Istanbul has many delights that are very inexpensive or even completely free – including many of the most famous sights! If you eat like a local you can enjoy better – and more – food than the tourist restaurants give, and traveling on public transport completes your 360-degree experience of Istanbul culture and street life.
While the sky’s the limit for how much you could spend, this guide gives you the insiders’ perspective on how to enjoy the real city without breaking the bank.
We’ve put together a suggested itinerary that gives you an incredible insight into Istanbul, shows you some of the most amazing things in the city, and won’t even finish a €10 note (not even $12 US dollars!).
At the time of publishing, 1 euro (US$1.20) buys you 86 turkish lira. All prices and conversions shown are approximate.
Low cost Istanbul itinerary
Start your day in Sultanahmet where you can slip into any local cafe to enjoy a leisurely typical Turkish bagel (simit) and tea, for a mere 4 tl [eur 47c/ US 57c]
Morning sightseeing in Istanbul for free
Next – provided no prayers are being held – head into the hushed magnificence of the Blue Mosque, where entrance is free.
Immediately next door in Sultanahment Square you will find the Roman Hippodrome of Constantine – also free.
After seeing the famous obelisks, it’s a short walk to the Grand bazaar where you can take in the sights and sounds of the bustling indoor street life. Remember – you don’t need to buy anything here!
Leaving the Grand Bazaar, stroll down the hill towards Galata Bridge and enter the Spice Bazaar where you can see Istanbul’s famous ancient trade still at work.
Low-cost lunch in Istanbul
Treat yourself to a substantial meal in a self-service local Turkish restaurant (balkan lokantası). In these places you can eat a good selection of traditional & high quality Turkish cuisine. They’re located in most neighbourhoods of Istanbul. Find the closest one to you. For soup, a main dish, a side dish, dessert and a drink you’ll only pay 25-30 tl [€2.90-3.50 / $3.50-4.25].
Afternoon sightseeing in Istanbul for next to nothing
Hop on the tram over the Golden Horn via the Galata Bridge and along the Bosphorous coast to Kabataş- 3,50 tl [eur 40c / US 50c].
Once at Kabataş enter the station at the base of the hill to take the extremely steep, modern funicular railway to Taksim for a mere 2,50 tl [eur 30c / US 35c].
Wander around the famous Taksim Square, and have a look at (and inside) the fascinating Italianate Church of St Anthony of Padua.
Head towards the iconic Galata Tower, but instead of paying to go up for the views, consider instead a quick refresher at the rather fancy Galata Konak Cafe and Restaurant, which enjoys a similar cityscape to the tower. Come here to take in the panorama with a drink (pricier than normal in Istanbul but still great value). Turkish tea costs 10 tl [€1.20 / $1.40] and a Turkish coffee will set you back 17 tl [€2 / $2.40].
Low-cost Bosphorous cruise
To tour the Bosphorous, don’t waste money on a private boat: walk downhill to the Eminönü ferry pier and hop on the Eminönü-Üsküdar ferry which follows a similar route to the private excursions, but with much more local atmosphere – all for a mere 3.50 tl [eur 40 c / US 50 c]!
Alighting from the ferry you’ll be on the (even cheaper) Asian side of Istanbul.
Inexpensive dinner in Istanbul
Now head into the bustling streets of Doğancılar and enjoy a delicious meal of traditional Turkish döner (iskender) kebab + ayran at the waterfront Dönerci Hamdi Usta for a mere 35-40 tl [€4-4.70 / $5-5.65]. Then stroll back along the Üsküdar Coast Walkway to the ferry.
Alternatively if you want to eat nearer to where you’re likely staying, take the ferry back to Eminönü before dinner, and watch the sun set over the minarets and domes of the city from the boat, then enjoy the same kebab for about the same price at Meşhur Dönerci Hacı Osman in Eminönü.
Total cost for the day
This comprehensive day out in Turkey, taking in the sights, sounds, smells, food, drink, fascinating travel, amazing sightseeing, and wonderful local atmosphere – comes to only 83.5 tl – an amazing €9.78, or $11.86!