In every country around the world, the major cities are bound to be the most expensive. This often deters potential travelers from making journeys to places that they are interested in and having experiences that make them feel joy. Home to 30 million people, Istanbul is no different. It features loads of five star hotels, gourmet dining experiences, and pricey events. However, it is also frequented by tens (maybe even hundreds) of thousands of tourists each year. The city does not have to be limited to the wealthy or those who have a flexible budget, and companies like First Choice make planning your trip easy and affordable. After living and teaching there for half a year, I can say with confidence that it’s an easy city to experience to on a budget. With plenty of activities, gorgeous walks, and some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had, a day in Istanbul is bound to be an amazing one, if you know where to look.
Explore the famous Spice Bazaar
The formerly called “Egyptian Bazaar” is undoubtedly one of the most famous places to visit in all of the city. The vibrantly colored covered market is filled with aromatic spices from around the Middle East, in addition to tasty Turkish treats and handmade trinkets. Although some of the items sold in the bazaar are pricey, you are able to get some things at a bargain (the most amazing nuts in the world, for example)- you can get a massive bag to share with several for about 10 TL ($4.50). If you stand out as a foreigner, you’ll need to up your ante with bartering. Even if you don’t wish to purchase anything at all, the bazaar still makes for a lovely window shopping and cultural experience for an hour or two. Just avoid this place if you are prone to claustrophobia, as it is quite packed with shoppers on a mission.
Check out a historic mosque
As a predominantly Muslim country, Turkey is home to many beautiful mosques. Istanbul alone houses some of the most well-known architectural wonders of the Islamic faith, particularly Süleymaniye Mosque. It is one of the finest displays of traditional Ottoman architecture in the city and is worth having a look around (not during prayer times, of course). This grand center is a short walk from both the Spice and Grand Bazaars in the beautiful and historic Eminönü area of the city. New (Yeni) Mosque is also nearby, offering equally fantastic views. It’s important to note that a standard of dress does exist, so ladies who want to view the mosques must be dressed modestly; head scarves will also be provided at the door if you wish to go beyond the central courtyard. Cheap food vendors fill the surrounding parks, presenting the perfect opportunity for a gorgeous midday picnic, particularly during the Tulip Festival.
Journey out to the Prince Islands
On a particularly beautiful sunny day, make a trip to one of Istanbul’s Prince Islands (Prens Adaları). 5 TL ferries depart from Kabataş on the European side and Bostanci, Kartal, and Maltepe on the Asian side. The half to two hour ride offers stunning views of the city’s extensive skyline before letting you hop off at whichever island suits your fancy. The Prince Islands consist of four large and five smaller islands, but only the larger can be visited. Each island has its own unique traits, and my favorite method of experiencing them was by bicycle. For next to nothing, you can rent some wheels for the day and have the freedom to move about with ease. Each port area is also lined with affordable and authentic Turkish restaurants to let you feast after a day of exploring.
Eat your way around
Turkish cuisine is definitely fit for the soul. Most people are probably only familiar with kebabs and the sweet sensation, baklava. However, Turkey has much more to offer, especially for vegetarians. For around 10 TL, you can grub on the feast that is a traditional Turkish breakfast. This is definitely something worth the “splurge” and is a must-try when in this country. To keep it cheap throughout the day, though, be sure to try the glorious array of street food. 1 TL will get you a simit (a Turkish bagel, essentially) while 3 can afford you a wrap of my all-time favorite, Çiğ köfte. This dish is traditionally made up of raw meatballs, but due to health regulations vendors have replaced it with bulgar wheat and spices. If you’re traveling with a group, go for the package deal, which comes with a half-head of lettuce, lemons, unleavened bread, fresh parsley, and several sauces. Trust me, your trip to Istanbul will be incomplete without it. You’re welcome in advance.