The Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern, the Topkapı Palace, the Hippodrome – most of Istanbul’s biggest drawcards are located in the old city of Sultanahmet, as are some of the city’s best hotels.
Sultanahmet sits at the heart of Istanbul’s historical peninsula, full to the brim with mesmerising mosques, snaking laneways, Ottoman architecture, a dramatic waterfront and immaculately curated gardens. While every visitor should cross the Golden Horn to check out Beyoğlu and catch a ferry across the Bosphorus to explore the Asian side of the city, nowhere in Istanbul feels quite as quintessentially Turkish as its spellbinding Old City. Want to spend the night in this humming hive of historic landmarks? Culture Trip has found the best hotels in Sultanahmet, Istanbul.
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet is the height of luxury | Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet / Hotels.com
Every traveller would love to be locked up in this prison. At this one-time Ottoman jailhouse from 1918, the domes and tiles of the facade make up the hotel entrance, and the former exercise yard is a leafy garden. The cells are now 65 luxurious rooms. The A’ya Terrace – an al fresco restaurant and lounge bar in the shadow of the Hagia Sophia next door – a full-service spa and access to the pool round out the five-star experience at the palatial Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet.
Hidden away on a quiet sidestreet that used to house the elite Peyks contingent of the Ottoman army, this boutique hotel is as traditionally Turkish as its surrounds. The converted mansion has restored an ancient tunnel linking the hotel lobby to the courtyard restaurant and bar – a covered winter garden with an old brick fireplace. The 14 rooms feature authentic Turkish furnishings such as carved wooden bedheads and tiled bathrooms. Named after the Greek moon goddess and situated only a block from the obelisks that stick out of Sultanahmet Square on the western side of the Blue Mosque, the Celine Hotel is a great affordable option.
This building isn’t as old as its neighbours, but it exudes timeless luxury. Constructed in 2017, the Ajwa is a serene five-star sanctuary shielded from the bustling centre of Sultanahmet. The hotel’s 61 boutique rooms have a long list of luxury features, including hand-painted ceilings, mother-of-pearl furniture, silk Tabriz carpets and marble bathrooms. For relaxation, the Ajwa has the over-the-top Afiya Spa. If you’re hungry, enjoy mouth-watering Azerbaijani meals with a view at the Zeferan Restaurant. The hotel has a fleet of Bentley limousines at your beck and call, too.
The Hotel Empress Zoe isn’t just one of the best value places to stay in Sultanahmet – it’s also among the most historic. The hotel inhabits a row of townhouses next door to the ruins of an ancient hammam dating back to 1483, and the traditional textiles and Islamic artworks in its guest rooms suit these time-worn surrounds. Taking its name from the woman who ruled Constantinople with her sister a millennium ago, the Hotel Empress Zoe is also home to a lush archaeological garden in the shadow of the old Ishak Pasha bathhouse.
The White House is all about old-world opulence. Beyond the Romanesque pillars at the entrance, the 22 palatial rooms are decked out in golden damask curtains, velvet period furniture, petite French balconies and countless glistening shades of white. Within walking distance of the Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque and other landmarks, the hotel features a cosy rooftop garden that makes the most of the prime historical peninsula location.
Custom-built in 2010, Hotel Amira is one of the newer places to stay on the historical peninsula. Not far from the Sirkeci waterfront behind the Blue Mosque, the property’s designer rooms show off bespoke artworks, rainfall showers plus jacuzzis and ocean-view balconies in its suites. It also has an atmospheric rooftop terrace and a concierge service that earns rave reviews. The organic buffet breakfast serves a must-try home-made cheese gözleme. If you overindulge, you can work it off at the fitness centre, which has a sauna, hot tub and massage services.
A block from the Basilica Cistern, this building has a history almost as long and winding as the neighbourhood itself. Opened in 1875 by a government agency, it served as a police station, court, school, newspaper bureau and office before being restored as a boutique hotel. Hotel Miniature has retained the original exposed-brick walls and distressed parquet floors across its rooms but added ultra-contemporary furnishings such as marble bathrooms and even a PlayStation in the suites. This property is a great pick for couples. You can treat yourself to a bottle of champagne in the spa’s whirlpool jacuzzi, sun-bathe on the terrace, or tuck into the signature chocolate fondue at the glass-ceilinged top-floor restaurant.