Cheap Travel: Visiting Istanbul on a Budget

Now that Istanbul is one of the top visited destinations in the world for city breaks, foreign visitors are taking more of an interest in it than ever before. Naturally as a city, it boasts of a large diversity in accommodation, bars, restaurants, shops and touristic attractions. If you want to travel luxuriously than hotels like the Ciragan Palace, help you to throw money about, just by reserving a room but this article focuses more on budget travel. Let’s see how you can make your money stretch further while in Istanbul.

Istanbul Istiklal Avenue

Choosing Your Hotel

Websites like booking.com or Expedia are search engines focusing specifically on sourcing hotel deals across a broad range of websites. Naturally hostels will always be cheaper with a starting price of 20 lira a night but not everyone likes the idea of shared accommodation.

Then there is also the discussion of single supplements. Solo travellers are disappointed to learn this concept is alive and kicking throughout Turkey and in some cases, it adds a hefty amount to the final price. The added bonus about the above websites is that they publish real reviews, a much-needed concept because a cheaper price doesn’t always mean you will be happy with what you get.

Average price for cheap…

- Hostels: 20 to 40 Turkish liras per night

- Bed & Breakfast: 60 to 100 Turkish liras per night

- Self-Catering: 100 lira per night

Istanbul also has many couchsurfing hosts, a concept that has become particularly popular with solo travellers. Using their website, hook up with people living in Istanbul and be given a settee, air bed or room for the night. Marketed as a way to meet people, the best aspect is that it is free. Albeit if you are not a people person, this is not the option for you but otherwise the website vets everyone and shows review of hosts as posted by other couch surfers.

Istanbul skyline

Getting About on Public Transport

To get from the airport to your hotel, the cheapest option is the Havastas airport shuttle bus or the metro or tram. Otherwise getting around the city is simply about weighing up the choices. Trams, metro lines, boat ferries and the city bus system are all viable options that are cheap. Taxis are obviously more expensive, but we always say the best way to get around is on foot, especially at rush hour time since traffic jams are a daily occurrence in Istanbul.

Most transport options apart from taxis do not accept cash payment so you will need to get an Istanbul Kart. Introduced in 2009, it is a prepaid and rechargeable card available for use by up to 5 passengers. The benefit is that you automatically get a 10% discount so if you plan to travel around the city extensively, buy one from a street vendor dotted around Istanbul.

Istanbul tram

Eating Out

Istanbul has a vast range of street food sellers and many local lokantas that are traditional Turkish restaurants and the food sold by both is cheap as well as suitable meat lovers or vegetarians. Tipping is also minimal or non-existent. Choices include….

1. The famous wet burger sold at Taksim square. This burger is especially popular with night-time drinkers because of its moorish taste; even the concept of steamed burgers doused in tomato and garlic sauce may not appeal to everyone.

2. Otherwise head to Galata Bridge and the floating fish boats for Balik Ekmek. This humble sandwich contains grilled fish accompanied with salad, and eaten either to go or sitting on small wooden stools set up in the street.

3. Jacket potatoes (kumpir) are served with a healthy lashing of butter and a variety of toppings, so they easily fill you up. Sold all over the city, the most famous district of jacket potato vendors is Ortakoy.

4. Many repeat visitors to Turkey often opt for the tried and tested durum kebab that is salad and chicken or beef slices served in soft wrapped bread. Ayran is a popular drink to go with this. The weird combination of salt, water and yogurt is actually a refreshing taste on hot summer days and is also known to cure bad stomachs and hangovers.

5. For a sit-down meal instead of the street options mentioned above, head to a traditional Turkish lokanta. Favourite dishes include Pide (pizza like bread with toppings), fasulye (stew) with rice or even soup that is often served with salad and bread.

Tavuk Sis

Visiting Tourist Attractions

Possibly the biggest expense is touring attractions such as Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern. Entrance prices average from 20 to 50 lira but if you are a history buff or eager to see them all, this can amount to a lot of money.

The Muze Kart costs 85 lira and can be used over 5 days. As well as gaining discounted entrance, the card also qualifies you for discount in certain shops and with some tour providers. The other choice to make is whether you want a personal guide. They are extremely useful in terms of beating the queues, getting about and most of them are walking history books but they can also be expensive and charge upwards of 25 euros per hour

To save money, use Google to compare various tour operator prices and only sign up for group tours. Otherwise, all over the Internet are free walking tours routes normally available to download in PDF version. Using all the tips listed above, it is possible to save a lot of money so enjoy travelling cheaply in Istanbul. It is easily done!

Topkapi Palace


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