Istanbul is an eternally exotic destination that has lured travellers and wanderers for centuries, a timeless and mysterious destination that straddles Europe and Asia and continues to draw travellers and backpackers today.
Despite its enduring popularity with tourists, what surprises many visitors to Istanbul is the price of so many things, especially those sticking to the main tourist sites like Topkapi palace. Unfortunately there is just no getting around the fact that Turkey in general is a relatively expensive country to travel through, and the prices just keep creping up all the time. There are however a few ways in which budget conscious travellers can save money with these great free attractions.
The Florence Nightingale Museum.
This attraction takes a little forethought, organisation and planning, as you have to apply for permission to enter 48 hours in advance by sending your details and a copy of your passport to the Selimiye military barracks in Uskudar where the museum is located, but it is more than worth it!
As a nurse myself I couldn’t pass up the chance to see where such a seminal member of my profession operated from, but for anyone else the museum is a fascinating look into the life of an extraordinary woman and a snapshot of a fascination period of history.
Take a step into a world far removed from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul – and you would even be forgiven for thinking you had stepped out of Turkey entirely – in this oasis of colour and greenery in Besiktas with great views of the Bosporus. The park is perfect for a stroll, people watching or even a picnic. It even has free outdoor fitness areas that are open to the public.
Every Sunday sees this quaint seaside spot explode into a hub of activity as the huge open air market comes to life. Provided you don’t succumb to buying, window shopping around the fascinating market stalls is completely free and it is a lot of fun watching locals ply their wares in the labyrinthine streets, especially as you can also watch a variety of artisans practicing their trades too, from local handicrafts to painters knocking out a quick portrait. You can even reward yourself with some of the best stret food in Istanbul in the food market with great views of the Bosporus bridge (hint, look directly up and you’ll see it!)
Explore the Princes’ Islands.
A cheap ferry ride will get you over to the princes islands where you can spend days exploring this cultural time capsule. Modern motor vehicles are not allowed here apart from a few rare exceptions, and the best way to get around are horse drawn carriages or bicycles which just adds to the quaint, timeless atmosphere. If you get tired of aimlessly exploring the picturesque winding streets on Heybeliada, you can visit the stunning Holy Trinity Monastery with great views over the island, or those who have a basic level of fitness can climb the small hill on Buyukada to see the 12th Century Monastery of St. George and light a candle for a loved one, or go for a brisk swim just off the long beach in Burgazada.
You cannot visit Istanbul without taking the time to visit the smorgasbord of religious buildings that run the spectrum of faiths and religions that have shaped Turkey’s entire history and culture. From a cultural perspective it is fascinating to see how Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues and Christian churches have carved their own niche into the culture, but even if you are not religious many of these religious buildings are worth visiting for their sheer architectural and artistic beauty alone.
The Bulgarian church of St. Steven on the banks of the Golden Horn is a stunning and unique cast iron church that is interesting for its distinctive construction, and the nearby Rustem Pasha mosque is a rarely visited but stunning building covered in brightly coloured tiles and intricate mosaics. These are just two lesser known examples of the myriad religious buildings, there are still dozens of much grander and much more well known examples such as the Ahrida Synagogue or the Suleymaniye mosque, all with their own unique artistry and architecture. You could literally create your own religious walking tour and fill up entire days with free sights.
By all means take the time to visit the main sites in Istanbul, you can’t come here and not see Topkapi palace for example. These sights are truly amazing, they are famous for a reason and well worth your time and money. But when you are done, visit these lesser known free attractions too to get away from the tourist hordes, see a slightly different side to Istanbul and balance out your budget too!
I hope you are enjoying this ‘free things to do in …’ series and find it useful, if you have any specific requests then please let me know in the comments section below. If I have been there then I’ll add it to the list!