Knowing what the best areas in Istanbul will vary depending on your purpose. Some places in this Turkish city stand out for luxury, others for tourist attractions, and others as the ideal place to live and work. Overall, 39 official districts are spread across European and Asian Istanbul. These further divide into hundreds of Istanbul neighbourhoods separated by the Golden Horn and Bosphorus Strait.
Some well-known Istanbul neighbourhoods include Sultanahmet, Taksim, Beyoglu, Kadikoy, Besiktas, Uskudar, Sisli, and many more. From majestic minarets to vibrant nightlife scenes, Istanbul offers many places to go.
Whether exploring the winding alleys of Sultanahmet or looking for property along the scenic Bosphorus and Golden Horn, the Istanbul neighbourhoods and areas are captivating. Before we talk about the best areas, to make for easy travelling from other countries, it is worth knowing which airport to fly into. Istanbul has two main airports.
Istanbul Airport (IST): European Istanbul Airport is the city’s primary international airport. It is 40 kilometres northwest of the centre. Istanbul Airport is Turkey’s largest airport, with hundreds of daily domestic and international flights. It serves several major airlines and provides extensive connectivity to destinations worldwide.
Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW): Sabiha Gökçen International Airport is in Asian Istanbul, about 45 kilometres southeast of the centre. Although farther than Istanbul Airport, it still offers convenient access and serves domestic and international flights. Sabiha Gökçen Airport is particularly popular for low-cost carriers travelling to Asian Istanbul.
Best Areas in Istanbul – Turkey’s Largest City
Sultanahmet Area for Main Tourist Attractions
In the Fatih district of Istanbul, Sultanahmet’s old city part is the most popular when visiting Istanbul on holiday. Often considered the heart of Istanbul’s main tourist attractions, most first-time visitors and tourist crowds head here. The old city part was once the focal point of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires and continues to showcase their architectural masterpieces. One major tourist attraction in Sultanahmet’s old city is the awe-inspiring Hagia Sophia.
Another iconic structure in this Istanbul neighbourhood is the Blue Mosque, officially known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Topkapi Palace offers glimpses into the opulent lifestyle of Ottoman rulers. Finally, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar a short walk away attracts large tourist crowds. The Grand Bazaar encompasses more than 4,000 shops and stalls, and played crucial roles in the city’s commerce and cultural exchange, making it an important historical landmark of this Istanbul neighbourhood.
Walking through the Grand Bazaar, tourist crowds marvel at the intricate craftsmanship of Turkish rugs and ceramics, haggle over the price of gold or silver jewellery, and sample the aromas of exotic spices. Apart from shopping, the Grand Bazaar immerses Istanbul’s vibrant culture. From the Grand Bazaar, and within walking distance, is the beautiful Golden horn that opens up the sense of Istanbul.
Balat and Fener in the Fatih District
Balat and Fener are historic neighbourhoods located within the Fatih district of Istanbul. These neighbourhoods offer glimpses into Istanbul’s past with their rich history, colourful houses, and cultural heritage. Balat sits on the Golden Horn’s southern shores and is known for charming, narrow streets with traditional wooden houses painted in vibrant colours. This neighbourhood was once home to Jewish, Greek, and Armenian communities, and their cultural influences can still be seen today.
Fener, adjacent to Balat, is another historically significant neighbourhood within the Fatih district. It is famous for its Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which has been the spiritual centre of the Orthodox Church since the Byzantine era. The neighbourhood’s narrow streets, traditional houses, and local eateries add to its unique character. Balat and Fener provide captivating atmospheres with picturesque streets and historical sites. They offer an escape from the bustling city centre to explore Istanbul’s multicultural heritage.
Taksim Square and Beyoglu for a Central Location and Modern Istanbul
Heading across the Golden Horn but still in European Istanbul, we arrive at Taksim and Beyoglu. Known for art galleries, cool cafes, trendy restaurants, tourist attractions, and bustling street life, this location is also suitable for first-time visitors. Taksim Square stands at the heart of this Istanbul neighbourhood, symbolizing Turkey’s transformation into a modern republic. Taksim Square is also a central gathering place and starting point for exploring the surrounding areas.
This leads to Istiklal Street, lined with shops, cool cafes, restaurants, antique shops, art galleries, and theatres offering international and local brands. On the back paths of Istiklal Street are rooftop bars and nightclubs, making it a good location for vibrant nightlife scenes.
In addition, Istiklal Street is home to numerous local attractions. The Pera Museum and tourist attraction features diverse art collections, including Turkish Orientalist paintings, Anatolian weights, measures, and contemporary works. For panoramic views of Istanbul, visitors head to the Galata Tower, an iconic landmark in the area.
The Best of Kadikoy in Asian Istanbul
Situated in Asian Istanbul, Kadikoy is ideal for experiencing local attractions of Istanbul’s cultural offerings. This vibrant neighbourhood on Istanbul’s Asian side boasts colourful bazaars and vintage shops brimming with life and energy. There are also lively nightlife scenes in Kadikoy. Many bars, clubs, and live music venues cater to every taste.
Kadikoy also features vintage shops and thriving arts and culture scene. Visit the Baris Manco Cultural Center to catch performances or exhibitions or explore independent galleries and artist studios throughout the neighbourhood. And, like many parts of Asian Istanbul, Kadikoy has several historic sites and landmarks, including the Haydarpasa Train Station and the Ottoman-era Moda Wharf.
Besiktas for the Best in Luxury
Besiktas in European Istanbul offers traditional Turkish lifestyles and modern urban living. The area is widespread, and for luxury hotels or boutique hotels with stylish rooms, this is an ideal area. You’ll find the best restaurants, luxury hotels, cafes, and shops in the city that cater to all tastes and budgets. One popular attraction in Besiktas is the historic Bosphorus waterfront. The promenade is great for walks, jogs, or bike rides while enjoying the Bosphorus Strait and Asian Istanbul.
Take relaxing ferry rides from Besiktas to charming Ortakoy. Besiktas features several museums and historical sites, such as the Dolmabahce Palace and the Naval Museum. The palace was where Ottoman sultans lived in the 19th and early 20th centuries, boasting impressive interiors and beautiful gardens. The Naval Museum showcases the rich maritime history of Turkey with an extensive collection of ship models, weapons, and navigation instruments.
The Karakoy Area of Istanbul
Near Galata Bridge and the Golden Horn, European Karakoy has become a trendy hub for art, design, and food. For those who prefer more modern and stylish residential areas of the Golden Horn, Karakoy’s winding streets is the place to be. As you wander through the area, you’ll also notice an abundance of stylish boutiques and design studios.
The hip and trendy crowd that frequents Karakoy has attracted fashion and design entrepreneurs who have set up shop. But it’s not just the modern vibe that draws people to this residential area. This neighbourhood’s rich history portrays its role as an important commercial and cultural centre during the Ottoman era. This area of the Golden Horn was also crucial for the conquest of Istanbul in 1453.
Beylikduzu for Investment
Beylikdüzü is known for modern urban development, residential areas, and various amenities. The district has recently experienced significant growth and development, attracting residents and businesses to buy residential properties, including apartments, villas, and gated communities.
Beylikdüzü has become popular with families and young professionals looking for modern and convenient living environments thanks to several shopping centres, such as the Beylikdüzü Migros AVM and Perlavista AVM, offering retail options, restaurants, and entertainment facilities.
The district also boasts numerous parks and green spaces, providing recreational areas for residents to enjoy outdoor activities. Transportation in Beylikdüzü is facilitated by various bus lines and Metrobus. This rapid transit system connects different parts of Istanbul. In addition, the E-5 highway and the TEM motorway pass through the district, providing convenient access to other city parts. Overall, Beylikdüzü offers comfortable and modern living environments with residential options, amenities, and convenient transportation links, making it an attractive location within Istanbul.
Eyup for Islamic Heritage
Eyup in European Istanbul sits on the Golden Horn’s west banks. Eyüp is known for its religious significance, historical sites, and traditional atmospheres. One notable landmark is the Eyup Sultan Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. The mosque houses the tomb of Eyüp Sultan, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad. This famous pilgrimage site attracts visitors from around the world.The district’s rich history is characterized by its traditional Ottoman architecture and narrow cobblestone streets.
Walking through the neighbourhood, you can find many historical buildings, traditional wooden houses, and small shops selling traditional goods. Pierre Loti Hill offers a panoramic Golden Horn view. It is named after the French novelist and naval officer Pierre Loti, who frequented the hill and wrote about his experiences in Istanbul. Eyüp is also home to the historic Eyüp Cemetery, where many notable figures from Ottoman history are buried.
The hillside cemetery provides peaceful and scenic environments. Eyup’s vibrant local culture features traditional tea houses, street markets, and small neighbourhood restaurants serving Turkish cuisine. Transportation to Eyüp is available through various modes, including public buses, the Eyüp-Piyer Loti cable car, and ferry services. Eyüp showcases the city’s rich history, religious significance, and traditional charm. It offers unique experiences for visitors interested in exploring Istanbul’s cultural and historical aspects.
Bahcesehir for Family Lifestyles and Green Spaces
Bahcesehir in European Istanbul is part of the larger Basaksehir district near the western outskirts of the city. Bahcesehir earns a stellar reputation for urban development, green spaces, and family-friendly environment. Bahcesehir is primarily composed of residential complexes, offering several housing options alongside amenities like parks, sports facilities, shopping centres, schools, and healthcare centres.
One thing that makes the area stand out is the green spaces, including parks and lakes. The central feature of the district is the Bahcesehir Pond, a large artificial lake surrounded by recreational areas, walking paths, and picnic spots. Here, residents enjoy outdoor activities such as jogging, cycling, and boating. The district also offers several shopping centres, including Akbatı Shopping Mall and Prestige Mall.
Although, it is on the outskirts, Bahcesehir has good transportation links, including bus services that connect the district to other parts of Istanbul. The district is conveniently located near the TEM motorway, providing easy access to the city centre and other areas of Istanbul.
Get to Know Istanbul: Public Transport for Getting About
Of course, there is no better way to get to know the best areas then by exploring them for yourself. And the ideal way to get about is on public transport of which you have many options.
Metro: Istanbul’s comprehensive metro network serves the European and Asian sides. The metro system connects central districts and landmarks, including Taksim Square, Sultanahmet, Kadikoy, and Ataturk Airport.
Tram: Istanbul operates several tram lines, primarily on the European side. The T1 line, known as the “T1 Bağcılar-Kabataş” tram, is popular among tourists as it passes through significant attractions like Sultanahmet, the Grand Bazaar, and Eminonu.
Funicular: Funicular lines provide transportation between hilly areas. The Tünel connects Karakoy and Istiklal Avenue in Beyoglu, while the Kabatas-Funicular line connects Kabatas to Taksim Square.
Buses: The bus network in Istanbul is extensive and covers the entire city, including both European and Asian sides. Buses offer routes to various neighbourhoods, suburbs, and transportation hubs.
Dolmus: Dolmuses are shared minibuses that operate on fixed routes. They are an affordable and convenient option for short-distance travel within the city or to nearby suburbs.
Ferries: Istanbul’s strategic location on the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara allows ferry services to connect different areas and nearby islands. Ferries are particularly popular for crossing between the European and Asian sides of Istanbul.
Metrobus: This rapid transit bus system operates on dedicated lanes, providing fast and efficient transportation. The Metrobus serves vital routes, including the main arterial roads on both sides of Istanbul.
NOTE: Istanbul’s public transport system uses the Istanbulkart rechargeable electronic ticket for fare payment. The Istanbulkart can be purchased at various stations and used across all public transport modes.
Using the Metro
Istanbul’s extensive metro network features numerous stations. Here are some major metro lines and their key stations in various areas:
- M1A (Yenikapı-Atatürk Airport): Yenikapı, Aksaray, Vezneciler, Ulubatlı, Topkapı, Zeytinburnu, Atatürk Airport.
- M1B (Yenikapı-Kirazlı): Yenikapı, Aksaray, Emniyet/Fatih, Topkapı, Bayrampaşa-Maltepe, Kirazlı.
- M2 (Yenikapı-Hacıosman): Yenikapı, Vezneciler, Şişhane, Taksim, Osmanbey, Levent, Hacıosman.
- M3 (Kirazlı-Olimpiyat): Kirazlı, Bağcılar Meydan, İkitelli Sanayi, Olimpiyat.
- M4 (Kadıköy-Tavşantepe): Key stations on Istanbul’s Asian side include Kadıköy, Ünalan, Kartal, Pendik, and Tavşantepe metro stations.
- M5 (Üsküdar-Çekmeköy): Üsküdar, Altunizade, Ümraniye, Çekmeköy.
- M6 (Levent-Boğaziçi Üniversitesi/Hisarüstü): Levent, Türk Telekom Arena, Hacıosman metro station, Boğaziçi Üniversitesi/Hisarüstü.
- M7 (Mecidiyeköy-Mahmutbey): Mecidiyeköy, Çağlayan, Şişli/Mecidiyeköy, Mahmutbey metro station.
- M8 (Bostancı-Dudullu): Bostancı, Küçükyalı, İçerenköy, Dudullu.
The city is continuously expanding its metro network, so check for updates and additions when planning your journey. The Istanbul Metro Map, available online and at metro stations, provides comprehensive information on metro lines and their corresponding stations.
Other Ways to Get to Know Istanbul
Guided Tours: Joining guided tours is an excellent way to explore Istanbul’s highlights and gain deeper insights into its history and culture. Numerous tour operators offer guided tours, including walking and cultural excursions to iconic landmarks like Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.
Walking: Many popular areas like Sultanahmet, Taksim, and Kadikoy are pedestrian-friendly and offer plenty of sights and experiences within walking distance.
Bosphorus Tours: Bosphorus tours typically depart from European or Asian Istanbul and navigate along the Bosphorus Strait. Depending on the duration and route, some tours may include stops at notable attractions like the Maiden’s Tower or the Black Sea coastline. Bosphorus tours come in various forms, from guided boat tours to private yacht charters. Choose between short tours that focus on specific areas or longer cruises.
Property Viewing Trips: If you are learning about Istanbul and aiming to buy property, our viewing trips can help. We don’t just show the property but also give guided neighbourhood tours that point out bus routes, schools, shopping centres, doctors, and places of business. Contact us to find out more.
Also About Istanbul
In conclusion, the best areas in Istanbul offer features that make them desirable to everyone. For cultural experiences, waterfront relaxation, or bustling nightlife – the attractive neighbourhoods in Istanbul have it all. From ancient wonders of the Old City to stylish waterfronts, Istanbul is full of attractions. So, take a chance to explore and find your favourite area. You might also like to read our article about famous shopping streets. In all of the best areas, these streets offer the best of modern living in Istanbul.