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A Complete Guide to Istanbul for Digital Nomads

A Comprehensive Guide to Istanbul for Digital Nomads - the Bosporus Strait seen from the European side
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When it comes to nomad-friendly cities, not many places beat Istanbul. From an excellent price/quality ratio to an abundance of cultural sites – and lots of remote working locations, Istanbul is a top-notch nomad base. On this basis, here is a comprehensive guide to Istanbul for digital nomads.

Welcome to Istanbul: a Diverse Megacity 

Spanning over two continents, Istanbul has been the epicenter of different cultures and civilizations for centuries. 

Istanbul’s history started around 660 BC when Greek king Byzas founded a colony called “Byzantium” on the Bosporus Strait. 

The city remained relatively small until it became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire in 330 AD. In 337 AD, Emperor Constantine renamed the city “Constantinople,” and it gradually turned into a vast metropolis. Various Roman emperors, including Justinian, added their touches to the Byzantine capital, and the city grew in every direction.

Constantinople flourished under Roman rule for centuries, but in the late Middle Ages, a new superpower emerged in modern-day Turkey. The Ottoman Empire expanded its influence throughout the region, and Mehmet the Conqueror managed to take Constantinople in 1453. 

The Ottomans now called the city “Istanbul,” and Muslim architecture became the norm. The largest cathedral in the world, the Hagia Sophia, was turned into a mosque.  

Istanbul remained the capital of the Ottoman Empire until 1923 – when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the modern Republic of Turkey and moved the capital to Ankara. 

Today, Istanbul showcases its diverse heritage at every corner. The old Ottoman center – called “Sultanahmet” – is home to some of the most striking Ottoman architecture in all of Turkey.

Other areas like Beyoğlu have a much more European flair. In short, history is omnipresent in this 15 million-plus metropolis. 

Aside from countless historical places to visit, Istanbul is today one of the best remote working bases in Europe and the Middle East. 

Here are three primary reasons that underline the suitability of Istanbul for digital nomads: 

  • a relatively low cost of living for people who earn euros or dollars;
  • infinite options when it comes to tourist attractions, cultural, and culinary sights; and
  • a safe and highly-developed metropolis with a world-class public transit network and one of the busiest airports in the world. 

Having outlined some Istanbul digital nomad basics, it’s time to dive deeper into the essentials of living in Istanbul as a digital nomad. 

A Comprehensive Guide to Istanbul for Digital Nomads - people in front of Hagia Sophia Mosque

The Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque / Shutterstock

Where to Stay in Istanbul as a Digital Nomad 

Istanbul is a sprawling city with lots of areas that combine livability and accessibility. 

To keep this relatively short, I believe three geographical circles are suitable for digital nomads. Having lived for several weeks in all of them, these are my top Istanbul neighborhoods for digital nomads as they are centrally-located – but also charming to live in. 

First, there is the line stretching from Taksim Square to Galata Tower, around the main shopping street, Istiklal Caddesi.

The area is crowded and touristy, but it offers plenty of things to do, remote working locations, and excellent connections to other parts of the megacity. Within this circle, Cihangir is a trendy bohemian neighborhood where many students and young professionals live. 

Secondly, the area of Karaköy (on the edge of the Bosporus where the Golden Horn river starts) is a great place to live as a digital nomad. It offers fewer tourist attractions, and you’ll have to walk up more hills, but it’s a pleasant area and a bit less crowded. Better still, Karaköy has lots of nightlife options and a vast selection of local restaurants. 

Finally, the most underrated neighborhood for digital nomads is probably Kadiköy on the Asian side. It’s not a touristy area, and English levels are low, but Kadiköy is a fantastic place to live. 

You’ll find lots of budget-friendly options when it comes to food, nightlife, and accommodation here. Kadiköy also has a young, liberal, and dynamic population.

To sum up, if you’re comfortable with being in a more local area that’s further away from the main tourist attractions, Kadiköy is a recommendable option. 

As a bonus, I should mention Levent, the business district on the European side. It’s far away from anywhere, but it has lots of remote working spots as well as universities.

Cost of Living in Istanbul for Digital Nomads

The low living costs in Istanbul are one of the perks of being a digital nomad here. 

The value of the Turkish lira has been decreasing for the past few years – creating favorable conditions for remote workers who earn euros or dollars. 

So, how much does it cost to be a digital nomad in Istanbul? 

According to personal experience and other nomads’ accounts, I would budget around 1,000€ (~1,200 USD) per month if you’re cooking your own food and lodging in apartments. Bump that up by 300€ (~360 USD) if you’re planning to have lots of fancy dinners, go on tours, or party a lot. 

Here’s a breakdown of the month I spent in Istanbul in 2021:

  • Airbnb in Taksim: 450€ (small but charming one-bedroom in a great area)
  • Food and drinks: 300€
  • Public transport: 25€
  • Tourist activities: 50€
  • Taxis and other miscellaneous expenses like Sim cards and barber appointments: 75€

Total: 900 € (~1,100 USD)

As you can see, I was below the 1,000€ benchmark. I was living together with my partner, so we split quite a lot of expenses. Nevertheless, you can get by with that sort of budget. 

All in all, you can get a lot of bang for your bucks in Turkey since everyday expenses – like non-imported food, accommodation, and public transport – are considerably cheaper than in most European and Middle Eastern countries.

A Comprehensive Guide to Istanbul for Digital Nomads - the area of Beyoglu seen from Galata Tower

The area of Beyoğlu seen from Galata Tower / Shutterstock

Where to Work in Istanbul as a Digital Nomad

You’ll find co-working spaces all over Istanbul. Alternatively, many different coffee shops and tea houses are suitable for remote workers – with fast Wifi and a relaxing atmosphere. 

In terms of co-working spaces, Kolektif House is one of the leading co-working chains in Istanbul. They offer different types of memberships and have buildings in many neighborhoods. 

Another recommendable co-working space is Atölye. Located a bit further out in Bomonti, it’s a hub for creators, entrepreneurs, and designers. Other trusted co-working locations are Impact Hub (in Levent) and Dam (close to Istiklal Street).

When it comes to coffee shops, there are countless options in every part of Istanbul. Two of my favorite chains are Espresso Lab (various locations all over the megacity) and Kronotop (several spots in Istanbul, including Karaköy). 

15 Must-Visit Attractions in Istanbul 

If you’re a digital nomad in Istanbul, there are plenty of things to do when you’re not working. In this context, it would take years to explore the entire megacity, but here are 15 must-visit attractions in Istanbul, Turkey.

Hagia Sophia

One of the most famous religious buildings in the world, it was first built in 537 AD. The Hagia Sophia was the state church of the Eastern Roman Empire under Justinian, and it became the largest cathedral in the world.

After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottomans converted the monumental building into a mosque. In 1931, the new Turkish Republic under President Atatürk turned the mosque into a museum – which it remained until 2020. 

Since 2020, it is a functioning mosque again and – like all mosques in Turkey – open to visitors of all faiths. There is no more entrance fee, and you can visit the magnificent structure outside of prayer times. 

A Comprehensive Guide to Istanbul for Digital Nomads - featured image - the docks at Eminönü with Suleymaniye Mosque in the background

The area of Eminönü with Süleymaniye Mosque on the hill / Shutterstock

Blue Mosque

The next unmissable mosque in Istanbul is the Sultanahmet Mosque, nicknamed “Blue Mosque” thanks to its unique tiles. Right next to the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque was constructed between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I. The sultan also gave his name to the area around the two Ottoman mosques, and today people refer to the old imperial center as “Sultanahmet.” 

Topkapı Palace

In Sultanahmet, you’ll also find the historic residence and administrative center of the Ottoman Empire. Construction of the Topkapı Palace began in 1459, and the sultans used the complex until 1853.

Today, The Topkapı Museum attracts visitors thanks to its imperial buildings, historic harem, and great views over the Bosporus. 

Archaeological Museums 

Next to the palace, Istanbul’s Archaeological Museum is among the largest in the world. Three different museums form the archaeological complex: the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Museum of Islamic Art.

All three are full of treasures, but the most spectacular exhibit is arguably Alexander’s Sarcophagus, a tomb that historians believe was built for Alexander the Great. 

Top things to do in Istanbul - Archaeological Museum

The Archaeological Museum / Shutterstock

Sunken Palace (Basilica Cistern)

Ever seen From Russia With Love? Or, Dan Brown’s Inferno? Both of these famous flicks take the viewer to Istanbul’s one-of-a-kind Sunken Palace. Also called “Basilica Cistern,” the underground hall was one of several water reservoirs during Roman times. It contains incredible columns and other Roman structures, and the city sometimes holds concerts here. 

Grand Bazaar

Often dubbed “the first shopping mall in the world,” Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar opened in 1461. Today, you can buy everything here – from clothes to jewelry, food, spices, and furniture.

The Grand Bazaar attracts between 250k and 400k visitors daily, making it one of the busiest covered markets in the world. And finally, it is also a James Bond location. In 2012’s Skyfall, you can see Bond riding his motorcycle on top of the bazaar’s roofs. 

Galata Tower

The 62m (205 ft) high Romanesque Galata Tower was built by Genoese colonists in 1348. Located in the neighborhood of Galata/Beyoğlu, the observation deck offers breathtaking 360-degree views over the megacity. 

Süleymaniye Mosque

Aside from the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, the Süleymaniye is the third Ottoman structure that should feature your Istanbul itinerary. The mosque is an excellent example of 16th-century Ottoman architecture, and its gardens offer panoramic views over the Golden Horn river and the area of Galata. 

Spice Bazaar

The second covered market that’s part of Istanbul’s most famous attractions is the Spice Bazaar. Located close to the Golden Horn River in Eminönü, the Spice Bazaar has 85 shops selling all sorts of delicacies. Like in every bazaar, haggling is king. 

Dolmabahce Palace

The grand Dolmabahce Palace became the residence and political center of the Ottoman Empire in 1856. Located in Beşiktaş right on the Bosporus, the Dolmabahce is the largest palace in all of Turkey.

Within its area of 45,000 m2 (11.1 acres), the complex contains 285 rooms, 46 halls, and six hammams

Ortaköy Mosque

Right on the Bosporus next to the continent-crossing 15th July Martyrs Bridge, you’ll find Ortaköy Mosque. It’s a stunning piece of 19th-century architecture, and its distinct Baroque Revival style sets it apart from other mosques in Istanbul. The area around the mosque is a popular spot among locals and tourists alike for a romantic sunset date or a drink on the water. 

Istiklal Caddesi 

Stretching from Taksim Square to Galata Tower, Istiklal is the longest shopping street in Istanbul. On this pedestrian road, you’ll find international and local fashion stores as well as lots of places to eat. 

To avoid the crowds and inflated prices on Istiklal itself, head into one of the many adjacent alleyways to savor some local delicacies. In this context, Asmalı Mescit Street is a locals’ favorite when it comes to fish restaurants. Finally, Istiklal is also home to Istanbul’s biggest cathedral: the Roman Catholic St. Anthony of Padua. 

The Balat Neighborhood

If you want to see a different side of Istanbul, the Insta-famous Balat neighborhood should be on your list. Historically, the area was home to the city’s minorities, including Greeks, Roma, and Jews. Today, the neighborhood is a bit rundown, but many restored houses are now famous Instagram locations. 

Taksim Square 

When in Istanbul, you’ll undoubtedly pass Taksim Square. The square often features in the news because of protests and other events. It recently received two significant additions: a massive mosque and a new Atatürk cultural center and museum. Apart from that, it’s one of Istanbul’s main transport hubs. 

The Asian side: Maiden’s Tower, Üsküdar, and Kadiköy

Finally, all of the previously-mentioned Istanbul attractions are on the European side – but don’t forget to check out the Asian side as well. Take a regular ferry (not the tourist ferries as they’ll make the same journey for a higher price) and head to Üsküdar or Kadiköy. 

The area of Üsküdar is one of Istanbul’s more conservative neighborhoods, but it also has the Maiden’s Tower, a unique Byzantine structure on a small Bosporus island. 

Kadiköy is one of the coolest neighborhoods for nightlife and a meeting point for hip millennials from all over Turkey. 

Digital Nomad Istanbul guide - the area of Galata and the Golden Horn river with Galata Tower

The Golden Horn River with the area of Galata and Galata Tower / Shutterstock

Digital Nomad Istanbul Guide: Know Before You Go

  • Istanbul’s public transit network is excellent, with trams, metros, buses, and ferries connecting every part of the megacity. You’ll need an Istanbulkart, which you can get at every station and recharge as you go. 
  • The city has two airports: the new Istanbul Airport (the hub for Turkish Airlines) in Europe and Sabiha Gökcen (the hub for Pegasus) on the Asian side. Both are 90-120 minutes away from the center, depending on traffic. The Havabus is the most convenient way to get from the airports to the center. 
  • In touristy neighborhoods, you’ll be able to communicate in English, but the further you move away from those areas, the lower people’s English levels will be. If you’re planning to stay in Turkey as a digital nomad, learning a bit of Turkish is recommendable. 
  • Istanbul is a microcosmos of Turkey and a blend of mentalities and ideologies. You will find highly conservative areas but also conspicuously liberal neighborhoods. Most parts are somewhere in between. Many people in Istanbul aren’t religious, but it’s still best to respect Islamic traditions.

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