Now one of the world’s top-visited destinations for city breaks, foreign visitors often want to know how to visit Istanbul on a budget. Formerly known as Constantinople, it boasts of broad diversity in accommodation, bars, restaurants, shops, and touristic attractions. To travel luxuriously, five-star hotels help clients throw money about, just by reserving a room, but this article focuses more on budget travel. Let’s see how to make your money stretch further, and still have a good time.
How to Visit Istanbul on a Budget
Budget Accommodation Choices
Websites like Booking or Expedia operate as search engines, finding hostel and hotel deals across a broad range of websites. Naturally, hostels are cheaper, but not everyone wants to share a room. Then there are single supplements, a big disappointment for solo travellers to learn, is that many hotels still practise it, and in all cases, add a hefty amount to the ultimate price. The above websites publish real reviews, a much-needed concept because lower prices do not always mean quality.
Meanwhile solo travellers love Istanbul’s couch surfing hosts. Using their website, hook up with local Turkish people for a settee, air bed or room for the night for free. This only suits a sociable foreigner prepared to bridge the gap if your host doesn’t speak English, but the website vets and shows hosts reviews posted by other couch surfers. Another choice for self-catering apartments is AirBnb which allows privacy if that is your preferred option.
Getting Around Istanbul
Getting around is about weighing up the choices of which there are plenty. Trams, metro lines, boat ferries and the bus system are all cheap, viable options. Taxis are more expensive, but we say the best way to get around is on foot, especially at rush hour time since traffic jams occur all the time. Most transport options apart from taxis do not accept cash payment, so get an Istanbul Kart. Introduced in 2009, up to 5 passengers can use the prepaid and rechargeable card. The benefit is an automatic 10% discount to travel extensively, and many street kiosks sell them. (More about navigating Istanbul’s transport system.)
Eating Out and Turkish Food
Istanbul’s vast range of street food sellers and local traditional restaurants sell various Turkish food that is both cheap and tasty and suitable for meat lovers or vegetarians. Tipping is minimal or non-existent. Choices include the famous wet burger sold at Taksim square in Beyoglu. Wildly popular with night-time drinkers because of its addictive taste, even the concept of steamed burgers doused in tomato and garlic sauce seems to appeal to a large crowd.
Head to Galata Bridge and the floating fish boats for Balik Ekmek for grilled fish sandwiches accompanied with salad, and eaten to go or to sit on small wooden stools set up in the street. Jacket potatoes (kumpir) served with a healthy lashing of butter and a variety of toppings, always satisfy. Sold all over the city, the most famous district of jacket potato vendors is in Ortakoy.
Repeat travellers visiting Turkey often opt for a durum kebab, a mixture of chicken, lamb, or beef slices with onions, tomatoes, and lettuce, served in soft wrapped bread. Turks usually drink Ayran with it. The weird combination of salt, water and yoghurt is a refreshing taste on hot summer days and cures sick stomachs and hangovers.
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 served with salad and bread. Additionally, many set up bay marie food warmers with dishes like stew or chicken casserole, and even soup always comes with bread and salad. with (Also read Middle-Eastern dishes to try in Istanbul.)
Sightseeing and Free Tourist Attractions
Possibly the most significant expense is touring attractions. Entrance prices vary, but for history buffs eager to see them all, this is a lot of money. Instead buy the Muze Kart over five days. As well as gaining discounted entrance, the card offers a discount in individual shops and with some tour providers. The other choice is a personal guide which helps beat the queues, get about and have so much local knowledge. However, they often 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. Also, download PDF versions of free walking tours to navigate yourself around.
Places to see include the Sultanahmet Old City. This UNESCO World Heritage Site features the most popular attractions and museums like the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Archaeology Museum and Basilica Cistern. The Blue Mosque and hippodrome are free to visit. This place’s importance arises because it was the former ruling capital for the Byzantine empire and Ottoman sultans.
Within walking distance, the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar are also free to enter. Don’t think you have to buy anything because it is worth a visit only for the architecture and exotic ambience. Other free attractions include parks, historical mosques, and neighbourhoods like Fener and Balat, but avoid Besiktas, and Nisantasi, both of which are upper-class districts. Find out more in our article about the Fatih district here.
Handy Tip: A top recommended thing to do is a Bosphorus cruise, but excursion tickets are often costly because they include dinner and entertainment. Save money by hopping on ferries used by locals. They visit many villages along the Bosphorus shore and cross from the European to Asian sides so you can explore neighbourhoods at your leisure.
Visit Istanbul Summary
Istanbul City Guide: Surrounded by the sea of Marmara, the golden horn, and the Bosphorus straits, Istanbul is one of the unique cities in Turkey, sitting on two continents. This guide will be of use to any traveller or house buyer, and using all the tips listed above means saving a lot of money so you can visit Istanbul on a budget with peace of mind. Additionally, many people on a trip to Turkey want to see other places like Ephesus, Cappadocia, Antalya and Pamukkale. In which case, our blog about Turkey is full of advice about destinations, the culture, history, food and traditions.
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