The first thing people ask about our journey to Turkey in September 2013 is What did you like most about Turkey (the people) quickly followed by Is Turkey a budget destination?
In this post I attempt to answer that question.
In keeping with it’s geographical position, Turkey’s affordability hovers indecisively somewhere between that of Asia and Europe.
When deciding if a country is a budget destination one consideration is the cost of every day items. The sample prices below are where possible shown in Turkish Lire (TRY) and are indicative of what we experienced in Sept/Oct 2013.
Convert to your own currency here.
A Guide to Travel Costs in Turkey
Entrance Fees/Day Tours
Blue Mosque Free, but sometimes the queue stretches from Istanbul to Timbuktu and back again. Official Tour guides wear a blue janitor jackets and loiter around the area. We did a deal with one of them for 30TRY for the two of us (he said his normal price was 50TRY). The very best part of having a guide is that he walks you to the head of the line and straight in the door. If the queue is long (sometimes there are three cruise ships a day in Istanbul) find a guide and remember to dress appropriately.
Tokapi Palace 25TRY plus 15TRY for the harem
Basilica Cistern 10TRY
Aya Sofia 25TRY
Rustem Pasi Mosque Free
Chora Museum 15TRY
Green Tour – Full Day Tour including a restaurant lunch – 120TRY each
**Splurge** Hot Air Ballooning – Butterfly Balloons – 165/175 (c/c) Euro each
We did not take a Balloon Flight but as it is so popular in Cappadocia I chose Butterfly Balloons as an example because it is one of the more respected companies.
Goreme Open Air Museum – 15TRY
Pamukkale (via Denizli)
Travertines – Day Entrance (free if you get there before they open – you can just walk on up). 20TRY
Heirapolis – The hilltop Roman and Byzantine ruins are included in the Travertine Entrance Fee. Free
– The Museum (pay at the door) is well worth the additional 5TRY.
Other Tourist Sites (Destinations) in Turkey
Pergamum Ruins (Bergama) Turkey’s stunning Acropolis was much quieter than Ephesus. 20TRY
Ephesus Ruins (Selcuk) Turkey’s premier Greco-Roman site. 25TRY. Plus the Terrace Houses within. 15TRY
Ishak Pasha Palace (Restored Ruin) (Dogubayazit). Romantic Eastern Turkey Palace. 8TRY
Ani Ruins (Kars) Remnants of the once great Armenian City of Ani. 8TRY
Sumela Monastery (Trabzon). Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Virgin Mary. 8TRY Plus entrance into the National Park per vehicle 15TRY
Common Turkish Foods/Drinks
Mercimek corbasi. Red Lentil Soup. A little different each time, but always a tasty cheap choice. (4TRY)
Bread. Turkish people take their bread seriously. A basket of bread is supplied free with meals in most places. Some Lokantasi (see below) have large plastic containers filled with a variety of breads.
Menemen. Menemen or Turkish savoury scrambled eggs (7TRY). Strictly speaking this gem is a breakfast dish, but is happily served and eaten at any time.
Gozleme. A hand rolled thin pastry pancake filled then folded and fried on a convex BBQ plate. Try Spicy Potato or Cheese and Spinach fillings. Universally good with a side of tomatoes and green chilli. (5 TRY)
Doner Kebab. In touristic Sultanahmet (where most of Istanbul’s tourist attractions are) delicious chicken doner kebabs are only (5TRY).
Pide. Oval Shaped pastry with folded edges and your choice of meat tomato peppers and cheese. (10 TRY).
Balik Emek. Balik Emek or Fish Sandwiches are an iconic Istanbul food (5 or 6TRY).
Tosta. Toasted Sandwich. (5tl)
Ayran. Refreshing icy cold Ayran is a salty yoghurt drink. (1.5TRY)
Cay. Tea is drunk continuously. (normally 0.50TRY) Price Range Free to 2.60TRY
Lokantasi or Lokanta (these two words seem interchangeable)
These low cost establishments offer prepared meals kept hot in a Bain-Marie. One of the beauties of eating at a Lokantasi is the see and point method of ordering but the best is the food itself. The Lokantasi’s bread and butter are the local people – workers and shoppers who drop in for lunch and a chat.
Our Lokantasi Experiences.
Lokantasi vary from spartan to homely to modern cafes. Men hunch over bowls of soup and then share dishes companionably. Modernistas sit alfresco on the footpath and families fit in wherever.
The first time we entered a Lokantasi we found a table and sat down. An attendant came over and pointed to us then with two fingers at his eyes and then at the Bain-Marie. We understood 🙂 No prices were displayed. Quite often there was an offal dish in the mix and if we pointed to that one the staff were quick to explain/mime that the dish was made from an internal organ. Marty loves to try offal dishes and can name tripe and vegetable soup and liver and pineapple salad in his Turkish repertoire. They both got his enthusiastic tick of approval. I tried the liver and pineapple myself and it was a tasty unusual combo.
As an indication of price, at a Lokantasi near the Süleymaniye mosque in Istanbul we ordered five dishes with two soft drinks the bill came to 38TRY. Two of these dishes were the Turkish Staples of White Beans (Fasulye) in a tomato sauce, and rice (Pilav). These two dishes would be cheaper than the others and quite often customers ate these two dishes alone. My favourite Lokantasi dish was stuffed peppers.
Useful phrases. Bedava mi? (is it free?) or Ne kadar? How much is it?
Ozturk Pide, No. 72 Galipdede Cad, Galata – 1 pide, 1 lentil soup with bread, 2 large pure juices (22TRY total). We ate here several times. No Alcohol Served.
Cafe Privato, No. 3B Timaracı Sokak, off Galipdede Cad, Galata – Best for a **splurge**
Turkish Breakfast (25TRY each). Budget Suggestion. With two people ordering, the first could order the Turkish Breakfast as it is large and the second something less expensive and smaller.
Dinner. A Two course meal for two with 1 Efes beer and one fresh juice came to 80TRY which I thought was a little pricey, but enjoyable 🙂 Credit Cards accepted.
Cafes at Otogars (bus stations)
We found Otogars to be a great source of cheap food. At Bandirma Otogar we purchased a toasted cheese and sausage breadroll, asked if we wanted tomato paste we said yes and it came unexpectedly spread across the top :), 1 apple rock bun, 1 coffee and 1 softdrink for 9TRY.
Some convenience stops on long haul bus routes had Lokantasi style food, but somewhere there would be a line of locals and a vendor dolling out doner kebabs/rolls and they were fresh, delicious and cheap.
Budget Tip. Watch the locals and eat what they eat at roadside stops.
Despite the affordable and delicious Lokantasi food, we actually prepared a home cooked meal in Istanbul.
2 Chicken Marylands from the Dia% Supermarket in Galata – 6.35 TRY
2 potatoes, 2 carrots, 1 onion and a handful of beans from a street cart – 4TRY this price seemed a little high
Our apartment had all the cooking essentials like, pepper, salt, oil, tea and coffee, provided free of charge.
The Cost of Drinks (Restaurant)
A Efes Beer (7TRY). Glass of Wine (10TRY). Softdrink (4TRY). Tea. (2TRY).
Choose out of the way places to eat
It is no secret that prices vary greatly between tourist areas and non-tourist areas. Road side stalls are very cheap as are cafes in out of the way places.
At Babakale, the most western point in mainland Turkey, we joined the Owner/Cook at a seaside cafe, her Mum who sat beside me knitting and one other diner in an alfresco garden cafe. Our two cheese and spinach Gozleme and fresh yellow potato salad was one of the best meals we had in Turkey and with one softdrink and two teas cost a measly 13TRY. I didn’t want to leave.
Although not as cheap as Vietnam, rooms in Turkey are moderately priced, clean and usually inclusive of breakfast. Some pansiyons and budget hotels have guest kitchens.
Hotels are expensive.
Instead rent a room or a whole apartment from a local through a site like AIRBNB.
Our Galata AIRBNB apartment only cost 435 AUD (incl. costs) for a week. I snapped this up around the time the riots first started, and noticed it later listed at 140AUD more, and currently it is listed at 633AUD(incl. costs)(1266TRY).
Other apartment rental companies include istanbulapt.com and manzara-istanbul.com/en. Apartments in outer districts like Sisli are much cheaper than say Beyoglu and Sultanahmet.
If renting an apartment is not for you Marmara Guesthouse in Sultanahmet gets good reviews and offers Double Rooms with ensuite $63 AUD (127TRY) per person per night. (Hostelbookers). This is Lonely Planets top budget choice, so apartments can be cheaper options.
Outside of Istanbul
Pansiyons (small family run establishments) approx. 80TRY/double/breakfast/night. Dyugu in Fethiye was one of our Favourite Budget Pansiyons.
Budget Hotels we used outside of Istanbul, ranged from 60 to 140TRY per room per night.
The Cappadocia Area of Central Anatolia has weird and wonderful natural rock formations called Fairy Chimneys. In the past locals carved homes out these formations but today they house cave hotels.
Arif Cave Hotel – **Splurge** on a Cave Room – from 70 Euro (217 TRY)/night/double/breakfast, or enjoy local hospitality at a friendly pansiyon like Kose Pension – 80 TRY/night/double.
The perfect budget solution. We stayed four nights at Kose Pension then shifted to Arif Cave Hotel for one night for the experience, and the view! Both Kose and Arif are in Goreme the most popular area in Cappadocia.
Public Transport. Istanbulkart is a rechargeable travel card that gives reduced fares and reduced transfer costs with the initial cost of the card being refundable. They can be used by up to 5 people by handing it back. One swipe per person per trip. Buy from kiosks with an Akbil (old system) or Istanbulkart sign. We got ours from the kiosk in Eminönü Plaza near Galata Bridge. They can be recharged at major transit stations and used on ferries, trains, buses, funiculars and trams. Some Airbnb hosts offer a card for guests to use. Ours didn’t but we left ours for the next guest.
Taxis are not outrageously priced especially with a few people on board, but with an Istanbulkart you will only need them occasionally.
On Arrival at Attaturk International Airport.
Havas Bus from Attaturk International Airport to Taksim Square – 10TRY each.
Taxi from Taksim Square to Galata Tower – 8TRY using the meter – Don’t accept a set fare.
Leaving Istanbul by Ferry from Yenikapi.
Taxi from Galata to Yenikapi Dock early morning no traffic – 16TRY.
Buses are the go to Budget Transport Option for intercity travel. I am not talking rickety old rust buckets, but the latest Mercedes coaches complete with air-conditioning and bus boys who deliver free drinks and maybe even cakes or biscuits. Buses may not always arrive on time, especially in Eastern Turkey, but apart from that they rule the roads. Most Turkish people cannot afford the price of fuel and buses are their lifeline. They run frequently and on popular routes often run every half hour. Taking an overnight bus saves the price of a night’s accommodation. The downside of buses is the Otogars (bus stations) are usually about 5-10km out of town.
Budget Bus Tip. Purchase your ticket from an agent in town, choosing a bus that includes free Otogar connection on both the departing and arriving ends of your journey.
Bandirma to Izmir. We used Uludag Bus Company. Excellent Service. Distance 270km. Cost 34TRY each. (we caught a ferry from Istanbul to Bandirma – see ferries)
Goreme to Trabzon. We used Süha Bus Company. The Bus vibrated horribly the whole way. 600 km. 12 hours (took 14 hours). Cost 75TRY each.
These figures suggest long haul rates of approx. 1.25TRY per km.
Trains and us are old friends and originally we had plans of taking advantage of the low cost of Turkish Trains, but in the end the train from Ankara (via Kayseri in Cappadocia) to Lake Van was not running in Oct/Nov. 2013 which led to a rethink. If you are interested in this route, the Sirkesi Station in Eminönü Istanbul is easy to find and will be able to advise.
The Turkish Travel Planner blog site has a wonderful amount of Turkish Travel information. See the link under Ferries below.
Ankara (via Kayseri also) to Erzurum or Kars in Eastern Turkey the Dogu Express was another train journey we considered.
See Turkeys For Life’s account of the journey (cost included) here. Julia and Barry live in Fethiye on the west coast of Turkey and their blog describes their Turkish Life and Travels on a budget.
Several factors came in to play to make us decide instead to get the bus from Goreme to Trabzon, but we would still love to do one of those train trips.
Budget Tip. Choose a Sleeper cabin for long haul trips.
Izmir to Denizli (for Pummakale). 250km. Trains terminate at Denizli. Pre-book accommodation at Pummakale and get collected for free from either the train station or Otogar.
Ferries. IDO run long distance car and passenger ferries from Yenikapi in Istanbul to Bandirma on the southern shore of the Marmara Sea. See Turkey Travel Planner for other routes and Ferry Information. We chose our seat on line from Australia and collected the tickets at Yenikapi Dock the day before departure. The trip was streamlined and pleasant. Two Hours. 29TRY ea.
Bursa is another IDO destination.
Dolmus connection from Bandirma Dock to Bandirma Otogar 1.75TRY. Although the train station was beside the Bandirma Ferry Dock, it did not link up time wise for us which was a disappointment.
From Bandirma Otogar we caught a long distance bus from Bandirma Otogar to Izmir – see Buses above.
Rental Cars might not seem a budget choice initially, but they are worth considering, especially if there are two or more in your party. The best thing about having our own wheels was the versatility. Fuel was expensive but the fuel consumption of the small/medium sized diesel cars in Turkey is fantastic.
Jenny from A Taste of Travel did the maths over a 35 day period and you can read all about it on her informative post Driving in Turkey. Jenny and her husband have traveled extensively in Turkey on several occasions and her blog is a goldmine for anyone planning a journey through Turkey.
We ourselves hired two different vehicles in two separate locations for one week each time. The first time in Izmir we used Economy Car Rentals and organized it on-line from Australia (Essence Car Rentals 7 days 240 AUD or 480TRY) and then in Trabzon we rented again for our Eastern Turkey journey through the Turkish Airlines office in Guzelhisar Caddesi (Eyce Rent A Car 7 days 560TRY).
In Izmir we filled the tank and then discovered that we would probably not use a whole tank within the week. Rental Cars in Turkey are collected and returned with a nearly empty fuel tank and if you return the car with fuel still in it you will not be reimbursed. The car broke down in Cannakale with three quarters of a tank of fuel still in it. We received a replacement vehicle on the same day (with a time adjustment on the rental period) with no fuel in it. Eventually they did refund us the agreed amount at the end of the rental period but it was a battle to get them to agree to it originally.
Budget Tip. Consider whether you should fill the tank or not.
When travel plans go astray.
Travellers today are totally connected and self sufficient. Need directions – there is an Map App for that. Want a cafe recommendation – just look up Four Square.
On our recent trip to Turkey we traveled in a time warp, returned to our early twenties when we lived and traveled with a hard copy (what other sort was there) of Europe on $10 a Day. Why?
1. We lost our MacAir on the first leg of the journey and were without it for the whole three months.
2. My IPhone 3 told me I needed to upgrade the apps and then told me the IPhone 3 could not support that update.
3. We couldn’t buy a new laptop in Turkey because they use a Turkish keyboard and an Ipad was too expensive.
4. Our GPS was loaded with free maps and we soon discovered that although they got us from A to B, they could not navigate us through the less well known towns.
Luckily we had packed a Lonely Planet Turkey guide book and we slipped back into our old form of travel.
We were so lucky this happened to us in Turkey. Read below to find out why.
Traveling amongst Turks was akin to being wrapped in a security blanket.
It was as if were part of a big Turkish Tribe who looked out for us wherever we went.
Time and Time again we were astounded by Turkish hospitality.
When they could not understand us they found someone who could.
They walked us unasked to our destinations like Boris did in Kars.
They offered smiles and a glass of Cay.
They welcomed us as friends.
They made things work.
The Turkish People themselves are what makes Turkey such a Great Place for all travelers –
not just those with a limited budget.
THE PRICES QUOTED IN THIS POST ARE A GUIDE ONLY.
This post is linked to BUDGET TRAVELERS SANDBOX FOR TRAVEL PHOTO THURSDAY.