After walking the entirety of Istanbul and spending time in each neighbourhood on this list I feel confident in recommending where to stay in Istanbul. Istanbul has a plethora of sights, sounds and smells, and each district and best area to stay in Istanbul has something unique to offer.
From cobblestone alleyways, bustling markets, grandiose mosques to nightlife and some of the best cuisine in the country; no matter what your priority is, there is definitely the best place to stay in Istanbul for you.
I’ve outlined 10 neighbourhoods in this guide on the best places to stay in Istanbul that I feel confident recommending. Whether you are looking for a luxury romantic stay or an exploration-filled budget stay, I’ve got you covered.
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This complete guide on the best area to stay in Istanbul will tell you what to expect in each neighbourhood, nearby attractions, pros and cons, and a couple of Istanbul accommodations I’d recommend booking. Plus, I’ve included a handy map of all the best areas to stay in Istanbul for your convenience.
I certainly found it difficult to choose a neighbourhood the first time I visited Istanbul, so I’ve strived to give my honest feedback on each area so you can make your decision quickly and with peace of mind.
Let’s dive in.
NOTE | Istanbul is called ‘New Rome’ because it was established on seven hills. So expect most of the best areas to stay in Istanbul to be situated on a slope with the exception of Sultanahmet and Karakoy on the European side.
Istanbul Quick Guide
Planning a last-minute trip to Istanbul? Here are the best resources for Istanbul Turkey, plus top Istanbul tours and the best places to stay in Istanbul.
Is Istanbul Safe
Like most cities in North America and Europe, Istanbul enjoys an average level of safety. Petty crimes such as purse snatching, pickpocketing and mugging are more common here than violent crimes. Just keep your wits about you, use common sense and enjoy your time in the city.
If you are mainly concerned with terrorist attacks, they do happen. But, rest assured they are few and far between with the last attack happening in Istanbul in 2017. You are much more likely to be in a car crash in your own city, than experience an attack in Istanbul.
Is Istanbul Safe for Solo Female Travellers?
For solo female travellers, it’s not rare to experience some level of harassment from men (usually verbal), especially in the evenings and after dark.
Some women can tolerate this to a certain point, but if this makes you uneasy, make sure to do most of your solo exploring during the day and stay on more populated main roads at night, or better yet, make friends in your hostel and go out together.
I think Istanbul should be visited by everyone at least once in their life, so these ‘light warnings’ are not made to scare you away. Just use your female intuition and keep yourself safe.
How to Get Around Istanbul
Once you’ve made it downtown from the airport, usually by taxi or shuttle, you will be able to travel around to all the major sites by foot, depending on your fitness level.
Istanbul Public Transportation
For trips between Beyoglu and Fatih (downtown), you can take Istanbul public transport via the Metrobus or underground Metro line. Istanbul metro tickets, called the Istanbulkart card, can be purchased either at the airport or at magazine and confectionary kiosks near metro stations.
How to Buy a Transportation Card
These kiosks will have a sign labelled ‘Istanbulkart’ or ‘Akbil Dolum Noktası‘ (refill point). The card will cost you 10TL (Turkish Lira), about $0.75 USD and can be filled at the metro station. These cards can also be used for Istanbul transport such as the tram.
As a last resort, you can hop in a taxi to take you anywhere in the city. Make sure to either negotiate the price before getting in the cab or ask that the taxi metre be turned on for your trip. Most cabs will only take Turkish Lira in the form of cash.
Car Rental Istanbul
If you plan to venture outside of Istanbul, then renting a car is the best way to see the rest of Turkey. The roads in Turkey are well constructed and easy to drive on, so you will have peace of mind.
I would not recommend driving within Istanbul as the roads can be very chaotic and it is quicker to get around on public transportation.
Best Time to Visit Istanbul
The best time to go to Istanbul is in the spring (March to May) and in the fall (September -November) when temperatures are mild, Istanbul accommodation prices are average and crowds are fewer.
If you’d like to know specifically what the best month to visit Istanbul is, I’d recommend visiting in May or October when temperatures are around 20° celsius, perfect for exploring the city on foot.
How Long to Stay in Istanbul
If you are wondering how many days to stay in Istanbul, you should stay at least 3-4 days. This will allow you to see all of the major sights Istanbul has to offer. Due to the size of the city, staying in Istanbul for less than 3 days would not be advised, unless you plan to return, of course.
General Facts about Istanbul
- Istanbul is the only city in the world that is built on two different continents: Europe and Asia
- Istanbul was originally named Constantinople and was the capital of the Byzantine Empire in 330–1204, the Latin Empire (1204-1261) and the Ottoman Empire (1453-1922).
- Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey today, although it is the largest city in Turkey with over 15 million people
- Istanbul is comprised of over 90% Muslim residents
- The Grand Bazaar is the biggest and oldest covered market in the world with over 3,000 shops
- Istanbul has the most mosques in Turkey with over 3,000 mosques including the iconic Hagia Sophia
- The tulip originated in Istanbul, not the Netherlands
- Istanbul has two major airports: Istanbul Airport (IST) on the European side and Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (SAW) on the Asian side
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Best Places to Stay Istanbul Map
This Istanbul neighborhood map will give you a good idea of where everything is situated in this exciting city. Click on the image below to be taken to an interactive Google Maps version.
Best Areas to Stay in Istanbul
A quick guide to the best areas to stay in Istanbul by interest and priority.
Best Area to Stay in Istanbul:
The European side of Istanbul is where most people will choose to stay, especially for their first time in the city. Most top sights and adventures in Istanbul are located on this side as well.
The touristic part of European Istanbul is broken into two regions.
The region of Fatih (some call this Sultanahmet even though it is only one neighbourhood in Fatih) on the south side of the Golden Horn has the popular neighbourhoods of Sultanahmet, Eminonu, Kumkapi and Balat.
Across the Galata bridge to the north is the region of Beyoglu which includes the best places to stay in Istanbul such as Karakoy, Galata, Taksim and Besiktas.
Generally speaking, if you are trying to decide between Beyoglu or Sultanahmet (Fatih) and it’s your first time visiting Istanbul, choose Sultanahmet.
NOTE | I use ‘area’, ‘district’ and ‘neighbourhood’ interchangeably to describe certain zones within regions. The word ‘region’ in this post is used to describe a collection of areas, districts and neighbourhoods.
European Side at a Glance
European Side: Fatih Region
The best areas to stay in Istanbul to follow are located in the historic region of Fatih on the southside of the Golden Horn Bosphorus harbour. Areas included in the Fatih region are Sultanahmet, Eminonu, Kumkapi and Balat.
BEST FOR | First Time Visitors
Are you wondering where to stay in Istanbul? Is it your first time visiting? To make things easy, Sultanahmet is your answer.
Sultanahmet, located in the downtown area of Fatih, is the centre of Istanbul’s historic district. You can reach most of the major Istanbul attractions within 15 minutes by foot from anywhere in Sultanahmet, the best area to stay in Istanbul for tourists and first-timers.
The neighbourhood of Sultanahmet was named after the Sultanahmet Mosque (The Blue Mosque) which was commissioned by Sultan Ahmed in 1609. Today, you can find top attractions like the Hagia Sophia, The Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern and the Topkapi Palace.
And, due to its location, you can easily access the neighbourhoods of Eminonu, where you will find the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, and Kumkapi, a budget-friendly area to stay in Istanbul.
Because Sultanahmet is a historic district, the roads are shut down to traffic between 10AM and 9PM, making it easier to reach all the sights on foot. This also means you will not be able to reach the front door of your hotel by car between these hours.
Also due to these closures, most businesses shut their doors by 9PM resulting in almost no nightlife.
Since Sultanahmet is the centre of tourism for Istanbul, you can expect to experience some very assertive hawking (selling) of goods and services. Most restaurants will have a man out front beckoning you to eat there. I found most restaurants in this area to be unauthentic and highly catered to tourists.
Things to do in Sultanahmet
- Hagia Sophia Mosque
- Blue Mosque
- Topkapi Palace
- Basilica Cistern
Sultanahmet at a Glance
Sultanahmet Istanbul Accommodation
Because Sultanahmet is the most touristic area of Istanbul, you can expect a large range of accommodation from luxury boutique hotels to backpacker hostels.
BEST FOR | Families, 1-2 Day Visitors
Eminonu is the most centrally located district in Istanbul and at the top of my list for where to stay in Istanbul with family and where to stay in Istanbul with kids. Eminonu is just west of the popular historic district of Sultanahmet, so most top attractions can be reached in 15 minutes by foot.
At the top of the Eminonu district is the famous Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar has more than 3,000 shops to discover ranging from candy to accessories to technology and everything else you can possibly imagine. It’s also the oldest covered market in the world.
Just down the hill from the bazaar is the Spice Market (or Misir Carsisi on Google Maps). This covered marketplace specializes in, yes you guessed it, spices. From sumac (a popular local ingredient) to saffron, oregano and even salt rocks from the famous salt lakes of Turkey. Dating back to 1664, the Spice Market also sells textiles and foods, great for bringing back to family and friends.
At the base of the hill is the main ferry port and transportation hub of Istanbul. Here you can reach neighbourhoods such as Galata and Karakoy in the Beyoglu region in less than 10 minutes by ferry and even venture over to the Asian side of Istanbul in less than 30 minutes. You can also visit the charming alleyways of Balat by bus from the Eminonu station in less than 15 minutes.
You can expect this area to be busy with commuters, locals and tourists alike and a bit chaotic in general.
Things to do in Eminonu
- Grand Bazaar
- Spice Market
- Galata Bridge
- Suleymaniye Mosque
Eminonu at a Glance
Eminonu Istanbul Accommodation
Due to Eminonu’s central location and access to all of the top tourist attractions, you can expect a large variety of accommodation options from historic luxury hotels to hostels that cater to backpackers and budget travellers.
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BEST FOR | Budget Travellers, Backpackers, Fish Lovers
Once a popular fishing village known as Kontonskalion, sailors came here to work on their boats and visit local meyhanes, meaning wine house or bar, and eat fish. Today, the neighbourhood is bustling with authentic restaurants and ambiance. The perfect place to get a taste of real life in the chaotic city of Istanbul.
Kumkapi shares a border with the historic district of Sultanahmet to the south. Staying in Kumkapi ensures you have access to all the top tourist attractions while enjoying a simpler way of Turkish life.
Due to the orientation of the Kumkapi district, the shoreline is situated facing southwest making it a great place to watch the sunset. Climb under the train tracks and peruse the local fish market, and then take a seat at one of the fish restaurants along the coast for an amazing Turkish seafood meal.
The neighbourhood is located on a gradual slope, so expect to climb small hills everywhere you go in the area. The area could be considered a bit scruffy around the edges, but it just adds to the authentic experience, in my opinion. I’d consider this a top choice for where to stay in Istanbul for cheap and where to stay in Istanbul on a budget.
Things to do in Kumkapi
- Fish Market
- Authentic Turkish Food + Drink
- Little Hagia Sophia Mosque
- Walk on the Pier
Kumkapi at a Glance
Kumkapi Istanbul Accommodation
Because the Kumkapi neighbourhood is a bit off the beaten path, it enjoys lower accommodation prices and budget options. You can find quite a few hostels here and small family-run guesthouses.
BEST FOR | Authentic Experience, Instagram Spots
After visiting all of the districts in Istanbul on this list, I do have to admit that Balat (the old Jewish Quarter) would be my ideal place to live if I was ever to move to this great cultural capital. In terms of where to stay Istanbul has a plethora of authentic and photogenic neighbourhoods, but Balat would top my list in this regard.
Rainbow-painted homes, ivy-covered buildings, mismatched cafe furniture and locally made cuisine, Balat never fails to impress. More than likely, you’ve seen this district plastered all over your Instagram feed with girls in pretty dresses and colourful row houses in the background. Well, luckily Balat doesn’t disappoint in real life.
Located a 12-15 minute bus ride from Sultanahmet, the tourist district of Istanbul, you can have access to all the top attractions while also enjoying the area right outside on your doorstep.
You can expect to enjoy some of the best kahvalti (traditional Turkish breakfast spread) in town. I particularly enjoyed a cheeky visit to the traditional candy store called Balat Merkez Sekercisi. Grab a mixed bag of hard candies and thank me later.
The neighbourhood is located across the road from the Golden Horn harbour, but don’t expect any seaside experiences. The majority of the district is located on a slope with winding alleyways to explore.
Things to do in Balat
- The Merdivenli (stairs) Ramp
- Colourful historic Balat houses
- Fener Greek High School for Boys
- Fener Greek Patriarchate + St. George Church
- Bulgarian Orthodox Church
- Enjoy traditional Turkish breakfast
Balat at a Glance
Balat Istanbul Accommodation
Because Balat is mainly a residential area, it offers many Airbnb-style accommodations in quaint historic buildings and walk-ups. You can expect most places in Balat to come without access to an elevator.
European Side: Beyoglu Region
The following best areas to stay in Istanbul are located in the modern part of European Istanbul, called the Beyoglu region. Beyoglu is located on the northern side of the Golden Horn across the Galata Bridge from historic Istanbul and includes areas such as Karakoy, Galata, Taksim and Besiktas.
BEST FOR | Foodies, Hipsters, Young Crowd
Karakoy would be my top pick for where to stay in Beyoglu Istanbul. Located on the banks of the Golden Horn, most of Karakoy can be reached within two minutes walking from the water and runs parallel to the sea rather than uphill.
Karakoy is also home to the main ferry port and transportation hub on the northern side of the Bosphorus harbour, with easy access to Galata on foot and Taksim and Besiktas areas by tram. Karakoy itself also enjoys a very flat terrain for easy exploring.
This neighbourhood is chock full of foodie restaurants, I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen that many places to eat in such a short walking radius. From authentic hole-in-the-walls serving traditional soup to upscale Turkish eateries, to international new-age cuisine, you can eat from morning to night and not get bored. Karakoy is now considered the coolest neighbourhood in Istanbul.
You can also experience a hammam, a traditional Turkish bath experience, where you will be scrubbed and cleaned on marble slabs in a heated room. One of the best hammams in the city is located in the Karakoy district in a historic 16th-century bathhouse, called Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami.
Due to Karakoy’s location on the northern side of the Bosphorus harbour at the mouth of the Golden Horn, it enjoys beautiful views of the water, Galata Bridge and downtown historic Istanbul beyond.
Things to do in Karakoy
- Traditional Turkish hammam
- Eat. Eat. Eat.
- Stroll along the water
- Explore neighbouring districts
Karakoy at a Glance
Karakoy Istanbul Accommodation
Growing rapidly in popularity, this new and cool neighbourhood boasts mid-range to high-end accommodation options from glam Istanbul hotels to historic apartment-style residences.
BEST FOR | Nightlife, Cobbled Alleyways, Souvenir Shopping
Originally a Genoan colony on the banks of the Golden Horn and a major port for the passage of goods, Galata is now a thriving district with hilly cobbled alleyways and souvenir shops galore.
Galata has become the centre of nightlife in Istanbul. Nightlife in Galata is not your typical dance club scene but has a bit more variety and charm to it. Expect anything from quaint Turkish hookah bars to jazz clubs to boisterous Irish pubs to sophisticated underground wine bars.
If you are looking for where to go in Istanbul at night and where to stay in Istanbul for nightlife in general, Galata is the place.
Galata is particularly known for Galata Tower, which pierces the Istanbul skyline with its dominant cylinder shape and peaked roof. Originally used as an observation deck to spot fires in the 11th century, it is now a major tourist attraction that boasts spectacular views of the entire city of Istanbul. Most main roads in this district fork out from the Galata Tower, with many quaint shops to explore.
Galata Bridge, connecting the modern region of Beyoglu to the historic region of Fatih across the Golden Horn, is also a major pull for tourists. Underneath the bridge is a plethora of small souvenir and marketplace shops, and on the top of the bridge, you can find many fishermen going about their business.
You can experience a stunning sunset from Galata Bridge, with a dark mosque-studded city line and beautiful pink and purple skies.
NOTE | Some sections of Galata can be quite steep, and on rainy days can even be a bit slippery. Watch your step!
Things to do in Galata
- Galata Tower
- Galata Bridge
- Church of St. Anthony of Padua
- Museum of Modern Art
- Camondo Stairs (Art Deco)
- Souvenir Shopping
Galata at a Glance
Galata Istanbul Accommodation
The hilly neighbourhood of Galata features decently priced historic boutique apartments, charming hotels and modern hostels.
BEST FOR | Shopping
The bustling main street of Istiklal runs through the neighbourhood of Taksim like a pulsing vein of activity and commerce. This wide pedestrian boulevard is flanked by the intricate white facades of affluent homes and a charming historic tram line.
At the end of the boulevard is the crowning Taksim Square. Taksim Square is a hubbub of nightlife, shopping and dining out. You can find anything and everything on Istiklal street with a few of the main offerings being brands like Sephora, Zara and H&M.
The dense network of side streets fanning out from Istiklal are jam-packed with small Turkish eateries, hole-in-the-walls, pubs and fish markets. You can find Anthony Bourdain’s favourite Dürümzade restaurant serving up some mean kebab.
Taksim is a shopping district that you can find in most modern cities. If your goal is to shop for major retail brands this is definitely the best area to stay in Istanbul for you. But, if you are looking to experience a more authentically Turkish side of Istanbul, I’d opt for almost any other neighbourhood on this list.
If you’ve been wondering where to stay in Istanbul Taksim or Sultanahmet, stay in Sultanahmet if you want to explore the top attractions in the city. Stay in Taksim if you are looking for shopping and nightlife.
Things to do in Taksim
- Explore Taksim Square
- Shop on Istiklal Street
- Visit Cicek Pasaji (historic passageway)
- Peruse the red church (Sent Antuan Kilisesi)
Taksim at a Glance
Taksim Istanbul Accommodation
Because this area is the centre of retail commerce in Istanbul, it provides a mainly mid-range accommodation selection. You can find standard, yet independent hotels here catered to tourists’ taste.
BEST FOR | Luxury, Couples
The Besiktas neighbourhood of Istanbul can be found northeast of the region of Beyoglu along the Bosphorus. Its crowning glory is the Dolmabahçe Palace situated along the waterfront. The Palace is one of the most beautiful palaces I’ve seen and is a must-visit when in Istanbul. It’s now a museum but was once an exquisite domed structure housing the Sultan himself.
Across the road and slightly uphill is the centre of Beşiktaş, with its narrow alleyways and plethora of cafes, restaurants and bars to choose from. You can also explore Besiktas’s open market district and make your way to the popular fish market.
Besiktas is considered a higher-end area with an emphasis on luxury and commercial enterprises. But, for the most part, it’s just a pleasure to walk around and explore. At any time you can walk down to the shoreline of the Bosphorus and stroll along the boardwalk. Besiktas is at the top of the list of where to stay in Istanbul for couples.
Essentially Besiktas is a destination district as it’s not walkable to any other popular part of Istanbul, but you do have easy access to the Besiktas ferry port for transport to downtown Istanbul or to the Asian side of Istanbul.
Things to do in Besiktas
- Dolmabahçe Palace
- Maritime Museum
- Eat, drink and be merry
- Visit the open air market district
- Peruse the quaint alleyways
Besiktas at a Glance
Besiktas Istanbul Accommodation
Besiktas has a higher-end clientele, therefore offers mainly luxury hotel options like the Four Seasons and Shangri-La. There are also some independently owned boutique hotels and apartments, as well.
Don’t expect to see many budget or mid-range accommodation options here.
Best Areas to Stay in Istanbul:
Being that Istanbul is the only city in the world that spans two continents, I would definitely be doing you a disservice if I ignored the Asian side of this cultural powerhouse of a place.
If you plan to visit Istanbul for the second time and are looking for something new or you would prefer a more authentic, local living experience while in Istanbul for your first time, the Asian side is the place for you.
The nice thing about transportation in Istanbul is that it’s plentiful and convenient. You can reach the downtown historic area of Istanbul in less than 30 minutes by ferry to see attractions like the Hagia Sophia Mosque and Grand Bazaar.
But what the Asian side of Istanbul grants you is fewer establishments and restaurants catering to tourists, giving an overall more genuine Turkish feel. Things to do on the Asian side of Istanbul include things like visiting the original Kebab house, lazing about sipping Turkish coffee at a streetside cafe and perusing quaint local shops.
The Asian side of Istanbul consists of two main regions: Kadıköy and Üsküdar. I believe the former to be more accessible for travellers to Istanbul and therefore have outlined two main neighbourhoods in Kadıköy: Kadıköy Centre and Moda.
9. Kadikoy Centre
BEST FOR | Second Time Visitors, Vibrant Local Life
Situated on the east of the mouth of the Bosphorus Strait, Kadikoy Centre (the downtown of Kadikoy region) is a neighbourhood of vibrancy and a melting pot of modern and traditional Turkish ways. Think large retail stores beside local winding alleyways full of shops and modern banks beside historic mosques. No matter what, Kadikoy brings you an orchestra of sounds, smells and tastes.
Because Kadikoy Centre is located next to the Kadikoy ferry port, it’s also easy to access other parts of the city, like downtown Istanbul where attractions like Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque reside. You can also catch a ferry to the small Princes’ Islands with beautiful hillside towns and great walking trails.
Another nice thing about Kadikoy Centre is its close proximity to Bahariye Street, the Istiklal street of Asian Istanbul. This wide promenade is traffic-free, features a historic tram line and has plenty of shopping. A great place for nightlife and a great deal to keep you entertained all day and night.
Make sure to wander down the street called Gunesli Bahce Sok for some great local food. Try some Turkish delicacies at Ciya, a restaurant that was featured on the Netflix TV show Chef’s Table.
Things to do in Kadikoy Centre
- Bahariye Street
- Sureyya Opera House
- Ciya Restaurant
- People-watch on the Kadikoy Port
Kadikoy Centre at a Glance
Kadikoy Centre Istanbul Accommodation
Depending on where you’d like to stay in Kadikoy Centre, closer to the port or closer to Bahariye Street, you will see the price of accommodation rise and fall. Closer to the port you will find mid-range economical suites and independent hotels, while closer to Bahariye Street you will find more boutique hotels and apartments.
I’d also consider Kadikoy Centre full of long stay Istanbul apartments.
BEST FOR | Young Crowd, Cool Budget Accommodation
If you are familiar with the Williamsburg neighbourhood in Brooklyn, NYC, then you know exactly what Moda is all about. We are talkin’ boutique bookstores, record shops, thrift stores and cutting edge, yet traditional, restaurants and cafes.
Imagine sipping a pour-over coffee roadside and chatting with a friend, then hopping to a new-age bakery for brunch. Finish the day with drinks and dancing along Kadife Sokak street. That’s life in Moda.
You’ll also spot youngsters in knitted beanies and oversized clothing. Moda is a quintessential hipster neighbourhood. If you are looking for a cool place to stay in Istanbul, this is it.
Eating and drinking your way through the area isn’t the only thing to do in Moda, though. You can stroll along the shoreline in Moda park and watch a spectacular sunset on the rocks overlooking the Bosphorus and downtown Istanbul in the distance.
Moda is very livable, especially for travellers who desire a longer visit to Istanbul.
Things to do in Moda
- Sunset in Moda Park
- Eat and drink
- Peruse the many shops
Moda at a Glance
Moda Istanbul Accommodation
Due to its ‘hipster’ status, Moda is full of budget to mid-range accommodations that have that cool factor. Concept hostels and vintage-inspired apartments are what you will find here.
Where to Stay in Istanbul Conclusion
Well there you have it, the best areas to stay in Istanbul. If you are visiting for the first time, I’d recommend either Sultanahmet or Karakoy or at least one of the areas on the European side.
Sultanahmet is super close to all the main attractions, while Karakoy is just across the Golden Horn. But what Karakoy offers is a bit more authenticity in terms of local Turkish culture, and the food is amazing!
The Asian side of Istanbul is a must-visit, so if you decide on staying across the Bosphorus, I’d definitely recommend hopping on a ferry and exploring the area for a day.
Either way, I hope you enjoy your trip to this culturally rich city. Drop a note in the comments below if you have any questions.