If you’re looking for a place to stay in Istanbul, it is important to understand its geography. Of all the cities I have set foot in, it definitely has the most interesting layout. The city sits on two continents — a half in Europe, another in Asia — and separated by the Bosphorus Strait that connects the Black Sea to the north and the Sea of Marmara to the south. A major inlet called the Golden Horn almost cuts across the European half.
Istanbul has a total of 39 districts. But for tourism purposes, let’s simplify this a bit. Let’s group these districts into four areas.
- Asian side. Mostly residential. Because of the high cost of rent on the European side of the Bosphorus, many locals choose to stay here. While it is always a great idea to pay a visit, I do not recommend staying here to tourists because most places of interest are on the European half.
- Sultanahmet. Often referred to as Old City, this is in a district called Fatih, south of the Golden Horn. Many of the city’s iconic structures and landmarks are here: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar, among others. There are a number of hotels and hostels here.
- Beyoğlu (Galata). Opposite Fatih, on the other side of the Golden Horn, is the district of Beyoğlu. Like Sultanahmet, it harbors many of the city’s tourist attractions including Taksim Square, İstiklal Caddesi, and the Galata Tower, dominating the area’s skyline. This area has the greatest concentration of accommodations.
- New Istanbul and the Bosphorus. Further north are four more districts: Beşiktaş, Kağıthane, Şişli, and Sarıyer. This is where Istanbul gets modern and a little bit artsy. At the center of it is the city’s central business district, surrounded by some pretty bohemian neighborhoods. Although a bit far from the key attractions, there are several hotels and hostels scattered across the area.
Where to stay depends on your itinerary. If you’re planning to spend more time in the city’s historic core, then book a place in Fatih (Sultanahmet). If you dig the busyness of Galata, go for Beyoğlu. Or if you want a more modern vibe, stay in the New City.
We were in Istanbul primarily because we were invited to speak at the World Tourism Forum. The venue was in Şişli, so were hosted by W Hotel in nearby Beşiktaş. But since we wanted to maximize our stay, I decided to check in elsewhere while my blogging partner Yoshke stayed at W Hotel for the entire duration of the event. Here are some quick thoughts about them.
Although Yoshke and I chose not to stay in the same hotel, I still picked a place within the vicinity for practical reasons. The nearest hostel to W is Puffin, just a block away.
On the way to the hostel, I was ushered by the delicious smell of kebabs coming from nearby stalls and restaurants. The brick building is a bit difficult to find and you can miss it easily if you’re not paying attention. The reception area is located on the 4th floor (something you might not be thrilled about if you’re carrying wheeled luggage).
I booked a Deluxe Double Bed Private room for €16.25 ($18.14) each. The room was visually pleasant. (It’s pink, and it reminded me a little bit of my sister’s room back home.) It is spacious and equipped with a TV set and heater. Bathroom was clean, and they provide soap, shampoo, and towels. There was also a mini-balcony. The staff were all friendly and eager to help. My only complaint is connectivity. Wi-fi is limited to the common area only. (Thank heavens for Globe Roam Surf).
Address: Sinanpaşa, Çelebi Oğlu Sk. No:11, Beşiktaş, Turkey
How to get to Puffin Hostel: An 8 minute walk from Besiktas bus stop. From the bus stop, you go to Alkım Bookstore across the Naval Museum (Deniz Müzesi). Then you have to turn left on the second street. The brick building on your left side houses Puffin Hostel.
Cost: USD 35-40 for a twin or double room, USD 8 for a dorm bed.
What we loved: Clean room. Lots of restaurants in the vicinity.
What we didn’t like so much: A bit far from key tourist spots. Wi-fi limited to common area. No available receptionist when we checked out at 6:30AM.
Galata West Hostel
After exploring Istanbul, we flew to Cappadocia and stayed there for four days. Our next stop was Marrakech in Morocco, but we had to connect in Istanbul. Because our flight would land in Istanbul in the morning and our flight to Morocco was in the early morning of the next day, we decided to spend one night at a hostel. We chose Galata West Hostel because of its proximity to Galata Tower, which we intended to visit that day.
We booked a standard twin room with Galata West prior to our arrival. We had a really tough time locating it. (Our driver didn’t know where it was.) When we arrived, we were greeted by a friendly member of their staff. Checking in was fast and straightforward. We were given the key, and up we went.
The room they gave had a bunk bed, which was fine with us. It was small and had not much in it except a small closet. There were no electrical sockets (not even a single one!), so we had to leave our battery charger at the reception to charge. I had to stay at the common area on the 6th floor to do online work (charge my laptop and get internet access). The heater was not functioning properly so we had to tell the reception about it, too. On top of it all, the shared bathroom was disgusting.
I know it’s super duper cheap, but come on. Good thing the staff were nice, helpful, and friendly. I hope they’re paying the receptionist well because he was the only saving grace here. That and the fact that it’s just a four-minute walk from Galata Tower.
Address: Bereketzade, Savcı Bey Çk. No:3, 34420, Turkey
Cost: Standard room, €13.00 ($15.15).
What we loved: Proximity to Galata Tower and other key attractions. Friendly staff.
What we didn’t like so much: Heater was not working, steep and narrow staircase, dirty bathroom, no in-room electric outlets.
W Istanbul Hotel (Splurge Option)
I knew it was gonna be good as soon as I laid eyes on its facade. W Istanbul is set in a restored 19th-century rowhouse, not too far from the Bosphorus. I was assigned a Studio Suite, a super-spacious corner room with its own private patio and garden. Large windows let plenty of natural light in. But since I had always wanted my working environment a bit dim, I drew the curtains and turned on one of their light settings. The room had a wide bed, a fridge, and mini-bar.
One of the most impressive amenities at this hotel was the travel phone that comes with every phone. It allows unlimited local and international calls, and unlimited access to certain travel websites and apps (i.e. TripAdvisor, Google Maps, etc.). You can take it and use it outside. (You can’t take it home, though. Duh.) The in-room wi-fi is uber-fast too.
Buffet breakfast is also included in every booking. Lots of options including Turkish and continental.
My only complaint is the toilet and bath. While it is equipped with a rainforest shower and a rich set of toiletries, the bathroom and toilet were too small. Whenever I showered, the splashes created a puddle outside. And I’m not such a frolic showerer (Is that even a word?).
Other than that, my stay was almost flawless. The staff were courteous and extremely helpful that when I needed something, I’d simply call the reception and someone would be knocking on my door in no time.
Address: Süleyman Seba Cad. No:22, 34357 İstanbul, Turkey.
Cost: Rooms (including the Studio Suite) range from EUR 128 to 208. Suites are in the thousands.
What I loved: Oversized room. Lots of thoughtful amenities (a travel phone, welcome snacks, lighting options, entertainment system with surround sound). Fast in-room wi-fi!
What I didn’t like so much: Small bathroom. And the hotel is a bit far from the key attractions.
Disclosure: W Hotel is a sponsor of the World Tourism Forum, an event at which we were invited to speak. We did not shoulder the cost of our stay as it was something arranged for us by the organizers of the event. However, the hotel nor the organizers did not ask us to blog about our stay either.