Inside the Peninsula Istanbul, Turkey’s Best New Hotel


Welcome to Checking In, a review series in which our editors and contributors rate the best new (and revamped) luxury hotels based on a rigorous—and occasionally tongue-in-cheek—10-point system: Each question answered “yes” gets one point. Will room service bring you caviar? Does your suite have its own butler? Does the bathroom have a bidet? Find out below.

The lobby of the The Peninsula Istanbul

The Peninsula Istanbul

Describe the hotel in 3 words: Majestic waterfront location

What’s the deal?

The Peninsula Istanbul opened a little over one year ago on what is easily the finest stretch of land on the Karaköy side of the Bosphorus. It’s just steps away from Galataport, a new shopping, dining, and entertainment development that includes a promenade and cruise-ship port, not to mention the Istanbul Modern Museum in its new Renzo Piano–designed space. The hotel extends across four buildings that line the waterfront. Three of the edifices are protected historical landmarks dating to the early 20th century, including a refurbished, glass-fronted structure built in the 1940s that served as the city’s first modern cruise terminal. Today, it’s the hotel’s lobby. Designed by the Turkish architect Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu, the interiors of the hotel feature artworks by Turkish creators and elements of Byzantine and Ottoman iconography that lend the property a distinctive sense of place. Enchanting black-and-white photographs taken by 20th-century photographer Ara Güler, aka “The Eye of Istanbul,” hang throughout the hotel, reminding guests of the city’s remarkable history and location—not that they need much reminding. Practically every window offers striking views of the minarets of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia and the silhouette of Topkapi Palace across the strait.  

The best room?

The Peninsula Suite in Istanbul

The hotel’s most dramatic suite is a sprawling rooftop aerie, and it knows all the tricks.

The Peninsula Istanbul

Of the hotel’s 177 guest rooms, including 39 suites—there’s an Art Suite, a Rooftop Garden Suite, and a Grand Bosphorus Suite—the most luxurious is the Peninsula Suite. It tops the heritage waterfront portion of the building and spans 5,500 square feet. While it comes tricked out with inlaid-wood furnishings and Turkish textiles, a baby grand piano, a solarium, a private hammam, a gym, a screening room, an adjoining bedroom and multiple balconies, the pool is the pièce de résistance and what you checked in for. It’s nearly 1,300 square feet and the only private pool at the hotel. Take it all in from the outdoor dining and lounge area.

The Rundown

A closet at the Peninsula Istanbul

Turkish architect Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu created the interiors.

The Peninsula Istanbul

Does the hotel have a standout perk?

The hotel has its own pier, making it easy to enjoy an obligatory cruise along the Bosphorus. For wellness aficionados, however, it’s got to be the spa and wellness center downstairs, which includes a 269-foot indoor pool, a 24-hour fitness center, two hammams, and eight private treatment rooms.

Did they greet you by name at check-in?

Yes—from the moment I stepped off the plane at Istanbul International Airport. A young man was there to greet me. He escorted me to a private buggy, then whisked me through the sprawling airport and through customs before walking me to the parking lot, where my Peninsula driver awaited me. When I arrived at the hotel some 40 minutes later, a greeter welcomed me by name the second the door opened.

Welcome drink ready and waiting when you arrived? Bonus point if it wasn’t just fruit juice.

Shortly after I checked into my room, a waiter came by to pour tea into a classic tulip-shaped glass. It was the perfect complement to the selection of Turkish delights that awaited me on a side table.

Private butler for every room?

Yes—on request. But that’s not all; the hotel offers an array of special services. Use PenChat, a 24-hour private messaging service, for everything from dinner reservations, spa bookings, and boat trips. (Dockage for guests is at that private boat pier.) You can also access special excursions, classes, and cultural events through the Peninsula Academy. There’s even a pet-friendly program to boot!

Is there a private pool for the room’s exclusive use?

The pool of at the Peninsula Istanbul

The pool is the place to see and be seen.

The Peninsula Istanbul

No. While on the Peninsula Suite has its own private pool, the resort shows off with a large public pool situated right along the Bosphorus waterfront. Meanwhile, a 25-meter indoor swimming pool is surrounded by Marmara columns and lit by a series of dramatically illuminated overhead domes.

Is the sheet thread count higher than 300?

The sheets are made of 300 thread count 100 percent Egyptian and Indian cotton, comfy as can be. The rooms are spacious and well-appointed, complete with armchairs, desks, and wall hangings by local artists, all of which fade away the moment you open the curtains and admire that jaw-dropping view.

Is there a heated floor in the bathroom? What about a bidet?

Yes. And Toto toilets, complete with heated seats and bidets, for the win. My bathroom had two vanities and a luxurious standalone tub. The Turkish cotton bathrobe came home with me.

Are the toiletries full sized?

They’re medium-sized. The hotel commissioned local perfumers Mert Güzel and Murat Katran to create a signature fragrance for the line of in-room bath products.

Is the restaurant worth its salt?

Oh yes, quite literally. Inspired by the flavors of the historic Silk Road, whose western terminus was Istanbul, Gallada is one of the buzziest restaurants to have opened in the city over the past year. Located on the rooftop of the Peninsula’s central building, the dining room serves Turk-Asian cuisine by renowned Turkish chef Fatih Tutak as well as spectacular views of the old city across the Bosphorus.

Is there caviar on the room service menu? If so, what kind?

The hotel is just an hour away from the Black Sea; caviar is de riguer. The menu features Ossetra and Fine Beluga. But don’t overlook the delicious Turkish options on the menu—from Çılbır (pronouned chil-bir), a breakfast dish of poached eggs served over a bed of thick, garlicy yogurt, to platters of tasty grilled kebabs.

Do you want to spend Friday night in the lobby bar?

Absolutely—except it’s not a lobby bar. The Topside Bar is located in an elegant rooftop space that borrows its nautical theme from the cruise ship passenger hall that used to occupy the hotel’s central building.

Would you buy the hotel if you could?

I’d have to wrestle the property away from Michael Kadoorie, the Hong Kong–based billionaire businessman who has a controlling interest in the Peninsula Hotels, but I would certainly try.

The Verdict

The exterior of the The Peninsula Istanbul

Board your boat directly from the hotel’s private pier.

The Peninsula Istanbul

I can think of no better way to experience the magnificent city of Istanbul than as a guest of the Peninsula. The property combines comforts with historic and cultural design elements that pay homage to the city’s centuries-old heritage. Plus, if you’re a sucker for a good view, the one you’ll see from your room here will spoil you forever.

Rate: For suites during the winter period (December-February), the starting price is 1,800 euros (about $1,972).

Score: 9

What Our Score Means:

1-3: Fire your travel agent if they suggest you stay here.
4-6: Solid if you’re in a pinch—but only if you’re in a pinch.
7-8: Very good. We’d stay here again and recommend it without qualms.
9-10: Forget booking a week. When can we move in permanently?

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