As we continue our series on saving money abroad, this week we are visiting the far eastern city of Istanbul or Byzantium or Constantinople, depending on your advanced years.
Attracting on average, 42 million foreign tourists each year, this Turkish city is split in two by the Bosphorus, a narrow strait of water which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and leaves the city divided into a Thracian side and an Anatolian side. Here are out hints and tips to saving money whilst still having a great trip to Turkey.
Museum pass: Istanbul Müzekart
The Istanbul Museum Pass costs 85 lira for 3 days (approximately £20 as of May 2017) or 115 lira for five, and allows the bearer to enter around a dozen top sites around the capital; including the Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace, as well as providing discounts on other shops, activities, etc. You can even jump the queue, like at Disneyland. (link to Disney post)
Note: It’s worth mentioning that if you buy your ticket from a calmer venue, you can save time waiting. Try the Müzekart.
Bosphorus boat tour
Travelling across the Bosphorus for many people living in Turkey is a daily commute to work, but for those of us visiting, it’s just a bit of fun. The Bosphorus boat tour is a scenic cruise that takes you across the sea for all of £3 and lasts a budget-friendly 90 minutes, taking-in sights such as the 15th-century Rumeli Hisarı fort and the village of Arnavutköy, situated along the waterfront.
Note: if the cruise is too pricey at £3, how about the ferry for all of 35p. Don’t forget, technically you are travelling between continents; Europe to Asia. Amazing!
If you’re in the mood for a little relaxation, try visiting the hamams. Steamy, and decorated bottom to top in marble, the traditional Turkish bath houses are one of top to-do’s on most traveller’s lists. Sadly they’re not cheap, but if you are on a budget, try the 17th-century Çinili hamam, located in the suburb of Üsküdar; a thorough and rigorous rub-down can be yours for as little as £9.
As with most capital cities, festivals abound and Istanbul is no different. Over the last 20-30 years, festivals such as the International Istanbul Film Festival and the Istanbul International Jazz Festival have sprung-up. The Istanbul Festival, which runs from the end of March to the first week in April is a music centred event with an emphasis on dance, so if you’re in the mood to shake your tail-feather, this might be the festival for you.
We know that retail tourism is a big thing and there are few bigger venues in Turkey than the Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı). This covered market is one of the largest and oldest in the world with around 61 covered streets and in excess of 4,000 individual shops/stalls. Here you can buy carpets, furniture, leather goods, gold bracelets and let’s not forget the traditional and beautiful hanging lanterns.
Transport from the Airport and around town
Atatürk International Airport (IST) to the west of the city is the busier of Istanbul's two airports, 23km away from the city centre, while newer airport, Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW) on the Asian side of the Bosphorus is around 30km south east of Kadikoy.
Airport Shuttles are around 10tl per person while a Taxi is nearer 40tl.
The Instanbulkart (city ticket) allows visitors and locals alike to travel on every form of transport in and around Instanbul.
The card is 10tl to buy and you can ‘load-up’ (credit) to a maximum of 150tl at a time. To load and re-load you need only visit a location bearing the inscription “Akbil dolum bayii”.
It’s roughly 2.15tl per ride with the card and it fits snuggly in your pocket or wallet as its Credit Card sized.
Eating and drinking
Saving money on holiday is always an effort. You don’t know where you are, what’s good, what’s bad and what is ridiculously over-priced…so here are a few eating and drinking tips.
If you decide to drink in Istanbul, be sure to stick to the local stuff. The rakı and Turkish wine or beer are substantially cheaper than the European/imported brands and let’s be fair, you drink them at home all the time. Try something new.
If you’re trying to avoid pricey restaurants, give the ones with a view of the Bosphorus a miss. Like in Rome, where eateries near the Vatican are alarmingly expensive and often drab in flavour, cafes and restaurants with a view in Istanbul are equally so. You can pick-up a few cheap treats form the Grand Bazar – like most markets, they have a wealth of options and you can always barter on the price.
Tipping is approximately 10% but not strictly necessary at cafes and small establishments.
Other useful tips
Haggle or Barter
Feel free to bargain for everything. Start low, but be sure that you have a fixed limit in mind and when you get there, that’s it. It’s commonly seen as bad-form to agree a price and then not purchase the product or service. Be sure you really want it.
WiFi is generally free - just ask for the password.
If you’re taking a trip to Turkey
, we've got great exchange rates (and all the trimmings!) Visit us in branch and on line.