Hotel, hostels, couchsurfing, or Airbnb-rented flat to stay in Istanbul? I opt for a corner penthouse overlooking Marmara Sea in one side and the minarets of the Blue Mosque in other side. I am quite a dreamer.
Although Istanbul is on the cheaper side compared to other big cities in its fellow European countries, we have spent so much for KUL-IST-KUL airfare (2 adults+1 kid). Also, we planned on going to Capadoccia by Pegasus, so, cost for accommodation should be minimal.
Hotels, apartments are plenty in Istanbul. You are never short of choices. You can also choose the neighborhood that suits your preference.
- Sultanahmet area is by far the most touristy area. Here is where everything is happening. Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Sarayi, are just around the corner. Tram stops are plenty (Sultanahmet, Cemberlitas, Gulhane, depending on which part of Sultanahmet you are staying). Downside is it’s very touristy. Although it is close to major attractions, hotels are affordable.
- Beyazit (this is the neighbourhood I was staying in) is around Grand Bazaar area, price is cheaper than hotels in Sultanahmet area. Closest trams stop is Beyazit Kapalicarsi across Grand Bazaar. This is trading area, there a are a lot of small shops, loading and unloading every hour of the day, workers around. The plus side there are small stalls and restaurants and mini markets cater the workers, food price is cheaper than near tourist attraction. Beyazit is 3 tram stops away from Sultanahmet, and within walking distance. Laleli (1 stop away from Beyazit) may also be considered.
- Taksim is outside the old city of Istanbul. To get to Sultanahmet you have to take funicular tram to Kabatas, continued by normal tram (T1). Taksim is modern. Hotels and hotel rooms are bigger. Apartments are modern. If you prefer modern lifestyle, night life, and easy transport from/to Sabiha Gokchen (SAW), Taksim maybe the better choice.
- Aksaray is 4 stops from Sultanahmet and 2 stops from Grand Bazaar. It’s a fair neighbourhood if you want to combine distance to major attraction and shopping places and modern entity. Aksaray has better access to Ataturk Airport (IST) because it has Metro stop that link directly to the Havalimani.
- Kadikoy is in the Asian side of the city. it’s popularly believed Asian part of Istanbul is considerably cheaper than the European part. Personally I don’t see the necessities to commute back and forth crossing the Bosphorus. Most attractions are in the European part and it’s better to stay in the area, unless you’d stay for long term.
- Airport area maybe the best choice if you are in transit (to go to other parts of Turkey, or continue your trip elsewhere). If you only stay in Istanbul for a night or two, it makes sense to stay near IST and SAW, so you don’t have to carry your luggage around. Group tours usually prefer hotel near the airport to cut cost because they will go around on a private bus/van.
So, now, hotel or apartment?
If you prefer convenience, cleanliness, hotel is your option. Hotels in Sultanahmet area are usually quite old but okay. Being in Sultanahmet it means they cannot be higher than the Blue Mosque, so most hotels are low rise.
Traveling with a toddler and coming from a country where its utmost gastronomic principle is ‘you have not yet eaten if you have not had rice’ — even though you have had a loaf of bread — we chose an apartment. My husband and I are pretty flexible with food, but our son’s staple food is basically rice. So, we brought along our mini rice cooker to the apartment we rented. Rice is pretty common in Turkey but not as common as Turkish bread simit. Simit is too bland and too hard for our taste.
I browsed airbnb to find a studio or a one bed room unit with close proximity to Hagia Sophia/Blue Mosque. At first, I considered Taksim, but get it off the table soon. My choice was Sultanahmet or Beyazit area.
I found this https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4045449. It was USD 40/night, a tiny one bed room apartment. Turned out very good. Ulas — the owner — responded right away although his English is rather poor. He was helpful and we could check in early. He even let us leave our luggage in the room for two days for free when we went to Capadoccia.
The room was in the middle of small shops of fur, bags, shoes. Ulas’ fur shop is downstairs, so whenever we had a problem we could just go downstairs. The studio (it’s a one bedroom but Ulas advertise it as studio) was equipped with strong Wi-fi (super important), clean and modern bathroom with cold/hot shower. There was a small IKEA dining area, and a bright red sofa in the living room. TV was also equipped. Aircond and heater were operational, very important because it was under 15 degrees Celcius. The kitchenette was working fine. There was also a small fridge and a kettle. Bowls, saucepan, pots, cutlery were there. Ulas has also put some sugar, salt, and pepper.
Although from time to time we ate in a doner kebab, many times we cooked in the studio. We saved a lot of money. There are mini markets selling snacks, milk, fresh fruits, veggies, eggs. There are also some small restaurants.
There are many other units like this in Istanbul and the price is affordable, even as low as USD 20.
Is Turkey in your bucket list? Read my itinerary and estimated cost for a week in Istanbul and Capadoccia.
Traveling with kids in Turkey? Read my story on how wonderful Turkish are with kids.