Is This Trending Digital Nomad City Really Worth The Hype?

Digital nomadism is more than just a trend; it’s a movement redefining how and where we travel.

Since 2020, the amount of digital nomads has skyrocketed, in large part due to the newfound fully remote options for traditional jobs that were office-based 9-to-5 roles pre-pandemic.

With over 35 million digital nomads globally, travel-friendly online work is drawing adventurers to visit or even live in so-called “digital nomad hotspots” all over the world.

At the crossroads between Europe and Asia lies one such popular digital nomad destination: the legendary Istanbul. 

Here, east meets west and tradition meets modernity. Digital nomads flock to Istanbul for the depth of culture amid modern convenience.

With so many unique neighborhoods and an inexhaustible list of amazing things to see, many location-independent travelers choose to spend extended time in this Turkish megacity.

Remote work powered by Turkish coffee with views of the Bosphorus sounds spectacular; but does the reality live up to the hype?

In some ways, Istanbul is a digital nomad mecca. However, there are a few serious pitfalls that make it less than ideal for remote work.

Here are the pros and cons of traveling to Istanbul as a digital nomad:

woman in istanbul looking out over the bosphorus

The Turkish Take on Café Culture

We’ve all heard about the national obsession with Turkish tea, but that doesn’t stop Istanbul from boasting some of the best coffee culture in the world.

Trendy neighborhoods like Moda and Cihangir are home to three to ten coffee shops per block, most of which are well-suited for getting work done.

These are some great Istanbul cafes for digital nomads:

  • Walter’s Coffee – A Breaking Bad-themed cafe designed for remote work, with outlets at every table and outstanding third wave coffee. Don’t leave without one of their decadent brownies either!
  • Journey Lounge – Journey’s second floor for a hidden work zone is great for a long work day, since their menu from breakfast to dinner is spectacular.
  • Kava Coffee Home and Kava Coffee Roasting  – This trendy light-filled space has work-friendly individual seating in modern two-story spaces at both locations. Try a Chemex and buttery goodies from their bakery.
  • Cuma – The light and airy interior has lots of spacious sturdy tables well-suited for working.
  • Story Coffee & Food – A top pick for a working brunch and seasonal specialty lattes.
  • Tiyop – This plant-filled oasis has a sprawling communal table in the back that’s perfect for plugging in. Plus, it’s conveniently located near the main tourist sites in Galata.
  • Curve Cukurcuma – A hidden gem with wi-ifi as strong as its espresso, but limited seating.

Cafes in Istanbul are hubs for the thriving young professional and creative scene. Most coffee shops are open from morning until nearly midnight, since going out for coffee and tea is a critical component of the local social fabric.

There are so many amazing cafes to work from in the city that it almost makes up for the slim pickings of short-term coworking spaces – but not quite.

Walter's Coffee Istanbul with Digital Nomads Working Online

Limited Short-Term Coworking Options

Unfortunately, most of Istanbul’s coworking spaces only offer monthly or yearly memberships and lack drop-in rates, making it nearly impossible to pop into an office space on a shorter remote working trip here.

If digital nomads are planning to stay longer than a month, they might have better luck. But even on a longer-term membership, a lot of spaces – for example, IDEA Kadikoy – require an application process with a waiting period and seem to be limited to mostly locals in the tech industry.

Digital nomads are limited to a 90-day tourist visa to see the whole country, so it could be tricky to stay in Istanbul long enough for these extended coworking memberships. Turkey does not currently offer a digital nomad visa. Since the start of 2023, the temporary residency visa has also become nearly impossible to acquire or renew for online workers.

The two primary exceptions to the long-term membership coworking requirement are Impact Hub, which offers 1-10 day packages, and Daire, which charges $5/hour for a pre-reserved hot desk.

Both are located about 30 minutes north of Galata by metro, which means up to an hour commute with changes for digital nomads staying in Kadiköy, Fatih, or other popular neighborhoods.

Two online workers

Divided City

The fingers of the Bosphorus divide the city into three main zones and make getting around a hassle.

This so-called “Golden Horn” separates Beyoğlu (including Karaköy and Galata) in the north from Fatih and Eminonü in the south. It also draws the line between Europe and Asia, with Kadıköy and Üsküdar to the east.

While commuting by ferry looks cinematic, it’s also super slow. Most of the time, getting around Istanbul means an hour underground on the metro, not enjoying the sea or strolling spice-lined streets.

The metro also doesn’t connect the Asian side very well, which means you’re waiting on vintage trams to chug along hills and get you somewhere near your destination or taking city buses through epic traffic.

On the upside, public transport is super affordable in Istanbul. Ferry, metro, bus, and tram rides all cost less than $0.80. A reloadable Istanbulkart can be purchased in all metro and ferry stations and some bus stops for about $2.

turkey istanbul rooftop

Endless Exploration

While it can be a drag to get around Istanbul, the tradeoff is that the city is so huge and diverse that you’ll always have something to see.

Digital nomads could spend weeks in Istanbul visiting a different neighborhood and working from a different café every day.

Explore the Hagia Sophia on your lunch break, or take a cruise on the Bosphorus after work. There are plenty of amazing cultural and historical sites, so you’ll definitely never be bored traveling and working online in Istanbul.

Kuzguncuk neighborhood in Istanbul

Pricy Data

Digital nomads value staying connected while out and about. Mobile data also usually doubles as backup Wi-Fi for critical work tasks.

Unfortunately, SIM card prices in Istanbul have tripled over the past few years. A short-term tourist SIM currently starts at 5-20G plans for $40-55. This means that a remote worker visiting Istanbul for a few days will pay the same price for data as someone who’s staying for a few weeks.

Turkish carriers also often throttle data speeds, even on ‘unlimited’ packages. On the upside, unlimited Whatsapp messaging is usually included.

woman using a phone

Great International Access

A key feature of a great digital nomad city is convenient international access.

With Istanbul’s mega-hub airport, remote workers can hop around Europe and Asia without breaking a sweat. The city’s new airport metro stops also make getting to and from your flight easier than ever.

Nomads can snag flights to European destinations like Venice, Budapest, Paris, Barcelona, and Athens for $50-100. Trips to Gulf destinations like Dubai are dirt cheap, while popular Asian destinations like Thailand and the Maldives can be reached for under $200.

Istanbul also offers an overnight express train to Sofia, Bulgaria. From there, travelers can connect onward to the European rail network.

Istanbul airport with turkish airlines planes

Accommodation Struggles

While travelers on workations might base from a hotel, long-term digital nomads often prefer to rent an apartment for a week or month. Unfortunately, that’s tricky in Istanbul these days.

First, is blocked inside of Turkey, so anyone trying to book accommodation after arriving in the country will need to use a VPN.

Second, Airbnb prices have ballooned to reflect the housing shortage in the city these days. Rental sites offer very few entire apartments and list mostly private rooms in shared apartments. (Bear in mind that some Airbnb hosts in Istanbul actually sleep in the living room of the apartment and omit this information from the listing.)

As of summer 2023, digital nomads can expect to pay $150-200/week or $500-600/month for a room, and roughly double for a private apartment. While it might not seem expensive compared to U.S. prices, rents are out of proportion to the general cost of living.

Inflation, currency instability, an influx of Russian tenants, and a rapidly changing housing market mean the accommodation situation in Istanbul is subject to frequent changes, making travel to Istanbul a bit less predictable for digital nomads.

Galata Tower In Istanbul, Turkey

It’s true that Istanbul has a few kinks to work out for remote workers. While it may not quite live up to the hype, this Turkish megacity is still a must-see for travelers and digital nomads alike.

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