Are you planning a trip to Turkey on a budget? Are you wondering about the places to visit & the places not worth the trouble? Read the frugal couple’s walkthrough to find out!
One late afternoon I and my husband were contemplating as to where to go this year for our annual trip abroad. We had been to Italy for our honeymoon and the year before with our family to parts of Europe. So this year while considering our options we wanted a unique experience but within a limited budget. So while perusing different travel itineraries we found this gem – Turkey. Located both in Asian and European continents, it has a unique culture a mixture of both eastern and western influence, beautiful landscape and is pocket friendly.
Day 1: Mumbai, Istanbul
At 2AM on Aug 9th began our exciting adventure from Mumbai airport. We headed there early to enjoy the Lounge experience at the international airport, located on lower ground level. Owning a credit card which gives you a priority pass card does have its benefits. we strongly recommend it to readers who travel frequently. After have a good breakfast we headed to our gate and it was almost time to board. We had booked Kuwait airways as they had the shortest travel time and best rates.
Post landing at 2:30pm & finishing our immigration formalities,we headed to Sabiha Gökçen Airport. The waiting time at Sabiha is much lesser than many other international airports. This commendable considering Istanbul gets a lot of tourists every year. Our flight was at 8:40pm, so we had plenty of time and decided to take Havabus which one can find as soon as you exit the Ataturk airport on the left. It costed us 12TL each from Ataturk to Taksim square. From Taksim we took another bus to SAW costed us 15TL each. Considering a taxi would have costed us almost 180TL we saved quite a bit. We also got a chance to exchange currency at Taksim square. Of all the places I felt the currency exchanges at Taksim square offered the best rates. The Havabus drops you off at point hotel, you have to walk towards the square a bit but the exchange rate you get is worth it. We only exchanged the amount of money we needed for the bus at the airport, since the commission rates are quite high at the airport. Little did we know that the Turkish Lira was about to crash soon!
We had already pre-booked our seats. We luckily got front row seats with good leg room on Pegasus airline. We also registered for the flight membership, which let us use the points. We reached Kayseri airport at 10:20 and were picked up by the shuttle we booked. We had taken a package of to and fro shuttle to airport, Hot air Balloon and green tour. We strongly recommend everyone to book the shuttle, as the airport is quite far from the city. Once we reached the hotel we were greeted by a warm person at front desk and were given an amazing room at Aren Cave Suites.
Day 2: Cappadocia
The next day we had an early day and were going to be picked up at 4:30 am to go for our Hot air balloon ride. We were picked up right on time and taken to the launch site. We were fed some packed breakfast like muffins and cookies. However last minute due to it getting too windy the balloon ride was cancelled. Later after resting for a while, we had some warm delicious breakfast and headed to Goreme open air museum. Our hotel was very close to the main market area and museum was 20 minute walk from our hotel. At the Museum we purchased the museum Pass for turkey for 210TL. The Museum Pass is a must have for trvaelling in Turkey. We strongly recommend investing in this pass for sight seeing across Turkey.
The open air museum is a good start to our Cappadocia trip. The museum represents the essence of Cappadocia. It represents the Christian community that settled in Cappadocia. It has the living area of the priests and churches with extensive ceiling and wall paintings. The dark church (Karanlik church) is also very beautiful with wall murals that are much more intact than the other churches.
After the open air museum we took a bus headed to Avanos and went to Çavuşin Ruin. We ended up hiking up and seeing the rose valley. We had lunch outside the Çavuşin Ruin. We could not go inside Çavuşin Ruin since the caves are unstable and there are falling pieces. But it looks beautiful from the outside. From there we hiked to Pasabag, the Mushroom head fairy chimneys. It was a lovely site, the poster photo of Cappadocia that you see everywhere. It was a little hot in the afternoon, so after having some delicious ice-cream we headed back to rest to our hotel room. Having an ice cream in Turkey is quite an experience thanks to the tricks the ice cream vendor plays before handing over your ice cream. Do remember to capture this moment on your phone! In the evening we headed to do some shopping and a romantic walk in the town before heading back to our hotel room. After reaching our hotel we soaked ourselves in the tub for some much needed R&R. One must note that the best items to buy here are ceramics and Evil eye. The prices of ceramics are much lesser in Cappadocia as compared to Antalya.
The next day we were picked up at 9:30am for the green tour. The first place we were taken to was the Derinkuyu underground city. This underground city is a man made marvel, it is the largest and deepest underground city in Cappadocia. It is a real marvel, how they lived during tough times in hiding in the underground city. They had kitchens, common rooms and bedrooms all mapped out and carved in the underground cave. After the underground city we headed to Ilhara valley, a beautiful hiking trail that takes you into valley with breath taking views. It would not have been possible to visit this place hadn’t we opted for the green tour because it is quite far away and there is no public transport to get there. Both these places were covered by our museum pass hence we were able to negotiate a discount. Considering the distance & comfort, we suggest you book a tour to visit these places instead of going on your own.
After these two places we headed to the Pigeon valley which gave us magnificent views of the whole area and all the different formations. This is a good place to hang-out and take some photos. After this we were dropped back at Goreme and this concluded our tour. It was a packed day and sadly our last day in Cappadocia so we made the most of it by soaking in the sights and doing some more shopping and enjoying dinner at a café. Before leaving we bid goodbyes to out host at Aren cave hotel who was extremely nice and really helpful when it came to guiding us through our trip to Cappadocia. Later that night we were dropped at the bus station or otogar to catch the bus to Antalya. We had pre-booked our bus, however I highly suggest not doing so and just going to the otogar so you can catch the shortest and earliest bus possible.
Day 4: Antalya
Our bus ride was great and we met a great attendant on the bus, he couldn’t speak English but was very helpful and curious about our culture. We reached Antalya on time in the morning at 9:00am. From there we took the metro to our hotel in Kaleiçi it was very convenient. Our hotel was fully booked so they gave us a room on the ground floor, which was not up to our expectations. The same day we headed to walk around the area and get a sense of things to do. Today was more of a day meant for relaxation and just a free day to walk around and enjoy the area. We had lunch at a cute little café called Sehitler Park Café close to the Clock tower. My husband headed to a Hamam to get a massage. I would highly suggest getting a hamam massage in Antalya it is so much better and cheaper in Antalya than it is in Turkey. I did some shopping like fake bags and clothes. Make sure to check the quality before you buy, not all that shines is gold. After my husband was done with the hamam we headed back to our hotel for a cat nap before heading back out to walk along the shoreline and took a boat cruise ride into the ocean. It was really nice and the views are amazing. I would highly suggest doing this activity. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and shopping. Do not fall prey to hawkers selling bar snacks. we suggest you stay away from the orange colored bar snacks guys. They are scamsters. Just a minute standing in front of their cart & we were scammed of 10TL. We then had dinner at our hotel as it was included in our package and called it a night.
Day 5: Antalya
The next morning we headed out early to go see the Antalya Museum. The museum is a good place to get a sense of some of the ruins discovered in the nearby Archaeological digs. The Museum also has some good coin collections from all the digs on the first floor, also some scaled models of the different monuments around Antalya. After the museum we wanted to go checkout the Duden waterfalls by the sea however, accidently took the bus to the other Duden waterfalls, who knew there were two places with same name. We were pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the park was, although the bus ride was long it was worth it. The Park was beautiful, we had lunch walked around the park and took some great photos. After the park we headed back to Kaleici and did some more shopping before heading back to our hotel for dinner. After the dinner we went for a dip in the hotel pool, which was really nice considering it was the hot weather outside. After my swim we wanted to check-out the nightlife around the clock tower area so we head out again to explore the night life. The area comes alive at night with all the music by the fountain. We could not stay long to enjoy the place as we had a early morning bus to Pamukkale.
Day 6: Antalya – Pamukkale
The next morning we cabbed it to the otogar to take our bus to Denizli. The bus ride was very scenic, it goes through Isparta which is an oiling town and also has rose product factories. At one of the rest stops I ended up shopping for some rosseta products like body wash and creams. Once we reached Denizli we took a bus to Pamukkale which cost us 4TL per person. Our hotel Melrose viewpoint was really nice, and the owner Mr Mehmet was nice enough to accept our request and give us a room with the view of the travertines. After checking in we headed to have some lunch and there was this cute restaurant called Kayas. It was really hot outside so we decided to go back to the hotel and venture out later in the evening. Later in the evening we decided to head to Heiropolis antique pool, we ended up going to the north gate which was really far and then internally we had to take another bus to the antique pool. Rather we should have just walked to the south gate. We took a dip in the antique pool and swam for almost 2 hours. After which we went to the Amphitheatre, the views from which were amazing. After which we ended up walking to town to have some dinner and enjoy the surrounding.
Day 7: Pamukkale – Istanbul
The next morning we were picked up at 5am from our hotel for hot air balloon. The hot air balloon ride with THK company went as per schedule and was an amazing experience. We got to see the amazing sites of the travertines and the amphitheatre and the valley from the hot air balloon. The ride lasted about 45 mins and was a once in a lifetime experience. They also have paragliding that one can do in Pamukkale. After the ride we were dropped back to the hotel and after a sumptuous breakfast we took a nap in the room before checking out and heading back to town for lunch. I had a delicious falafel meal which came with soup, salad and rice. Then we just hanged around in the town and our hotel before our shuttle to the airport. We booked our shuttle through Baytur, they are the official company that organize shuttle to the airport and charge 30TL each. They take you in a small shuttle from Pamukkale and then a larger shuttle from Denizli to the airport. Unfortunately our flight to Istanbul was delayed by 2 hours, so by the time we reached Istanbul it was almost 1am. We had booked a room in ISG hotel and waited for a shuttle. They had a shuttle every 20 mins and it came on time, we were taken to the hotel and in less than half hour we were checked into our room. IF you ever have a late flight just book a room in the closest hotel to the airport, it will save you a lot of time and money.
Day 8: Istanbul
We had now reached the most exciting part of our trip. We had high hopes from Istanbul – one of the biggest tourism destinations of the world. It is also Turkey’s financial capital. After having our breakfast we headed to our hotel in Sultanahmet called Sari Konak. We booked the hotel through Airbnb and got a good deal. It was 5 minutes from the major historical sites. We bought 2 Istanbulkart cards for me and my husband so that we could benefit from the transfers and took the Metro to Sultanahmet. Make sure to pick up a map from one of the stations, it really helps to figure out the transfers and shuttles. After checking into our room we first headed to Hagia Sophia. It is a huge place with lot to explore, we explored the whole church in about an hour and then headed to lunch. For lunch we headed back closer to our hotel and picked one of the restaurants with outdoor seating, it was nice. However the vegetarian options in Istanbul in general are not that great. I wish I had more options to choose from. However what I realized is that smaller restaurants on the street side of the metro were more willing to accommodate my needs and make something for me. After lunch we walked to Topkapi Palace, again which was included in our Museum pass. The benefits of the Museum pass that we bought for all of Turkey was most realized in Istanbul because besides saving money we could skip the long ticket lines and head straight inside. The Museum pass also let us enter the Harem which is an additional 25TL to the ticket to Topkapi palace. The Topkapi palace site is huge and involves a lot of walking so it took us almost 3 hours to explore the whole place. There are rooms inside the Topkapi palace that are gorgeous and some rooms that have been converted to museum which display the findings inside the museum as well as nearby archaeological digs. The Harem is also worth exploring, some parts of it were under renovation but most of it were great to explore to show their way of life, I would highly recommend it. Most historical sites in Istanbul shut at 5-6pm, so plan accordingly. After some rest we decided to head the grand Bazaar, it was about 15-20 minutes walking from our hotel. The first day we just wanted to explore and get a sense of which shops are good and what are the general rates. After which I ended by purchasing a pair of beautiful earrings for my mother made of Zultanite stone and zircon set in Silver. We also bought some Baklava and other sweets and then just walked around had dinner. After dinner we explored some of the shops outside the grand bazaar and realized some of them offered rates much cheaper than shops inside the grand bazaar. I bought two traditional Turkish Purse for me and my mother-in-law. After a lot of haggling I got a really good rate, almost half the rate of what I could find anywhere else. After so much shopping we called it a night and headed back to our hotel. The manager at our hotel had warned us that some of the locals invite tourists to the pubs order drinks and stick the tourists with a large bill. Keeping that in mind and other incidents we had read about we decided to call it an early night. However luckily we never had any such bad experience throughout our trip, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Day 9: Istanbul
The next morning we headed out early to first get to Miniaturk, as it was a little far away. We took 2 buses one to Emoniou bus station and from there 47A or 47 to Miniaturk. The ticket of Miniaturk is not included in Museum pass so we had to shell out 15 lira each but it was totally worth it. Miniaturk lets you visit all major buildings and monuments in turkey without having to visit each city. It takes about 2 hours to explore the whole place and one hour from Sultanahmet to get to it but it was a morning well spent. After Miniaturk we decided to head back to Emoniou from where we could walk the Galata Bridge, go to the Galata tower (which we skipped) and also take the Bosporus cruise. We decided to take the short cruise as we did not have an entire day to spare which is what is required if you want to do the full Bosporus cruise. Make sure to only take the one offered by the Government it is way cheaper than the private ones. It is called Sehir Hatlari and it costs 12TL per person for the short tour. The sites from the cruise of the city are amazing. You can get some really good selfies and photos from the top deck. However I would recommended changing levels every so often you get a different experience from every level of the cruise. After the cruise we headed to Mısır Çarşısı (Spice market) which is on the opposite side of the street. The spice market unlike grand bazaar is overcrowded so make sure to watch your belongings. Similar to Grand Bazaar we found the rates to be much better in the shops on the outside of the spice bazaar compared to the inside. Make sure to walk around first and then shop and a lot of haggling is necessary. We bought a lot of dry fruits, chocolates, coffee and sweets from here. The best out of all my purchases was definitely dry fruits and I regret not purchasing more. We took the tram back and although my husband was not in the mood, being our last night in the city I wanted to do some more shopping in grand bazaar. So we headed back there. My husband decided to rest and have dinner at one of the restaurants while I went inside for shopping some more jewellery and lamps. I bought a typical Turkish ring make of Zircon and set in silver. I would suggest buying these as the design is very unique to turkey and cannot be found elsewhere. Also bought some traditional Turkish lamps. After this short shopping trip we decided to head back to our hotel and perhaps enjoy some hookah on the way back while listening to some live Turkish music.
Day 10: Istanbul
We saved our visit to the Blue mosque for the last day. The blue mosque is as magnificent from the outside as it is from the inside. However we could not see parts of it as it was under renovation. After a quick visit to the mosque we were on our way to the airport to catch our flight back to India. We thought of taking a taxi to the Sultan Ahmet station as we had bags and it was an uphill walk. The area around is closed and taxis were asking for 50 lira for a 1 km drive which we felt was unnecessary so we decided to walk it. We took the metro to Zeytinburnu station and switched to the Red line to the Airport. It was a very comfortable ride. Once we exited the train we found a small shop selling Istanbul kart to whom we were able to return our cards and get back 5 lira of the 6 lira deposit that we had paid, which is better than nothing. Although I wish the government had a return kiosk where you could easily return the card and get the full money back.
Overall I would say our experience visiting turkey was very fulfilling. There is a lot that Turkey has to offer and if you decide to explore it on your own it can work out much more reasonable than most other foreign countries. Different cities in turkey have a completely different landscape, from the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia to the Beaches of Antalya, the Thermal pools of Pamukkale and the combination of Metro life with heritage in Istanbul you really never get bored.
Tips for Indian Travellers
1. Carry USD instead of Euros. They will fetch you a better rate.
2. Remember to buy the museum pass.
3. Vegetarians have limited choices to eat in Turkey. Vegetarian or Indian hotels are very expensive. Even non-vegetarian hindus will have limited choices.
4. Turkey is a capitalist economy. There is no MRP concept. Grocery stores are the best places to buy water(1-2TL) or fruit juices. The best option when it comes to water, is to buy a big bottle for 5TL & use that water to fill your bottles.
5. Most of the restrooms/loos in Turkey are not free. You will be asked to pay 1TL every time you use the loo. We suggest you set aside 50TL for this purpose for a 10 day tour.
6. The Istanbul Kart can be returned on your last day. You can earn 5TL in return. One such place is near the airport & near the exit of the metro train station.
7. Best place to buy lokum or baklava is Spice Bazaar. Do not buy sweets at Antalya. Gulioglu at Spice Bazaar is the best for Turkish sweets. Rather than the shops inside Spice Bazaar, shop from the shops outside it. The farther you go from Spice Bazaar, the better will be the bargain. Remember to bargain everywhere!
8. If you are on a budget think twice before shelling out 50TL per head for the antique pool at Hierapolis, you can bathe for free at the Travertines!
9. Some basic Turkish phrases
Thank You – Teshekur Ederim
Good Morning – Gunay Din
Good Afternoon – Tunay Din
Good Evening – Ivi Akshamlar
Goodbye – Goole Goole
Please – Lutfen
With its rich history, several sight seeing spots & it being a pocket friendly destination – Turkey is one of the most beautiful & exciting tourist destinations in the world. We recommend you to tour across Turkey & not restrict yourself to Istanbul. It will be one of the most memorable trips you will have in your life!