Istanbul: The Budget Traveler’s One-Day Itinerary

Istanbul might not be the capital of Turkey, but it is by far its most popular city. In fact, the Master Card 2013 report ranked it the sixth most visited tourist destination in the world.

With all the crowd and attention, you might fear that Istanbul would be too expensive to visit. Worry not – We got you covered! Here are 9 things to do and see in Istanbul for travelers on a budget.

1. Take a quick tour around

From Byzantium to Constantinople to Istanbul, the whole city should be a World Heritage Site. As such, there are free walking tours around town. They will take you to all the important historical and scenic spots. If you are an independent explorer, check out this compilation of preferred routes and sites. Be sure to see the Old Book Shop, and the Hagia Sophia – a cathedral turned mosque and now a museum.

2. Stroll through Cihangir

If you decide to tour Tasquim Square, you should stop in the heart of the Beyoglu district. It is a gorgeous neighborhood where the intellectual, artistic and religious mingle. During the day, plenty of street artists and hipsters wander the narrow streets between the colorful buildings. Mind a stop in Anna’s café for a taste of home-style Turkish breakfast including simit and menemen, and of course local coffee. Best part, the outdoor tables stare at the Bosphorus.

3. Walk down the Istiklal Avenue

Welcome to the beating heart of Istanbul which is also its most famous pedestrian street. Just imagine a mile-long avenue filled with feasts, music, and cinemas. The place will surely cater to your entertainment needs by day and night. The bars and nightclubs make sure the fun does not stop too early

4. Cross the Galata Bridge

While people cross the bridge by car or tram, walking is the best way to enjoy the majestic panorama of the city. Tourists visit the bridge just to see it, but also as a means to connect the Spice Bazaar and the Bosporus cruise shipyard. No doubt, the best time to visit is at sunset, when the Golden Light gives its colors to the Golden Horn.

5. Eye the Golden Horn

This important waterway forms a natural harbor for fishing and other marine activities. The Golden Horn is a majestic scene that links the Bosporus and the Marmara Sea. Except for its historical appeal, it has dramatic panorama just before dusk that travel photographs and other artists have often portrayed.

6. Contemplate the Yeni Cami

While you are near the Golden Horn, you shouldn’t and can’t miss the New Mosque standing next to it. Along with the impressive architecture, its interior is stunning. Iznik tiles, marble and other decoration elements complete this marvelous historic construction. The Yeni Cami is also the burial place of many eminent Sultans.

7. Escape Istanbul to the Princes’ Islands

Tired of the city? Retreat to the Princes’ Islands, southeast on the Marmara Sea. No cars are allowed on the island, so residents typically walk, bike, or go by horse drawn carriage. There are many scenic spots for a relaxing picnic. You could also choose to explore all nine islands by ferry; just don’t miss the Buyukada island.

The queen island of Buyukada homes on its two summits century-old churches and mansions.

8. Take a Turkish bath

A visit to a hamam makes for the ultimate Istanbul experience. Every neighborhood has its traditional baths; some cater to tourists and others to locals. Turkish baths differ in term of services, pricing, and cleanliness. The fancier hamams offer massage and scrubbing on top of the main sauna feature but are also more expensive. If you are on a budget, avoid the tourist traps and go for baths visited by locals.

9. Embrace the night

Istanbul has some of the most chic nightlife in Europe. The best part is that some clubs and bars don’t even charge a cover (although the pricey drinks compensate).

So where should you party? There are many popular spots. Ortakoy’s clubs have some advantages with wonderful views of the Marmara Sea. Don’t miss out on them!

You might also want to visit the Egyptian Spice Bazaar orthe Galata Tower. These two sights are relatively more expensive, but also worthwhile.

Overall, Istanbul is an excellent destination for those interested in history and art. The museums and the ancient religious buildings are incredible. If you have more than a day to spend in town, explore this fine article about the top 10 sights in Istanbul.

Ever been to Istanbul? Visited Turkey recently? Tell us all about your experience.

View Sample Itinerary