Frommer's lists exact prices in the local currency. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/convert/classic to check up-to-the-minute rates.
On January 1, 2005, the Turkish Central Bank lopped six zeros off a currency that saw phenomenal inflation in the previous decade or so, making the handling of Turkish money even easier. But those were the old days. With a national economic growth rate rivaling that of China's, Turkey's economy is stronger than it's ever been. Meanwhile, those millionaire bank notes of yesteryear, which were replaced with the New Turkish Lira (yeni turk lirasi or TL), are now officially no longer new. It's just the plain old (new) Turkish Lira (TL).
Bank notes come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200TL, while coins, called the kurus (kr), come in 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 kurus pieces. There is also a 1TL coin.
In spite of the continued stabilization of the Turkish Lira, local prices for larger-ticket items (hotels, tours, carpets) are still generally quoted in foreign currency, usually the euro. But wishing to accommodate, local salesmen will often quote a price in your home currency. Similarly, prices listed in this guide are given in the currency in which they were provided, creating an unavoidable mish-mash of prices in euros, pounds sterling, Turkish Lira and U.S. dollars. Note that at the time of payment however, prices are converted back to TL based on that day's rate of exchange. This may account for minor discrepancies in say, the charge on your credit card bill vs. the amount you thought you were going to pay relevant to the price quoted on a hotel's website.
Now a word on value. Ten years ago, Istanbul was the quintessential budget destination. Then, a filling lunch of home-style Anatolian victuals cost $4, a taxi from the airport to Sultanahmet was $5, and the total admission for a visit to Topkapi Palace was $9. Now, appetizers alone start at 5TL or 6TL, the same taxi ride costs upwards to 25TL and the total admission for Topkapi is 35TL. Far and above mere inflation, this increase represents the forces of supply and demand (where demand for Istanbul has skyrocketed) and the exponential expansion of a thriving middle class. Today, you can still have a meal for under $10, but the number of dining establishments with entrees at 30TL, 40TL, 50TL and up is ever increasing. Put into further perspective, in 2009, while not at the top of the list, Istanbul ranked as the 38th most expensive city in Europe and 74th in the world. (Central London was 37th and 73rd, respectively.)
It's always advisable to bring money in a variety of forms on a vacation: a mix of cash, credit cards, and if you insist, traveler's checks. You should also exchange enough petty cash to cover airport incidentals, tipping, and transportation to your hotel; you can easily withdraw money upon arrival at an airport ATM located in the arrivals terminal.
For those of you willing to succumb to the endless, creative bank fees charged by credit card companies, ATMs on the Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks are widely available in Istanbul. Among the most reliable of the local banks are Akbank, Türk Is Bankasi, Garanti Bankasi, Yapi Kredi Bankasi, and Ziraat Bankasi. Ask your bank whether you need a new personal identification number (PIN), as most ATMs in Turkey accept numbered passwords only, and some limit their input to four digits. Also, be aware that the ATMs are often fickle or empty, so always carry around alternatives in the form of cash or traveler's checks for emergencies.
Credit Cards & Debit Cards
Private bank accounts are not the only method where banks have been creative with mining additional fees. Purchases on credit card accounts are now also subject to a percentage fee, usually around 5%. In an annoying twist, these very same credit cards offer some of the more competitive exchange rates. It's up to you to do the math, though. Nevertheless, it's highly recommended that you travel with at least one major credit card. You must have a credit card to rent a car, and hotels and airlines usually require a credit card imprint as a deposit against expenses. Most establishments accept American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Debit cards are also a commonly acceptable form of payment in most establishments.
In Turkey, as in many other European countries, local merchants are loath to accept traveler's checks, as banks charge large fees to cash them out. Banks tend to charge high commissions or hide the commission in higher rates, as do the exchange offices around town. Hotels are most amenable to exchanging your traveler's checks, but hotel exchange rates are notoriously unfavorable. The post office (PTT) will probably be your best bet for exchanging them for cash.
What Things Cost in Istanbul
Taxi from airport to Sultanahmet 22TL
Havas bus from airport to Taksim 10TL
Double at Çiragan Palace with sea view 670€-1,350€
Double at the Apricot Hotel 79€-99€
Dinner for one at the Four Seasons 75TL
Dinner for one at a köfte joint around town 15TL
Bosphorus cruise (round-trip) 20TL
Commuter ferry up the Bosphorus 1.50TL
Ticket on bus, tram, or metro 1.50TL
Admission to Topkapi Palace (all exhibits) 35TL
Daytime taxi from Sultanahmet to Taksim (no traffic) 10TL
Glass of tea at Mesale tea gardens 2TL
Glass of tea in a carpet shop Free