A Budget Traveller’s Guide to Istanbul

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Istanbul rose to become the 5th most visited city in the world in 2015. During my first ever visit to Istanbul this summer it was easy to see why. Not many cities can keep Shaun and I fully entertained for just under a whole week and our days were still packed full, plus we left feeling like there was still so much more for us to see.

I was prepared for Istanbul being the most expensive place on our recent trip to Turkey this summer. I knew staying in ‘Sultanahmet’ probably wouldn’t be the cheapest place to stay in the city either. However, we stayed in this district due to it’s close proximity to some of the main attractions and despite staying in a lovely hotel and eating fantastic local food, we still managed to do it all on a budget.

Here are our top things to do in this exciting city, plus where to eat and where to sleep when travelling on a budget to Istanbul!

Please note: The below prices are in Turkish Lira (TL). At the time of writing, £1 is equal to 3.80 TL.

The Blue Mosque

Otherwise known as ‘The Sultan Ahmed Mosque’, this huge impressive mosque is located in the district of Sultanahmet and was built in the 1600’s. The intricate and beautiful design inside the mosque makes it easy to see why this is one of the most popular attractions in Istanbul. The mosque is free to visit, but make sure you dress appropriately when you enter the mosque, however suitable clothing is provided for free of charge for anyone who is not dressed appropriately

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The Blue Mosque
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Me inside the Blue Mosque

The Grand Bazaar

Hop on the tram down to ‘Bayazit’ to get lost in the huge grand bazaar and practise your bartering skills. We love a good market, however we found that here a lot of the stalls in the bazaar seem to sell a lot of the same things again and again, so I can’t say that this was one of our favourite markets in the world, but we did still find a few cheap gifts and souvenirs to take back home. Make sure you wander around the backstreets of the bazaar where the locals shop too, we found this bit much more exciting.

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A spice stall near the Grand Bazaar

Eminonu and The Rustem Pasha Mosque

From the grand bazaar, we spent many hours exploring the maze of backstreets around it. If you continue to wander north, you will eventually come to the area of ‘Eminonu’. This is a really lovely area to visit; right by the sea, next to the Galata Koprusu bridge. The wonderful ‘Rustem Pasha’ mosque sits right on the edge overlooking the sea, giving it a very peaceful feel to it. This is another great free attraction to visit.

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Rustem Pasha Mosque

Suleymaniye Mosque

This is the second largest mosque in Istanbul and was my favourite of all, it is located to the west of Eminonu, although we got a bit lost trying to find it but that made it even more fun. This is another free must-see attraction, we especially loved the high up location, providing wonderful views of the city. It has very peaceful and relaxing surrounding gardens which is another reason I enjoyed it so much; it was a really great spot to escape the city for a bit. We found this mosque to be a bit quieter than the others with fewer tourists around.

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From the mosque there are great views of the city
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Shaun at the entrance to the Suleymaniye Mosque

The Hagia Sophia

Once a church, then a mosque, now a museum, this is one of the most impressive pieces of architecture and one of the most important pieces of history in the whole city and is a definite must see. The Hagia Sophia is located in Sultanahmet and the entrance fee is 40 TL, so this is one of the more expensive attractions but it is highly recommended even for the budget traveller.

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The Hagia Sophia is located in Sultanahmet
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Inside the Hagia Sophia

The Topkapi Palace

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city to the beautiful Topkapi Palace. Fantastic architecture, intricate designs, lots of history and some of the best views of the city, to me this is a definite must see. At 40 TL this is another of the more expensive attractions, however the Topkapi Palace and the gardens are huge, there is plenty to wander around and so many different rooms to see. You easily need at least half a day to see it all.

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The rose garden at the Topkapi Palace
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Inside one of the rooms at the Topkapi Palace

Top Tip! You can buy a ‘5-day’ museum pass for 85 TL. This covers lots of the main sites but not all. It does include the Hagia Sofia and the Topkapi palace, both individually cost 40 TL. So if you are planning to see both of these it makes sense to buy the pass as you then get to see a third attraction for just 5 TL.

Taksim District

Visit the square, wander down the high street, take the cute little tram and grab an ice cream. Taksim feels very European and certainly has a different feel to the previous districts across the river. We spent one morning exploring this area, it’s also perfect if you wanted to do some shopping and I hear it is the place to be for busy nightlife.

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Taksim Tram

Sultanahmet – Where to sleep

Harmony Hotel Istanbul

I was extremely happy with our hotel, it had a nice ’boutique’ feel about it and it was only a 5 minute walk from Sultanahmet tram stop and therefore really close to lots of the main attractions. Our room was a lovely and clean en-suite with AC and a television, it even included a buffet breakfast. The best bit? This lovely boutique hotel was only £17 a night.

Sultanahmet – Where to eat & drink

Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta

We were so happy to find this traditional little restaurant, it’s menu is limited but it is famous for its wonderfully simple ‘Köfte’ (Turkish meatballs) served simply with a pickle and chilli sauce. For 16 TL this may sound expensive for Turkey, but it is actually very cheap for this area of Istanbul. We became slightly addicted and ate here almost every day!

Top tip! There is another restaurant with a similar name a few doors down, so make sure you visit the correct one!

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Köfte and rice

Havuzbasi

Located in Sultanahmet, Havuzbasi was our favourite evening spot. It is a perfect place to spend your evenings very cheaply and authentically; simply drinking plenty of Turkish tea and playing chess. There was a variety of flavours of tea, costing from 2 TL and there are free board games, we got slightly obsessed with chess! The setting of the place is wonderful; outdoor seating surrounding a beautiful pond. One of my favourite moments here is when the music would stop as the evening call to prayer would sound from the mosques all around us, it was truly magical place.

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Apple tea at Havuzbasi
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Playing chess and drinking orange tea at Havuzbasi

So that is my budget traveller’s guide to Istanbul! Are you a budget traveller that has been to Istanbul? Did you find other cheap and fun things to do there? Share your thoughts or ask away in the comments below!

A budget traveller's guide to Istanbul
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Hi, I'm Zoe. Welcome to Zo Around The World! Since 2012, I have travelled to 24 countries within 4 continents. Zo Around The World is a collection of my travel experiences – particularly writing about backpacking and budget travel. I am a self confessed over-organised travel planner, travel has become my favourite part of my life and let me show you how it can become yours too

43 thoughts on “A Budget Traveller’s Guide to Istanbul

  1. Istanbul looks so beautiful. Hope we can visit soon! Love your post. I think it covers the main destinations for first timers and I like that you provided some info on eat&sleep also 🌞

    Jacky

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! Your pictures brought back memories of my trip to Istanbul 2 years ago. I visited in winter though and there were no roses in that garden. It was all dug up :(.
    I got lost in the Grand Bazar too. That place is insane isn’t? Its great that you got to cover all the important places as well as eat good food on a budget.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved the must-visit places list and the colorful shots!
    I was volunteering in the Bulgarian Back coast early this June and I had the chance to travel to the neighbouring Istambul. In the end, we decided to tour just around Bulgaria and keep discovering its culture.

    Now, you just make me regret it… I’m just wandering… did you feel unsafe at any time while traveling around? I’ve heard really dirty stories about Turkey!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for putting up so many pictures! I’m one of those people who loves a lot of pictures in an article. My oh my, I think all my savings are going to run out soon. Too many beautiful places to see in this world!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for giving so much detail on where to stay and eat. Istanbul is one of those places that has always kind of overwhelmed me when I think about going there. My parents have been and loved it though so maybe I’ll have to reconsider. Your photos are beautiful. i especially like the ones from the Blue Mosque. I’ve only ever seen pictures focusing on the glass before so its nice to see it from a different angle.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hey Zo! I love your blog. Every time I read your posts I learn, get entertained and thoroughly informed. I think when I visit the mosques I will be given proper clothing hahaha. You have a way of capturing details, necessary information and in proper English. I love your blog. Keep up. I want to go to Instabul now…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ohh your photos are wonderful! I hope we will find our way to Istanbul soon, it has been our dream for a long time already. How did you like buying things in Grand Bazaar, are they also extremely loud and pushy?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Your article on Istanbul was most informative and going by your photos a lot more colourful than I imagined and so much detail to the buildings I can’t imagine how long they took to complete.
    Keep travelling.. keep writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I was looking for new reading material and I stumbled upon your blog. Great post. Well written and inspiring. Looking forward to coming back and explore other ones you have.

    Like

  10. I’m saving this for reference. I really want to go to Istanbul some time in the near future and this guide will in come in very handy. So thanks for creating it! Haha. Beautiful shots by the way 🙂

    Like

  11. Hello there, i would like to know the name of the hotel because im planning to go there, looked online the hotel and air bnb its very expensive, please if you could help me with the hotel namr please
    Cheers
    Shuu

    Like

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