Characteristics of Istanbul HotelsThings to Consider When Choosing a Hotel in Istanbul
In addition to the article about districts and quarters of Istanbul (see here) I would like to tell you a bit more about some characteristics of local hotels.
Local hotels have different pricing policy. In the historical downtown, you can find both nice 3-star hotels $30–50 in low season, and high-end hotels like Four Seasons for $300–700 per night. If you haven’t booked a hotel in advance and would like to spend some time for choosing the right one for you when you are there, you should keep in mind, that the room rate depends on whether you come on your own or are referred by a local agency that offer some discounts. Often, you can bargain in the hotel, especially during low season and if a hotel is not very expensive and you are ready to pay cash and bot via card. To find an agency you can google the hotel and you will see that most links will be to booking agencies websites. It is useful if only for understanding the rates at that period of time. However, as a seasoned traveler I would recommend you choosing and booking a hotel in advance: you don’t want to waste a few valuable hours searching for a hotel when you only have 3 4 days to explore the city’s attractions.
An important question that every traveler asks his/herself at some point in any more or less large city is: “Should I choose a more expensive hotel near the historical downtown or a less expensive hotel farther away (as an option – a better hotel for the same money). In this respect, Istanbul is the real city of contrasts: an expensive hotel can be easily located in some run-down neighborhood where you wouldn’t dare walking out in the evening (I suppose, though, that’s a temporary issue because the city tries to take care of such areas in the historical part of the city) At the same time, just a few minutes away, near the Hagia Sophia you will find a great deal of cute hotels and hostels with decent rates. In my opinion, it is better to choose a hotel in the European part of Istanbul. There is no point in checking out the Asian part of the city – you will waste a lot of money for ferry travel and spend too much time traveling in the city altogether, especially along with crowds of locals who hurry up to get to work in time.
Usually, I recommend people to decide what their main goal of the trip is – this rule works for almost every city. If you want to explore historical and architectural landmarks, walk in the Grand Bazaar, eat authentic local food and if possible not use transport all that much, you might want to check out Sultanahmet and nearby areas more details about this part of Istanbul can be found here). If your goal is to take a look at the most important tourist attractions and then hit the night clubs in İstiklal street, then your choice is Beyoğlu district (more information about it is here), or you can stay in the historical downtown and from there go to the clubs and shopping daily and then come back – but that will be exhausting and expensive.
If you want to explore the city but save some money at the same time, consider a winter holiday. From November till March prices here are significantly lower than in the warm months. Plus, there are fewer tourists there. However, Christmas time is an exception – in this period hotels raise their rates. But the weather at the end of the year can be unpredictable here – there might be strong wind from Bosphorus or a mix of snow and rain. April is the first month of high season in Istanbul: hotel rates are rising, weather is getting better and the city welcomes lots of wonderful events, such as Istanbul Film Festival (in April), Tulip Festival (end of April), Jazz Festival (end of June – middle of July). I feel that the highest rates are for some reason in three summer months when the city is suffocating from heat and it is not very comfortable to walk around for the entire day. In September and October the weather is nicer (in October, by the way, the city hosts Istanbul Biennial each odd-numbered year), and the prices remain pretty high.
In winter season rooms are pretty cool – buildings and windows here were not designed for winter and are rather expected to maintain coolness in hot months than warmth in the cold time of the year. The heating in rooms is usually handled via the air conditioner in the heating mode but I recommend to pack pajamas and good slippers (somehow, I always get slippers with thin sole in Istanbul hotels). Sound insulation is different everywhere: hotels near the railway station use sealed double glazed units. As for the historical downtown, you can easily be exposed to noise from nearby bars and restaurants, and the jingle-jangle of the tram (though, in all honesty, you get used to the tram really fast). If you are a light sleeper, ask for a room facing courtyard when you book it and take earplugs with you.
Hotels Star-Rating in Istanbul is pretty relative: some five-star hotels would really provide you with the relevant set of services, but there are hotels where stars on the board only characterize the vanity of its owner. To be fair, I must note that in the last few years things have become better and the current situation is close to the real one. The hotel rate depends on many factors – how much “historical” the building and the district are, the room’s interior, a set of services, etc. So, when choosing a hotel on booking websites, I recommend paying attention not only to the room rate and the district but also to the hotel description, services included in the rate, and the feedback left by other guests in order to understand if breakfasts are good enough, how loud it can get, if beds are comfortable, and lots of other important things. Breakfasts in Istanbul hotels present, by the way, a wide range of experiences including local delights that you can try before buying some of them to bring back home. Credit cards of main payment systems are accepted almost everywhere (even in hostels).
There is a parking problem in the city: only large chain hotels have them and you should book your parking spot in advance. However, you don’t really need a car in Istanbul – it will not help you there but rather work against you. Usually, hotels provide free Internet access, but in many of them the signal is very weak and will not be good enough even for a Skype call.
You can book two types of airport transfer: an individual (a taxi or a car from the hotel) or a group one (for example, some shuttle buses make stops at various hotels in the Old Town at scheduled time. If your hotel is included in the route, you will see the information about that with departure time at the reception) transfer. In the airport you can book a taxi at special stands. Be ready that a taxi driver might have a problem finding a hotel even if he has an address in Turkish.
As a rule, staff in local hotels understands English and can even communicate using it up to some degree. In general, hotel hospitality in Istanbul leaves a good impression for guests – receptionists are friendly, polite, and will be happy to help you with tips regarding the sightseeing or food buying which is important for travelers who want to feel like an old friend and not a guest.
Have a great journey to Istanbul!