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The Turkish city formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople has a funky modern personality, evidenced by hip bars and restaurants – and cool neighbourhoods such as Karaköy and Galata. In recent times, 19th-century Ottoman mansions and old guest houses have re-emerged as boutique hotels for history-hungry visitors. Trendy or old-school, they flaunt design features from gilded plasterwork and opulent velvet sofas to pared-down wood floors and chic industrialism, all boosted by contemporary comforts. Here are some of Culture Trip’s favourite boutique-style places to relax after a day spent exploring Istanbul.
These 12 bespoke rooms present a splendid example of Neo-Ottoman architecture, showing off lofty ceilings, handcrafted Italian furniture and gold-leaf detailing. Located just north of the 15 July Martyrs Bridge (the one that looks like a grey Golden Gate) on the Anatolian banks of the Bosporus, this four-star boutique hotel might be smaller than the Beylerbeyi Palace down the road, but it’s hardly any less glamorous. Its precursor, the Debreli Ismail Pasha Mansion, burned down in 1983 and was reconstructed in the 1990s complete with waterfront restaurant and a leafy garden that used to be the palace’s harem.
Named after Byzantium’s grand port on the Golden Horn, the Neorion Hotel greets travellers as they would have been welcomed in days gone by. The facade is intricately decorated with tiles and brickwork, the lobby is loaded with Anatolian relics, the café serves traditional Turkish meze and the in-house spa offers a glimpse into the hammam experience. Situated between the Topkapı Palace and the Galata Bridge, the 30 rooms are old-fashioned – prepare to be greeted with a piece of folk art above your pillow – but represent good value.
Originally a 19th-century convent that housed Franciscan nuns, the Soeurs Garde-Malades Apartment was revamped in 1901 before falling into disrepair two decades later. But much like the rest of the multicultural Galata district, the building was rejuvenated in the 2000s by Tomtom Suites, faithfully restoring the structure to become one of Istanbul’s top all-suite hotels. Hidden on a quiet street between İstiklal Avenue and the Karaköy waterfront, the 20 suites have huge bedrooms, hammam-style bathrooms decked out with whirlpool baths and access to a rooftop lounge with views as far as the Princes’ Islands.
Local designers transformed this 1882 structure into a trendy boutique hotel in 2011, blending vintage elements such as decorative plasterwork and sunny french windows with contemporary touches like exposed brick and patterned hardwood floors. But the highlight might be the rooftop GalatAda24 restaurant and lounge bar, both for the cutting-edge contemporary Turkish cuisine and for the vistas across the Golden Horn towards Istanbul’s peninsula. A Parisian flavour streaks through the 20 rooms, while the personalised butler service is pure luxury.
The Kanlıca neighbourhood is renowned for its especially creamy yoghurt, and the Ajia is equally as decadent. This huge white Ottoman mansion stands on the Asian shore of the Bosporus and has its own private boat that ferries guests to the European side of the city. Most of the 16 rooms enjoy views over the water, and the seaside restaurant is first-class.
There’s no mistaking this larger-than-life property – its Ottoman-era facade is plastered in bright turquoise paint. Its interior is no more subtle, with the lobby full of traditional Turkish lamps, vintage cameras, retro radios, collectable clocks and record players, not to mention the charming (and no less colourful) garden café. Sharing the same block as the ancient Basilica Cistern, this super-central hotel also has the best budget beds on the peninsula, with 16 homely rooms available at reasonable prices.
This four-star hotel counts the Hagia Sophia as a next-door neighbour, and the facilities live up to the peerless Sultanahmet location. This Ottoman mansion was converted into Boutique Saint Sophia in 1999 then given another head-to-toe facelift in 2013, adding Bianco Carrara marble, Bulgari cosmetics and moody pictures of Istanbul to the 26 rooms and suites. The below-ground courtyard is a highlight, especially come 5pm when high tea is served.
The headquarters of the Credit General Ottoman Bank date back as far as 1863, and Aga Khan Award-winning architect Han Tümertekin celebrated plenty of the original features when he turned this Beaux-Arts building into a glitzy boutique hotel in the new millennium, retaining the bank’s arched windows, granite floors and even the vaults, which now store wine. The House takes its art seriously – there’s an in-house art curator organising exhibitions throughout the property – as well as its food, thanks to the cosmopolitan Kasa Lokanta and Bar.
This is an updated version of an article originally written by Tom Smith.