Istanbul on a budget: 11 travel hacks to save on your trip
Straddling the boundary between Europe and Asia, Istanbul has been a crossroads of cultures for its entire history. And the tumultuous past has left the city with an incredible legacy of historical monuments and beautiful buildings. Plus, Turkey has its own distinct cuisine, similar to but noticeably different from other Mediterranean cultures.
And with everything it has to offer, Istanbul remains surprisingly cheap. With cheap flights offered by Turkish airlines to Istanbul Airport, you shouldn't have to spend very much to get to the city. And once you arrive, you'll find that you can have a great time in Istanbul without spending a lot of money.
The first thing to do is drop off your unneeded bags at a luggage storage facility in Istanbul. Traveling light will make it much easier to get the most out of this unique and fascinating place.
Cheap places to stay in Istanbul
The average price for a hotel room in Istanbul is €77, which is far more reasonable than most European capital cities. But if saving money is your main goal, it's worth thinking about visiting the city during off-peak times. The peak season for tourism here is in July and August, but you'll find everything, from flight prices to accommodation, is cheaper if you visit outside the summer season. Besides, Istanbul can be extremely busy and hot during these months, so you may have a better experience visiting in the spring or fall.
You can also save money by staying outside the center of the city and taking public transportation to see the major sites. Figuring out the best neighborhoods in Istanbul can give you some guidance on where you should think about staying.
As a popular destination for budget travelers, Istanbul certainly has its share of affordable hotels. Here are a few places to consider:
This three-star hotel is popular mainly thanks to its excellent location. Easily within walking distance of local markets like the Grand Bazaar as well as famous sites like the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, this hotel allows you to stay centrally at a surprisingly low cost. There isn't much in the way of bells and whistles here, though there is a parking lot if you've rented a car. But with such great access to public transport and to some of Istanbul's top attractions, it's an excellent way to save money on your Turkish trip.
A single room with a shared bathroom costs around €40 in the summer. Or for €10 more, you can get a twin room with a private bathroom.
Berce Boutique Hotel
If you're looking for something a bit more quaint and charming, this seven-room hotel may fit the bill. Located a short stroll from the Sultanahmet Blue Mosque and many of Turkey's other top attractions, this hotel is as central as you could want. It offers free Wi-Fi and an outdoor parking lot. And perhaps best of all, there's a rooftop bar that offers stunning views over the Sea of Marmara.
In the height of summer, a single private room will cost you €75. If you're traveling with a group, you can also save money by taking advantage of the eight-bed family suite at €240 a night. It's a great bargain to be this close to the center of Istanbul, and if you're lucky enough to get a good exchange rate, you may find this centrally located hotel a really good deal.
Istanbul Central Hotel
As the name suggests, this is another centrally-located hotel that offers cheap accommodation for travelers looking to save more money. Located right next to Istanbul's main train station, this hotel is easy to reach and ideal if you're taking a train or long-distance bus to further explore the country. It's also handy for the airport, whether you're traveling abroad or taking domestic flights.
The hotel offers free Wi-Fi, a 24-hour reception desk, laundry service, and an on-site restaurant. It has everything you need for a comfortable stay. They also have an activities desk where you can book free walking tours and other activities in this iconic travel destination.
A basic double room with an en suite bathroom costs €110 per night in the summer season, and that includes breakfast. So while this isn't the cheapest option in the city, the lower prices and included breakfast can make it a better deal than a cheaper hotel.
Cheap things to do in Istanbul
Istanbul has tons of things to do, whether you want to soak up the history and culture or do some fun shopping in the markets. In fact, many of Istanbul's top attractions are completely free to visit. Check out some of these attractions to make the most of your trip.
Unquestionably one of the must-visit buildings in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia dates back to the year 360 when it was founded as a Greek Orthodox Church. With Constantinople's conquest by the Ottoman Empire, it became a mosque until 1935, when it was transformed into a museum. Now, however, it has been re-dedicated as a mosque, which makes it free to enter.
You're welcome to go inside and admire the stunning architecture, but be mindful of prayer times and remember to adhere to the dress code. No shorts are allowed, and women have to wear headscarves.
Once part of the Topkapi Palace Gardens, this beautiful park is a favorite with visitors and locals alike. Istanbul is blessed with hundreds of sunny days every year, and the park is the ideal place to enjoy them. Take a stroll along the walking trails or bring a picnic to make the most of the great weather while you take a break from the chaos of the city.
Istanbul is famous for its markets, and they don't come more famous than this. Thanks to its popularity with tourists, the Grand Bazaar isn't the authentic experience it once was. But if you look around the stalls, you'll still find some good bargains and some authentic handicrafts and other items to buy. Of course, if you want to buy something, you'll have to spend a little money, but just walking around the market and taking in the lively atmosphere is a great way to spend a morning in Istanbul.
Cheap places to eat in Istanbul
Istanbul's street food scene is one of the best in the world, and it's the ideal way to immerse yourself in the culture of the country. Plus, a kebab or Turkish pizza usually comes pretty cheap, so you won't have to spend a fortune when you buy food.
But if you're looking for more of a restaurant experience, Istanbul has plenty to choose from. Give one of these money-saving options a try while you're in the city.
Kofte, or beef meatballs, are a staple of Turkish cuisine, and you'll find them on the menu of Turkish restaurants around the world. However, if you want some of the best and most authentic in the city, this centrally-located restaurant can help you out. A huge dish of meatballs will only cost you a few dollars, and you can beef it up with bean salad, soup, or the classic semolina Turkish dessert.
Karadeniz Pide ve Döner Salonu
Located in the Besiktas Bazaar, this kebab shop is known for tasty food and extraordinarily fast service. Tasty meat grilled with tomatoes and garlic wrapped in pita bread will only cost you around three dollars, and you'll know from the crowds of locals that frequent the place that this is about as authentic as Istanbul's kebab shops get.
Tarihi Eminönü Balık Ekmek
This intriguing floating restaurant is, perhaps unsurprisingly, known for its fish. Dine on delicious seafood with a view of the water, and you'll know you're getting the very best experience of Istanbul. Their classic balik ekmek fish sandwiches, made with grilled mackerel and onions, only cost around three dollars, so you can enjoy a classic of Turkish cuisine without spending very much money at all.
Cheap bars in Istanbul
Historically, Taksim has always been the epicenter of Istanbul's nightlife. However, in recent years, other areas have appeared as challengers to snatch this crown, such as Beyoglu. But wherever you choose to explore on a night out in Istanbul, chances are good you'll find cheap places to drink and socialize with both other travelers and with locals.
Try some of these spots that are great for saving money while having a good time.
Rock N Rolla
This no-frills bar has a welcoming unpretentious vibe that makes it a popular place to hang out and enjoy cheap drinks. A pint of beer will cost you little more than one euro, and there's a good selection of classic bar food like burgers and kebabs. Popular with both locals and travelers, it's a good place to get an introduction to Istanbul's nightlife and spend some time without spending a lot of money.
Located some distance from the main tourist attractions, this small café/bar is more of a local hangout than a tourist joint. Small and intimate, the bar spills out of its tiny shopfront and onto the street, with outdoor tables perfect for enjoying a warm summer's evening with a cold drink. Most of the drinks here cost little more than one euro, and there's also a selection of food that goes beyond the usual bar snacks and leans more heavily on traditional Turkish cuisine.
If you don't want to stray too far from the city center, be aware that you'll pay higher prices. However, Just Bar is a centrally located bar that's still relatively affordable, though not as cheap as some of the other bars in more suburban areas.
Just Bar offers a Turkish approximation of the American sports bar experience, with loud music, big-screen TVs, and crowded tables that spill out onto the street. A pint of beer here will set you back around three euros, so while it's not particularly cheap by Turkish standards, it's still quite affordable compared to western Europe or North America.
Bonus budget tips for Istanbul
Stay in budget accommodation: There are plenty of budget-friendly options for accommodation in Istanbul, including hostels, budget hotels, and Airbnb rentals. Look for places that are close to public transportation and popular attractions.
Use public transportation: Istanbul has an extensive public transportation network, including buses, trams, and ferries. Using public transportation is much cheaper than taking taxis or private tours. Buy an Istanbul kart, a reusable electronic card that you can load with credit for multiple journeys, to save money.
Visit museums and attractions on free days: Many of Istanbul's museums and attractions offer free entry on certain days of the week. Do some research before you go to find out which days are free, and plan your itinerary accordingly.
Eat like a local: Istanbul has plenty of street food and local restaurants that offer delicious food at very reasonable prices. Try Turkish staples like simit (a sesame-covered bread), börek (savory pastry), and döner kebab (spit-roasted meat).
Haggle at the markets: Istanbul is famous for its bazaars and markets, where you can find everything from spices and textiles to jewelry and souvenirs. Haggling is expected, so don't be afraid to negotiate the price.
Take a free walking tour: There are several free walking tours in Istanbul that cover the city's main sights and landmarks. These tours are a great way to get oriented and learn about the city's history and culture.
Explore the city on foot: Istanbul is a walkable city, and many of its most interesting neighborhoods can be explored on foot. Walking is free, and you'll get to see more of the city's hidden gems that way.
With cheap food and beer, great places to explore, and plenty of free things to do in Istanbul, the Turkish capital makes an excellent choice for a budget holiday. With direct flights to many cities in Europe, North America, and beyond, it's also easy to reach, so you can start planning your Turkish adventure right away.