The minarets of Istanbul's 17th-century Blue Mosque.
A cosmopolitan blend of Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a more exotic, less-pricey alternative to Paris or London, especially during the off-season winter months of January, February and March.
The city is compact and walkable, and you can snack as locals do on the trendy Istiklal Avenue in Beyoğlu, north of the landmark Galata Bridge. Most eateries serve Middle Eastern dishes for less than $10. Istanbul is a vegetarian’s delight, with endless variations of eggplant, spicy okra, spinach and garlic, lentil soup and yogurt.
A great place to shop for bargains is the Grand Bazaar, one of Istanbul’s enduring landmarks.
There are good budget hotels in the hip Beyoğlu and the old city for less than $80 a night with neat, clean rooms that include breakfast buffets and Wi-Fi. You’ll hear the call to prayer from nearby mosques while lying in bed.
Blue Mosque sightseers
Entrance fees for sightseeing spots including the Hagia Sophia Museum, Blue Mosque (also called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque) and Topkapı Palace ranged from free to $11. The city’s European and Asian areas are divided by the Bosporous Strait at the the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn.
Ferries are a cheap and easy way to get around. A six-hour excursion along the Bosporus Strait is just $14 round-trip. You can take another hour-long ride to Buyukada, the largest of a handful of islands in the Sea of Marmara called the Princes Islands. A day trip to Buyukada by high-speed ferry shouldn't be missed; you’ll find gorgeous Ottoman mansions amid pine forests and Aya Yorgi, a Greek monastery to explore by horse and carriage.
Definitely don't miss the Istanbul Archaeology Museums and a boat cruise along the Bosphorus to the last village before the mouth of the Black Sea.
And don’t forget to have a Turkish massage, which is done with water (rather than oil); it will leave you feeling refreshed and invigorated.