ISTANBUL ON A BUDGET
I’ve recently returned from a one week trip to Istanbul which turned out to be much more expensive than what I remembered it to be 3-4 years ago, when I last visited. This time around I ended up spending a bit more than I would have hoped to, but I also made some mistakes, the main one being not researching enough beforehand. However, after the experience I’ve realized Istanbul can still be done on a budget if you know what to look for and I’d like to share a few simple tricks to keep your budget down in this beautiful city that tempts you to spend and then spend some more.
Accommodation and food
Stay away from the Sultanahmet area in the center of Istanbul. Prices will double or even triple here in comparison to other parts of the city, not only for accommodation, but also for food, souvenirs and anything else you might need. There’s a whole scheme going on between all the businesses in Sultanahmet; they might seem independent from each other, but the truth is that everything is thought out in such a way that anyone staying in this area – exclusively tourists – spend a multiple equal to 2-3-4 of the services provided for them.
Choose instead a hostel in the Taksim area, which is the most hip and happening neighborhood in Istanbul right now anyway. The cheapest I could find was 46 euros for 7 nights. There are many advantages to the area, not only being cheap for accommodation. Most hostels here will offer, as opposed to the ones in the old town, a kitchen that is free to use for guests, so that you can cook yourself and are not forced to eat each and every single meal out. You will also have many options for shops and supermarkets with local prices, instead of the tourists prices. True, most of the hostels here do not offer breakfast, but the price difference between the affordable hostels and the fancy ones is usually not justified by just this one meal a day (a hostel in Sultanahmet with bf included will cost you around 16 euros per night in the biggest dormitory available).
Street food culture in very big in Turkey, so you really should not be afraid to eat from markets, street vendors etc. Everything is very fresh and of excellent quality.
So, if you’ll be able to stay away from touristy restaurants and limit your diet to supermarket + street vendors + local kebab/sandwich/soup shops, you should easily be able to manage on 6 euros per day. And this can include a bit more than the basics, you just have to always keep your eyes open for cheap options. For example, I’ve stumbled upon a little dried fruit shop and was able to purchase figs for 2 euros a kilo (compared to 5-6 euros per kilo or even more in the touristy areas).
Being a bit away from the city center and all the main landmarks will probably tempt you to use public transportation while in Istanbul. I’d advise you not to. It’s quite expensive (around 1 euro per trip), and to be honest, a week gives you plenty of time that you don’t have to rush anywhere, just take your time walking around. This will help you understand more and get a better overall idea about the place.
Another tip, make sure you research on public transportation routes to take from the airport to your hostel before you get to Istanbul. In the airport and around it you’ll only be able to find a couple of private shuttles and no info on public transport. Getting there prepared will save you 10 to 15 euros, depending on where you land.
Museums and landmarks
In most Istanbul museums you’ll find these all-pass cards now which can be used for visiting all the important landmarks. They go for 85 Turkish liras, which means 32 euros. You could buy one of these, of course, but according to my calculations, if you miss a couple of the museums on the list, it is not worth buying the pass. You should, however, be prepared to spend around 30 euros if you want to visit most of the important landmarks of the city of Istanbul (student discounts are available in very few places, so don’t count on that; the Modern Art museum does offer this discount).
If you were planning on partying while in Istanbul, forget about it, unless you’ve bought all your drinks from the duty free on the way in. Alcohol is very expensive here and Turkish people are not big on drinking, even with the tourist waves coming one after the other over Istanbul. What you could do for fun would be visit one of the many tea houses (heads up, the apple tea is just a touristic drink, Turkish only drink their local black tea, served in little shot-like glasses and they drink it all throughout the day). Have some hookah in the evening to relax after a long day of walking, the tobacco they use is smooth and it runs for hours. Stop in a local Turkish bath, avoiding the spa-like ones that over charge tourists. All these activities should cost you a minimum of 20 euros (~10 for a bath, ~5 for hookah and the rest for as much tea as you can drink).
Shopping for presents and souvenirs
There are countless places in Istanbul where you can buy your gifts for friends back home. Most of them, like all the shops around Sultanahmet and the Grand Bazaar are ridiculously over priced and you can save loads by once again getting out the touristic path. If you go around the Spice Bazaar, but not inside it, you’ll find nice local shops. The vendors don’t speak English, this is a sign you’re in the right place, and a kilo of Turkish delight will cost you around 2-3 euros. For postcards and little bracelets, magnets, evil eyes and so on you shouldn’t spend more than 1-2 Turkish liras. Overall, also depending on how many friends you have, I’d say around 10 euros should be enough to bring something small and representative back home from Istanbul.
This article is a sequel to the True Nomads’ one written by David, which you can find here.