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May 03, 2024


The Peninsula Istanbul is in the lively Karaköy district next to the Bosphorus Strait. Courtesy of the Peninsula Istanbul ~ The Peninsula Istanbul The vibe: An instant classic from a cult hotel brand

The Peninsula Istanbul is in the lively Karaköy district next to the Bosphorus Strait.

Courtesy of the Peninsula Istanbul


The Peninsula Istanbul

The vibe: An instant classic from a cult hotel brand in a historic location

Location: Kemankes Cad 34, Istanbul, Turkey | View on Google Maps

Book now: Website



The Peninsula Istanbul is the 11th hotel for the legendary Hong Kong-based luxury hospitality brand founded in the 1860s by the Kadoorie family, whose portfolio spans the globe from its Hong Kong flagship to Manhattan and Paris (with a London location accepting guests in September). Staunchly boutique in an era of global corporate mergers, Peninsula features a distinct East-West sensibility that harmonizes with this ancient metropolis that literally bridges Europe and Asia.

Even for a hotel group known for netting the most iconic locations, the Istanbul property is quite a feat. With a soft opening in early 2023 that’s now almost fully completed, the hotel project along the revitalized Karaköy waterfront involved restoration of three protected heritage buildings that had been closed to the public for decades. They’re landmarks of this neighborhood’s past as a maritime port that are resonant with cultural memories for locals. “My generation had only ever seen these buildings sad and abandoned,” a staffer confided when I arrived. “Being in here now gives me goose bumps.” As a part-time Istanbullu myself, I shared her awe.

The living room of an Executive Bosphorus Suite

Courtesy of the Peninsula Istanbul

Guests check in at the 1937 Bauhaus-style former port passenger terminal structure with its signature rectilinear clock tower. The white-gloved valets usher them into a soaring space housing a reception area and an expansive casual restaurant under a gorgeous stained-glass ceiling. The building connects via marble-clad corridors to Merkez Han, a pale-gray 1912 art nouveau edifice, formerly the headquarters of Turkey’s maritime operations, and on the other side, Çinili Han, the 1910 passenger terminal with an arts and crafts–inspired facade covered in golden tile. The complex also includes a new (less graceful) extension with some guest rooms and a ballroom abuzz with receptions and weddings.

Istanbul is famous already for waterside urban resorts like Ciragan Palace Kempinski and Four Seasons Bosphorus. So why chose the Pen? Because while it has its own dreamy outdoor pool (and a stunning one indoors), a sculpture-filled garden designed by Swiss landscape guru Enzo Enea, and soothing resort vibes, it sits smack in the energetic center of town. Views from the hotel can’t get more iconic than this: They include the Ottoman turrets of the Topkapi Palace and the domes and minarets of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia across the rippling water.

The Peninsula Istanbul’s Lobby restaurant serves afternoon tea either inside or on the terrace.

Courtesy of the Peninsula Istanbul

Many guests here are Peninsula groupies addicted to the brand’s obsessive attention to detail and whisper-smooth service. The location makes it ideal for culture buffs and Istanbul first timers hungry for historic attractions, though the hotel is equally suited to repeat guests happy to just hang at poolside. The romantic setting practically invites moonstruck couples, but solo travelers will appreciate the hotel’s lively surroundings. Although the vibe might seem tony, kids are most welcome. Whoever you are, the level of luxury and pampering will beguile your inner sybarite.

The Peninsula sits in the buzzy Karaköy district—where the Bosphorus is joined by the Golden Horn estuary—across from the historical peninsula and an olive’s toss from the Karaköy ferryboat pier. (Do take a ride to the city’s Asian shore.) Istanbul’s landmark mosques and bazaars are a few easy tram stops away, so no need to get stuck in the city’s notorious traffic. Make sure to walk to the Spice Market across the Galata Bridge and take in the scene of local men fishing and the lineup of imperial mosques rising ahead.

With a history stretching back to Byzantine times, the Karaköy docklands, once known for hookers and hardware stores, have been gentrifying over the past 15 years. The process started with a wave of boho cafés like Karabatak (still lovely) and culminated with the completion, in 2021, of Galataport, a $1.7 billion mixed-use development with a futuristic underground cruise terminal, a gorgeous mile-long waterside pedestrian promenade, and some 250 Dubai-worthy retail outlets and dining establishments.

The hotel’s central location is ideal for first-time visitors who want to focus on historic attractions.

Courtesy of the Peninsula Istanbul

A short walk away from the hotel are such neighborhood dining classics as Karaköy Lokantasi that serves fabulous meze, Karaköy Gulluoglu (the city’s best baklava), and Nato Lokantasi, famed for its homey lunches. Among the glut of Karaköy’s touristy shops, there are still indie gems like Mae Zae for fashion finds from local designers and Hiç Crafts for Turkish housewares and textiles. Culture? The Istanbul Modern finally opened after five years of construction. Its bravura collection of Turkish 20th-century art (plus temporary exhibitions) is displayed in a sleek aluminum-clad building by Renzo Piano. (Visit the reflective pool populated by seagulls on the museum’s top floor.) Also close by, the Istanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture has a fascinating collection of late-Ottoman and early republic art. While you won’t want to miss a pampering session or two at the Peninsula spa (more on that later), mix things up with a treatment at the historic Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam, located in a 16th-century building designed by the Michelangelo of Ottoman architects, Mimar Sinan.

The hotel’s 177 guest rooms and suites are spread across a quartet of buildings, each with its own character. Consequently, there are 22 kinds of room configurations and categories. Even the smallest city view rooms start at a spacious 431 square feet. A 600-square-feet Grand Deluxe room might have a private terrace overlooking the garden, while many suites in Building 2 (with a clock tower) and Building 1 (Merkez Han) feature huge terraces. Sultans and celebrities favor the 5,490-square-foot Peninsula Suite with its own hammam, gym, and rooftop swimming pool.

Created by designer-du-jour Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu (the architect behind the Şakirin Mosque on the city’s Asian side), the room interiors deliver the Peninsula brand’s trademark “understated opulence”—art deco meets Chinese breezes—with neutral palettes offset by dark furniture, lacquered surfaces, powder-blue carpets, and sleek light fixtures. But Fadıllıoğlu also incorporated Turkish motifs, from the lovely mother-of-pearl inlay of the desks to the curtains’ subtle embroidery. All rooms have original artwork, and the walk-in closets are as big as some New York City apartments.

My room in Building 1 had huge windows framing such a sublime panorama of water and Ottoman skyline that I spent hours sipping Turkish tea from fine china and eyeing the Bosphorus boat traffic and seagulls. I also fell for the Pen’s in-room tablet, which controls everything from curtains to room service. It even helpfully displays weather reports in 11 languages. The controls in the Marmara marble bathrooms have a hammam mode for romantic lighting and soothing music.

With its indoor and outdoor pools, the Peninsula Istanbul has a resort-like feel in the heart of the city.

Courtesy of the Peninsula Istanbul

Istanbul’s latest dining sensation was the July launch of Gallada, the Peninsula’s panoramic roof terrace restaurant seating more than 250 diners. It’s a collaboration between the hotel and chef Fatih Tutak, the city’s reigning sultan of creative fine dining. Istanbul native Tutak spent most of his career in the best kitchens of Asia, including a stint at Tokyo’s avant-garde Nihonryori Ryugin, plus a European stage at Noma in Copenhagen. Returning home in 2019, he opened Turk in the city’s Bomonti district, where his adventurous tasting menus have earned the restaurant two Michelin stars.

At Gallada he combines his Asian training and Anatolian roots in Silk Route–inspired dishes that also pay homage to the Peninsula brand’s own journey from its 1928 start in Hong Kong to this Bosphorus outpost. That means Asian dumplings with a filling of minced Turkish kebab, or wok-fried blue lobster served with Uyghur lagman noodles. Above the restaurant, the nautically themed Topside bar under the iconic clock tower—designed to look like a vintage grand yacht—draws the city’s beau monde with creative cocktails like House of Wisdom, a potion of mirra-washed rum, falernum, and chocolate.

There’s also a killer cocktail list downstairs at the hotel’s restaurant, Lobby, with tables both in the soaring interior space and on the waterside terrace. Here the cocktails celebrate the building’s passenger terminal past with libations poetically named after Istanbul’s ferry piers and featuring local ingredients like sumac, isot pepper, and anisy raki. I also loved the Lobby’s elegant pastas created by resident Italian chef Alessandro Santi and its chic à la carte breakfasts featuring eggy creations like Turkish çilbir (poached and surrounded by garlicky yogurt). Even nonguests should splurge on Pen’s signature afternoon tea, with its tiered trays holding too-pretty-to-eat foie-gras macarons and jasmine custard choux pastry.

You can order a full Turkish breakfast in your room.

Courtesy of the Peninsula Istanbul

Traditional Turkish hospitality and service culture meet the Pen’s signature discretion and polish. The staffers seem so genuinely enthusiastic about the hotel’s architecture and history that impromptu mini lectures are frequent. During my stay the concierge dutifully researched the origins of an obscure celebration I’d witnessed in town, and the valet lugged my bags to a faraway taxi stand when I checked out during a street closure. Ask for extra shampoo or a pillow and they’ll be delivered in minutes.

For introverts, there’s the hotel’s e-concierge texting service called PenChat, as well as a digitally controlled valet box in each room for delivering your morning paper or polished shoes. Still, it’s the human interaction that makes a stay here so special.

All the hotel’s indoor public spaces, including the spa, are wheelchair accessible, and there are two ADA-compliant guest rooms in the main Bauhaus-style building. Outside the hotel, though, the pavements can be potholed and irregular, and there’s ongoing construction in parts of the neighborhood. Proceed with care.

The Peninsula’s dedication to honoring its location and heritage shows in a multitude of details. The best local ustas (craftspeople) were enlisted to work on its marble, stained glass, and the mother-of-pearl inlays called sedef. The photographs in the hallways are the work of beloved Turkish mid-twentieth-century photographer Ara Guler, legendary for his evocative black-and-white Istanbul scenes. (Pique your interest? The hotel can arrange a Guler-centric tour of the city.) The copper-hued panels above beds in the guest rooms are designer Zeynep Fadillioglu’s homage to the stonework of remote Anatolian mosques. And her tour-de-force vision for the underground spa features an 82-foot swimming pool beneath ceiling light fittings modeled on Islamic honeycomb niches (muqarnas) that magically reflect in the water.

In addition to Fadillioglu and chef FatihTutak, the Peninsula tapped other local creative talent. The spiffy cream-hued staff outfits are by Turkish fashion star Arzu Kaprol; renowned local curator Çağla Saraç selected the hotel’s impressive collection of traditional and contemporary Turkish art, while the in-room bath products have been custom-designed by the fragrance gurus behind Istanbul-based perfume brand Nishane. Take a few home: They’re packaged in environmentally friendly old-fashioned tubes and poetically dubbed Citrus Fig & Bosphorus Breeze, and they’ll remind you of Istanbul.