I had specifically gone to Turkey to visit Cappadocia to walk and to experience a hot air balloon ride. As the flights all stopped in Istanbul though, I was able to fit in a free stopover so it seemed a shame not to make the most of the opportunity. A lot of my budget for Turkey went towards the balloon flight which meant that I had to stretch my money as much as possible in Istanbul – 2 nights and only $20 has to be a record though! Here’s how I visited Istanbul on a budget:

I didn’t get off to the best start in Istanbul, but it ended up in our favour as I got a free taxi ride to our hotel. Collecting points is an amazing way to save money when travelling and, thanks to a long haul flights with United Airlines earlier this year, I was able to book myself into a central hotel, Buyuk Keban, including breakfast, without spending a penny.

All the main sites are in walking distance of each other, so there is no need for public transport. In 24 hours I got a real flavour of Istanbul and managed to see the best the city has to offer:

Basilica Cistern – $7

A number of Istanbul’s attractions charged entry, but there was one that I had repeatedly heard good things about and didn’t want to miss – the Basilica Cistern. Built in the 6th Century, the cisterns sit hidden beneath the city. Although overpriced (in relation to other costs in Turkey), this attraction is atmospheric, enchanting and completely out of place.

Istanbul on a budget

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Turkish Tea – $0.5

Everywhere you go you see men sat around drinking tea. They really can’t get enough of this little drink that is served in small glasses without milk. While sat in a well kept garden opposite the Basilica Cisterns, I was approached by a man selling tea to people in the park. Although I was probably charged double what the locals pay and found the tea a little earthy for my liking, you can’t go to Turkey and not drink a tea.

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Chatting with the fisherman – free

The port area of Istanbul is a lively place. I really enjoyed walking along the river side chatting with the fisherman and waiting to see what their next catch would be.

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Bosphorus ferry ride – $3

Head to Sirkeci where you can catch the local commuter Bosphorus ferry. For a small fee, you can jump on board with the locals and enjoy a slow journey to a number of ports while enjoying the landscape of the city. It doesn’t really matter where you go but 1 option is to head to Kadikoy which is on the other side, just so you you can say you have stepped foot in Europe and Asia on the same day.

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Street Food – $6

It took me a while to find a place that didn’t scream tourist, but wandering down some side ally’s, I eventually found a few street vendors that were crowded with local men drinking tea and smoking shisha – perfect. I went for Borek (pastries) filled with cheese, spinach and potato and rice that, although looked plain, was delicious. Later on I ate pida – pitta bread meets pizza – which was large, tasty and cheap.

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Blue Mosque – Free

Visiting the blue mosque was the most memorable part of my visit. We arrived to the sound of the beautiful call to prayer which meant we had to wait an hour until it was open to the public. You are not allowed in in fitted clothes and must cover your arms, legs and hair if you are a woman (men must also cover their legs). scarves and cloaks are provided if your outfit is not suitable. The scale of the mosque can only be truly appreciated from the inside looking up at the ornate ceilings while people quietly pray around you.

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Ice cream – $2

I fancied something sweet and after toying between baclava and an ice cream, the heat of the day swayed me. Dotted around the city you will find ice cream sellers that put on a magic trick display when serving you – making the cone disappear, then the ice cream, drumming against the stall and twirling the scoop around like a baton. It’s a complete tourist trap but charming nonetheless.

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Grand Bazaar – Free

I was expecting the market to be a lot more hectic than it was but, actually, I found the Grand Bazaar to be organised and with barely any hassle from the venders. There are all sorts of stalls here from clothes, ceramics, spices and high end jewellery sellers.

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Transfer to the airport – $1.5

Checking out of the hotel, there was one thing left to do…get myself to the airport. This time I was flying out of Ataturk which is considerably easier to get to. I walked to the subway and paid just $1.5 for a fare which would take me directly to the airport. At less than half an hour, this has to be one of the cheapest and easiest airport transfers!