Best Areas in Istanbul: What to Expect From Istanbul Neighborhoods & Districts

Wondering where to stay in Istanbul on your visit or possibly choosing the best neighborhood where to live long term? I have answers to these questions and many others as I decided to create this mega guide to the best areas in Istanbul.

After living in the largest city of Turkey for more than a year and changing many apartments in different neighborhoods, Mark and I finally settled on the Asian side which both of us were happy to call home. But before we came to Istanbul to stay on a long-term basis, at first we visited as tourists and also stayed in various areas to feel the vibe. 

Today, after renting multiple apartments and treating ourselves to nice hotel stays on the European and Asian sides and after exploring the city in-depth for such a long time, I have a clear idea of what Istanbul areas, districts, and neighborhoods are like. 

So this is why I decided to write my own detailed post to Istanbul areas to stay. Below, you will find detailed information on many districts of Istanbul and many more neighborhoods in each district. I talk about modern parts of Istanbul, posh areas, old neighborhoods, and regions for people on a budget.

best areas in Istanbul

Also, I include tips for the best areas where to stay in Istanbul for families, couples, single parents with little children, solo female travelers, and people with disabilities. Because not every neighborhood is equally good for all of us. 

Also, my guide is aimed to help you understand what to expect from more than 10 different parts of the city and where to stay on a trip based on your goals and travel lifestyle. Oh, and how could I forget, I also give a few tips on where to live in Istanbul with a family or as a couple if you intend to move to Istanbul. Give it a read!

Psst: If you are curious to know where not to stay in Istanbul are, see my post about the most dangerous neighborhoods in Istanbul. And to make it easier to rent a holiday apartment, check my other posts about the cheap airbnbs and unique hotels in Istanbul.  

Those who are looking for more travel tips for visiting Istanbul should check all of my posts on Istanbul here.

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Please note: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a commission if you make a purchase by clicking a link (at no extra cost to you).

Areas in Istanbul – Districts & Neighborhoods on European Side

Istanbul European Side Map

Here is a map of Istanbul districts and neighborhoods on the European side. Borders of each neighborhood are approximate (it was difficult to select them manually) to give you an idea of the location of each area.

Big yellow areas are districts. Each of them has smaller neighborhoods inside that are shown in different colors. These are the most popular areas for tourists where to stay in Istanbul (and obviously visit too). 

Beşiktaş District

I would like to start my list with the Besiktas district which has a population of about 200,000 and consists of some of the most respectable neighborhoods, including the one with the same name – Besiktas neighborhood. I talk about it below as well as about other famous neighborhoods.

Besiktas is located on the European coast of the Bosphorus across Uskudar and is one of the most prestigious areas of Istanbul.

It is also one of the most important tourist destinations due to its luxurious palaces and many Ottoman mosques as well as historical museums, various art galleries, lively busy markets, and restaurants specializing in serving seafood. Besiktas is also a financial center of Istanbul where you’ll find many investment companies and commercial and cultural activities.

The entire Besiktas area has chic five-star hotels with amazing views of the Bosphorus which is why it can be a very good pick for couples on honeymoons in Istanbul.

best area in Istanbul to live

Who Will Benefit From Staying in Besiktas District in Istanbul?

Besiktas district area is suitable for returning visitors to Istanbul and those who set a goal not to do only sightseeing with most touristy sights but rather have an unhurried, relaxed vacation with a visit to Dolmabahce palace, Bosphorus cruise, Palace Collections Museum, and a trip to the northern side of Istanbul on the European side.

Of course, it is also an excellent neighborhood where to stay if you want to visit the Asian side of Istanbul. Besiktas is also known for its extensive seaport, so getting to a different part of the city by boat is very easy as boats depart often in different directions.

But it is not the right place to stay if you haven’t seen the old town of Istanbul yet (unless you don’t mind) and intend to do that (which most first-time travelers do). Getting there will take a lot of time.

But let’s actually talk about some of the most interesting neighborhoods for tourists in Besiktas district and some hotels in the best locations for a short visit.

Best Neighborhoods in Besiktas District 

Besiktas Neighborhood – Istanbul’s Famous Breakfast Place

areas in Istanbul
Besiktas

Besiktas neighborhood, as one of the most popular and lively areas of the European part of Istanbul, is known for fantastic Turkish breakfasts (there is a whole quarter with restaurants that serve only breakfast all day long), big student community, cultural events, various shops, and a football club.

It is great for a day visit from other neighborhoods or for a full romantic weekend or honeymoon since the number of stunning hotels with excellent service and amenities is high. Besiktas is also a fantastic area where to live in Istanbul for expats and nomads, even though it is pricey it is very safe.

This location will suit wonderfully different travelers – solo travelers, couples, and families with children. 

Most of the properties in this neighborhood have a swimming pool, spa complex, sauna, hammam, and gorgeous views. Some luxury hotels, such as Çırağan Palace Kempinski and Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus, for example, actually occupy the palace buildings.

They are not cheap but always deliver an outstanding experience. Also, they provide an opportunity to live in an Ottoman palace. Besides these super mega luxury properties, I also talk about other more budget-friendly options below.

TIP: Since hotels like Four seasons are usually very expensive for an average traveler, you can always come just to visit. Get a cup of coffee or chai or come for a spa treatment. This will allow you to enjoy the property. Other than that – outside guests are not permitted.
EXAMPLES OF WHERE TO STAY IN BESIKTAS IN NICE LOCATIONS

ORTAKOY HOTEL: A nice mid-budget hotel in a historic part of Besiktas near the boat terminal and famous Ortakoy mosque.

THE STAY BOSPHORUS: The same location as the previous hotel but in a more upscale style and full view of Bosphorus, 15th of July Martyrs Bridge, and Ortakoy Mosque. 

CONRAD ISTANBUL: 5-star chic hotel with indoor & outdoor pools and views of Bosphorus. It has a good location, close to the boat terminal, many famous Besiktas restaurants, and parks. Very well connected with other neighborhoods as it is next to different means of transportation.

SWISSOTEL THE BOSPHORUS: 5-star hotel for special occasions. It has an excellent location, close to Dolmabahce palace, and offers fantastic views. Besides that, it also has one of the coolest swimming pools in Istanbul which is best for people who visit Istanbul in summer when it’s hot.

Arnavutkoy Neighborhood – One of the Cutest Neighborhoods in Istanbul

Arnavutkoy Istanbul
Arnavutkoy

Arnavutkoy – the historical neighborhood of Istanbul in the Beşiktaş district is one of the most beautiful places in Istanbul where rich people live. It is an ideal place for walks along the Bosphorus, for social life, beautiful sunsets, photography, and of course visits to Mediterranean cuisine restaurants.

Do not try to find the main sights of Istanbul there. This area is about Art Nouveau architecture, curling streets, a mix of Turkish, Greek, Jewish and Albanian heritage, and fragrant strawberries (in summer).

I’ve learned about Arnavutköy from a local friend who told me this neighborhood became popular thanks to old Ottoman-era Greek houses on the banks of the Bosphorus. But after my first visit, I realized it had to be popular for many other reasons as well.

Arnavutkoy has its own unique vibe and style that you won’t find anywhere else in Istanbul. And most likely, when you visit, you won’t feel like you are in Turkey at all. To me personally, it felt like I was in one of the towns on the northern coast of Spain or somewhere in Greece.

SHOULD YOU STAY IN ARNAVUTKOY? 

If you are wondering whether you should stay in Arnavutkoy or not and when is the best time to visit, I have a separate post for it.

To answer these questions and many others, my guide to the Arnavutkoy neighborhood explains it all. Get inspired and get an idea of what it is like.

Bebek Neighborhood – Elite Part of Istanbul

Istanbul Bebek neighborhood

For local residents, Bebek has long been a separate elite area with a special lifestyle. The main attraction here is the road along the coast with famous restaurants, popular bars, and expensive villas.

Although it is customary to get to Bebek’s establishments not only by car but also by yacht (many restaurants have their own pier), the road with beautiful views that runs along the Bosphorus turns into a traffic jam on weekends and evenings. If you are coming to visit, better do it on a weekday during the day. 

Bebek is famous not only for very expensive and elite establishments. There is also a magnificent Bebek park located right on the coast. On one side of the park is the Egyptian Consulate, which occupies the historic building of the Khedive Palace, and on the other, the Bebek Mosque.

A short walk north brings you to a very import structure – Rumeli Hisari fortress. It is famous for two things. First, the fact that it was built very quickly – in just 139 days! And second – thanks to it Turks were able to capture Constantinople, the capital of the once great Byzantine Empire.

Bebek also has its own marina where it’s very pleasant to walk. In addition, the neighborhood is famous for the historical confectionery Meşhur Bebek Badem Ezmesi, which has been producing traditional Turkish sweets and has been operating since 1904, as well as several establishments specializing in baking waffles directly in front of you and working in Bebek since 1983.

WHY DO I RECOMMEND VISITING BEBEK?

Because it is just one charming neighborhood that doesn’t look similar to any other. You can start your journey from Arnavutkoy, walk towards Bebek while enjoying beautiful views of the Bosphorus and Bebek Bay.

SHOULD YOU STAY IN BEBEK?

I’d say no unless you visited Istanbul many times before. While Bebek is a wonderful Istanbul neighborhood to visit, it doesn’t make much sense to stay here on a first visit since you’ll miss the most famous sites.

Ortakoy Neighborhood

old area in Istanbul

One of the most famous areas in Istanbul is the Ortakoy neighborhood. It is known as one of the most instagrammable places in Istanbul – a luxurious embankment and a very beautiful mosque.

Another pride of the quarter is a market where you can buy unique handmade works of local craftsmen.

But the mosque and market are not the only reasons to visit. The Ortakoy district in Istanbul has a rich history and includes many attractions. Some of them are:

  • Hatice Sultan Palace
  • Orthodox Hagia Fokas Church (notable for its unique metal belfry)
  • Tarihi Husrev Kethuda Hammam
  • ETZ Ahayim Synagogue – active temple of Jewish religious culture. It is considered the oldest building in the modern Ortakoy district.
  • Bulgurcu Sk. (Street) – In the 17th century, Ortakey was a multicultural region. And Bulgurcu Sokak Street became a place for residential buildings of various national and religious cultures. They were all preserved very well and today, it’s a nice spot to walk and see them for yourself.

Even Ciragan Palace Kempinski (the one I mentioned above) is also an attraction in itself.

Technically, the Palace is located not in Ortakoy neighborhood but nearby Yildiz. The building was founded in 1863 and built in 1867 in order to add features of European culture to traditional Ottoman architecture. Initially, the palace was used for the residence of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II and for the meetings of the Turkish parliament. Later though it burned down.

In 1989, the palace was rebuilt as a five-star hotel. So now it attracts tourists not only as a hotel but as a historical and cultural architectural monument from the time of the Ottoman Empire. Feel free to visit but as a guest to the restaurant or spa.

best areas in Istanbul for tourists
areas in Istanbul
SHOULD YOU STAY IN ORTAKOY?

Yes, if you are after instagrammable photos, Bosphorus views from your hotel room, best stuffed mussels, and cruises on the Bosphorus.

Ortakoy is a good neighborhood where to stay in Istanbul to see the best of Besiktas, including Nisantasi, Arnavutkoy, and Bebek. Also, it is close to Karakoy, Galata area, and Taksim which many people prefer to visit on a first trip. 

EXAMPLES OF NICE AREAS & PLACES TO STAY IN ORTAKOY

CORNER HOT & HOT BUDGET: This is a great option for budget travelers. A 3-star hotel less than 1 kilometer away from Dolmabahce Palace offers clean rooms and American breakfast. This property works great for families and anyone who is looking to cook during their stay. Some rooms have a kitchen with an oven and stove.

THE STAY BOSPHORUS: A luxury hotel with very good service, views, and quality. It is less expensive than Four Seasons or Kempinski hotels but the level of experience is equal. Plus, the views here are the best.

Kurucesme Area

Kurucesme is another beautiful neighborhood on the banks of the Bosphorus between Ortakoy and Aranavutkoy. Although with all the beauty, it is also one of the most expensive areas in Istanbul.

The best way is to visit it on the way from Ortakoy towards Arnavutköy. Instead of taking a bus, better walk through Kurecesme, checking out all the sightseeing spots in all three neighborhoods.

Of the local attractions, I can mention the Church of Ayios Dimitrios, which is 300 years old. This Greek Orthodox church is known for having a cave with a holy spring.

Fora Park is located right on the banks of the Bosphorus. Here you can stroll, enjoying the magnificent view, or dine at one of the waterfront restaurants.

Ulus Park is another must-visit park. Go there for the sweeping view. And, as in all other districts in Istanbul, this area has a few cafes with panoramic views as well.

SHOULD YOU STAY IN KURUCESME?

This neighborhood is perfect for honeymooners and couples on romantic escapes. First of all, because it is really pretty with cute little streets with a luxurious feel.

Second, because there is an opulent Mandarin Oriental hotel along the Bosphorus on the waterfront offering a high-end experience.

Beyoglu District in Istanbul

areas in istanbul
Beyoglu

The Beyoglu district is located on the northern shore of the Golden Horn. This area is known for must-visit places in Istanbul such as the Galata Tower (the symbol of Istanbul), Taksim Square, and the long pedestrian street that never sleeps Istiklal Street.

Also, it is famous for nightclubs, trendy restaurants and bars, fish stalls by the Bosphorus where to try famous fish sandwiches or rolls, and many more things.

If you decide to stay in this district, try to avoid that part above Tarlabas Boulevard. My advice – do not consider hotels or apartments in the zone where, for instance, this hotel is located. Until now, it is still considered not that nice. However, the local government is planning to rebuild it, so with time, everything should change for the better (I guess).

Who Will Benefit From Staying in Beyoglu District in Istanbul?

Beyoglu is a wonderful area where to stay in Istanbul for many reasons and for many people. It has some of the best neighborhoods in Istanbul for tourists, including hipster areas, very safe and luxurious neighborhoods, and streets best for nightlife or quiet nights. 

You just need to look closely at each neighborhood as the area where Beyoglu is built is very diverse and offers tons of hotels and flats to choose from. All neighborhoods within this district are very different from each other and suit different needs.

I discuss below some of the most popular Istanbul areas in Beyoglu for a stay and visit.

Cihangir Neighborhood

Cihangir neighborhood
Cihangir Istanbul

Cihangir is the most popular area in Istanbul for foreigners and local youth. It is quite expensive but very cool and elegant.

People love it for that posh feeling that it creates together with its proximity to the Taksim Square, Karakoy, tram line, and ferry port. It is a residential area in Istanbul where rich and famous live, including Turkish opera stars, writers, and artists.

Among the advantages of this neighborhood are a pleasant vibe, great atmosphere, safety, and good location. The neighborhood itself is small.

Besides cute cafes (like Kat Restaurant or Kaktus, for instance, famous for fantastic breakfast in Beyoglu) there are no sights. But everything that people are traveling to Istanbul for is nearby. And the vibe is truly special.

The main disadvantage is housing. You need a lot of luck to find a decent flat (or even a room) at an adequate price. If you are considering staying in Cihangir, take a look at Dreamer’s B&B. We stayed there once and it was an excellent stay on a budget (more or less).

Karakoy Neighborhood

Karakoy neighborhood

Karakoy is located in Beyoglu district between the Galata Bridge, Kemeralti Street, and the Kilic Ali Pasa Mosque.

It is a former port that used to be a prestigious commercial and banking district. To this day, Karakoy has interesting architectural buildings from Byzantine times. After the fall of Constantinople, the Venetians, Catalans, Jews and, of course, the Ottoman Turks began to live here. And at the beginning of the 20th century, a wave of Russian emigration brought its own flavor.

The coastal part of Karakoy today is known as a party district. Lively cafes, coffee houses, and bars fill every square meter of the local streets.

In the building of the former church is located the famous cheap soup place Karaköy Corba Evi (must-try when in the area). And nearby Balik Durum Mehmet Usta is another amazing place for some of the best fish wraps.

What can you do in Karakoy? Drink coffee in one of the cafes, wander around the alleys in search of street art, listen to street musicians, hang out in a pub. And in general, enjoy the atmosphere. Also, pay a visit to the old historical Hamam Kilic Ali Pasa.

SHOULD YOU STAY IN KARAKOY?

Istanbul districts

Karakoy is an excellent neighborhood to stay in Istanbul for people who want to be closer to the main tourist attractions but don’t mind a bit of the chaos and noise.

During the day it is always very crowded and bustling with life. In the evening it stays loud until late due to endless cafes and restaurants. In the early morning, it is frequented by seagulls who like to wake up residents with their choking call sounds.

From Karakoy, you can walk on foot to the main attractions in Fatih district or other neighborhoods in Beyoglu. And the pier from where you can go anywhere is also a few steps away.

EXAMPLES OF WHERE TO STAY IN KARAKOY

ADA KARAKOY HOTEL: a chic hotel in a very good location with beautiful views, for a mid-range budget.

FAMA KARAKOY: relatively new hotel in an ideal location on a quiet street, yet very centrally located. 

NABU HOTEL: a stylish, modern hotel with clean rooms and all main attractions close by. The only thing – it is facing a busy street with bars, so request a room on the quiet side.

Galata neighborhood

Istanbul Galata neighborhood

I guess by the name you can make a conclusion that Galata is a quarter near the Galata tower. For some tourists, this is the best area to stay in Istanbul. However, you need to remember that Galata is located on the hill. Going back and forth is not very comfortable for everyone.

When my parents were visiting and we brought them to Karakoy-Galata-Taksim for a day, they got pretty tired from constant walks up and down the hill. But what also was tiring was the number of people in the Galata area. There are just too many of them. Always.

However, the location of Galata is very central. 5 minutes down the hill and here is the T1 tram stop which can bring you to the Old town of Istanbul or anywhere else. 5-7 minutes climbing uphill, and here you have the entrance to the metro. 5-7 minutes in another direction and voila, you are on Istiklal street with cafes, bars, and lots of entertainment.

Prices in cafes in Galata are lower than in Sultanahmet. Even if it is loud and busy during the day, nights are usually quiet. If you want noise and fun, then Istiklal, a party street, is only a 5-10 minutes walk. Drink, walk, and dance until the morning. 

SHOULD YOU STAY IN GALATA NEIGHBORHOOD?
Galata neighborhood
Galata neighborhood in Istanbul

While Galata neighborhood is very central and full of life, it is not a good place where to stay in Istanbul for families with little children who need strollers. Also, it is not a good area for people who have difficulty walking. Here, you’ll need to walk up and down even on a quick trip to the nearest store. 

Not all streets are easily accessible by taxi as they are narrow and pedestrian. So you may need to walk to your accommodation from a drop-off point. With large suitcases, it is not everyone’s cup of tea.

As for me, Galata is a wonderful neighborhood for a short stay like 3 or 4 days in Istanbul or a quick layover if you feel comfortable with the hilly area. In this case, you can be in the center of events as the neighborhood seems to be close to everything.

NICE HOTELS WHERE TO STAY IN GALATA NEIGHBORHOOD

DECAMONDO GALATA: excellent hotel in an excellent location with rooms designed in the style of the old days – with red brick, stairs with carved wooden balusters, and low tables.

WORLD HOUSE BOUTIQUE HOTEL: a lovely hotel where new and old styles are successfully combined together. There is a lot of wood in decoration and old red brick. Rooms have a lot of greenery, paintings, and antiques. You’ll find here a terrace overlooking the Galata Tower and a cafe on the ground floor where to sit in a cozy lobby with authentic Turkish furniture.

Area of Taksim Square and Istiklal Street

Istiklal street in Istanbul

Well, well, well, famous Istiklal Street. What a mistake we made on our very first visit when decided to stay near Istiklal Street. We stayed in this Apartment (which was actually very nice) and were not able to fall asleep until 4-5 in the morning.

Goodness gracious, you do need to love parties and loud music to choose this Istanbul neighborhood for your stay. Even with plastic windows, 2 or 3 streets away from Istiklal, you’ll still hear all noises like they are coming from behind the door.

This Istanbul district is the heart of modern Istanbul where fun lasts until morning. Shops stay open until 22:00, coffee shops, bars, nightclubs, lights, crowds create a feeling of celebration. But this celebration never stops. It goes on and on every day of the week with Fridays and Saturdays being the worst.

Think twice before choosing this place for your stay in Istanbul unless you are traveling to Taksim in winter when things are much calmer in this location.

In my opinion, it is good to visit for local food and shopping. Although, when choosing a hotel in the Taksim district, keep in mind that you will never guess whether there will be a night bar or a disco under the windows of the room in your hotel or Airbnb.

MY TWO PICKS IN THE TAKSIM/ISTIKLAL AREA WHERE TO STAY

THE MARMARA PERA: The stylish rooms have an amazing view of Istanbul and only a few minutes away from the Galata Tower and Taksim Square. There is also a rooftop pool and restaurant. With close proximity, this hotel is still quiet.

HAMMAMHANE: A gorgeous hotel with some of the best reviews that comes at a very good price, and also in a rather quiet location.

Fatih District in Istanbul

areas in Istanbul

Fatih district is the most popular and densely populated area in Istanbul. Attractions here are at every corner and you can easily reach them on foot. Among all the areas in Istanbul, Fatih district is one of the largest. It consists of many neighborhoods but the most famous (or known) tourist quarters are:

Balat-Fener Neighborhood

What an interesting neighborhood Balat is (have you heard about it?) Probably not.

Until recently, no one even talked about it or planned to visit. As a matter of fact, Balat used to be unsafe. But today it is one of the most colorful areas in Istanbul.

Balat-Fener is the former Jewish quarter with a small population. Once you get there, it seems that you entered another world but not the center of the metropolis. In Balat, you can feel the spirit of the past, take vivid photographs and enjoy the beauty of fading antiquity.

Since it’s located very close to the city center, getting there is easy and quick. It is a 10-minute tram ride from Eminonu and there is a ferry from the port of Fener to Uskudar.

Despite the lack of world-famous sights, magnificent palaces, and impressive mosques, every traveler should visit this corner of antiquity. Balat neighborhood is famous for its non-standard architecture, quirky cafes, and conservative, slow-paced rhythm of life. When I am in the area, I always try to stop for Dibek coffee or Turkish breakfast which is served all day long in some cafes.

Check out my photos to see how cute this neighborhood is.

Balat
streets of Balat
Balat cafes
Istanbul Balat neighborhood
SHOULD YOU STAY IN BALAT NEIGHBORHOOD?

When it comes to accommodation, there are not a lot of options. Balat is not very popular yet and since it used to be a residential area, there were no hotels built specifically for touristic purposes. Some locals turned their own properties into bed & breakfasts and guest houses but the majority of those are of average quality.

I like only one hotel in this neighborhood of Istanbul – Hotel Troya Balat. Prices start from $65 per night and it is really one of the best hotels in that area. There are also a few airbnbs but they don’t get good reviews. This flat offers a great price, location, and reviews.

Is it a good idea to stay in the Balat-Fener neighborhood in Istanbul on your first visit?

Yes, if you want to save on accommodation and experience a unique side of Istanbul. The Golden Horn Bay (all the way to Santralistanbul Museum) has a few fascinating places to visit too. And, as mentioned earlier, getting to the historical part of Istanbul is easy and quick as well.

Beyazit Neighborhood

areas in Istanbul

Beyazit neighborhood in Istanbul is a small neighborhood in the central part of the Fatih district. It actually is so small that you can walk around it within two hours. A lot of tourists know this neighborhood because of the Grand Bazaar, Beyazit Square and Beyazit Mosque.

Beyazit Square has lots of great places to shop and eat (like many other parts in Istanbul). And a few nice hotels are just nearby.

The advantages of staying in Beyazit are great location and close proximity to the tram stop and metro. Most of the historical places are located along the tram and metro lines which makes it easy to go to other parts of the city, including the airport.

The disadvantages of staying here for some people may be constant bustle and noise. Most of the city buses and minibusses arrive at Beyazit Square. With a noisy bazaar atmosphere, lots of cars and public transportation, and many people, this area in Istanbul feels so busy and often overwhelming.

WHERE TO STAY IN BEYAZIT AREA OF ISTANBUL

Beyazit can be a good alternative to the Sultanahmet area since accommodation here is somewhat cheaper. So if you want to be closer to the Grand Bazaar and Sultanahmet neighborhood, I recommend the following two hotels in Beyazit:

BEETHOVEN HOTEL & SUIT: Very clean hotel with friendly staff, good breakfasts (as per reviews), and great sea views from the restaurant. The tram stop is right there nearby. Reviews are great and ratings are high!

HOTEL NILES: This hotel is located next to the Beethoven hotel and is also famous for its cleanliness, location, quietness, and views from the terrace. Here, you can ask the staff to heat the marble floor to be able to have your own Turkish bath.

Eminonu

Eminonu Istanbul

Eminonu neighborhood is part of Old Istanbul, located in the northern part of Fatih district on the Golden Horn Bay cape. It largely preserved its medieval appearance and in many aspects looks very similar to what it looked like in the past.

Until 2008 Eminonu used to be a district but then it became just one of the neighborhoods of Fatih. The neighborhood itself and the architecture are very old: narrow streets, numerous mosques, ancient abandoned churches, and buildings seem to remind about ancient times.

Most of the buildings in Eminonu are offices, workshops, restaurants, and stores. The neighborhood is small but always crowded. Therefore, no matter what time of the day you come in, expect it to be busy and loud. At night though, the old Eminonu plunges into silence and gets quiet.

The northern part of the district is a major transport hub of the city. Buses, high-speed tram, and ferries depart from there. If you are coming to Fatih district by ferry, the Eminonu ferry terminal is a place where you’ll arrive.

The main attractions of the Eminonu neighborhood are Galata Bridge, New Mosque, Spice Bazaar (or Egyptian Bazaar), Suleymaniye Mosque and multiple diners with Turkish food.

For me personally, Eminonu is an important neighborhood to visit but not to stay in. The only hotel I personally recommend is SEFA-i HURREM SUIT HOUSE. But honestly, I highly advise you to choose nearby Sirkeci or Sultanahmet neighborhood instead. Below, where I talk about them, I explain why.

Laleli And Aksaray

Laleli and Aksaray

I don’t think a lot of travelers heard about these two Istanbul neighborhoods located next to each other since they are not really famous for any must-see landmarks. Generally, Laleli and Aksaray are known for wholesale markets.

Some people who are traveling to Istanbul on a budget and purchasing a package tour from a travel agency, most likely end up living in Laleli. Why? Because prices for accommodation are lower than in other touristy areas of Istanbul.

SHOULD YOU CHOOSE THE LALELI OR AKSARAY AREA FOR A LIVING?

In my honest opinion – no, if you are visiting Istanbul for the first time and have only a few days in the city.

On the one hand, there is an excellent transport hub. Aksaray metro station and T1 tram stop, from where you can reach Istanbul’s main attractions in 10-15 minutes, are just nearby.

Laleli Mosque is near and it takes only 10-15 minutes to get on foot to Bayazit Mosque and Grand Bazaar. In fact, if you choose to stay in Prestige Hotel (which is next to the Beyazit neighborhood and is one of the nicest hotels) then it’ll take even less time.

On the other hand, Laleli and Aksaray neighborhoods have a lot of merchants, wholesale buyers from the countries of former USSR countries, and tourists on package tours. Additionally, in the late evening, it doesn’t feel completely safe, especially for solo female travelers.

In general, I would not recommend choosing this area unless you have a particular plan on what to do there. Although some tourists stay in Laleli and Aksaray and are pretty happy. 

Sultanahmet Neighborhood

best neighborhoods in Istanbul
Showing my parents the most famous areas in Istanbul

Everything is pretty much clear with the Sultanahmet neighborhood. Everyone seems to know about it since this is the very heart of historical Istanbul!

Narrow old streets, authentic boutique hotels, souvenir shops, sights at every turn… staying in Sultanahmet feels like living in a museum, seriously.

This neighborhood is really a great choice when thinking about where to stay in Istanbul. Even though it is not the number one area where Mark and I want to live (we are fans of the Asian side of Istanbul), for a short-term stay, Sultanahmet is just excellent.

Although when choosing a hotel, please note while some hotels in Sultanahmet are located closer to the tram line, others are further from the tram and closer to the Sea of ​​Marmara. Between the sea and the tram stop, the area is hilly, so for some people it may be difficult to walk up and down the hill in the heat. But closer to the sea you are, the less noisy it is. There is also a promenade near the sea which is perfect for evening walks.

HOTELS IN SULTANAHMET WE LIKE

ZEYNEP SULTAN HOTEL: Clean, cozy and quiet hotel a few steps away from Hagia Sophia. Rooms have everything you need, including electric hot pots. Breakfast is served on a beautiful open terrace and in the evening, there is offered tea and baked goodies.

BOUTIQUE SAINT SOPHIA: The location of this hotel is the same as the previous one. Here, you’ll have a stylish clean room, delicious breakfast, and a view.

But for more hotels and ideas for things to do, don’t miss my post about the Sultanahmet neighborhood!

Sirkeci

Sirkeci

In the very eastern corner of Fatih district, where the waters of the Golden Horn meet with the Bosphorus Strait, the Sirkeci neighborhood begins. This is one of our favorite areas where to stay in Istanbul and where to eat some famous Turkish foods.

Despite the fact that the train station is located here, the area is actually very nice. Also, it is one of the best neighborhoods to stay in Istanbul for tourists due to the number of public transportation and location. And these are the reasons why:

– There are Sirkeci and Gulhane tram stops that are close to any hotel you choose to stay in. Hopping on a tram means that you can get pretty quickly to Dolmabahce Palace, Taksim Square, Cihangir neighborhood with many vintage shops and lovely cafes.

– Gulhane Park and a restaurant on a hill overlooking the Bosphorus are in the Sirkeci neighborhood too.

– Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, and the Blue Mosque are only 10-15 minutes walk away.

– 5-10 minutes walk in another direction brings you to the ferries. And with a ferry, in less than 30 minutes you are on the Istanbul Asian side.

– 15 minutes walk on the Galata bridge to the funicular and 5 minutes by funicular bring you to the beginning of Istiklal Street.

Besides the fact that the Sirkeci neighborhood is perfectly located not far from all Istanbul attractions, it is also relatively easy to get to Sabikha Gokcen Airport from there. Just cross the Bosphorus by ferry or metro and hop on a bus near the Kadikoy pier straight to the airport.

WHERE TO STAY IN SIRKECI AREA IN ISTANBUL

Sirkeci is an excellent and convenient Istanbul neighborhood for your stay. I always recommend it to all my friends and family members who come to Istanbul. The hotels I personally choose are:

ORIENT EXPRESS HOTEL: a posh hotel in a very good area at a very good price. In winter, prices start at $50 per night. For a hotel of this level, it is a bargain.

SIRKECI MANSION: A dream-like boutique hotel with comfortable and clean rooms. There is breakfast, afternoon tea, sauna, pool, gym and Turkish bath on the property. And, as a bonus, the hotel has a perfect location!

Sisli District

best areas in Istanbul

Sisli district is one of the largest districts in Istanbul. Even though it doesn’t have access to the sea, the entire area is very modern with well-developed infrastructure. It is also the most popular area in Istanbul for fancy shopping.

In this district, full of fashion boutiques and shopping centers, there are new upscale hotels that are suitable for both a business trip and for those who appreciate modern style and comfort.

Sisli contains some of the most prestigious neighborhoods and they can be a good pick for your stay in Istanbul. The most known neighborhoods among tourists are Mecidiyekoy, Bomonti, Nisantasi, and Kurtulus.

Nisantasi Neighborhood

areas in Istanbul

Istanbul’s wealthy neighborhood Nisantasi is a luxurious area of the city. It has developed infrastructure, galleries, boutiques, countless cafes, restaurants, bars, and other entertainment venues. Stores of all the top brands from France, Italy, and Turkey are concentrated here.

If you are a fan of expensive shopping, inviting storefronts and gourmet cafes, this is the place for you. Local beau monde and movie stars also like to spend time in the restaurants of this neighborhood, so chances of meeting someone famous here are very high. 

Even if you don’t like shopping, you may find it interesting to visit Nisantasi. The main attraction here is the Ataturk Museum. It takes up space in the house where the great reformer lived in the 20th century. He radically changed the life of Turkey and its citizens.

Among other things to do in Nisantasi are visits to art galleries during the day and various clubs and bars at night (if you are a bar person). After the sun sets over the horizon, Taksim is not the only place for nightlife.

Between walks and shopping in the daytime, relax in one of the cafes with a cup of aromatic coffee. There are a lot of quirky cafe shops as pretty much in all other neighborhoods in Istanbul.

SHOULD YOU STAY IN NISANTASI? 

It all depends. On a first visit, as with a few other wonderful neighborhoods that are a bit far from main attractions, it probably doesn’t make much sense to stay here unless you are really into shopping.

From Nisantasi it is not very convenient to get to the historical places, so if you stay here, you need to be ready to spend time on getting around Istanbul and thinking thoroughly about the route.

However, Nisantasi is very popular for business trips and returning visits.

A FEW NICE HOTELS IN NISANTASI NEIGHBORHOOD IN SISLI

THE STAY NISANTASI: a designer hotel in a central part of Nisantasi with marble bathrooms and chic rooms.

ADA SUITES NISANTASI: a 3-star hotel for mid-budget in a very good location close to public transport that gets you to Besiktas seaport within a short time. This hotel is the best pick if you want to stay in Nisantasi but at the same time be close to Besiktas and have easy access to the Asian side.

Istanbul Neighborhoods & Districts on Asian Side

If you ask my opinion about where to stay in Istanbul on your visit, I will answer right away that you have to choose the Asian side. Why? For many reasons.

First of all, the Asian part of Istanbul is less touristy, prices are slightly lower than on the European side, and the choice of food is huge.

Second, “Asia” feels less hectic and much quieter than Europe (shouldn’t it be the other way?). Also, it has a beautiful promenade great for evening walks or a morning jog, authentic teahouses with sea views, several large green parks, streets with small vintage shops, and big shopping centers.

Third, the Asian side has a few of its own wonderful food and clothes markets that are also worth visiting. And, from “Asia” it is very easy to get to ”Europe”. Ferries run from early morning to late evening every 30 minutes.

I can be singing an ode to Istanbul’s Asian side for a long time. But let me actually talk more about each district and what you can find there.

Kadikoy District & MODA Neighborhood

Istanbul in spring
Moda in Kadikoy

Kadikoy district is the most popular among the Asian districts of Istanbul. It is also one of the oldest ones. Locals dearly love it for the 14-kilometer-long Baghdad street – a real paradise for party-goers and lovers of exclusive shopping sites.

Kadikoy has an incredibly beautiful Ferry Port Haydarpasa, an old Opera House Sureyya, and ancient Tuesday market Sali Pazari.

Not far from the Kadikoy pier, life is in full swing. The quarters remind very much of Taksim or Karakoy. There are multiple shops, pharmacies, another market, lots and lots of various cafes, street food stalls with low prices, and old historic tram. Nearby are parks and promenades (in summer with lots of flowers and greenery) which are great for travelers with children.

Kadikoy district consists of a few neighborhoods. But one of the most vibrant ones (and our favorite where we live) is definitely MODA. It is one of the hipster neighborhoods in Istanbul with cozy cafes, colorful streets, and a spirit of independence and freedom. Moda is very safe and very different from all other locations in Istanbul. 

Why Kadikoy is Among the Best Areas to Stay in Istanbul?

best areas to stay in Istanbul

Kadikoy

If you are flying to Sabikha Gokcen airport, Kadikoy is the closest neighborhood. Getting there from Sabiha is very convenient.

Kadikoy also has excellent infrastructure and access to public transport. Right next to the pier, there is a Marmaray metro station. In a few minutes by metro, you get to Sirkeci station which is the gateway to all main Istanbul attractions. 20 minutes of a pleasant boat trip brings you either to the Galata bridge area or to Besiktas.

Additionally to that, Kadikoy is a wonderful base if you plan to visit the Princes Islands.

Choose Kadikoy if you are looking for a peaceful stay in a very beautiful area of Istanbul.

WHERE TO STAY IN KADIKOY MODA NEIGHBORHOOD

Regarding accommodation, there are dozens of hotels, guest houses, and private flats to choose from. The hotels I can recommend with confidence are:

HOSTEL BAHANE: Even those people who don’t stay in hostels will want to book a room here. Exceptionally clean and cozy rooms, with heating and wifi, the property is in the middle of Moda. The hostel has a restaurant and bar. On different aggregates, it gets only the best reviews.

JULIET ROOMS & KITCHEN: One of our favorite hotels where Mark and I often come for breakfast or midday snack. The hotel is a bit farther from transportation but in a very quiet location. It is sparkling clean and offers healthy breakfasts.

ISTANBUL LIFE HOTEL: With friendly staff, clean rooms, delicious breakfasts, a good price, and the best location. No wonder this hotel is always booked.

DOUBLE TREE BY HILTON – MODA: A chic five-star hotel is one of the best hotels in Istanbul. Being close to the sea and having a small rooftop pool, the hotel offers fantastic views.

Uskudar District

best areas in Istanbul

If you want to see non-European Turkey while visiting Istanbul, then you need to travel to Uskudar. It is a little smaller than Kadıköy but all the necessary infrastructure for the traveler is present here. Including a nice promenade and a park.

This area offers beautiful sunset views of the Bosphorus. And many people know it by the Maiden’s Tower attraction. Speaking of which, it is easy to get there from the Uskudar embankment. Beylerbeyi Palace is within walking distance too.

Uskudar is famous for its countless mosques and fish market. Some people travel to this district only for the market’s sake.

If you decide to stay in Uskudar, only 15-20 minutes by ferry and you are by the Galata bridge, and accordingly in the area of all the main attractions. Across the Bosphorus to Kabatas – and there is the Dolmabahce Palace.

Uskudar district is also huge and with many neighborhoods. But all of them will suit those who are looking for a more conservative lifestyle and a slow pace of life.

SHOULD YOU STAY IN USKUDAR ON YOUR FIRST VISIT?

I love Uskudar with its many cute residential areas and I always say that you should plan at least a week in Istanbul to be able to travel to Uskudar. But with all of that, I don’t think that Uskudar is a good pick for first-time visitors.

Why? The reason is similar to that one about Balat and Nisantasi. Uskudar is somewhat far from all the main touristic routes, plus coming to stay there on a first trip may give a bit wrong impression of the city due to its conservatism.

You’ll enjoy it more if you spend a couple of nights in another neighborhood first before moving to Uskudar. Or if you book accommodation in Uskudar on a returning visit, after getting a good acquaintance with Istanbul.  

However, if you are moving to Istanbul for a long period of time, Uskudar is one of the best neighborhoods to live in with family or on your own.

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25 Comments

  1. I went to Istanbul once but had awful weather and ended up not taking any photos at all! Your photos are beautiful and a few new places to add to my list for when I finally go back! Great post!

    1. With Istanbul you never know what’s the weather going to be like, especially in the winter. I hope you’ll get a chance to visit again!

  2. I’ve always wanted to visit Turkey. I had a flight booked in 2015, but it, unfortunately, was cancelled. Your post makes Turkey and Istanbul a higher priority now. Your pictures are gorgeous! I read a book a few years back that heavily features Bebek, so it is interesting to know that it is an elitist neighbourhood just as it was portrayed in the book! Thank you for such a great post and reigniting my desire to go to Turkey!

    1. Thank you, Erica, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I am really glad this post inspired you!

  3. Istanbul is one of those places that blew my mind when I first visited and my only regret is that it’s too far for a revisit! Thanks for the amazing post though; if I ever get to move here, I know where to go!!

  4. Hey this is a great post! We´ve been to Istanbul for the first time in November last year and were struggling to decide which neighbourhood is the best to stay for first time visitors. We loved it and will surely be back, so I´m definitely saving this post, x

  5. Meenal Luther says:

    We are planning to migrate to Istanbul. Your article seems to be of great help. Could you advise which is the best area in Istanbul to buy a house or a commercial property for investment towards citizenship?

    1. Hi Meenal, I am happy to hear you found my blog helpful! I am actually working on another article that is going to answer these questions. It should be up on the blog within the next 2 weeks or so. I’ll send you an email once it’s published if that works.

  6. Chansone Durden says:

    We love Turkey and have visited Trabzone, Izmir, Bodrum, Antalya and planning to go, again. Is the hotel Pera Palace in a convenient neighborhood? It looks so nice, but not sure if it’s is in a convenient location?

    Thank you for your posts and write ups,
    Chansone

    1. Yes, Pera Palace is located in a nice and safe neighborhood, although it is loud and pretty busy. So I guess you’d want to ask for a quiet room away from the main road. We have been to this hotel, it’s really beautiful, like a museum and I believe Agatha Christie and some other famous personas stayed there.

  7. I too live in Istanbul, near Kurucesme and Arnavutkoy, and enjoyed seeing your review of the different areas. We like the Moda area, Uskudar and further up the Bosphorus. Have you been to Kusguncuk yet? It is an easy hike from Uskudar and you pass two real great Sosyal (public) restaurants. One is a mansion, one is a pizza place. They were open in Dec 2020. Thanks for the great ideas you share.

    1. Oh, I love both Kurucesme and Arnavutkoy, you are lucky to live there! 😉 We were looking for an apartment in that area for a long time and couldn’t find anything nice within our budget.
      I have been to Kuzguncuk, yes, quite a few times actually and while I absolutely love it, I would not live there. It is such a beautiful area but it didn’t click in terms of a move there. Plus, apartments on that side are more expensive and everything seems to be far.
      By the way, one of my favorite places to eat in Kuzguncuk is Hatice Anne cafe. Not sure if you have been there because it’s somewhat hidden and difficult to find but the food is amazing. Everything is home-cooked and owners are the sweetest people. They have the best dolma in entire Istanbul 🙂 and stuffed eggplant but everything is delicious, really. The lady doesn’t speak English but communicating was not a problem. Google doesn’t show the right location, it shows the cafe near the ferry terminal but in reality, it’s across the road in the building near the ATM machine on the second floor. At first looks like you are entering someone’s house but the cafe is right there on the second floor. Very authentic and nice 🙂

  8. After reading your profile and Istanbul neighborhood article , i now announce you as my travel and lifestyle goddes !
    Salute…from an Asian guy who is dreaming to live like your style .

    1. Hey Frano, yay, glad to hear that!
      As for the lifestyle, to be able to live in a similar way, the only thing you need is to find a way how to make money online. Once you work remotely and have a solid income, it is easy enough to become a nomad. There are a lot of places (including Turkey) where you can live as a foreigner. Goodluck!

  9. Thanks for featuring Istanbul. Very precise and detailed information. I have been searching for this kind of travel trip information. You’ve done it. Interesting and informative. Hoping to visit this place after the pandemic. Thanks Anya for your time. Jane,

    1. Thank you, Jane, for stopping by and leaving this comment. I am so glad to hear that the information I give is useful!

  10. Rukhsar Osman Memon says:

    Hii Anya, wow your all information is very true n good n pictures are soo beautiful, thankyou for Hotels info..n manymore, I really like Istanbul very much specially Bebek n Syriyer-Bursa… Turkey is very beautiful country ❤️ I love Turkey

    1. Hi Rukhsar, thank you so much for stopping by to leave your comment! This is so motivating and makes me want to write more! 🙂
      And I love Turkey too, one of my favorite countries so far!

  11. Christine says:

    Hi Anya! I am visiting Turkey early next month and your blog is so helpful and your pictures lovely! We fly into Istanbul on a Saturday afternoon and then on Sunday morning fly to Datca, where we will be rock climbing for 3 weeks. I am sad that I’ll only be in Istanbul for 1 night, but if possible I’d like to at least walk around and be a tourist for a few hours. Do you have suggestions for which town we should stay in? Safety is important and ideally, not terribly far from the airport. Please let me know if you have suggestions. Thank you!
    Christine

    1. Hi Christine, can you tell me more information about this quick visit? Which airport do you fly to, Sabiha Gokcen or IATA?
      I think you are coming to Sabiha since the next day you fly to Datca (and all domestic flights depart from there).

      In this case, I recommend you book a hotel not far from Sabiha airport or even in the airport and then take a direct bus from the airport to Kadikoy (to the last stop), that’s where you’ll find Moda neighborhood (famous for many cafes, restaurants, promenade, cute colorful streets, old tram, amazing sunsets). This is a very old neighborhood in Istanbul that deserves a separate visit and is as popular as Sultanahmet, Galata, etc.
      Spend some time in Moda, walking around and trying local food then if you still have time, hop on a ferry to Karakoy (do it during the sunset), spend an hour or two there (try their famous fish sandwich here or nearby shops, all are good) and return back to Kadikoy by ferry. In Kadikoy, take a bus back to the airport to go to your hotel. In Kadikoy, if budget allows, you can have a food tour (preorder in advance). During a few hours, the guide will be able to introduce you to local cuisine and show you around. It may be much better than just walking on your own.
      Buses to/from the airport stop approximately here but if you can’t find it simply ask someone where to find a bus to Sabiha and they’ll point you out in the right direction. You’ll also see a booth there saying Havabus or Havaist, this is where buses stop. Each bus also has a signboard on the top with the name of the airport they go to. Make sure you board the right bus. You can also take a cab but it will take almost as much time as by bus and will be more expensive, plus a driver may cheat.
      For the hotel (not sure what your budget is) but I’d recommend Movenpick or even ISG hotel. The first one has a free shuttle but the second one is located right on the territory of the airport, staying there will definitely save you time. Since you won’t have much time in Istanbul, it would be much better to stay in the airport from where it’s easy and quick to take a bus to Moda, Kadikoy. You can even spend the entire day there until late night and return back to your hotel on time.

      If you fly to IATA airport, then I’d recommend a different plan. Let me know

  12. Hi. Great post! Just a quick edit, under the section “Karakoy Neighborhood” in the sixth paragraph, I think you wrote Kadikoy instead of Karakoy.

    Your post helped a lot, by the way. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Bob, for catching that! I updated.

  13. Hello,
    I would love to visit Istambul in November, I love everething from Turkey and i have no idea why !
    some people are telling me is dangerous . Do you know wich are the best places to stay hotel etc,
    for a solo tourist woman. wich airport it will be for me travelin from USA, thank you thank you so very much

    1. Hi Sonia,
      Many people tend to say that Istanbul is dangerous for some reason, often not being to the city on their own. Istanbul is safe, including for solo female travelers! You just need to avoid a few sketchy areas (but bad areas are present in any large city) and I mention them too.

      There is a large list of areas where you can stay as a solo traveler. For the first visit, I’d recommend you choose between Sultanahmet, Hocapasa, Eminonu (although Eminonu is pretty hectic with a lot of street sellers and just very busy life, for a woman from a western world country who is not well traveled yet, staying in this neighborhood can give a wrong impression of the city). Other great places where to stay for solo female travelers are Cihangir, Galata area, Karakoy (all of them are on European side), and Moda on Asian side. The choice is really big! The selection of the hotel/airbnb depends on your budget but there are really a lot of options to choose from!

      And to answer your last question, if you are flying directly from the USA, you will land in IST airport. But if you make a transfer in one of the European cities then you may arrive in Sabiha. It is difficult to say for sure since I don’t know your route.

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