Our stay in Istanbul was brief, but did require an overnight stay. (If you’re catching a cruise, especially overseas, ALWAYS plan your arrival at least one day before sailing. You want that buffer in case something goes wrong along the way.) And so came the always difficult decision of choosing a hotel in the city. When I’m traveling in a large city, my preference is smaller, non-branded boutique hotels. Yes, yes, I know – no loyalty program points. But I find that smaller hotels tend to provide more personalized experience with more of a local flavor than chains. Plus they can be less expensive, especially in Europe.
For this trip, I went for the familiar. On our first trip to Istanbul six years ago, we stayed at the Hotel Nena. It’s a cozy little hotel right off of the tram line in the Sultanahmet neighborhood of Istanbul. My wife and I enjoyed our stay, and so when we decided on our big family cruise, which would start in Istanbul, I suggested to mom that we all stay there, since it was conveniently located to both the major Istanbul attractions and the cruise port. Would our second stay be equally enjoyable? Read on to find out.
- Binbirdirek Mh. Klodfarer Caddesi No. 8, Istanbul, Turkey
- Features: free WiFi, free buffet breakfast, free airport transfter (Ataturk airport only, 3-night minimum stay), 10% cash payment discount, tour services available, computer workstation available, rooftop restaurant
Hotel Nena is in the heart of Old City Istanbul, in the Sultanahmet area. It is approximately 12 miles (19 km) from Ataturk International Airport. The trip takes 35-60 minutes, depending on traffic; the hotel offers a transfer service for 30 euros per vehicle (NOT per person) if you aren’t staying long enough to earn a free transfer. It is approximately halfway between the Çemberlitaş and Sultanahmet stations on the tram line. That runs you TL 8 (roughly $2.75 at current exchange rates) each way from the airport. We used the Metro/tram system on our last trip to get from the hotel back to the airport; it involves a transfer from the tram to the Metro at Zeytinbumu station, and takes approximately 45 minutes, if I recall correctly.
Date of Stay: June 26, 2015
Our flight from London was running about half an hour late. Even so, as we exited baggage claim, a driver was waiting for us to take us to the hotel. Ordinarily I’d have taken the Metro, but too many bags made that difficult. Given that it was Friday afternoon rush hour, it took about 45 minutes to reach the hotel due to traffic. Since all of our rooms were in my mom’s name, I worried we might have issues. However, the friendly clerk checked us in with no issues, and showed us to what we thought was our room on the third floor (more on that in a second).
This room had a queen bed and single bed, and though small, was well appointed with plush beddings, a desk and coffee maker in the corner, two free bottles of water, and a shower/tub combination.
A couple of minutes later, though, the clerk came back very apologetic, letting us know that he’d accidentally given us the room meant for my sister, who was due to arrive in about an hour. Our room was actually down one floor. It’s actually very similar to this one, just a little smaller, and with two twin beds instead of the queen plus single, and only a shower in the bathroom instead of a shower and a tub.
As you can see, the rooms are on the small side, but that isn’t unusual for smaller European hotels in the older parts of town, and we never felt clautrophobic or anything in the room. Most importantly, the rooms were clean and the beds were comfy, though it didn’t stop that blasted jet lag from kicking in at 3 am. I was also surprised at just how quiet the rooms are. I would have expected more of a commotion given that the hotel is right in front of Sultanahmet’s main street, which is constantly hopping with people.
The hotel’s common area downstairs is warm and inviting, with marble floors and Turkish rugs throughout. There is a decent-sized sitting area next to the front desk – beware, the couches are quite comfy and can easily lull you to sleep – and if you forgot your laptop/tablet/smartphone, there is a computer for guest use at the end of the corridor. Also at that end is another sitting area, along with a small outdoor courtyard.
Corridor leading to computer/sitting area/courtyard
Second sitting area and view of outdoor courtyard
Main entrance and spiral staircase by front desk
Be aware that the hotel is in an older building, and therefore, features narrow corridors and staircases. There is an elevator if you have trouble climbing stairs, or if you have a large number of bags to lug around.
Corridor on the second floor
Narrow spiral staircase
The restaurant is located on the top floor of the hotel, and features a free buffet breakfast each morning from 6:30-10. There is a small selection of mostly underwhelming hot items, though the potato wedges are very good. There is an extensive selection, though, of cold items, with a variety of salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, cereals, and bread. A seasonal selection of fruit juices are also available.
Large selection of fresh fruits, salad greens, and vegetables
The restaurant itself is fairly compact, and features an a la carte menu for lunch and dinner daily. You can add a meal package at a discount at the time of booking, though honestly, I didn’t find the food all that great. You can do better finding something in the surrounding neighborhood.
What can’t be beat, though, is the incredible view from the outdoor patio. Thanks to the hotel’s excellent location, you are treated to a view of both the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque as you munch your breakfast goodies. Grab a seat out on the patio for sure if you can.
As the above two photos imply, the real reason for choosing this hotel is the location. Literally everything you’d want to see in the old quarter of Istanbul is an easy walk. The front door is but a few steps from the main street/tram line through Sultanahmet. Head to the right, and you’re at the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sofia in just 5 minutes. Head to the left, and it’s just 5-10 minutes to the Grand Bazaar. Topkapi Palace and the Hippodrome are just 10 minutes away, and the Spice Bazaar, New Mosque, and Rushtem Pasha Mosque approximately 20-25. And if you want to explore a little further out, for just TL 4 (roughly $1.35) per person each way, just hop on the tram at one of the two nearby stations (both a less than 5 minute walk).
Rooms are reasonably priced to begin with, ranging from 70-140 euros per night depending on season and how far in advance you book, but add in all the money you’ll save on cab and even Metro fare, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a deal in my opinion. The helpful front desk clerk also helped my brother-in-law arrange a tour around the area – on the house, no less, since we’d booked so many rooms.
The only real niggle to point out: the front desk can be ornery about adding extras (transfers, restaurant charges, etc.) to your bill. They’ll try to insist that you pay in cash. My mom had to argue, but eventually got them to at least add the restaurant charges to the room. Incidentally, the hotel does offer a 10% discount for paying the bill in cash, as well as a further 10% discount for booking at least 90 days in advance – pretty standard practice in Turkey as well as Central/Eastern Europe I’ve come to find out.
- Can’t beat the location; a 30-minute or less walk from everything important in Istanbul
- Friendly, helpful front desk staff
- One of the world’s best views from the rooftop restaurant
- Easy access to Metro system
- Somewhat reluctant to take credit cards, will push you to pay cash for extras
- Smaller rooms; narrow corridors and staircases can be tough if you have mobility problems
- Restaurant is average at best
Overall, I love this hotel. It’s an incredible value for the location. If you’re planning a trip to Istanbul and can stomach losing loyalty points for a few days, it’s hard to beat the Hotel Nena.