Getting there & around
As it’s the national capital in all but name, getting to İstanbul is easy. There are two international airports, two otogars (bus stations) from which international services arrive and depart, and two international rail stations.
Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services.
The most popular way to explore the Bosphorus is by ferry. Most day-trippers take the Eminönü-Kavaklar Boğaziçi Özel Gezi Seferleri (Eminönü-Kavaklar Bosphorus Special Touristic Excursions) ferry up its entire length. These depart from the Boğaz Hattı dock (dock No 3) at Eminönü daily at 10.35am. From June to September, there are extra services at noon and 1.35pm. A ticket costs YTL12.50 return, YTL6.50 one-way. The ferry stops at Beşiktaş, Kanlıca, Yeniköy, Sarıyer, Rumeli Kavağı and Anadolu Kavağı (the turnaround point). It is not possible to get on and off the ferry at stops along the way using the same ticket.
The boats fill up early in summer – especially on weekends – so buy your ticket and walk aboard at least 45 minutes (preferably an hour) prior to departure to get a seat outside or next to a window. During the trip waiters will offer you fresh orange juice, tea and other drinks. An orange juice costs YTL4, other drinks are cheaper.
Most day-trippers take the ferry all the way to Anadolu Kavağı, stopping at various sights along the way, but some go only as far as Sarıyer, on the European shore. They then make their way back to the city on the bus, stopping at Emirgan and Rumeli Hisarı on the return trip; sometimes they also stop at Ortaköy , Çırağan Palace or Dolmabahçe Palace on the return trip. From Sarıyer, bus No 25E makes the slow trip back to Eminönü, No 40 and 25T to Taksim Square and No 40B to Beşiktaş. Those to Taksim and Beşiktaş go via Emirgan, Rumeli Hisarı, Bebek, Ortaköy and Yıldız. The ferry arrives at Sarıyer at 11.45am, 11.10pm (June to September) and 2.45pm (June to September).
The trip to Anadolu Kavağı takes 1¾ hours and the ferry returns at 3pm and 4.15pm. If you decide to catch the ferry to Anadolu Kavağı and make your way back by bus, catch the No 15A, which leaves from just east of the ferry terminal en route to Kavacik Aktarma. Get off at Kanlıca to visit Hıdıv Kasrı and then catch the No 101 bus to Beşiktaş. Alternatively, catch the infrequent Nos 15 or 15P to Üsküdar, from where you can catch a ferry to Eminönü; or catch a taxi across the Fatih Bridge to Rumeli Hisarı and catch a bus back to Eminönü, Taksim Square or Beşiktaş.
From Kanlıca it’s also possible to catch a passenger ferry back to towards İstanbul. These stop at Anadolu Hisarı, Kandilli, Bebek and Arnavutköy. Departures from Kanlıca are at 8.40am, 10.10am, 1.30pm, 2.40pm, 4.10pm, 5.40pm, 5.05pm and 7pm. The trip to Bebek takes 25 minutes. These are winter times (departure times vary with the seasons).
There is also a passenger ferry service between Sarıyer and Anadolu Kavağı, with 15 ferries a day from 7.15am to 11pm; seven of these ferries stop at Rumeli Kavağı on the way.
Yet another option is a private Bosphorus boat tour. Ticket touts are always to be found around dock No 3 at Eminönü flogging the tickets for these, which cost YTL24 (try bargaining). Tours are on smaller boats (60 to 100 people), each with a small sun deck. They only travel as far as Rumeli Hisarı (without stopping) where they stop for lunch for an hour before returning. The whole trip takes about three hours. The advantage of these trips is they take less time and the boat goes closer to the shore; the disadvantages are the higher price and the fact that you don’t get to see the whole of the Bosphorus. These boats leave when they are full, starting from 11am and finishing at 8pm from May to September (4pm at other times).
Fourteen ferries run to the islands each day from 6.50am to midnight, departing from Kabataş’ ‘Adalar İskelesi’ dock. The most useful departure times for day-trippers are 9.30am, 10am and 11.30am. On summer weekends, board the vessel and grab a seat at least half an hour before departure time unless you want to stand the whole way. The trip costs YTL2 to the islands and the same for each leg between the islands and the return trip. The cheapest and easiest way to pay is to use your Akbil. To be safe, check the timetable at www.ido.com.tr, as the schedule can change.
The ferry steams away from Kabataş and on its journey treats passengers to fine views of Topkapı Palace, Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque on the right, and Üsküdar and Haydarpaşa on the left. After 20 minutes the ferry makes a quick stop at Kadıköy on the Asian side before making its way to the first island, Kınalıada. This leg takes 30 minutes. After this, it’s another 15 minutes to Burgazada; another 15 minutes again to Heybeliada, the second-largest island; and another 10 minutes to Büyükada, the largest island in the group.
Ferries return to İstanbul every 1.5 hours or so. The last ferry of the day leaves Büyükada at 10pm and Heybeliada at 10.15pm.
Çanakkale is the logical base for visits to the Gallipoli battlefields and/or Troy. Truva Turizm (www.truvaturizm.com) and Radar Turizm (www.radarturizm.org) buses depart Kadıköy and then İstanbul’s main otogar at Esenler regularly between 7.45am and midnight. The only time you’ll need to book ahead is around Anzac Day. The trip (six hours, 340km) costs YTL27, with a small discount for children. Buses stop for one rest break. If you’re heading back to İstanbul, you can buy bus tickets and board buses from near the ferry docks rather than going to the Çanakkale otogar. Truva Turizm buses leave Çanakkale at 7am, 8am. 9am, 10am, 11am, 1pm, 4pm and 1am. Radar Turizm buses follow a similar timetable. Most buses to/from İstanbul travel on the Eceabat–Çanakkale ferry and along the Thracian side of the Sea of Marmara coast.
Atlas Jet (www.atlasjet.com) flies from İstanbul to Çanakkale (YTL72 to YTL162, 35 to 40 minutes) every day except Saturday and flies the other way every day except Sunday. The airport is approximately 8km from the centre of town; a dolmuş between the two costs YTL1 and a taxi costs YTL15.
Troy is only 25 minutes (36km) by car or dolmuş from Çanakkale. The dolmuş station is under a small bridge opposite the fairground on Atatürk Caddesi. In high summer, dolmuşes go to the small village of Tefvikiye, just outside Troy, every 30 to 60 minutes. A ticket cost YTL5. At other times of the year, you should plan to visit early in the day to be sure of getting a return dolmuş.
There is no public transport around the Gallipoli Peninsula, so your only options are to take a tour or have your own car.
İstanbul is full of taxis. Some drivers are lunatics; others are con artists – most are neither. If you’re caught with the first category and you’re about to go into meltdown, say ‘yavaş!’ (careful/slow down!). Drivers in the second of these categories – the con artists – are unfortunately reasonably common. All taxis have digital meters and must run them, but some of these drivers ask for a flat fare, or pretend the meter doesn’t work so they can gouge you at the end of the run. The best way to counter this is to tell them no meter, no ride.
A base rate (drop rate, flag fall) is levied during the daytime (gündüz); the night-time (gece) rate, from midnight to 6am, is 50% higher. Meters, with LCD displays, flash ‘gündüz’ or ‘gece’ when they are started. Occasionally, drivers try to put the night-time (gece) rate on during the day, so watch out.
Few taxis have seatbelts. If you catch a taxi over either of the Bosphorus Bridges, it is your responsibility to cover the toll. The driver will add this to your fare.
The International İstanbul Bus Station (Uluslararası İstanbul Otogarı; 212-658 0505) is the city’s main bus station for both intercity and international routes. Called simply the otogar (bus station), it’s in the western district of Esenler, just south of the expressway and about 10km west of Sultanahmet. The LRT service from Aksaray stops here (Otogar stop) on its way from the airport; you can catch this to Aksaray and then connect with a tram to Sultanahmet. If you’re going to Beyoğlu, bus 83O leaves from the centre of the otogar between 5.45am and 1.40am every three to 25 minutes (depending on the time of day) and takes about an hour to reach Taksim Square. A taxi will cost approximately YTL20 to Sultanahmet, YTL25 to Taksim.
Many bus companies offer a free servis (shuttle bus) between the otogar and Taksim Square or Sultanahmet. If you’re booking a ticket out of İstanbul from a bus office in Taksim (or elsewhere), ask about this service. You’ll be asked to front up at the bus office around an hour before your bus is due to leave and a minibus will pick you up and take you from the office to your bus at the otogar. If you’ve just arrived by bus in İstanbul, ask your bus driver about the servis. One should be waiting close by to drop you at Sultanahmet or Taksim Square.
There’s a smaller bus station on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus at Harem (216-333 3763), south of Üsküdar and north of Haydarpaşa train station. If you’re arriving in İstanbul by bus from anywhere on the Asian side of Turkey, it’s always quicker to get out at Harem and take the car ferry to Sirkeci/Eminönü (every 30 minutes from 7.30am to 9.30pm); if you stay on the bus until the otogar, you’ll add at least an hour to your journey. If you’re going the other way, you may want to catch your bus here, instead of at the otogar; check if this is possible at the bus office.
The bus system in İstanbul is extremely efficient. The major bus stands are at Taksim Square, Beşiktaş, Aksaray, Rüstempaşa (Eminönü), Kadıköy and Üsküdar, and most services run between 6.30am and 11.30pm. Destinations and main stops on city bus routes are shown on a sign on the right (kerb) side of the bus (otobüs) or on the electronic display at its front.
İETT buses are run by the city and you must have a ticket (YTL1.30) before boarding. Buy tickets from the white booths near major stops and bus, tram and metro stations, or from some nearby shops for a small mark-up (look for ‘İETT otobüs bileti satılır’). Think about buying enough to last you throughout your stay in the city. You can also use your Akbil and save some money. Blue private buses regulated by the city called Özel Halk Otobüsü run the same routes; these accept cash (pay the conductor) and some accept Akbil.
Many bus offices are in Beyoğlu, near Taksim Square, on Mete and İnönü Caddesis, as well as at the otogar. This is a list of the top national lines:
An excellent tramway (tramvay) service runs from Zeytinburnu (where it connects with the airport LRT) to Sultanahmet and Eminönü, and then across the Galata Bridge to Karaköy (to connect with the Tünel) and Kabataş (to connect with the funicular to Taksim Square). Trams run every five minutes from 6am to midnight. The fare is YTL1.30 and Akbil can be used.
A two-stop antique tram runs along İstiklal Caddesi between Tünel and Taksim Squares in Beyoğlu.
A tram also runs between Kadıköy Square on the Asian side and the exclusive residential suburb of Moda.
Most of İstanbul’s airline offices are in the streets around Taksim Square, particularly Cumhuriyet Caddesi, but Turkish Airlines has offices around the city. Travel agencies can also sell air tickets and make reservations. The two major airlines flying domestic routes are Turkish Airlines (www.thy.com) and Onur Air (www.onurair.com.tr), though newcomers Atlasjet (www.atlasjet.com), Fly Air (www.flyair.com.tr) and Pegasus Airlines (www.flypgs.com) are also flying routes.
The city’s main airport, Atatürk International Airport (Atatürk Hava Limanı; flight information 212-465 3000, 212-465 5555; www.ataturkairport.com), is in Yeşilköy, 23km west of Sultanahmet (the heart of Old İstanbul). The international terminal (Dış Hatlar) is polished and organised. Close by, the domestic terminal (İç Hatlar) is smaller but no less efficient. The city’s second international airport, Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (216-585 5000; www.sabihagokcen.aero) at Kurtköy on the Asian side of the city, is popular with low-cost European airlines, but is nowhere near as convenient to get to and from.
There are car-hire desks, exchange offices, a pharmacy, ATMs and a PTT at the international arrivals area at Atatürk International Airport. There is also a 24-hour Tourist Information Office (212-663 0793) that can supply maps, advice and brochures. A 24-hour supermarket is found in the walkway to the metro. The 24-hour left-luggage service charges YTL12 to YTL15 per suitcase per 24 hours; you’ll find the booth to your right as you exit customs.
One of the few annoying things about Atatürk Airport is that travellers must pay to use a trolley on either side of immigration. You can pay in lira (YTL1) or euros (€1), which you get back when you return the trolley.
There’s a bank, mini-market and PTT at Sabiha Gökçen. Use of trolleys there is free of charge.
Cruise ships arrive at the Karaköy International Maritime Passenger Terminal (212-249 5776), just near the Galata Bridge.
The most enjoyable way to get around town is by ferry. Crossing between the Asian and European shores, these vessels are as efficient as they are popular with locals. The İstanbul Deniz Otobüsleri (212-444 4436; www.ido.com.tr) has fare and timetable information or you can pick up a printed timetable at any of the ferry docks.
On the European side, the major ferry docks are at the mouth of the Golden Horn (Eminönü, Sirkeci and Karaköy), and at Kabataş, 2km past the Galata Bridge, at the end of the tram line from the airport and Sultanahmet.
The ferries run to two annual timetables: winter (mid-September to mid-June) and summer (mid-June to mid-September). Printed timetables are available from all ferry terminals and an online timetable (in Turkish) is available at www.tdi.com.tr. Tickets (jetons) are cheap (usually YTL1.30) and it’s possible to use Akbil on most routes.
There are also deniz otobüsü (fast catamaran or seabus) services, but these ply routes that are of less interest to the traveller; they are also more expensive than the ferries. The most useful seabus routes are Bostancı–Karaköy–Eminönü and Bostancı–Princes’ Islands.
There are two funiculars (funıküleri) and one cable-car (teleferic) in the city.
An antique funicular called the Tünel carries passengers between Karaköy, at the base of the Galata Bridge, to Tünel Square, the southwestern end of İstiklal Caddesi. It was closed for restoration at the time of research.
The second funicular carries passengers from Kabataş – at the end of the tram line from Zeytinburnu, through the Old City and over the Galata Bridge – to Taksim Square in Taksim, where it connects to the metro.
A cable-car runs between the waterside at Eyüp to the Pierre Loti Café.
All are short trips (approximately three minutes) and cost YTL1.30. Akbil can be used.
All trains from Europe terminate at Sirkeci Railway Station (212-527 0051; Ankara Caddesi, Sirkeci), right next to Eminönü. Outside the station’s main door there’s a convenient tram up the hill to Sultanahmet, Beyazıt and Zeytinburnu and across the Galata Bridge to Kabataş, from where you can catch a funicular to Taksim Square.
International services from Sirkeci include the Bosfor Ekspres service leaving at 10pm on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, going to Budapest (YTL185.40, 33 hours). There is also a slow daily service (the Dostlu/Filia Ekspres) to Thessaloniki (YTL89.30, 16 hours) departing at 8pm, where you can connect with trains to Athens.
Trains from the Asian side of Turkey, and from points east and south, terminate at Haydarpaşa Railway Station (216-336 4470; Haydarpaşa İstasyon Caddesi, Kadıköy), on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus close to Kadıköy. Ignore anyone who suggests you should take a taxi to or from Haydarpaşa. The ferry from the station is cheap, convenient, pleasant and speedy. Taxis across the Bosphorus are expensive and slow.
Services from Haydarpaşa include eight daily departures to Ankara (YTL11.75 to YTL100). International services from Haydarpaşa include the Transasya Espress to Tehran (YTL98), leaving at 10.55pm on Wednesday; and the Toros Espress to Aleppo (YTL57), leaving at 8.55pm on Sunday.
Haydarpaşa has a left-luggage room (emanet), a restaurant serving alcoholic beverages, numerous snack shops, left-luggage lockers, bank ATMs and a small post office (PTT).
There are two suburban train lines (banliyö treni) in İstanbul. The first rattles along the Sea of Marmara shore from Sirkeci Railway Station, around Seraglio Point to Cankurtaran, Kumkapı, Yenikapı and a number of stations before it terminates past Atatürk International Airport at Halkalı. This is currently being rebuilt. The second runs from Haydarpaşa railway station to Gebze, via Bostancı. The trains are dirty and decrepit but reasonably reliable (nearly every half-hour) and cheap (YTL1.30 to YTL1.50). Akbil can be used.
From Taksim there is a service stopping at Osmanbey, Şişli, Gayrettepe, Levent and Levent 4. The full trip takes 25 minutes. Services run every five minutes or so from 6.15am to 12.30am Monday to Thursday, 6.15am to 1am on Friday and Saturday and 6.30am to 12.20am on Sunday. Tickets cost YTL1.30 and Akbil can be used.
See left for details of the one-stop Tünel underground system between Karaköy and Tünel Square and the new funicular from Kabataş to Taksim Square.