This is a guest post provided by Lauren.
The ancient city of Istanbul is one of the largest in the world. Packed with museums, galleries, cosmopolitan bars and trendy clubs, the tourist hotspot attracts a varied audience of sightseers, backpackers and travellers. As with all European cities, things can be expensive so it pays to travel as smartly as possible.
Even if you’re travelling on a budget, you can still arrive in style on an Emirates flight. Once you touch down, there are lots of ways to see the city without it costing the earth and, more importantly, without feeling like you’re missing out.
Tips to travel smart in Istanbul
Avoid peak season
In many European cities, peak summer time (July/August) can be hot, humid, busy and expensive. If you can travel outside the school holidays, in April/May or September/October, not only will it be a lot cheaper, but you will have more space to see the sights and the weather won’t be so oppressive.
Eat like the locals
There are many places to eat in Istanbul, but by choosing to eat with the locals you’re sure to get a hearty meal at a reasonable price. Step away from the main tourist areas when looking for places to sit down to eat and you’ll get a much better deal. You could enjoy a local cultural experience by buying a takeaway kebab and tucking into it surrounded by the sights and sounds of the city, or perhaps you could pick up some olives, bread and cheese from a supermarket or deli and take them to the park for a picnic.
Don’t be afraid of public transport
Getting around the city is easy. Whether you choose to hop on the trams, buses or ferry you will be able to access all areas of the city cheaply. Lonely Planet has a useful article about getting there and around that details the methods of transport and the travel passes available.
In addition to public transport, taxis are plentiful. It’s a good idea to get your hotel (or if you’re out and about, the receptionist of a hotel you’re passing) to call and book a taxi for you. Avoid hopping into one in a busy tourist area if you can. If you do, be clear about where you’re going, ask how much it’s going to cost before you get in, make sure the meter is running and be careful about handing over bank notes (to avoid the driver switching your note and claiming you gave less). A good tip is to keep hold of the note while you await your change. Like all places, tourists can be targets, so just be confident and aware.
Hiring a car is not worth the effort; the roads are busy and hectic and you’ll see more of the city and get a better feel for the place if you’re in amongst it on the transport system.
Stay and play
There are some incredible rooftop bars and restaurants in Istanbul offering views across the city. You have two options: one is to stay at a reasonably priced hotel that has a rooftop restaurant so you can enjoy breakfast with a view without having to pay out to visit a pricey bar in the evening, or you stay in a cheaper hotel and splash out at least once to go for cocktails or dinner at one of the best rooftop bars. Either way, seeing the city skyline from up high is an incredible experience not to be missed, so it’s worth the investment.
Istanbul Sights and Attractions
You don’t have to spend a fortune to see the sights; some of them are free of charge or very inexpensive.
The famous Hippodrome at Sultanahmet Meydani dates from the third century AD. It formed the sporting, social and political centre of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. It’s an incredible place to spend some time and absorb the sights and sounds of the city and take in the local monuments, such as the Obelisk of Theodosius.
Entry to mosques – including the stunning Blue Mosque – is free, so go and explore some of the beautiful architecture. Visitors are welcomed outside prayer time, be sure to check times before you go.
A visit to the Grand Bazaar doesn’t have to cost you a fortune; you can go just to take in the atmosphere. The bustling marketplace gives you a true sense of the city, with stall holders haggling for your attention as you look for trinkets and souvenirs. The aromatic Egyptian spice market is worth a visit too, where you can pick up nuts, colourful spices and exotic herbs.
If the weather is fine, take a stroll through the urban Gülhane Park, which is next to, and within, the grounds of the Topkapı Palace. Take in the scents from the flower beds, stroll under the trees, enjoy a picnic and then take in the spectacular views from the northern end of the park.
Istanbul for less
Istanbul offers a city break with plenty of historic sights and cultural opportunities for less than you might think.