Having bagged myself some bargain flights to Istanbul I was determined not to break the bank on my little jaunt abroad. Firstly because I wanted to experience the real Istanbul but secondly because, as a student, travelling on a shoestring budget isn’t a choice – it’s the only option.
In a city where East meets West and two worlds collide my main priority was finding somewhere central to stay. I opted for the Bahaus Hostel, in the old historic quarter of Sultanahmet. Naturally I chose the cheapest room option (at €15 a night, inclusive of breakfast) and found myself in a dorm of 8 people. The hostel is smack bang in the centre of the liveliest area of Istanbul so provides an ideal base for exploring the city. As with most hostels, the rooms are basic but the hostel does boast a huge open air terrace with stunning views over the Asian side of the city. I chose to breakfast here as well as participating in one of the lively BBQ and belly dancing nights.
The spectacular Blue Mosque is just a stone’s throw from the hostel and is free to visit. I decided to take a wander to the nearby Hagia Sophia. At 20 TYL (£7.60) I decided not to go in and instead admired the architectural beauty from the outside. Armed with a couple of key phrases: ‘Ne Kadar?’ (How much does it cost) and ‘hayir!’ (No!) I ventured to the Grand Bazaar, a 15 minute stroll away. I was mesmerised by the colours and smells that greeted me as I walked into one of the largest covered markets in the world. I haggled for some ‘lokum’ (thats Turkish delight to you and I) and was offered a delicious cup of Turkish coffee by one of the friendly street vendors.
Exhausted after all my bartering I decided to pause for a quick bite to eat, I opted for the Kara Mehmet Kebap Salonu purely because it was away from all the hustle and bustle and looked within my budget. I followed my ‘kebap’ with a ‘kunefe’ – a traditional Turkish dessert which was sublime!
Another way to spend an afternoon is visiting The Egyptian Spice Market. Its location makes it an ideal port of call before leaving Europe and embarking on a trip to the Asian side of the city on one of the Bosphorus tours. For just 15 TRY (£6) I was able to spend two hours visiting four different places Eminönü – Üsküdar – İstinye – Çubuklu whilst experiencing one of Istanbul’s spectacular sunsets.
For Istanbul’s Bars your best bet is to head to The Beyoglu area. If you venture off the main street, Istaklal, you’ll find that prices are far more reasonable. I particularly liked the Kaktüs Cafe because of its buzzing atmosphere. You’ll find lots of locals here too, particularly arty/literary types who are great to engage in conversation with. Afterwards make sure you visit one of the ‘Hookah Bars’ (more commonly known to us as sheesha), a personal favourite is Cafe Mesale, located very close to the Blue Mosque. It looks a bit of a tourist trap but when you’re inside it’s full of charming locals sipping tea and smoking water pipes. A wonderful way to relax after a heavy meal.
Whilst in Istanbul I was eager to try out a traditional Hamam. For 40YTL (£15) I was able to get myself a traditional bath, massage and an invigorating kese (scrubbing) at the Cemberlitas Hamami. This is probably the best deal if you are on a budget as many of the other Hamams charge £40+. The experience was sensational and far better than anything else I could get back home at a fraction of the cost!
Another place I felt I couldn’t miss out on was Akbiyik Cadessi, literally translated as Avenue of the White Moustache. I walked the road from North to South, taking in the Topkapi Palace Walls and an old Ottaman Hammam at the northerly end, stopping in at a bakkal (grocery store) to pick up some Turkish treats. At the Southern end I was able to see the ruins of the Byzantine Magnaura Palace before stopping off to cool down with an ‘Ayran’ – a very traditional salty, yogurt drink.
All the exploring will no doubt leave you hungry but never fear, Dining in Istanbul offers something for every taste and budget. I wanted to eat good quality, simple Turkish food and found the best place to be the Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi Selim Usta next to the Hagia Sophia.
The menu is somewhat limited to kofte’s but this suited me fine – particularly as they were served with complementary pickles and salad. You won’t find many tourists here, it’s a cheap and cheerful eatery, jam packed with locals. Other reasonably priced (and equally delicious) dining options include grabbing an ‘Islak burger’ from Kizilkayalar’s ‘Wet Burger’ – drenched in an oily, slightly spicy, tomato sauce these are not for those watching their waistline but are good, honest food! If that doesn’t appeal then head to Eminönü near the harbour and try a fish sandwich. The fish is caught fresh from the sea and will only set you back around 4YTL (£2). Visiting Eminönü also gives you an excuse to try out Istanbul’s ever so efficient tram service – worthwhile doing just for the experience if nothing else.
My trip to Istanbul didn’t break the bank, but nor did I feel I missed out on anything. By venturing a little off the beaten track I managed to find some hidden gems. A few words of advice if you’re travelling to Istanbul – don’t be afraid to haggle, opt for bars/cafe’s off the main streets and most importantly… don’t be put off by appearances or you’ll miss out on some of Istanbul’s best kept secrets. Hope you learned some useful tips about my article, Istanbul on a Budget.
Author Bio: Sophie Fraser is from London and loves to visit new and exciting places… one day she hopes to travel the world.
All pics and text from the guest writer