Where to Stay in Istanbul for a First Time Visit? An Insider's Guide

Where to Stay in Istanbul for a First Time Visit? An Insider’s Guide 2021 (with map)

Where to Stay in Istanbul for a First Time Visit? An Insider's GuideWelcome to our extended guide on where to stay in Istanbul, Turkey. It is the only guide you need; from budget places to luxury hotels. And from the best places to stay in Istanbul for families with kids, and couples.

Istanbul is a Goliath of a city with a textured history, a dynamic present, and a questionable future. It seems like every corner you turn, you’re confronted with yet another ancient building or cozy boutique café or mobs of people.

It can be difficult to strike a balance between the crowds and the culture, so I’ve set up this guide to help you figure out where to stay during your visit to Istanbul so that you can maximize your time in this historic city.

I’ve included suggestions for first-time visitors, families, couples, and other travelers with specific budgets or interests.

After that, there’s a list of top 10 things to do, a neighborhood guide that’ll help you choose the coolest areas to visit, and some tips for staying safe and not
getting ripped off.

(This guide is always up to date, the last updated April 2021.)

But, first things first:

Question: So first, where should you stay in Istanbul for a first-time visit?

Answer: The Old Town! Stay where it’s oldest.

Istanbul is part of a hell of a long history book. The stunningly beautiful confluence of the Bosphorus Strait and the  Marmara Sea, with its seven hills rolling down into the water, has witnessed the agrarian revolution and the rise and fall of at least four empires (Greek, Persian, Roman, and Ottoman).

However, there are a ton of cool areas over in Asia, so we’ll mention some of them as well. So, here are a few of the best areas to stay. They allow for easy access to the sights of the old town, as well as easy access to public transportation and airports.

  • Cihangir
  • Galata (Şişhane)
  • Karaköy
  • Taksim
  • Balat
  • Sultanahmet (old town)
  • Hocapaşa (old town)

Check the map below to get a better idea.

Why do I recommend these areas?

You’ll have a lot of content to sift through, but staying in the three oldest areas will provide more than enough reading material.

So I’ll mainly focus on the old town (previously known as Lygos, Constantinople, and Byzantium), Galata/Beyoğlu (a Constantinian-era Genoese citadel and its surrounding district), and Beşiktaş (a Bosphorus Strait-side, late-Ottoman-influenced area), which are one, two and three when it comes to historical longevity.

Also, I get that you may not be so familiar with the neighborhoods I’ll be talking about, so we’ve created some maps to help you out with Istanbul’s geography.

Basically, the city is split along the Bosporus Strait, which divides the Asian continent and the European continent (it still doesn’t get old looking across the Bosporus and saying “hey, there’s Asia”, or “Shall we go over to Europe tonight?”)

Most of the sights are located on the European side, so I’ll mainly hover around there, specifically three of the oldest areas mentioned previously—which are split by a narrow inlet called the Golden Horn—the old town, Galata/Beyoğlu, and Beşiktaş.

Here’s a full map for you to understand the different areas.

We highlight the districts, main tourists sightseeing in Istanbul and our handpicked accommodations.

Please note: those are not the exact names of the districts, neither its absolute borders. I just tried to simplify this information.

1. Best areas and handpicked hotels for Istanbul

Let’s look at some hotels and neighborhoods that are perfect for different types of people
traveling for different reasons.

I’ve broken down specific categories to help you choose the
hotel and neighborhood that’ll be perfect for you.

Continue scrolling or pick your group and travel type on the menu:

1.1 Families
1.2 Couples
1.3 Luxury Travelers
1.4 Design Travelers
1.5 Groups
1.6 Solo Travelers
1.7 Nightlife-seeking Travelers
1.8 Budget Travelers
1.9 Adventure-seekers

1.1 Families

Those of you traveling with families know the value of finding a hotel with amenities like a pool, a kitchen, and other things that can entertain the kids during your stay. You’ll want to strike a balance between cultural sightseeing and having fun with the kids.

So I would recommend staying at a couple of places around the old town in order to reduce travel times and ensure that the kids have enough to do. However, the old town can get a bit cramped, so I’ve offered another good option for families a bit farther away but still very accessible.

Recommended districts for families:

  • Sultanahmet (old town)
  • Hocapaşa (old town)
  • Karakoy

This map shows you the areas recommended for families:

Sultanahmet Suites

Close to all the must-see attractions of the old town, Sultanahmet Suites offer spacious rooms with fully equipped kitchens, in-room child care, sofas and extra beds available on request.

While not as glamorous as some other options, these suites are big, practical and perfect for families.

Book Sultanahmet Suites here

Sultanahmet Suites Istanbul Terrace Sultanahmet Suites Istanbul Room

Ajwa Hotel

For families with a higher budget, the Ajwa Hotel is a five-star hotel located right around the corner from Sultanahmet Suites. It boasts a wonderful indoor pool and a children’s pool, a traditional Turkish spa, and a fitness center.

The rooms are spacious and perfect for families, and you can get infant cribs and extra rollaway beds upon request. The décor is traditional Turkish, and you’ll definitely feel a bit like an Ottoman sultan in this place.

Book Ajwa Hotel here

Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet Room Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet Indoor Pool

Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus

The Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus is another great choice for families. Located just over the Galata Bridge in Karakoy, the location is perfect to escape the crowds of the Old Town, but still have easy access to it via the tram, which is only a few minutes walk away.

Karakoy is a great up and coming neighborhood with lots of cool cafes and boutique shops, as well as a ferry terminal which can take you up the Bosphorus, over to the Asian side, or to the Prince Islands.

Novotel Istanbul offers a full-service spa, an incredible rooftop terrace with views of the Bosphorus and old town, free cribs/infant beds, and even a playground on site.

Book Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus here

Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus Hotel Room Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus Hotel Restaurant Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus Hotel Indoor Pool

1.2 Couples

Istanbul can be a great city for a romantic getaway. The intimate restaurants, amazing views, live music, delicious food, and incredible art scene all offer limitless opportunities for a special trip with your significant other.

Here are a couple of places to stay that have all the amenities required for an intimate and pampered experience, and are also located in areas that are great for date nights.

Recommended districts for couples:

  • Galata
  • Cihangir
  • Sultanahmet

This map shows you the areas recommended for couples:

Georges Hotel Galata

Just steps from the iconic Galata Tower, Georges Hotel is a perfect option for a couple looking to bask in simple luxury. It has a wonderful terrace restaurant with a view of the Golden Horn and comfortable rooms with options for a balcony and sea views.

The Galata area has a lot to offer, with great cafes, boutique shops, and restaurants/bars. You’ll even be greeted with a complimentary adult beverage—not a bad way to start off your romantic getaway in one of the oldest cities in the world.

Book Georges Hotel Galata here

Georges Hotel Galata Room Georges Hotel Galata Restaurant

Hotel Sultania

Hotel Sultania is a beautifully decorated traditional Turkish-style hotel with a spa/indoor pool
and two restaurants/bars.

It is steps away from all that the old town has to offer, and if you’re a couple that loves culture and history, this is an excellent option.

Book Hotel Sultania here

Hotel Sultania Boutique Class Room Hotel Sultania Boutique Class Restaurant Hotel Sultania Boutique Class Breakfast Buffet

The Galata Istanbul Hotel

Another great Galata-situated hotel with views of the tower and the Bosphorus, the Galata Istanbul Hotel features stylishly decorated rooms and a kick-ass terrace with a panoramic view of the Golden Horn.

It offers a spa for you and your significant other to relax in, and it’s just stepping away from one of the most unique and romantic areas in the city.

Book The Galata Istanbul Hotel here

The Galata Istanbul Hotel Mgallery Room The Galata Istanbul Hotel Mgallery Restaurant

1.3 Luxury Travelers

For those of you with a deeper wallet, there are a few luxury hotels situated along the Bosphorus and in the old town that offers the most pampering and a slew of services and amenities that will make you never want to leave.

Here are a few hotels I would recommend if you want to spoil yourself rotten (in a good way).

Recommended districts for luxury travelers:

  • Beşiktaş
  • Sultanahmet

This map shows you the areas recommended for the luxury traveler:

Swissotel The Bosphorus

While not as central as a lot of the other hotels on this list, Swisshotel The Bosphorus makes up for this with its stunning views of the Bosphorus, beautiful pools and sauna, and spacious, fully equipped rooms that all feature whirlpool baths and king-sized beds and premium linens.

The hotel is surrounded by beautiful gardens and steps from Maçka Park, one of the few parks in downtown Istanbul—great for a morning run or taking the kids to the playground.

Book Swissotel The Bosphorus here

Swissotel The Bosphorus Istanbul View Swissotel The Bosphorus Istanbul Rooftop Bar