As a long-standing tourist hotspot that has accommodated curious westerners since the mid 19th century, Istanbul is thick with places to stay in.
For the very same reason, many of the city's hotels are rather well-worn. Even some of the five-star pick of the crop have been around since the 1950s and are seriously showing their age.
Imagination & modernisation
In some cases, age has been used to good effect. Istanbul has a nice line in 'Ottoman' boutique hotels. These are Ottoman-era houses and mansions, imaginatively converted into unique accommodation with period furnishings.
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In many cases, the original building has been entirely demolished apart from the facade, then reconstructed in concrete, so guests get nostalgic charm and all mod cons rolled into one. The first of these Ottoman guest-houses was Ayasofya Pansiyonları, founded and funded by the Turkish Touring and Automobile Association. Committed to the promotion of Turkish culture, the TTAA went on to open several similar hotels; Yeşil Ev is the pick of the bunch. Other businesses and individuals have picked up the baton, such as American Ann Nevans at the Empress Zoe, the charming Ibrahim Paşa and Sarnic.
Newcomers with wow-factor
New openings in the past few years include three Bosphorus-side stunners: Ajia and Sumahan both on the Asian side; and the super-opulent, super-priced Hotel Les Ottomans in Kuruçşme. Ajia and Les Ottomans are both converted yalıs (waterside houses); Sumerhan's premises were once a distillery. For all three, the waterside location is a huge selling point – the romantic setting is more important than proximity to the city centre. With the arrival of these, along with Sofa in Nişantaşı, and the eclectically decorated and stylish Eklektik, the age of the design-led hotel has most definitely arrived in Istanbul.
There are basically two choices: south or north of the Golden Horn (the exceptions are the two hotels we list on the Asian side: the Ajia and the Sumahan). Whichever you choose, expect to spend plenty of time in taxis, as most visitors split their time between the two areas.
South of the Golden Horn: budget & boutiques
South of the Golden Horn means mosques, the Grand Bazaar, and all the major sights of Sultanahmet. This has traditionally been the centre for the city's budget and mid-range accommodation. Almost all the cheapest options are on and around Akbıyık Caddesi and Utangaç Sokak, two parallel streets east of the Haghia Sophia.
Increasingly, the area is moving upmarket and now has one of the best deluxe options in the Four Seasons. This is also the area in which you'll find all the Ottoman boutique hotels. Most Sultanahmet hotels have rooftop terraces and it's hard to beat morning coffee and croissants nestled between the domes of the Haghia Sophia and Blue Mosque – a classic Istanbul cleavage if ever there was one.
North of the Golden Horn: mid-range & high-end
North of the Golden Horn is the business and entertainment district of Beyoğlu. There are plenty of backstreet mid-range places that put you right among the shops, restaurants, bars and clubs. They lack the views or romance of the Sultanahmet hotels, but are more convenient late at night.
Most of the city's high-rise, high-end options are clustered around Harbiye, an area of green parkland just north of Taksim Square. As well as being close to Beyoğlu, Harbiye is conveniently situated for shopping trips to the fashionable areas of Nişantaşı and Teşvikiye. All the culture of old Istanbul is a ten-minute taxi ride away, although at the wrong time of day – morning and evening rush hours – that can stretch to half an hour or more.
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Istanbul's most famous hotel, the Pera Palace (www.perapalas.com) – built in 1892 to accommodated guests from the Orient Express – has been undergoing renovations. In its old incarnation the PP was the epitome of faded elegance, a hotel with an incredibly romantic history; guests had included Sarah Bernhardt, Greta Garbo, Mata Hari, Alfred Hitchcock, Jackie Onassis and Agatha Christie (she wrote part of Murder on the Orient Express while staying here). We hope the new Pera Palace, due to reopen in late 2009, will retain its distinctive charms.
In line with the basic economic principles of supply and demand, hotels don't come cheap in Istanbul. Competitively priced places book up quickly, particularly during the summer when they're choked with large tour groups, conventions and conferences.
From May to September, Christmas, New Year and national holidays are the busiest times. Also beware of major cultural events like the various major international film, theatre and music festivals. At such times, you definitely need to book well in advance.
Booking in advance
Plenty of hotels now take bookings online and there are also a few useful websites for online reservations, notably www.istanbulhotels.com, which brings together about 80 of the city's hotels and offers discounts for online booking. Alternatively, the website www.istanbul.hotelguide.net provides links to local hotel websites.
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Booking on arrival
If you arrive without a reservation, there are several booking agents at Atatürk Airport in the international arrivals hall (at the opposite end to the tourist information desk). They have an extensive list of mainly three- and four-star hotels and don't charge any commission.
Prices, rates & bargaining
In all but a few of the high-end hotels, room rates include tax (18 per cent) and breakfast.
Rates are particularly open to bargaining in the mid-range and budget categories, especially if you can pay cash in foreign currency. Most places happily accept euros, dollars or sterling. Conversely, payments by credit card can often incur a five per cent surcharge.
Affordable Ottoman boutiques: Ayasofya Pansiyonları, Empress Zoe, Ibrahim Paşa, Sarniç all in Sultanahmet offer some Ottoman magic at mid-range prices.
Faded grandeur: the eccentric Büyük Londra has wind-up gramophones and valve radios on display. Favoured by artists, writers and film crews.
Shoestring budget: Hotel Hanedan and Hotel Uyan are both affordable and right next to all the big sights.
Prices quoted in this guide are high-season rates, which normally apply from the end of May to the beginning of September, at Christmas and New Year, and during national holidays. Outside these times you can expect a discount of up to 30 per cent.
We have listed prices in this chapter in the currency quoted by the hotels themselves, usually euros, occasionally US dollars or YTL. Hotels in this guide are divided into the following categories: Luxury (more than €200, or $270, a night for a double); Expensive (€120-€200, $160-$270); Mid-range (€50-€120, $70-$160); and Budget (€25-€50, $30-$70, under €25, or $30).
While every effort and care has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this guide, the publisher cannot accept responsibility for any errors it may contain. Before you go out of your way, we strongly advise you to phone ahead and check the particulars.
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