Updated: May 2, 2016
The 15 Best Luxury Hotels in Istanbul
- The Four Seasons – Bosphorus
(Hotel phone: +90 212 381-4000)
The best luxury hotel in Istanbul and set in a converted Ottoman palace. Incredible location on the Bosphorus, great restaurants, great service, a wonderful pool, luxury spa, and impeccable suites. This is a 5 star property all the way.
- Swissotel Istanbul – Besiktas
(Hotel phone: +90 212 326-1100)
This is a large chain hotel so you don’t stay here for the charm and character. But that’s not to say it lacks appeal. The pools (indoor and outdoor) and views are great. The service is top notch. And the one and two-bedroom suites overlooking the Bosphorus are wonderful. A good choice for families or business travelers who need a luxurious and well-run hotel.
- Ahmet Efendi Eva – Sultanahmet
(Hotel phone: +90 212 518-8465)
A charming, small, and family-run hotel in a residential area a 5 minute walk from the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace. If you want warm and friendly hosts this is your place.
- Azade Hotel – Sultanahment
(Hotel phone: +90 212 517-7173)
Great location in the Old Town. The rooftop restaurant (where the free breakfast is served) has great views of the surrounding sights. The Blue Mosque is less than a two minute walk away.
- Çırağan Palace Kempinski – Bosphorus
(Hotel phone: +90 212 326-4646)
A 19th century palace converted to a hotel. The pool is huge and looks onto the Bosphorus. Magically decorated suites are large (Sea View rooms are recommended). The Turkish Bath in the spa should not be missed.
- Corinne Boutique Hotel – Beyoglu
(Hotel phone: +90 212 293-9494)
This is a wonderful little hotel with charm and warmth. Rooms are simply yet marvelously decorated. Located just off busy, funky, and fun Istiklal Street. The oldest turkish bathhouse in Istanbul is a 1 minute walk away.
- Ibrahim Pasha – Sultanahmet
(Hotel phone: +90 212 518-0394)
Small simple rooms still feel luxurious. Located on a quiet side street in the heart of the Old City. The tram is nearby and very convenient for getting around the city. The rooftop terrace has awesome views.
- Marmara Taksim – Beyoglu
(Hotel phone: +90 212 334-8300)
Great location near Istiklal Street and Taksim Square. This is a fun active area with many bars, restaurants, clubs, galleries, art museums, shops in all directions. Rooms are clean and modern. Nice pool too.
- Ottoman Imperial – Sultanahmet
(Hotel phone: +90 212 513-6150)
Wonderful location steps from the Hagia Sofia and the tram. The staff here are very friendly and helpful. This is a good value hotel for the location and quality.
- Sari Konak – Sultanahmet
(Hotel phone: +90 212 638-6258)
Beautifully furnished with a warm atmosphere. Perfect location in the Old City and walking distance to all the tops sights. Triples and Family Suites are great for larger parties.
- Sirkeci Mansion – Sirkeci
(Hotel phone: +90 212 528 4344)
A wonderful and charming hotel in a wonderful and charming neighborhood. Many rooms overlook Gulhane Park and good restaurants and the tram are steps from the front door. The hotel offers tours and free cooking courses and is located a 10 minute walk to the sights of Sultanahmet.
- Vault Karakoy – Karakoy
(Hotel phone: +90 212 244-6434)
The best boutique hotel in the hip and happening Karakoy neighborhood – filled with bars, cafes, and art galleries. Beautifully decorated rooms. The rooftop bars has spectacular views of water and city.
- The Witt – Beyoglu
(Hotel phone: +90 212 293 1500)
Wonderful hotel with tram, Taksim Square, and many good restaurants within walking distance. The staff are amazing. Rooms are large and every one has a small kitchenette.
- Sumahan On The Water – Asian Istanbul
(Hotel phone: +90 216 422-8000)
If you want a central location near the sights this isn’t it. If you want a small boutique hotel right on the Bosphorus the this amazing hotel is for you. For the best effect arrive by boat.
- Ritz Carlton – Sisli
(Hotel phone: +90 212 334-4444)
A great hotel if you’re in Istanbul for business (but there are better choices for tourists). A great gym, two pools (lap pool and one on the terrace), and Turkish hammam. Service is outstanding.
The Best Neighborhoods in Istanbul
The city’s historic heartland, Sultanahmet is a showcase of grand churches, mosques and palaces built by order of Byzantine emperors and Ottoman sultans. Walk along any of this neighbourhood’s cobbled streets and the layers of history are easy to discern – public squares where Byzantine emperors hosted chariot races, mysterious sunken cisterns built by Roman engineers, millennia-old churches commissioned by Justinian the Great and a profusion of mosques, tombs and medreses decorated with exquisite İznik tiles and richly coloured stained glass. Home to Turkey’s two most revered monuments – Aya Sofya and Topkapı Palace – this part of the city is also where many of the country’s most impressive museums are located, displaying priceless collections of Turkish rugs, mosaics and sculptures. There’s more on offer than museums, too. Visitors can enjoy being pampered in the steamy surrounds of a meticulously restored Ottoman-era hamam, sip a glass of tea in one of the open-air cafes in tulip-laden Gülhane Park or shop for quality souvenirs in the atmospheric Arasta Bazaar. It’s touristy, of course (almost every visitor to the city kicks off their itinerary here) but other parts of the city are easily accessed via taxi or tramway so it’s easy to escape the sightseers and head to other neighbourhoods to check out the local bar, restaurant and club scenes. Accommodation options in the streets below the Blue Mosque are excellent and cater for all budgets.
The Best Eateries in Sultanahmet
- Balıkçı Sabahattın – One of the city’s best fish restaurants, bustling vibe, indoor and outdoor seating
- Deraliye Restaurant – Refined and unusual Ottoman Palace cusine, stylish surrounds, welcoming staff
- Erol Lokantası – Traditional workers’ eatery serving ready-made food, great for a cheap and cheerful lunch
- Ahırkapı Balıkçısı – Tiny neighbourhood fish joint, simple but ultra-fresh food, no-frills service
- Seasons Rsetaurant – International dishes with a Turkish slant, seating in a glass pavilion, known for its Sunday brunch
İstanbul is often described as a crossroad linking east and west, and nowhere is this more apparent than at Eminönü. Located where the Golden Horn, Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara meet, the atmospheric docks here are the busiest in the city. Ferries from the Asian suburbs arrive and depart regularly, as do large Bosphorus-bound tour boats and smaller Golden Horn commuter services. Surrounding the docks is a profusion of colourful shopping precincts and bazaars including the famous Ottoman-era Spice Bazaar, the disheveled streets of the Küçük Pazar (Little Bazaar) below the Süleymaniye Mosque and the bustling mercantile hub of Tahtakale, which links Eminönü with the Grand Bazaar. Crowds are a given here – made up of both locals and tourists – but there are a few tranquil spots where visitors can regain their breath and bearings, including the diminutive but gorgeous Rüstem Paşa mosque on Hasırcılar Caddesi near the Spice Bazaar and the dockside Yeni Camii (New Mosque) with its distinctive cascading domes and tapered minarets. Easily accessed by tram from both Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu, it’s a neighbourhood that is best explored during the day, particularly around lunchtime when the many local eateries and food stands do a brisk business (head to Hocapaşa Sokak on the Eminönü/Sirckeci border to find the best of these). At night, most of the streets are graveyard-quiet.
The Best Eateries in Eminönü
- Develı Baklava – Tiny shop selling some of the city’s best baklava, only a few tables
- Hamdi Restaurant – Top-quality meat, huge and authentic kebap menu, magnificent views from the top-floor dining space
- Hafız Mustafa – Two branches, delectable lokum (Turkish delight) and milk-based puddings
- Bereket Döner (Hacı Kadın Caddesi, Küçük Pazar) – Local favourite in the Küçük Pazar serving an excellent döner kebap
- Şehzade Cağ Kebabı (Hocapaşa Sokak 3a, Sirkeci) – Known for its Erzurum-style lamb kebap, one of many popular eateries in Hocapaşa Sokak
Crowning one of the city’s seven hills, the magnificent Süleymaniye Mosque is the major landmark in this neighbourhood, but it’s not the greatest attraction – that honour belongs to the Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar), a sprawling and atmosphere-laden shopping mall dating from 1461 that is an essential stop on every visitor’s itinerary. Most of the buildings in this part of town date from the Ottoman era, and exploration by foot really pays off – there are pretty timber houses, ornate tombs and imperial mosques aplenty. Head here around lunchtime to grab a simple but tasty snack at one of the innumerable eateries in and around the bazaar, and also consider investigating one of the traditional çay bahçesis (tea gardens) where locals love to catch up with friends over a tulip-shaped glass of tea and a fragrant nargile (waterpipe). Like neighbouring Eminönü, the street action here is limited to the daylight hours – it’s very quiet at night. Two major tram stops, Beyazıt/Grand Bazaar and Çemberlitaş, service the bazaar and the Süleymaniye Mosque is only a short walk away.
The Best Eateries in Beyazıt/Grand Bazaar
- Kuru Fasulyecı Erzincanlı Ali Baba – Much-loved eatery overlooking the Süleymaniye Mosque, specializes in white beans cooked in spicy tomato sauce
- Gazientep Burç Ocakbası (Parçacılar Sokak 12, Grand Bazaar) – Best kebaps in the bazaar, tables in a narrow lane off Yağlıkçılar Caddesi
- Aynen Dürüm (Muhafazacilar Sokak, Grand Bazaar) – Great choice for a quick kebap lunch, choose your meat and then DIY garnish with herbs and pickles
- Fes Café (Halicilar Caddesi, Grand Bazaar) – Welcoming café located on one of the bazaar’s most atmospheric lanes, perfect people-watching spot
- Erenler Nargile ve Çay Bahçesı (Yeniçeriler Caddesi 35, Beyazıt) – Set in a vine-covered courtyard, popular with shopkeepers and students from nearby İstanbul University
To head off the usual tourist paths and discover a very different İstanbul you need go no further than the neighbourhoods collectively known as the Western Districts. Easily accessed by foot or bus from Beyazıt, this part of town is predominantly residential and is staunchly conservative – families are large, mosques are well patronized and headscarves are the rule rather than exception. A saunter along the major shopping strip of Fevzi Paşa Caddesi gives a fascinating insight into current fashions and fads, and a visit to one of the many local street markets offers plenty of local colour. The best of these are the bustling Çarşamba Pazarı (Wednesday Market), held in the streets surrounding the huge Fatıh Mosque, and the Kadınlar Pazarı (Womens Market) nestled in the shadow of the ancient Aqueduct of Valens in Zeyrek. A short walk west from Fatıh is one of the city’s great Byzantine treasures, the mosaic-laden Karıye Museum (Chora Church). Its off-the-beaten-track location next to the massive city wall built during the rule of Emperor Theodosius II once meant that this exquisite monument remained unvisited by most tourists, but in recent years it has started to feature on a growing number of itineraries. Also worth visiting is the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, symbolic headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Church. Located in Fener on the Golden Horn, the Patriarchate’s main church was built in the 19th century and features an elaborately gilded icon screen.
The Best Eateries in the Western Districts
- Asitane – Swish surrounds, location next to the Karıye Museum, specializes in Ottoman Palace cuisine
- Fatıh Damak Pide – Black Sea–style pide (Turkish pizza) enjoyed with strong tea or frothy ayran (yoghurt drink)
- Kömür Türk Mutfağı – Kebaps, salads and stews, particularly busy at lunch
- Sıırt Şeref Büryan Kebap (Itfaye Caddesi 4, Kadınlar Pazarı) Known for its tender slow-cooked lamb, bustling atmosphere, indoor and outdoor seating
There’s a lot more to İstanbul than monuments, something that is immediately apparent when visiting the areas north of the historical peninsula. Accessed over the Galata Bridge, the neighbourhoods of Karaköy, Tophane and Galata are an easy walk from Sultanahmet and Eminönü, and those clustered around Taksim Square and the pedestrianised thoroughfare of İstiklal Caddesi are only a short tram ride away. All of these neighbourhoods are replete with cafes, eateries and boutique accommodation options, but each also has a unique flavor and specific attractions – Tophane has the cutting-edge İstanbul Modern gallery, Karaköy and Cihangir are home to lively bar and club scenes, Galata is known for its jazz venues and cultural centres, Asmalımescit and Tepebaşı are full of popular meyhanes (traditional Turkish taverns), Tünel hosts an historic lodge where Dervishes whirl and the cobbled streets of Cukurçuma are where you’ll find some of the city’s most alluring antique shops and designer boutiques. Commercial galleries and privately endowed museums are thick on the ground – top choices include the Pera Museum in Tepebaşı, Arter on İstiklal Caddesi and Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence in Cukurçuma – and one of the city’s best produce markets, the Balık Pazarı, is found just off Galatasaray Square midway along İstiklal Caddesi. The action in this part of town is 24hr, crowds are a given and the party atmosphere is infectious. Don’t miss it.
The Best Eateries in Beyoğlu
- Karaköy Gümrük – Stylish decor, locally sourced produce used to create modern riffs on traditional dishes
- Karaköy Güllüoğlu – The city’s most famous baklava shop and cafe, also serves excellent böreks (savoury pastries)
- Antiochia – Flavourful southeastern Turkish cuisine, convivial atmosphere
- Klemuri – Simple Black Sea dishes, cosy surrounds, loads of vegetarian options
- Zübeyır Ocakbaşı (Bekar Sokak 28) An İstanbul institution, succulent meats cooked over coals, popular with large groups
Only a 30-minute walk from Beyoğlu, the modern neighbourhood of Nişantaşı is also easily reached via metro from Taksim Square (Osmanbey station). The local equivalent of Beverley Hills or Knightsbridge, this is where İstanbul’s moneyed elite live and where cashed-up locals head to buy designer homewares and fashion. It’s also where many business travellers choose to stay while in town, with a profusion of five-star and boutique hotels on offer. High-end department stores Beymen and Vakko are found on Abdi İpekçi Caddesi, as are big-name international labels such as Valentino, Louis Vuitton and Salvatore Ferragamo. Celebrated local designers including Gönül Paksoy have boutiques on Atiye Sokak and popular chains such as Yargıcı and Paşabahçe are located on the major thoroughfare of Teşvikiye Caddesi. After shopping up a storm, locals can often be found enjoying a power lunch or catch-up coffee at one of the many cafes and restaurants on the leafy side streets.
The Best Eateries in Nişantaşı
- Kantın – Slow-food philosophy, pared-back decor, delicious food
- Hünkar – Traditional lokantası (eatery serving ready-made food), popular with businessmen, attentive service
- Saray Muhallebicisi – Specialises in traditional Turkish milk puddings, perfect for a morning pastry and glass of tea
- The House Café – Stylish and perennially packed café serving meals and coffee, branches on Atiye Sokak and Teşvikiye Caddesi
- Beymen Brasserie (Abdi İpekçi Caddesi 23) Long-standing favourite serving classic French dishes, premium seating is on the terrace
Visitors have been sailing up and down the mighty Bosphorus Strait ever since Greek and Roman times, and the village-style neighbourhoods strung along its Asian and European shores have been home to disparate communities ever since. Before the Republic, İstanbullus of Armenian heritage often lived in Örtakoy and Kuruçeşme, Arnavutköy was popular with the Jewish community and those with Greek heritage often lived in Arnavutköy, Örtakoy or Yeniköy. These days the Bosphorus neighbourhoods tend to be divided along different lines – some trendy, some moneyed, some bohemian and some religiously conservative. The strait is lined with ornate timber mansions built by the Ottoman elite (some now converted to five-star hotels complete with private launches), and monuments include the majestic fortress of Rumeli Hisarı, constructed by order of Mehmet the Conqueror in 1452. The hilly hinterland is dotted with forests, formal gardens, Ottoman palaces, Art Nouveau villas and an ever-expanding portfolio of luxury residences. To explore, hop aboard the full Bosphorus cruise operated by Şehir Hatları (http://en.sehirhatlari.com.tr/en), which sails all the way to the Black Sea, and then make your way back to town by bus, stopping to visit palaces, castles and atmospheric village squares on your way. Alternatively, buy a ticket for one of the shorter Bosphorus cruises leaving from the Eminönü and Kabataş docks, which travel in a loop to the Fatih Bridge and back, or for the handy hop-on, hop-off service operated by Dentur Avraysa (www.denturavrasya.com).
The Best Eateries on the Bosphorus
- Tapasuma – Çengelköy restaurant serving modern interpretations of traditional Turkish mezes, super-glam surrounds, water views
- Müzedechanga – Stylish eatery located on the grounds of the Sakıp Sabancı Museum in Emirgan, a terrace ideal for weekend brunches
- Antica Locanda – Assured Italian cuisine served in a converted church building in pretty Arnavutköy
- İsmet Baba Restaurant – A Kuzguncuk institution, fresh fish, bustling vibe, water views
- Inciralti – Old-style meyhane (tavern) set in a gorgeous old house in Beylerbeyi, request a garden table in summer
Hopping aboard a ferry travelling between Europe and Asia is one of İstanbul’s most memorable experiences. Taking a mere 25 minutes, this crossing of continents offers photographic opportunities aplenty (this is, after all, home to one of the world’s most spectacular skylines) and it also gives passengers a fascinating insight into local life – hipsters sit next to Islamic clerics, designer-suited businessmen next to headscarved housewives, university students next to labourers. Some chat, others read or doze, many order a glass of tea and a chewy, sesame-studded simit (bread ring) from the on-board waiters. Of the two major ferry routes between Eminönü and the Asian suburbs, most visitors choose to take the service to the predominantly residential district of Kadıköy, best known for its fresh produce market. A short walk from the ferry dock, this is where you should come to sample the city’s best Turkish coffee at city institution Fazıl Bey, eat at one of its most influential restaurants Çiya, and admire the top-quality fruit, vegetables, cheese, fish and other produce sold at the many street stalls and shops on colourful Güneşlibahçe Sokak. Shopping opportunities of a different form are available at boutiques in the upmarket residential enclave of Moda and on glitzy Bağdat Caddesi, which is known for its luxury shops and pricey cafes. For a more down-to-earth experience, Kadife Sokak and Moda Caddesi are littered with bars, cafes and clubs.
The Best Eateries in Kadıköy
- Çiya Sofrası – Dedicated to preserving and celebrating traditional Anatolian cuisine, food served from bain-maries, indoor and streetside seating
- Kadı Nımet Balımçılık – Fish stall and restaurant in the heart of the produce market, ultra-fresh food, genial service
- Fazıl Bey – Freshly roasted and ground coffee beans used to make excellent Turkish coffee
- Baylan Pastenesı – Retro decor, good coffee, known for its icecream sundaes, pastries and macaroons
- Korkmaz Büfe (120 Moda Caddesi, Moda) – Thought by many to serve the best döner kebap on the Asian side, get there early – it’s usually sold out by 2pm