Travel Budget: Istanbul
Of all the places I pass through on a regular basis, Istanbul is probably the one where I’m least likely to pay much attention to my budget. It strikes me as a places where you could just pennypinch the whole time and get by on a threadbare budget, but that by spending just a bit more you can come out of it with a lot more comfort. I passed through Istanbul 7 times in 2013 (though two of those were just on a long layover) for a total of 24 days. I totaled out at 2919 Lira, or roughly $51 per day. I tend to spend more than is strictly necessary in Istanbul, though.
My favorite hostel, for example, is far from the cheapest but just about one of the coziest places I stay. (Agora Guesthouse, if you’re wondering.) I spend unreasonable amounts of Lira on Turkish Coffee and Baklava. I even give a few coins to buskers on occasion when I find myself listening along to what they’re playing. My point is, what I’m putting up here isn’t a ‘budget travel’ level of experiencing Istanbul at all.
Some things in town are just worth spending money on, too. The Hagia Sophia is stunning. I’ve probably been in there 10 times by now (many of these, I should say, while working as a photographer for one tour or another) and still when I go back again I’ll find some new hidden piece of beauty. Just last time I was in town, for example, I found this particular beam of light at this particular time of day in this one corner of the museum.
I also went with a couple of friends to a Besiktas soccer game, one of the last before they tore down the Inonu stadium that had stood since 1947. It was an abnormal expense on the budget, sure, but also totally worth it.
If you really want to save money in Istanbul, heed this one tip: Skip the beers. The bar scene in town strikes me as way overpriced (and getting even more so) and really not that interesting. Instead, round of a few friends and head out for a nargile pipe instead. Your budget will thank you, and its a more local experience anyways.
(One last tip: when I’ve been over the past few years there was a visa on arrival program where US citizens could hand over a $20 and get a visa good for 90 days out of the next 180. I’ve heard rumors this may be changing, though, so be sure to check before you head that way.)
Quite a few of my stays in Istanbul were primarily while taking photos for GetYourGuide. They have quite a few tours in town, but my absolute favorite would be the Istanbul Dinner with a Local Family tour. The Bosphorus Cruise and Spice Bazaar you can figure out for yourself, but to me being able to have dinner with a bunch of locals in their home was an experience very worth the cost.