If you’re thinking of visiting Istanbul, or of staying longer as a digital nomad, don’t wait a second longer; take this as your sign to book and go. This is my favorite city in the whole world, and no matter how many times I visit, I’m not sure it could ever be enough. However, knowing where to stay in Istanbul is important because get it wrong, and you’re going to be stuck in that famous Istanbul traffic for half your vacation.
There are so many places to visit in Turkey, but I can’t even count how many times I’ve traveled to and stayed in Istanbul. Several times I’ve stayed for more than a month at once and really felt like a local. It’s a city that’s drenched in history, and is completely absorbing – you could call the entire city an outdoor museum of sorts, there are so many things to do. And the food; oh my life, the food!
That being said, I can’t deny that understanding this huge urban sprawl can be complicated for a first-time visitor. Within this post, I’m going to help you choose the best area to stay in Istanbul, Turkey so you have a strong foundation on where to begin your exploration. I love this city so much that I’m already excited about your trip too!
Best Areas to Stay in Istanbul
Quick Look: Best Areas to Stay in Istanbul
- Sultanahmet: First Time Visitor
- Taksim/Beyoğlu: For Nightlife
- Galata: Trendiest/Coolest Area
- Üsküdar: With Family
- Beşiktaş: On a Budget
- Beşiktaş: For Foodies
- Sultanahmet/Fatih: For History
Sultanahmet: The Best Place To Stay in Istanbul for Your First Time
If you want to know where to stay in Istanbul for the first time, I’d highly recommend Sultanahmet. While this isn’t the perfect neighborhood entirely (where is), it is home to the majority of Istanbul’s top historic spots, and you’ll be able to get a snapshot of the city as a whole by basing yourself here.
This is where you’ll find the Grand Bazaar, Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, and Topkapı Palace. There are also countless hotels in this part of the city, as well as a million and one (I didn’t count) cafes and restaurants.
Pros of Staying in Sultanahmet
- You’re close to the must-visit attractions for a first-time visitor
- One of the best places in Istanbul for iconic photo opportunities
- Fairly quiet after midnight, so it’s great for getting a good night’s sleep
- It’s easy to get around from here by tram and bus
- Very multicultural and most people in this area speak English
Cons of Staying in Sultanahmet
- The food isn’t the best and is quite overpriced – you’ll be told it’s traditional, but it’s touristic-traditional
- If you’re looking for where to stay in Istanbul for shopping, this isn’t it – you’ll only find souvenirs
- If you’re looking for vibrant nightlife, you won’t find it here
Best Places to Stay in Sultanahmet
Sultanahmet has countless accommodation options, including some very impressive hotels:
1. Radisson Hotel Istanbul Sultanahmet: If you’re looking for where to stay in Istanbul, and a central location is important to you, this is a great choice. It also offers one of the best breakfasts I’ve experienced in a hotel, allowing you to fuel up and feel satisfied for the day ahead. Click here for details.
2. Sultan Tughra Hotel: This hotel is one of the most unique places to stay in Istanbul located within a restored 100-year-old mansion. However, it’s packed with all the mod-cons you could need, and it features a fantastic on-site restaurant. Click here for details.
3. Agras Hotel: I really enjoyed my stay at this hotel, which was one of the cleanest and brightest hotels I’ve ever been to. It’s also extremely central and has everything you need for a good night’s sleep. Click here for details.
Top Things To Do in Sultanahmet
There’s no shortage of things to see and do in Sultanahmet, but make peace with not being able to do them all within one visit. Here are my most highly recommended points of interest:
1. Blue Mosque: Located right in the heart of Sultanahmet and surrounded by beautiful gardens, directly opposite Hagia Sofia, you simply must visit the Blue Mosque. The mosque is closed to visitors during prayer times, and is free to enter, although donations are always welcomed. A guided tour is a good idea here. Click here for tour details and click here for directions.
2. Basilica Cistern: Dating back to the year 532, this underground attraction is a must-visit. I loved the atmosphere, as it felt like history was all around me and the echoes felt like ghosts from the past. Places like this are exactly why Sultanahmet is the best place to stay in Istanbul for tourists.
3. Topkapı Palace: This huge palace and its stunning gardens were the official home of the Ottoman sultans in Istanbul, and the opulence is off the scale. The view over the Bosphorus blew me away – it’s breathtaking. I took an audio-guided tour and it really helped me grasp what I was seeing. Click here for booking information and click here for directions.
Where to Eat and Drink in Sultanahmet
You’ll find lots of restaurants in Sultanahmet, many are worth the money, and some aren’t. Here are some of my top picks:
1. Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta: In my opinion, this restaurant does the best köfte in the area, and it’s been open since 1920, so that says a lot. For dessert, make sure you try İrmik helvası, which is one of my favorites. Click here for directions.
2. Matbah Restaurant: There are a lot of restaurants in Sultanahmet that say they make traditional Ottoman cuisine, but a lot don’t do it so well. That’s not the case at Matbah. This restaurant is upmarket, and you’ll enjoy a wonderful view as you dine. Click here for directions.
3. Şehzade Cağ Kebap: This is one of my go-to places in Istanbul; even if I’m not staying in Sultanahmet, I’ll travel there for this restaurant alone. Cağ kebap is a lamb shish-style dish but this restaurant does it like nowhere else and locals flock here time and time again. Click here for directions.
Taksim/Beyoğlu: Best Area in Istanbul for Nightlife
If you want to know where to stay in Istanbul for nightlife, there’s no better place than Taksim and Beyoğlu. I’ll link both of these areas together because Taksim is in Beyoğlu, and they’re essentially one and the same.
Taksim is without a doubt one of the best areas to stay in Istanbul if you want a vibrant experience, but it’s also one of those places where you have to use your common sense when it comes to safety (take regular precautions such as not walking with high volumes of cash and don’t flash valuables).
That doesn’t mean Taksim is dangerous, however – far from it. I’ve stayed in Taksim many times, and I enjoyed the ‘city that never sleeps’ vibe. Istiklal Street is packed no matter the time of the day or night and is home to plenty of bars, cafes, restaurants, clubs, and even museums along and behind it.
There isn’t much you won’t find in Taksim, which is why it’s a great choice for people who enjoy the fast-paced city lifestyle.
Pros of Staying in Taksim/Beyoğlu
- Best place to stay in Istanbul for nightlife
- Shopping here is fantastic
- Many international restaurants, and a few local ones
- Central locations with two Metro stations
- Plenty of accommodation options
Cons of Staying in Taksim/Beyoğlu
- It’s not unknown for Taksim to be a trouble hotspot from time to time, especially Taksim Square
- Nightclubs don’t close until very late into the night, often around 6 am, which means a lot of noise
- This area is very busy, and walking down Istiklal Street can be stressful, particularly at weekends
- High prices in bars and restaurants
Best Places to Stay in Taksim/Beyoğlu
The Taksim/Beyoğlu offers a range of accommodations, from budget to luxury. Consider staying at one of the below options:
1. Endless Comfort Hotel Taksim: It truly is comfort by name and by nature at this place, and I found it to be a great base for exploring the center of Istanbul. Rooms are spacious, and you can’t beat the location. If you’re looking for Istanbul hotels near nightlife, I’d recommend this one. Click here for details.
2. Lucis Pera: The Pera area of Beyoğlu is the oldest, and there are some great hotels there, including this one. It’s a pretty upmarket option, and the continental breakfast is of very high quality. Click here for details.
3. Cihangir Residences: I found this apartment hotel to be of excellent value and the restaurant on the top floor offers amazing views. Each room comes with a kitchenette, which is great if you want to make your own breakfast occasionally. Click here for details.
Top Things To Do in Taksim/Beyoğlu
Now you know where to stay in Istanbul’s city center, what is there to see and do in Taksim/Beyoğlu?
1. Nostalgic İstiklal Caddesi Tram: Running down Istiklal Street from Taksim Square, a ride on this tram should be on your itinerary, (although it’s small so you’ll need to be at the front of the queue to get on). It’s a great way to explore Istiklal without having to battle the crowds. Click here for directions.
2. Modern City Walking Tour: Taksim has many winding back streets that contain old bookstores, boutique stores, and museums, and without a guide, you could miss a lot of it. This tour is a great choice, and I enjoyed having a knowledgeable guide to show me some hidden gems. Click here for more information.
3. Taksim Republic Monument: In the heart of Taksim Square you’ll find this huge monument, and it’s one of the most famous sights in the area. The statue was built to honor the formation of the Turkish Republic back in 1923, and it’s a must-have for your photo collection. Click here for directions.
Where to Eat and Drink in Taksim/Beyoğlu
Taksim is the best place to stay in Istanbul for nightlife, but there are some pretty great restaurants too. Take a look at the below:
1. Corner Irish Bar: I am practically a local at this place whenever I’m in Istanbul; it’s such a warm and welcoming place. The food offered is regular pub food, such as burgers and pizza, but they do it extremely well. It’s also a top spot for watching sports and they have all different kinds of beers and spirits to sip on. Click here for directions.
2. WAMA’s: I think I might have tried almost everything on this restaurant’s menu, and let me tell you, it’s not a small menu… Their lasagne is off the scale, and they do amazing salads. I’d recommend this restaurant for families, as it’s homely and they don’t serve alcohol; it has a pretty low-key atmosphere. Click here for directions.
3. Otantik Anadolu Yemekleri: This restaurant serves authentic Anatolian food, and it’s a great option for vegetarians. I really rate their Turkish breakfast, with plenty of different options to keep you full way past lunch. Click here for directions.
Galata: The Coolest Place to Stay in Istanbul
There are many Istanbul neighborhoods, but I don’t think any are as cool as Galata, which runs just off Taksim and Beyoğlu, encompassing the Galata Tower. If you’re looking at where to stay in Istanbul and you want a place that’s low-key but has that hipster vibe, Galata is for you.
You’ll find small museums, live music cafes, bookstores, and lots of music stores selling some pretty interesting instruments. The only downside of Galata is that it’s located on a very steep hill, so you’ll need some comfortable shoes (and some stamina).
Pros of Staying in Galata
- A quieter place to stay compared to Taksim, but not too far away from nightlife
- Relaxed nightlife
- Some great cafes with reasonable prices
- Great for music fans
- Lots of small souvenir shops selling unique items
Cons of Staying in Galata
- Close proximity to the Galata Tower means crowds during the day, and the pavements are narrow
- Very hilly area, so not great for people with mobility issues
- It can be very quiet and dark later at night
Best Places to Stay in Galata
Staying close to the Galata Tower offers fantastic views, and there are some cheap places to stay in Istanbul around here:
1. Azzap Hotel Galata: This is one of the best places to stay in Istanbul center without being right in the middle of the noise. As well as its location, this hotel offers amazing views and a sophisticated atmosphere. Click here for details.
2. Frame Galata Hotel: I loved my stay at this hotel, which has a modern vibe, despite being in ancient surroundings. Rooms are large and have kitchenettes, and there’s a great on-site restaurant for nights you don’t want to head out. Click here for details.
3. Art Karaköy Suites: This hotel is located at the bottom of Galata, moving toward Karaköy, but it offers a great location, and the hotel itself is very comfortable. I had a home away from home experience here and would definitely stay again. Click here for details.
Top Things To Do in Galata
Galata offers an unostentatious experience, but there’s a surprising amount to do in such a small area.
1. Galata Tower: The view from the top of this historic watchtower is like nothing you’ll have likely ever seen before. I didn’t particularly enjoy how narrow it was, but a single-file approach does the job. I took a guided tour here, and I highly recommend it. Click here for tour details and click here for directions.
2. Galata Mevlevi House Museum: This is the best place to see an authentic whirling dervish performance in Istanbul and the museum also helps you learn more about what you’re witnessing. However, it does sell out quickly, so make sure you book ahead so as to not miss out. Click here for directions.
3. Galata Bridge: This is one of the most iconic sights in Istanbul, and I’ve walked over it countless times taking photographs. You’ll see people fishing, selling ankle bracelets, and snacks right along its length on both sides.
If you head downstairs, you’ll see lots of fish restaurants, although these are the most expensive ones – there are cheaper and better ones in Taksim and Beşiktaş. Click here for directions.
Where to Eat and Drink in Galata
When searching for where to stay in Istanbul, food comes into it, and Galata has some great choices. These are my favorite spots in the area:
1. Süheyla: This small cafe is one of the best hidden gems in the city, and it’s my top pick for breakfast. The traditional kahvalti (Turkish breakfast) here is exemplary, and you definitely won’t be hungry for a good few hours afterward. Click here for directions.
2. Galata Konak Cafe & Restaurant: This cafe doesn’t look special from the outside but walk up the steps, and you’ll be treated to the most amazing, sweeping view over the Golden Horn. It’s also one of my favorite places for coffee and cake – make sure you try trilece, a delicious, milky cake. Click here for directions.
3. Pepo’s Galata: A little upmarket but great value for money, this restaurant is a top choice for couples in particular. The crispy Turkish ravioli is one of my favorite dishes here, and the desserts are divine. Click here for directions.
Üsküdar: Best for Families
Located on the Asian side of Istanbul, Üsküdar is a quieter area that offers great transport links to other parts of the city. If you’re looking for where to stay in Istanbul for families, I’d recommend here. It’s a safe neighborhood in Istanbul, and it’s a lot more authentic, which makes for a more laid-back experience.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to see and do, and there are some fantastic hotels around this area too.
Pros of Staying in Üsküdar
- One of the best places to stay near Istanbul’s main center, without being right in the midst of it all
- Quiet and laid-back
- Gives you an authentic experience
- Wide range of dining choices
- Cheaper hotels compared to the European side
Cons of Staying in Üsküdar
- You’ll need to use public transport to get around
- If you want nightlife, you will need to go over to neighboring Kadıköy
Best Places to Stay in Üsküdar
Some might say Üsküdar is one of the posher areas of Istanbul, but it has some great hotels, including some with Bosphorus views. You can’t go wrong with any of the below:
1. Sakine Hanim Mansion: Perhaps not one for families but a great choice if you’re looking for places to stay in Istanbul for couples, this hotel is simply opulence at its best. With amazing decor in each room and all the facilities you could need, this is a fantastic place to stay. Click here for details.
2. May Otel Uskudar: What I enjoyed most about this hotel was that it gave me everything I needed for a comfortable stay but didn’t inflate the price with unnecessary extras. It’s also very centrally located, and the rooms are large, making it ideal for families. Click here for details.
3. 216 Bosphorus Suite: This hotel offers open and spacious rooms with a fridge and kettle in each, convenient for those with children. It’s located close to the water’s edge, and you can opt for a sea view to enhance your stay. Click here for details.
Top Things To Do in Üsküdar
When choosing where to stay in Istanbul, you have to think about activities – thankfully, Üsküdar is within easy reach of many:
1. Maiden’s Tower: Located on an islet in the Bosphorus, you’ll find this picturesque tower, built during the Byzantine era. There are lots of legends about why the tower was built, but these days you can enjoy a delicious meal at the restaurant inside.
2. Çamlıca Hill: I can’t explain in words how stunning the panoramic view across the European side of the city is from this hill; it’s unbelievable. This huge open space is also ideal for letting kids run free and burn off some steam. There are cafes and picnic spots, but it’s just a wonderful place to soak up the peace and quiet. Click here for directions.
3. Miniaturk: This huge open-air museum shows you the biggest attractions in the whole of Turkey in miniature. So, you can say you’ve kind of “been” to a part of the country that’s far, far away. Kids will love exploring the different landmarks, and it’s super interesting for adults too. Click here for tour information and click here for directions.
Where to Eat and Drink in Üsküdar
Nightlife in Üsküdar is pretty subdued, but that’s the ideal situation when you’re traveling with kids. Here are my top three places to visit:
1. Kanaat Lokantası: I love traditional Turkish food, but it’s not all about kebabs. This restaurant allows you to try all different types of stews, vegetarian dishes, rice, salads, and desserts. It’s a self-service style, so you can look at the dish and choose what you want. It’s ideal for picky eaters. too. Click here for directions.
2. Çengelköy Tarihi Çınaraltı: This family-friendly cafe and restaurant is a great spot to enjoy some coffee and cake, or a light meal like a burger. The breakfast here also can’t be faulted. Click here for directions.
3. Rainbow Cafe & Restaurant: If you’re looking for a restaurant that serves international and Turkish dishes with a laid-back atmosphere, this is the place to go. It’s a great spot for families, and their portions are generous. Click here for directions.
Beşiktaş: The Best Place in Istanbul on a Budget
I think Beşiktaş is one of the best neighborhoods in Istanbul and I’ve stayed there many times before. It’s a great area for foodies, and it’s also pocket-friendly. If you’re looking for places to stay in Istanbul for groups, you’ll find some low-cost hotels here as well as hostels. However, there are also some very upmarket options too.
Beşiktaş sits right on the water’s edge, and it’s a hub for transport, with ferries going over to the Asian side and the Prince’s islands, boat tours, and buses coming and going all day long. The Kabataş tram station is only a 15-minute walk away. I love the welcoming feel of Beşiktaş, and despite it being very busy, it’s somehow also quite chilled-out.
Pros of Staying in Beşiktaş
- If you want to know where to stay in Istanbul to get around easily, this area is perfect for you
- Low-cost food and drink
- A more authentic experience
- A great range of accommodations, from low-cost to luxury
- A good area for cheap shopping
Cons of Staying in Beşiktaş
- The Metro doesn’t serve this area
- Getting a taxi can be extremely difficult, so you have to rely on buses, trams, ferries, and walking
- It’s a little too busy for families with small children
Best Places to Stay in Beşiktaş
Beşiktaş is a huge area, which encompasses not only the central part but also down to Ortaköy, where the Bosphorus Bridge is located. Thanks to its size, there are plenty of accommodation choices to pick from:
1. Melas Hotel Istanbul: This hotel offers many facilities, and if you’re looking for where to stay in Istanbul with parking, you’ll find it here. Rooms are large and comfortable, and the free continental breakfast is more than enough to fill you up for the morning and beyond. Click here for details.
2. Armoni Residence Istanbul: If you’re looking for somewhere to stay as a big group, I’d highly recommend this aparthotel. The apartments are huge and have two bedrooms while offering a very homely atmosphere. Click here for details.
3. CLK Suites: I’ve stayed at this hotel a few times and would absolutely return. It’s a cozy space, and each room has a fridge, which is always very useful when you want to keep your drinks and snacks cool. Click here for details.
Top Things To Do in Beşiktaş
Beşiktaş is the best area to stay in Istanbul as a tourist outside of Sultanahmet because it’s so easy to get around and see some major sights. Don’t visit without seeing these sights:
1. Dolmabahçe Palace: I loved Topkapı Palace, but for me, Dolmabahçe wins hands down. The opulence is almost incomprehensible, to the point where it brought tears to my eyes. A quick tip: arrive early to beat the queues which can be huge, but I highly recommend a guided tour for more clarity. Click here for tour information and click here for directions.
2. Bosphorus Bridge in Ortaköy: Strictly speaking, this is still part of Beşiktaş, and you can walk there in around 20 minutes. Not only is the bridge pretty impressive, but the Ortaköy area is really fun. Make sure you try Kumpir (jacket potato with as many toppings as you want) and a huge waffle with all the trimmings. Click here for directions.
3. Yıldız Park: As you’re researching where to stay in Istanbul, you’ll come to realize that there are more green spaces than you might have thought; Yıldız Park is one of my favorites. This huge open space is ideal for walking, and you’ll be able to do some bird watching too. Click here for directions.
Where to Eat and Drink in Beşiktaş
Where to stay in Istanbul for food? Definitely Beşiktaş, – it’s one of the best places for street food:
1. Karadeniz Doner: I should point out that I don’t like typically doner meat, but I do like this one. Karadeniz Doner has been open since the early ’70s, and you’ll have to get in line early if you want to grab one of their famous sandwiches. Trust me, it’s worth it. Click here for directions.
2. Baruthane Pilavcısı Beşiktaş: I had the best chicken, rice, and salad at this place and it might sound simple, but the flavors were out of this world. This is a very popular place with locals, so you know it’s good; after all, Beşiktaş is the best neighborhood for street food. Click here for directions.
3. Tostçu Mahmut Beşiktaş: This isn’t just any old toasted sandwich, and I admit I was a little skeptical at first, but I’m glad I went with it. Basically, this is toast with chopped pepperoni, tomatoes, peppers, and scrambled eggs, and it’s a true delight. Try it and see for yourself. Click here for details.
Best Areas to Stay in Istanbul: FAQ’s
Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions about the best areas to stay in Istanbul:
Istanbul is huge, so it depends on what you want to see. But if you’re all about history, Sultanahmet is home to the greatest number of attractions.
Most of Istanbul is very safe as long as you’re careful, especially at night, but some parts are considered a little more dangerous than others. Dolapdere and Tarlabaşı are two neighborhoods close to Taksim which are best to be avoided.
Sultanahmet is the historic center of Istanbul and extremely touristic. As such, there are many hotels and facilities around this area and security is high, giving you peace of mind.
It really does matter where you stay in Istanbul. This is a huge city, and so much bigger than people often realize. If you stay in a part of the city that isn’t close to what you want to see, you’re going to be stuck in the famous Istanbul traffic for several hours at a time.
All of Istanbul is beautiful in different ways, but looking over to the Golden Horn from the Asian side at sunset is probably one of the most jaw-dropping sights you’ll see during your stay.
Istanbul doesn’t have an actual downtown, it’s just a long sprawl of extremely popular spots. However, if you’re going to choose one, it should be Taksim. If you want nightlife, it’s a good area. If you’re not into noise and huge crowds, you should probably avoid it and just travel there when you want to go, rather than seek accommodation here.
Yes, but only to a certain degree. You will never be able to get around the entire city on foot; it’s too big. But you can beat the traffic by walking as much as possible, so be sure to pack some comfortable shoes.
Beşiktaş is right in the middle of everything and public transport runs from here to all parts of the city, making it easy to get around.
The Metro serves most of the city, but not all. I’d recommend using a combination of Metro, tram, and if necessary, bus. The traffic in Istanbul is extreme at times, so avoid driving at all costs, and only use taxis during the evening hours.
Sultanahmet is a better option if you want to avoid noise and extreme crowds.
Both the European and Asian sides of Istanbul offer plenty to see and do, but the European side does have more on offer.
If you want nightlife, you should choose to stay in Beyoğlu as Sultanahmet’s nightlife is fairly slow. However, if you want a chilled-out time and are after more history, Sultanahmet is a better choice.
It is safe to walk in Beyoğlu at night as long as you stick to the main streets and don’t carry valuables. If possible, get a taxi.
Taksim Square is extremely busy at night, but it’s safe as long as you’re careful and you take the usual precautions as you would in any crowded area or city; just use your common sense.
Looking for places to stay in Istanbul isn’t an easy task; don’t fall into the common trap of just choosing the nicest-looking, cheapest hotel – we’re talking about a HUGE city here. I was shocked at the sheer size of it when I first visited, but it’s surprisingly easy to get around once you get your bearings.
For me, Istanbul is the best city in the world. It’s got everything you could need, it’s drenched in history, it has enough modern-day fun to keep even the most restless person busy, and the food is like nowhere else. Just go: that’s the best advice I can give; you won’t be disappointed.