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Exploring Istanbul on a Budget

Istanbul is one of the most fascinating cities in the world, with its stunning architecture, vibrant culture, and mouthwatering cuisine. While a trip here can be expensive, exploring Istanbul on a budget is possible if you plan carefully.

Follow these tips to keep your costs low while still experiencing the magic of this fantastic city.

Istanbul Travel

Explore Istanbul on a budget by using the tram to get around (photo: RuslanKaln, iStock license)
Tram at Taksim Square (photo: RuslanKaln)

Getting Around

Public transportation in Istanbul is inexpensive, extensive, and easy to navigate. Purchase an Istanbul Kart to take advantage of discounted fares on all buses, metro, trams, and ferries. This rechargeable card saves you 20-25% per ride and can be loaded up at small shops and newsstands.

Stick to public transit to get around the city without breaking the bank. The buses and metro system cover most parts of Istanbul. Use maps and apps to find the best transit routes to your desired destinations.

Ask locals for help choosing the quickest routes. This blog post on how to get to and from Istanbul's Main Airports covers everything you need to know if you arrive by air. 


Stay in budget-friendly hostels rather than expensive hotels. Many Istanbul hostels offer complimentary breakfast, mixed dorms for around $8-15 per night, private rooms for $25, common rooms to socialize, and organized activities.

Look for hostels near public transportation so you can easily explore while saving on accommodations. Read reviews of hostels thoroughly before you book to ensure they offer good amenities and are located in safe areas. Before you arrive, confirm what is included, like breakfast, linens, towels, and Wi-Fi.

Street Food and Markets

Skip sit-down restaurants in favor of Istanbul's delicious and affordable street food. Try simit (sesame-crusted bread rings), döner kebab (spit-roasted meat wrapped in bread), midye dolma (stuffed mussels), and more for just a few dollars.

Wander through bustling markets like the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar to snack on Turkish delights and other treats. Handcarts along the streets sell seasonal whole fruits for under $2.

Talk to vendors to learn about traditional foods and recommendations on what to try. Feel free to negotiate prices at street stalls and small shops. 

Free Attractions

Many of Istanbul's top sites offer free admission, including the famous Blue Mosque, lively Taksim Square, artsy Galata district, and historic Sultanahmet area. Wander parks and neighborhoods without paying a cent.

Top museums like the Istanbul Archaeology Museums and Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art are free to enter on certain days. Check opening days and hours for free entry to maximize these opportunities. Arrive early at the most popular free sites to beat crowds. 

Avoid Tourist Traps

Steer clear of overpriced restaurants and attractions aimed at tourists. Ask locals for their favorite eateries and hidden gems off the beaten tourist track. Venturing blocks away from major sites leads to more authentic experiences for a fraction of the cost.

Follow locals' leads, and you'll enjoy Istanbul like an insider: research blogs and vlogs to uncover recommended hole-in-the-wall cafes, rooftop terraces, Turkish baths, and other hotspots.

Istanbul Delights

Exploring Istanbul on a budget is easy and rewarding. With free attractions, cheap transportation and street food, budget hostels, and insider tips from locals, you'll delight in all this world-class city has to offer without breaking the bank! 

Wander and explore different neighborhoods each day. Stay flexible to take advantage of unexpected adventures that pop up. Immerse yourself in Istanbul's captivating, budget-friendly offerings.


This story was published in partnership with The Istanbul Insider.

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