After my most recent trip to Italy, I decided to just casually swing by Istanbul, Turkey on the way home. You know, the very long way that’s not actually on-the-way anyway? And let me tell you: Istanbul was a beautiful, challenging, and endlessly interesting detour I’m so happy I took. Suck it, Waze.
Istanbul being as huge as it is—with a population of almost 15 million it’s one of the largest cities in the world and the largest in Europe—I thought deciding on where to stay in Istanbul was going to be a real chore. (OK, first world problems, whatever…) Yet somehow, among allllll the possibilities, I managed to choose the best possible place: Hotel Momento Golden Horn.
WHERE TO STAY IN ISTANBUL: SULTANAHMET OR BEYOĞLU?
When choosing where to stay in Istanbul during your first time in the city, it can be a little overwhelming. I mean, the city does span two continents after all. And unless you plan on renting a houseboat and just dropping anchor right in between the two, you’re going to have to choose, Popeye.
Next, you’re going to have to decide which part of town you want to stay in. If you’re a first time visitor to Istanbul, chances are you’ll be visiting the main sites: Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar, etc. And, what is surely a blessing from the Time Budget Travel gods, all of the most popular sites in Istanbul are located within just a few minutes walking distance from each other. Over on the European side of things.
These and many more of Istanbul’s popular tourist sites are concentrated in and around a neighborhood known as Sultanahmet, the oldest part of the city. Staying in Sultanahmet, you could access just about every single thing on your Istanbul itinerary in just minutes: massive museums, superb shopping, fantastic food, getting bathed by perfect strangers (DO THIS), everything.
The downside? You won’t see anything of this awesome city outside a one-mile radius. And this city spans TWO. CONTINENTS. You’ll miss the action down on the Bosphorus and the absolutely kickass views of the city. You’ll be subjected to less-than-stellar restaurants solely directed at tourists, and everything from baklava to tea to carpets is going to cost you more. Also, once the tourist sites close for the day, so does most of everything else. So, if “turning in early every night” is on your agenda, you’re in luck, grandma!
In contrast to staying in Sultanahmet when deciding where to stay in Istanbul, the hip district of Beyoğlu operates on a more “local” schedule.
The Beyoğlu district is located north of Sultanahmet, across the offshoot of the Bosphorus known as the Golden Horn. What sounds like the name of a sexy merman superhero who uses his conch to signal the residents of his ancient underwater metropolis of impending danger (writing a good blog post is all about painting a detailed picture, duh), the Golden Horn is known as the entertainment and nightlife center of Istanbul and is easily accessed via metro, tram, ferry, and your own two feet via the Galata Bridge. Though most of Istanbul’s world famous sites are found in Sultanahmet, Beyoğlu isn’t left totally out of the equation: it’s here you’ll find the Galata Tower and Taksim Square, for example.
When choosing where to stay in Istanbul, I personally went with Beyoğlu for many reasons:
➤ Beyoğlu provides a more local vibe devoid of tacky souvenir shops and shitty eateries. Though I was planning to visit all of Istanbul’s main attractions, I still wanted to be off the tourist beat of men trying to lure me to their carpet shops–important tidbit if you’re traveling as a solo female in Turkey.
➤ I wanted options—food, entertainment, beer—for after all the tourist sites all close. Staying in Beyoğlu allowed for me to succeed wildly in my quest to drink all the Turkish beer.
➤ Beyoğlu, in particular the neighborhood of Karaköy where I stayed, is still a walkable distance from everywhere I needed to go. I didn’t step into a cab, onto a bus, or tram, or train in my entire three days in Istanbul.
➤ But I could have if I wanted to. Being just over the Galata Bridge the options for public transportation in that area were as plentiful as street cats and fish sandwiches. Okay, that will make much more sense after your trip to Istanbul. Go ahead and bookmark this page for some good laughs later.
➤ Being across the water from the famous sites meant I could enjoy ABSOLUTELY ASTOUNDING VIEWS of the Istanbul skyline. Oh Istanbul, you sexy, sexy merman.
WHERE TO STAY IN ISTANBUL: HOTEL MOMENTO GOLDEN HORN
After deciding I wanted to stay on the Beyoğlu side of things, I did a map search on Booking.com and started reading reviews of the hotels that seemed the most accessible.
I came across Hotel Momento Golden Horn and booked my stay there almost immediately for:
- Its location – just over the Galata Bridge, making it easy and quick to walk everywhere, but not entirely in the touristy thick of things
- Its “excellent” reviews by fellow travelers (if the biggest con is that there’s no iron, count me in… wrinkly, but definitely in!) – You can read more reviews here on Tripadvisor too.
- Ummm, THAT ROOFTOP. I’m a sucker for expansive views of iconic cities. And sexy mythological beings, so sue me.
- And the fact that this place was going to be a fantastic value.
HOTEL MOMENTO GOLDEN HORN: THE ROOM
After staying in my fair share of discount hotels and hostels in Europe, Istanbul’s Hotel Momento Golden Horn was a breath of fresh, baklava-scented air. The room and bathroom were good sizes, the bed was super fluffy and comfortable, and then I opened my window to an awesome view of the Hagia Sophia. [Cue cartoonish boi-oi-oing sound effect signifying that my eyes popped out of my head. Sometimes it would be so much easier if I were a YouTuber.]
The room came with a mini bar (that I used solely as a refrigerator for street cherries and the cheese I brought with me from Italy), complimentary coffee, tea, bottled water, and really good-smelling soaps. It had fantastic air conditioning (which is not always a given in Europe), can now claim to be the only time I’ve ever liked a rainfall shower, and with a color scheme that just happens to be my favorite.
HOTEL MOMENTO GOLDEN HORN: THE ROOF
I don’t know about you, but what’s on top of my hotel room is just as important as what’s in it. And the Hotel Momento Golden Horn’s location means there is one hell of a view from up there.
Up on the hotel’s 8th floor you’ll find a fancy pants restaurant with stunning behind-glass views of Istanbul. But don’t sit down yet! Enter the restaurant, turn right, head outside, go up the spiral staircase, and you’ll find yourself with obstruction-free views of the Istanbul skyline and a full-bar. In my favorite color.
The rooftop bar at Hotel Momento instantly became my new favorite spot in town and I may have been up there all three nights of my stay in Istanbul. The beers are cold, the service is fantastic, and the views are simply ist-unbel-ievable! (What? They can’t all be winners ok?)
On our last night in Istanbul we met some fellow American travelers at our rooftop bar (the only other Americans we saw in our whole time in Turkey) who were staying a few miles away at the Four Seasons. They had asked their concierge where to go for the best views in town and were told the Hotel Momento Golden Horn is where. it’s. at. Hotel Momento > Four Seasons, just saying.
HOTEL MOMENTO GOLDEN HORN: LOCATION
What really sold me on the Hotel Momento Golden Horn was its perfect location: outside the main tourist district, but still walkable to everywhere. (Just a 30-minute walk to Sultanahmet Square, if you don’t get distracted by all the pretty pillowcases and shiny objects along the way)
Hotel Momento Golden Horn is located just on the north side of the Galata Bridge in the neighborhood of Karaköy, known as Istanbul’s hippest. From there, it’s easy (and quite fun actually) to walk across the Galata Bridge—checking out the all-day fishermen, the boats selling fish sandwiches, the views of Galata, and, on the lower level, the endless collection of fish restaurants and hookah smokers.
If walking isn’t your thing (’cause, ya know, vacation–no judgement), the Hotel Momento Golden Horn is also located right next to a metro stop, a tram stop, and a ferry stop. It’s also at the junction of two main streets making snagging a taxi pretty simple.
The trendy Beyoğlu/Karaköy/Galata area is covered in cool street art, popular with adorable street cats, full of interesting restaurants and bars like my new favorite—the Tower Pub—and is easily accessible from Istanbul’s new airport. Hotel Momento is located on a main road which made coming and going feel especially safe, it’s right across the street from the Baklavalari, and in the perfect location for endless people-watching.
HOTEL MOMENTO GOLDEN HORN: THE STAFF
The staff at Hotel Momento Golden Horn was incredible and went out of their way to make us feel welcome and comfortable. They didn’t question my weird middle-of-the-night requests, they were super friendly and English-speaking, and there was always, always someone there to open doors for me.
In addition to the 8th floor restaurant, there’s also a cafe in the lobby and the option to add on breakfast as well, neither of which I used however. The hotel offers free, fast WIFI, an available airport shuttle, and a 24-hour front desk. When looking for where to stay in Istanbul, definitely consider booking at the Hotel Momento Golden Horn!
WHICH ISTANBUL DISTRICT WOULD YOU CHOOSE?
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