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Istanbul Budget Tips: Transit tickets, bazaar shopping, ferries, and nightlife

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Maiden's Tower at sunset. Photo by Audrey Sykes.
Maiden's Tower at sunset. Photo by Audrey Sykes.

It’s unsurprising that a city like Istanbul, with a population of about 12.6 million, offers an endless list of sight-seeing must-visits. Considering that even small expenses can add up, here are five pointers to help keep your budget in check.

Transport: Use one-ways wisely

Getting around Istanbul can be tough to figure out. One of the most important things to know is that the city’s public transport fares are one-way. The driver will charge about 1.5 Turkish Lira each time you hop on. In short, plan a destination route from Point A to B as directly as possible before boarding the bus or tram. This will help avoid frivolous spending, getting dumped in an unfamiliar spot, and developing a serious headache.

Bazaar Tip: Shop outside the Bazaar’s center

Istanbul’s Bazaar is full of flavorful smells, sights, and sounds… most of which is available for purchase. Bargaining is common, although prices can start high and flexibility might not be as loose as desired. The best way to find a cheap price is to venture through the 60+ alleyways that cut through the heart of the Bazaar. In the end, finding the “local’s corner” can mean finding scarves for one-fourth of the price quoted in the Bazaar’s center.

On the Bosphorus: Regular ferries are the cheapest

Many boat companies advertise similarly-routed tours along the Bosphorus at high prices. The best price, however, for a few-hour’s journey along the strait will be found by simply taking the local ferry. For 7.50 Turkish Lira (roundtrip) take the ferry from Eminonu leaving at 10:35 AM (winter and summer), noon, and 1:35 PM (summer only). The ending point is Anadolu, a scenic area from where the Black Sea is visible.

Nightlife: Head to Taksim for moderately-priced Istanbul fun

Forget about finding affordable meals and deals near the Sultanahmet area. Head to Taksim to experience a lively nightlife scene to which the city’s locals flock. Nargile cafes, restaurants, and a slew of clubs are packed into the district, and prices won’t shock your budget. Places along Taksim Square and the major shopping street are still costly and lack the local flavor found within alleys and side streets.

A Breather: The easiest escape for peace and romance

In-between the Europe and Asian side of Istanbul is the Maiden’s Tower (or Kiz Kuelsi), a small island smack dab in the middle of the Bosphorus ideal for gazing at sunsets and panoramic photo ops. At the bottom sits a restaurant a bit on the steep side; on top you’ll find a more modestly priced café. Ferries frequently run back and forth from both sides of the city (7 Turkish Lira roundtrip). It’s an overall incredible view of Istanbul’s sparkling city landscape in a quiet, tranquil setting.

About the author

About the author: Audrey Sykes hopped across the pond from the US eight years ago for a Masters degree in global journalism. Since then, she’s lived all over Europe, reporting and editing for music sites, snowboard mags, and travel media. She’s also the Amsterdam author for Party Earth, a guide to nightlife across Europe.

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2 thoughts on “Istanbul Budget Tips: Transit tickets, bazaar shopping, ferries, and nightlife”

  1. It’s a longer trip than to K?z Kulesi, but the city ferry to the Princes’ Islands offers a real escape and is one of the best deals in Istanbul. Just 3 Turkish liras each way gets you to a series of beautiful islands that feel a world away from the city, where you can swim, rent bikes (no cars are allowed), or just stroll around. The extremely pleasant ride is a bit over an hour from Kabata? on the European side (ferries also go to the islands from Bostanc? on the Asian side).

    Budget travelers shouldn’t miss the wealth of street food either. From the row of boats dishing out fish sandwiches in Eminönü to the corner full of kebab shops at Taksim, the cheap eats are plentiful — and plenty tasty.

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  2. Thanks, will definitely take you up on your tips. My sister, niece and I are visiting Istanbul for 5 nights toward the end of June. I am from South Africa, and personally I cannot wait, but the unknown is always a bit scary and one wants the best deal for your money.

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