Unveiling the Key-Areas & Hotels in Istanbul

Sandra Gouveia

Istanbul may not be the capital city of Turkey, but don’t expect anything less than wonder on your visit to ancient Constantinople.

This timeless metropolis that sits in a transcontinental nation unites the East to the West in its own, majestic way.

When here, you will want to gaze at the stunning architecture, bargain in buzzing bazaars, relax in soothing Hammans, sail in the historic Bosphorus. When leaving, you will already wish to come back.

If this magical destination is already sitting on the top of your travel bucket list and you wish to know where to stay, the best hotels, and must-see attractions in Istanbul, this is your article – just keep reading.

Key-Areas in Istanbul

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Sultanahmet & Grand Bazaar

Every European city has a historical heart, and in the European Side of Istanbul, Sultanahmet is that opulent centre. Many first-time visitors take a deep dive into this neighbourhood and end up spending most, if not, all of their time engulfed in the majestic sights, smells and sounds of the old city of Constantinople. Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace, Spice Market and Grand Bazaar are the iconic landmarks of Istanbul in the area, all easily reachable within walking distance.

Where to Stay

Hotels in Sultanahmet & Grand Bazaar

Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet

Once a non-conformists’ prison, Four Seasons Istanbul underwent a complete revamp and is nowadays a sublime Neoclassical hotel adorned with Turkish art. Moreover, it is located a stone’s throw from many of the attractions in Sultanahmet, and from the iconic Bosphorus. You’ll wish to be kept captive in one of the 65 elegant rooms, but do escape to A’YA Rooftop Lounge for a sunset cocktail over majestic views of Hagia Sophia.


Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet

Enjoy the extravagance of sultans in Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet, a luxurious hotel wonderfully decorated with Arabesque motifs and exquisite art pieces from celebrated artists and craftsman. Nestled in the heart of Sultanahmet, guests staying here will have the privilege to enjoy sweeping vistas over the Marmara Sea and the neighbourhood itself while delighting at a mouth-watering Azerbaijani meal on the 8th floor Zeferan Restaurant. As for a typical Turkish experience, the opulent hamman shouldn’t be missed.


Fer Hotel

Ideally located just minutes away from Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the bazaars and museums, the moment you step out of Fer Hotel you already find yourself wandering down the ancient roads of Istanbul. The hotel is sleek, contemporary and a smart place to stay in Sultanahmet. Free parking and valet parking service are available on site service, the fitness centre is open 24h, and all rooms are equipped with blackout curtains, a pillow menu plus complimentary turndown service.


Régie Ottoman Istanbul – Special Category

Close to the Golden Horn is the outstanding Régie Ottoman Istanbul – Special Category. The exposed brick walls and ceilings found all across this old tobacco factory grant it a cellar-like, intimate, and historic ambience. This latter feature combined with modern amenities and an impeccable décor make the Régie a great option for the sophisticated traveller looking for a comfortable, unique hotel in Istanbul.

Hiva Sharifi

Beyoglu: Galata & Taksim Square

Just across Galata Bridge – on the other side of the Golden Horn (Sultanahmet) – is Galata, one of the oldest yet trendiest neighbourhoods in Istanbul. This bridge not only separates the two neighbourhoods but it also separates two culturally and religiously distinctive areas within Istanbul.


Galata, formerly part of the Republic of Genoa, handed itself down to the hands of the westerns and thus became a business and entertainment centre with a mix of Neolithic buildings, churches, synagogues, and Muslim mosques along with numerous hip bars, Turkish restaurants, cool cafés and vibrant clubs. The most symbolic of all its landmarks is the 63-meter tall Galata Tower, punctuating Istanbul’s skyline and offering a 360º view over the city. The Galata Mevlevi Museum is one of the most notorious Whirling Dervish Halls in the area and the Church of St. Anthony of Padua the largest of the kind in Istanbul.


This neighbourhood is part of the sprawling Beyoğlu District, a place with various other hotspots such as the pedestrianised İstiklal Avenue – a busy and famous shopping hub filled with bars, restaurants and cafes – that goes from Galata to the bustling Taksim Square – a terminal for public transportation and a famous gathering place for locals and tourists alike. Consider this area a strategic place to find fine eateries, luxury hotels, lovely tea houses and fancy shopping malls.

Where to Stay

Hotels in Beyoglu: Galata & Taksim Square

Pera Palace Hotel

One of the highlights of your visit to Istanbul could well be staying at the historic Pera Palace Hotel, built in 1892 to accommodate passengers arriving in the city from Paris (in the former hotel owner’s Orient Express train). Set in an area inhabited by the Jewish, Christian and European businessman and diplomats from the 18th-20th century, this sumptuous hotel seamlessly blends European and Oriental décor styles. Agatha Christie is said to have written the Orient Express (murder) novel at her usual room, number 411. And along with her, writer Ernest Hemingway, actress Greta Garbo, and Atatürk (Turkey’s first president) also chose this opulent hotel as their abode when visiting Istanbul. Efficient service is what you can expect from every staff member who is happy to make you feel like a king or queen at your palace.


Soho House Istanbul – Special Category

Surrounded by beautiful Italianate buildings, Soho House Istanbul sprawls itself across the cluster of structures of the 150-year-old Palazzo Corpi residence: the Palazzo Corpi, the new Glass Building, the Chancery and the Annex. Not only a hotel but also a private member’s club, the Soho House has outdone itself in one of the most exquisite neighbourhoods in Istanbul. The Cecconi and The Allis are the two public restaurants while the fashionable Mandolin Terrace is open for guests and members only. The Cowshed Spa offers a fully equipped gym, a hamman as well as several relaxing therapies, massages and a sophisticated barber shop.


Vault Karakoy The House Hotel

Set in the now hip Karakoy neighbourhood, Vault Karakoy The House Hotel is an unpretentious boutique hotel surrounded by several galleries, cafes, restaurants, and major attractions in Galata. The hotel showcases the opulence of ancient Constantinople with smart contemporary features: in the rooms, you will find Carrara marble bathrooms with rain showers, parquet floors, original radiators, and tall, stencilled ceilings, as well as iPod docks, LCD televisions, complimentary coffee and tea-making facilities. The original bank vaults and Neoclassical columns are still some of the reminiscences of the days when the building was used as the HQ of a bank.

For a special moment: the rooftop lounge with its magnificent views over the spanning Galata Bridge and busy Golden Horn goes exceptionally well with a glorious sunset and a signature House cocktail.

Meriç Dağlı

Besiktas & the Bosphorus

Adjacent to Taksim Square is Besiktas, an interesting suburb easily reachable by land or water. This is one of the most modern areas in Istanbul, where tall skyscrapers and wealthy, uptrend neighbourhoods can be found. Besiktas is also an important cultural zone that manages to keep the Turkish atmosphere alive with traditional bistros serving typical Turkish breakfast, a cheerful fish market, and humble shops that sell handmade products. Two of the most renowned attractions in the area are the Besiktas Football Stadium and the imposing Dolmabahçe Palace.


Aside from visiting these places, we recommend you to go for a stroll across the Bosphorus Strait for some great views over the scenic river as well as to enjoy a mouth-watering fresh seafood meal on a riverfront restaurant. Whenever wishing to withdraw from the lively vibe of Besiktas, head to the charming and Yıldız Park, part of the Yıldız Palace Complex.


Further north along the coastline is Ortakoy, a lovely village with a prominent waterfront mosque. While there follow the locals’ lead and have the typical baked potatoes (Kumpir) while watching the ships navigating through the Bosphorus.

Where to Stay

Hotels in Besiktas & by the Bosphorus

Swissotel The Bosphorus Istanbul

This exquisite, 5-starred Swissotel grants magnificent views over the historic Bosphorus while also sitting adjacent to the historic gardens of the Dolmabahçe Palace. The intramural scenery is no less impressive, with rooms adorned with the sophisticated and meticulous décor of Khuan Chew, 8 elegant restaurants and bars serving world cuisine, and holistic treatments provided at the award-winning Pürovel Spa & Sport. On a hot summer day, have a complimentary smoothie shot and enjoy the panorama at the appealing outdoor pool. When the weather is not the most inviting, the cosy and lodge-style Chalet with its lovely fireplace and Alpine flavours is a heart-warming option.


Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul

Even though this Shangri-La hotel is located on the European side of Istanbul, the brand’s characteristic Asian roots are ubiquitous. With the Bosphorus at your doorstep, treat yourself to the most sweeping views from your own private terrace at either the Barbarous Suite or Shangri-La Suite. Do not lose sight of this beloved waterway while enjoying the creative combination of international flavours served at the IST TOO restaurant but do take your eyes away from it to savour a fine selection of teas and pastries at the classy Lobby Lounge.


Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus

This former Ottoman Palace converted into a contemporary palace is worthy of the most sophisticated, quality-seeking clientele. Delicious Mediterranean, Italian and Turkish cuisine are served at the waterfront Aqua Restaurant while in The Club guests can enjoy light meals by the pool such as fresh grilled fish, Turkish street food, and homemade ice cream. Magnificent views over the Asian border are best appreciated from the opulent rooms in the Palace building. The fitness centre and tranquillizing spa with a steam room/hamman, sauna, saloon and several invigorating or relaxing massages and treatments hit all the right notes.


Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul

Multi-awarded Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul is a renovated 19th-century Ottoman Palace of the utmost prestige, attainable to all. The dedication to excellence and striking location by the Bosphorus and convenient location – between atmospheric Besiktas and attractive Ortakoy –  are some of this luxury hotel’s strengths, as is the heated outdoor infinity pool (open all-year-round), manicured gardens and top-notch facilities. Each room has a balcony with either garden or sea view and is equipped with floor-to-ceiling windows, classic or historical décor, and complimentary soft drinks in the mini-bar. Book a memorable tour around Istanbul with the Palace’s concierge, and upon return, indulge yourself in an oasis of tranquillity at the Luxury Spa.


The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul at the Bosphorus

Encapsulating the very essence of Istanbul, The Ritz-Carlton Istanbul at the Bosphorus is another feat by this luxury hotel chain. In the room, enwrapped in a terry cloth bathrobe, enjoy the panoramic views over the Bosphorus while sipping a Nespresso and reading the complimentary newspaper. In the Spa, embark on a relaxing journey with your better half at the hamman’s couple suite, modelled after the Turkish baths of Roxelana (the slave consort of the sultan Suleiman). For dinner, delight on the imaginative and fresh flavours of Atelier Real Food, and later on, bust a move at the glowing Bleu Lounge.


This neighbourhood north of Beyoglu started rising from a nobody’s land to an upscale suburb in the 19th century. Posh houses, luxury hotels, shopping venues (including İstanbul Cevahir, one of the biggest malls in the world) and inviting restaurants are found in Sisli along with some interesting attractions such as Istanbul Military Museum, Atatürk Museum (the place where the founder of the Republic of Turkey was born), Maçka Modern Art Gallery, the Ottoman Ihlamur Palace and Cemal Resit Rey Concert Hall.


Like many immigrants, non-Muslims and many wealthy people moved to the neighbourhood, several religious sites can be found here, ranging from Christian and Jewish churches to mosques.

Where to Stay

Hotels in Sisli

The St. Regis Istanbul

St. Regis Istanbul is an enchanting retreat in upmarket Nisantasi, a very fancy district with many shopping possibilities in Sisli. Rooms vivified by the original artwork of Turkish artists offer floor-to-ceiling views of either the neighbouring Maçka Park – one of Istanbul’s largest green oasis –  or Abdi Ipekçi street. Common areas feature Art Deco accents, and in the Atrium, comfortable armchairs and a convivial fireplace create the right ambience to enjoy the signature Petit “O” Bar cocktail served in a traditional Raki copper bowl: Misty Mary. Three treatment candlelit indoor pools and two purifying hammans await guests at the seductive The Iridium Spa.


Park Hyatt Istanbul – Macka Palas

Located in the heart of Nisantasi, 5-starred Park Hyatt Istanbul is a modern hotel with elegant, state-of-the-heart features. Every room comes with a French balcony, and a deep soaking tub; selected rooms also feature a relaxing mini-spa with a Turkish bath, steam room, and Dornbracht RainSky shower. Aside from all these in-room commodities for the utmost relaxation and pampering, guests staying here can also delight their taste buds with Turkish and Mediterranean food at the Lounge, Italian cuisine at Galvin or have a glass of wine at the sophisticated Wine Bar. An outdoor rooftop pool, and a fully equipped spa and gym are some of the other facilities in loco.

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