Where to Stay in Istanbul – Beyoğlu or Sultanahmet

Picture of Sultanahmet by night in Istanbul, Turkey

by Erlend Geerts

in Practical Information

Should I stay in Sultanahmet or Beyoğlu? That’s a question people often ask me while they’re planning their trip to Istanbul. The problem is that there is no straightforward answer to it. It’s merely a matter of preference. Let me explain the pros and cons of both locations.

Golden Horn

Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu are almost neighboring areas, if it wasn’t for the Golden Horn (Haliç). The Golden Horn is a flooded river valley, connecting with the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. This historical natural harbor is now a main departure point for ferries, both going up the Bosphorus and heading for the Asian side.

The Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn.

The Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn.

The Golden Horn actually separates the old heart of Istanbul (Sultanahmet, Eminönü and Fatih) from the modern part of Istanbul (Taksim, Şişli, Beşiktaş, etc.).

There are two bridges crossing the Golden Horn: the Unkapanı or Atatürk Bridge, and the Galata Bridge. Especially the latter is of interest to tourists because it is the shortest way between Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu.

On the upper deck you’ll pass by a seemingly eternal line of fisherman while witnessing the bustling activity on the Golden Horn. A visit to the lower deck will provide you with a ringside seat in one of the many cheap cafés to watch boats come and go.

Sultanahmet

The biggest incentive to book a hotel in Sultanahmet is obviously its proximity to major sightseeing spots such as the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar, etc. They are all within walking distance of most hotels located in this area. The flip side is unfortunately that Sultanahmet turns into a pretty dead neighborhood once the sun sets. After dark the streets are empty and good night entertainment is scarce.

Beyoğlu

Nevizade in the Beyoğlu area.

Nevizade in the Beyoğlu area.

Beyoğlu is home to Dolmabahçe Palace, the Galata area with its famous tower, Istiklal Caddesi, etc. But the area is mostly known for its cozy neighborhoods (i.e. Cihangir, Galata), wide array of restaurants and cafés, and famous Istanbul night life. Beyoğlu is basically open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But no need to worry, hotels are located in quieter areas, still within walking distance of all the action.

My Advice

The truth is that it’s inevitable to spend time in both areas. So you’ll always have to travel between the two, being it by public transportation or by taxi. I stayed in hotels in both areas on numerous occasions, and always felt I had the best time staying in the Beyoğlu area. I love to arrive at my hotel after a full day of sightseeing, freshen up for a nice dinner, enjoy the nightlife and being able to walk back home surrounded by people whenever I feel it’s time to recharge the batteries.

Photo Sources [1] [2] [3]

What's Next

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Ikram April 28, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Would you lean more towards staying in Beyoglu (versus Sultanahmet) if told traveling with kids aged 2, 5 and 8 and an elderly lady?

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Erlend Geerts April 29, 2013 at 7:49 am

Hi Ikram,

If you have no plans to leave the hotel let’s say after 19:30, then I would recommend staying in Sultanahmet.

Erlend

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Magdalena June 12, 2013 at 2:01 am

I planned my trip to Istanbul for July. I booked hotel in Sultanahmet area but with this protests I don’t know what to do….how safe it to go?!!!

Reply

Erlend Geerts June 12, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Hi Magdalena,

It’s as safe as before the protests. Moreover, it looks like the protests ended as of today.

Erlend

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janet June 18, 2013 at 4:45 am

It is a pleasure to read your very thorough and interesting presentation about Istanbul. We are traveling there from Miami, Florida in the U.S. and your informative blog has really helped us to organize our trip! Thank you for sharing all your knowledge and helping us get to know this city

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Erlend Geerts June 18, 2013 at 10:10 am

Hi Janet,

Thanks a lot for your kind words. Glad I could help.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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Ara June 28, 2013 at 2:15 am

Excellent, very informative and detailed.
Would you name the hotels you would stay, trust and would be comfortable the most for a family or 3?

Thanks

Reply

Erlend Geerts June 28, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Hi Ara,

I can really vouch for Witt Istanbul. Its location is central, services excellent and rooms top notch.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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Karin August 12, 2013 at 4:19 pm

I loved your small article, I’m travelling to Istanbul in a couple of weeks, never been there and just wondered where to book my hotel, now I know..thanks:)

Reply

Erlend Geerts August 14, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Hi Karin,

I’m glad I could help make the best decision.

Erlend

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Kalvin January 15, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Hi Erlend,

I’m happy to find this site in preparing my upcoming trip to Istanbul. I have reserved Hilton Istanbul Bomonti, from the map I saw it’s a bit of distance to everything else. Is it really inconvenient and does it have any nightlife around? I may cancel my booking with a penalty of 100usd if its really unfit.

Thanks for your advice.

Reply

Erlend Geerts January 16, 2014 at 10:09 am

Hi Kalvin,

It’s not exactly in the city center, but then again, it’s not that far away either. From your hotel to Taksim is about 3 km.

Basically, you just need to walk the street of your hotel to the main street, and there take the metro (Osmanbey) for one stop. Also by taxi it wouldn’t cost much.

Canceling your current hotel would cost you just over 200 TL. You can take a lot of taxis for that amount of money.

Your choice,
Erlend

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Cynthia March 6, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Hi,
Can you get from Atturk Airport to the Sultanahmet area by tram? If so, what is the route/tram number? Or, is it better to get a taxi – approximately how much should a taxi cost?

Reply

Erlend Geerts March 7, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Cynthia,

Here you’ll find the details for going from Atatürk airport to the city center.

Erlend

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Arman M March 17, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Hi,
I am leaving for Istanbul in a few days for a week. My family has booked Hilton Garden Inn at Golden Horn. I have gone through some reviews and read that it has a bad location as it is very far. I loved your article, so can you please tell me whether it is a bad choice for hotel? Is there anything we can do around the hotel and modes of transportation from there as I have no idea about the locations there. Thanx.

Reply

Erlend Geerts March 17, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Hi Arman,

I never stayed in the hotel, but I’m sure it’s ok. The location however is not ideal. Close by are Pierre Lotti and Miniatürk, but for the major sightseeing spots you will probably need to take a taxi. There may be public transportation options, but you better ask the hotel staff for the best solutions.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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Arman M March 18, 2014 at 10:08 pm

ok thanx so much. That will be of help. Could you tell me what would be good to do in pierre loti?
I love your blog btw! :)
p.s. I will get hotel shuttle to taksim and kabatas throughout the day.

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Erlend Geerts March 19, 2014 at 7:26 am

Hi Arman,

Except for drinking tea and enjoying the view, there is not much else to do at Pierre Lotti cafe.

Kind regards,
Erlend

Reply

Leslie March 30, 2014 at 5:51 am

Dear Erlend,
Your insights seem valuable. I will be leading a travel course of 15 college students in Istanbul for two weeks in January 2015. We will want convenient access major sites and also to feel as if we are taking part in the contemporary culture of Istanbul. Some of the students will be more independent than others, although limiting the temptations of nightlife appeals to me as the chaperone. Where would you have your 18-year-old stay in Istanbul, unattended full-time and left to his/her own impulses?
Thanks.

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Erlend Geerts March 30, 2014 at 7:03 pm

Hi Leslie,

Nightlife is very much part Istanbul and omnipresent in the city center. I would educate them about the rules you expect them to follow, and make sure they go out as a group and not as individuals. The social control of a group is strong and mostly common sense prevails. It seems only natural that they would want a taste of Istanbul’s nightlife given their age. The bars mentioned there are all safe. To be better safe than sorry, maybe go over these common tourist scams.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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E Satchell May 24, 2014 at 7:44 pm

We have recently stayed in the Sultanahmed area of Istanbul, as you say very close to the big sites like the Blue Mosque, Agia Sophia etc. We were on a group sight-seeing trip so were pretty tired by the evening. Our evenings consisted of choosing a restaurant – many fantastic ones and reasonable too – and looking round the shops that were open very late. Just hanging out in the area was enough for us, the bit square between the Agia Sophia and Blue Mosque is superb – perhaps having a drink somewhere, but in our situation we were not looking for nightlife as such. However, a younger clientele would probably fare better going to another area.
Must say, wherever you stay Istanbul is a fantastic place. We saw quite a lot of it during a very busy daytime, so appreciated a more leisurely quiet evening.

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saeed ur rehman May 25, 2014 at 12:20 pm

I visited Istanbul for the first time in 2011 and stayed in Sultanahmet area,very close to the historical sites.My advice to the first time travellers is to stay in Sultanahmet area and for nightlife take the metro to Taksim.

On your 2nd visit,stay in Beyoglu,where all the action is.

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almedina Buzo August 11, 2014 at 6:32 am

Hi Erlend,

My mother is turning 50 and my husband and I want to book her and my dad a trip to Istanbul. I haven’t travelled to Istanbul before and I am unsure what part of Istanbul would be good for them.

Their English is limited so I would like to book a place which is central and easy for them to book attrections.

They would be interested in markets, history and the culture.

Please share you knowledge and exprience.

Best Regards,
Almedina

Reply

Erlend Geerts August 13, 2014 at 12:29 am

Hi Almedina,

Given your parents’ age and assuming they won’t go clubbing, I would suggest the Sultanahmet area. They will still need to travel a bit to catch a Bosphorus trip or visit Istiklal Caddesi and Dolmabahçe Palace (to name only a few), but many top sightseeing spots will be just a walk away.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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Mostapha September 4, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Hello Erlend,

Thank you for your wonderful posts. I am planning a trip to Turkey during the end of September. We will be staying in Sultanahmet for first 4 nights. Then we will take the ferry ride to Bursa and spend 3 nights there. We have 3 additional nights which we are wondering where to go for. We were thinking of taking the UHT from Eskisihir to Konya and spending 2 nights there before heading back to Istanbul to catch our flight. Is there more to see in Istanbul which would require more than 3 days/4 nights? If we do decide to go back to Istanbul for the last 3 nights which area would you reccommend staying in? Is it worth while taking the trip down to Konya to spend a couple of nights there? We are a couple travelling with 2 young kids (3 and 2 years). Your input would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks,
Mostapha

Reply

Erlend Geerts September 5, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Hi Mostapha,

I don’t know your interests of course, but I assume you want to go to see the authentic whirling dervishes and maybe even visit the grave of mevlana. But given the fact that you’re traveling with two toddlers, who are not allowed any performance, I don’t think it’s with the trip and time.

Alternatively, you could try to find cheap tickets to go down south (Bodrum, Antalya) and spend some time on the beach with your children.

You could of course return to Istanbul, too. I doubt you can see everything in three days. You could go to Yalova for instance in sit in thermal baths. There is so much to do in Istanbul and surroundings.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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Alexandra September 5, 2014 at 5:23 am

Are there any areas of Sultanahmet to avoid, or is the neighborhood generally pretty safe?

Thanks!

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Erlend Geerts September 5, 2014 at 8:54 pm

Hi Alexandra,

During the day there are no worries. After sun down I would stay at the main roads or places that are still crowded. Just as in any major city, if a certain area doesn’t appeal to you, use common sense and visit it during daytime.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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Samantha September 23, 2014 at 6:38 am

Hi Erlend,

Glad I chanced upon your article today! My boyfriend and I will be travelling to Istanbul in Oct and I’m having a hard time deciding where to stay – Sultanahmet or Cihangir. As I read in your article, both places have their perks so it’s still a tough decision for me. How long would you say it takes to walk from Defterdar Yokusu to Hagia Sophia?

Regards,
Sam

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Erlend Geerts September 24, 2014 at 10:35 am

Hi Samantha,

Most people just walk down to the first tramway stop (5 minutes) and take that tram to Sultanahmet (10 minutes). Walking to Taksim is only 10 minutes though.

You can walk of course, but that will take about 30 minutes or more at a decent pace.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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Sonia September 30, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Hi Erlend,

My husband and I are planning a trip to Istanbul in November. We live in San Francisco and love to immerse ourselves in local culture when we travel. Ideally, we would like to stay in a place where the people dining next to us are local, so we can feel as if we’re part of the neighborhood. To us, getting a feel for the city is more important that seeing the tourist sights. We’re in our early 30’s and have no children.

Can you recommend a good neighborhood for us to stay in?

Thanks!
Sonia

Reply

Erlend Geerts October 1, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Hi Sonia,

If you would like to stay in a place surrounded by locals, you should look into service like couch surfing I guess.

If you meant to stay in a hotel in a local area, the Witt Istanbul’s Cihangir neighborhood is pretty authentic. To eat and dine in places where locals eat, just browse the streets and/or check out the Locals Share category and other eateries I wrote about.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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riaraj October 15, 2014 at 8:59 pm

Hi Erlend,
Thanks for your wonderful post. Me and my hubby along with toddler are planning to visit Istanbul in last week of Oct this year.we are quite worried about the ongoing demonstration and protests. We have chosen taksim area to stay. I would appreciate your thoughts on this. Is Sultanahmet a better place to stay as far as safety is concerned,
Thanks in advance
Ria

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Erlend Geerts October 16, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Hi,

No worries. At the moment there are no demonstrations. And if in the future there would be demonstrations, you see them (slowly) take form. Just walk the other way, and you should be ok. You’d do the same in your home country I’m sure.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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riaraj October 17, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Hi Erlend,
Thanks for your instant reply.
Will post back our experience after we return back.
Your website is wonderful and very helpful for those planning to see Istanbul.
Keep up that good work.
Regards
Ria

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malela October 21, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Hi,

We are going to Istanbul in november. That will be our second trip to Istanbul, for the first time we stayed at Sultanahmet, now we are interested on Asian side? Would that be ok to stay?

Reply

Erlend Geerts October 21, 2014 at 9:04 pm

Hi Malela,

For the obvious reasons we do not recommend or comment on hotels.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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manu October 26, 2014 at 10:59 am

Dear Erlend,

Firstly thanks for your lovely blog. I am planning my travel on February 2015 for partying with my friends.

Is this the right month to visit and what area should pick to stay for partying?

Regards,

Manu

Reply

Erlend Geerts October 26, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Hi Manu,

February is a good month if you want to avoid the crowds and plan to visit Istanbul in winter. If you prefer lots of outdoor activities and hot, sunny weather, then it’s not.

For partying, I suggest you stay in the Beyoğlu area.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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Laura November 6, 2014 at 8:11 pm

Hi Erlend,

Thanks for your wonderful post. My fiancé and I are visiting Istanbul for the first time in a few weeks, and we are having difficulty deciding where is the best place to stay. Your post is very informative but we are still confused!!

We will be there for 7 nights, and will obviously want to visit all the main touristic sights, but also like to mingle with the locals and go to “local” and cheap places to eat (not places with tourist menus and prices!). We like to have a few drinks, but we are certainly not party or nightclub types.

We are also on a pretty tight budget. We have found a hotel in Sultanahmet a friend recommended for EUR 40pn which seems reasonable, but we are beginning to think maybe the Beyoğlu side would be more suitable for us.

I would really appreciate your thoughts or any comments :)

Thanks,
Laura

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Erlend Geerts November 9, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Hi Laura,

Then I would go for Beyoğlu, it’s less tourist oriented than Sultanahmet.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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Marc November 18, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Hi Erlend,

I agree with absolutely everyone on this chat, that your article was incredibly helpful. I guess everyone vacillates between Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu on their first trip across and that is exactly what makes your post so valuable.

Like Laura, myself and my wife are going across in a few weeks and based on the comments here we have decided that Beyoğlu would probably be the better side for us. We really enjoy heading out after a tourist day to a selection of restaurants to sample the local cuisine.

I just have one quick question for you. Everyone talks about the local neighborhood feel to the Beyoğlu side which is wonderful. Does this feel extend to the area around Taksim park? That is where we are thinking of staying but I wanted to ensure that there is still plenty of dining and drinking options around and we can still have a stroll and enjoy the area. How does it compare to an area like Nisantansi for example?

Thanks so much for the help and for the great post again.

Kind regards,
Marc

Reply

Erlend Geerts November 18, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Hi Marc,

There is not too much around Taksim park. The good news is that your location is both not far away from Nişantaşı and within walking distance of Istiklal Caddesi, even late in the evening.

I hope this helps,
Erlend

Reply

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