Thinking of traveling to the heart of Turkey? This is where the cultural and economic lifeblood of the country flows from! Read on and we’ll give you tips on planning your visit including the best hotels, best neighborhoods, what to see and where to go!
Formerly known as Constantinople or Byzantium, Istanbul can be found on the shores of the Bosphorus Strait with two thirds living on the European side on the West of the water and the remainder on the East.
Istanbul is a great place for walking. Much of the city can be best experienced on leisurely walks through its diverse neighborhoods. Get ready for some steep slopes and make sure to wear comfortable shoes as Istanbul is a hilly city! Don’t be afraid to try the public transportation system. It is affordable and reaches everywhere you want to go.
Get out there and enjoy the smoky kebabs, tea, boats and fish markets!
We have summed up the best places to stay in Istanbul with the best Istanbul hotels and the best restaurants to plan your trip and enjoy this fantastic destination.
What to see and best places to stay in Istanbul - Neighborhoods
Located on the shores of the Bosphorus River, Besiktas is an old part of the city that is now an important transportation hub for boats and busses, many of which cross the river to the Asian side of the city. The area was once filled with impressive mansions, many of which can still be seen today and have been converted into schools and hotels. This neighborhood is loaded with palaces: Dolmabahce Palace, Bebek, Yildiz Palace and Park, Ciragan Palace and a few more. To top off the list of architectural gems, there is a wonderful mosque that absolutely must be seen called the Buyuk Mecidiye Cami.
Best Besiktas Hotels
Four Seasons Istanbul at the Bosphorus:
This waterfront hotel is located in a 19th-century, former Ottoman palace. It’s only a 6-minute walk from Besiktas ferry terminal. It features hand-painted ceilings and modern décor. There are 3 eateries, including 1 serving Italian fare, plus a chocolate shop. There's a posh spa with an indoor pool, as well as an outdoor pool with a bar to enjoy after a long day touring the city.
Raffles can be found in an upmarket shopping/residence complex and has great views of the Bosphorus Strait. The hotel has chic rooms featuring Istanbul-themed wall murals along with city-view balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows and marble bathrooms. If you are traveling with kids this might be a good option because of their kids' club.
This polished, all-suite hotel is a 7-minute walk from Dolmabahçe Palace and 14 minutes' walk from Beşıktaş ferry port. Turkuaz Suites has comfy rooms with kitchens and separate sitting areas.
Best Restaurants in Besiktas
The Sans Restaurant features elegant dining in a modern setting. Dishes are served with great attention to detail to mix colors and flavors for guests.
: Enjoy a fine meal set in the midst of Ottoman décor as you overlook the Bosphorus.
Enjoy delicious plates with fresh breezes and great views of the river, bridge and surrounding city. Satays, shrimp, tuna and thai; this menu has a wide range of options for every diner.
Yildiz Palace and Park
Cukurcuma and Cihangir Istanbul
These two small, charming areas are in the city’s cosmopolitan core named Beyoglu. The large district is thought by many to be the creative centre of Istanbul and is made up of eight neighborhoods that are brimming with dining and entertainment delights.
Their relaxed pace can be best enjoyed by strolling the quiet, narrow, tree-lined streets. There are colorful steps, harbor views and peaceful cafes. This is a great area to spend half a day getting lost.
While not technically inside the Cukurcuma or Cihangir neighborhoods, Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue) is a pedestrian street so close that it has to be mentioned. It’s open for exploring any time of day where visitors and locals alike can be found gazing upon architecture and visiting the shops. It can get very busy with mobs of people taking in the sights. Taksim Sqaure on the northeastern end is surrounded by some of the country’s best restaurants and nightlife.
Best Cukurcuma & Cihangir Hotels
Cirrus Suites Tomtom:
This upscale, all-suite hotel is an 8-minute walk from a tram stop and a 12-minute walk from Galata Tower. Refined rooms and suites, some with courtyard or garden views. There's a chic restaurant with a bar, and a terrace with views of the Old Town.
Faik Pasha Hotel:
This simple hotel has large, clean rooms and is close to the city center, shopping, sight seeing, restaurants and bars. The friendly, professional staff is ready to help with your travel needs.
Best Cukurcuma & Cihangir Restaurants
Make a reservation for fine dining at this posh place focused on Mediterranean dishes. Salads are prepared with caution and look more like artwork than edibles. No children under 12 allowed.
Simple, easy-going and relaxing come to mind when I think of Limonlu. Don’t let the first impression fool you though, the kitchen team works hard to prepare delectable bites you won’t find anywhere else.
Don’t miss the opportunity to try this gem serving traditional plates from a select menu. The calamari is especially delicious!
Cukurcuma & Cihangir Attractions
Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue)
St Anthony of Padua
Fener & Balat Istanbul
Yes it’s true that Fener is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Restoration projects have been taking place for years and yet this ancient neighborhood still manages to feels as old as it is. You can’t miss the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, a robust, red brick building surrounded by crumbling buildings.
Best Fener & Balat Hotels
Dosso Dossi Hotel:
This elegant hotel is a 7-minute walk from Ayasofya Müzesi and an 8-minute walk from the Blue Mosque. It has a spa area that offers a sauna, a Turkish bath and a gym, and kids' welcome gifts are provided!
Best Fener & Balat Restaurants
This is one of my favorites. I loved everything I tried. Their staff say they make their best effort to recreate authentic Ottoman Palace cuisine and it shows!
Akdeniz Hatay Sofrazi:
Lamb, beef, spices, rice, breads, mezes and more! This is a great place for an introduction to what locals like to eat.
Fener & Balat Attractions
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
The Tomb of Soleiman the Magnificent
Karakoy & Galata Istanbul
Most noted for the Galata Tower and museum of modern art, the area has undergone recent building improvements that has flushed out prostitution and hardware shops to make way for a new era where restaurants, shops and hotels rule the streets. Be sure to check out the fish market and watch the local sling lines into the choppy waters.
Best Karakoy & Galata Hotels
Georges Galata Hotel in Istanbul
This is probably our favorite hotel in Istanbul,
located in a neighborhood that is bustling with galleries and wineries, the Georges Galata Hotel stands out as an elegant and majestic place to stay. The cobbled street of trendy Turkish dress shops and hipster coffeehouses leads to the landmark Galata Tower just 300 feet from the hotel’s doorstep.
Karaköy Port Hotel:
This casual hotel is features simple rooms with tea and coffeemakers, free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs with satellite channels, plus minibars and microwaves (on request). Room service is available.
A free breakfast buffet is served in a low-key dining area, or on a terrace with views of Bosphorus Bay.
The Karakoy has beautiful rooms with wonderful style. Every nook is designed for maximum comfort and attention to detail. It has a stellar location.
Best Karaköy & Galata Restaurants
While not a full-service restaurant, I just had to include this place on my list because it serves top notch baklava. They really know their stuff!
: Everyone raves about the all day café village breakfast here and you won’t be disappointed.
Grab some gourmet grub from this excellent location with incredible views of the sights.
Karakoy & Galata Attractions
Museum of Modern Art
Saint Pierre Church
I could write an entire post on just this one neighborhood. It has so much to see! You could walk the area in about two hours, but with all the stops included it’s better to plan on spending at least one full day here. It’s a great place for a walking tour starting with the former hippodrome and moving through the Blue Mosque, Great Palace Mosaic Museum, Sultan Ahmet Park, Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia, Fountain of Ahmed III, Topkapı Palace and Museum, Sultan’s Harem, Archaeological Museum and restaurant row.
Istanbul Hotels Sultanahmet Area
Four Seasons Sultanahmet:
This illustrious hotel is set in an ex-jailhouse built in 1919. This upscale hotel is a 5-minute walk from the Ayasofya. It features neoclassical decor and marble bathrooms in the stylish rooms and is one of the best options to stay in the Sultanahmet area.
Hotel Amira Istanbul:
Set in the Sultanahmet district, this stylish, laid-back hotel is a 5-minute walk from the waterfront and a 12-minute walk from the Hagia Sophia museum.
It has Ottoman-style, hand-painted ceiling designs and plush, trendy rooms with rainfall showers and minibars, plus free Wi-Fi, flat-screens and iPhone docks. Upgraded rooms add Jacuzzis, sea views and/or seating areas, and suites add balconies. Room service is available 24/7.
A complimentary breakfast buffet and teatime snacks are served in a casual dining room. There's also a seasonal rooftop bar, a gym and a spa area with a sauna, a hot tub and massage services.
Best Restaurants Sultanahmet Area
No doubt named for its impressive arching ceiling of brickwork, serves authentic meals in a laid back setting.
This restaurant offers great food in a pleasant atmosphere and outstanding service.
Gulhane Sark Sofrasi:
Gulhane is another great spot for kebabs and Ottoman and Turkish classics.
Topkapi Palace & Park
Hagia Sophia Church & Museum
Fountain of Ahmed III
Cross over the Bosphorus Bridge to enter the Asian side of Istanbul. When you visit the Maiden’s Tower, be sure to hear the legends behind the building! There are other grand buildings such as the Beylerbeyi Palace that are also worth a visit. Leave time to visit the bustling ferry terminal and maybe even take a ride on the river.
Grand Bazaar Istanbul
Grand Bazaar is marvelous maze full of hidden treasures. Waves of merchandise are piled up to arching ceilings. Silks and textiles flood the passages as dresses, scarves, prints, shirts and pillows. Rafts of rugs are stacked in heaps of colorful materials with intricate patterns. There are even specialty shops with jewels, ceramics, knives and antiques. Take a taster’s tour of the doner wraps, spices and traditional sweets.
Best place to stay in Grand Bazaar Istanbul
The Regie is a small property with cozy rooms with traditional materials and rich fabrics. Plenty of exposed brick interior and indirect lighting make everything feel warm and inviting. It’s located close to the water in a quiet part of the city.
This stylish urban hotel is a 2-minute walk from the nearest tram stop and a 7-minute walk from the Blue Mosque. Elegant, modern rooms with soundproof windows offer free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, minibars and tea and coffee making facilities. Upgraded quarters add balconies, and glass-enclosed bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs. There's a stylish rooftop restaurant offering sea and city views, as well as a trendy, buffet-style cafe with modern chandeliers and a veranda. Other amenities include a cosmopolitan lobby bar, and a spa with a sauna and a hammam.
Hayriye Hanim Konagi:
This elegant hotel is set in a restored wooden mansion in downtown. The refined rooms come with engraved headboards and embroidered window drapes. There's an outdoor pool, a Turkish bath and a sauna to enjoy after your Grand Bazaar experience.
Best Grand Bazaar Restaurants
: If you’re looking for an easy going place with simple ingredients and fast service, this is your place.
Traditional Turkish cuisine made with the highest quality ingredients from around the country.
Yaka Balik Fish House:
Possibly the best seafood restaurant in all of Istanbul!
Grand Bazaar Attractions
Rustem Paha Mosque
will be available for your hotel reservations in the fall of 2016. By booking through wander.io you can make your hotel reservation at the best prices and you'll be able to help the social cause close to your heart without any extra cost. Good traveling for good people.