these hotels sometimes means forgoing modern amenities, but the incomparable atmosphere and prime location of Sultanahmet’s lodging easily make up the difference.
Istanbul Hotel Recommendations
You’ll find an exorbitantly luxurious experience at Istanbul’s Four Seasons Hotel, ideally located with views of Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia and other notable landmarks in the Old City. The rooms are expensive, but their comfort and beauty are beyond compare. Its range of first-class amenities, which includes an expansive swimming pool, a full-service spa, a fine dining restaurant and a well-equipped fitness center, is uncommon in this historic area. A far more affordable option in the Old City is the Hotel Empress Zoe, a boutique hotel with lots of personality and a variety of rooms and suites. Its balance of comfort, price and location is ideal, and its rooftop bar is a wonderful place to survey the city at night.
In Beyoglu, Misafir Suites is a boutique hotel so small it almost feels like a B&B. But inside its suites, it’s a completely different story; some of Istanbul’s biggest beds, bathrooms and lounging areas are there, along with cutting edge entertainment centers, plush robes and gourmet minibars.
If you’re considering a stay on the Asian Side, you can’t go wrong with Sumahan, famous for its clean, sophisticated design and optimal waterfront location on the Bosphorus. It’s a more tranquil retreat than most hotels on the European Side, but when you want to explore, you can take Sumahan’s complimentary water shuttle across the way.
Road congestion is a growing problem in Istanbul and driving its streets almost guarantees confusion and stress for anyone unfamiliar with the area. It’s best to avoid the rental car route and take advantage of Istanbul’s huge network of public transportation systems, which includes buses, trams, trolleys, funicular railways, subways, ferries and dolmuses, minibuses that offer the speed and convenience of a taxi at a frugal rate closer to bus fare. Taxis are also plentiful, though it’s a good practice to have the nearest hotel front desk phone you a ride rather than hail a cab on the street. Hotel staff usually select the more reputable taxi companies that are less likely to take advantage of tourists’ unfamiliarity with the city.
After your flight to Istanbul, there are multiple ways to get to your hotel from the airport. But before you take the airport shuttle bus, the subway or one of the numerous taxis lined up outside, make sure you check with your hotel to find out if they provide their own complimentary airport shuttle service. This is an increasingly common convenience, particularly among the newer hotels in Beyoglu and along the Bosphorus.