You will need cash during your stay in Istanbul, there is no way around it. Sure, credit cards are widely accepted in hotels, restaurants, bars and stores, but there are occasions that require cash money.
So, do you bring cash along or do you withdraw it from an ATM? Do I bring Dollars, Euros or Turkish Liras? Where do I best exchange my money? Here’s my safe and practical Istanbul money strategy.
Why Do I Need Cash Money in Istanbul?
I agree with you that using credit cards to cover your expenses is easier and safer than carrying cash money on you. But some occasions simply require cash money — either because the amount of your expense is too small or credit cards are simply not allowed. For instance, taxis  and public transportation  don’t accept credit cards, nor do street vendors  or market stands. And let’s not forget about tipping  or small purchases such as a bottle of water or snacks. Also, most sightseeing venues won’t allow credit card payments — an attempt to keep the waiting lines short I guess.
And even if you have the choice between credit cards or cash money, the latter may be preferred. Often you will get a nice discount of 10% or more if you pay cash! Hotels and shops are widely known to use this tactic.
Do I Bring Turkish Liras, Dollars or Euros?
I’m sure you’re convinced by now that having cash money on you is a necessity in Istanbul. But what currency? Hotels may ask (or prefer) you to pay in Dollars or Euros. However, for all other expenses you’re better off or required to pay in Turkish Liras.
So, if your hotel gives you a nice discount by paying cash in a strong currency, make sure to bring that amount along and pay for your stay upon arrival. This way you prevent carrying a huge amount of money on you while exploring the city. After that it’s a matter of preference. Some tourists bring more cash along and exchange it into Turkish Liras whenever they run out, while others withdraw Turkish Liras from the omnipresent ATMs.
Using ATMs Is Common and Safe
I’m in favor of bringing a rather small amount of extra money in a strong currency, just for emergencies. For all my other expenses, I just use credit cards. In bars, restaurants, shops, and to withdraw Turkish Liras for my daily expenses.
But do check with your bank first how much they charge for every transaction and let them know you’ll be travelling to Istanbul soon. If their fees are too high, you may opt to bring Dollars or Euros along and exchange them in Istanbul. But don’t do it at the airport, hotels or shops! There are several exchange offices in both Sultanahmet and Taksim that offer much better exchange rates.
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