Istanbul is a massive city that can be overwhelming to a first-time visitor. For one, it’s huge, with a population of over 15 million people in the metropolitan area. For another, it’s broken into two continents, 39 districts, and hundreds of neighborhoods. So it’s safe to say that choosing where to stay in Istanbul can be quite overwhelming.
We’ve written a neighborhood by neighborhood guide to where to stay in Istanbul, which is helpful if you don’t know where to start.
But since you ended up on this page, we’re going to assume that you’ve narrowed down your decision on where to stay in Istanbul down to two main contenders, Beyoglu or Sultanahmet.
These two parts of Istanbul are quite different and offer different advantages and disadvantages. Beyoglu is a large district which covers several neighborhoods (Galata, Karakoy, Cihangir, Pera, Taksim, amongst others), whereas Sultanahmet is a large neighborhood within the larger district of Fatih.
Stephanie and I have visited the city eight times between the two of us, and we’ve stayed in both Sultanahmet and Beyoglu so we can give you the merits of each. Here, we’re going to break down why you might want to choose Sultanahmet vs. Beyoglu or vice versa.
Choose Sultanahmet if…
… It’s your first time in Istanbul and you only have a few days
If this is your first trip to Istanbul and you have limited time, it’s better to be based right in the heart of the action rather than spend time and money figuring out local transportation.
Hotels in Sultanahmet are reasonably priced (as are most Istanbul hotels, honestly – the city offers such great value!), so there’s no reason not to stay in Sultanahmet especially on your first trip to Istanbul.
If you stay near the Blue Mosque (here are our favorite hotels near the Blue Mosque), you’ll be within walking distance of all of the following Istanbul attractions: Hagia Sofia, the Hippodrome, Basilica Cistern, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market, the Islamic Art Museum, Topkapi Palace, and even Suleymaniye Mosque.
Meanwhile, Beyoglu has fewer attractions – mostly Taksim Square (which is more of a point of orientation than a must-see sight), Istiklal Caddesi, and Galata Tower, plus a handful of museums.
… You’re a photographer or just crazy for Instagram
We think Istanbul is one of the most Instagrammable cities in the world (here’s our photography guide to it). But there’s no doubting that hundreds and thousands of people at any given moment agree with you on that and are all vying to get the best Instagram shots of their own as well.
If you are the kind of person who likes to get up early on their travels and take the best crowd-free photos or people-free selfies, definitely stay in Sultanahmet so that you can easily walk to all your favorite photography locations without having to set your alarm clock even earlier and having to deal with figuring out public transportation in the morning.
… You want that quintessential, fairy-tale Istanbul experience
Most photos you’ve seen of Istanbul come from Sultanahmet – the mosques, palaces, and museums here are the icons of the city.
Just like some people want to stay close to the Eiffel Tower when in Paris or next to the Colosseum while in Rome, there is a definite draw to staying in the heart of the tourist action in Sultanahmet, next to the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque.
Choose Beyoglu if…
… You want more nighttime options
There’s no denying that Sultanahmet is a little dead after dark. While there will definitely be restaurants and the occasional bar catering to tourists, it’s decidedly not where the locals go out. (In fact, most locals don’t even go to Sultanahmet unless they work there)
If you want to explore Istanbul at night, definitely choose Beyoglu. The neighborhoods of Cihangir, Galata, and Karakoy are all part of the larger Beyoglu district and they’re all popular places for locals to go out – Cihangir is especially popular amongst hipster locals and expats.
… You want to feel more of the “real” Istanbul
While Sultanahmet delivers that quintessential Istanbul experience of mosques and minarets, it’s an incredibly concentrated touristic center. It’s hard, if not impossible, to get off the beaten track in Sultanahmet.
Meanwhile, Beyoglu is a giant district with some areas more touristy than others. Galata, Pera, and Taksim are where you’ll find most of the Beyoglu hotels; Karakoy, Cihangir, and Cukurcuma near Galatasaray are a little more local.
While Istiklal Caddesi is crowded at almost all times of day, it’s crowded mostly with locals than fellow tourists, so you’ll get more of a sense of the modern-day Istanbul than you would if you stayed in Sultanahmet
… You want better food options (and better prices)
Like I said above, Sultanahmet is a neighborhood which is primarily driven by tourism. The sheer concentration of tourists in the area means that prices are almost always higher for a similar quality of food.
While that doesn’t mean that every place in Sultanahmet is a bad deal, if you are traveling on a budget but still want to explore the local Istanbul food scene, Beyoglu is a far better choice for food and drinks both in terms of quality and diversity of food options as well as lower prices. Note that you want to walk a bit away from Istiklal Caddesi in order to find the better-priced establishments.
The areas of Cukurcuma and Cihangir are two of my favorite neighborhoods for restaurants in Istanbul.
Choose both for…
… a central location in the heart of Istanbul
Both Beyoglu and Sultanahmet are great bases for exploring the rest of Istanbul – it just depends on what you want as your center.
I personally would choose Beyoglu because I prefer to stay where there are better food and nightlife choices and to be in a less touristic area, but I won’t deny that the convenience of staying in Sultanahmet is second-to-none if you’re looking to check off the main tourist attractions.
… a safe part of the city
While we both find Istanbul to be as safe as any other large city, of course, there are some areas better avoided. Those areas are usually in the peripheries of the city and not places where tourists would likely stumble.
The one part of Beyoglu we would recommend you avoiding the area between Tarlabaşı Boulevard and Irmak Caddesi. I’ve stayed right by Tarlabaşı at the lovely Peradays Hotel, but if you cross over the avenue, things get a little more run-down and ramshackle.
It’s not that it’s a violent community, but rather that it’s one of the poorer districts of Istanbul, where many migrants and marginalized people live, and it’s not really a place you’d want to visit as a tourist.
… fantastic hotels at a fair price
Due to the slumping Turkish lira, basically everywhere in Istanbul offers a fantastic value. I’ve been able to stay in hotels next to some of Istanbul’s best attractions for less than the price of a hostel dorm bed in Dublin.
We’ve picked out some of our favorite hotels in both areas, so once you’ve finally decided on Beyoglu vs. Sultanahmet, here are our suggestions for each.
Best Hotels in Beyoglu
For a no-frills stay in a cool neighborhood, we recommend Cheers Porthouse. Taking inspiration from the Bosphorus, which is just a few minutes away, this slightly nautically-themed guesthouse offers seriously affordable private rooms with shared bathrooms or en-suite bathroom options. The location is fantastic, close to all the best bars and nightlife of Karakoy.
Despite the low price, the rooms have the basic amenities you’d expect and want from a hotel, such as a flatscreen TV, air conditioning, modern bathrooms, and free toiletries. The décor of the rooms is modern and fun, so you don’t feel like you’re staying in a dated guesthouse, which is always nice when you’re looking for where to stay in Istanbul in this price range.
Rooftop breakfast with a view of the Galata Tower for less than 50 euros a night? It’s definitely possible at the Galataport Hotel, literally 200 meters away from the gorgeous Galata Tower.
Price and location aren’t all it has going for it, though: guests love it, with an average review score at the time of writing of a whopping 9/10! The rooms are decorated with a classic Ottoman style, slightly dated but delivering a ton of old-school luxury. They’re roomy and spacious, with modern bathrooms and windows delivering insane views.
This is my favorite Istanbul hotel! I stayed at Hammamhane for 3 nights and it truly started to feel like home at the end of my stay. Located literally on Cukur Cuma, the main street of the antiques district, Hammamhane is within walking distance to art galleries, design stores, antique shops, and chic cafés. Hammamhane is a converted boutique apartment-hotel, that was originally a hammam, which should be now open after years of renovations (it was still being worked on when I visited in 2017).
The apartments have literally everything you’d ever need: a fully-functioning kitchen, a washing machine, a great seating area for relaxing or eating a meal you’ve prepared, one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in, and a lovely modern bathroom. Oh, and the breakfast there is hands-on the most delicious I’ve ever eaten in Istanbul, which is some seriously stiff competition. Plus, the staff is some of the loveliest and kindest people I’ve ever met.
Best Hotels in Sultanahmet
For its location and looks, you’ll be surprised by the price of this gorgeous hostel with both dorms and private rooms in the heart of Sultanahmet. Second Home Hostel has dorms with all my favorite perks: privacy curtains, personal reading lights, personal outlets, and lockers. The aesthetics of this hostel are gorgeous and don’t scream “backpacker”, something that’s become increasingly important to me, as I can’t stand another squeaky metal bunk bed that reminds me of summer camp!
For a little more privacy without paying much more, there are private double rooms, some with shared bathrooms and others with ensuites. The vibe of the hostel is extremely friendly and social, hence the name. Note that breakfast is not included but can be added for just five euros.
Want to feel like Turkish royalty without paying a price to match? Check out Saba Sultan Hotel just 200 meters from the Blue Mosque. With a Turkish-inspired décor, a gorgeous terrace with views over Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and its minarets (perfect for Instagram photos!), large windows, and stunning antique furniture, this is a fantastic yet affordable place to stay in Sultanahmet.
The breakfast spread is lush, with olives, freshly baked Turkish bread, and other classic Turkish breakfast items on offer. The staff is helpful and friendly, ready to direct you to any of Istanbul’s main sights which are just within a stone’s throw of the hotel!
Perhaps the last word in Istanbul luxury, the Four Seasons has a history of turning confinement to refinement, as the site it inhabits was once a three-story prison building which was remodeled to house voluntary instead of state-compelled guests.
Its entire decor follows the neo-classical patterning, and all its rooms feature fully-equipped entertainment systems, espresso machines, free wifi, and a marble bathroom with a deep soaking tub.
The Four Seasons also offers a world-class spa and fitness center, and bot the Seasons Restaurant in the courtyard and A’YA Lounge on the rooftop offer delicious meals and drinks.
More Istanbul Resources!
We have a ton of resources to help you plan your trip to Istanbul! We’re working on our massive post on things to do in Istanbul, but it’s a good place to get started. We also have a ton of Istanbul travel tips, plus you can check out our guide to the best Instagram spots around Istanbul, important Istanbul safety tips, and tips for shopping in Istanbul.
Didn’t find a place where you want to stay in Istanbul in this post? We also have a giant where to stay in Istanbul guide, as well as a post on the best hotels in Sultanahmet and the best places to stay with Bosphorus views.
If you want to be in the city for just a few days (four or less), check out our Istanbul city break guide, which breaks down the best of the city so you won’t miss anything!
For more general Turkey information, check out this guide to planning a trip to Turkey (including visa information) and this guide to other beautiful places to visit in Turkey. You can also check out our Balkan currency guide, which explains how the Turkish lira works and guidelines for tipping in Istanbul.
Finally, Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
It’s always a good idea to travel to Turkey or anywhere in Europe with a valid travel insurance policy. Istanbul is a very safe place to travel, but accidents or theft can easily ruin your trip if you don’t have the travel insurance coverage to recover the losses. Recently Stephanie’s aunt fell on a train in France and needed surgery, but luckily her travel insurance covered the costs in full. Thank goodness!
For travel insurance, we both use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.