A love of hunting down bargains is part of Turkish culture – a short stroll through Istanbul’s labyrinthine Grand Bazaar will confirm that theory. However, if you don’t feel like joining the locals haggling over the price of saffron or some decorative kilim rug, settle for sniffing out a bargain hotel bed instead.
Just because you’re not willing to spend a fortune on your accommodation in Istanbul doesn’t mean you have to settle for some dingy hostel so far away you can barely spot the minarets towering above the Blue Mosque. Cutting-edge boutique hotels in the city’s coolest neighbourhoods, ancient gardens in the shadow of 500-year-old hammams, family-run guest houses with home-made jam for breakfast – these are the 10 best cheap hotels in Istanbul.
Hotel Empress Zoe
Each guest room at Hotel Empress Zoe has a unique decor and features traditional textiles | Courtesy of Hotel Empress Zoe / Hotels.com
No budget hotel in Istanbul’s Old City is infused with quite as much character as Hotel Empress Zoe, occupying a row of townhouses next door to a ruined Turkish bathhouse dating to 1483. Each room is individually decorated with traditional textiles, Islamic folk art and original paintings, while an archaeological garden stares up at the flowers and ivy that envelop the old Ishak Pasha hammam. A painted portrait of Empress Zoe – the ruler who controlled Constantinople with her sister a millennium ago (coincidentally, two sisters now run the hotel) – greets guests to the property.
Harbourfront Karaköy is the coolest corner of the Beyoğlu area north of the Golden Horn, where the sloping alleyways have added speciality coffee shops, quirky boutiques and late-night eateries to the traditional pastaneler (bakeries) and workshops of the historic Galata district. Royal Tophane is another new addition to Mumhane Caddesi, injecting a centuries-old building with 23 rooms, each showing off statement chandeliers, cushy headboards and floral murals above every bed.
All of Istanbul’s biggest tourist drawcards live on the European side of the city, but the busy bars and buzzing bazaars – not to mention affordable accommodation – make the Asian half an appealing option for budget travellers. Only a couple of blocks from the Kadıköy Ferry Terminal, Belizia Hotel has transformed a historic property into a modern guest house centred on a snug courtyard with a fireplace. It offers seven cosy rooms with warm wooden furnishings.
Budget travellers can save a few Turkish liras by heading west of the Grand Bazaar, and this luxurious hotel is the pick of the bunch. Ottoman’s Life Hotel Deluxe is a 10-minute tram ride from the main attractions of Istanbul’s historical peninsula – Sultanahmet, Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace and the like – but that short trip saves a fortune on the 192 golden rooms and suites. This hotel also has the largest sports complex on the peninsula, containing a spa, sauna, steam room, Turkish bath, massage service, pilates studio, boxing ring, indoor swimming pool and separate health clubs for men and women.
This trendy hotel prides itself on fusing the mystical streets of ancient Pera with the upscale boutiques of modern Beyoğlu, much like the bustling İstiklal Avenue the Westist sits so close to. The 24 rooms are muted, modish and minimalist in design, but the common areas are much livelier. Check out the zebra print and hanging egg chairs in the reception and the pastel colours in the contemporary in-house Pera Antakya Restaurant. Also, there is a spa that’s a lot more 21st century than the authentic Turkish baths Istanbul is famous for, with pink and teal lights illuminating the sauna and tropical wallpaper decorating the treatment room.
The Marmara Guesthouse is a family-run business brimming with warmth | Courtesy of Marmara Guesthouse / Hotels.com
There’s no shortage of cut-price beds on the slopes between the Blue Mosque and the Bosporus, but few match this family-run guest house. The Aytekin clan – that’s brother-sister team Elif and Ersin with their partners and kids, plus their parents Mr Faik and Mrs Ayse, who crafts her own jam to serve at breakfast – has welcomed travellers into its Sultanahmet property since 1994, offering 14 simple rooms. Marmara earns rave reviews both for the warm welcome and the leafy, vine-covered terrace, which boasts mesmerising views over the Marmara Sea.
Take a glimpse inside the World Heritage Hotel’s 20 rooms and you’ll be scratching your head trying to figure out how it can be a budget-friendly hotel. A newly constructed property only one block from Sultanahmet Meydanı and the corner of the Blue Mosque, this three-star hotel is a little slice of affordable luxury. Its decor includes gold-tinged plasterwork, billowing curtains, ornate wallpaper and regal furniture – the kind of classical decor that normally carries a much heavier price tag.
An ultra-modern hotel in the most contemporary quarter of Istanbul, Nabu is another uber-cool addition to Karaköy. Suitably stylish for its sophisticated harbourside surrounds, this polished property provides smart TVs, hydra-showers in the en-suite bathrooms and bespoke pieces of contemporary art in each of the 30 rooms. The al fresco seating in front of the Italian gastropub downstairs, which dishes up gourmet pizzas until late, blends in seamlessly with the trendy eateries springing up all over the neighbourhood.
First opened in 1972 under the Engin Hotel banner, My Dora is the oldest certified hotel in Kadıköy – but you wouldn’t know it. A major renovation has dragged this humble hotel into the new century, kitting out 39 budget-friendly rooms with chic silver decor and also earning a Greening Hotels certification for a raft of water-saving, waste-reducing and renewable-energy initiatives. It’s another excellent option on the Anatolian side of the city and is just steps from the ferry port.
Antusa counts the Basilica Cistern as a neighbour, and it enjoys a moody subterranean water system of its own. Situated in the heart of the historical peninsula, the hotel features an in-house Turkish bath, sauna, steam bath and massage facilities for the full hammam experience without leaving the property. Antusa contains 27 tidy and spacious rooms at budget-friendly prices. It’s terrific value for money when you consider the super-central Old City location.