Cruise along the glittering Bosphorus, buy spices in the Grand Bazaar and marvel at the 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia while staying at one of these top hotels in Istanbul.
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The largest city in Turkey, Istanbul is where Europe and Asia meet. It’s both traditional and modern, with a bustling mainland and evergreen islands. When it comes to hotels, the choices are wide – from riverfront palaces to hotels once frequented by Agatha Christie and Greta Garbo. Here are the best places to stay.
Sitting in the shadow of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, each of the 20 Ottoman-style rooms here is named after an artist with a special connection to Istanbul, from Audrey Hepburn to Charlie Chaplin. Artworks of those figures hang above the beds. It’s almost enough to draw your attention away from the views of the Marmara Sea, which are even better from the rooftop terrace where dinner and drinks are served at sunset.
While Parisian cafe tables blanket the footpath on the ground floor, the upper three levels of the Magnaura Palace Hotel are filled by luxury rooms, decorated with technicolour Turkish textiles and mahogany furniture. Many have views from their Juliet balconies of the Sultan Ahmed minarets, one of the grandest mosques in Istanbul.
While many of the top hotels in Sultanahmet are housed inside centuries-old buildings that fringe the Blue Mosque, the Ajwa is a modern, purpose-built property. These 61 rooms and suites could have been lifted straight out of the Topkapi Palace. Five-star touches include mother-of-pearl furniture, silk Tabriz carpets and hand-painted ceilings. There is also the opulent Afiya Spa to unwind in after a day of sightseeing, plus a fleet of Bentleys at your disposal.
The Obahan Hotel could be the most budget-friendly boutique hotel in Sultanahmet, only a few blocks south of the Blue Mosque. The 15 air-conditioned rooms are contemporary and simple, with some larger suites suited to families. The real attraction here is the price: a bargain for such an enviable old Istanbul address.
Western-style rooms feature Savannah Grey marble, bespoke walnut woodwork and turquoise tiling at Hotel Arcadia. Unwind with a Turkish bath, sauna and massage at the spa, before choosing between two on-site eateries. The upmarket Fine Dine Istanbul restaurant and Terrace Bar cash in on the rooftop views of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
Named after the 16th-century Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, Ibrahim Pasha combines two century-old homes into a boutique hotel within strolling distance of the Blue Mosque. The 24 rooms are all equipped with underfloor heating and rain showers, and breakfast is included. Head up to the rooftop terrace to admire the domes and minarets that blanket Sultanahmet Square.
Located in the district of Sultanahmet and just a five-minute walk away from the top attractions, White House Istanbul combines old-world charm with modern luxury. This traditional hotel has 22 airy rooms decorated in hues of white and gold. Enjoy a Turkish or international buffet breakfast at the Roof Garden, which offers views of the old city and the sparkling waters of the Bosphorus.
This family-run hotel in the Beyazit District is within walking distance of the Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace. Established in 1986 and built in a former mansion, Niles Istanbul features 19th-century design elements throughout, including hand-painted ceiling decorations in the lobby inspired by the Ottoman era. The hotel has 29 standard rooms, eight junior suites and two duplex suites that have heated mahogany floors and private hammam-style Turkish baths. If you’re looking to explore the most historic sites, this hotel is the perfect base.
Cross the Golden Horn and dive into the lively district of Beyoğlu, where modern restaurants, nightlife and shopping blend in with historical landmarks. Pera Palace has existed here since the 19th century and is now a reminder of the past with an elegant tea salon and patisserie, a stylish restaurant and the Orient Bar. Modern amenities include a spa and indoor pool. Many prominent guests have stayed at this five-star hotel, including Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway and Greta Garbo. The Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, Pera Museum and numerous galleries are right around the corner.
Down the street from Pera Palace lies Soho House Istanbul, an extravagant hotel and members’ club that has 87 refined rooms. It took Italian architect Giacomo Leoni nine years to complete in 1882; he imported marble and rosewood from his home country and hired famous artists to paint scenes of Greek mythology on the ceilings. This mansion was originally the home of a powerful Genoese merchant and shipbuilder, and later housed the US consulate. Today, the hotel has the celebrated Cowshed spa, which offers luxury hammam experiences, a top-notch gym and exclusive bars and lounges.
The intimate side streets of the bohemian Çukurcuma neighbourhood are dotted with antique shops, design stores and charismatic cafes. The 18 high-ceilinged rooms of the Stay Galata Hotel are in a preserved 19th-century mansion that still has original marble stairways and tile flooring. Enjoy a drink at the terrace bar and lounge overlooking the old city and Galata Tower. An exceptional blend of historical charm and modern minimalism, this hotel is ideal for stylish travellers curious to experience what the sophisticated residents of Galata love about this neighbourhood.
This hotel is within walking distance of Bomontiada, a vibrant arts and culture complex. Once an Ottoman Empire beer factory, the complex is now home to a variety of restaurants and bars, as well as the popular music venue Babylon. Visit the weekend vintage bazaar in Bomontiada, or wander along the fashionable streets of Nişantaşı and Beyoğlu. The 51 rooms and suites at The House Hotel Bomonti were designed by British interior design firm Conran and Partners; think concrete floors and walls and plenty of marble and timber.
A restored 17th-century palace, formerly home to sultans from the Ottoman era, Çırağan Palace Kempinski is now a world-class luxury hotel. This five-star establishment has 310 rooms with a luxury spa and butler service. Located on the shores of the Bosphorus Strait, it offers magnificent views of the Asian coast, best experienced from the outdoor infinity pool. It’s close to Dolmabahçe Palace and between the dynamic districts of Beşiktaş and Ortaköy, so there are plenty of opportunities for sightseeing and long strolls by the waterfront.
Just an hour’s ferry ride from the Istanbul mainland, the Princes’ Islands make for a relaxing getaway. No cars are allowed; this results in an eco-friendly, laid-back ambience far away from traffic. On the biggest island, Büyükada, the Splendid Palace instantly grabs attention with its silver domes and nostalgic red shutters. Treat yourself to a holiday here and enjoy the outdoor swimming pool, garden, restaurant, bar and cafe. When it’s time to retire, head back to one of the 60 rooms or nine suites, some of which have magnificent views of the azure Marmara Sea.
If you’re looking for more accommodation options in Istanbul, check into one of the top luxury hotels or these boutique rooms – and book your stay now on Culture Trip. For more places to stay in Turkey, check out our pick of the best hotels in Turkey for every traveller, bookable on Culture Trip.
Tom Smith contributed additional reporting to this article.
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