The Best Place to Stay in Istanbul? How about Raffles Istanbul!
Our taxi pulled up to Raffles Istanbul, and from the moment we stepped out of the vehicle we could feel we were in good hands. Our luggage was whisked away, smiles and pleasantries were exchanged, and before we knew it we were already at the front desk at one of the best hotels in Istanbul (if not the best hotel in Istanbul).
Instead of the usual exchange, where you sit down and information is painstakingly recorded, the receptionist simply said, “I can imagine you’re tired, let’s get you to your room and deal with everything up there.” We entered our Bosphorus Suite at Raffles Istanbul, and were instantly in awe. Despite having lived in Istanbul for three years prior, our jaws both fell to the floor when we saw our vantage point of the Bosphorus, as we watched it playfully glistening in the early afternoon sun.
She took our passports, recorded a few pieces of information, and then, like that, we were all of a sudden temporary residents of one of the most talked about 5 star hotels in Istanbul.
The table in our living room (yes, our suite was that large), had an array of Turkish treats on it, and there was a beautiful variety of teas and coffees on offer at the bar (yes…our suite was that large). Before leaving she said, “oh, and I almost forgot, don’t forget you call your 24 hour butler if you need anything. “ For the record, every room at Raffles Istanbul comes with butler access.
The door closed, and Bri collectively breathed in and out, as we realized the next few days were going to be truly extraordinary. We realized that Raffles Istanbul is not just one of the top hotels in Istanbul, but also, it might just be one of the top hotels on the planet, and I’m not exaggerating.
Not to mention, we were back in Istanbul - our former home that we loved and missed like no other.
NOTE: This post may contain some affiliate links. That means, simply, that I may get commissions from some of my recommendations. That being said, my opinions are fully my own.
The History of Raffles Hotels and Resorts
Raffles Hotels & Resorts can trace their roots all the way back to 1887, with the opening of the original Raffles Hotel in Singapore. From the beginning, the focus was on building a luxury hotel that offered a first class experience that rivals the best of the best.
It was only in the late 1990’s that Raffles began to expand outside of Singapore and develop internationally. What I appreciate about the expansion of Raffles Hotels is that it’s been both slow and calculated. Currently they have only 14 properties, and keep in mind they’ve been in business since the late 19th century.
In the Asia Pacific, they’ve got Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh, Raffles Grant Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap, as well as Raffles Hainan, Raffles Jakarta, Raffles Makati, and, of course, Raffles Singapore. Raffles Shenzhen is also set to open sometime in 2019, and Raffles Bali is set to open in 2020.
In Europe, they’ve got Le Royal Monceau (Raffles Paris), Raffles Europejski Warsaw, and Raffles Istanbul.
In the Middle East and Africa, you’ll find Raffles Makkah Palace, and Raffles Dubai, with plans for Raffles Jeddah in 2021.
Raffles Hotels & Resorts doesn’t currently have any properties in North America, but Raffles Boston Back Bay has set its eyes on 2021 for its open.
Personally, I just appreciate the diversity of locations, and the focus on expanding to different places. Take, for example, the idea that you’d have a hotel in Istanbul or Warsaw before Paris or Prague. I like that.
A Little Bit About Raffles Istanbul
Raffles Istanbul is one of the newer Raffles hotel properties, and it officially opened right around the time that we actually moved to the city - September 1st, 2014 (literally, we moved to Istanbul about ten days before that). What’s neat for people who don’t know Istanbul all that well is that Raffles Istanbul is actually part of the Zorlu Center which includes a high-end conglomeration of residences, a shopping mall, performance art center, and offices.
Throughout 2014-2017, I shopped and hung out many times at the Zorlu Center (including catching several performances), but never did get the chance to stay at Raffles Istanbul.
The hotel is roughly 135 metres tall, which makes it one of the more notable buildings in the modern city. What I didn’t necessarily realize until we got to our room was the exceptional views afforded by the hotel. Honestly, I don’t know if the views get any better, and that is enough for me to simply have to include Raffles Istanbul in the discussion for best hotels in Istanbul, and best hotels in Turkey.
What Did We Love About Raffles Istanbul? What Makes This Arguably The Best Place to Stay in Istanbul?
You guys know me at this point - I simply would not write a glowing hotel review if it wasn’t honestly how I felt, but, as I’ve alluded to before, this place is something else. There are luxury hotels, and then there is Raffles Istanbul. If you’ve looking for a luxury hotel in Istanbul that’s on another level, that is this hotel.
It’s sort of fun for me, writing this post. I’ve talked about Istanbul an awful lot in the past, but, funny enough, never about a hotel and this one, to me, is worth writing about.
Our Room, The Bosphorus Suite
For starters, it’s worth mentioning that the Bosphorus Suite is around 2000 square feet (about 185 square metres), so it’s sizeable. The highlight, without question, of any of the Bosphorus Suites (there are 21 in Raffles Istanbul) is the remarkable view of the Bosphorus which, as I alluded to before, is nearly unparalleled.
The in-room tablet to control everything from lighting and air-conditioning, to in-room dining and reservations was a nice touch. In general, that’s what I feel separated the Raffles brand from other hotel chains I’ve stayed with in the past - their insistence on getting the little things right.
The floor to ceiling windows made us feel comfortable not rushing out to leave the room because we felt like we were already a part of the city in the way. And, if that wasn’t enough, the furnished private terrace allowed us to be outside if we wanted to be.
Not to mention, the hotel really did have that “Istanbul feeling,” so we never felt separated from the city at Raffles Istanbul at all. Later, when I talked to Deniz Met, the Director of Marketing, I was to learn that having that “Istanbul feeling” inside the hotel was very much intentional. The hotel was build to mirror the city, not to be a separate entity.
Bri was particularly pleased with the bathroom, which had a separate marble sinks for each of us to get ready, as well as a separate bathtub and shower. The mirror TVs were also a nice touch, and I know she appreciated the deep tub.
The Raffles butler service is as good as you might imagine it would be. We didn’t necessarily use the service all that much, but it was more the assurance that if we needed anything, it wouldn’t be a problem, and that someone always had our wellbeing in mind.
The coffee and tea facilities by the bar were also first class. Bri was busily making espressos, and I was happily drinking loads of tea. The staff at Raffles Istanbul was so perceptive in noticing my mild tea obsession, that we went out one afternoon, and came back to see a new teapot for loose leaf tea, and a selection of six different premium loose leaf teas. Now that’s quality - and that’s part of what I feel makes Raffles Istanbul the best place to stay in Istanbul.
With the Bosphorus Suite at Raffles Istanbul, it’s also worth noting that you get Raffles Club Access, which offers you a variety of benefits, but I personally appreciated the happy hour cocktails and canapés serves between 5-7pm.
On our last night, we sipped champagne on our private balcony and watched cars cross the Bosphorus Bridge in the distance. Honestly, we never wanted to leave.
Isokyo Restaurant at Raffles Istanbul (Zorlu Center)
When we arrived for dinner at Isokyo, we quickly noticed that they’d constructed an entire personal menu for us the showcase the best that Isokyo restaurant had to offer - and my goodness did they succeed.
We started with edamame beans with “lapsang souchong” tea and smoked salt. With the second course, we dined on crispy tuna tartar sandwiches with avocado and tobiko, and Thai duck sausages with a shallot citrus dressing. The course after that, we enjoyed tempura prawn tacos with pickled cabbage and soy aioli, as well as the asian quinoa salad with cashew dressing. The tempura prawn taco, to me, was a clear indication of Isokyo’s creativity in the kitchen. The flavours were familiar in some respect, but the format was so unique, and the whole thing just came together beautifully from both a presentation and flavour perspective.
That was followed up with bao bun sliders with pulled beef ribs, black pepper, and asian slaw (delicious, by the way!). Next, we had oshi sushi, which was crispy shrimp, dynamite sauce, and toasted sesame. The oshi sushi was presented on a platter over a bed of dry ice, so it came out literally under a veil of fog and mystery, then absolutely wowed us.
Our final tasting before the mains (I know, we were spoiled, right?) was a plate of pan fried gyoza dumplings with a sake soy dressing.
For our mains, we shared the caramelized miso soy glazed black cod, the soy and sherry glazed beef tenderloin, the miso roasted potatoes with edamame and blistered green chillies, and stir fried seasonal vegetables with oyster sauce. If you enjoy beef that is juicy, tender, and not overcooked, that’s what we found with the beef tenderloin at Isokyo - it was exquisite, and very befitting for a restaurant at one of the top hotels in Istanbul.
Finally, for dessert we dined on banana beignets, salted caramel, and coconut ice-cream.
Let’s get a bit meta - I just turned to Bri while writing this and said, “Bri I’m writing about our dinner at Isokyo - how amazing was that?” From the kitchen, she called back, “Oh my gosh…that was probably one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had.”
Add Isokyo as evidence of why Raffles Istanbul might just be the best hotel in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Raffles Spa
Bri and I tried to do our due diligence when it came to making sure we did our research for the Raffles Spa. Tough work, I know.
We spent some time in the hammams first and laid on the hot marble that we’d missed so much since we’d last been in Istanbul. We also spent significant time at the outdoor swimming pool, which offers a great view of the surrounding neighbourhood (roughly Levent/Beşiktaş), and the design struck me as rather clever, as they had tiered terraces, so you could choose your vantage point of the pool and city.
The fitness centre is petite, but does the trick, but the real magic is the endless passages of the Raffles spa that lead to soaking tubs and pools both hot and cold, as well as the massage rooms. Bri and I each got a 60 minute Raffles signature massage that was perfection.
One thing that we felt about Raffles Istanbul was that, while we were there, we never yearned to be anywhere else. I firmly believe that’s because they carefully craft each aspect of the luxury hotel experience to ensure they’re constantly in the conversation for the outright best hotel in Istanbul.
My goodness, every employee that we encountered at Raffles Istanbul was both pleasant and professional. That all made perfect sense to me once I got the opportunity to sit down with Deniz Met, the Director of Marketing for Raffles Istanbul. Through Deniz, I got a clear understanding of what separated Raffles Istanbul from the competition, as well as the Raffles brand at large.
At first, I wanted to chat a bit about the location and the hotel itself. She summed things up rather nicely when noting, “This area, around the Zorlu Center, has become the new meeting place of the city. You can get anywhere from here, which has allowed it to become a new hub. And the view from the room is incredible, and that’s why we feel it’s a new perspective of the city.”
That’s something I noted earlier, and something that both Deniz and Raffles Istanbul understand - the property is unbelievable, but it’s that entrancing view that keeps people coming back and connects people to Raffles Istanbul. It’s a unique view you can’t find elsewhere, plain and simple.
She spoke at length many times during our conversation about “emotional luxury,” which I understood as what this hotel focuses on to really connect with who you are and how they can best serve you on an individual basis. They’re aiming to provide not just service, but thoughtful service.
When she mentioned “emotional luxury,” I remembered how someone had noticed I loved the tea, and brought in the loose leaf teapot with a selection of looseleaf teas. That to me is “emotional luxury.” A first class experience truly customized and predicated on what I was looking for that I may not even have known I was looking for.
I wanted to get a sense of where Raffles Istanbul fit into the rest of the Raffles properties. Deniz quickly noted, “The beauty of the hotel is that Raffles Istanbul is one of the flagship properties of all the Raffles properties, and maybe the flagship property.” That was another lightbulb moment for me, reaffirming that this place really does deserve to be in that “best place to stay in Istanbul” conversation.
What I didn’t expect, to be honest, was the interior of the property to so aptly reflect the feeling of the city, which I mentioned up above just a bit.
From Deniz, I learned just how intentional this was. “…once you step into this building, you enter into a combination of all the cultures and the history that came through Istanbul. This hotel is about capturing the ‘dream of Istanbul.’ Art is the main element to convey the message of the dream of Istanbul. There were 224 art pieces commissioned to display in the hotel, which show the ‘dream of Istanbul.’ They all link back to this story. Everybody can come here to find their own ‘dream of Istanbul.’”
What I thought would be a few minutes chatting, quickly turned into an hour with Deniz, and I truly cherished it. Part of the reason that I missed Turkey was that meaningful conversations can sprout up anywhere, at any time. The people of Istanbul are so passionate and have such a deep belief in what they strive for. I found all that and more in chatting with Deniz, and she also reminded me of the warmth and kindness that’s so present in Turkish hospitality. Even if I wasn’t staying at Raffles, the next time I’m in Istanbul, I’d still likely want to go and stop by and say hello to her - she’s that kind of person.
Something that I felt pretty strongly about at Raffles Istanbul was that the experience that Bri and I had would be in many ways different from the way that other people spent their time at the hotel - it was unique and personal. That is to say, it’s very much a choose your own adventure style stay at Raffles Istanbul.
For example, we decided that on our third morning we wanted breakfast brought to us. We chose exactly when we wanted breakfast and exactly what we wanted and, just like that it arrived. I know that can be standard fare at other hotels, but just the way this was handled, the fact that a table was brought up and so forth, it was just on another level.
I also feel that the hotel itself was like nowhere I’d ever seen. With the emphasis on art pieces curated precisely for the hotel (particularly in the lobby), it was a powerful notion to understand that what you’re paying for with Raffles Istanbul is access to this experience, and even if I went to another Raffles property, it would not and could not be the exact same.
Everywhere I looked, I could see how carefully and thoughtfully the property was designed, and what makes Raffles Istanbul one of the top hotels in Istanbul and best hotels in Turkey is that the thoughtfulness continues in its daily operation.
When is the Best Time to Come to Istanbul?
Having lived in Istanbul for three years prior, I thought it was worthwhile just quickly discussing when you might want to come to Istanbul (and Raffles Istanbul) to visit. Personally, there are two periods that I think are truly ideal weather-wise. I find spring in Istanbul to be an absolutely perfect temperature, so coming around May or June is a nice idea. Fall also happens to be delightful in Istanbul, with September being an especially lovely month, but October actually still being quite nice and warm as well. My birthday is October 16th, and when I lived in Istanbul, I used to love that it was still warm, as that’s not quite the case in Toronto usually.
In truth, if you’re staying at Raffles Istanbul, it’s like its own luxury ecosystem, so you could come during the depths of winter and it wouldn’t matter all that much, but, if you’ve got a choice, Istanbul is perfection in May, June, September, and October. The summer, as you might gather, can be a touch hot, but if you’re too hot, you can always find a place to swim or a beach nearby in Istanbul.
Is This the Best Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey?
Well, I haven’t stayed in every hotel in Istanbul, so I can’t say for certain, but I do know a special property when I see one. I’ve probably, at this point, stayed at a couple thousand hotels, and Raffles Istanbul is up at the top of the list, and you could put forth an argument that it takes the crown.
When you’re making the decision to spend a little extra money on a hotel, you want to make sure it’s worth it, and, trust me, with this property, I’d be shocked if you don’t leave delightfully satisfied.
I want to humbly thank Raffles Istanbul (and Raffles Hotels & Resorts) for hosting me as media. All opinions are completely my own. Below, I’d love to know in the comments if you’ve visited Rafffles Istanbul before and your thoughts! Of course, I’d also love to hear if you’ve stayed at any other of the Raffles properties, or just if you’ve visited Istanbul in general. I personally respond to each and every comment.