Cal Bailey runs Mountain Leon – a travel blog he started after two years on backpacking around the world. If you want to learn more about life on the road or tips for travelling, you can read his latest post about choosing the right sleeping bag.
Turkey is a beautiful country full of exciting things to do and places to see. The number one stop you must make is to Istanbul, a hub for arts, culture, business, and tourism. Istanbul has the highest population in all of Turkey’s cities, making it the perfect destination to experience the hustle and bustle of a foreign big-city.
Istanbul is quite affordable for those traveling on a budget. It may take some extra research and creativity, but it’s completely possible to experience all this amazing city has to offer without breaking the bank. Plus, we’re here to help you plan a low-cost trip you’ll never forget!
What You Need to Know
Languages: Turkish and English
Currency: Turkish Lira
Tipping: It’s expected to tip between 5-10% at restaurants. When taking a taxi, it’s not expected to tip unless the driver assists with your bags or provides additional assistance.
Safety & Scams: Beware of taxis that don’t have a meter or try to insist you haven’t given them the correct amount of cash. Take your time when paying and say the amount out loud as you hand it to them. Beware of locals who want to befriend you right away and “show you the city”. In some scams, you will be left with a hefty bill at the end of a night of partying and drinking. If you refuse to pay, you may be threatened, or worse. And, as always, be aware of pickpocketers in any touristy city you visit.
How to Get Around
There are multiple forms of transit you can use to get from the airport to your hotel and to explore the city. Some are more budget-friendly than others.
- Taxis. Not the cheapest mode of transportation, but the easiest if you just want to get to your destination and not worry about route maps. If you’re on a budget, it’s recommended you get to know the public transport system.
- Public Transport. Istanbul has a comprehensive and clear public transportation setup. There are metro trains, trams, ferries, and a funicular that will take you to all the must-see spots. If you’ll be in Istanbul for more than a day, you should get the Istanbul Kart which is a metro-pass that works for all forms of public transport. You simply load it at one of the card machines (present at all busy transit terminals) and go. Using the card gives you almost 50% off regular transit fees. https://www.theistanbulinsider.com/how-to-get-an-istanbul-kart-and-is-it-worth-it/
- Hop on Hop off Bus. If you only have a few days to explore the city, purchasing a hop on hop off bus ticket allows you to see all the important sites without worrying about getting to each one. The bus has multiple routes you can purchase a ticket for (from the bus driver) and then you have the whole day to explore spots or simply ride around for a scenic bus tour. The classic adult ticket is 33 euros.
Where to Stay
There are many beautiful, budget-friendly, accommodation options to choose from in Istanbul. You may not be staying in the penthouse of a 5-star hotel, but you will be comfortable and safe. Who needs an expensive room when the city’s excitement is outside your door?
Centrally located, Star Holiday hotel offers peace of mind that your belongings are safe, the sheets are clean, and you’ll get a good night’s sleep. All rooms come with free WIFI, and some include complimentary breakfasts. Talk to the front desk about things to do nearby and they’ll likely give you discounts on many local attractions. https://www.expedia.ca/Istanbul-Hotels-Star-Holiday-Hotel.h1269887.Hotel-Information
For an even more budget-friendly option, check out the Cheers Hostel. It was voted the best hostel in Turkey for 2018 by Hostelworld and that’s no surprise. From providing free WIFI, air conditioner, and lockable storage space, Cheers provides a safe and fun atmosphere to meet fellow travelers. Plus, they have tons of resources and suggestions for places to go in Istanbul. https://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Cheers-Hostel/Istanbul/37282?dia=500
Things to Do and See
The list of fun things to do in Istanbul could go on forever, but most people don’t get to spend that much time on vacation! So, here are our top 3 affordable recommendations:
- Purchase the Istanbul Museum Pass, 85 Lira
This pass allows you free entrance to over a dozen museums, monuments, and attractions throughout Istanbul. It’s valid for three days, but no need to rush because this pass also allows you to skip any lineups. Once you’ve seen all the free attractions included, the pass also provides large discounts to even more attractions. This is a MUST for anyone seeing Istanbul on a budget!
With this pass, you can enter the following for free: Hagia Sophia Museum, Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul Mosaic Museum, Rumeli Hisar Museum, Yildiz Palace, and many more.
- Take a Turkish Bath, 50 Lira
Bathing at a tradition hamam is one of the most relaxing and interesting experiences tourists want to have in Istanbul. Because of its popularity, prices for baths in the central hamams are very high. For a cheaper way to experience this once-in-a-lifetime bath, head to the neighborhood of Uskudar just outside central Istanbul. Here, you’ll still enjoy a steamy, relaxing bath while professional bathers scrub you down, but for a fraction of the cost.
- Check out the Grand Bazaar for Affordable Souvenirs
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the oldest covered markets in the world. And, it’s free to enter. Take yourself on a self-guided tour of the market as you wind through the paths and into stalls that interest you. Keep your google maps open on your phone as it’s common for tourists to get lost! You’ll find an array of gorgeous rugs, lamps, and teapots; all perfect for a souvenir of your trip. And when you find something you like, don’t forget to haggle the price down.
Istanbul is a city rich in culture, beauty, and excitement. There’s no shortage of things to do and see, but if you’re on a budget you have to plan your trip wisely. Luckily, there are tons of affordable options, so seeing Istanbul on a budget is totally possible.
If you’ve used any of the tips in this guide for your trip to Istanbul, let us know in the comments!
Cover photo by Pedro Szekely.