Is Turkey or Istanbul on your bucketlist? Or are you planning, at this very moment to visit Turkey? If either one is true...this post is especially for you!

Here's my tips on visiting Istanbul on a budget and a few tidbits about our trip. 

Firstly, it helps to know exactly where in the world Turkey actually is. Its location is by far one of its unique characteristics. It borders between Europe and Asia, and has both cultural and historical connections to the ancient Greek, the Persians, the Romans, Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires. Their History is truly fascinating!

Turkey has many suburbs and cities. Ankara is the capital. Istanbul which we visited, is the largest city in Turkey and is the center of  its commerce, cultural diversity and history.

Just a heads up, if you didn't already  know....majority of the people in Turkey are fluent in Turkish and very few are well versed in English...but trust me, you will be ok!

Tip 1: Pack light! Yes you heard me... There are lots of quality clothes at amazing prices in Turkey especially at Taksim Square from LC Waikiki, and outside Hazrath Eyup Ansari Mosque alleys. Modest and modern wear for both men and women... You can buy kids clothing at the malls. I always carry an extra empty suitcase and pack light. Place your full suitcase into the empty one and check your weights on a home or travel scale. Make sure you pack flat shoes only, because there is alot of walking, heels will also damage on the cobbled paved roads.

Tip 2: Shop owners, security personnel, and waiters are generally good with English, which is important to bare in mind when you need help finding a place, things, or just want to eat. Taxis, I'll get to later in this post.

Turkey has many international and domestic airports. If you are going to Istanbul, you will most probably go to the Istanbul Ataturk Airport. Security at the airport is tight but you will have no hassles when you arrive. Just claim your baggage and exit the international terminal. We changed some of our currency at the atm's close to baggage claim, before we exited.

When we reached Ataturk airport 

There are usually about 4 atm's in a row and are not really busy, depending on the time you arrive. Bank charges for converting depends on your bank, I paid around R56(South African rands) for my single transaction withdrawing 300 Turkish Liras (tl) (or just Over 900 South African rands) with Standard Bank...still a bit steep! 

Tip 3: If your card is approved for international purchases, it's better to swipe your card than withdraw. I checked my account after swiping, and there were no extra charges. Save on those bank charges. I didn't contact my bank, I just used my card for small purchases and it worked fine.

Some ATM's at our hotel  

Tip 4: This should probably be tip 1...change as much of your currency budgeted for spending as possible in your country, rather than withdrawing,which we did, as it was alot cheaper. You will need cash for your airport shuttle, taxis, Grand Bazaar purchases etc ( though a lot of them take cards). Be sure to shop around and find out who can give you Liras at a better rate. Family members and friends are a bonus, they won't charge you commission(;we wern't so lucky).

Grand Bazaar

A store in Grand Bazaar

Just outside Grand Bazaar

We only used tl, and not euros or dollars, there wasn't any need. When you leave Turkey the shops in the Turkish airport at the international terminals sell in euros and dollars. You will probably need it then, if you plan to make any more purchases. International brands are slightly cheaper at the airport but Turkish souvenirs are better bought at Grand Bazaar or outside Grand Bazaar (outside is cheaper than inside, but be sure to find out).

Tip 5: Organise airport shuttle with your hotel from your country. Private Shuttles will cost you a lot, so rather ask if they can organise a yellow taxi or choose one of the airport shuttle businesses, outside the international terminal on exiting the airport. We took a private shuttle from one of the airport shuttle businesses when we arrived. It was convenient and quick. They charged around 140tl. We stayed at Anthills Residence, in Fraser's place which was about 25mins out. Our driver demanded a tip in addition to the fee paid. So best keep about 5-20 liras on hand for tips.

Tip 6: Be sure to double check your hotel check in times. You want to make sure you get your rooms immediately on arrival.

We arrived around 6am with Turkish Airlines on a direct flight of 9,5hours. Our rooms were understandably not ready, so we left our bags in the care of the hotel. We were given a tag to claim it back, and took what we needed as we headed for breakfast with the hotel and then to Grand Bazaar. 

The hotels location was ok, safe with a few shops around, yet convenient as we had a Carrefour store just down stairs.

We loved our stay at Frasers Anthill!  The apartment we stayed in was 40 floors up and the view was Breathtaking!
It was neat, spacious, cleaned everyday, stocked with plenty of towels, had a washing machine with dryer and a dishwasher, stove, oven and micro in the kitchen. It was the best of self catering and a hotel.

Tip 7: Keep hotel soaps and lotions... they are often around 40-60 dollars. Make sure they are replaced everyday (the cleaners took ours... Lol) and you could go home with amazing skincare that you already paid for. I absolutely loved the Malin+Goetz vitamin b5 moisturiser the hotel gave us and the Thomas Roth cleansing bars, it was perfect for the cold Istanbul weather.

Tip 8: I found the water hard in Turkey, your skin dries easily. Your skin can also burn easily, so you should ensure you have a good body and sun protection face moisturiser or Lotion. I love Bioderma spf50 sold at Dischem.

Tip 9: Drink bottled water. We never drank tap water unless we boiled it in the kettle first. Fraser's hotel gave us at least 4 bottles a day, which we took with us and was sufficient to carry around on our tours. We also bought at restaurants or as needed.

Tip 10: Immediately check with the hotel if they offer any complimentary shuttle service to popular tourist points. They will usually have a bus which picks up at particular times and various drop off points.

Our first tour was with the hotel shuttle which dropped us close to the infamous Grand Bazaar. A real feast for the eyes and Turkish delights in all flavours, even the fussiest would enjoy. My absolute favourite Turkish delight was the blackberry with creamed nougat and pistachios, sold at the Topkapi Museum shop. It costs more at the museum but well worth it, you wouldn't want to share or waste it! Lol... and I don't even like blackberry.

Tip 11: when using trams, you will need to get a card from one of the tram stations located at the main tram stops. You feed the machine your liras and it loads the cash onto a card which is created for you. It costs around 3 liras per person to use the tram. You only need one card which you can swipe multiple times depending on how much you loaded on the card, and how many people you would like to swipe for. You can then continue to ride the tram for as long as you wish. If you need to switch trams, you swipe again.

Tip 12: learn the tram routes to travel well... Grab a brochure from tourist operators at museums and surrounding shops, they should include a map of the tram stations at the back. There are different colored trams which stop at different areas, and stations where you can switch trams to go the route of that specific colored tram.

If you are imagining a closed station... It's not like that at all. It's all in the open and above ground level. Cars on the road even cross over tram railways when its safe. Please be safe when crossing the tram railways, especially with kids.

Tip 13: Trams get packed really quick... It's  a squeeze, so unless you ok with the public being that close, don't use the trams. Use taxis instead. We mostly used the taxis, but it's alot more expensive, so sticking to trams is a better option financially.

Tip 14: Keep your belongings safe and donot keep your wallet in your pocket when going on trams. There are pickpocket incidents. Rather keep it in a secure bag, preferably backpack and hold and strap it to the front, rather than behind you.

Tip 15: when traveling with Taxis and I cannot stress this enough... Always check your liras in front of both the taxi driver and a family member, confirming out loud the number of liras you are giving him. My husband handed the taxi driver 2 fifty lira notes and he handed one back saying, that my husband gave him 5liras...naturally we thought we could have made a mistake. You don't focus when you getting off a taxi with sleeping kids. So my husband took the 5liras and gave him another 50liras...The taxi driver scored 50+50+50-5= 145liras for a 100 liras trip... Ofcourse second time around they tried it again and the taxi driver sped off before we could give him a mouthful. Other than that, Turkey is really relatively safe! Lol...

Taking a walk up the road from the hotel

It's chilly in the morning...he definitely agrees.
The cutie who seems to belong to everyone.

A common sight in Turkey are stray dogs and cats, but the public takes it upon themselves to leave food for them on the sidewalks. 

Tip 16: keep your Google maps or GPS on while in the taxi they often drive in circles to get more out of the taxi meter... Check the traffic as they love to say "too much traffic" . There is alot of traffic between work start and end times on weekdays though, so maybe avoid those times when taking a taxi.

Currently, it's still a little chilly and you should carry your jackets.. In April they are going into Spring but the locals still sport windbreakers, puffers or bomber jackets with fur trimming.

Tip 17: Choosing a good place to eat can be  a toss up if you are walking outside Sultan Ahmet Mosque, as the roadsides have dozens of eateries. I judged it by the menu, I looked at the state of the menu, generally neater menus, means the eatery cares about cleanliness and keeping their restaurant maintained. I couple that with prices and portion size, as well as variety which is important if you are travelling in a big group. You will find alot of the restaurants sell the same things, this is where you compare prices, go for affordable, not cheap or too high. You might be tempted to go where its busy, believing it to be popular because it's good... But sometimes the bus crowds all go to the same place, and they might just be chancing it too.

This dish is called Ali Nazik, it was my absolute favourite and I enjoyed it at Munhashir at Taksim Square on Istikhlal Street. Deliciously marinated beef with a tomato base served with yoghurt and Naan. They have a beautiful garden restaurant upstairs. From the outside though, it looks very small.

Tip 18: When visiting historical landmarks, buy combo tickets only if you are interested in visiting all places included, else rather pay for access to the individual places. It will cost less. There is no need to pre-book, unless you are going with a holiday/tour operator who is including tickets in your package. We preferred buying them while there, because you can spend alot of time in traffic and not get to visit all the places you'd like to as planned.

Tip 19: If you plan to go on Boat trips, don't place high expectations on food to be served, there usually isn't much. Rather eat an hour or two before and carry snacks. Definitely dress comfortably.

Hope I didn't lose you guys... But this is pretty much the kind of info I would have loved to have known before going there. Turkey is a beautiful country but like any other, you also need to know how to get around and be wise on how you go about things...

I wish you the very best for your trip or bucketlist trip.

Check out for my next post on our travel diary and the spots we visited in Istanbul and whether they were a hit or a miss for us and why...


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