For first-timers to Istanbul, it can be overwhelming trying to make sense of this massive city. With a population of nearly 20 million people, one can easily succumb to the chaos. The best approach to this sprawling metropolis is to break it down into neighborhoods and tackle it that way. Istanbul can feel like many cities rolled into one, but I have no doubt that once you find your spots, you’ll fall in love as well. Where to stay in Istanbul can make or break your time here, and I’ve broken down a few of my favorite neighborhoods. Whether you’re visiting as a tourist, a backpacker, or a digital nomad, you’ll find a neighborhood that’s right for you.
This is a backpacker blog after all, so I’ve included a hostel recommendation for each neighborhood at the end of each section. As an affiliate of Hostelworld, I do earn a commission for each booking made through my website at no extra cost to you.
Oh, and before you go, make sure to have good travel insurance handy whenever you’re out adventuring. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels.
Sultanahmet – The Best Neighborhood for Tourism
If it’s your first time in Istanbul, then Sultanahmet might be the best home base for you. For short-term visits to Istanbul, it’s hard to argue against Istanbul’s Old City. Most of the top destinations are in this area, including Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar. The prices in Sultanahmet are higher than anywhere else in Istanbul, but like I said, for short-term stays, that shouldn’t be a problem. Hostels and other accommodation are still very affordable, ranging from about $10-15 a night.
The restaurants in this area are the priciest in all of Istanbul, and most of them aren’t really anything to write home about. Find a good rooftop somewhere for the quintessential view of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. There are some bazaars in the area that specialize in tourist fare, like teas, spices, rugs, and more. I’d recommend going elsewhere to do your shopping, but Sultanahmet is as convenient as it gets as a one stop shop for short-term travelers.
Hostel Recommendation for Sultanahmet: Cheers Hostel
Galata – Trendy, Modern, and Historic
My personal favorite neighborhood in Istanbul is the Galata neighborhood. Despite being across the bridge from Sultanahmet, it’s still close enough to walk or hop on the tram for a quick ride. One can spend hours roaming through Galata’s side streets. Be warned, though. If you are ballin’ on a budget, it is impossible not to spend money in this neighborhood. The vintage stores get me every single time.
Regardless, Galata remains my favorite neighborhood. It has everything you need, and it is just so dang pretty everywhere you look. Just get your calves ready for all the hills that you’ll be walking up and down.
Hostel Recommendation for Galata: Hostel Le Banc
Beyoglu – Lively Neighborhood for Nightlife, Dining, and Shopping
Home to the busiest street in all of Turkey, staying in Beyoglu will put you right in the thick of it all. Every time I’d step outside my apartment and onto bustling Istiklal Street, I’d feel reenergized. “I can’t believe I actually live here,” I’d tell myself every single time. Sure, it can be chaotic and crowded, but Istanbul has a life to it unlike any other city I’ve been to before. Beyoglu captures that character, in every part of the spectrum. From the seedy alleyways to the trendy rooftop bars, you’ve got it all in Beyoglu.
Hostel Recommendation for Beyoglu: Stay Inn Hostel Taksim
Kadikoy – A Bustling International Neighborhood on the Asian Side
Honestly, Kadikoy might be my favorite neighborhood in Istanbul. However, its location on the Asian side couldn’t quite justify using it as my home base for the month. It’s great for spending a day eating, shopping, and drinking. As a traveler, though, it would be a bit of a hassle going to and from the more touristic areas. However, for stays of a month or longer, Kadikoy can feel like home real quick. It’s super easy to make friends in Istanbul, and Kadikoy takes that to another level. The diverse nightlife scene definitely helps with making friends.
If you want a cool, unique way to experience Kadikoy, I’d recommend doing a food tour. I did the Tale of Two Continents Food Tour, and it was one of the best days I had in Istanbul. I discovered a ton of local places and tried a lot of things I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. You can use code ELI10 to get 10% off that tour, or any other tour on Viator’s website.
Hostel Recommendation for Kadikoy: Yolo Hostel Kadikoy
Cihangir – Istanbul’s Coffee Culture at Its Peak
I’m typing this from Valerie Cafe in Cihangir as we speak. This neighborhood is one of the best for long-term stays in Istanbul. You’ll never have a shortage of coffee shops and cute restaurants to choose from. It’s not as busy as the other neighborhoods I’ve mentioned, so walking around aimlessly is much more enjoyable than more heavily-trafficked areas. Along with the cafe and dining options, you’ll find a number of vintage and antique shops to go with a variety of boutiques. Organic stores, vegan restaurants, and seaside views round out Cihangir as one of the best up and coming neighborhoods in Istanbul.
Hostel Recommendation for Cihangir: Jumba Hostel
Balat – Cute, Colorful, and Local
This neighborhood was one of the best surprises of my time in Istanbul. After landing at the airport at around 1 AM, my friend offered a couch to crash on so I wouldn’t have to book a night somewhere for a few hours of sleep. I gladly accepted her gracious offer, even though her place was in a neighborhood I haven’t heard of before. Balat turned out to be a fantastic neighborhood. It was very local and affordable, but also colorful, trendy, and vibrant. I can imagine it’s like what Galata used to be before becoming the tourist hotspot that it is now.
Hostel Recommendation for Balat: Balat Residence
Besiktas – The Vibrant Heart of Istanbul
Most travelers will steer clear from Besiktas, but its undeniably the heart and center of Istanbul. It can be overwhelming at times, and the traffic here alone can be extremely off-putting. However, if you plan on living in Istanbul longer-term, it doesn’t get much better than Besiktas. It is more affordable to find a place here for monthly stays or longer. It’s also the most well-connected area in Istanbul. If you need to get anywhere, then a quick ride on a ferry, tram, or bus can get you there.
Hostel Recommendation for Besiktas: Puffin Hostel Istanbul
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