[Update 11 Nov 2019]
Istanbul is undoubtedly on many people's bucket lists. This Turkish city that straddles Europe and Asia has so many wonderful things to offer travellers, from beautiful sights, awe-inspiring buildings, fascinating history, and delicious halal food! It's a place that has easily captivated anyone who's visited it.
One thing that makes Istanbul an amazing travel destination is that it doesn't have to be a super expensive trip! There are several ways to save costs on your trip, and we've rounded up some of the best budget hacks for your getaway to Istanbul.
1. When to visit
With any destination, there are peak tourist periods that tend to coincide with the seasons. For Istanbul, the peak season is during the warmer months, especially in summer from June to August. Outside of this, the cheapest time to visit (in terms of flight fares and accommodation rates) is during the winter months, from December (outside of the peak holiday year-end season) to February. If you're ok wrapping up in some warm clothes and dealing with the temperatures which average between low to high single-digits in degrees Celsius, it's a cost-effective time to visit Istanbul!
Alternatively, you can also go during the spring or autumn months, particularly from March to May or September to November, which won't be as expensive as in summer, while also having warmer temperatures and fewer crowds ?
Turkish Airlines offers direct flights from both Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to Istanbul. In addition, Singapore Airlines also offers direct routes to Istanbul from Singapore respectively. However, if you're looking to save on airfare, connecting flights are the way to go, especially during the non-peak seasons. Airlines that offer cheaper transit routes include Saudi Arabian Airlines (transit in Jeddah), KLM (transit in Amsterdam), Air Astana (transit in Almaty), Etihad, Qatar Airways and more. It's crucial to track prices through Skyscanner or Google Flights to get the best deal - for a general rule of thumb if the airfare is around or below RM2,500 / SGD800, that's considered quite a good deal!
Credit: @aviationwithjake on Instagram
Another option is to consider flying to Athens (Scoot offers direct flights from Singapore to Athens as well as connecting flights from KL to Athens), then take a flight to Istanbul with Pegasus Airlines (a Turkish low-cost airline). The flight from Athens to Istanbul is only about 1.5 hours, so going by low-cost carriers to both Athens and Istanbul could definitely help save airfare cost!
Given Istanbul's popularity as a tourist destination, there is such a large variety of accommodations to choose from that range from high-end to affordable. So the great news for us is that we can choose the one that meets our budget! It also makes sense to pick a hotel that's located in an area central to a lot of the main attractions you'll be visiting - this way you won't have to spend so much on transportation costs.
For first-timers to Istanbul, you'll likely be visiting iconic attractions such as the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia, which are located close together in the Sultanahmet district, so staying in a hotel here would be wonderfully convenient! Here are some of our picks for affordable accommodations in this area.
Disclaimer: All nightly rates are based on a search in Nov 2019 for 2 adults unless otherwise stated. Prices may change during peak travel periods and over weekends. We recommend that you do a search before booking. Prices are generally lower if you book at least 3 months in advance, so start planning ahead to get the best deals!
Credit: Marmara Guesthouse
This is a charming family-run guesthouse situated at the centre of an open-air museum area in the Sultanahmet district. The Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace are all less than 5 minutes’ walk from the guesthouse! They also have rooms that accommodate two people all the way to family rooms that can accommodate up to 4. Before starting your day, be sure to feast on the traditional Turkish breakfast cooked by Mrs Aye, the guesthouse owner herself while admiring the views from the rooftop terrace. Coffee is also available at all times, free of charge!
Credit: @teacher.mims on Instagram
Rate: Starts from RM178 (for a single room for 1 adult)
Address: Cankurtaran Mahallesi, Terbıyık Sokak & Akbıyık Caddesi No:15, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Credit: Antique Hostel on Facebook
Antique Hostel is a budget accommodation that is located in the heart of Sultanahmet, just around the corner from the Blue Mosque and the Hippodrome and a few minutes walk from Topkapi Palace. You have the option of staying in dorm rooms, which are cheaper, but the hostel also offers private rooms too that can accommodate between 1 - 3 people! Your stay will include free breakfast, which is served on the rooftop terrace.
Rate: Starts from RM119 on Agoda
Address: Cankurtaran Mahallesi, Kutlugün Sokak No:51, 34122 Sultanahmet / Fatih/Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Contact: +90 (212) 638 16 37 / +90 (212) 517 65 72
Website | Facebook | Instagram
P.S. For more ideas on where to stay, check out this list of Istanbul accommodations near main attractions!
From the airport to town
Istanbul has two airports, the New Istanbul Airport (officially known as Istanbul Havalimani) which opened recently this year to replace the Istanbul Ataturk Airport as well as Sabiha Gokcen International Airport. Located on opposite ends of the city (Istanbul Airport on the European side and Sabiha Gokcen on the Asian side), both are about 40 - 50km away from the city centre. Taking a taxi to get from either airport to the city can cost between 100 - 150TL, not including any surcharges due to traffic.
Credit: @otobus__gezegeni on Instagram
A more affordable option would be to take shuttle buses called HAVABUS which are operated by HAVAIST. You can take a bus from the New Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gokcen directly to Sultanahmet Square for 18TL. You'll need to purchase an istanbulkart (a prepaid card used for transport - more on this below!) and load it with the appropriate amount to pay for the shuttle fare. Alternatively, Havaist also recently launched a system where you can sign up for an account on their website and deposit funds which you can then use to purchase tickets for the bus (find out more about it on their website).
However, if you prefer the ease of a taxi, to get a bigger bang for your buck you might want to consider a private airport transfer. These are privately operated companies that offer pick-up or drop-off transfers directly to and from your hotel. The advantage that they have over taxis is the fact that their rates are fixed (unlike taxis which can range between those that are metered to those that aren't), and you get personalised service with your driver waiting for your right at the arrivals area and getting you straight to your accommodation. There are several private transfer companies such as Kiwi Taxi, Safe Airport Transfer or Istanbul Airport Shuttle.
Istanbul has a great public transport system in place which makes travelling around Istanbul a breeze. Depending on which attractions you'll visit, there's a high likelihood that you'll be taking the tram or metro - even if you're staying in Sultanahmet which is close to many of the sights, you'll still likely be exploring other districts or attractions that are further away, such as Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue in the Beyoğlu district, the Eminönü district (home to the Süleymaniye Mosque), and more.
Credit: @yungiback on Instagram
With that said, one way to save costs is to get an istanbulkart. This prepaid card (similar to Touch N' Go or EZ-Link) is used for all of Istanbul's public transport including buses, trams, the metro, funiculars and even ferries. By purchasing the card, you can save costs on fares charged per ride (with one ride costing 2.60TL vs. the regular fare of 5TL). The card costs 6TL to buy and you can top it up with the amount you desire. You can get them at any istanbulkart yellow vending machines near any metro, tram or funicular station. Also, the cards can be shared among people (i.e. you don't have to buy one card for each person)!
#HHWT Tip: Kids under 6 years old can ride public transport for free!
Note (13 Nov 2019): The Istanbul government has recently revised prices of many of its key museums and archaeological sites effective July 2019, as well as revamped its Museum Pass to now have different types (a nationwide pass as well as local Istanbul and Cappadocia passes), each costing different prices. The official museum pass website is currently not available (presumably being updated to reflect the new passes) and the info provided below was sourced from local news articles. We'll be updating this section as more information becomes available!
Istanbul is chock-full of beautiful sights and attractions - there are simply so many things to see! And even if you've narrowed down the must-see attractions, it might still seem like a lot. Which is why if you're planning to cover many major museums like the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace, you can consider whether getting the Istanbul Museum Pass or local Istanbul pass makes sense.
#HHWT Tip: Please note that both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are currently under restorations, but you can still visit some parts of both compounds!
Credit: @istanbul_royal on Instagram
The Istanbul Museum pass is a government-issued pass that gives you access to over 300 museums nationwide. The pass has recently increased in price from 185TL to 375TL and is now valid for 15 days instead of 5 days. If you're planning to spend a significant amount of time in Turkey with plans to visit several of its museums and archaeological sites, the pass may make sense!
For the average traveller to just Istanbul however, the local Istanbul museum pass which is valid only for 5 days may make more sense as it's cheaper (220TL). The fee for many of Turkey's museums has also recently seen a significant price increase effective July 2019, with places like Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace now costing 72TL respectively. By combining visits to those two major attractions along with visits to other museums such as the Istanbul Archaeological Museum (36TL), the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (42TL) and Hagia Irene (36TL), you would recover the cost of the local Istanbul museum pass easily. The pass also has the added advantage of allowing you to skip queues, which can be a big relief (and definitely worth the money!) when there are crowds.
You can purchase the local pass at counters available at major museums including Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul Mosaic Museum, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts and Istanbul Archaeological Museums.
#HHWT Tip: Most of Istanbul's museums are closed for one day of the week (which may differ from each other), so do check the opening days for the respective museums accordingly ahead of your planned visit.
Credit: hamad m on Flickr
Even if you don't have much budget to shell out on attractions, Istanbul has so many things you can enjoy that are completely free! You can admire the many beautiful mosques that dot the city (including the iconic Blue Mosque!), people-watch at Ortokay, or check out one of the free art museums. Read more about free things you need to check out while in Istanbul.
Another special attraction worth highlighting includes the Hippodrome of Constantinople. Only remnants remain of this ancient circus, but seeing its iconic obelisk still elicits a sense of awe amongst tourists. Entry to this area is also free and it’s a fantastic place to get your Instagram shots!
Credit: @hope537766 on Instagram
Being a Muslim country, it's not difficult to find halal food in Turkey. Much of it is quite affordable too. If you're looking to avoid racking up food costs, it's probably best to stay away from big brands and multinational fast-food chains and opt for the street food or smaller shops. You'll still be able to get amazing and authentic local food that's delicious!
Credit: @keremkuyululu on Instagram
Stalls selling doner kebabs and kofta are ubiquitous in cities like Istanbul, especially around Taksim Square. These kebabs typically comprise of fresh cuts of either chicken, beef or lamb that have been slow-cooked to perfection on a rotisserie. Paired with fresh ingredients and rolled neatly into a wrap, they’re great at any time of the day.
But don't just think you'll be limited to eating kebabs, as Istanbul's street food has an amazing variety for you to try. From pide (Turkish pizza) to simit (a type of bread that's also known as the Turkish equivalent to a bagel) and much more, you'll be spoilt for choice! We've rounded up a list of must-try Turkish street food - be sure to keep an eye out for these as you explore the streets of the city! Here are a few cheap eateries you have to try when in Istanbul:
Credit: metingunvar on Instagram
This humble eatery has been serving delectable pide since 1964! The pide, or flatbread, is prepared right in front of your eyes, topped with your favourite fillings and meat, and then sent to the wood-burning oven. The result? Piping hot flatbread with succulent meat and oozing cheese.
Address: Hocapasa Sok. No:19 Sirkeci, Fatih, Istanbul, Turkey
Opening hours: 11AM – 9PM
Credit: queenofkitchen on Instagram
You haven’t really been to Turkey if you’ve never tried Turkish coffee. And what better place to try this quintessential Turkish drink than at this quaint café off Istiklal street!
Address: Asmalı Mescit Mahallesi, Olivia Geçidi No:1/A, 34430 Beyoğlu/Istanbul, Turkey
Opening hours: 9AM – 11PM
Price range: 6TL
Credit: eatingdiaries on Instagram
Over the years, this well-loved parlour has acquired the status of local favourite, and we think you should try their ice creams too if you visit Istanbul!
Address: Feriköy Mh., Kurtuluş cad. No:90, 34377 Şişli/Istanbul, Turkey
Opening hours: 9.30AM – 12PM
Price range: 2 - 5TL
Credit: @kwonema on Instagram
There are many self-service or cafeteria-style restaurants in Istanbul that offer a great balance of quality, variety and affordable prices. Ordering is simple, you basically join the line, pick the dishes that you want and pay for whatever you eat. One cafeteria that is famous amongst both tourists and locals is Bolkan Lokantasi. Located in Besiktas, it’s the perfect place to settle down for a quick satisfying meal before heading back out for your day's activities.
Address: Cihannüma Mah. Akmaz Çeşme Sok. No:8, 34200 Istanbul, Turkey
Opening hours: 7AM – 10PM
Price range: 20TL
And there you have it! 6 hacks to help you save costs on your Istanbul adventure. Visiting the city doesn't have to be a super expensive affair, and with these tips, you'll be able to cross it off your bucket list in no time! So it's time to start planning your Istanbul getaway pronto! Check out our first timer's guide to Istanbul to get you started ?