Rick Steves Says This Budget-Friendly European City Has Some Of The Best Attractions

With so many cities in Europe, the culture, language, and sights change drastically from place to place. Major cities like London and Paris see millions of tourists each year, and while they deserve their worldwide allure, they also have pricey reputations. However, the cost of an epic jaunt around Europe is another element that can change from one place to another.

Rick Steves is a fellow admirer of such aforementioned cities but has a more budget-friendly recommendation with the same amount of activities and beautiful attractions. "Of the great cities of Europe, four are worth a week of sightseeing: London, Paris, Rome, and Istanbul. And of those, Istanbul offers the most thrills for the best price," he states on his website. Istanbul is packed with historical significance and its geographic location makes it a blend of Europe and Asia. With more than 16 million residents occupying land on both sides of the Bosphorus Strait, this Turkish city is one of the largest in Europe and Asia. From Istanbul's stunning architecture to its ancient coffee traditions, the city is alive with cultures past and present.

Visit influential religious buildings in Istanbul

It is easy to fill a week's itinerary in Istanbul, as Rick Steves suggests is the necessary time frame. Start with sites from the city's Byzantine history when it was called Byzantium and later Constantinople. The city was integral to the economy of the Byzantine Empire and many of its popular structures were built during this era. The Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya Camii) dates back to 537 A.D. This was a Christian church until the Ottoman Turks converted it into a mosque. Along with such history, Hagia Sophia's beautiful lighting and mosaics make it perhaps the most iconic landmark in Istanbul.

Steves explains that while the part of the city that surrounds the Hagia Sophia is touristy, it is still enjoyable. "[It] is virtually traffic-free, with blossoming trees, refreshing fountains, and a mix of strolling visitors from all over Europe and the Middle East as well as locals. I take a minute to sit on a bench and marvel at the almost Parisian elegance of the scene," says Steves. The area's other landmarks include Sultanahmet Square (Sultanahmet Meydanı), the former site of Istanbul's hippodrome, and the famous Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii), which is a great place to kick off your trip to Istanbul.

Step inside ancient palaces and infrastructural innovations

For more iconic landmarks of the Byzantine era, head to The Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi). It was built in the mid-1300s but suffered damages in the centuries since. The tower was restored in 2020 and now also includes a museum. Even if you are not going to the top of the tower, it is still a sight to behold from the ground, not to mention the narrow and colorful streets surrounding the area.

Cross the Golden Horn estuary to get to the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, or the Tekfur Sarayı Müzesi (Porfirogennetos Sarayı). The palace's purpose has changed over the nearly 1,000 years since its initial construction, but it was once a residence for Byzantine emperors. Its architecture alone makes it worth the visit, with multiple courtyards and archways to travelerblog.

Another significant religious monument is the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı). This structure is about the same age as the Hagia Sophia and was integral to Istanbul's water supply and distribution, even for the city's palaces. Its opulent columns which reflect on the shallow water in the building make it seem almost otherworldly. However, it is not a hidden gem. To see a similar structure with fewer crowds, head to the Cistern of Theodosius (Şerefiye Sarnıcı) just 10 minutes away from Basilica Cistern.

Spend time with locals at teahouses and eat on a budget

While Istanbul offers so many amazing structures at which to marvel, Rick Steves particularly enjoys the simple things about the city as well. "I don't let a Turkish day go by without enjoying a teahouse game of backgammon with a stranger," he states on his website. Steves believes that these elements of the city keep its traditional culture alive. Connecting with locals is also a way to challenge yourself while traveling, and Istanbul's welcoming locals make the city all the more endearing.

As previously mentioned, Istanbul is known to be quite budget-friendly. The average hotel price is only around $49 per night as opposed to around $126 per night in Paris, according to Budget Your Trip. After moving to Istanbul from the United States, Maria Mocerino told Business Insider that food is more affordable at both grocery stores and restaurants in Istanbul than in the U.S. "I got an artisanal kombucha and a salmon meal for $12 at a restaurant. That price wouldn't get me much when dining out back home," she stated. The massive sights like the Hagia Sophia, the simplicities of teahouses and backgammon, and great value for your money all combine to make Istanbul an unforgettable and attainable experience.