Review: Pera Palace Hotel , Istanbul
It took several weeks of umm-ing and ahh-ing to finally steer away from our usual accommodation budget and to book the Pera Palace Hotel. As much as holidays sometimes means to stretch out on huge comfy beds with the whitest, softest linen and sleeping in a room that’s bigger than most of the apartments I’ve lived in, my travel budget is usually strictly mid-range. There are outliers towards the very cheap, usually when I travel alone. And to the luxurious, but then it would need to be pretty damn special.
When I do book a luxury hotel, I look for style, uniqueness and value for money. The Pera Palace Hotel has it all. And I barely find words to sing its praises.
I first came across this historic hotel in the heart of Beyoglu on my first really faraway trip, in 1996.
My friend and I were students and took a cheap trip to see Istanbul in three days! What was almost more exciting than to fly in anold Tupolev-152 with an original Soviet interior and Cyrillic signage was viewing this grand old hotel, which was a bit dusty and neglected back then. It closed for a few years and re-opened in 2010 under the management of Jumeirah Hotels, an Emirati luxury hotel chain. And, just over 20 years later, I finally returned to stay here.
This hotel has an impressive history, dating back to 1895, when it was commissioned to host travellers on the Orient Express. It was the first hotel in Turkey to offer electricity, and ran the country’s first elevator. Like many buildings in the area, it wouldn’t look out of place in Paris. Its exterior is distinctly Haussmann-period French. In fact, it was designed by a French Levantine architect, and elegantly married European and Oriental style.
I was happy to see that extensive renovations appeared to have done little to the historical fabric of the building. The whole place oozes classic charme without being too much. As you enter the small reception, there is nothing over the top. it’s all restrained elegance. Once we stepped out the lifts, we were surprised by the brightness of its corridors, all running off an internal atrium and decked out in white and some restrained browns, with glass cases of historical tidbits and sparing placement of some antique furniture.
Location of the Pera Palace Hotel
The Pera Palace Hotel is situated in the Beyoglu neighbourhood on the European side of Istanbul, separated from the traditional historic part by the Golden Horn. There’s a taxi station right next to the hotel, where ALL the taxis come metered and are quite affordable. It’s fairly important – try and find a metered taxi in the Grand Bazaar area… it’s fun! There are some bars and cafes in the immediate neighbourhood.
It’s less than a five minute walk to Istiklal Street with its shopping, cafes and restaurants. There are loads of great non-touristy eating options just off the street. The nearest Metro, Sishane, is about five minutes walk away, and so is the top station of the Beyoglu funicular.
Some reviewers have complained that the hotel is not really central – something I cannot really understand. It is centrally located in Beyoglu. Istanbul is one of the largest cities of the world. And yes, it’s a way from Ottoman historical centre of Sultanahmed. It might take about half an hour to get to the Sultanahmet Mosque or Topkapi Palace or Grand Bazaar by taking the funicular walking across Galata Bridge and taking the tram, or 10 minutes by taxi in light traffic.
If you want restaurants and shopping, you’re in a great place. The two major airports are both under an hour away by taxi (in light traffic). Heavy traffic can easily triple this – it’s best to ask the hotel concierge when to set off at busy times, or take a coach from Taksim Square, which is just over a kilometre away (or 1 Metro Stop from Sishane)
We spent the previous two nights in a hotel in the Grand Bazaar area and walked to everything we wanted to see in the historical Ottoman centre.. So staying in Beyoglu for some final shopping, eating and visiting the hair salon was what we wanted.
Our Room at the Pera Palace Hotel
We had booked a “Pera Side Deluxe King Room”, which, in plain English, was their cheapest category. It was on the fourth floor, overlooking the taxi station, a rather busy road and a bit of the Golden Horn. After a somewhat exhausting walk through the Grand Bazaar Area (well, for my husband), we rocked up at the Pera Palace Hotel two hours before our check-in time and were literally welcomed with open arms. The service is really friendly and unfussy.
The bath products were no-name, not of the greatest quality. And they came in teeny tiny packages. I hear that wen you stay in one of the higher priced rooms, they change to Bulgari branded products. The desk was a tad small, and the desk chair was not very comfortable for working for a long time. Luxury problems really. They got the important basics more than right.
If you visit a grand old hotel like this, you also visit for the atmosphere, and the Pera Palace has it in great heaps.
The Patisserie de Pera
They have a small but very ornate patisserie serving great cakes and European-style coffee. Since we managed to arrive early, we donned whatever good clothes we had brought and sunk into a huge settee at the Patisserie de PEra, a dream in flamingo pink and gold. The cakes were great! The coffee nothing to write home about. Give me an ibrik in Istanbul and don’t bother with the machine stuff.
You might be in Istanbul, but the coffee and cakes are resolutely French.
The Orient Bar
We visited the Orient Bar in the evening. Sometimes they have a bit of life music on, at other times it’s rather sedate – we had a bit of both in one night! We had cocktails which were nothing to write home about. The gin and tonic was pretty average – you know, the major major brand tonic water and some big brand name gin.
But the appearance of the hotel cat really cheered things up.
There are also a restaurant and a spa in the basement, which we didn’t visit. The spa will cost extra, which is the only bitter pill in this wonderful experience.
The Kubbeli Tea Salon
If you only see one bit of this magnificent hotel, make it the Kubbeli Tea Lounge. It’s pretty much the heart of the hotel. Formerly a ball room, the large Moorish-style space is now occupied by a tea salon and lounge area.
If you have a large appetite, they also run an afternoon tea. They have a small a la carte menu, but most people appear to come there for the daily English afternoon tea, which, if you have a good appetite, may be worth the expense. The food looked really nice but the coffee wasn’t freshly made for this one but came from an urn.
The theme? How about marble, red velvet and gold?
As with any hotel of this class, you’d expect a certain standard of comfort and service, which the Pera Palace Hotel fully delivers. But what makes the Pera Palace Hotel truly special is its amazing architecture and splendid restored salons. From the elegant lobby, through the Orient Bar, the Patisserie to its show piece, the Kubbeli Tea Salon. There is history at every turn, and the way its preserved here is wonderful.
The Pera Palace Hotel hosted several famous guests in its nearly 150 years, among them the most revered one in Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatuerk. Other guests included Agatha Christie, Greta Garbo and Ernest Hemingway.
Agatha Christie is said to have loved the hotel and often stayed in the same room, where she is said to have hidden a number of keys connected to her mysterious disappearance in the 1920s. Her old room is decked out in historic furniture and memorabilia and can be booked like a normal hotel room.
Oh. And did I mention the hotel cat? I did meet the grey tabby at night in the bar, where he boldly played with guests, but it was too dark to take a picture.
The Ataturk Museum Room (“Room 101”)
If you are not staying here, another chance to fully legally snoop around is visiting the Ataturk Museum Room. While you can stay at all the other famous guests rooms, this one is a museum only! Mustafa Kemal Ataturk stayed at the Pera Palace Hotel numerous times – even though he had a residence nearby. It is here that he met fellow politicians, welcomed foreign dignitaries or just had a good time.
Every day between 10:00 – 11:00 and 15:00 – 16:00, you can admire Turkeys first elevator and ascend the grand staircase into the small suite that was the temporary home of Ataturk. It is all done out in original furniture and memorabilia.
First, the bedroom. Here you can see some of the original Pera Palace Hotel furnishings along with items belonging to the founder of modern Turkey. Adjacent is a period bathroom. Historical authenticitity down to the toilet bowl.
Pay special attention to a prayer carpet hung behind glass in one corner of the sitting room. It was a gift from an Indian maharaja, and the clock embroidered into the top part allegedly predicted the date and hours of Ataturks death.
Why stay at the Pera Palace Hotel when visiting Istanbul?
There are many reasons! It’s a historic with soul. And luxury. At the same time, prices for this type of accommodation are entirely reasonable. When you’re done with most of your sightseeing and want to stay in a relaxing place close to great local restaurants and a bit of shopping, the Pera Palace Hotel is a great choice.
Other recommended hotels
Okay… I admit I never stayed in a budget category hotel or hostel in Istanbul. Hotel prices are so low anyway compared to other capital cities in Europe. But… given their location and some good reviews, I would like to make two recommendations…
In Istanbul for the first time? On a budget? You could do a lot worse than the Mataraci Konak in Sultanahmet. It is set away a bit from the main strip of hotels and guesthouses behind the Blue Mosque, , yet still only a 10-minute walk from the Hagia Sophia. For less than 20 Euro per night in low season, you get to stay in an atmospheric old Istanbul building in walking distance to all Sultanahmet sights ina safe and pretty area.
If you prefer to stay in a more touristy area, try the Marmara Guesthouse. It is in an area called Cankurtaran , where there are lots of tourist-oriented hotels, cafes and shops. Starting at 28Euro for a double including breakfast, you’re right by the Hagia Sophia in an easily walkable, open-late-at-night tourist-friendly area.
Hotels in Beyoglu tend to be slightly more expensive, although the Galataport Hotel is a great choice right by the Galata Tower, tons of restaurant, and near public transport for just under 30 Euro.
Almost next to the Pera Palace is the Westist Hotel &. Spa, a super sleek modern hotel a stone’s throw from Istiklal Street. At prices starting at 50 Euro, its a huge bargain for such a sleek and elegant hotel.
Also in Beyoglu in close proximity to Galata Tower is the By Murat Hotel Galata, a small hotel in a residential building with neo-baroque styling to its cosy rooms. Great views and restaurants at your door step!
Before our stay at the Pera Palace hotel, we spent two nights at the Niles Hotel, 5min from the Grand Bazaar and 15min from the Sultanahmet Mosque. It’s a busy area during the day filled with wholesale garment shops, but it’s not exactly one for nightlife. Being 2min downhill from the extremely handy tram, it was a great choice for sightseeing. The cheaper rooms are in a modern building, the suites are in a very pretty historical building. Our room was very compact but nicely and sumptuously decorated in a pleasant modern Baroque knockoff. I really liked their extensive breakfast – at last, a Turkish hotel that tries to eliminate packaging! Prices start at 50 Euro. We paid about 60Euros for a double room including breakfast in November which makes this pretty good value.
Many first-time visitors prefer to stay in Sultanahmet and I understand why. It is easily walkable, some major sights are right outside your door, and there is a good tramway connection at Sultanahmet Station. These hotels may be a little more expensive. And you can expect more tourist-oriented restaurants and shops with higher prices, and it can also get a little noisy at night.
The Empress Zoe Hotel is one of the oldest boutique hotels in town, and offers exceptional style and value for money in Sultanahmet. You are close to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, yet in a beautiful building with garden and courtyard and individually styled suites with lots of natural materials and Turkish textiles. Some Turkish suites even come with mini steam rooms.
For convenience and style, it is hard to beat the MEG Hotel. It is in easy walking distance to the tram, Sirkeci Station and Galata Pier. This means a VERY easy transit to and from SAW Airport by taking a quick bus to Pendik and then the frequent trains to Sirkeci. In less than 10 minutes you can also walk across the Galata bridge and into Beyogly – or take the tram to the Kabatas terminal and the cool funicular to Taksim Square. It’s amodern tasteful business hotel with prices starting from 35 Euro per night.
I wouldn’t know why you wouldn’t want to stay here. However… Istanbul is full of Luxury Hotels.
Almost next to the Pera Palace Hotel is the Soho House in a converted palace. Although the guest rooms are in an annexe, the style is modern elegance, and its somewhat more sumptious and more expensive than the Pera Palace. As an added bonus, guests receive temporary Soho House membership. Rooms start at 160 Euro, realistically expect to pay around 300 Euro for a double.
If you want to stay close to Shopping and sights, and bask in ultimate luxury at reasonable prices… the Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet might be for you. It’s a new hotel decked out head to toe in exquisite carved wooden panelling and mother-of pearl, an Arabian Fantasy come true.
For over the top luxury, why not try Istanbuls most luxurious hotel and stay in a Sultan Palace? The Ciragan Palace Kempinski is exactly that, located on the Bosphorus, a bit away from the city centre and nowhere near public transport, but you’re in a palace, you might barely want to leave!
For modern luxury at unbelievable prices (starting at 72 Euro), the Doruk Palace Hotel in Beyoglu is in a modern residential building close to the Galata Tower, and all sleek white walls with just a touch of rustic in its communal areas.
Address: Pera Palace Hotel, Meşrutiyet Caddesi No. 52, 34430 Tepebaşı Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
Telephone: +90 2123774000
Hotel Website: www.perapalace.com
Normally I use Booking.com for my hotel reservations. However, please be aware that once in Turkey, you may be unable to make new bookings on this site unless you have a Virtual Private Network. You can access and amend existing bookings.
I recommend you book in advance, and should an plans change, you will always have an option of a free cancellation with Booking.com.
At present, you can find rooms for about 110 Euro per night.
I did not know this until I was in Turkey. I used a website called trip.com and paid 125 Euro for a double room in early November 2019.
Nearest Airport: Istanbul Airport (IST), 42km and Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen (SAW), 48km
Features: Beautiful fin-de-siecle architecture, light and spacious rooms, tons of original features and interiors, beautiful common area (the Kubbeli Tea Lounge is worth the trip alone), pared-back elegance.
Doesn’t have: nightclub, outside pool, masses of public transport connections
We travelled with an older edition of the Lonely Planet Turkey. In retrospect, I wish I had bought the Rough Guide to Turkey, but the current issue is 2016, meaning the content is about five years old. However – if you just need an Istanbul Guide, Rough Guides has an up-to-date Istanbul Guide!
I also read “Midnight at the Pera Palace”, an account of the s history of the Turkish Republic. Although dry in places and not just about Istanbul or the Pera Palace, it’s a fairly easy read about the foundation of Modern Turkey.
Disclosure: This trip was entirely self funded. I will only review and recommend places that I have stayed in myself or that I have at least visited. In this case, I did only stay at the Pera Palace and the Niles Hotel but visited the others. You can trust me for the whole, unbiased truth. I have received no monetary or non-monetary rewards for linking aside from some affiliate links. In this case, this post contains some affiliate links to Booking.com. This means that I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you book through the affiliate links. More details on my affiliate link policy are here.
More historic hotels?
Have I sold you the Pera Palace Hotel? Would you stay here if you came to Istanbul?
Do you like historic hotels? If so, ar there any you would recommend?
In my years of travel, I have managed to visit a few and even stayed in some.
I stayed at the Winter Palace Hotel in Luxor another favourite Agatha Christie haunt, in 2007. Although I stayed in the now-demolished cheapo Soviet block.
In Bangkok, I stayed at the very cool Atlanta Hotel and the almost equally cool but much more expensive Sukhothai (it’s 1960’s architecturally interesting but not su much historical)
In Malaysia, I stayed at the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion of Penang. I also visited the Eastern and Oriental. Best afternoon tea ever. Oh, and took tea at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore but it was less memorable. On the other end of the spectrum, I gingerly stepped into the Coliseum Cafe and Hotel only to find it a little too authentic…. so I stuck to drinks in the cafe. It has since changed owners and only appears to operate as a cafe now.
I drove quite some way to stay at the time warp but extremely charming Palmyra Hotel in Baalbeck. It was 9 weeks after 9/11 but a more stable situation in Syria than now, and we had the hotel to ourselves.
And, moving over to the Americas, I silver-tongued my mother into a week’s stay at the Algonquin Hotel. She wasn’t too impressed but the hotel cat made up for it. Ah, hotel cats. I take that any hotel with a residential cannot be a bad one.
There are more. On my wish list I have the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, the YMCA in Jerusalem, and a couple more but none of my next trips will involve historic hotels. Okay, I am going to stay in an 1850’s convent in Jerusalem soon. In autumn, I have booked us into a historic pilgrim lodging in Koya-san in Japan. I will keep you posted!