21 of The Best Free Things to Do in Istanbul Turkiye

There is something special about Istanbul, Turkey, or Turkiye as it is now known.  This is a city rich in history and culture, with beautiful buildings and plenty of activities to keep everyone busy.  Turkey isn’t as cheap as it once was, though. With inflation running at over 60% it is becoming more expensive by the day.  So, if you are visiting Istanbul on a budget then here are some of the best free things to do in Istanbul to help you enjoy the best of the city without breaking the bank!

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Know Before You Go to Istanbul

Before travelling to Turkey, make sure you book accommodation and popular attractions ASAP, as hotels and tickets can sell out, especially during busy periods.


$$ Selvese Collection Hotel Galata 1875: Recently renovated aparthotel with studio rooms 

$ Le Safran Palace Hotel: Great value hotel close to major attractions in Istanbul

$ Cheers Hostel: I stayed here for New Year’s Eve and loved it!

🚌 Pre-book your transfer from Istanbul Airport (IST) to Istanbul


1. Topkapi, Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern Tour

2. Bosphorus Dinner Cruise & Show with Private Table

3. Mevlevi Sema and the Whirling Dervishes Show

💰Save on entry to attractions with the Istanbul Tourist Pass

How to Make the Most of Istanbul on a Budget

I love finding free things to do wherever I travel, and you can have a fabulous time in Istanbul with a very limited budget.  However, one of my top Istanbul travel tips is to compromise and save money on some things, so you can afford to splurge a little on a unique experience that you can’t do anywhere else. 

For example, I saved money in Turkey by staying in a hostel and doing lots of free activities in Istanbul, so I could treat myself to a food tour and a visit to a hammam for a massage.  I also had a complimentary 3-day Istanbul Tourist Pass to use so I planned my itinerary carefully to make the most of that!     

If you have the cash to spend, don’t miss out on these top activities and attractions in Istanbul:

Or you can browse more paid tours and activities in Istanbul here.  I use GetYourGuide to book tours and tickets as I love how you can choose from a variety of options to find the best for you, comparing prices and reading reviews. 

Using GetYourGuide means you also get immediate confirmation once you’ve booked, which is perfect for last-minute plans, and when you book in advance, you can cancel up to 24 hours before the activity in case your plans change.  However, if you prefer to use Viator you can find tours on Viator here.

That said, no matter what budget you have, you can still have an amazing time in Istanbul and have some unique experiences you will remember forever without spending lots of cash! 


So now let’s see all of the fabulous free things to do in Istanbul that you don’t need any money to enjoy:

The Best Free Things to Do in Istanbul

Visit Sultanahmet Square

Explore the historic Sultanahmet Square, surrounded by iconic landmarks such as the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) and Hagia Sophia. It’s a great place to grab a street food snack and do some people-watching without spending a penny.

Sultanahmet Square was the site of an ancient hippodrome and you can see monuments such as the Obelisk of Theodosius, Örme Dikilitaş column and the German Fountain, an ornate Ottoman fountain.

Hagia Sofia Reflecting in a Pool - Free Things to do in Istanbul
Hagia Sofia Reflecting in a Pool – Free Things to Do in Istanbul

Admire the Hagia Sophia (From the Outside)

Hagia Sophia used to be free to enter, but since January 2024, it has been converted into a museum, and there is now a fee of €25 (approximately €28 USD) for foreign tourists who want to go inside.  If you have the budget, then it is still worth going inside, and entry is included in the Istanbul Tourist Pass in the form of a guided tour.

I visited a few days before the rule change and entered the downstairs area where you can see the remains of a Christian Mosaic by the exit and admire the huge dome construction and Islamic Art inside the main mosque.  Now, the entry ticket only allows tourists to visit the upstairs area, where there are more mosaics on view but you can only look down onto the prayer area downstairs without being able to go into the downstairs area.

Hagia Sophia is special because it was originally built as a Christian church in the 6th century (532–537), and was later converted to a mosque.  You can still see the domed former church from the outside for free, and it is a short walk from the Blue Mosque.

Be Wowed in the Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque is one of the most famous mosques in Istanbul and one of the most popular places to visit.  It isn’t as blue as it used to be after a new paint job, but it is still stunning inside and out.

It is completely free to enter, although you will need to remove your shoes, and women must cover their hair.  Add a scarf to your Istanbul packing list to bring with you, or buy one while you are here.  If you are visiting Istanbul in winter, then a hood will also do the job.

Inside the Blue Mosque - Istanbul for Free
Inside the Blue Mosque – Istanbul for Free
Beautiful Stained Glass Window in the Blue Mosque Istanbul
Beautiful Stained Glass Window in the Blue Mosque Istanbul

See the Entrance of Topkapi Palace 

There is a fee to go inside Topkapi Palace, but if you are on a tight budget then you can walk up to the entrance gate for free.  Start at the Fountain Sultan Ahmed III, a beautiful fountain built in 1728, and then walk through the decorated archway towards Topkapi Palace.

You’ll pass through security but the ticket booths aren’t until you get much closer.  Here you can walk around the exterior gardens and see the grand entrance where the sultans used to ride into the palace.

Get Lost in the Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, and it is very easy to get lost!  But no worries, just wander around and explore.  While shopping might cost you a pretty penny, strolling through the bazaar and experiencing the atmosphere is free, so soak it all in.

If you’re looking for bargains though, you won’t find them here – prices inside the Grand Bazaar are at a premium, so explore the surrounding streets before you make a purchase. 

The Grand Bazaar - Free Places to Visit in Istanbul
The Grand Bazaar – Free Places to Visit in Istanbul

Explore the Spice Bazaar

Similar to the Grand Bazaar, wandering through the Spice Bazaar is free, but you will notice the smell of spices as soon as you go inside.  It is smaller than the Grand Bazaar and set up in an L shape, so you won’t get lost as you enjoy the sights and smells of various spices, teas, and Turkish delights by the bucketload.

Prices here are also higher than in other stores and shops in Istanbul, if you want to buy something then pop outside to the rows of shops lining the adjacent street.

Join a Free Walking Tour

Various companies offer free walking tours of Istanbul, led by locals who share insights into the city’s history and culture so that can be a great way of learning more about Istanbul as you explore.  Even if a tour is free it is customary to tip your guide.  Check out some options here.

Looking across the Bosphorus at Sunset from Galataport
Looking across the Bosphorus at Sunset from Galataport

Stroll along the Bosphorus

Take a leisurely walk along the shores of the Bosphorus Strait, and enjoy views of the water, bridges, mosques and the Asian side of Istanbul.  There is no bad area to walk along the water, although my personal favourites were either side of the Galata Bridge at Eminönü and Karakoy.  

Galataport Promenade is another lovely place to walk, especially at sunset, although you’ll need to access it either near the MOMA art museum or through one of the stores in the Galataport shopping centre as security is high due to it being the cruise ship port.

Beşiktaş is another nice neighbourhood that is popular with students as it is home to Bahcesehir University, as is Ortaköy, which is famous for the Ortaköy Mosque perched on the water’s edge.  You can get great views of the mosque with the 15 Temmuz Şehitler Bridge behind it.

Walk Across the Galata Bridge

This bridge connects the two main touristic areas of the city and chances are you’ll find yourself walking across this bridge at some point during your trip.  On the top level, where the cars drive across, you’ll see a line of fishermen dangling their rods into the water and fishing for their dinner, and on the lower level are restaurants touting for business. 

There are lovely views of both sides of the water, across to Galata Tower and back towards Sultanahmet with colourful boats and ferries on the Bosphorus, and minaret towers of the mosques on the hills leading up from the water’s edge.

SCAM WARNING: The bridge is a popular spot for shoe cleaners who deliberately drop a brush in front of you.  When kindly tourists alert the shoe cleaner, they generously offer to clean your shoes before demanding money from you.  

Fishermen on Galata Bridge - Free Things to do in Istanbul
Fishermen on Galata Bridge – Free Things to do in Istanbul

Visit the Fish Market in Karakoy

The Karakoy Fish Market is a lively spot where locals buy fresh seafood. It’s near the ferry stop and there are more great views of Eminönü across the water.  It’s a great place for people-watching, and I highly recommend nearby Murat The Fishermen for a tasty fish wrap.  

Take a Seat in Gulhane Park

Located near Topkapi Palace, Gulhane Park is a peaceful park in the middle of the city where you can take a seat on a bench and relax.  I visited Istanbul in winter so the gardens weren’t at their best, but the rest of the year you can enjoy the trees and flowers and rest for a while.

For a colourful sweet treat, look out for a macunu (Ottoman candy) seller at the entrance to the park on Alemdar street.  There were other vendors selling popcorn and grilled corn-on-the-cob snacks when I visited too.

Colourful Ottoman Candy - Street Food in Istanbul
Colourful Ottoman Candy – Street Food in Istanbul

Walk the City Walls

The Walls of Constantinople were first built by Constantine the Great, Roman Emperor from AD 306 to 337, to protect the city on all sides against attack from both sea and land.  A double line of walls known as the Theodosian Walls was built in the 5th century.   The walls saved the city from various sieges over the years, and many parts are still intact today.  

Explore the Fener and Balat Districts

Wander through the colourful streets of Fener and Balat, known for their historic houses and street art.  One of the most popular Instagram spots in Istanbul is a row of brightly coloured restored homes that are definitely worthy of a photograph, but there are lots of other photogenic places here, too, so walk around to explore.

If you’re hungry, watch out for the ladies’ hand-making gözleme flatbreads on griddles outside several restaurants on Vodina Caddesi.  We stopped off at Gold Balat Restaurant and the flatbreads were cheap and very tasty!

You can either take the tram, ferry or bus to get here or walk from Eminönü. 

Exploring Colourful Balat
Exploring Colourful Balat
Colourful Houses and a Cat in Balat
Colourful Houses and a Cat in Balat

Marvel at the Suleymaniye Mosque

The Suleymaniye Mosque is a large mosque on top of the hill in the Eminönü district.  It is free to enter, and you can also visit its courtyard and gardens for free. There are lovely views across to Galata from the garden walls too.  I passed by on my way back from Fener, and it was well worth a stop.

Photograph the Galata Tower

Another iconic photo spot in Istanbul, the area around Galata Tower, is a popular place to eat, drink and soak up the atmosphere.  There is a fee to go inside the tower (included in the Istanbul Tourist Pass Card), but Büyük Hendek Street has lovely views of the tower itself. 

Cafes line the cobbled street, and you can buy a slice of overpriced but delicious San Sebastian Cheesecake smothered in chocolate sauce in every cafe! 

Galata Tower view from the Street Below
Galata Tower view from the Street Below

Walk Up Istiklal Avenue

The main high street in Istanbul is Istiklal Avenue, lined with high-street shops and restaurants.  The historic tram trundles up and down the middle of the road which makes nice photo opportunities.  Notable buildings along the street include Çiçek Pasajı, which I think is prettier from the outside than inside, which looks tired and run down. 

There are some museums here, too, like the Istanbul Cinema Museum and Salt Beyoğlu, an art museum and cultural centre that is free to enter.

Visit St. Anthony of Padua Church

Just off Istiklal Avenue, you will find this lovely church built in the neo-Gothic style.  If you’re visiting Istanbul in winter, it is one of the few places that goes all out with Christmas decorations, with a large tree and a nativity scene.  It is the largest Catholic church in Istanbul and offers regular mass. 

Pope John XXIII preached here for ten years before being chosen as pope, and there is a statue of him in the courtyard in front of the church.

The Old Tram on Istiklal Avenue
The Old Tram on Istiklal Avenue – Free Things to do in Istanbul

Discover Taksim Square

At the end of Istiklal Avenue, Taksim Square is a lively area filled with shops, restaurants, and street performers. It’s a great place to people-watch and soak in the modern atmosphere of Istanbul.  There are some Christmas decorations if you visit Istanbul in December or January and there are often pop-up markets and exhibitions in the square.

Explore the Asian Side of Istanbul

Take a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. While the ferry ride has a small fee (24,98 TRY which is about $0.80 USD), it’s a cheap way of getting out on the Bosphorus, and exploring neighbourhoods like Kadikoy and Uskudar is free. 

Kadikoy is a cool area and much less touristy than the European side of Istanbul.  There are some excellent restaurants and street food here, and plenty of bars too.  

Kadikoy Neighbourhood in the Asian Side of Istanbul
Kadikoy Neighbourhood in the Asian Side of Istanbul

See the Maiden’s Tower

On your ferry journey to the Asian side, watch out for the Maiden’s Tower, once used as a lighthouse and now housing a small museum.  Entry fees to visit the tower are very high (27€), but you can admire it as you pass by for free.  If you are in the area in the evening, there is a light and laser show at 9pm every night, which you can spot from the ferry as you pass or from the Uskudar Coast Walkway

Pet the Cats

Istanbul belongs to the cats, they are everywhere!  Whether they’re lazing in the sun, snoozing in a cosy spot or prowling the streets there are so many cute cats that you can’t help but stroke them!  Local people feed them and care for them, and in return, these furry creatures keep the city’s rats under control.

Cat in a Record Store in Istanbul
Cat in a Record Store in Istanbul

Cheap Places to Stay in Istanbul

Cheap accommodation in Turkey isn’t difficult to find but it can be hard to get a balance between quality and price.

If you only have a couple of days in Istanbul then staying in Sultanhamet means you are close to most of the main attractions in Istanbul, although if you’re staying for longer then around Kadakoy has more local vibes, and the Asian side of Istanbul feels more homely than touristy.

Bear in mind that the call to prayer is likely to wake you up before dawn, so bring earplugs!

Many hotels and hostels ask for payment in cash on arrival, so be prepared.  I found that HSBC bank was the only bank that didn’t charge high fees for withdrawing cash, so you may be better off exchanging some money before you arrive in Turkey or using an exchange service in the city, depending on the fees and rates that offer.

These are my favourite budget places to stay in Istanbul:

Cheap Hotels in Istanbul

$$ Golden Royal Hotel & SPA: this lovely hotel has economy rooms that allow you to enjoy the service and hammam facilities at the hotel for a lot less than the more luxurious rooms.  It’s a short walk to the Basilica Cistern and Blue Mosque.  >>>CHECK PRICES AND AVAILABILITY

$$ Selvese Collection Hotel Galata 1875: This recently renovated aparthotel has studio rooms with a kitchenette where you can make your own meals.  It’s in the Beyoglu district, close to the Galata Tower and the Tophane metro station, to whizz you to Sultanahmet in a few minutes. >>>CHECK PRICES AND AVAILABILITY

$ Le Safran Palace Hotel: This great value hotel is adjacent to the Cagaloglu Hamam and a few minutes walk from the other main attractions in Sultanahmet.  It has clean and cosy rooms and a roof terrace overlooking the Bosphorus.  Breakfast is included in the rate, and guests love how friendly the staff is.  >>>CHECK PRICES AND AVAILABILITY


My Room at Cheers Hostel Istanbul
My Room at Cheers Hostel Istanbul

The Best Hostels in Istanbul

Perfect for solo travellers and a great place to meet people and have a more sociable experience than a hotel or apartment, these Istanbul hostels get rave reviews:

Cheers Hostel: I stayed here for New Year’s Eve and loved it.  My private room was in a building across the street from the main hostel so was nice and quiet and I could still join in social activities and have the very tasty breakfast that was included in the stay. 

The dorm rooms are in the main hostel building, and there is a bar on the top floor with views of Hagia Sofia.  The staff is friendly and helpful, and the hotel has a homely atmosphere.  I loved it!  >>>CHECK PRICES AND AVAILABILITY

Hostel Le Banc: A great choice for a hostel in the Taksim neighbourhood, close to the Galata Tower and Istiklal Avenue.  It’s a fairly new hostel so rooms are clean and well-decorated, and there are private rooms as well as dorm rooms to choose from. >>>CHECK PRICES AND AVAILABILITY

Yolo Hostel Kadikoy: Kadikoy is the Asian side of Istanbul and has a totally different atmosphere to the other parts of the city across the water.  You’ll need to pay for the ferry to get to the main attractions in Istanbul (which costs 24,98 TRY or about $0.80 USD and takes about 20-25 minutes), but it’s a great place to avoid tourist crowds. >>>CHECK PRICES AND AVAILABILITY


Apartments & Airbnb in Istanbul

There are lots of Airbnbs and apartments in Istanbul to choose from if you want more space and privacy than a hotel.  I usually use booking.com to find apartments like this as they often have better cancellation terms than Airbnb and no hidden cleaning fees.  You can also browse all holiday apartments in Istanbul on booking.com here.


I hope this post will help you plan your budget trip to Istanbul.  Even though it is getting more expensive, you can still have a fantastic trip without spending a lot of money!

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