Are you looking at a map, getting totally overwhelmed about which area to stay in Istanbul? Don’t fret. All you need to do is read this article and look at our map of Istanbul below.
The map shows you all the top attractions, as described in our article on the best places to visit in Istanbul. You don’t need to be a genius to figure out that the best neighborhoods in Istanbul are concentrated in a fairly compact area.
So yes, the city is huge, but the tourist area is relatively small. You should stay in that area—Sultanahmet, Eminönü, or parts of Beyoğlu.
We’ll explain what a district is, what the best neighborhoods to stay in are, and recommend what we think are the best hotels in each area of Istanbul.
Just so you know, we really spend time choosing the best places to stay in, it’s not just a random selection. If you decide to use our link to book any of the hotels in the article (or even if you click away and book a different hotel), we get a small commission at no extra charge to you.
You might also be interested in reading:
Another thing to consider is traffic. If you choose a hotel that’s away from the central tourist area, you’ll spend precious time either sitting in a taxi stuck in traffic or on public transportation, also stuck in traffic.
Tip: Don’t trust taxi (taksi in Turkish) drivers and don’t think cars will stop for you on a crosswalk. More travel tips for Istanbul in our article.
I don’t know about you, but I’m past the age where sitting in a crammed shared minibus, stressing out when and how to ask the driver to stop, sounded exhilarating. Ok I’m lying, that has never sounded remotely fun to me, and I’m not about to start experimenting now.
If you stay in Taksim, for example, it’ll take you a minimum of 30 minutes to get to the Blue Mosque area, no matter how you travel. And that’s just one way.
Sometimes it’s also nice to be able to pop into your hotel during a long day of sightseeing, to change, to relax for a bit, or—I’ll say it—to go poop in peace and comfort, but you won’t be popping anywhere if getting to your room requires you to find some sort of transportation first.
If you don’t want our help choosing a hotel, here are all the 4- and 5-star hotels in Istanbul. We’ve filtered out only the best rated ones, but you can play around with other filters on your own.
The only areas that will be of any interest to you as a visitor as two districts: Fatih and Beyoğlu. Everything else is just too far away from everything.
Districts are further divided into neighborhoods, which is why sometimes when you search for where to stay in Istanbul, you get this huge list of names, sometimes for the same area.
So to make this simple:
Fatih is the historic and cultural center of Istanbul. It’s where the majority of Istanbul’s places to see are. The most popular Fatih neighborhoods are Sultanahmet and Eminönü. It’s also the place we’ll be telling you to stay in in the next part of this article.
Booking tip: If you’re making your hotel booking on booking.com (as you should be!), and you want to stay in the main tourist area, filter your search by choosing ‘Sultanahmet’. There is no Fatih on booking.com. There is a Beyoğlu option though.
Beyoğlu is across the Golden Horn to the north of the historic district of Fatih. It’s the place to stay if you want shopping and bars more rather than mosques and museums. The Galata/Karaköy and Taksim neighborhoods are the most common places that tourists stay in in this district. When you read about something being in Beyoğlu, these two neighborhoods or the area between them is what they mean by it, though Beyoğlu is a much bigger district.
Hands down Sultanahmet is better. You’re close to almost all of Istanbul’s best tourist attractions, meaning minimal travel time, because you can walk everywhere within the neighborhood. Granted, it’s still a lot of walking (see our Istanbul travel tips to see just how much walking), so wherever you end up, wear comfortable shoes!
Sultanahmet is the historical center of Istanbul, it’s where the sultans lived, so why wouldn’t it be good enough for you?
Taksim is more modern, crazy with traffic, and, yes, full of shopping, like on the popular Istiklal Avenue. If you’re on a shopping spree, by all means, stay in Taksim. It’s not like there aren’t mosques there, too—Taksim Mosque is right on Taksim Square.
But the restaurants in Taksim are meh, though you can probably find more reasonably priced ones there than in Sultanahmet. The restaurants in Sultanahmet were wonderful, but if you go to anything other than a standard Turkish one, you’ll be paying a steep premium.
Sultanahmet has Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and all the best museums. Taksim doesn’t. Case closed.
Our top tips on where to stay in Istanbul:
We’ve stayed (and would stay again) in the Sultanahmet neighborhood of Fatih district. It just makes the most sense.
This is where you’ll find Istanbuls top attractions, like Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia Mosque and Blue Mosque, and our hammam of choice, Cağaloğlu Hamam. (Read up on what to expect at a hammam here, to see how we loved our luxury experience).
There’s also the widest range of hotel choices. As you might know by now, when we look for hotels, comfort, style, high quality service and a good breakfast are high on our need-to-have list.
Come on, you can’t travel without a good breakfast!
Tip: I loved the sweets in Istanbul! Strange considering I’m more of a savory guy in real life. Read on: Tips on what to eat in Istanbul and which sweets I loved best.
Sultanahmet is very safe, probably the safest in all of Istanbul. There are always police everywhere, day or night, keeping an eye on things.
It’s the cultural and touristic center of Istanbul, a place where they know that they need to keep their visitors feeling at ease, otherwise no visitors would come, and that would be bad for business.
Sultanahmet is always packed with people during the day, plus with so many hotels, restaurants, and tourist-oriented businesses in general, you won’t get that feeling of being in a strange, foreign place. Just relax, Sultanahmet is safe.
There isn’t a huge nighttime culture in Sultanahmet, so you won’t have any trouble with party goers or inebriated folk causing a scene, and pickpockets and other opportunists out to get them.
Since we think this is THE BEST area to stay in Istanbul, we’ll give you a good selection of hotels in the 4- and 5- star categories.
AJWA Sultanahmet is a new 5-star hotel from 2017 that gives you luxurious Ottoman style complete with hand-made carpets, hand-painted tiles, exquisite bedding, and an overall wow factor. The common areas with art by the best Turkish artists.
This is how you do traditional and intricate design and make it modern and not stuffy or over-the-top.
Rooms are spacious, staff is exceptional. AJWA is located in the southwest of Sultanahmet, meaning close to the Blue Mosque but a little further from Topkapi Palace.
A restaurant on the 8th floor provides great food and views. There’s also a spa and indoor pool.
Prices start at USD 270 per night for two people with breakfast.
The 5-star Vogue Hotel Supreme is smack in the middle of it all, steps away from the Hagia Sophia. It’s buffered from the hustle and bustle of the streets by a spacious courtyard, so you don’t feel like you’re sleeping too close to the crowds.
There’s a restaurant with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating and a terrace that has great views of Hagia Sophia. Breakfast is terrific.
Staff are very attentive and professional. Rooms are comfortable and very clean.
Note you get dropped off by taxis a little up the road, but a hotel cart comes to swoop you and your luggage up, so no worries.
Prices start at USD 250 per night for two people with breakfast.
Fer Hotel is a 4-star hotel with some very cool interiors—just look at that atrium! If you never want to step foot in a taxi, you can just stay at Fer and walk everywhere—it’s a 5-minute walk to Sultanahmet Square and Hagia Sophia and 15 minutes from Topkapi Palace.
And as a welcome bonus, our favorite Cağaloğlu Hamam is just steps away. (Make sure to read up on the do’s and don’t’s in a hammam before you go, but definitely go!)
This hotel gives you a boutique hotel environment with all modern amenities including coffee machine, nice fluffy robes and spacious bathrooms that you can see into (there are blinds that can cover the glass dividers—to each their own).
There’s a gym and restaurant on site (and a million others just out on the street).
It’s important to mention that some rooms only have windows looking out into the autrium, so if you’re looking for natural light, pay close attention to which room you are booking.
Prices start at USD 190 per night for two people with breakfast.
Boutique Saint Sophia is a 4-star hotel that’s so close to Hagia Sophia you can almost reach out your window and touch it! Ok not that close, but you get what I mean.
The breakfast is generous, the staff are 5-star and the location is as central to tourist attractions as you can get. This comes with a bit of tram and general city noise, so if you’re looking for silence, opt for someplace else.
If you aren’t bothered by hearing the city a bit, Saint Sophia makes up for any shortcomings with comfortable rooms with marble bathrooms and little details that’ll make you remember to appreciate how close those trams stop to the hotel.
Prices start at USD 140 per night for two people with breakfast.
Eminönü is a neighborhood in Fatih district that is close to the harbor at the Galata Bridge. It’s to the west of Sultanahmet neighborhood, so it’s close to the sights, but there are almost no places to see in Eminönü itself besides the Suleiman Mosque and maybe the spice bazaar (see why we recommend you avoid the Grand Bazaar in this article).
Then again, you would be conveniently based in the middle between the historic Sultanahmet and the nightlife and shopping areas of Beyoğlu, which could work for some people. Like those that can’t decide what they want and end up getting something in the middle so their brain doesn’t explode.
The Eminönü neighborhood is full of shops, businesses, restaurants, offices and just a whole lot going on at all times, especially in the streets directly by the harbor. You could love it or hate it.
Eminönü is, like Sultanahmet, also very busy during the day, but differently. It’s almost frantic—everyone is on the go, trying to get somewhere else. With the harbor full of boats and ferries, and the Sirkeci train station right there as well, there’s a lot of through-traffic.
It is still a very popular tourist area, so Eminönü is safe as far as any serious crime.
It’s mostly the bazaars in Eminönü that draw tourist crowds and with them—pickpockets. But unless you’re from a village where everyone knows everyone’s name, you know to keep track of your belongings in any big city, so that’s all you need to do in Eminönü as well. If you’re in a place that’s packed, just carry your bag extra close.
The Orientbank Hotel Istanbul, Autograph Collection is praised in reviews time and time again for superb service, with staff going above and beyond and tending to needs and wants guests didn’t even know they had.
This hotel used to be a bank, so rooms are cozy, which is code for small. Marble walls in the bathrooms and large-ish windows make up for the sometimes cramped space, as does the incredible breakfast buffet.
Close enough to the ferries to comfortably get you across to Beyoğlu, but far away enough from the noise to get a good night’s sleep.
Prices start at USD 200 per night for two people with breakfast. (Speaking of breakfast, have you read our article on what to eat in Istanbul?)
The Galata neighborhood is the area around the Galata Tower, which lies across the Golden Horn from Sultanahmet and Eminönü. It’s part of the Beyoğlu district and it shares borders with Karaköy, towards the coast. They are sometimes used interchangeably, so I’ll treat them as one.
Galata is where you’ll find the best of Istanbul’s nightlife, complete with the coolest rooftop bars, but still within a historic setting. There are tons of cafes and little shops for your daytime perusal as well.
Galata is, as I already mentioned, home to one of Istanbul’s key tourist sites, one of the oldest towers in all the lands (that’s my clever way of saying “in the world”), the Galata Tower.
Though speaking from experience, the tower’s not that great, so staying close to it shouldn’t be a criterion for finding an area to stay in Istanbul. Read our take on Galata Tower in our list of the best places to visit in Istanbul.
Both Galata and Karaköy are older neighborhoods that have gone through gentrification, especially with many bars, cafes and small boutiques moving in. They are a safe and desirable place to stay, especially if you enjoy some nightlife.
In the lower parts of Karaköy, you’ll still find some empty buildings or parts that are not as “hipstered” up as much as others. Nearer to Galata Tower is totally fine though and there is no reason- safety-wise, for you not to stay there. Granted, you won’t find as much police presence as in Sultanahmet, but there’s no reason to stay concerned as long as you aren’t completely out in the boonies (stay away from Şişli).
The Bank Hotel Istanbul, a Member of Design Hotels is a smallish corner hotel in Karaköy. It has 5-star service and amenities (because it is a 5-star hotel, not because I’m being nice). There are fantastic views across the Golden Horn from the restaurant and bar and some of the rooms on the higher floors.
Bathrooms come with rain shower, bedrooms have super comfortable beds and there is a spa and gym in the hotel as well.
Prices start at USD 170 per night for two people with breakfast.
This is a 5-star hotel with luxurious, high-ceilinged rooms, amazing breakfasts, and a great restaurant that overlooks the Golden Horn.
The McGallery Hotel provides guests with extensive spa facilities that include massages, sauna, fitness center, and, of course, the 300 year old hammam.
Prices start at USD 220 for a room for 2 people with breakfast.
The 4-star Walton Hotels Galata takes feeling like you’re being watched to another level. But in a good way… I think. With spacious, contemporary rooms, Walton Hotel will provide a great base for your exploration of Istanbul.
And then, when you’re done and can’t walk anymore, you can spend your evening at the rooftop restaurant and bar overlooking Galata Tower, the Golden Horn, and you can see as far as Hagia Sophia in Sultanahmet (just in case you need a refresher, see our best places to visit in Istanbul). Breakfast is served there as well.
Staff in this hotel are especially friendly and nothing is a problem, you’ll feel like the most honored guest at all times. And that feels nice, you know?
Prices start at USD 110 per night for two people with breakfast.
Just like Galata centers around the Galata Tower, the huge Taksim Square is the epicenter of Taksim. It’s also the closest thing to a city center of Istanbul, where modern meets old.
Taksim is a great area to stay in Istanbul if you want to feel like you aren’t traveling at all, since it has all the brand name stores, hotels and restaurants are. It’s also perfect if you’re out looking for tourist scams. Have you heard the one with the perfume or fake police? No? Then you have to read our Istanbul travel tips stat!
Taksim is a busy, modern area of Istanbul, always full of people and traffic. It draws the tourist types that like to shop and party more than they like to learn about Istanbul’s history and understand the culture.
Taksim Square is a place where you might run into some common tourist scams, like offers to take you to a restaurant/bar/shop just around the corner, or to get a great shoe shine. And the taxi drivers are certainly not deserving of your unconditional trust, either.
At night, Taksim doesn’t sleep, especially around Istiklal Street. But with people drinking and having fun after midnight comes people trying to take advantage of them, so just stay aware of what you are doing and who you are doing it with.
Overall, Taksim is a very popular area, and for the most part it is a safe place (with some annoyances).
Now that we’ve surely lured you into wanting to stay in the area, here are the best hotels to stay in Taksim:
The interior design of the Gezi Hotel Bosphorus, a Member of Design Hotels is soothing for the soul, I don’t know how else to put it. The cool, neutral tones of the rooms, with wooden floors and mood lighting and minimalist design just feel calming to me.
Rooms either have park views or city/Bosphorus views. Some even have great views from the bathroom! You can do the tourist thing even when you’re brushing your teeth!
This 5-star hotel offers everything from a Turkish bath to aromatherapy showers and therapeutic water beds.
If you haven’t had enough of the views yet, just step into the Mediterranean restaurant and bar and stare at them some more. Breakfast is fantastic.
The Gezi Hotel is right by Taksim Gezi Park, which is next to Taksim Square. It’s perfect if you want to stay in Taksim (I wouldn’t, but I respect your choice). The large green area provides the hotel with some welcome peace within the craziness.
Prices start at USD 200 per night for two people with breakfast.
If you still have questions about the best area to stay in in Istanbul, shoot us a comment under this article, or even on our Facebook page. Or maybe you want to ask these FAQs:
Do you like staying in the part of a city that has nothing special to see? Then yes, stay on the Asian side.
You can spend 30–45 minutes each morning and evening traveling to and from your hotel, catching up on social media, or perhaps that book you never have time to read.
You’ll look back at the highlight-packed, lit up Fatih district while sitting on the ferry across the Bosphorus at night and sigh. Don’t worry, you can make the trip back one more time tomorrow.
And then you can endure the furthest trip from the airport you can manage in Istanbul. Great choice!
So no, don’t stay on the Asian side of Istanbul. Stay in Sultanahmet and be close to everything so you don’t waste your precious time traveling back and forth. Sure, it will be less expensive on the Asian side of Istanbul, but what about your time? Is that not worth anything to you?!
So you’re ready to buy those place tickets and book a hotel, right? Are 2 days enough for Istanbul? Are 3 days enough for Istanbul? It’s an impossible question to answer. If 2 days are all you have, then it’s all you have. You’ll make the most of them, no worries.
Are you asking if there is enough to do in Istanbul for 3 days? Definitely. At least you won’t be stressing out while you’re standing in line at the ticket desk at almost every tourist site (consider getting the Istanbul Museum Pass to skip the sometimes very long lines).
Are you asking if you can see all of Istanbul’s top places in 2 days? We did. But you have to be ready to really walk up a storm during those two days. I mean morning until evening you go go go. And there’re hills, lots of them. And did I mention the crowds of people and long lines for tickets? Yeah, it takes time.
If you want an easy answer, 3 days in Istanbul are better than 2.
This post may contain affiliate links. We earn a small commission if you make bookings through my links, at no additional cost to you. This helps us keep this blog free, thank you!
We “endured” two hours of scrubbing and bubble-bathing so we could give you a candid account of what happens in a hamam in Istanbul. And it was the best thing we did in Istanbul! In the name of research, of course.
It looks like you’re heading to Istanbul! This 3 days in Istanbul itinerary will be your guide to the city. We’ll suggest where to go, how to get there and how much it’ll cost you.