Thanks to the low lira, Istanbul is still one of Europe's affordable cities
When the Turkish lira hit an all-time low in August, the world sat up and took notice.
While politicians argued over what to do, those who saw an opportunity grabbed it. Properties were bought and holidays were taken, transforming a stronger currency like dollars or sterling into long-term investments or shorter-term fun.
While the lira has gained a little ground, travellers and investors still can get 5.30TL to the dollar, and £1 equals 6.9TL, almost double that of August 2017. What does that mean for anyone travelling on the pound or the dollar? We look at the ways you can take advantage of the low lira.
Stay in luxury at one of Istanbul's finest hotels
The grand neoclassical Four Seasons Hotel overlooking the Bosphorus is one of the most magical hotels in Istanbul. Located in Sultanahmet, it’s a short walk from the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. The 100-year-old building is an example of Ottoman luxury and elegance. A one-night stay in a Superior Room will cost you £229. In 2017, the same room would have cost £320.
Eat out on the cheap
Dive into a world of mezes, kebab and raki, where flavours and colours combine to make a meal that dazzles the senses. And it’s not just dinner that Turks do exceptionally well: breakfast is also an extravaganza, with bread, cheese, eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, honey, nuts and clotted cream. In 2017 these sumptuous spreads would’ve set you back around £14. Now, it’s more like £8. Compare that to a similar spread in London and New York and you’ll understand why Turkish tourism is on the rise.
Splurge on a Michelin feast
Nicole is Istanbul’s original Michelin-star restaurant. Its Paris-trained chefs aim to “disrupt” the senses with subtle and surprising flavours that elevate a meal into a journey. Dine on delights like duck breast in a sour-cherry glaze, grilled octopus with a smoky eggplant puree and bite into decadent pastries like a mille-feuille layered with nectarine, hazelnut puree and caramelised olives. Served with wines sourced from all over the world - as well as the hidden corners of Turkey’s burgeoning wine industry.
At Nicole, tasting menus with wine range between £50 and £120. A splurge - but a snip compared to little more than a year ago, when the same meals would cost £90 and £165.
Take to the water
There’s nothing quite like seeing a city from the water, and Istanbul’s main artery, the Bosphorus, is no exception. Lined with stately homes, green parks and even palaces, the strait that marks the divide between Europe and Asia gives tourists a view into the city’s past and present. If you’re boating on a budget, hop on a Sehir Hatlari ferry for a full Bosphorus cruise or the short cruise.
The long cruise is an all-day event, leaing Eminonu and travelling all the way to Rumeli and Anadolu Kavagi, the two coastal peaks where the Bosphorus opens into the Black Sea. You have enough time for a slap-up fish meal and a tour of Yoros Castle in Anadolu Kavagi before heading back. Tickets are 25TL, or £5.
The short cruise is a two-hour return journey from Eminonu to Istinye, passing beneath two bridges and passing Cubuklu and Uskudar on the Asian side. Tickets are 12TL, or less than £2. If you’re after something a little more upmarket, you can take a private cruise, including sunset excursions, day trips to Princes Islands, city sightseeing excursions or Black Sea trips. These cost a little more, and start from around £50.
Read more: The Bosphorus, the divided heart of a city
Visit the city’s historical icons
There’s a reason that even people who‘ve never set foot in Turkey have heard of the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. They embody Istanbul’s history and culture, representing an opportunity to glimpse the forces that have shaped the country, and they’re well worth a visit. Entry to the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace is 60TL, under £9, compared to £16 in 2017. The Blue Mosque remains free, a bonus to budget travellers.
Spend less at the world’s most famous market
The Grand Bazaar is one of those once-in-a-lifetime shopping excursions that everyone should experience once in their lives. A labyrinth of small shops selling textiles, furniture, shoes, clothing, instruments, food and knickknacks, there are bargains galore to be found in the centuries-old market. Over the last year the market’s had a resurgence following renovations - and has had a shot in the arm from the many overseas visitors keen to capitalise on the bazaar’s cheaper-than-ever goods following the fall of the lira.
Head for a hamam
Relaxation is cheaper than ever before. Hamams are plentiful in Istanbul, offering a range of experiences and treatments for the weary or pamper-starved traveller. The city’s luxury spa facilities have experienced an uptick in the number of visitors in the past year as tourists seek to take advantage of the currency conversion for cut-price massages, steam rooms and beauty treatments. Packages now start at around £15 but as far as price goes, the sky’s the limit when it comes to luxury treatments in Istanbul.
For a large number of investors, the last year or so has been optimum time to invest in Turkey. The savings you make buying property in Turkish lira are staggering: villas in Istanbul that cost £600,000 a couple of years ago are £350,000. Istanbul apartments that were priced at £80,000 in 2017 are now selling for £55,000. With citizenship on the table for $250,000 investment, some investors are choosing to get a little more property for their money and get a Turkish passport into the bargain, too.
Property Turkey director Cameron Deggin said it’s been an “exciting” year for investors. “There was an initial rush when the lira’s value dropped last year, but even since it’s regained a little ground we’re seeing more interest than 2017.” Middle Eastern buyers in particular were attracted to invest in Istanbul property, he said. “The interest from Saudis, Iraqis, Kuwaitis and Qataris has grown in recent years, and the low lira has really given these buyers a boost.”