Where to stay in Istanbul, Turkey? Our guide to the best areas of the city

Galataport Promenade

It took us five trips to Istanbul to finally catch feelings and want to return to the city again and again. It turned out that the area you stay at is an essential part of any trip to Istanbul.

After our first visit, we decided to try out as many neighborhoods of the largest city in Turkey as we could to finally uncover the best area to stay in Istanbul. The journey was a success, and the results are in: Instead of dealing with constant traffic noise, overwhelming kebab aroma and crowded bazars, you can wake up with an open window to birds chirping outside and have a latte with some Eggs Benedict for breakfast on the terrace, just like in the finest European hotels.

Istanbul’s many neighborhoods (of which there are almost 40) can greatly vary in vibes — many of them are as different as chalk and cheese. We are not here with the intent to enlighten you on each and every one of the neighborhoods (this might take a while, plus it’s not as riveting as one would guess). Consider this article to be just the highlights of our “research” of where to stay in Istanbul, Turkey.

Article contents

  1. Rundown of tried and tested hotels
  2. Nine popular neighborhoods of Istanbul:
    İstiklal and Taksim
    Kadıköy and Üsküdar
  3. Some things to know before traveling to Istanbul
  4. 7 guided tours you shouldn’t miss

Our favorite hotels in Istanbul

Cheers Midtown Hostel

Our favorite travel blog pieces to read are the ones that have individualized lists of hotels to choose from — even if (especially if) the destination is completely foreign to us. The things that make our hearts beat faster are pretty pictures of said hotels, reasonable pricing and an occasional discount. If all of these requirements are met, we definitely consider booking some of the listed places for our next adventure!

Now, because we know what we want when we’re on the other side of the screen, we’re happy to help you! Istanbul is the city bursting with options — it’s almost as if a new hotel, hostel, or a guesthouse pops up every day here. To make your process of choosing where to stay in Istanbul easier, we collected some places that are up-to-standard in all of the required areas.

Here’s the highly advertised list of hotels in Istanbul we personally found worth your while. The places were chosen by us in around the same price category, which was determined by our innate “Scrooge-ness” and hesitation to spend more on a room than we would in Europe (well, we broke this rule for one hotel on our list). You can look through the main players first, or come back to this list after you’ve made yourself familiar with the neighborhoods to stay in Istanbul.

  • Lina Hotel Taksim Pera (from $90 per night) — top choice of a hotel in Istanbul if you want to feel like you’ve just stepped off the Orient Express (we surely hope you didn’t murder anyone on the way here). The prominent building catches your eye with its opulent architectural decisions, and the small but stylishly-Bohemian rooms let you imagine yourself as a dapper traveler in the 60s. Everything about this hotel is pleasing to experience — it’s nice to fall asleep in the aura of grandeur and wake up to it as well, extravagant to come down the vintage-looking stairs and onto the sun-filled quiet Turkish street. The location of the hotel makes it a constant tourist-favorite: It’s ten minutes away from the Taksim Square (airport shuttle pick up spot) and just three minutes from İstiklal Street (the main tourist street of Istanbul).

Lina Hotel Taksim Pera

  • Cheers Midtown Hostel (from $50 for a private room; from $18 for a bed in dormitory room) — the only hostel on our list, Cheers Midtown still provides separate rooms (if you’re not a big fan of dormitory-style accommodations). The double rooms, in our opinion, are fairly priced if you count the location of the hostel — it’s super close to several Istanbul neighborhoods, such as Galata, Cihangir, and Karaköy. Plus, the best coffee in Istanbul at Probador Colectiva is just around the corner.
  • Hotel Miniature — Ottoman Mansion (from $120 per night) — a pretty hotel not far away from the Blue Mosque and other main sites. The place is located on the authentic Turkish street that has all the components of local charm: Children playing games at night, “ablas” (or aunties) loudly discussing latest gossip, revving motorcycles, and muezzins’ songs echoing off the buildings. The fabulous, according to Booking.com, breakfast is a big plus! This hotel was the only exception to our “no-more-expensive-than-a-room-in-Europe” room.
  • Sirkeci Ersu Hotel&Spa (from $70 per night) — if you are craving luxury and round-the-clock access to Turkish sauna and hammam, you might enjoy staying in the Fatih district at this hotel. The pompous name and the upscale services do raise the price of rooms quite significantly during the peak season in Istanbul, but the experience of staying here is one-of-a-kind and totally worth every penny, in our opinion.
  • Agora Boutique Hotel & Bistro (from $70 per night) — this hotel provides best value for your money. The rooms are small but clean, the breakfast (included in the price of the room) is a thing many guests sing praises to long after checking out of the hotel. The cherry on top of your stay here is a wonderful wide view of the Blue Mosque which you can access from the rooftop terrace. Drinking your morning coffee with this panorama of the city is a special treat — you will not regret staying at Agora Boutique Hotel!

To stay up-to-date on the prices of accommodations and all the possible discounts, we suggest using the services of Booking.com to make your informed decision on which hotel from our list to stay at first.

What districts are there in Istanbul?

Lina Hotel Taksim Pera 2

First things first, Istanbul is a unique city that exists on the crossroads of Europe and Asia, which means it consists of two sides: One with mainly Western influences and another with Oriental. The two sides are separated by the Bosphorus (not by the Golden Horn, like we believed up until our first trip to Istanbul).

The European side of the city has the biggest chunk of the districts we’re about to explore together. This part of Istanbul has the widest range of places to visit — the historic Sultanahmet, the merchant Laleli (mainly textiles), the prestigious Beşiktaş, the cozy and colorful Balat, the modern Yeşilköy, the upscale Şişli, the lively Eminönü, and the waterfront Bebek.

The many distinctions between the areas of Istanbul are the source of the never-ending tourist entertainment while in the city. The districts morph into each other and we suggest exploring them all on foot to see for yourself where one neighborhood ends and another begins — you can almost feel the change in the air once you “cross” from Laleli into Eminönü, that’s for sure! The European side of Istanbul is your answer if you’re thinking where to stay in Istanbul if it’s your first time here. You have the heart of the city at your front door, what more could you ask for?

On the Asian side of the city, there are two main districts: Kadıköy and Üsküdar, which are both mainly residential, while still having some degree of allure for tourists. You can get to the Asian side via the Bosphorus Bridge, which is officially known as the 15 July Martyrs Bridge (this less-than-jolly name was given to the bridge after the attempted 2016 coup). You can also get to the other side by metro or ferry.

The best areas and neighborhoods to stay in Istanbul for tourists are:

  • the historic Fatih (Sultanahmet, Eminönü)
  • the hipster Beyoğlu (Cihangir, Pera, Taksim, İstiklal, Galata)

Because the main two districts are too big to describe as a whole, they are usually divided into smaller areas and neighborhoods (we listed in brackets above the particularly nice ones that are great for short trips).

If you’re planning to move to Istanbul (whether for a short amount of time or for good), you should consider the following areas to choose for your home base:

  • Beşiktaş
  • Bebek
  • Şişli
  • Kadıköy and Üsküdar

If you plan to choose Istanbul as your future permanent residence, you might stumble into a lot of hidden obstacles on the way, like some neighborhoods that won’t let you live there on a constant basis.

When looking at the map of Istanbul, it’s hard not to be in awe of its sheer size and reach. The biggest hunk of the most popular tourist attractions can be located by the Golden Horn waterfront. The deeper into the continent you go, the more frequently you encounter skyscrapers and new residential buildings. We recommend you fix your gaze at the historic center of Istanbul. After all, it’s the heart of the city and the perfect place to get the main “idea” of Istanbul.

Sultanahmet (Fatih district)


Being arguably the most popular and picturesque neighborhood in Istanbul, Sultanahmet is the heart of the city’s culture and history. Even though it is not located in the geographical center of Istanbul, this neighborhood is known for being the core of spiritual practices of local worshippers. Situated on the banks of the Golden Horn, which connects with Bosphorus right where it meets the Sea of Marmara, Sultanahmet attracts thousands of tourists from all over the globe to marvel at its majestic sights:

  • Blue Mosque
  • Hagia Sophia
  • Istanbul Archaeological Museum
  • Topkapi Palace
  • Grand Bazaar
  • Süleymaniye Mosque

You can access Sultanahmet (or the Old City) via the beautiful Galata Bridge. Once inside the neighborhood, you can endlessly stroll its little side streets, finding hundreds of mosques and ancient historical sites depicting intriguing stories from the times of Byzantine and, later, Constantinople.

It’s fairly easy to find yourself staying in Sultanahmet — the area is filled with cheap accommodation choices of hostels, hotels, and the Turkish otels (without the “h”) that can provide you with a place to rest for less than $50 a night. This fact was the original reason for our slightly negative first impression of Istanbul, and who can blame us? The neighborhood is less than ideal for a comfortable stay: The constant crowds, yelling at the numerous bazaars, chestnuts stands always in the way — sounds like a nightmare situation.

After our many trips to Istanbul, we decided to stay away from Sultanahmet for the most part, making an exception for showing friends around the neighborhood and making an occasional picture for our blog. The area is a must-visit if it’s your first time in Istanbul, but other than that, you can find other places to explore without the swarms of tourists in your way.

Pro tip: One of our biggest fears is suddenly getting hungry in Sultanahmet (chestnuts from street vendors do not constitute a meal, let’s be honest), so we would like to share a couple of true and trusted places we found in the area: Kral Kokoreç Sirkeci or Eminönü Gala Kokoreç for trying kokoreç (you might google this one first, it’s not for everybody); and Coffeetopia Eminönü for a coffee and a sweet treat.

Pros of Sultanahmet:
+ it’s cheap
+ central location
+ lots of tourist attractions
+ opportunity to take a ferry ride to anywhere in Istanbul from the Eminönü port
+ lots of bazaars with tons of things to buy (from souvenirs to Turkish delights)
+ even ground, no harsh ups and downs

— noisy
— too crowded
— not the kind of beauty you wish to find on ordinary Turkish streets (not counting the tourist attractions, the mosques in particular are stunning)

Sultanahmet overview: Significant tourist sites are right around every corner, where you can drop by among the first visitors early in the morning. The location, however, loses its allure because of the noise, traffic, crowds, and husslers. The area is great to weather a layover, but if you have three or more days in Istanbul, and don’t have a rigid spending limit on accommodation, we suggest looking into other neighborhoods.

Cihangir (Beyoğlu district)


Carrying on our last thought above, Cihangir is the top reply when you ask seasoned travelers where to stay in Istanbul. It’s the essence of the city, which is filled with pretty aesthetics and overall cleanliness, rooftop breakfast spots, beautifully dressed locals, and flair of bohemia.

Cihangir’s architecture is very particular: Anything that is not Art Deco or Art Nouveau isn’t going to gain much traction among tourists. All the beautifully decorated buildings’ ground floors are home to numerous cafes, stylish bars, modern coffee shops, antique shops, and small-ish galleries. The neighborhood can only be compared to a Turkish treasure chest, it’s so fun to explore!

Fun fact: Even the local supermarket gets an upscale makeover in Cihangir — instead of the usual name “Carrefour” it’s “Carrefour Gurme” (or Gourmet Carrefour — fancy!)

The area of Cihangir is set atop of the hill, so your dream of booking a cozy sun-filled space on the top floor with a view of the Bosphorus can easily come true here. Well, not that easily, unless you have unlimited budget, since this experience will cost you a pretty penny. Anyways, if you’re not keen on blowing all of your savings on the trip to Istanbul, you can still come to Cihangir for a lavish breakfast or dinner experience, while staying in an adjacent, more budget-friendly neighborhood.

It’s kind of weird to take it up with Google Maps, but we do not completely agree with the neighborhood’s borders on the site. They don’t even include the Cihangir Mosque, and it’s right there in the name! Isn’t it odd? We recommend you navigate the area’s metaphorical borders by food establishments, of which we recommend the following:
✔️ Norm Coffee, Gramaj, Kronotrop Cihangir, Espressolab Cihangir — coffeeshops with a perfect atmosphere; the last one is good for a productive break with a laptop (the coffee is mediocre though)
✔️ Cuppa, Van Kahvalti Evi, Cuma and all other spots in the area are extremely good for breakfast
✔️ The finest examples of Turkish cuisine are Keyfeder Künefe Katmer (try their katmer — a delicious flaky pastry), Doyum Café Manti (their manti, Turkish dumplings, are super tasty), Tomtom Kebap (restaurant-level kebabs)
✔️ 22 Restorant Bår (that’s it for drinking establishments from us, but we would love to hear if you have any recommendations. Leave them in the comments below!)

Pros of Cihangir:
+ read again the first two paragraphs of the Cihangir section to get a feel for the area
+ the whole neighborhood is one big tourist attraction
+ lots of food establishments serving both modern and traditional Turkish food

— the area is very steep: This can be an issue in summer, with all the heat…
— expensive accommodations
— not many hotels, meaning you have to rent from locals (Airbnb is the way to go)

Cihangir overview: Once you stay here, you wouldn’t want to stay in any other Istanbul neighborhood, which is great in terms of appreciating the beauty but not that good for the size of your wallet.

Eminönü (Fatih district)


Eminönü area might not be the most obvious choice when you decide which part of Istanbul you want to stay in, but it’s an okay choice nonetheless. Technically, it is part of the Fatih district, and is situated near Sultanahmet not far away from the city center (remember all the crowds we were talking about? Same thing here).

The neighborhood is named after the Eminönü pier — one of the main piers in Istanbul. It’s a good starting point for your ferry voyages to other parts of Istanbul. If you’re more used to walking places, all the must-see tourist attractions are a short distance away — a 25-minute walk will have you reach Hagia Sophia, Gülhane Park, and Grand Bazaar, five minutes more and you’re looking at Taksim Square, Galata Tower, and Galata Bridge. Get ready to take lots of pictures!

The treasured location of the neighborhood lets you save money on transportation, which is perfect for a traveler on a budget. Eminönü area also has a wide range of differently priced hotels, from B&Bs to luxurious five-star hotels, so you can make your choices based on your means for the trip.

Living in Eminönü not only grants you access to the busy pier located near the Golden Horn, but also puts you right next to the world-famous Turkish markets. Egyptian bazaar (which is more than 350 years old) is all yours; and there is always Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s biggest covered markets. While these two popular markets lure tourists from all corners of the city, you are already here to explore the countless stalls where you can buy spices, clothes, foods, coffee, and souvenirs. Besides, the area has tons of cafes, even several floating ones, where they cook fresh fish.

+ great location near the pier
+ wide variety of accommodation, including budget-friendly choices
+ closeness to central bazaars
+ freshly caught fish!

— very crowded
— noisy
— not that many nightlife options

Eminönü overview: Staying here is the perfect opportunity to go ham on your souvenir shopping — you don’t have to carry heavy bags back to your hotel in some other neighborhood of Istanbul, your place is just around the corner! The crowds and noise can be a little (or a lot, on some streets) distracting and annoying, but if you love a good bargain, you’ll be the first in the bazaar to snag it!

Karaköy (Beyoğlu district)


In Stefon from SNL’s voice: Karaköy has EVERYTHING. And it really does have everything that an Istanbul visitor might need during their stay here — from affordable kebab shops to upscale dining experiences, from bar crawl opportunities to prominent historic monuments, from happening nightlife and to long evening promenades along the waterfront. If other neighborhoods on our list haven’t impressed you yet and you’re still wondering where to stay in Istanbul, look no further! Well, maybe do look further, we’re not even halfway done with the article.

Historically, Karaköy got itself a bonne bouche location right near all the tourist attractions: A walking distance from Sultanahmet, a cablecar ride from Galata, and a tram ride from İstiklal.

The downside to the easy access of other Istanbul neighborhoods is the constant traffic noise, but if your stay in the city is short (and if you’re not planning on sleeping much), then Karaköy is the best place for you!

Main things to remember when choosing Karaköy neighborhood to stay in:
✔️ The area is full of amazing hotel options (keep in mind though that it will be hard to find budget-friendly accommodation here, as most of the places in Karaköy are mid-range to luxury). Our recommendation for a stay in the neighborhood is SuB Karaköy Hotel — a perfect place to feast your eyes on stunning interiors and enjoy the top-tier service away from the loudest streets of the area.
✔️ Some must-see landmarks include, but are not limited to: Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, Tünel (a historic underground funicular line connecting Karaköy and Beyoğlu), Galata Bridge, and an elongated waterfront with spectacular views of Istanbul’s minaret-studded skyline all the way to Atatürk Bridge. If you look the other way, you can see a newly established promenade of Galataport Istanbul, built specifically for cruise ships passengers, to let them “boost the economy” of Istanbul without venturing too deep into the city.
✔️ Our favorite places of Karaköy are a little hidden and highly coveted by locals, so make sure you add them to your map for easy navigation: Kronotrop Karaköy (a great coffee shop for a little afternoon writing session, the second floor even has a spot perfect for writers, away from the rest), Karaköy Çorba Evi (you should try their lentil soup), Balık Dürüm Mehmet Usta (balık ekmek–fish sandwich, a staple of Turkish street food scene), Köşkeroğlu Karaköy (their pistachio baklava is to die for), Namlı Gurme (for a traditional Turkish breakfast experience).

+ closeness to Galata Bridge and with that the whole other part of Istanbul
+ long waterfront, perfect for an evening promenade
+ lots of cafes and restaurants
+ a whole bar street
+ relatively cheap accommodation

— bustling nightlife results in lots of noise after sunset

Karaköy overview: Less fancy alternative to Cihangir, but still a more budget-friendly area, with well-developed infrastructure and lots of entertainment options. A perfect neighborhood to stay in Istanbul for couples.

Galata (Beyoğlu district)

Galata at night

Galata is the area concentrated around the Galata Tower, the Istanbul’s marker that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. If you are traveling to Istanbul with a bunch of cash burning a hole in your pocket, apart from your desire to sightsee, you’ve come to the right place!

In our mind, the neighborhood of Galata will always be synonymous with shopping. You can find all sorts of amazing places here: Both local and tourist-oriented shops, little cafes where you can find solace for a couple of hours out of your busy day of walking around and spending money. If you consider the prices of food and souvenirs, Galata is arguably the most expensive area of Istanbul. To be fair, the shops are mainly local here; for everything else, there’s always Zorlu Center.

Pro tip: You have to keep in mind that if you live near the Galata Tower, you have to embrace the everyday climb back home — the Tower is located on a hill.

Across the street from the Galata Tower, there is a peculiar restaurant, where you can be fortunate enough to meet and taste the food of one of the most popular chefs on the planet — Nusret Gökçe. Sounds familiar? Maybe the name of the restaurant — Saltbae Burger Galata — will jog your memory of a chef who salts dishes in a very extravagant manner. The restaurant, in our opinion, is unreasonably expensive, you might as well have dinner in some other neighborhood we’ve mentioned here before.

There are so many places in Galata area that we still haven’t yet explored, but desperately want to. Just to give you an idea, here are some of them:
✔️ Guney Restaurant, where they combine two of our favorite things: Breakfast and the view of the Galata Tower
✔️ Viyana Kahvesi, which is considered to have the best San Sebastian cheesecake in Istanbul. We’re curious to see what’s so special about this particular coffee shop, since the cheesecake is served in most of the city’s establishments
✔️ SALT Galata — a modern coworking place located in the former bank building, which also includes a library and an exhibition space. The magnificent views of the Bosphorus from upper floors are something we desperately want to experience
✔️ Old Java Coffee Roasters rumored to have incredible specialty coffee
✔️ Kamondo Stairs — one of the more extravagant ways to reach the Tower, this pedestrian staircase (beautiful in its Art Nouveau style) is a perfect place for interesting and unique photos from Istanbul, plus you get closer to the city’s history in the process. The staircase was constructed in mid-1800s by a well-to-do local Jewish man.

+ still central location
+ can’t get lost as the Galata Tower can be seen from everywhere
+ easy on the eyes area

— crowds are similar to those in Sultanahmet
— no matter where you come from, the road to your hotel is always uphill

Galata overview: A safe choice when deciding where to stay in Istanbul, nothing out of the ordinary, just the area around the Tower.

Taksim and İstiklal (Beyoğlu district)

Istiklal street

The Taksim Square is the main square of Istanbul. Taksim neighborhood will be the first to welcome you to the city should you decide to take a Havabus from the airport. Taksim is the traffic nerve center of Istanbul — you can get anywhere in the vicinity if you start from here. There’s a metro station, a bus station, a tram station, and the main pedestrian street of İstiklal starts, or ends, depending on where you came from, here.

İstiklal and Taksim are the meccas of budget living in Istanbul. There are reasons for that, mostly due to hotels not meeting a certain standard: Whether they are infested with bedbugs, have paper-thin walls or a popular bar right outside the room windows. Sometimes the conditions are worth the compromise — the location in the heart of the city is perfect, so you can bear to spend a couple of nights sleeping with earplugs in (given they save you around $20 a night).

Some note-worthy places of the area:
✔️ U2 Irish Pub — the Irish owner has Guinness on tap and is always up for a chat
✔️ Asmalı Dürümcü — we’re not usually big fans of döner kebabs (or dürüms in Turkish), but the one we tried here was out-of-this-world delicious! We also recommend you try their lentil soup, it’s also très magnifique!
✔️ Espressolab İstiklal — a three-storey (!!!) coworking space, which, for the reasons unknown, has become a meeting place for Istanbul’s students and foreigners working remotely
✔️ Turk-Alman Kitabevi Café — a Turkish-German bookstore/café, located right in front of Espressolab, but is less popular than the coworking giant due to its cramped space and dim lighting
✔️ Ali Baba Bufe — a place we already mentioned, but its fast food Pakistani cuisine is simply too good not to try it while in Istanbul

+ one of the many “centers” of Istanbul
+ lots of cheap accommodation
+ can access different parts of Istanbul via ample transportation choices (by metro, buses or trams)
+ surrounded by the areas packed with Istanbul’s landmarks
+ lots of shopping and entertainment options

— both transport and foot traffic is crazy, İstiklal street sometimes looks impenetrable due to the sheer mass of people moving at the same time
— some hotels and apartments have questionable conditions (like paper-thin walls that make you hear everything your neighbors are saying)
— noisy

Taksim and İstiklal overview: If you’re choosing where to stay in Istanbul — Taksim or Sultanahmet — we definitely urge you to lean towards Taksim, since it’s closer to the quieter parts of Istanbul if you get tired of all the crowds. It’s harder to get away from Sultanahmet due to its location.

Beşiktaş (district)


When we first found ourselves in Beşiktaş, we were in a taxi and could literally see how our surroundings gradually changed the deeper we drove into the area. The dingy bars faded away and got replaced with fancy and stylish food and drink establishments, there were no more tourists on the streets (or so it seemed to us in the moment), only locals going about their day; shops that sell cheap and poorly made souvenirs turned into designer boutiques. We could even see some greenery of parks and public gardens, and, surprisingly, some huge supermarkets. “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!” — we thought to ourselves, bewildered at the sudden switch of our environment.

Our knowledge of Beşiktaş is quite limited (like with other Istanbul’s residential areas — Bebek, Şişli, Nişantaşı). The things we do know we learned from having an occasional brunch with friends with permanent residence in one of the areas, who are more than eager to delve into the ups and downs of life uptown. The overall consensus is that areas like Beşiktaş maintain quite comfortable standards of living — far away from tourist attractions and crowds that come with them, but close enough to the city’s infrastructure. Plus, long-term lease conditions here are more than reasonable. Residents of Beşiktaş truly have their cake and eat it too!

Even though staying in Beşiktaş for a short amount of time is not the best idea, nobody will stop you from visiting the area and meeting your friends over a cup of coffee, brunch or some sushi. The best places for that are the following:
✔️ Hygge Coffee Shop and Petra Topağacı (we had the best coffee of our lives here)
✔️ Grandma for brunch dates — their quiches and galettes are a transformative experience
✔️ Sushi&Spice for a quick sushi fix

+ lots of cheap long-term accommodation options
+ hotels are also cheaper
+ peace and quiet

— not great for tourists–too far from the city center

Beşiktaş overview: Local way of living with an abundance of coffee shops and restaurants, far away from the epicenter of Istanbul. Perfect for those who plan to settle in first and not plunge into the whirlwind of sight-seeing and partying right away.

Balat (Fatih district)


If you’re into learning about the areas’ heritage from times long gone and the way the communities shaped the neighborhoods they lived in, you should definitely check out the charming Balat, which is the former Jewish quarter of Istanbul, and the nearby Fener–the Greek quarter.

You are probably already familiar with some parts of Balat — the bright and colorful locations of 📍 Merdivenli Yokuş Evleri and 📍 Coloured Houses of Balat are all over Instagram. Add to that steep hills, cute cafes and oh-so-many cats, and you’ve got yourself a dream destination!

Alas, both Fener and Balat are still majorly overlooked by tourists, although the neighborhoods can give even the renowned Galata a run for its money in terms of atmosphere and culture (plus, remember all the kitties in the streets!). We may be biased in saying that it’s the most swoon-worthy part of Istanbul, but to each their own.

There are so many cute places in Balat heavily leaning into all things vintage and antique, here are our recommendations:
✔️ Rota Balat Coffee — a perfectly cozy place to wait out the rain with a cup of coffee and a tasty treat
✔️ Café Naftalin K — that’s the name you’ll definitely remember! The food here, obviously, is not toxic to humans (or moths, for that matter, like the name wants you to believe). One of our top cafes of Istanbul!
✔️ Coffee Department — serves some pretty decent (okay, very decent) coffee and the atmosphere is so nice

We would recommend you take a guided tour of Balat first, to understand the neighborhood and its history better. Don’t be like our friend (who wants to stay anonymous, and for good reasons), who decided to explore the area by himself and bolted the second he came across the lesser-known (and a little more dangerous) part of the neighborhood.

+ budget-friendly
+ unique architecture
+ super fun, colorful and weird (definitely not the part of Istanbul from the official brochures)

— not that popular and definitely can scare away the too-coddled tourists (you know the type) with its areas of disrepair
— too far away from the center

Balat overview: The area with stark contrasts inside it — the less-than-ideal parts of the streets merge with colorful and bright, “perfect-looking” backgrounds for tourists’ photos. Great to learn the history of the neighborhood with a guide first, to avoid uncomfortable situations.

Kadıköy and Üsküdar (Asian side)

Asian side Istanbul

Kadıköy is famous for its seaside promenade and beaches, Üsküdar is known for its mosques. Overall, the Asian side of Istanbul reminded us of residential areas of Barcelona (like Sant Martí).

We didn’t spend much time on the Asian side of the city because our trips were usually short and we didn’t think it was smart to spend extra time on getting to the main tourist attractions from our hotels. However, it isn’t like Kadıköy and Üsküdar have nothing to show for themselves in terms of tourist entertainment.

If you travel to Kadıköy in summer months, don’t forget to bring your swimsuit and take advantage of its wonderful beaches — dip your toes into the Sea of Marmara. Night life of the area doesn’t lose to that of the European side, with tons of bars and clubs open into the wee hours of the morning.

Kadıkoy & Uskudar

Üsküdar’s must-see places include:
✔️ Nevmekân Sahil — a multifunctional “new place” which includes a café, an art gallery, a huge library and even a bomb-shelter (seems out-of-the-blue, but definitely a nice thing to have)
✔️ Mihrimah Sultan Mosque and Şemsi Pasha Mosque — two beautiful mosques that greet you when you arrive to the area by water. The first one was built by a woman, a daughter of Suleiman the Magnificent, which is pretty sick
✔️ Maiden’s Tower — located on the island in the Bosphorus strait, the building is surrounded with legends of its former inhabitants. There used to be a restaurant inside the Tower, but it’s closed now, so bring some snacks to your boat tour past the island so you won’t get hungry while listening to the riveting stories of princesses and ghosts

+ perfectly quiet and safe residential areas by the water, filled with nice cafes and restaurants
+ long seaside promenade

— it still takes around half an hour to get to the European side, even on a ferry

Kadıköy and Üsküdar overview: The neighborhoods are not that popular with tourists due to their location away from the cultural and historical hub of Istanbul. The areas are great for settling down in, if you ever decide to move to Istanbul for good.

Things to know before traveling to Istanbul

Galata bridge

Based on our extensive (but still, not that full) knowledge of Istanbul, here are some things we would’ve liked to know before our first visit to the city.

1) If you have no idea how to fill your itinerary when planning a trip to Istanbul, check out our article of top things you absolutely must try and do while in the city. Even though Istanbul is a pretty big city, most of its main attractions are close to each other, so we suggest checking those out on foot. That way, you’ll see more of little details surrounding the everyday life and local heritage of the area.

2) It’s impossible to learn and see everything Istanbul has to offer in just a few days, so if it’s possible, try to allocate a longer period of time for your trip here.

3) When in a time crunch, do use Istanbul’s extensively developed public transport, just remember that you have to pay for every line switch in a metro (we suggest you buy IstanbulKart to make your life easier).

4) It’s not advisable to rent a car in Istanbul just because of the amount of traffic around the city center. But if you want to have a little getaway outside city limits, we recommend using the services of LocalRent. Here’s our step-by-step guide to renting a car in Turkey.

5) Don’t hail a cab in the street, use apps like Uber or BiTaxi instead, it will save you a sufficient amount of money. Although the services do not work in the airports and are sometimes not helpful when trying to book a short trip. But it’s okay, because public transport in Istanbul is great! To get to and from the airport use the shuttles of Havabus — a very convenient service.

6) Pre-book your accommodation because Booking.com doesn’t work while you’re in Turkey. Of course, there’s always VPN, but it’s better to come prepared.

7) If you’re too tired to go out to dinner after a long day of sightseeing, use Yemeksepeti to order food from some of the restaurants we listed above to the comfort of your hotel room.

8) Most of the ATMs here charge a fee for withdrawals, so do your research on the ones that don’t, or come with some cash ready. Your credit card can be used almost everywhere here, but some bills will be good for buying grilled corn from a street food vendor.

9) Most of the mosques are free to visit (they want to charge tourists at Hagia Sofia as of January 2024, though), just be mindful of your clothing choices — don’t wear anything revealing. It’s all about respect.

10) Buy some earplugs before your stay in Istanbul, especially if you know your hotel is located near a mosque (hello, 5 a.m. wake up call!) or a bar/club (hello, insomnia until 5 a.m.)

11) Do haggle prices at the numerous bazaars, it’s not only okay, but is sometimes expected! Try to shake off at least 20% of the price tag (you can usually drive it down even more)

12) Do take lots of pictures to show for your trip to Istanbul!

Where to stay in Istanbul?

Where to stay in Istanbul

Our advice on where to stay in Istanbul for tourists is the following:

  • Avoid staying on the Asian side of Istanbul, as most of the tourist attractions are grouped together on the European side and it’s quite tiring (although very beautiful) to commute to and from the central part of the city every day
  • If you want to find a budget-friendly place still close to center — look into the areas near İstiklal Street, like Galata, for example. It’s overly hipster, but has a treasured location near the heart of Istanbul
  • Want to stay in a prestigious high-end neighborhood? Turn your gaze towards Beşiktaş — the most expensive area of Istanbul, but completely worth it in terms of safety: You can even walk around here at night
  • Sultanahmet, being the most popular neighborhood of Istanbul, is not a nice one to stay at — the hotels are not up-to-standard and some back streets are outright dangerous
  • There are some extremely unique areas in the city, like the neighborhood of Arnavutköy (not to be confused with a district of the same name near the airport) that has some outright spectacular architecture. The area is well-known for its colorful wooden yalis — mansions built from timber and decorated in the Art-Nouveau style
  • If you come to Istanbul but still want to experience a certain level of a holiday-by-the-sea type of vacation, head straight to Princes’ Islands — the most naturally beautiful part of the area, just an hour ferry ride away from the city

Guided tours to take in Istanbul

Guided tours in Istanbul

Our most favorite way of learning the history and interesting tidbits about the places we’re visiting is taking a guided tour of the area. There are so many to choose from! Oh, the experiences you will have! The fun times ahead!

Here are some tours that we either took or are planning to take on our upcoming trips to Istanbul (we simply adore the city and want to come back the second we leave):

❤️ Bosphorus Dinner Cruise & Show Spend a spectacular evening on the mega yacht on the Bosphorus, with stage performances and a private table $36 per person
❤️ Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Basilica Cisterna combo ticket Visit all three of the most famous tourist attractions of Istanbul without having to wait in line to buy a ticket, enjoy an audio guide app and learn all of the ancient juicy secrets of the buildings $85 per person
❤️ Mevlevi Sema and the Whirling Dervishes Show Experience the awe-striking traditional performance with whirling dervishes–one-of-a-kind opportunity to go deeper into Turkish culture $37 per person
❤️ Guided Food Tour in Istanbul Not suitable for those on a strict diet, this tour will take you on a journey through Üsküdar and all the street food it has to offer–fish sandwiches, kaymak and simit are on the menu, among other Turkish delicacies $110 per person
❤️ Culinary Walking Tour Another food-adjacent tour, it will take you on a food culture trip of Taksim, İstiklal Street, Beyoğlu, Karaköy, Eminönü that ends in the Spice Market $125 per person
❤️ Instagram Photo Shooting in Istanbul Take lots of pictures of the most beautiful spots in Istanbul and post them all to Instagram to make your friends jealous $67 per person
❤️ Fener and Balat Private Walking Tour Enjoy a private tour of the most interesting areas of Istanbul, paired with a ferry ride later in the day $41 per person

Final thoughts

We hope our article thoroughly answered your burning question of where to stay in Istanbul, while giving you things to look forward to in some of the most popular neighborhoods of the city. Again, if you want to go more in-depth on things to do in Istanbul, we recommend you read this article next; and if you have your stay in Istanbul already covered and want to figure out how to rent a car in Turkey — head on over here for our guide featuring the service of LocalRent. Leave us a comment below sharing neighborhoods and hotels you’ve stayed at in Istanbul, or tell us which ones you’d love to visit next!

One thought on “Where to stay in Istanbul, Turkey? Our guide to the best areas of the city

  1. Staying in Sultanahmet for the first time in Istanbul didn’t impress me at all…. so noisy and supercrowded. But hotel prices are nice, true

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