Istanbul on a Budget: How to Explore the City Without Breaking the Bank

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Istanbul is one of the world’s most fascinating cities, offering a rich blend of history, culture, and beauty that has captivated travelers for centuries. However, it can be difficult to plan a budget-friendly trip to the city even though Istanbul is considered not an expensive city for tourists, especially with the cost of flights, hotels, and food adding up quickly.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save money and make the most of your time in Istanbul without breaking the bank. In this article, I’ll share my top tips for budget travel in Istanbul, including everything from affordable accommodation to cheap, delicious food.
Finding Affordable Flight to Istanbul

Budget travelers and backpackers often consider a flight to Istanbul as a significant expense. With European budget airlines such as Ryanair and Wizzair not flying to Turkey, it can be challenging to find an affordable flight deal.

Here are a few tips to help you find affordable flights to Istanbul:

Book in advance: The earlier you book your flight, the more likely you are to get a good deal. If you try to book only a few days in advance the prices would be significantly higher.

Be flexible with your travel dates: Try to be flexible with your travel dates and look for flights during the week, rather than on weekends when demand is higher. Sometimes the Airlines are offering special offers for specific dates. Try to use them to get the best prices.

Compare prices: Use online travel sites like Expedia to compare prices across multiple airlines and book the cheapest option.

Use a budget airline: If you’re on a tight budget, consider using a budget airline like Pegasus. These airlines often offer low-cost flights to Istanbul from the Middle East and from Europe.

Check for special deals: Keep an eye out for special deals and discounts on flights and accommodation in Istanbul, which are often offered during the off-peak season.

Editors Note: Visiting Istanbul during the off-season has its advantages as there are fewer tourists in the city, meaning you’ll experience shorter wait times and have a more enjoyable trip. If you don’t mind the possibility of rain and cooler temperatures, visiting Istanbul in the winter or during the off-season can be a more enjoyable experience than during the summer. Cashback Deals

You can also use the Cashback deals from the companies like WayAway. Cashback deals are a type of promotion or incentive offered by merchants, where customers can receive a portion of the amount they spent on a purchase back in the form of cash or a similar reward. For example, a retailer might offer a “10% Cashback” deal on all purchases made during a specified period of time. In this case, if a customer spent $100 on purchases during the promotional period, they would receive a cashback reward of $10.

Consider connecting flights: If you’re not in a rush, consider taking a connecting flight instead of a direct one. This can often result in significant savings. Especially if you are flexible with your Travel dates.

I hope these tips help you find an affordable flight to Istanbul. Good luck!

Finding Affordable Accommodation in Istanbul

One of the biggest expenses for any trip is the cost of accommodation. Fortunately, there are a variety of budget-friendly options available in Istanbul, from hostels and budget hotels to Airbnb and VRBO rentals and private rooms. VRBO offers some great Deals in Istanbul, especially in the off-season.

To get the best deal, consider staying in a less touristy neighborhood, such as the charming Kadikoy neighborhood on the Asian side of the city. The public transport connections from Kadiköy are still pretty good and you can visit everywhere. You can also try looking for accommodations during the off-season when prices tend to be lower.

If you’re comfortable sharing a room with other guests, another inexpensive alternative would be to consider staying in a hostel. Many excellent hostels are available, but it’s recommended to read the comments and reviews about them before making a booking.

At the Hostelworld website below, you can browse and discover some excellent deals that are available all the time.

Cheap and Delicious Food Options in Istanbul

You can find Simit Everywhere. It is mostly enjoyed with Tea

Food is one of the great joys of traveling, but it can also be one of the most significant expenses. Food in Istanbul is totally not expensive and you’ll find plenty of delicious, affordable food options are everywhere if you know where to look. As Google Maps is extensively used in Turkey, you can look at the restaurant ratings and reviews there. Anything above 4 stars should be pretty good.

Some of my favorite budget foods include street food stalls, local cafes, and the city’s many kebab shops. For a quick and cheap bite, try a simit (a sesame-covered bread) with cheese and Tea or a döner kebab with Ayran. Another option is to try traditional street foods like Kokorec and Mussels. It is common to see street food vendors selling rice from carts as well.

The street food scene in Istanbul is a separate topic, but high-quality street food can be found in almost every part of the city. Simit with cheese, olives, and jam is a typical Turkish breakfast accompanied by Tea. You can find this combination almost everywhere. There is a chain called Simit Sarayi which provides a range of simits, sandwiches and breakfast items at a reasonable cost.

For a more substantial meal, head to a local restaurant (cafeteria-style restaurant) for a variety of delicious dishes at a fraction of the cost of a sit-down restaurant.

For those interested in trying local cuisine but unsure of where to begin or what to try, we highly recommend taking a food tour. These tours typically last for half a day and offer the opportunity to try a variety of dishes in a short period of time.

Book Your Food Tour Now!

Exploring the City on a Budget

Istanbul is full of stunning historical sites and cultural attractions, but many of them come with hefty entrance fees. To save money, consider purchasing an Istanbul Museum Pass, which gives you access to multiple museums and attractions for a discounted price.

You can also take advantage of the city’s many free sights and activities, such as exploring the vibrant bazaars, strolling along the scenic Bosphorus Strait, and admiring the beautiful architecture of the Sultanahmet neighborhood.

You can also buy the Istanbul Welcome Card which comes in handy in most cases. If you are going to Istanbul just to have fun and chill without seeing most of the main attractions then Museum Pass and Welcome Card (City Pass) don’t make sense. If you want to explore the attractions then you should take a look at them. The Istanbul Welcome Card, which is some form of City Pass, provides the following advantages:

  • 10 transportation tickets
  • Skip-the-ticket-line entry to several museums and attractions (except Hagia Sophia)
  • Guided tours of the Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, and Topkapi Palace
  • Discounts at top sights, attractions, and activities
  • Bosphorus cruise
  • Audio guide app
  • City map

Buy Your City Pass Now!

Navigating the City on a Budget

Getting around Istanbul can also be an expense, but there are several budget-friendly options available. The city’s efficient public transportation system includes buses, trams, and ferries, and you can purchase a rechargeable Istanbulkart for discounts on all forms of public transportation. Another affordable option is to take a taxi, especially if you’re traveling in a group and can split the cost. For Public Transport you need to buy Istanbulkart from the yellow-blue vending machines at the Stations.

Istanbulkart is not preloaded with credits; therefore, you need to add cash to the card in order to use it. The process is straightforward, requiring you to insert the card into the yellow-blue vending machines, wait for the machine to scan the card, and then deposit cash to load credits onto the card.

An important point to note about Marmaray is that you must pay the full train fare when you board, which is equivalent to the cost of the longest distance on the Marmaray route. However, if you are traveling a shorter distance, you can receive a refund by scanning your card at the refund machines located at the station where you exit. Down below you find a video about how to buy and load credits onto Istanbulkart:


Istanbul is a city that offers something for everyone, and with a little planning and budget-savvy tips, you can make the most of your time there without breaking the bank. Whether you’re interested in exploring the city’s rich history, admiring its stunning architecture, or indulging in its delicious food, there’s no shortage of incredible experiences to be had in Istanbul on a budget.


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