It’s not surprising that exotic Istanbul, Europe’s largest city, is home to many luxury hotels. We’ve stayed at some of them, including the storied Ciragan Palace as well as the Ritz-Carlton Istanbul. (See our hotel reviews of these at the end of our post on “5 Top Hammams in Istanbul for Luxury Lovers.”)
But we’ve also bedded down at several beautiful boutique hotels in Istanbul.
Boutique hotels in Istanbul
Tucked away in character-filled residential or embassy neighborhoods, these boutique Istanbul hotels offer a more intimate stay in a city which – at 15+ million – can sometimes feel overwhelming.
And note, all the following boutique hotels have king-size beds, which we North Americans are used to, but which can be hard to find in a country where smaller European-size beds are more common.
1) Sumahan on the Water
Take the mahogany water taxi across the Bosphorus Canal to Sumahan on the Water, and you leave the cacaphony of Istanbul for another world.
The hotel’s complimentary boat service transports you in 30 minutes from Istanbul’s cosmopolitan European side, past ancient palaces and mosques, to the less-touristy Asian side.
After sightseeing all day, you feel the fatigue melt away as you step ashore into the calm oasis that is Sumahan on the Water.
The architect owners transformed what was once a 19th century Ottoman distillery into the present-day hotel in 2005.
They preserved details of the building’s historical past – like black painted metal girders and exposed brick walls – adding an industrial edge to the hotel’s design.
Book lovers will appreciate the hotels’ cozy water-view library, well-stocked with 800+ books on Turkish subjects, most in English.
A Turkish hammam offers traditional bath-and-massage treatments too.
Another plus: The hotel is expertly run and service is warm.
The hotel has 13 rooms, all of which face the Bosphorus.
In summer, guests sit out under the trees on the lawn and read or watch the boat traffic along the Bosphorus.
In winter, a fireplace in your room makes it cozy for enjoying the ever-changing watery panorama.
We loved our two-storey loft suite.
Upstairs was a king-size bed and huge grey-and-white marble bathroom with walk-in shower. Downstairs, French doors opened from the ground-floor living room onto the hotel’s lawn and garden.
For breakfast (included in the rate), the terrace is open in warm weather – you can linger over cappuccino while eyeing ferries and tankers glide by.
For dinner, Sumahan’s Waterfront restaurant features fresh fish, along with a Turkish and international à la carte menu. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more romantic restaurant in Istanbul if dining alfresco.
Located in the Cengelkoy village area, Sumahan is a short stroll away from excellent people-watching cafés and fish restaurants.
Kuleli Caddesi No:43, Cengelkoy
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2) Tomtom Suites
Fancy a stay in a former Franciscan nunnery? The mod Tomtom Suites fits the bill.
Don’t be misled by the odd name, which is based on the hotel’s street name. Tomtom Suites is one of the best boutique hotels in Istanbul.
Once home to French nuns, the restored hotel building is a mix of the historic (polished hardwood floors, high ceilings and thick stone walls) and contemporary (sound-proofing, high-tech lighting, Bose sound systems).
Service is exceptional. Front desk staff went out of their way to help us discover Istanbul on our own. (We wanted help catching the tram, a block away, that runs to the old Sultanahmet district and tourist sites.)
There are 20 rooms and suites spread out in two buildings, connected by glass floor walkways and reached by a glass elevator. Choose from garden or courtyard views; several room categories range from “standard” to “luxury suite.”
Light, bright and spacious, they feature marble bathrooms, handmade rugs, and colorful original ceramics and works of art.
It serves artistically prepared Mediterranean cuisine inspired by fresh local ingredients. You have a choice of four multi-course set menus, which change every few weeks.
The terrace – with its city views of the Bosphorus Canal and minaret-guarded mosques – is a beautiful spot to sit out on warm summer evenings.
The hotel is wonderfully located in the heart of Istanbul’s lively Beyoglu district, chock-full of restaurants and galleries. Yet it’s very quiet, on the same cobblestone alley as the Italian consulate.
Tomtom Kaptan Sokak No.18 Beyoglu, 34433
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3) Pera Palace Hotel
Quick! Where did Agatha Christie write “Murder on the Orient Express”?
Room 411 in the opulent Pera Palace Hotel, so it’s believed.
Book this storied hotel and you follow in the footsteps of Christie and other celebrities and royalty, including King Edward VIII, Mata Hari, Emperor Franz Joseph, Alfred Hitchcock, Greta Garbo and Ernest Hemingway, all of whom have been welcomed here.
Several rooms are even named after some of them.
Built in 1892 for passengers journeying on the Orient Express train from Venice to Istanbul, the Pera Palace was extensively restored and re-opened in 2010 after a two-year closure.
Riding in the old-fashioned wrought iron elevator is a delightful experience!
British writer Daniel Farson waxed lyrical about it, saying: “It is the most beautiful elevator in the world. It ascends like a lady who curtsies. Tourists cannot take their eyes off this utterly pretty and aristocrat elevator.”
You can also see the velvet sedan chair once used to carry guests from the Orient Express train station to the hotel.
Indeed, Pera Palace is somewhat of a museum-hotel. Room 101 – open to visitors – displays clothing, furniture, eye glasses, china tea cups, letter openers and other personal items belonging to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the beloved “Father of Turkey.”
For purists, the hotel may not qualify as a “real” boutique hotel because of its size – it has 115 rooms, including 16 suites. But the hotel feels smaller than other “grand” hotels, and because we liked it, we’ve included it here in our round-up of “Istanbul boutique hotels.”
All rooms feature historical furniture, Murano chandeliers and hand-woven Turkish carpets. White marble bathrooms have claw-foot tubs.
Tip: Book the “Golden Horn” view rooms which come with a Juliette balcony.
Check out the pretty pink French-style patisserie serving handmade chocolates and French cakes.
Guests also love the English afternoon tea served in the Kubbeli Lounge. Think nibbling on crustless tea sandwiches and scones while listening to soft live piano music.
We were less impressed with the lower-level Agatha Restaurant, however. It wasn’t very busy when we had dinner, and we would have preferred a more lively atmosphere. This admittedly likely influenced our view of the dining experience.
In the heart of Istanbul in the Beyoglu district, Pera Palace is within walking distance of famous Istiklal Street and Taksim Square.
Mesrutiyet Caddesi No: 52, Tepebasi 34430, Beyoglu
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Sumahan on the Water, Tomtom Suites and Pera Palace provided us with complimentary media stays for review purposes. But as professional travel writers (who write for many magazines and newspapers as well as this blog), we always retain complete editorial control over our words.
Photos 2 and 5 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | Lead image Sumahan on the Water | Remaining images courtesy of the respective hotels