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Budget Travel in Istanbul

By Amanda Breen

Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district, filled with hostels and low-cost hotels, is within walking distance of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofya, and the Topkapi Palace. Hotel rooms range from $20 to $90. At the Istanbul Hostel (011-90-1-212-516-9380; info@valide.com) on Kutlugun Sokaates, amenities include a bar, restaurant, and rooftop terrace. Rates range from $6.

For a splurge, go to the Hotel Empress Zoe (011-90-1-212-518-2504; emzoe@ibm.net or www.emzoe.com), located on Adliye Sokak. Ottoman-style rooms for $50 to $85 per night include a full Turkish breakfast and the views from the roof towards both the Blue Mosque and the Bosphorus are spectacular.

At these prices, you can afford to extend your stay. Here are three great ways we found to experience the life and people of Istanbul firsthand:

Get a Turkish Shave: Wander into any barber shop around the city and just rub your beard. For $2 you can have your face shaved twice, your head massaged several times, and even have fire thrown on your ears and sideburns to burn away small hairs. After this elaborate procedure, the barber will insist that you sit down and share some Turkish cay (tea) with him and the other men in the shop.

Go to the Taksim District at Night: Walk past the Grand Bazaar and head downhill to the Galata Bridge across the Golden Horn. At the pedestrian overpass right before the bridge take a dolmus (scheduled minivan bus) to Taksim Square. Fill up on a doner kebap and spend the evening strolling the Istiklal Caddesi. This historic pedestrian boulevard is where the people of Istanbul come to see and be seen.

Visit a Water-Pipe Cafe: One of the most popular pastimes in Istanbul is playing backgammon in cafes while drinking cay and smoking flavored tobacco out of elaborate Turkish pipes called nargile. Tables and couches are communal and you will often be asked to join in a backgammon game as soon as you sit down. Two-hour stints in these cafes cost the two of us around $3 for tea and nargile. Several are located on Divan Yolu between the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar.

 
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