Istanbul can be very expensive but is also a really budget-friendly city depending on your choices. From taking the dolmuş instead of a cab or buying an Istanbul card, here are some tips to save you money.
Istanbul has a lot of accommodation and there are plenty of great options when it comes to staying tight on the budget. Stay in hostels rather than hotels to get the cheapest price, especially dorm rooms that you can share with other travelers, which will also mean you’ll meet some new people. Hostels can be pretty cool, Istanbul happens to have some pretty great design hostels at great prices.
Turkish Airlines is the preferred way to travel to fly to Istanbul, but for those on a budget other airways such as Onur Air and Pegasus offer much cheaper flights from Europe. You’ll soon notice that the cheap flights go to the Sabiha Gökçen Airport (on the Asian Side) rather than the Atatürk Airport, but don’t fret, because there are airport buses that will take you from the Sabiha to Taksim for around 12 Turkish Liras.
Don’t ever buy a single ticket to get on the metro or bus because it’s almost double what you would pay if you just get yourself an Istanbul Card. These cards are available at kiosks all over the city (and at the entrance to the metro at the airport) and you can fill them up with cash at every metro station via the machines, which also offer English instructions.
Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you have to eat bad food. One of the best places to eat in Istanbul for great prices are tradesmen restaurants (esnaf), here you’ll find the neighborhood workers eating lunch every day. These restaurants are always open for lunch and you’ll quickly recognize them because of their cafeteria style display of the day’s freshly made home-cooked dishes.
Now that you have an Istanbul Card, you should always opt to take the public transportation rather than a cab, which will never be cheap, especially if you happen to get in an unregistered cab that will happily rip you off (you’ll recognize these as they don’t have a logo of a taxi stand on their doors). Istanbul has a pretty sophisticated public transport system and there is a bus, metro, tram, or boat to almost every destination.
There are many free events all around Istanbul that you can enjoy without paying a dime (or kuruş to be exact). A lot of museums have specific times or days where entrance is free, the metros (especially Osmanbey) always have local musicians playing, Istiklal Street is full of street performers, and it definitely doesn’t cost anything to explore the many amazing historical neighborhoods such as Balat.
A dolmuş is a small bus (that’s blue or yellow) that only drives off when it’s full and is definitely the cheapest way to get around Istanbul. There are several dolmuş routes, such as from Osmanbey to Beşiktaş (and back), Taksim to the Asian Side, and from the Kadıköy ferry all the way to Bostancı. Make sure to ask about a dolmuş before you take a cab somewhere, because chances are there is a dolmuş that drives past the area you need to go.