How to travel to Istanbul on your own and inexpensively
When you want to see something new, you should choose Istanbul. There is a lot to see for all tastes: historical sites, beautiful parks, many stylish cafes and bars. I used to think that Istanbul only had mosques and all the people dressed strangely and prayed all day long, and there wasn’t even a place to drink beer. Just kidding. But somehow I didn’t want to go. When I went to Turkey for the first time I was surprised at how modern Istanbul is. I was surprised by the large number of cafes and bars. People are very friendly, the young people speak good English and dress in a European way. By the way, the hotels often have Russian speaking staff, and on the streets there are a lot of Russian speakers from the former Soviet Union, – so you can go even without knowing English.
The streets in Karaköy, Istanbul
As a result we liked Istanbul so much that we are here quite often and with pleasure. In addition, the city is quite inexpensive. I will tell you how to travel to Istanbul by yourself inexpensively and comfortably in 2022: where to stay, what to see on your own, and where to eat inexpensive. For convenience, I will give prices in euros, not in Turkish liras. But, of course, you must pay in liras everywhere.
Cheap air tickets to Istanbul
The highest ticket prices for flights to Istanbul are in May – September. On the 15th of October prices start to go down. Here are the usual prices to Istanbul from different cities and countries:
Ticket prices to Istanbul, roundtrip
Check the Pegasus airline first. Sometimes Turkish Airlines has great sales. We have already written in detail how to buy cheap airline tickets.
In what area is better to stay: inexpensive and comfortable
First of all, note that Bucking.com does not work in Turkey. Therefore there are two ways to book accommodation in Turkey: via Bucking, but before the trip and from home, via Bucking, but with VPN connection. We have tried several times to extend accommodation in the hotel itself at the front desk, but the price is requested by 10-40% higher. In the end, we booked a room immediately from the room at a normal price via Bucking. Just keep it in mind.
Sultanahmet is the most popular area
For your first trip, choose the tourist district of Sultanahmet (Fatih). Here are the main attractions and a lot of inexpensive accommodation.
Travel Tip. ✔ Print yourself an interesting itinerary of Istanbul attractions in advance – the most beautiful mosques, lookouts with the best views of the Bosphorus, and places to eat delicious and inexpensive along the way.
Keep in mind that the Sultanahmet area is noisy, so you need to choose your hotel carefully, based on reviews, with a rating of at least 9. In addition, cheap Turkish hotels can be very smoky.
We were looking for a hotel for a long time, studying the reviews – then the street noisy, then smoky rooms, then the room in the basement (there are so many of them and you can learn it only from the reviews). In the end, we chose the inexpensive family hotel Charm Hotel and did not regret it. It was easy to get to everything on foot: a couple of minutes walk to Sultanahmet square and the Mosque of Ayia Sofia, the Blue Mosque. The upstairs terrace with a beautiful view of the Blue Mosque. The hostess speaks Russian, she will tell you everything, where to go and what to see around interesting. Breakfasts are great (I liked the delicious pancakes). It is better to take the top rooms with a balcony – there will be a view of the Blue Mosque! By the way, if you walk from the final bus stop from the new airport, it will take about 15-20 minutes. And then, if you are going to go to the Beşiktaş area (Karakey), the streetcar stop will be very close.
Tip: We know what to do. If you are going for several days, don’t limit yourself to one neighborhood. An independent trip to Istanbul will be more interesting if you see several districts – the city is huge and one district is very different from another. To save time, it’s best to book accommodation in several districts instead of just one.
To see different districts at once in one trip, we decided right away not to spend a lot of time on travel, and booked hotels in different districts in advance. It was much more convenient that way.
Now reading: Public transport in Istanbul: subway, buses, streetcars, ferries – how to pay and what to save on
Which neighborhoods to see in Istanbul, except Sultanahmet
Here are the districts of Istanbul on the map:
Districts of Istanbul on a city map
See on the map: Fatih (Sultanahmet is located here), Beyoglu (Karakey, Taksim) and Besiktas (Dolmabahce Palace, Ortakey Mosque), Uskudar (the largest mosque of Istanbul and near an excellent park with the best view of Istanbul), Kadikey (Moda district) – this is enough for the first introduction to the city.
I should say right away that I am not a fan of mosques: it is interesting to see once, but no more. Maybe for the religious people they mean something, but for me Istanbul has more of an atmosphere of Eastern romance: colorful streets, cozy cafes with great views and of course cats lounging on couches in the cafe or walking the streets.
Streets of Istanbul
We have been to Istanbul many times and in my opinion we should not limit ourselves to look at mosques and palaces. Newcomers coming to Istanbul for a couple of days lose a lot if they only stay in Sultanahmet (Fatih). It’s still a heavily touristy area, you can see impressive mosques there (a must see!), but it’s impossible to see modern Istanbul.
Fatih is the history of Istanbul and its past; one endless bazaar with pushy bidders and people dressed, like in the movies, in ancient Muslim clothes. In addition, it is difficult to buy beer in Sultanahmet, there are no good bars and large supermarkets… Probably, if I had seen only Fatih on my first trip, I would not have gone to Istanbul a second time. In fact, the real Istanbul is not only the past, but also the present. And modern Istanbul is a must-see. In this wonderful city, you have to stroll through the trendy streets, spend time with a cup of tea, take a ferry ride on the Bosphorus. There are modern cafes, spacious streets, great bars, great promenades and parks.
Cafes and bars on the streets of Istanbul, Karakey district
In general, my opinion: a couple of days on Fatih (Sultanahmet) is quite enough. Then you should move to Beyoglu or Besiktas and definitely stroll through the evening streets of Karakey with lots of cafes and bars. See the wonderful Dolmabahce Palace and Ortakoy Mosque, where the characters from the movie The Aztec Sun met.
Kadıköy and Fashion.
I like the Asian part of Istanbul better – it’s more modern. See Kadıköy on the map – there are many beautiful and long parks along the promenade. You can walk around endlessly. There are seals and seagulls all around. Lots of seals and seagulls. The locals like to come here at sunset.
The waterfront in Istanbul
On the Asian side, don’t miss the Moda district in Kadikey. It is considered the cultural district of Istanbul. There are many antique shops, small art galleries and stylish cafes. You can find beautiful graffiti on the houses. And Kadıköy is also a convenient transportation hub: ferries go from here to different parts of Istanbul (you can just take a ride), and a bus to Sabiha Airport (convenient before you fly out).
In the end, to see Istanbul from different angles and to have time for everything, it is better to stop in three areas:
- Fatih – Aya Sofia Mosque, Blue Mosque, … – see what to see in Fatih
- Beyoglu – bars, cafes, Galata Tower, French Street … – see more
- Kadıköy and Fashion – walks along the Sea of Marmara, stylish cafes, antique stores, – read more about Kadıköy and Fashion
How to get there cheaply from the airport
Getting to Istanbul on your own: HavaIST bus from Istanbul’s new airport
Istanbul has three airports (but Ataturk is about to close). It’s easy to get to the city by bus. Check your ticket to see which airport you are arriving at, and then the How to get from the airport to Istanbul guide will help you – described in detail.
Tip Going to Know. If you prefer a transfer, then choose a transfer with a guide – for the price of a cab you get not only a transfer to the hotel, but also the first acquaintance with Istanbul. A Russian-speaking driver-guide will not only meet you and drive you comfortably, but will answer all your questions, as well as share useful tips from a local.
What money to bring with you
ATMs at the airport
If you have money stored on a regular card and you do not know how to exchange currency at the exchange rate, then just take this card with you (for Russians only the MIR card works). And in Istanbul, withdraw money from an ATM in Turkish lira directly from your current account. You can do it immediately at the airport – most Turkish ATMs do not take a commission, such as Ziraat bank. There will only be a fee from your bank.
Experienced travelers save money for a trip in advance in a more stable currency – euros or dollars. It is advantageous to bring cash to Turkey. The Turkish lira is unstable, so you can change currency as needed. In Istanbul, it is easy to find bargain exchangers in tourist locations.
Where is the best place to change cash
Sultanahmet Exchange Office, Istanbul
If you take the bus from the airport, you’ll need Turkish Liras right away. The fare is 2-4 euros per person. As usual, when exchanging cash at the airport, the exchange rate is unfavorable. However, if you change only 10-20 euros, the loss is minimal. Small bills are no problem! The rest of money is more profitable to change in the city. The exchange rate is more favorable if the difference between the purchase and sale of 100 euros/dollars is not more than 30 lira. The most exchange offices with favorable rates are on Kadikey and Fatih (closer to Laleli).
On a side note: Tourists don’t exchange money in Turkish banks. But you can find currency exchange in … jewelry stores.
In Fatih in Sultanahmet district the most profitable exchangers are on the square near Beyazıd mosque (transport junction, the end of the Havaist bus from the airport) and the further into Laleli district the better the exchange rate is.
How to use public transport in Istanbul
Cabs are not always the most convenient means of transportation. There are often traffic jams in Istanbul, so sometimes it is faster to take the subway, streetcar or ferry. In detail, we have already told you about Istanbul transport: how to pay, where to buy a fare card and how to get a 50% refund for the fare.
What to see in Istanbul on your own
Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul
Not only mosques, palaces and parks, but also observation decks with stunning views, and stores with delicious oriental sweets – the most interesting things described in the article what to see in Istanbul in 3 days (added independent sightseeing routes and prices).
Cheap tours in Istanbul in Russian
When there is no time to prepare for your trip on your own, then you can take advantage of excursions. Fortunately in Istanbul, they are quite inexpensive and there are many interesting excursions in Russian. Start with the sightseeing tours – prices from 10 euros, the duration of about 2 hours.
Perhaps the most interesting of the inexpensive sightseeing tours – Secrets of Istanbul (4.5 hours) with a stop for tea and kebab – not only interesting places, which are not even in the guidebooks, but also a lot of curious things about modern Turkey.
See also other tours and prices:
The top 3 places to eat inexpensively in Istanbul
Of course, there are many places in Istanbul where you can eat inexpensively and deliciously. However, from the first trip it can be difficult to adapt to the local establishments: it’s not tasty, it’s expensive, it’s not clear how to order. So start with the chain establishments, where you can eat well and inexpensively in Istanbul. You will find them in all parts of the city. Here are three of the most popular ones.
Simit Sarayı – tea and pastries
Simit Sarayı chain in Istanbul
When you get tired of wandering around the city, the Simit Sarayı chain of cafes helps you out. Here you can relax in the easy chairs, have a cup of tea with a dessert or a bun of your choice.
- Prices: tea for 0.5 euro, stake stake (with cheese, potatoes or meat) for 0.6 euro, slice of cake for 1.5 euro.
Tavuk Dünyası – chicken and meat dishes
Tavuk Dünyası is in almost every shopping mall. “Tavuk means “chicken” in Turkish. But in addition to chicken dishes, there are also meat dishes. In addition, I liked the simple and easy chicken soups. Ordering is easy: just point your finger at the picture on the menu and that’s it! You can see the menu in advance on the website. Payment is after the meal, at the cash register.
- Prices: about 3 euros for a large plate. Soup: 1 euro each.
Look for signs that have the word lokantasi. These places are very similar to the compact Soviet canteens: there are trays with different food and a waiter, who at your request will put everything you choose. There are also plates of ready-made salads and drinks (water, tea, lemonade, ayran).
Right from the street you can see what the food is like in this canteen – “locantasi”, Istanbul, Turkey.
You walk up to the counter, point your finger at a dish, they serve it to you, and at the end of it you pay at the cash register. It’s cheap, but there are also expensive lokantasi. You can always see the prices beforehand – at the entrance look at the menu: if almost all dishes up to 10 liras, it will be inexpensive. Expensive lokantasi seldom display the menu at the entrance.
There are many such places all over the city. It’s hard to recommend anything in particular, as everyone’s tastes are different. Come and see – all the food is in full view, so it’s easy to choose.
- Prices: on average for a salad, potatoes with a cutlet, a drink – about 3 euros for everything.
Must-do’s in Istanbul
A night out at a cafe in Istanbul
A self-guided trip to Istanbul in 2022 will be more impressive if:
- Drinking fresh pomegranate juice every day.
- Watching fishermen on the waterfront or on the bridge.
- Take a ride on the old red streetcar along Istiklal Street.
- Find a rooftop bar, sit for a beer/wine/tea and watch the boats go by on the Bosphorus.
- Stay in a hotel with a view of the Bosphorus and admire the view from your room.
What else can I add?
☀ By the way, if you want to swim in the sea, the flight to Antalya from Istanbul is very cheap – 15-20 euros. The flight takes just over 1 hour. Until mid-October it’s usually comfortable to swim. We have already written more about how to go to Turkey on your own – only the flight will be from Istanbul.
Cruise on the Bosphorus – how to buy cheaper
The Bosphorus Strait separates the Asian part of Istanbul from the European part, and also connects the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea. Evening boat rides on the Bosphorus are very popular: from the Marmara Sea to the Black Sea and back, with a transfer from the hotel. With dinner and Turkish dancing. Locally or in hotels, such excursions cost about 50 euros. But you can buy online from 30 euros per person. See here:
If you are more than 5 people, it is more profitable to book an individual yacht tour for 150 euros (for a company of up to 12 people).
The cheapest way to ride the Bosphorus is by yourself on the ferries. The price is only 0.4 euros. Read more on our instagram:
How to go to Istanbul without a tour operator
Istanbul is called the cultural capital and the heart of Turkey . It captivates with architecture, beautiful mosques, colorful bazaars, aromas, urban contrasts and soulfulness. We’ve been to Istanbul several times. And always glad to come back again. Let’s tell you what you need to know before you go to Istanbul on your own without a trip.
Where to stay, where to go, how to rest in Turkey without a tour operator? We describe in detail as much as possible, so even beginners are not confused.
Where to look for tickets
If you are going to Turkey for the first time without a trip, or just beginning to master independent travel, you should get acquainted with one of the services-aggregators of airline tickets. They are Aviasails. Skyscanner, Momondo, and others. Find tickets to Istanbul from your city or a connecting flight. If you are not tied to a specific date, look for flights for the entire month to choose the lowest price. You can buy tickets online. Read the luggage information carefully.
|Date of departure||Return date||Transfers||Airline||Find tickets|
|2 December 2022||12 December 2022||Direct flight||Tickets from 202020|
|11 June 2023||27 June 2023||1 stop||Tickets from 14,920|
Insurance and COVID-19 test
Russians can stay in Turkey without visa for 60 consecutive days (but not more than 90 days within six months). You can fly to Istanbul without insurance. We know from experience that it is not checked at the border. But now is a turbulent time, so even we, experienced travelers, insured (always make a policy online at the site Cherehapa, it is very easy).
In 2021, a coronovirus test is required when entering Turkey (for now the rule is valid until March 21, but can be extended). The test can be taken at Istanbul airport: cheaper than in any other country (15 euros per person). Before returning to Russia, we advise you to get tested for coronavirus in Turkey. Arrive at the airport four hours before your flight. When you return home, you will not have to run to the medical labs or take an expensive test in a fee-paying clinic.
UPD: Check the validity of the Turkish test on the state services or by calling your local RPN before you travel!
Transportation in Istanbul
Almost all flights from Russia to Istanbul arrive at the new İstanbul Havalimanı International Airport. If you want to get to the city quickly, choose a cab or shuttle service. There are three types of cabs – yellow (budget), blue (comfort) and black (luxury). There are more details on the website in the article about cabs. We usually book a transfer: it is profitable and reliable. The lowest price, in our experience, is often at GetTransfer , although the most reliable in the Kiwi-taxi (to order on our website)
When we travel with friends, we always rent a car (best to take here).
The second way to get to Istanbul from the airport – by Havaist buses. The schedule and prices can be found on the official website. The bus station is on the 1st level of the air harbor.
The cheapest way to go from the airport is by municipal bus. The ticket can be paid by bank card. But if you plan to travel frequently around Istanbul by public transport, buy an Istanbulkart pass at the airport right away. The card costs 6 lira (current price for 2020). Later it can be recharged at the terminals at the bus stops.
Important: in 2021 tourists require an HES-code for public transportation, shopping malls and some other public places. Read here how to get it
Where to stay
Many people feel uneasy when they first open a map of Istanbul’s 39 districts. One wants to postpone the trip, just to avoid sorting out the mess. We’ve lived in many different neighborhoods in Istanbul. We recommend 3 of our favorites:
- Fatih . There are two options: to settle in the Sultanahmet neighborhood or outside of it. The first is for those who are willing to put up with the crowds of tourists. The main attractions of Istanbul can be reached on foot. We prefer the second option. The Fatih neighborhood outside of Sultanahmet is much quieter. There are stores and inexpensive eateries all around. For example, we loved living next to the Süleymaniye mosque.
- Beyoglu . A touristy but slightly less lively area. It has Taksim Square, an important landmark and transportation hub of the city. We recommend you to stay in any hotel close to the Galata Tower and away from Istiklal Street. It is beautiful and not too noisy.
- Kadıköy . A relatively quiet neighborhood on the Asian side, where you can find hotels to suit every need. It is a lively neighborhood in the evenings and quiet at night. There is excellent transport links around Kadikoy, making it easy to get to all the major attractions around Istanbul.
How to choose a hotel
Don’t look for all-inclusive in Istanbul – this is not the Turkey where you should look for European cuisine. We always choose a hotel with breakfast. Go to “Bucking” , put filters on the area, price and food. Most often in Turkey, payment is made upon check-in, but sometimes there are exceptions. We advise to read reviews, so as not to run into a bad breakfast. The last hotel, where we stayed ourselves, is called The Queen Hotel. We liked it for its location and delicious breakfasts. Minus – it will not be very comfortable to live in for a long time, the rooms are not too big. But inexpensive.
Look for cheap hotels in the city center:
|Hotel||Stellar||Discount||Price before discount||Select dates|
|Divani Ali Hotel||★★★★||-31%||7 186 4 994||View hotel|
|Bizim Hotel||★★★||-47%||7 186 3 837||View hotel|
|Balin Boutique Hotel||★★★★||-51%||11 205 5 481||View hotel|
|Alpinn Hotel Istanbul||★★★★||-9%||36 113 32 825||View hotel|
|Hotel New House||★★★||-15%||4 750 4 019||View hotel|
|The Hotel Beyaz Saray & Spa||★★★★||-42%||13 885 7 978||View hotel|
|Victory Hotel & Spa Istanbul||★★★★||-46%||17 417 9 318||View hotel|
|Radisson President Beyazit Istanbul||★★★★||-9%||11 145 10 231||View hotel|
|Hotel Linda||★★★||-60%||8 952 3 593||View hotel|
|Solis Hotel||★★★||-46%||8 891 4 750||View hotel|
|Hotel Niles Istanbul||★★★★||-40%||10 475 6 334||View hotel|
|Hotel Nezih Istanbul||★★||-38%||77 281 47 928||View hotel|
|Fer Hotel||★★★★||-27%||25 273 18 331||View hotel|
|Deluxe Newport Hotel||★★★||-26%||4 141 3 045||View hotel|
|Sembol Hotel||★★★||-57%||12 606 5 420||View hotel|
|Grand Beyazit Hotel||★★★★||-17%||20 523 17 113||View hotel|
|Aprilis Hotel||★★★★||-37%||14 616 9 257||View hotel|
|Enderun Hotel Istanbul||★★★★||-40%||12 058 7 186||View hotel|
|Leyenda Hotel||★★★★||-10%||5 603 5 055||View hotel|
|Küpeli Hotel||★★★||-49%||11 145 5 725||View hotel|
Let’s give 5 short tips that came from experience:
- There are Bim, A101, Sok, Migros stores in almost every neighborhood. The assortment in them is about the same, the prices too. Buy tea/coffee, sugar, something for tea, snacks, ready meals. Cheeses and meat delicacies are better to buy at the Egyptian Bazaar.
- If you need cash, we advise to go not to the exchange office, but to Migros store. Buy any chocolate bar and pay in dollars or euros. Get your change in liras. This advice applies to resort cities, it doesn’t always work in Istanbul.
- You can’t drink tap water in Istanbul. Buy it in stores. Even if you live in a hotel, it’s better to buy a 5-liter canister if you want to heat the kettle.
- Pharmacies are everywhere, but not all are open 24 hours a day. In tourist areas speak English and often even Russian. It is better to write down the active ingredient, not the name of the drug. Give it to the pharmacist, he will help.
- Download the Maps.me app and download a map of Istanbul. That way you can use it without a connection to the Net. Phone and internet roaming is expensive. You can buy a local SIM card (read about communications in Turkey). Offline cards can help you save money.
Where to eat
In Istanbul with this will not be a problem. We are often asked, “Is it true that food in Turkey is really cheap?” Yes, it is. Of course, there are expensive restaurants in Istanbul. But it’s much more interesting to eat in the classic eateries. Do not be afraid of shawarma for 60 rubles – it’s definitely not made of dog meat. In Istanbul you can safely eat at any snackbar around the corner: it will be cheap, tasty, and atmospheric. We never even remembered the names of the restaurants, because we kept going to new ones. And never once did not go wrong.
Where to look for excursions
In resort Turkey, you could take tours from guides or on the beach. This is not the case in Istanbul. Yes, there are always tour bureaus in the city center. But they are expensive and not always of high quality. We advise to look at Russian-speaking tours in Istanbul on the sites “Tripster” or “Sputnik 8”. The choice of tours is about the same, prices too – choose any service.
Also, if you are a bit savvy in English – go to the information center of tourism, they will always help with a choice and offer tours, including in Russian. There you can also get a free city map.
How to see everything
The first thing you should do is take a sightseeing tour. Without it, getting to know Istanbul will be incomplete. If you have a few days, take the BigBus. Then go for a walk in the Sultanahmet district. There are the Mosque Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque and other sights. Minimum program in Istanbul:
- Galata Tower + observation deck;
- Topkapi Palace (better with a tour, especially if you watched the series “The Magnificent Century”);
- A boat ride on the Bosphorus ;
- A cable car and a cup of coffee on Pierre Loti Hill overlooking the Golden Horn ;
- Basilica cistern ;
- Istiklal Street with a red streetcar;
- Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Bazaar;
- Sultanahmet Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque);
- The observation deck of the Sapphire skyscraper in Istanbul;
- Galata Bridge and Eminenu Square .
To Istanbul without a trip. When to go
Istanbul is good in its own way at any time of year:
- Winter . New Year’s Eve is celebrated beautifully in Istanbul. Holiday parties on the ships that ply the Bosphorus are especially popular. In winter, winds often blow in Istanbul. In December and January it sometimes snows. On average, the temperature stays between 8 and 10 degrees above zero.
- Spring In March Istanbul comes alive from the winter, but it is still chilly outdoors – the daytime temperature is around 12-15 degrees. In May, though, the city is in full bloom and the sun is shining every day.
- Summer . In the resorts of Turkey, tourists are exhausted from the heat, but in Istanbul, even in hot August, there is a refreshing breeze. The average temperature is 25 degrees, but there are deviations. If it gets unbearably hot, you can go to the beaches in the countryside for a swim.
- Autumn . September and October in Istanbul are ideal for leisurely sightseeing. It is neither cold nor hot, sunny and dry. By November it’s getting colder, but it’s still comfortable to walk around.
We have no doubt that Istanbul will stay in your heart forever! You can return to it an endless number of times and always discover something new.
Based on an article from Sasha Konovalova’s Zen Channel, hyperactive link below.