1. Get the Istanbul Card.
The Istanbul Card is an all-in-one card for your transportation needs. Trams, busses etc. To get this card, you have to pay 7TL for an ’empty’ card at any vendors/ newspaper stand. Just ask for an Istanbul Card. Then you can load however much money you want in the card.
But here’s the trick, when you leave, it’s possible to sell your card back to the vendor and get 5TL back.
2. Get the museum pass.
There are several different options for this. Funny thing is, in Izmir (at the Ephesus Museum), they were selling a 115TL card that lasts for 2 weeks that lets you gain entry into ALL museums in Turkey. I think this is the best deal ever. However, I’ve yet to see this card in Istanbul, check around.
The most popular museum card in Turkey is the 85TL card that lasts for 72 hours from your first museum entry. Very worth it because the entry to Aya Sofia, Topkapi Palace and Archeological Museum is (30TL+30TL+15TL) 75TL. This is not to mention that the museum card allows entry into the Harem in Topkapi Palace which is an additional 15TL.
3. Use the HAVATAS instead of taxis
Instead of taking the expensive airport taxis, walk straight out of the airport and look for white busses with the sign ‘HAVATAS’. From Ataturk to Taksim Square is 11TL and from Sabikha Gocken to Taksim Square is 14TL.
From Taksim, you can take cabs, dolmus, or busses to wherever you need to go.
4. Use the public transport.
With an Istanbul card, each ride on the tram (wherever you go) will cost you 2.25TL (as of July 2015). Dolmus rides cost more the further you go, but a 10-15 minutes trip will cost about 2TL.
5. Always ask for the price before buying.
This is a really big problem for tourists. I’ve heard from locals themselves that even the price tags displayed are hiked up for tourists. Locals get a huge discount. That sounds about normal wherever you go, but just make sure you go to places with price tags in the first place. If there isn’t a price tag, make sure you ask for the price!
6. If the items has no price tag, you can bargain for the price.
This is a general rule you can use. Start at 50-75% of the price they offer. But personally, if I see a person who looks like he could use a customer for the day, i’d just pay whatever sounds reasonable.
7. Get a guidebook/ print stuff online!
An audio guide in most tourist spots costs at least 20TL, and a guide at least 70TL. A really good guide book will cost you 50-60TL the most.
If you’re as cheapskate as me, just get your materials online. If you really need it in hard copy, just print it.
8. Get apps for everything.
Before I was in Topkapi Palace, I downloaded an app by the same name on App store. It’s basically like an audio tour, but you’re using your own device, and it’s completely free.
Search around, there’s all kinds of app you can make use of nowadays.
These are the few things I’ve learnt while I was in Istanbul. Hopefully it helps some of you navigate this wonderfully buzzing city.