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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sultanahmet – Where to sleep
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!
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.
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!