Fascinating, compelling, more than slightly frenetic – Istanbul is one of Europe’s great cities, as well as its largest. With a hotel scene as wildly varied as the city’s sights and districts, it can be tough to pin down where to base yourself among the huge collection of boutique, luxury and imaginatively converted hotels.
While the old city, Sultanahmet, is full of Istanbul’s biggest attractions including Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, many visitors prefer Beyoglu and Karakoy on the other side of the Golden Horn.
Here’s a selection of 10 of the best to get you started.
The best hotels in Istanbul are:
Best for being in the thick of things: Occidental The Public, Booking.com
Best for families: Hammamhane, Booking.com
For ultra-modern luxury: Raffles Istanbul, Booking.com
Best for city views: Witt Istanbul Hotel, Booking.com
Best for arty-chic: Hotel Bankerhan, Booking.com
Best for classic elegance: Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet, Booking.com
Best for friendly charm: Hotel Empress Zoë, Booking.com
Best for the sights: Yasmak Sultan, Booking.com
Best for laid-back chic: TomTom Suites, Booking.com
Best for city escapes: Sumahan on the Water, Booking.com
Forgive the slightly daft name and enjoy the fact that you’ll be in the throbbing heart of Beyoglu, specifically just off the main pedestrianized artery Istiklal Caddesi. The style is eclectic, to say the least – lots of exposed brickwork, colorful art on the walls, the odd vintage touch, plus some rooms with terraces (worth paying extra for). Pan-European food is served in 1901 Cafe and Bistro, and the lobby bar branches out into an attractive courtyard.
Price: Doubles from £144
Surrounded by the antiques shops and trendy cafes of Cukurcuma, Hammamhane is built around the newly restored Cukurcuma Hammami Turkish baths. The style is a cushy mix of rustic and industrial chic, with exposed brick walls and beamed ceilings. They all come with kitchenettes and plenty of room for extra beds and cots, as well as private terraces. There’s also a family room with its own garden and adjoining rooms.
Price: Doubles from £149
Neighborhood: Zorlu Center
Set away from central Istanbul in the shiny Zorlu Center and the business district – but easily reached by metro – Raffles Istanbul is as stylishly modern as its sleek surroundings. Contemporary but by no means minimalist, the rooms mingle neutral decor with discreet splashes of Turkish art, as well as sweeping views of the city. Enjoy top-class pan-Asian cuisine in Isokyo after cocktails in the Long Bar, or a lavish afternoon tea in the Lavinia Lounge. There’s a spa, too, with indoor and outdoor pools.
Price: Doubles from £746
In a handy spot between Beyoglu and the Bosphorus waterfront, Witt has been creatively designed by leading Istanbul studio Autoban. But there’s comfort too among the slick contemporary elegance, as well as marble kitchenettes. The style leans heavily on Fifties modernism, which works beautifully with the wooden floors and mirrored brickwork. If your room doesn’t have its own terrace, head up to the roof and chill out in the garden, soaking up superb views of the city.
Price: Doubles from £280
This friendly boutique hotel in a late 18th-century building is as much of an art gallery as it is a hotel. Works from contemporary Turkish artists adorn the exposed-brick walls of the funky bar and breakfast area as well as the 36 rooms. The decor is streamlined – very much so in the case of a handful of Japanese-style rooms – but it’s worth splashing out on a deluxe sea-view room overlooking the Bosphorus. Its artfully ramshackle look is perfectly in keeping with this up-and-coming part of Karakoy.
Price: Doubles from £148
You’d never know this sumptuous sprawling hotel was a prison when it was built in 1919. Where prisoners used to exercise is now a fragrant courtyard garden, overlooked by the arched windows of the handsomely designed rooms that subtly evoke Ottoman times. It’s a gorgeous place for a restaurant, and there’s also a roof terrace that offers knockout views of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.
Price: Doubles from £714
Several townhouses join together to form this quirky boutique hotel, all of which huddle around a lovely courtyard garden where you can see ruins of a 15th-century hammam. It’s a charming jumble of Ottoman textiles, art and exposed stone, capped with some wonderful views from the terraces of Hagia Sophia and the Bosphorus. The small rooms really are small, so upgrade to one of the larger ones, preferably with a terrace.
Price: Doubles from £81
With Topkapi, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque within a few minutes’ walk, Yasmak Sultan makes a convenient spot for exploring the old city. There’s a delightful Old World air about the place, with heavy silks and brocades and gilt-edged furnishings. What makes it stand out is the spa with its indoor pool and, notably, a very good rooftop restaurant with fantastic views.
Price: Doubles from £146
TomTom Suites are surrounded by the buzz of Beyoglu but feels cosily cloistered – aptly, as it’s a former Franciscan convent. Its modern spacious suites exude a feeling of calm, with polished wooden floors, faintly Fifties-style furnishings and original artworks. If you really want to treat yourself, go for the luxury suite with its substantial kitchen and large private terrace. The rooftop Mediterranean restaurant is just as glamorous.
Price: Doubles from £231
A converted 19th-century distillery makes a luxurious bolthole from the city – right on the banks of the Bosphorus on the Asian side. You can take the ferry to the European side or splash out on the hotel’s private boat taxi. Some of its modern rooms have fireplaces and two levels, but all look out on the Bosphorus, as does the waterfront restaurant and terrace. There’s a wellness center with a hammam for relaxation, as well as a well-stocked library. All very civilised.
Price: Doubles from £539
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.