With exchange rates plummeting, Istanbul isn’t quite the bargain destination it used to be, but those on budget will still find plenty of opportunities to stretch out their dollars. From marveling at the city’s famous minarets to taking advantage of the legendary Turkish hospitality, here are some ideas for free things to do in Istanbul.
1. Wander the Grand Bazaar
There are plenty of goods to be bartered for in Istanbul’s famous Grand Bazaar, but the vibrant shopping hall is worth a visit even if you leave empty handed. Accept the many offers of tea from friendly shopkeepers and you’ll likely be treated to a first-hand display of local craftsmanship – just make sure to tell them upfront that you’re not interested in buying. Pay a visit to the nearby Egyptian Spice Market too, a uniquely Turkish bazaar where you can satisfy your sweet tooth trying free tasters of local specialty Turkish delight.
2. Visit the Blue Mosque
Earning the nickname ‘the City of Minarets’ for its myriad of mosques, Istanbul’s many religious buildings are the city’s top free attractions. The magnificent Blue Mosque, named for its exquisite blue-tiled dome is one of the most iconic, a 17th century masterpiece erected by Sultan Ahmet I and featuring 6 glittering minarets. Free admission is possible during daylight hours, except during prayer times.
3. Watch Whirling Dervishes
The legendary Sufi mystics don their white robes and whirl around the stage each week at the Mevlana Cultural center, or take a stroll through Sultanahmet in the evening hours, when a number of bars and restaurants offer free performances, many of which can be seen from the street.
4. Relax in the park
Istanbul has a number of idyllic parks, perfect for taking a break from sightseeing and soaking up the Turkish sun. Gulhane Park, the city’s first public park, is a popular choice, lying in the former royal gardens of Topkapi Palace and playing host to the annual International Tulip Festival. Yildiz Park, the hilly former Yildiz Palace grounds, is another good option, with vast lakes, flower gardens and pavilions offering fabulous views over the Bosphorus.
5. Walk the city walls Explore some of the city’s most fascinating Byzantine remains, the old city walls, known as the Walls of Constantinople, which trace the outline of the ancient city. A little-visited tourist attraction, a walk around (and in some places, on top of) the remains of the walls is not only a great way to escape the crowds, but offers great views over the city and the chance to stroll through some of the local neighborhoods largely unvisited by tourists.