Hotels in Turkey follow the international star-rating system, and properties are classified according to amenities and services provided like fitness centers or conference space. Because the level and qualities of services can fluctuate wildly, a worn-out, old five-star with moldy bathroom tile might look better on paper than a brand-new, sky-lit gem with nothing to offer but basic clean rooms, stunning balconies, and a pool. In hotels rated three stars or lower, it is common for the bathroom to have a "Roman shower" rather than an enclosed bathtub or shower stall. This is usually a feature of budget-level hotels and is essentially a shower head on the wall and a drain in the floor. In some cases, you'll get a square, enamel stall basin and a shower curtain, in which case a practiced proficiency with the hand-held shower head will eventually ensure the least amount of leakage on the bathroom floor. In the hotel listings, the presence of the Roman shower setup is included in the listing.
The category of hotels in Turkey designated as "S" or Special Class provides an added layer of confusion. Special Class hotels are typically restored historic properties or new boutique hotels. In this category, room size and amenities such as TVs are anything but standard, and even the use of the word "boutique" can be a bit of a stretch. One way to assess sight unseen what you are getting is to look at the rates -- higher prices often bring a higher level of quality. The second and more effective approach is to follow the advice in this guide. We've been to all of these and know what you're getting.
The earliest restorations of these "S" class hotels were completed by the state-owned Turkish Touring Club. Now everyone has gotten in on the act. These small hotels can be owned by single men, single women, families, foreigners, high-rolling entrepreneurs, and carpet sellers with adjacent showrooms (how convenient for them).
The following are features and quirks that you can expect to encounter in bed-and-breakfasts (more often called "boutique hotels" and generally Special Class), pensions, and hotels not affiliated with an international chain.
Most hotels in Turkey seem to have more rooms with twin beds than doubles, so unless you specify that you want a double, called a "French" bed, you and your partner will feel like a couple out of a 1950s sitcom. Fitted sheets seem to be an anomaly in Turkey, so if you're a restless sleeper, expect to get a view of the mattress in the morning, particularly if you're staying in a budget property (or in a twin bed). Ask for an extra sheet if there's nothing between you and the blanket, as bed-making habits vary from hotel to hotel, and some provide only the duvet (with clean cover). And not even the Four Seasons Hotel will spare you from the startling blare of the neighborhood's muezzin at sunrise. TVs are generally a standard feature in rooms, but even a TV with a satellite hookup will limit you to BBC World, CNN, and endless hours of cycling tournaments. Local (cable) programming is at least captivating, with reruns of Guys and Dolls or The Terminator in Turkish.
Be aware, too, that an ongoing problem of not just the older hotels is the rapidity in which a clear drain will get clogged and tile grout moldy. While I've kept recommendations of these hotels to the exceptional minimum, it only takes one season, so go easy on me if a hotel listed here didn't snake the drain or regrout before your stay.
Many hotels rely exclusively on Mediterranean solar power, which sounds great until you get in a cold shower at sunrise. This is increasingly rare, however, as many establishments are installing backup generators for "24-hour hot water." Power outages are an unavoidable part of daily life in this growing city with an aging infrastructure, and because the water supply operates on an electric pumping system, there will be no water for the duration of the outage, usually only a couple of hours. This is increasingly rare, but not unheard of. In the sweaty heat of the summer, this is where the neighborhood hamam comes in handy.
One additional service offered by five-star hotels is babysitting, arranged by the hotel through reputable outside agencies.
Prices & Taxes
Unless stated otherwise, the price of hotel rooms listed in this guide includes breakfast and tax. In higher-priced hotels, tax and breakfast are not included, although it is often possible to score a promotional rate that does. (Tax on services such as airport transfers is charged at the 18% rate; check with your concierge if you have any questions about taxes on other services, such as use of the spa.) Also, prices listed here are the rates quoted on the hotel's proprietary website (for high season), which are as close to reality as you can get without haggling over the phone. Certain of the larger chain hotels use booking systems that price rooms according to real-time demand, so I've tried to paint as accurate a picture as possible given the inherent and often unexpected fluctuations of supply and demand. (Rack rates are those fictional prices posted behind the reception and that are almost never quoted -- not even to the most desperate last-minute walk-in.) All bets are off in Istanbul between Christmas and New Year's, as well as during the Formula 1 event (late May, early June) and other major conventions, when rates go up-up and away. Also, many hotels offer a 5% to 10% discount for payment in cash.
In rare cases the currency of operation is not specified by the hotel on its website. This leaves the hotelier some wiggle room to take advantage of the stronger currencies. For example, say I contact the hotel for the price of a room and the website says 300. Before I get a response, I'll be asked where I'm calling from. If I say the U.S., the quote will be in dollars, or 447TL. The price quote in euros by contrast would be 300€ or 685TL. Get it? This can be quite a shock when you go to pay and you have no written confirmation of the rate quote. Always get it in writing, as this scam is becoming sadly more prevalent in the smaller hotels. Note: Sometimes the hotel will simply ask you where you're calling from in order to be sincerely helpful by quoting the price in a currency convenient to you. Again, it's best to do this type of business in writing.
Prices quoted in this guide for airport transfers (mostly free for bookings of 3 nights or more) refer to pickup only from the Atatürk International Airport. Transfers from Sabiha Gökçen are more than double, if offered at all. Parents with kids will be pleased to learn that children 6 and under, and in some cases 12 and under, stay free, and often cots will be provided. While this is almost universal, it is wise to double-check when you book.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.