Istanbul Neighborhoods: How to Choose Where to Stay

In a city of 13 million people covering 2000 square miles, how do you know where to begin? Istanbul is one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean and it is easily the largest city in Turkey. It’s been growing since the 1950s when migrants from Anatolia flocked to the city in search of economic prosperity and the city has been expanding to accommodate them. There are so many great Istanbul Neighborhoods to choose from, where do you start?

What does this mean for you – one of 7 million visitors to Istanbul every year? It means you have some tough decisions to make when you are trying to decide where in this vast metropolis you want to stay and what you want to do!

Istanbul Neighborhoods Are Diverse

During my four-week stay in Istanbul, I stayed in 3 completely different neighborhoods and visited about 4 more in-depth via some great walking tours. Like most cities, each neighborhood has its own feel so I’ve tried to provide you with my opinion on what each neighborhood can offer you – the visitor – as well as give you a peek into what the neighborhood culture there was like.

Hopefully, this Istanbul Neighborhood Guide will help you figure out where to stay during your time in this beautiful city!

Istanbul Neighborhoods Map

Neighborhood Guide

 1- Sultanahmet

2 & 3 – Eminoju and Grand Bazaar

4, 5, 6, 7 – Beyoglu District  (4 represents Galata)

8 – Fener and Balat

Northwest of 9 – Eyup

North of 5 – Tarlabasi

North of 6 – Sisli

This isn’t the best Istanbul neighborhood map – but it’s the best one I can find that includes all of them at once so you can get the big picture.  Some of the Istanbul neighborhoods I’m talking about aren’t really marked on this map – but I’ll try to do my best to describe their location

The Best Time to Walk Through Istanbul Neighborhoods

One of the best times to really see a city is in the wee morning hours as the sun wakes up the homes, hills, and waterways with its golden glow. Commuters in Istanbul slowly move through their familiar paces and make their way to offices, mosques, stores, and stalls.

I woke up early and wandered aimlessly around the ferry docks watching commuters pour off of boats and through the back streets of the Spice Market. In the early morning hours, it looks quite different – it’s softer. Men drink tea and have their morning breakfast reading the paper and socializing with their friends and workmates. People smile at me, but don’t say a word. Trucks clamor through the narrow streets delivering inventory before the groups of tourists show up to deplete the inventory once again.

Sultanahmet and Eminönü For the Main Tourists’ Sights

This is tourist central – Sultanahmet is the easiest place to stay to tick off all of the main sites. Not many ‘real’ Istanbul locals living in this area though. However, at certain times, such as during Ramadan (while I was there), the historic sites draw a local crowd that is impressive to see and experience.

Things to do in the Sultanahmet Neighborhood

As I said – this is where the majority of the popular tourist sights are in Istanbul, so there are a ton of tours and places of interest in Sultanahmet. Here you’ll find a ton of hotels, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Topaki Palace, Basilica Cistern, and a ton of tourist restaurants and souvenir shops. Good public transport…but not what I would call the ‘real Istanbul’.

Hagia Sophia

I vaguely remember coming to Hagia Sophia (meaning Holy Wisdom)  on my first visit to Istanbul 12 years ago. It was my first exposure to the Islamic religion and the first time I had been in a mosque (even though at that time it was no longer a functioning mosque). I remember being fascinated by the layout of the building – so different than the typical churches I had been in my whole life.

It made me think about and consider times and lives around the world I had never thought about before. It was the beginning of my travel curiosity that has led me on this path I’m on today – to see what else this world had to offer that I didn’t know about – to get out of the known and live in the unknown.

But most of all I remember how the Hagia Sophia had such a long history of change – nothing in the United States was this old – nothing had such a long history. That change continues today, it’s now back to being a ‘working’ mosque in 2022.

Book a Hagia Sophia guided tour

But this time I was here to do what I didn’t the first time – photograph it. I knew the challenge ahead of me – how do you photograph this popular site with thousands of visitors milling around every corner of the massive building? I knew one thing for certain – it would take a lot of creativity in composition and a great deal of patience.

Bettina Cabana is a web designer and a freelance fashion blogger. She loves to write about the latest trends, women's fashion, and a lot more in the industry. Bettina has been working for multiple clients in the past many years. She likes to explore new places, cultures, and cook in her free time.

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