Where to Stay in Istanbul for a First Time Visit?
On a holiday to Istanbul, you are likely to run into one major issue regarding accommodation. That issue typically surrounds which area of the famous city to stay in. Should you book a hotel or Airbnb in European or Asian side of Istanbul? There are a variety of hotel and apartment options in both areas, but the districts provide a much different stay.
Also, if you prefer calm places and non-touristic areas there is Asian part of Istanbul — Kadıköy and Üsküdar. Kadiköy is modern Istanbul with a lot of small cafes and walking streets, but Üsküdar is more conservative area whith a lot of old historical mosques.
But if you travel to Istanbul for the first time it’s better to choose between Beyoğlu and Sultanahmet. So let’s find out which place is better!
- 1 Best Places to stay in Istanbul for tourists
- 2 Where to stay in Istanbul for a first time visit: European side
- 3 Asian side of Istanbul: where to stay?
- 4 Which should you choose?
Best Places to stay in Istanbul for tourists
Beyoğlu and Sultanahmet are near each other. The Golden Horn separates the two areas making a natural harbor for ferries sailing along the Bosphorus. The Golden Horn divides the old part of Istanbul — Eminönü, Sultanahmet (Fatih district) and another portion of the city — Beyoğlu and Beşiktaş.
From the beginning we should say that Beşiktaş and Şişli are also good areas, safe and expensive. But if you choose to stay in Beşiktaş or Şişli be ready to walk a lot or to use bus and subway or bus and tram to get to historical places. it means that you will waste much more time to get to the attractions.
The answer to where you should book your accommodation – European or Asian side – is down to your own personal preference.
Where to stay in Istanbul for a first time visit: European side
Sultanahmet: old city
Sultanahmet is an ideal place to book accommodation in Istanbul due to its proximity to the city’s most popular tourism sites. Almost everywhere you can reach by walk or by T1 tram line.
Must-see sites include the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Gülhane park, the cisterns: Basilica, Theodosius and Philoxenus, Grand Bazaar and Spice market, Süleymaniye and Beyazıt mosques.
The great thing about these famous landmarks is that they are all within walking distance of a majority of Sultanahmet’s hotels. Booking an Airbnb may be another story, but at least the major hotels are near enough to the major tourist sites that you can walk to them.
Unfortunately, Sultanahmet isn’t one of the best areas in Istanbul after dark. No, it isn’t dangerous, but there are just no entertainment options after dark. It can actually be a barren part of the city with little to nothing happening once the sun goes down.
Staying in Sirkeci
Sirkeci is located between historical Sultanahmet district and Eminönu. The main attraction and landmark point here is old railway station Sirkeci Garı. It was the last station of Orient Express train which was coming from Paris.
The station is connected with Marmaray metro line and there is a tram station right across the street.
You can reach Eminonu pier, Egyptian market and Yeni mosque by walk. From Eminönü pier it’s easy to make a trip to the Princes’ Islands, Asian side of Istanbul — Kadıköy or Üsküdar, or join Bosphorus tour.
Staying in Karaköy
Karaköy district starts from Galata bridge and continues untill Nusretiye mosque and Galataport terminal.
This district is very modern with a lot of small coffee shops, cafes and restaurants, and very friendly atmoshere. The streets of Karaköy is fool of graffiti and places to take a photo.
Galataport, which located in Karaköy — is not only big ferry terminal but also a complex consists of cafes and restaurants, shops and stores and long waterfront.
Most of hotel’s restaurants in Karakoy have terraces, so you can enjoy beautiful view during your meal.
From Karakoy you can easily reach Galata tower and Istiklal street, also the tram station is not far. The funicular line between Karaköy and Beyoğlu can be reached by walk.
Beyoğlu: Taksim and Istiklal
Beyoğlu area contains such blocks and quarters as Taksim square, Istiklal street, Cihangir and Karaköy. Taksim square is a transport hub and a place for different kind of cafe and street food, Istiklal is a street with a lot of shops, passages and cafeterias, Cihangir is famous for its antique shops and Karaköy for its great graffiti.
There are many famous tourist sites in Beyoğlu as well. Some of the most notable landmarks are the Dolmabahçe Palace, Galata area and its famous tower, and Istiklal Caddesi. The district is mostly well-known for its quaint neighborhoods like Cihangir and Galata. You will find a wide variety of restaurants and cafés. Istanbul’s famous night life wakes up in Beyoğlu making it ideal for anyone seeking nights out.
Compared to Sultanahmet, Beyoğlu is open and ready to go 24/7. Despite being a popular place to go out in at night, there are a number of hotels and Airbnbs situated in quieter parts of the district. These quieter areas are still close to all of the great sites and action of Beyoğlu. Therefore, you won’t have any issue with walking to these great places.
Asian side of Istanbul: where to stay?
Staying in Kadiköy
Kadikoy district is famous for it’s pier — from this location you can join a trip to Princes’ Islands or make a Bosphorus tour which last all day, also, here you can find ferries that can bring you to different sites of the city.
Kadikoy district includes Moda quarter — green, modern and calm place with a lot of coffeeshops and small kiosks.
The part of Kadikoy which close to the pier represents an area with a lot of streets connected between each other, where the restaurants, cafes, old coffee houses and different shops are located. The life here is non-stop and it’s always overcrowded.
So, if you want comfortable and calm atmosphere is better to prefer Moda quarter. But if you want to enjoy colorful place and prefer to have cafes and transoprt near you — it’s better to stay near Kadikoy pier.
From Sabiha Gökçen airport it’s easy to reach Kadikoy with Havabus buses.
To Sultanahmet you can get by ferry at about 20-25 minutes, also, there is a metro station of M4 line.
Üsküdar: local experience
This part of Asian side of Istanbul is different from Kadikoy — it’s more conservative area with a lot of mosques, coffeeshops with traditional turkish coffee. The symbols of Üsküdar are Maiden’s tower, Beylerbeyi palace, Çamlıca mosue and Kuzguncuk quarter.
Kuzguncuk is a nice small calm place with a lot of green trees, cafes and wooden houses.
From Üsküdar pier it’s possible to reach almost all of the popular historical and touristic places:
- Sultanahmet (Eminönu pier) — about 30 minutes by ferry
- Beşiktaş — 15-20 minutes by ferry
- Anadolu Hisari fortress and Küçüksu palace — by 15,15KÇ, 15P or 15ŞN buses about 20-30 minutes
- Kadiköy — 20-25 minutes by bus
There is a metro station of Marmaray line in Üsküdar, which go directly to the opposite site, so you can reach Sirkeci district in old town of Sultanahmet.
Which should you choose?
Now that you know a little bit more about European and Asian side of the city, you can choose the district you would prefer to book accommodation in. Before you do, consider a few more things. Sultanahmet is the ideal place to stay if you have never been to Istanbul before. Tourists with a limited amount of time should book in the heart of the city to maximize the number of landmarks and sites to see. Photographers will enjoy spending their time in Sultanahmet.
Of course, if you would prefer nights out over sightseeing, then book your accommodation in Beyoğlu. As previously stated, Sultanahmet is “dead” after dark. There is so much to see and do when the sun goes down in Beyoğlu. In addition, you may experience more of the “real” Istanbul in this part of the city.
Regardless of which district you book your holiday stay in, you won’t regret a visit to Istanbul. It is one of the great cities of the world.