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Travel Guide Budget and Itinerary for Istanbul

Istanbul has been on my bucket list for quite some time. I finally got the chance to visit this city. It met all my expectations. It was a chaotic (in a good way), vibrant and beautiful city with a mix of old and new. It still has its flaws, but that's true for all places.

Istanbul The Wandering Juan

I had a blast exploring Istanbul, this guide can help you plan your trip.

Travel Guide Budget and Itinerary for Istanbul

Istanbul is a centuries old city that has undergone great change throughout its lifetime. It's a bustling and booming city with plenty to do and see. You can see vestiges of its varied past through the mosques, bazaars, random ruins and museums. It's a huge city with various neighborhoods that will take time to explore and discover. I spent more than a week here and it was still not enough. I was only able to see the highlights. 

Getting a Visa

Getting a Turkish tourist visa is straightforward. You can send in your application online and book an appointment for the interview. I got both a sticker visa and e-visa during my trip to Europe.

Here's a detailed guide: how to get a Turkey tourist visa for Filipinos

Things to Do and Places to See

Istanbul has plenty of historic and cultural attractions that will keep you busy for days. There are many monuments, museums, mosques and all sorts of attractions that can easily fill your itinerary. Here are some of the places to see and things to do when you are making a budget and itinerary for Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia The Wandering Juan

Hagia Sophia The Wandering Juan

The Hagia Sophia or Aya Sofya was originally a church that Emperor Justinian had built. However, after the Ottomans took Constantinople, it was converted into a mosque. The mosque is full of history, you'll see the different influences on the frescoes and interior of the Hagia Sophia. This isn't just a museum, people also come here to pray as it is a working mosque. 

How to go: The nearest tram station is Sultanahment. From there, you could easily walk to the Hagia Sophia.

Entrance: Free

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace The Wandering Juan

The Ottoman Empire's sultans lived in and ruled from the Topkapi Palace. Mehmet the Conqueror had the palace built back in the 15th century. This huge complex showcases the affluence of the Ottoman Empire. You'll see beautiful Islamic art, elaborate rooms, tilework, courtyards and views of the city. The palace is huge and may take 2-4 hours to explore but that depends on your pace. The harem is a separate museum and ticket.

How to go: The nearest tram station is Gulhane. The palace is also within walking distance from Hagia Sophia.

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque The Wandering Juan

The Blue Mosque was constructed sometime in the 1600s. The mosque is famous for its colorful and intricate Iznik tiles. 

How to go: The closest tram station is Sultanahmet. The Blue Mosque is within walking distance from Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia. You could plan to visit all three in one full day.

Grand Bazaar

budget and itinerary for Istanbul

Your trip to Istanbul would be incomplete without visiting the bazaars. One of the most famous ones is the Grand Bazaar. It is one of the oldest in the country. You can find all sorts of things here from sweets to teacups to anything you might need. 

How to go: The nearest tram stop is Beyazit. You can walk to the bazaar from here. There are signs pointing you towards one of the entrances.

Suleymaniye Mosque

budget and itinerary for Istanbul

Suleymaniye Mosque The Wandering Juan

You won't run out of beautiful mosques to see in Istanbul, one of them is the Suleymaniye Mosque. This mosque was constructed for Suleyman the Magnificent. Its beautiful interior will make you linger a little longer.

How to go: The nearest subway station is Vezneciler. The mosque is within walking distance from the station.

Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar The Wandering Juan

The Spice Bazaar draws huge crowds of both locals and tourists. Buy Turkish delight, spices, some nuts, dried fruits and others while you're here. 

How to go: The nearest tram stop is Eminonu. You can walk to the bazaar from the station, it's not far. 

Fatih Mosque

Fatih Mosque The Wandering Juan

Fatih Mosque The Wandering Juan

Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror had this stunning mosque built. During his time, the Ottomans were able to take Constantinople and end the rule of the Byzantines. The mosque underwent a reconstruction because of the damage inflicted by an earthquake in the 18th century. Like many of the grand mosques in the city built by sultans, the exterior and interior of Fatih Mosque is, simply put, beautiful. Many locals and visitors come here to pray.

How to go: Alight at either Emniyet-Fatih or Vezneciler subway station. Either station is still quite far from the mosque but is within walking distance.

Entrance fee: Free

Galata Tower

Galata Tower The Wandering Juan

The Galata Tower stands 52m high and is one of the most recognizable structures in Istanbul's cityscape. The tower has an observation deck and restaurant that provides visitors with overlooking views of the city. The walkway along the Galata Bridge provides you with great views of the city. You can also take pictures from either Eminonu or Karakoy.

How to go: The nearest subway station is Sishane

Museum of Innocence

budget and itinerary for Istanbul

budget and itinerary for Istanbul

This museum was of particular interest to me because one of my favorite writers is Orhan Pamuk. This musem provides readers of the book a physical representation of the events that took place within its pages. The exhibit provides you with visuals about the characters. 

How to go: The museum is located in a narrow walkway that is quite far but still within walking distance from the tram stops of Galatasaray or Odakule.

Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace The Wandering Juan

Sultan Abdülmecid I had this palace built in the 1850s. The sultans of that time used Dolmahbace as their place of residence. It is different to Topkapi Palace, after seeing the exterior and exploring the rooms, one could clearly see the European influence when the architects designed Dolmahbace. There's a separate ticket for the Harem and the main palace. 

How to go: You can take the tram and alight at Kabatas station. The palace is within walking distance from the stop.


budget and itinerary for Istanbul

Taksim is one of the most famous parts of Istanbul. This area is full of food kiosks, fast food chains, restaurants, dessert places, shops, major outlet stores, and hotels. You can also find beautiful architecture when you explore the commercial district and the nearby residential area. 

How to go: The nearest sbuway station is Taksim.


budget and itinerary for Istanbul

budget and itinerary for Istanbul

Balat is an interesting and colorful neighborhood with plenty of quaint shops, roadside cafes and restaurants. The colorful buildings are picture perfect. I liked walking along the district's narrow streets. Balat is a good place to hang out in after visiting some of the city's main attractions.

How to go: You can alight at the Balat or Fener tram stations and just walk to the neighborhood. 


budget and itinerary for Istanbul

budget and itinerary for Istanbul

Istanbul is a foodie destination. You can eat all sorts of Turkish food such as the usuals kebaps, doners, baklava, Turkish delight, kunefe and other regional specific dishes. You can also find all sorts of cuisine during your stay. I have a sweet tooth, so I think I ate one too many baklavas and Turkish delights.

Other places you might want to visit include:

  • Istanbul Archaeology Museum
  • Hippodrome
  • Basilica Cister
  • Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
  • Rüstem Paşa Mosque
  • Yedikule Fortress


It's possible to explore Istanbul on your own, but you might want to consider these hassle-free tours so you don't have to plan your own day:

  • Bosphorous Cruise: This tour will take you on a cruise of the Bosphorous. You'll get to see the beautiful cityscape of Istanbul while relaxing on a boat.
  • Bosphorous Strait Afternoon Cruise: This is a longer half-day cruise that includes some snacks. Get to see some of the city's highlights while you relax and unwind.
  • Istanbul Classics Tour: See some of the highlights of the city such as the Grand Bazaar and Hagia Sophia. Your guide will provide you with a background of your destinations.
  • Byzantine and Ottoman Relics Full Day Tour: This full day tour takes you to some of the city's main attractions such as the Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar, and Blue Mosque. Your guide will provide information about the history of the Byzantine Empire. You'll also have lunch at a Turkish restaurant.
  • Bosphorous Strait Dinner Cruise: This dinner cruise includes food, drinks, dances and music. Enjoy the city bathed in light at night and get to see some of Istanbul's highlights while relaxing and unwinding on a boat.

Day Trips

If you have time to spare, you can also doa  couple of day trips when planning your budget and itinerary for Istanbul. There are regular buses that go to and from the cities I'll mention below. However, you have to start early so that you won't be arriving too late.


Edirne The Wandering Juan

Edirne The Wandering Juan

Edirne or formerly Adrianople is a city worth visiting if you have a day to spare while in Istanbul. A day isn't enough to really know Edirne, but it's enough to see the highlights. One of the main draws of the city is the UNESCO-listed Selimiye Mosque. It's currently under construction at the time of this writing, but you could catch a glimpse of the beautiful interior. The mosque dates back to the 1570s. The town's center is also a good place to explore.

Link to post: day trip to Edirne

How to go: There are direct buses to Edirne from Istanbul. Fare is around 400 lira per way. 


Bursa The Wandering Juan

Cumalikzik The Wandering Juan

Bursa is a historic city that you might want to visit from Istanbul. There are some UNESCO heritage sites, if you are interested in seeing those and the famous Mt. Uludag. The city also has historic and cultural sites you might want to include in your itinerary. Cumalikizik is a UNESCO-listed destination and is a centuries old village just outside of the city center. 

How to go
: There are direct buses from Istanbul to Bursa. Fare is around 250 lira one way.

*You can check schedules here: https://www.metroturizm.com.tr/en/

*You can also book bus tickets through www.flixbus.com.

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Getting around Istanbul

Istanbul is a huge city, I spent more than a week here and have only scratched the surface. It's relatively easy to get around the city because of its extensive public transportation network. There are buses, metro lines, trams, dolmus (mini vans) and ferries that can take you to different parts of the bustling metropolis. I use the metro and tram the most. I don't mind walking a bit to reach my destination, because for me it's easier and less confusing to take the tram and metro than the bus. Get an Istanbul card because you can use it for most modes of transportation within the city. It costs around 50 lira from kiosks. You can just top it up at machines near the stations.

You can view a map of the metro lines here: https://www.metro.istanbul/en/

Where to Stay in Istanbul

You have plenty of accommodation options when you plan your budget and itinerary for Istanbul. I stayed somewhere in Taksim and Sultanahmet during my trip. Sultanahment is a touristy area so restaurants and shops tend to be more expensive in this part of the city. 


Agora Guesthouse: Rates and Availability

Antique Hostel: Rates and Availability

Hotel Tulip House: Rates and Availability

Stay Inn Taksim Hostel: Rates and Availability

Taksim Wooden House Hostel: Rates and Availability

Mid Price

Villa Pera Suite Hotel: Rates and Availability

Paris Garden Hotel Istanbul: Rates and Availability

Atlantis Royal Hotel: Rates and Availability

Zem Hotel: Rates and Availability

Browse for more accommodation options in Agoda:

How to Get to Istanbul

By Air

Istanbul has two airports that most people come and go in, it's Istanbul Airport (IST) and Sabiha Airport (SAW). IST is the main airport and is a hub for many international carriers. It's bigger and provides more options when it comes to food, shopping and accommodation. SAW is smaller and mostly functional, it's easier to get in and out of this airport. Pegasus (a low-cost airline) uses SAW for most of its flights. SAW is also located in the Anatolian (Asian) side of the city. However, both airports are far from the city center. Traveling to either one can take around an hour or so (or less) depending on traffic and the location of your accommodation. 

For me, the most convenient way to get out of SAW and IST is by taking the Havaist bus. The bus from IST to Aksaray is around 40+ lira. The bus from SAW to Taksim costs around 40+ lira. The prices for the bus vary slightly depending on where you will go from either airport. You also have the option to book a private transfer through your accommodation. This options costs around 20-25 Euros per vehicle. 

You can also arrange a private transfer. Book here: Istanbul airport transfer

By Land

There are many bus companies that connect Istanbul to various cities and towns around the country. Renting a car and driving on your own is also an option. Many locals travel by bus because it is affordable and comfortable. There are limited trains that take passengers to selected cities in Turkey. I haven't tried taking the train yet because it's full for several days. You might have to purchase tickets way in advance. It's easy to book a bus ticket at bus company kiosks and agencies in various parts of the city or you can show up at one of the main bus stations to purchase a ticket. It's possible to get a ticket for your onward destination on the day you leave, but there's still a chance you might not be able to buy a ticket so plan accordingly. 

You can browse schedules here: metroturizm.com.tr

Budget for Istanbul

budget and itinerary for Istanbul

A budget of roughly 1200 lira a day covers 1 paid attraction a day and mostly free places to visit, a bed in a hostel dorm, budget meals, and use of public transportation. 

I went in and out of Istanbul during my trip around Turkey and to Europe. The city is HUGE and has plenty of things to do and see outside of the highlights. It's a crazy, beautiful metropolis teeming with culture and history. 

I got to see the highlights and see some of the city's different neighborhoods. I went to Fatih, Sultanahmet, Taksim, Beyoglu, Balat, Galata, and some other places I don't precisely remember. Istanbul is such a big, sprawling metropolis. I was also working at some point in the morning, so that consumes time I could've spent exploring the city.

***Istanbul was part of a longer trip around Turkey.

You might also want to read my other posts about Turkey:

Itinerary for Istanbul

Istanbul is a huge city with plenty to do. Even if you're not visiting attractions, you can enjoy walking around the city's different districts. Try the many restaurants, cafes, dessert spots, and bars in the city. Here's a sample itinerary for your upcoming trip to Istanbul.

*This assumes four full days at least.

Day 1

Hagia Sophia

Topkapi Palace

Blue Mosque


Day 2

Suleymaniye Mosque

Grand Bazaar 

Spice Bazaar

Rustem Pasa Mosque

Day 3

Fatih Mosque

Explore Balat

Day 4

Dolmabahce Palace

Taksim Square

Istiklal Caddesi

Galata Tower and Street


This is just a sample itinerary. You can add or remove places depending on your interests. The city has plenty of museums, if you're into that. There are also plenty of interesting spots in the city to just get lost in and soak in the history, culture and chaos (in a good way). The city itself is picturesque with its distinct architecture. You can visit just a few mosques because once you see the best and biggest ones, they'll start to look similar. There are still places in the city I have yet to explore such as Uskudar and Kadikoy. I have only scratched the surface of this beautiful city. Four days really isn't enough, but it does give you enough time to see the highlights and get a general feel of Istanbul.

1 comment:

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