It's been months since our trip to Istanbul and since I wrote my first post, post-trip. It was one of those trips that has been swirling around in my head ever since we returned and while I've been meaning to blog about it, I also wasn't ready to share it. When an experience was really good, it can be hard to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and sometimes, it's just nice to let it settle and be what it is without the pressure to articulate it. All that to say, I think it's time.
Istanbul is a really, really big city that straddles both the Europe and Asia continents and having never been there before, it was a little overwhelming trying to figure out the best place to stay in terms of location and hotels. (And we all know I'm a little nuts about finding good accommodation.)
My research told me that the majority of the main tourist sites were found in Fatih, also known as Old Town, in the European part of the city. It also told me that traffic in this booming city can be horrendous which led me to believe that it might be easiest to stay in Old Town. Generally, I don't like to stay in the tourist centres - while the sites are fantastic, it's nice to be able to escape the crowds and the restaurants geared towards foreigners at the end of the day. So, I compromised and booked the first few nights in Sultanhamet before we'd cross the Galata Bridge to Beyoglu for our final couple of nights.
Our first hotel was Hotel Sultania located on a pedestrian street lined with restaurants and hotels, mere minutes from Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia and The Blue Mosque. The hotel itself is relatively small with 42 rooms all named after famous Sultan's wives in the Ottoman Empire and it's decorated with traditional Ottoman style. Our room was spacious, comfortable and very clean and while the decor was a little kitschy, it seemed fitting for the area. The staff was also really friendly and intent on making sure we had a lovely stay.
Our stay in Fatih was certainly convenient. We didn't need taxis or public transit as everything in the area was easily reachable on foot and it allowed us to hit the main sites within the first couple of days. Finding restaurants was a little more difficult as there were hundreds around but the kind with inflated prices and that don't feel particularly authentic. But, we enjoyed the convenience.
After a couple of full days visiting the sites that make Istanbul a famous tourist destination, we were definitely ready to cross the Golden Horn to our second hotel, The House Hotel Galatasaray. As our taxi weaved up a tiny, one way road lined with junk shops, I did have a moment of panic wondering if perhaps I hadn't made the right choice but the feeling was quickly dispelled. In fact, booking this hotel might have been one of the best decisions I've ever made..
There are three House Hotels in Istanbul all designed by well-known Turkish designers, Autoban and all located in restored apartment buildings. (This company also claims the scrumptious and beautiful House Cafés found throughout the city.) The Galatasaray was the first of the 3 hotels to open and is found just down the hill from Istikali Avenue, a popular, pedestrian shopping road leading up to Taksim Square, yet set amongst apartment buildings, galleries, and independent shops.
Our room was stunning. In fact, upon pushing my bags to the side, I asked Joe if we could move in. The attention to detail was evident and it felt welcoming and homey yet luxurious. The shower in the middle of the room was surprisingly quite functional and the lounge on the top floor was impeccable with fantastic views over the neighbourhood. We loved this hotel.
In the end, both Hotel Sultania and The House Hotel Galatasaray were great choices. For a first visit to Istanbul, if you have the time, I highly recommend choosing to stay in a couple of different neighbourhoods and especially outside of Fatih for a more well-rounded view of the city. If we are lucky enough to return to Istanbul (and my goodness I hope we are,) we'll probably forgo Fatih and stick to Beyoglu... and probably the House Hotel Galatasaray.
-Hotel Sultania often has different deals featured on their website. We were able to secure free transport from the airport.
-We booked The House Hotel Galatasaray through Design Hotels for a better rate.