5 Best Areas to Stay in Istanbul

A city of 15 million inhabitants and one of the largest cities in Europe. Finding the ideal neighbourhood to stay is important for a good first impression and for a memorable stay.

Pick the Sultanahmet area if you want your fill of history and then some quiet time to unwind during your stay. Otherwise, choose Taksim, Galata or the larger Beyoğlu if you seek nightlife. Alternatively, the modern Şişli area can also be an option.  International brands and local designer boutiques are aplenty here. However, if you’re into local culture and life and want to see where the average Turkish person lives, then head to Kadıköy and the trendy neighbourhood of Moda.

In the end, take your pick. We suggest that you stay in the historical area for a few days first. There are plenty of hotel options in every district or Airbnb is also a good option. Once you’ve explored the old city’s attractions, head to other parts of the city with their own offerings of history, culture and food, for instance, Galata or the skyscraper dense Levent area.

If this is your first time visiting this vast city, then read on to find out what the different areas offer and choose accordingly.

1. Sultanahmet

For first-timers in Istanbul, the best area to stay in is Sultanahmet. The reason is simple: it’s Istanbul’s old city. If you stay here, you’ll be minutes away from Istanbul’s historical attractions – Sultanahmet Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace and dozens of museums. Smaller museums such as the archaeology and tile museum, the carpet museum and mosaics museums should be on your to-do lists.

Sultanahmet area, image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Many historical buildings and shopping districts in the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar are nearby and offer an authentic Turkish experience. This area is best explored on foot for an immersive experience.

The Basilica Cistern, Caferağa Medresesi and the Hagia Irene are in the area. A number of hammams are scattered throughout the area. Make an appointment with one and try your very first hammam experience. We recommend the Çemberlitaş Hamam that dates back to 1584.

There’s also a tramway that can take you from/to Kabataş, back to the old historic district. Here, you can explore the second-hand books market in Beyazit and wander the streets.

One downside to staying in this area is that there is very little nightlife. If you’re looking to go out at night then you’ll have to go to Beyoğlu, Taksim or Galata. On the other hand, a good night’s sleep can be had here after a busy day of exploring.

As it is Istanbul’s most popular tourist area, restaurants and hotels are more expensive than in other parts of the city. For example, the Four Seasons Hotel can be an option among the thousands available here. The hotel has a great terrace here and overlooks the Sultanahmet square.

2. Taksim

Taksim Square, image sourced from Flickr

The main Taksim square and the connecting 2 km Istiklal Avenue is a must for those visiting Turkey for the first time. There are hotel options for many budgets and it’s the city’s entertainment hub. The entirely pedestrianized avenue is teeming with people all hours of the day.

The Square is a meeting point for locals and the now famous Gezi Park sits right beside it. The French Cultural Institute lies just at the beginning of the street and hosts events and has a great library in the French language. Leading has a ton of art galleries, chophouses, traditional Southeast Turkish cuisine restaurants and open-fire grill joints. Street food is available at almost every corner and döner places can offer cheap alternatives. Try ıslak hamburger or a wet burger with tomato sauce at Kızılkayalar before you explore the rest of the avenue.

Look for Turkey’s famous ice cream or dondurma made with salep and mastic gum on this street. Be ready to be delighted by the ice seller’s tricks, right before you’re served the treat! Famous sweet confectioneries such as Hafiz Mustafa, Koska Helvacisi, Saray Muhallebicisi and numerous other Turkish street food joints are also on this street. More recently, a mix of Syrian and Middle Eastern restaurants have also popped up in the area as well.

In the end, if you crave culture and want to try the food culture of the city, then this area can be your very first stop.

3. Galata 

Image sourced from Unsplash

The landscape of Galata is dominated by the 5th-century Galata Tower. The tower has a restaurant so once you’ve had your fill of the panoramic views of Istanbul from the tower, make reservations to enjoy a few dishes and drinks here.

A lively cosmopolitan neighbourhood, it’s filled with cafés, restaurants and entertainment venues. Moreover, many historical buildings and synagogues, churches and mosques, for example, the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Ashkenazi Synagogue and the Bereketzade Medresesi are worth a visit. Moreover, the Mevlevihanesi Museum in the area offers insights into the whirling Sufi dervishes, for instance.

View from Galata Tower, image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Galata is a hilly area, it might be not the best option for those with children or disabilities. Some hotels are within renovated and restored buildings such as Karaköy Rooms or the House Hotel, for example. Further south, a tramway from Tophane or Karaköy stops can take you to the historical district.

Next, check out the hip gentrified Karaköy area with chic cafes and boutiques, before you take a walk on the Galata Bridge. Check out Karabatak for its Viennese coffee or if you prefer some local street food, then be on the lookout for the fish sandwich or balık ekmek.

4. Şişli

Şişli is a large upscale district situated on the European side opposite the historical part, separated by the Golden Horn. International hotels, brands and huge malls are common here, with a few historical buildings and mosques scattered throughout.  Accommodation options are plenty here with both budget and international hotel chains such as the St. Regis, Hilton and Radisson Blu.

Nişantaşı at New Years, image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Upscale neighbourhoods such as Nişantaşı and Teşvikiye has tons of local fashion boutiques and is shopping heaven! Trendy cafes and restaurants on the most expensive street, Abdi Ipekçi Street, are a favourite among foreigners. Nişantaşı is believed to have a high number of expatriates living here. New Years, Christmas and other national and religious holidays are celebrated with aplomb in the streets.

Kanyon Shopping Mall, image sourced from Flickr

Şişli is also where you’ll find international upscale brands such as Chanel and Harvey Nichols catering to Istanbul’s wealthy. Check out City’s Cevahir Mall or the Kanyon Mall further north, for instance.

For visitors wanting a taste of Turkey, try the historical Ilhamur Palace and its beautiful gardens, or a peaceful green space, head to Maçka Park. Later, get a taste of world-famous Nusr-et’s meat offerings at his burger joint in Nişantaşı or try a Turkish-style breakfast with many offerings at trendy Kruvasan.

Ultimately, opting to stay in Şişli is a good choice if you prefer to get a mix of Europe and Asia. There are many metro stops in the area, one being Osmanbey just one stop away from Beyoğlu.

5. Moda

Moda is the hip residential neighbourhood in Istanbul’s Asian side and can be an ideal place to when visiting Istanbul. It’s a quaint alternative to the bustling streets of Beyoğlu or Şişli. Moda is an ideal choice for young travellers or couples.

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

It’s a picturesque district with a well-loved tea garden and a seaside promenade. Check out our guide on the top 10 things to do in Kadıköy and find out for yourself what we mean.

Not many tourists know about this mostly residential neighbourhood that’s popular with the young, artists and the creative. Some well-known art, cultural institutions and food establishments continue to thrive here.

Moda doesn’t have a ton of options for accommodations but there are a few available. Hush Hostel Moda or Sarnıç Hotel are worthy options, including a Hilton Doubletree hotel. What’s more, breakfasts are usually included in the price of the stay. Explore the neighbourhood with its local designer boutiques, restaurants and street food joints in Bahariye or the Caferağa areas.

Cultural centres such as the Sureyya Opera House or the Nâzım Hikmet Cultural Centre offer concerts or workshops. Evenings and nights at Kadife Street aka Bar street are lively affairs. Late-night food or street food options are limitless here. Check out street food such as Butter rice, Turkish soups or grilled intestines called kokoreç at Reks, for instance.

Kadıköy is well-connected to other parts of the city. Ferry stations and metro, metro bus stops and local shared taxis can take you across the Bosphorus Strait. If your flight is via the airport Sabiha Gökçen then staying here while exploring the rest of the city will save you time. It’s just an hour away from the airport with airport buses available and even less if you choose to take a taxi.