Where to Stay in Istanbul: Taksim or Sultanahmet?

Are you wondering where to stay in Istanbul – Taksim or Sultanahmet?

These are two very different neighbourhoods of Turkey’s largest city, both worthy of staying at.

Sitting on opposite sides of the Golden Horn, Taksim and Sultanahmet are the two most popular places to stay in Istanbul. 

In short, Taksim has a local atmosphere, with lots of shops, restaurants, and buildings that have been repurposed for flats, whereas Sultanahmet is more touristy. We’ll look into both of these locations in much more detail in this post though!

Let’s look at where to stay in Istanbul, Taksim or Sultanahmet!

Staying in Taksim

Taksim sits in European Istanbul, on the northern side of the Golden Horn.

It’s a place with lots of affordable restaurants, authentic Turkish shops, and while it is still fairly touristy, it is also a place where locals live.

In fact, one of the best Istanbul travel tips, if you’re looking for good value accommodation, is to look in Taksim first. It’s well connected and has a great vibe.

Attractions in Taksim

There are a few attractions in Taksim, although they are more focused on the Sultanahmet side. Places to visit in Taksim include: 

  • Galata Tower, a Genoese tower with panoramic views over Golden Horn and Bosphorous. You might be queuing for a while in the summer, but if you’re in Turkey in winter, you’ll still be able to get a wonderful view from the top of the tower!
  • Istiklal Street, Istanbul’s main shopping street, with both Turkish and international stores, as well as lots of restaurants. The Taksim tram also leaves from here. 
  • The Museum of Innocence is a museum is unusual as it is based on a book – if you haven’t read the book, however, it’s an interesting take on 1970s Istanbul.
  • Taksim Square is the main square of the area, with the Monument of the Republic standing in the middle

You could easily spend a day on the Taksim side, seeing all of the attractions, doing some souvenir shopping, and eating and drinking at restaurants, cafes, and bars. There are also lots of hammams around, both local and touristy. Turkish hammams are great all time of year, but are especially good places to warm up in when visiting Istanbul in winter!

Some of my favourite restaurants in Taksim are: 

  • Falafel Tyros, a Lebanese fast food style place with the best falafel I’ve ever had. 
  • Van Kahvalti Evi, which serves delicious Turkish breakfast spreads.
  • Parasifal, a vegetarian restaurant serving up Turkish and staples from other cuisines.
  • The Galata House Restaurant, a Russian-Georgian-Turkish fusion.
  • Patatos, a restaurant with huge jacket potatoes and dozens of fillings.

There are also tons of places to grab a coffee (warning: Turkish coffee is strong!), eat Turksih delight, and sample some Turkish ice cream. Buying Turkish ice cream is a theatrical performance, and it’s a really unique type of dessert! 

Cost of staying in Taksim

Taksim is a fairly budget-friendly place to stay in Istanbul. It’s not as cheap as some other areas, due to its central location, but there are some great value hotels to stay at in Taksim, and it is much cheaper than Sultanahmet. If you are on a budget, it’s probably the best of both worlds – close to the main attractions and also very good value. 

Pros of staying in Taksim

  • Close to the attractions on the Taksim side. 
  • A more budget-friendly alternative than Sultanahmet. 
  • A more local neighbourhood. 
  • Plenty of hotels to choose from. 
  • Just a short journey to tha main things to do in Sultanahmet. 

Cons of staying in Taksim

  • Taksim isn’t quite as old as Sultanahmet, which is in the heart of Istanbul’s Old City. 
  • Slightly less luxury hotels (but still a good few options) and less hostels. 

Best Hotels in Taksim

Hostel: Archeo is an atmospheric hostel with dormitories and private rooms. Dorms are kitted out with pod-style beds, and the private rooms are done up in a modern style. A delicious breakfast is served every day and there is a large cafe on site. Click here for more information about Archeo.

Budget Hotel: Mint Residence Taksim is a great budget place to stay in the city, with excellent reviews. Rooms are basic but are equipped with all you need, including an en-suite bathroom. There’s a small breakfast bar on-site, and it’s in a good location near Taksim Square. Here’s some more information about Mint Residence Taksim.

Mid-Range Hotel: Pera Center Hotel and Spa is where I stayed on my first trip to Istanbul. It’s a lovely little hotel, with a rooftop bar and restaurant, where complimentary Turkish breakfast is served. There is also a spa downstairs. The rooms are a little on the small side but comfy – the only thing that might bother some about this hotel is that the bathrooms are only separated from the room by a glass screen. There are privacy curtains, but it’s a bit of an unusual set up. The staff are friendly and it’s great value. Click here to read more.

Luxury Hotel: Pera Palace Hotel is a five-star property with huge rooms and large windows, washing the rooms with natural light. The beds are comfortable, and the rooms are kitted out with sofas and luxury bathrooms, some with roll top baths. There is an indoor swimming pool at the hotel, as well as a spa complete with a Turkish hammam. Click here for more information.

Staying in Sultanahmet

Sultanahmet is the best place to stay in Istanbul for tourist attractions.

Also located in Europe, but on the opposite side of the Golden Horn to Taksim, Sultanahmet is the most touristy place in Istanbul. It is pricier than Taksim (and everywhere else in Istanbul), but it is a good place for first-time visitors to stay in Istanbul. 

Sultanahmet is where you’ll find many of Istanbul’s luxury hotels, and also lots of it atmospheric hostels. There are options in Taksim too (especially for hotels), but you’ll have more to pick from in Sultanahmet!

Attractions in Sultanahmet

As I mentioned, most of Istanbul’s main attractions are in Sultanahmet. Popular places to visit include: 

  • The Hagia Sophia, an Orthodox church turned mosque turned museum re-turned into a mosque, and one of the most intricate, complex buildings in Istanbul. 
  • The Blue Mosque, one of the most striking mosques in the city. 
  • The Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar, two of Istanbul’s most famous bazaars selling wares from Turkey and across the three neighbouring continents. 
  • The Basilica Cistern is the largest of Istanbul’s many underground cisterns. 
  • Topkapi Palace, an ancient Ottoman Palace, now a museum full of Ottoman artefacts. 

You can also enjoy the Old City, and its many small streets and alleyways. Some people think that Sultanahmet, being the historic part of Istanbul, is much more atmospheric and authentic than Taksim. 

There are, of course, plenty of restaurants in Sultanahmet to enjoy. These are a little pricier than the restaurants on the Taksim side, but do offer a range of Turkish and international food. I’ve not eaten too many of them myself – I prefer the food scene on the Taksim side – but popular options are The Last Ottoman Cafe and Restaurant, the Loti Cafe and Roof Lounge and Antakya Restaurant. 

Like in Taksim, you’ll find lots of cafes, Turkish Delight shops, and places to get Turkish ice cream. 

Cost of staying in Sultanahmet 

Sultanahmet is without a doubt the priciest part of Istanbul, although prices are still fairly affordable compared to other destinations in Europe. You’ll be paying a bit extra for accommodation, restaurants, and drinks out in Sultanahmet. 

Pros of staying in Sultanahmet

  • Close to all of the main attractions of the city – easy to get to them for first time visitors and people just in the city for a short time.
  • Staying in old, historic Istanbul.
  • A larger range of luxury hotels.
  • Lots of hostels for backpackers.

Cons of staying in Sultanahmet

  • It’s the priciest neighbourhood in Istanbul for accommodation, food, and drink. 
  • The area can feel over-touristy, and it’s not where locals live. 

Best Hotels in Sultanahmet

Hostel: Cheers Hostel has private and dorm rooms, and a fun, friendly atmosphere that’s great for backpackers. It’s a very social hostel, an ideal place for first-time visitors to Istanbul to stay at! Click here for more information.

Budget Hotel: Hotel Tashkonak is a great value place to stay in Sultanahmet. The rooms are clean and bright, with en-suite bathrooms. It’s in a good location, close to all the main attractions and with friendly staff serving up a local breakfast each day. Read more about the hotel by clicking here.

Mid-Range Hotel: Armada Istanbul Old City Hotel is a great mix of luxury and value. The rooms are both modern and have historic features. It’s in a great location, close to the sea, and has a restaurant and bar on site. Here’s some more information about Armada Istanbul.

Luxury Hotel: Seven Hills Palace & Spa is one of the most opulent hotels in Istanbul. It has a full spa and a lush outdoor swimming pool that will make you feel like you’re at a beachside resort. The rooms are majestic, decorated in individual styles with grand decor. There is also a bar and restaurant on site. Click here to read more about the hotel.

Where to Stay in Istanbul – Taksim or Sultanahmet? 

When wondering where to stay in Istanbul – Taksim or Sultanahmet, you’ll have to take into account your budget and tastes. Taksim is better for people who want a good value place and somewhere with a neighbourhood atmosphere. Sultanahmet is the ‘proper’ old city of Istanbul, and is close to the main tourist attractions, but is also quite a lot more expensive and touristy. 

You might want to stay in Sultanahmet during your first trip, or if you’re just in Istanbul for a layover, and Taksim if you’ve already been to Istanbul before or are here for a more extended stay. 

Whichever one you end up staying in, I’m sure you’ll have a great time in Istanbul!