Turkey always has a special place in my heart, especially Istanbul. That's why, it's been a while since I looked for a contributor covering the city split by two continents, Europe and Asia.
For those who probably don't know, my very first flight was from Jakarta to Istanbul 10 years ago. Yes, I never even flew domestically, and the only reason I flew to Turkey was because I got a scholarship to spend a summer course there learning Turkish as a language.
I spent almost three months in Izmir, but my journey in Turkey started in Istanbul. And also so many other stories around the country. So, I was super excited when Dani of Diapers in Paradise reached out to cover Istanbul for this week's $10 series!
Last but not least, how could you spend your $10 in Istanbul?
A Day Well-Spent in Turkey's Largest City
The currency in Istanbul is the Turkish lira (TL), and in late 2020, $10 will get you about 80 TL (the lowest it has ever been).
But even with the exchange rate at a historic low, there is still so much you can experience for under $10 in the only city in the world that spans two continents.
Did you know?
Istanbul is the only pan-continental city in the world situated on two continents, Europe and Asia. Those are separated by the Bosphorus, international waterways that divide Turkey by separating Anatolia from Thrace. Each part of Istanbul has its own international airport with Attaturk International Airport on the European side and Sabiha Gokcen International Airport on the Asian part.
Chat with a Local While You Sip on Turkish Coffee
Turkish coffee is a staple for the locals in Istanbul. Much like in Italy, the city is dotted with cafes where patrons relax and converse with friends and strangers over a steaming cup.
In fact, the preparation and tradition of Turkish coffee is so culturally important that it is actually on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list!
Turkish coffee is not like the latte you might be used to. It is very strong, and contains finely ground but unfiltered coffee beans. It is traditionally served with a glass of water and a Turkish Delight sweet, and it will usually cost you around 5 TL – less than $1!
Visit the Hagia Sophia
Until very recently, it would have cost you 100 TL to visit the most popular historical landmark in Istanbul.
However, early in 2020, the government of Turkey decided to convert the long-contested Hagia Sophia from a museum back to a functioning mosque, meaning that entry is now free of charge.
As with any of the other 1,000 mosques in the city, read up on mosque etiquette first and be sure to visit outside of worship hours.
Climb the Galata Tower
The Galata Tower is a medieval stone tower that you can visit and climb to the top for 35 TL – about $5. From the top, you have a stunning view over much of the city, including Istanbul’s historic peninsula and the Bosphorus.
To make the most of your trip, time it to be at the top during the call to prayer. The sound of the ezan (Turkish for adhan) billowing up from so many surrounding mosques at once is eerily beautiful.
Haggle in the Grand Bazaar
No trip to Istanbul is complete without a visit to one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world: The Grand Bazaar.
The Bazaar was constructed shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1455, and the structure has not changed much since early in the 17th century. Walking through the bazaar, you can see centuries of history – that is, if you can manage to peel your eyes away from all the incredible wares for sale.
At first glance, it might seem like you can’t get much for $10. And certainly, you won’t come away with any of the fine oriental rugs or Turkish lamps. But remember that the market is all about haggling, and if you’re good at it, you might get a 50% discount, or even more.
For $10, you could walk away with some exotic spices, a silk scarf for your visit to the mosques, or perhaps a knock-off designer wallet. With around 4,000 stalls, there are many deals to be had in the Grand Bazaar!
Descend into the Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern is just a large, underground reservoir of water – of which there are many in the city. So why, you might wonder, is it one of the most visited places in Istanbul?
It is an impressive structure, and it has a fascinating history, but most people visit for the Medusa heads. The cistern is held up by 336 columns, many of which were reclaimed from ancient temples. As such, they are all different styles, designs, and sizes.
There are two columns that would be far too short, so builders used large stones to prop them up. These stones both have carvings of Medusa’s head. One is turned sideways, to better fit with the column above it. The other is inexplicably upside-down. Many believe this was done to prevent Medusa from using her powers to turn people to stone.
The origin of the Medusa heads is unknown and has inspired myths and intrigue. You can take a cool break from the heat of the Turkish sun and visit the Basilica Cistern for 30 TL – less than $4.
Contributor: Dani from Diapers in Paradise
Dani is the owner of Diapers in Paradise, a family travel blog focused entirely on travel with babies and toddlers. Her goal is to help you prepare to have the best trip ever, because of (not in spite of) bringing the baby. With the right preparation, a trip with a baby is easier than you think!