Turkey is a popular destination among tourists who want to experience a mismatch of history, culture, and civilization in one place. And since Istanbul offers exactly that, most tourists start their trip from Istanbul or at least it’s always part of the Turkey itinerary. But this intercontinental city of Istanbul can be very expensive but with a little bit of preparation; it’s definitely possible to enjoy Istanbul on a budget.

In this post, you’ll find out how backpacking Istanbul is possible with ideas on how to spend less on transportation, food, accommodation and even budget things to do in Istanbul.

Tips to enjoying Istanbul on a budget.

Save money on Transportation in Istanbul

Istanbul transport1

It is definitely possible to save money on transport in Istanbul and here is how you can achieve that.

Use public transportation

The best way to enjoy Turkey on a budget is by using public transportation. Istanbul’s transportation system is pretty great, comfortable and reliable. Metros and buses are easy to find – you can also opt for yellow taxis that are widely spread within the city.

It is also easy to walk within the city, so if you’re a walker, it shouldn’t be hard to get around on foot. Although it’s easy to get around, first-time visitors to Istanbul might find it challenging, so download the Instanbul Rapid Transit map to make navigation easier. And since public transportation is the way to go to enjoy Istanbul on a budget, I’d recommend getting an Istanbul kart.

Get an Istanbul Kart.

An Istanbul kart also known as the Istanbul card is a smart card for paying for public transportation fares around Istanbul.

The Istanbul card can be bought from the exits of the arrival terminals at the airport and at all the major stations within the city (be it bus, metro, metro bus or even ferry stations). Also, most stores near those stations sell the card, you just need to look out for the “Istanbul kart” sign.

The card costs 10TL (Turkish Lira) which is non-refundable but it also comes with a preloaded credit of 4TL. Then from there, you decide how much credit you want to load depending on the time you plan to spend in Istanbul. It can also be recharged any time you run out of credit. The recharge can still be done from local stores/kiosk or at self-service machines located at the different stations.

Some of the advantages of using the Istanbul card as a budget traveler include;

  • Discounted transport fares. By using the card, you’re automatically guaranteed to get almost 40% off the transport fee compared to the normal price.
  • It saves time. Instead of wasting time in lines to buy a bus or ferry ticket, you just use your card which is so convenient.
  • It can be used by a number of people. If you’re more than one, there is no need to buy multiple cards, the Istanbul card supports up to 5 passengers. You just have to wave the card across the reader 5 times with a duration of only a few seconds per reading.
  • The card can be used for all public transportation in Istanbul. Some of the places where you can use the card include; the bus, ferry, metro, metro bus, tunnel, decker bus, and tram.

Save money on activities in Istanbul

activities in istanbul

There are a ton of things to do in Istanbul including ones that require a lot of money and some that you can do if you’re traveling on a budget. Here are some of the ways to spend less money on activities in Istanbul.

Participate in free activities

Enjoying Istanbul doesn’t mean that you have to spend money on every activity you do. There are some activities that are absolutely free. Some of the free things to do in Istanbul include;

  • Visiting the Taksim square. The Taksim center is one of the leisure centers of the city and also regarded as the heart of the modern side of Istanbul. It is absolutely free to stroll around and you’ll also be able to see the Turkish independence monument.
  • Visit the Yildiz park. Spend an afternoon in this beautiful park which is one of the largest in Istanbul. Enjoy the greenery, escape the busy side of the city as you enjoy the views of the Bosphorus bridge.
  • Visit the Blue Mosque. The mosque is always open to tourists for free except during prayer times. Even though it is free, if you feel generous, you can tip the caretaker who’s always standing outside the mosque.

You can read my previous post to discover other free things to do in this beautiful city of Istanbul.

Take part in the free walking tours of Istanbul.

Free walking tours are the best way to learn about any place and Istanbul is no exception. The free tours which take like 2 and a half hours are conducted by Turkish natives who want to share more information about their city with tourists, show them around the city and all the hidden gems as they give recommendations to different places you could explore later.

Since the walking tour is free, you don’t need to sign up in advance – you just need to show up at the time of the tour. Most of these tours happen every day with different schedules and in different neighborhoods of Istanbul.

Please note: Some walking tours only allow a certain number of people at a time to make it more interactive and beneficial, so booking in advance is required in these cases.

Although these walking tours are free, you can give the tour guides any amount of money as a tip in form of appreciation for the tour. This is not mandatory – you give according to your level of satisfaction.

Some of the most popular free walking tours in Istanbul start at the Sultan Ahmet square between the blue mosque and Sophia Hagia but there are others you can choose from in different neighborhoods. This website has a number of free walking tours that you can choose from.

Get an Istanbul tourist pass

The Istanbul tourist pass is a sightseeing pass that gives you free access to over 30 top tourist attractions in Istanbul. It is not free per se but a one time purchase of the Istanbul tourist pass gives you over 75% discount on included attractions.

With the tourist pass, you can choose the days you want from either 2 or 7 days with the starting price of 95 Euros. Then you’ll be able to visit a number of attractions within the days of the pass. Some of the major tourist spots included in the Istanbul tourist pass are; the Pera museum, Maiden tower,  Bosphorus night cruise, Hagia Sophia, Blue mosque guided tour, grand bazaar guided tour, Topkapi Palace museum guided tour, Big bus Hop-on Hop-off  bus tour, Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum and soo many others.

How the Istanbul tourist pass works

You order for the pass online with the desired pass duration and the number of people to use the pass. This can be paid for via debit or credit card. The card is sent to you via email and it gets activated within less than 20 minutes. (You can actually purchase the Istanbul tourist pass from here.)

Some of the advantages of purchasing an Istanbul tourist pass include;

  • No spending much time in queues while buying tickets to the sites. Although some experiences like airport transfers (if you opted for it in your pass) require advance booking, most experiences and sites will accept walk-ins. Just show up at the site/experience, present your electronic Istanbul tourist pass and you’ll be granted access immediately.
  • Enjoy a huge discount of up to 75% on most of Istanbul’s top tourist attractions.
  • The pass is not only for visiting tourist sites but it also comes with other services like airport transfers and mobile wifi rental services.

Opt for cheaper activities

Even though you may not get away with doing only free activities, there are some things to do in Istanbul that are cheaper compared to others.

Here are some of the activities to do in Istanbul that will require just a few bucks.

  • Cruise the Bosphorus. One of the things that you should never miss out is to take a cruise along the Bosphorus. The cheapest way to do this is by opting for the public ferry. This costs around 12TL, and for that price, you get to see both the Asian and the European side of Turkey. But if you want a little bit of splurge, you can opt for this private boat cruise along the Bosphorous or take it a notch higher by booking this night cruise along the Bosphorous to enjoy the lights of the city.
  • Visit the Yildiz Palace which costs 20TL.
  • Galata tower which costs 25TL
  • Fortress of Europe which goes for 18TL
  • Archeological museums for 36TL
  • Pera museum whose entrance is 25TL and so many others.

Please note that if you bought the Instabul tourist pass, some of these attractions are included there. And also these prices were accurate by the time of writing this article – but to find out the current prices, please check with the sites’ booking offices or website.

Look out for days that have offers to different tourist sites.

If you want to enjoy Turkey on a budget, make sure you take advantage of the offers and discounts offered at certain tourist attractions. Some museums always have specific dates where they allow tourists to enter for free or for a really discounted price.

Save money on accommodation

accommodation in istanbul

We all know that one of the best ways to travel on a budget is by spending less on accommodation and Istanbul is no exception. Here are some of the way you can save money on accommodation in Istanbul.

Stay at hostels

Sleeping at a hostel is not only one of the best ways to meet other travelers but also the best way to enjoy Istanbul on a budget. Istanbul has a number of hostels that you can opt for depending on the neighborhood you choose. Here are some of the best hostels in Istanbul that I recommend to stay at. Click on the individual link below to read reviews and check for prices.

You can also check out more hostels in Istanbul at Hostelworld – the best platform when it comes to searching for hostels.

Use Couchsurfing

One of the other ways to save money on accommodation is by Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is where Couchsurfing hosts invite tourists to stay with them for free (on either their couch or spare room) for a couple of days.

How Couchsurfing works.

Create an account with Couchsurfing, browse through people that are willing to host travelers. Read their profiles to find the most suitable host for you and send a personalized message as to why you might want to stay with that particular host. You can send out a few requests to increase your chances of being accepted. If your request gets approved, that means you’ll be able to enjoy Istanbul on a budget while Couchsurfing.

Eat at cheap restaurants/ or street food

turkish food

Just because it is cheap, it doesn’t mean that it is not tasty. Turkey generally has a great cuisine and you’ll be surprised that even a restaurant that looks like it might be expensive turns out to be average priced.

Some of the street foods that you should try out include the famous Doner kebab (which is also famously known as Shawarma in other parts of the world), and simit. These all go for just less than 10TL.

The other places to eat Turkish traditional “homemade” food at cheaper prices in Istanbul is at the tradesman restaurants also known as Esnaf Lokantas in Turkish. Some of the tradesman restaurants to check out in Istanbul include but not limited to;

  • Kanaat Restaurant in Uskudar
  • Sen restaurant in Bostanci
  • Pidesun in Kadikoy
  • Yanyali Fehmi restaurant in Kadikoy
  • Lades in Taksim
  • Butcher Osman in Eminonu.  

You can also go for an Istanbul food tour to find out where the locals go for the best but cheap eats.

Some of the other ways to travel to Istanbul on a budget

  • Book cheap flights to Istanbul. Landing cheap fights can be a bit tricky if you don’t know how to search for them. This is where Skyscanner comes in to help you compare prices of all the flights to Istanbul and then shows you the cheapest one you can opt for. Skyscanner is a great tool for finding cheap flights to Istanbul that I highly recommend you try out.
  • Travel to Turkey during the shoulder season (November to March) when prices of almost everything is low. If you don’t mind the cold or you just want to enjoy skiing while saving some money, this period would be great as accommodation and activities prices reduce.

With these amazing tips, I hope you now know that it’s absolutely possible to enjoy Istanbul on a budget. And as you plan for your trip to Turkey, read these posts below for more Turkey tips.

  1. Is it safe to travel to Turkey now?
  2. Free things to do in Istanbul
  3. Tips for visiting Istanbul for the first time
  4. The ultimate guide to visiting Turkey
  5. Fun facts about Turkey that you didn’t know
  6. Amazing things to do in Marmaris, Turkey
  7. Best Places to visit in Turkey

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