Straddling both Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a sprawling metropolis of over 15 million people. Formerly known as Constantinople, the ancient center of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires was for centuries one of the most important in the world.

As such, there is a lot of history to see and do here. I love wandering the (somewhat chaotic) streets just taking it all in. It is a beautiful city to explore on foot.

But, since the city is so vast, choosing the right area to live in is important. The traffic here is notorious, and while the public transport system is decent (and cheap), you don’t want to spend all your time on it. Either from the spot.

To help you make the most of your visit, here are my top recommendations for where to stay in Istanbul:


First time visitors


Dining, Nightlife and Art


Luxury and shopping


Budget travelers and feel like a local

Where to stay for first-time visitors: Sultanahmet

Sultanahmet, the historic heart of Istanbul, is home to many of the city’s iconic landmarks and cultural treasures, including the majestic Hagia Sophia, the stunning Blue Mosque and the ancient Basilica Cistern. Here you can explore the Topkapi Palace, once the residence of the Ottoman sultans, and stroll through the bustling streets lined with old shops.

While it’s the most touristy district (restaurants here are usually overpriced tourist traps), you can’t beat it for convenience. Everything is at your fingertips, making this a great area for first-time visitors and history buffs. It is very quiet at night, so it is also good for families.

Best Places to Stay in Sultanahmet:

  • Budget: Stanpoly Hostel: At Stanpoli, you are just a few steps away from Istanbul’s most iconic sights. The hostel also serves a Turkish-style breakfast on the beautiful rooftop terrace, which has a beautiful view of the historic district. Each bed in the spacious dorms has its own reading light, power outlet and privacy curtain. Plus, the mattresses are thick, so you can actually get a decent night’s sleep. The hostel also has friendly staff who know the city well and can share their insider tips and advice.
  • Medium: Celine Hotel Ottoman Mansion: This four-star hotel is housed in a former Ottoman mansion. I love that the whole place retains its historic atmosphere and character, with wooden ceilings, hardwood floors and period furnishings in the rooms (such as wooden wardrobes and desks), including a flatscreen TV with satellite channels, an electric kettle, a TV. Safe and minibar. There is also an excellent complimentary breakfast with a variety served in the hotel’s indoor garden.
  • Luxury: AJWA Sultanahmet: This five-star hotel is decorated in traditional Ottoman style, with hand-painted ceilings, hardwood floors and traditional furnishings such as mother-of-pearl furniture and handmade silk carpets. It has all the amenities you’d expect from a hotel of this caliber, including a luxurious spa with steam room and sauna, an indoor pool, and two restaurants (one of which serves excellent breakfast). Rooms have heated floors, complimentary minibar and toiletries, desks and flat-screen TVs. Bathrooms are also impressive with custom tilework, marble baths and bidets.

Where to Stay for Dining, Nightlife and Art: Beyoglu

This large district on the European side is lively, cosmopolitan and trendy, with great food, vibrant nightlife and interesting shops. Within this district are several neighborhoods, each with its own flavor: waterfront Karakoy, one of the oldest areas of town; hip Galata, with its cobbled streets lined with cafes, bookstores, and small eateries; and Taksim, the modern heart of the city.

No matter which neighborhood you choose, I personally think this is the best area to live in. You’re still within easy access to major tourist spots via tram and ferry, but surrounded by great food and more residential life. Plus, the area has its own attractions, including the iconic Galata Tower, SALT Galata and Istanbul Modern (both modern art museums), and the Museum of Innocence (one of the best offbeat things to do in Istanbul).

Best places to stay in Beyoglu:

  • Budget: Hostel Le Bank: – This small hostel is in a perfect location, just a few blocks from Galata Tower. It’s a welcoming place, and friendly staff organize family meals and walking tours that make it easy to meet fellow travelers. There is a guest kitchen, a roof terrace and a cafe that serves breakfast. All dorms are suites, and the comfortable bunks have privacy curtains and individual reading lights, outlets and lockers. There are also private rooms, and the whole place is always kept sparkling clean. It is one of the best hostels in the whole city.
  • Medium: Helich Hotel Istanbul Karakoy: This four-star hotel offers attractive rooms decorated with large-scale drawings of important Istanbul landmarks. There are epic views from both the rooftop restaurant and the rooms, and all rooms are equipped with air conditioning, mini-fridge, flatscreen TV with satellite channels and a safe. The staff (including the hotel cat) are also exceptionally helpful.
  • Luxury: Para Palace: This five-star hotel offers timeless luxury in a historic building built in 1892. The Para Palace has an elegant interior designed in an elegant blend of Neoclassical, Art Nouveau and Oriental styles. I especially love the grand lobby’s high ceilings, marble floors and elaborate chandeliers. There’s also an indoor pool, Turkish spa, fitness center, and several eateries (including one that serves a huge Turkish breakfast). And if you’re a fellow history buff in search of luxury, this is the best place in town.

Where to stay for luxury and shopping: Besiktas

Hugging the Bosphorus waterfront is the Besiktas district and its plethora of resort-like five-star hotels. An upscale area since the Ottoman era, it is home to several historic palaces, including Dolmabahçe, Siragan (which you can now stay in) and Yıldız. Stay here to experience modern Turkish life, with sophisticated cafes and restaurants at every turn. You’re also close to Nisantasi, another upscale, leafy residential area known for its fashion boutiques and high-end shopping.

Best Places to Stay in Besikta:

  • Budget: As a more high-end area, there are no hostels here. If you want to stay outside the historical center but are on a budget I would suggest Kadiköy or Karaköy (see those sections for specific recommendations).
  • Medium: Valente Suites and Hotel: This hotel offers spacious suites with a sharp and modern design, with tasteful art on the walls and hardwood floors. All have kitchen facilities with dining area, cooktop, sink, minifridge, microwave and electric kettle. All 17 suites also have all hotel amenities including flatscreen TVs, air conditioning, soundproofing and a living room with a sofa and desk, not to mention beautiful city views. It’s a good place to stay if you’re here for a while and want a complete apartment.
  • Luxury: Keragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul: Located right along the waterfront, the five-star hotel is incredibly luxurious, with an outdoor pool, a spa and a mouth-watering complimentary breakfast. It’s also spacious, with 317 rooms and suites, all of which feel very elegant, with fabric-adorned walls, embroidered seating areas, plush couches and views of the Bosporus or leafy Yıldız Park. In-room amenities include minibar, AC, smart TV and coffee/tea maker. I find the bathroom somewhat cramped and surprisingly dated. Overall, it is an excellent choice for a luxury stay. I mean, where else can you stay in an actual palace? Plus, if you’re road-tripping Turkey, there’s free parking.

Best for budget travelers and feeling like a local: Kadiköy

Located on the Asian side of town, hip Kadikoy is a great destination for travelers on a budget and those who want a more local atmosphere. The eclectic neighborhood is known for its lively atmosphere, bustling markets, chic cafes and diverse culinary offerings (while the whole of Istanbul is the best, it’s a foodie’s paradise here). The neighborhood also has a real artistic character, with numerous galleries, theaters and music venues scattered throughout the district. Don’t miss a walk along Kadikoy’s waterfront promenade to soak up the stunning views of the Bosphorus.

Best places to stay in Kadiköy:

  • Budget: Yolo Hostel: Yolo is a cozy hostel housed in an old townhouse. I love that the whole space is bright and airy with wooden floors and large murals on the colorful walls. The staff organizes lots of gatherings and activities, plus there’s a lovely terrace, a leafy communal garden and a fully equipped kitchen where you can cook your own meals if you’re on a budget. Wooden dorm beds are wide and have comfortable mattresses, privacy curtains, reading lights, lockers and personal outlets. You are only a five-minute walk from the ferry that can take you to other parts of Istanbul.
  • Medium: Istanbul Life Hotel: This four-star hotel is in the heart of Kadikoy, just steps away from the ferry. I love the complimentary Turkish breakfast, which includes tea, coffee, local cheese, fresh bread and pastries, and juice. Chic rooms are decorated with beautiful hardwood floors, wood detailing on the ceiling and plush velvet headboards. All rooms have electric kettle, minibar, desk, flatscreen TV and laptop safe. Bathrooms are nicely tiled and have walk-in showers.
  • Luxury: Being a more residential area, there are no luxury hotels here. If you want to stay outside the historic center but still want a five-star experience, I recommend Besiktas (see hotel recommendations above).


Istanbul is a huge city, each neighborhood has a unique part of Turkish life. Whether you want to immerse yourself in history, enjoy the vibrant nightlife, or explore the local markets and cafes, choose one of the neighborhoods above and you’ll be setting yourself up for a great stay!

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book your flight
Find cheap flights using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it finds websites and airlines from all over the world so you always know that no stone is left unturned.

Book your accommodation
You can also book your hostel Hostelworld. Use if you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel Because it consistently offers the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.

Don’t forget travel insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft and cancellation. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I have had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that provide great service and value are:

Want to travel for free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodations – all at no extra cost. Check out my guide to choosing the right card and my current favorites to get started, and check out the latest great deals.

Need help finding activities for your trip?
Get your guide There is a huge online marketplace where you can find great walking tours, fun excursions, skip-the-line tickets, private guides and more.

Ready to book your trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use while traveling. They are best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.

Leave a Comment