A Practical Guide to Unique Properties, Considerations and Advice
The best accommodations are often those that offer something unique, desirable and memorable about your stay there, yet offer a convenient location and fulfill your practical needs. For Istanbul, this equates to those that will reflect an authentic experience of its history and character, an intriguing design or a breathtaking view.
However such unique factors also bring with them advantages and disadvantages to consider when choosing accommodation such as unexpected rooming and unusual restrictions. Here we show you how to identify the best places to stay with these issues in mind, supported with practical advice and suggestions.
This guide will identify and discuss the following accommodations:
- Historic & Special Class Accommodation
- Contemporary Design Hotels
- Rooftops & Rooms With a View
- Architecturally Intriguing Apartments
1. Historic & Special Class Accommodation
A Dedicated Category for Special Class, Ottoman & Boutique Hotels
If you’re looking for unique charm and character, or a boutique hotel reflective of the Ottoman period, seeking out one of these authentic historic hotels can be a pleasant surprise.
Usually these are restored Ottoman houses in the traditional style of that period, or designed to resemble these. Typical features include timber-paneled facades, large bay windows, ornate wooden furnishings and a sprinkle of Turkish rugs and antique objects.
In fact there also exists an entirely new hotel category just for this purpose, the “Special Class” or “S Class” category, created by the Hotel Ministry in recognition that some (particularly smaller properties) fall outside of traditional 3-5 star requirements, yet are equally important to protect and maintain.
At smaller premises you may find less staff or facilities and occasionally smaller rooms, however they will usually be extremely comfortable and offer a unique ambiance and charm in a more intimate space.
Due to a hilly topography, narrow streets and architectural restrictions, particularly in historic areas like Sultanahmet, some properties may not have the required space for an elevator, so be sure to enquire about these if taking the stairs and accessibility are an issue for you.
If space is important to you, check the approximate square meter of a typical room to gauge how much space you might actually have (particularly for Americans who are used to large expansive rooms at home). Often larger rooms or “suites” may be available as an upgrade if space is important to you.
Larger historic hotels with 5 star ratings won’t experience any of these issues but this will be reflected in their rates, examples below.
Locations & Examples:
In Sultanahmet: Original historical restorations are mostly located in the Old City of Sultanahmet, close the Topkapi Palace or nearby cobbled back streets as the oldest part of the city. Some classic examples include the Ayasofya Mansions and Yeşil Ev in Sultanahmet.
In Taksim: They are also found sprinkled in the former Pera quarter (Taksim Beyoğlu center), once the playground of international diplomats and wealthy merchants. A fine example is the historical Pera Palace Hotel.
Along the Bosphorus: Both sides of this strait dividing Europe & Asia contains the absolutely best of Istanbul accommodation with 5 star historic hotels, the most prestigious and luxurious, often former Ottoman Palaces and mansions now converted to hotels, such as the Çirağan Palace, Four Seasons Bosphorus, Ottoman Palace Hotel, Sumahan on the Water Hotel and Aija Hotels.
How to Find:
- Check the TUROB (Turkish Hotels Association) website where you can search by location and class of hotel, including S Special Class or Boutique Class http://english.turob.com/
- Check members listed on the Historical Hotels of Turkey Association website: http://www.historicalhotelsofturkey.org/memberlist/
- Look for properties assigned with “S” for Special Class category, or with wooden facades or distinctive architecture when browsing hotel websites.
- Search Google for Istanbul or Your Preferred Neighborhood + S Class Hotels, Special Class Hotels, Historical Hotels, Boutique Hotels, Charming Hotels or Small Hotels.
2. Contemporary Design Hotels
Innovative and Sophisticated Properties
International award-winning designers, such as the local design studio “Autoban” continue to create an innovative signature for many of the trendiest and most sophisticated accommodations, restaurants and venues around the city in the last few years.
This trend has boomed in Istanbul creating a wave of new and beautiful “Design Hotels” and places to stay across all levels. Not only the realm of hotels, even apartment rentals and hostels are joining in this trend, to be on trend.
If you enjoy contemporary design and elegant architecture with equally trendy guests and usually an equally trendy neighborhood, then you’ll feel right at home in these kinds of accommodation.
Bear in mind that demand for this kind of property is often high, and being popular means it will be reflected in the prices and availability, so it is best to book early.
Location & Examples:
You’ll find these mostly in the new city downtown, Taksim or Beyoğlu center, and other trendy areas such as Cihangir, Galata and Karaköy (the newest neighborhood on the seen to undergo a transformation attracting new design hotels, fashionable eateries and young Turkish designers and artists – much like Cihangir and Galata a few years ago).
Some examples include the Witt Suites, Tom Tom Suites, Gezi Park and Adahan Hotel in Taksim, the House Hotels. There are also beautifully designed apartment rentals around different areas of Istanbul, which you can read about in their own category further below.
How to Find:
- Search Google for Istanbul or Your Preferred Neighborhood + Design Hotels, Contemporary Hotels, Hip Hotels, Boutique Hotels
- Search websites catering to this niche such as Splendia or Mr & Mrs Smith for ideas.
- Check your favorite newspapers travel section for recommendations as they will usually feature the latest additions to the travel scene, such as New York Times.
- Check related travel magazines like Conde Nast Traveler.
3. Rooftops & Rooms with a View
A unique geography affords stunning views
Like Rio in Brazil, Istanbul has a unique geography and hilly topography which makes for stunning views of the city from many areas, between European & Asian sides and the Bosphorus or across the Golden Horn between Sultanahmet and Galata/Taksim. Beautiful domes and slender minarets accentuate the skyline. So finding a room or accommodation with a view will also be one of the best features you can add for an unforgettable stay.
Many properties use this to their advantage by enclosing their rooftop terrace as an additional bar or dining area, be it top end hotels or budget hostels. So even if you don’t find a room with a view, check your accommodation has a rooftop terrace that you can enjoy instead, failing that be sure to dine one evening at once near you.
Again consider many older narrow premises may not have an elevator so on some occasions stairs may be required to reach the rooftop.
Consider the time of year. Not all rooftop terraces are covered (although more and more are nowadays) and could be cold or windy in winter.
Rooftops that have restaurants tend to book up early by visitors and locals alike. A reservation is recommended, particularly for the new city Taksim area.
Location & Examples:
A view of Seraglio Point, the Bosphorus Bridge, Asian Side or Princes’ Islands are all easily attained by careful accommodation selection in Istanbul.
From Sultanahmet you’ll have chance of views over the top attractions like Blue Mosque minarets and Haghia Sophia domes or across the Marmara Sea to the Princes’ Islands.
From Sirkeci/Eminonu neigborhoods, you could be facing Galata Tower and the sea views of departing ferries from Karaköy.
From Taksim, Cihangir and Ortaköy, you could have the chance to look at the Bosphorus & its bridges illuminated by night or back across the city, or to Sultanahmet and the Golden Horn.
From the Asian side you’ll have the chance to see stunning sunsets over the Old City.
Some surprising examples that won’t break the budget include the 3 star Cihangir Hotel situated on a hill with views overlooking the Bosphorus, the family run Turkoman Hotel overlooking the Blue Mosque, or Cheers Hostel with a rooftop bar overlooking the Haghia Sofia.
How to Find:
- Check the map to see where your hotel is located – even if you’re not by the shore, you may be on a hilltop and many properties on the same hill will have different angles but equally spectacular views because of the different heights of neighboring buildings everywhere.
- Check if your accommodation has a rooftop terrace or chance of sea view/city view rooms.
- In Sultanahmet the breakfast is often served on the rooftop terrace which doubles as a restaurant at night.
- Search Google for Istanbul or Your Preferred Neighborhood + Sea View, City View, Bosphorus View, Rooftop Terrace.
4. Architecturally Intriguing Apartments
Not Just Any Old Apartment – Enjoy A Contemporary Twist
The last few years has seen the bar raised on the quality of renovation and interior design. So why not equally raise your sights to stay at one of the beautiful architectural buildings of Istanbul for an authentic experience? You’ll enjoy unique character, fine art and design features, yet still with comfort as key.
Many historical buildings from the 19th century have recently been lovingly restored or renovated around the city and transformed into beautiful modern living spaces with a touch of luxury, contemporary or retro design. These make ideal accommodations for longer stays in comfort and style, particularly in Galata and the once historical neighborhood of Pera, or present day Beyoğlu/Taksim.
This means you can stay in new trending upcoming neighborhoods, with the benefit of cool design and modern facilities and potential to try Istanbul’s markets to create your own dining at home-while-away experience.
Most apartments are fully serviced apartments so you’ll still get the benefit of a well-looked after and cared for property with everything you need. Some offer 24/7 reception or concierge service to help you with navigating the city and any other needs.
However it’s just as important to check the address of the premises and how far it is to walk to the main street, how well lit the area is by night and how accessible surrounding potentially narrow backstreets are should you require door to door transport for tours or airport transfers with heavy bags.
Be sure you don’t mind taking the stairs without elevators, even if you have found a top floor apartment with a panoramic view. Read previous customer reviews and ask the accommodation pre-booking.
Location & Examples:
Available throughout Taksim, Sultanahmet, Karaköy, Cihangir, Galata, Nişantaşi neighborhoods.
Some well-established companies combining contemporary design and historical architecture include those by House Apartments, Manzara Apartments, Istanbul Place Apartments, Stay Istanbul and Istanbul Sweet Home.
How to Find:
- Search Google or Google Maps for Istanbul + your desired neighborhood + the word “Suites, Residences, Serviced Apartments, Apartments, Flats, Studios, Long or Short Stay Apartments, Short Term Rentals or Vacation Rentals” to bring up these kind of properties, for example:
Istanbul + Taksim + Suites
Istanbul + Galata + Short Stay Apartments
Istanbul + Nişantaşi + Serviced Apartments
- For the more adventurous can also try searches in Turkish for example “Gunluk Daire Kiralik” (Daily apartment rentals). You might be surprised to get an email reply in English even for Turkish sites.
- Also sites like AirB&B offer both full apartments or rooms directly from locals, usually English-speaking young Turkish professionals eager to help you navigate your stay to the city. They can provide you with insider knowledge about the local neighborhood, their favorite cafes and restaurants, which will enhance your stay and help you experience small and authentic local haunts rather than typical tourist-fare venues more easily found.
A convenient location is also key to a successful trip, and almost all of the above suggestions and examples are located in city center neighborhoods, close to transport links, restaurants, shopping and attractions.
For both first-time and repeat travelers, we suggest to stay in Sultanahmet, Sirkeci, Eminonu, Karaköy, Galata, Taksim, Cihangir, Nişantaşi and Ortaköy or along the Bosphorus.
But after location, a stunning view and the unique character of the place you stay define the best places to stay in Istanbul. We hope this guide has helped you know what to look for and how to find some of them.