Last Updated on October 1, 2023 by Ellen
These budget slow travel tips for Istanbul can help stretch your money. At the time of our visit, Turkiye faced a financial crisis. The Turkish lira had lost 60 percent of its value against the dollar in the previous two years, and inflation was around 60 percent.
For us American travelers, costs were entirely manageable thanks to a strong dollar, although everything cost more for everyone because of inflation.
6 Budget slow travel tips for Istanbul
The general ideas behind some of these budget slow travel tips will work in many cities, but these are written specifically with Istanbul in mind.
1. Cheap(er) eats
The Turkish word ‘lokanta’ means restaurant. But when you see a lokantasi — it’s usually cheaper.
A lokantasi is actually like a cozy cafeteria. You slide your tray down and make selections, and carry the tray to your table.
Some restaurants are a hybrid — they have the cafeteria-like selection area, but then a waiter brings the food to you.
Look for establishments with ‘lokantasi’ in the name, and no waiters for cheaper dining.
All restaurants frequently changed prices because of the currency crisis. Most menus had sticker prices, and some had none listed at all even though they weren’t ‘fine dining’.
Like everywhere, restaurants in tourist areas and hip neighborhoods are more expensive.
One standout restaurant worth mentioning: Arya Lounge. *Magnificent views*, good food at reasonable prices, decent service.
We spent $40 on dinner. That’s way less than what we’d spend in Applebee’s back home (yuck).
2. Cafe days (and nights)
Cafes are everywhere in Istanbul. These serve coffee, tea, and small bites. This is partly why it feels so European to me. Grab a drink and watch the world go by.
Try the street cafes tucked into neighborhoods instead of the chains found on busy tourist roads.
That said, the cheapest Starbucks in the world might be in Istanbul. A venti brewed coffee was $2.26, grande size was $2.04. Small Turkish cay (black tea, no milk) was only $1.
3. Everywhere is a photo op
Photos are free to take, and everywhere you turn is worthy of a photo in Istanbul. Street cafes, mosques, cats, twisty roads and alleys, older classical buildings and newer construction, the Bosphorus, the Marmar Sea, ferries, and more.
If you love to take photos, you will love Istanbul.
4. Free events
Pay attention to local events calendars. During our month-long visit to Instanbul, the Beyoglu District had a cultural festival with free events like concerts and a demonstration with hundreds of whirling dervishes!
It’s easy to find free events in a major city like Istanbul with simple searches. I’ll share more examples here.
Hagia Sophia was changed from a museum back to a mosque. As an active place of worship for Muslims, you simply wait on the line and enter with no admission fee. Touts approached us to offer ‘skip the line’ services and guided tours, but the line wait was only 20 minutes.
Inside, we visited the free (and excellent) information center inside. The government employee inside the mosque answered all of our questions and was super kind.
Other mosques also allow free visits, provided you are respectfully dressed.
Istanbul Modern Art Museum
The city’s modern art museum has free admission every Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the time of this writing.
From their website:“visit all exhibitions at Istanbul Modern free of charge and participate in monthly artist workshops, events and film screenings.”
Free walking tours
There are something like more than 60 different tours on GuruWalk, which is what we generally use. You book a slot in a group and tip the guide after the tour what you feel the tour was worth. The suggested tip on most tours in Istanbul is the equivalent of $10.
Other free walking tour sites work the same way, but some require credit cards for booking. GuruWalk does not and that is why we use them. (The ‘off the beaten path’ tour wasn’t that great in Istanbul, but the old town tour rocked!)
This last example was a limited event. The Istanbul International News Photography Awards exhibition for free. Since we retired from the news business, this really interested us. I mention it here because I found it by looking around – literally! I saw a billboard in Turkish and used Google search and translate to get the details.
5. Boats on the Bosphorus
There’s something magical about the Bosphorus Strait – the narrow body of water that separates Europe from Asia. And there are two ways to be on the water and in the middle of two continents.
One is a simple ferry ride. There a few routes that cross over. We went from Karakoy to Kadikoy. It cost less than $1. The ferries are comfortable, roomy compared to the bus, tram and metro. You’ll have to map out what you’re looking at on land and look up the information.
Or, take the Bosphorus boat tour and listen to recorded English explanations of the big sites. These run 90 minutes to two hours and cost the equivalent of $5.50 from the Eminonu dock.
We had the best seats by chance – corner last row on the driver’s side – for unobstructed views closest to land. Sunset was a great time to go.
6. Use ATMs with lower fees
I’ve done searches on which bank ATMs foreigners should use, but as usual, that current, reliable information is difficult to find. I’ve read some travel boards where foreigners are charged up to 8 percent of the withdrawal amount at regular bank ATMs in Turkiye – yikes!
One of our free walking tour guides told us the government banks didn’t charge outrageous ATM fees. He recommended Vakif Bank and Halk Bank as having low to no extra fees. We used Halk Bank.
I also tried Meta AI on WhatsApp for the first time. I can’t speak to the fees because we didn’t use them. Incidentally, I found it funny that Citibank and HSBC ‘affiliated banks’ popped up in the answer. I can’t help but wonder if that’s some sort of advertising…
The real cost for experiencing budget slow travel to Istanbul is priceless. Our readers know we value experiences over things, and we enjoy life on our terms.
We hope you can use these ideas on your visit to this beautiful city! And if you have additional ideas to share, we’d love to read in the comment section below.
Life is Now!
Thanks for reading, “6 Budget slow travel tips for Istanbul.”
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