Where to stay in Istanbul

Spectacular Istanbul is a fascinating city spanning many different periods of history as well as the continents of both Europe and Asia. It offers many accommodation options across several areas of the (very large) city but most visitors opt to stay near the centre on the European side in either Taksim or Sultanahmet. Read on for more information that can help you decide where it is best to stay during your visit.

This post is based upon these two areas of Istanbul because they are the areas with the highest density of visitor attractions and hotels (for more information on what to see in Istanbul click here) and also because the traffic is sometimes so congested that travelling around Istanbul can take ages. Nobody wants to spend their trip in traffic, do they?


If staying in the heart of the old city appeals you will probably favour Sultanahmet, which is the original location of Constantinople and the area that contains many of the city’s celebrated architectural treasures.

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

The Sights

The Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia sit on opposite sides of Sultanahmet Square with Topkapi Palace only a short walk away on Seraglio Point and the Basilica Cistern underground nearby. Sultanahmet is also the museum district of Istanbul with the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Museum of Archeology and the Great Palace Mosaics Museum all in the area. Caglaoglu Hamam, one of the more recently built Ottoman Empire Turkish baths that dates back to the early 1700s, is a couple of blocks away. A 20-minute walk up the hill from Sultanahmet, or a few stops on the tram, brings you to the Grand Bazaar, home to almost 4,500 shops and an easy way to lose an afternoon. Read more about that here.

The Golden Horn and Eminonu area is at the bottom of the hill Sultanahmet sits on top of and is also worth exploring. The old Eminonu Train Station that used to be the destination of the Orient Express, is down here, along with unimaginably beautiful Rustem Pasa Mosque, the exotic Egyptian Bazaar and the waterfront.

Ceramics for sale in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

Dining and Nightlife

There are several restaurant options around Sultanahmet but the area is geared towards tourists and prices are often higher than elsewhere in the city. Since the area is so busy during the day it is a good spot to grab a quick bite to eat during the day inbetween sights but the options thin out a bit in the evenings. To get the most authentic food, and at the best price, the trick is to go to restaurants that look full of locals.

Iznik Ceramic Tile in Rustem Pasa Mosque, Istanbul, Turke

Taksim –  in Beyoglu (pronounced ‘Bay–oh–loo’)

Beyoglu is the area to the north of the Golden Horn. It was originally used as a base for European merchants and is now the cultural heart of Istanbul with the most active entertainment and nightlfe in the city. Its historical European connection, and the fact that many foreigners live in this area, contribute to Beyoglu feeling more cosmopolitan than others and explains the number of Catholic churches in the area. Many foreign embassies are based in Beyoglu.

Galata Tower, Beyoglu, Istanbul, Turkey

Sightseeing in Istanbul

Taksim Square, containing the Monument of the Republic, has historically been an important centre of political protest and various parades and gatherings. Protests have now been banned from the square but are often held in the surrounding streets. Taksim is also a transport hub with a subway linking the top of the hill with the Bosphorus shore and a tramline passing along Istiklal Caddesi to Galata Tower. Istiklal Caddesi is a long avenue lined with fashion stores, bookshops, music stores, chocolate shops and cafes. As the street descends towards the Golden Horn it offers magnificent views across the water to Sultanahmet. The view from the top of the Galata Tower is wonderful.

Ortakoy Mosque from a Bosphorus boat cruise, Istanbul, Turkey

If you make your way down the hill to the east of Taksim Square it is only a short walk to Dolmabahce Palace, home to Ataturk, and a short bus ride further brings you to Ortakoy which has lively street markets at weekends beneath the Bosphorus Bridge. It is also possible to catch boat trips up the Bosphorus from Kabatas. Read more about that here.

Dining and Nightlife

Ignore the imposing Burger King on the fringe of Taksim Square, and the various other international chains have appeared in the area, there are some wonderful and authentic Turkish restaurants and cafes in the area. Cicek Pasaji (Flower Avenue, so called because the building used to contain flower shops) is a building about halfway along Istiklal Caddesi. It is a high-ceilinged walkway lined with restaurants and winehouses on either side set out like outdoor dining. You will quickly notice the restaurants are full of locals. Istiklal Caddesi also offers patisseries selling pastries (both sweet and savoury), cakes, chocolates and Turkish delight. A few streets back from Istiklal Caddesi, to the north, the area comes alive at night with café after café spilling out onto the streets. The area offers nightclubs for the party animals and a more casual café culture for others.

Cicek Pasaji, Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul, Turkey

If you want the convenience of being able to explore Sultanahmet and areas further up the Bosphorus Topkapi provides a great central location and easily available nightlife after a hard day’s exploring. If you are limited for time staying in Sultanahmet may be more convenient. Transport between the two is available on buses, part of the way can be completed on the tram and walking between the two takes a leisurely hour or two (depending how many times you stop!)

Have you been to Istanbul? Where would you suggest visitors stay?

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