You would be putting your life at serious risk – don't even think about it.
The most enjoyable way to get around town is by ferry. Crossing between the Asian and European shores, up and down the Golden Horn and Bosphorus, and over to the Princes' Islands, these vessels are as efficient as they are popular with locals. Some are operated by the government-owned İstanbul Şehir Hatları; others by private companies, including Dentur Avrasya and Turyol. Timetables are posted at iskelesi (ferry docks).
On the European side, the major ferry docks are at the mouth of the Golden Horn (Eminönü and Karaköy) and at Beşiktaş. The Kabataş iskele was closed for redevelopment at the time of research.
The ferries run to two annual timetables: winter (mid-September to May) and summer (June to mid-September). Tickets are cheap (usually ₺5) and it's possible to use an İstanbulkart on most routes.
There are also deniz otobüsü and hızlı feribot (seabus and fast ferry) services, but these ply routes that are of less interest to the traveller and are also more expensive than the conventional ferries. For more information, check İstanbul Deniz Otobüsleri.
Ferries ply the following useful two-way routes:
- Eminönü–Anadolu Kavağı (Bosphorus Cruise)
- Beşiktaş–Eminönü–Kadıköy–Kınaılada–Burgazada–Heybeliada–Büyükada–Bostancı (Princes' Islands ferry)
- Üsküdar–Karaköy–Kasımpaşa–Fener–Balat–Hasköy–Ayvansaray–Sütlüce–Eyüp (Golden Horn Ferry)
Note that some routes will change when the Kabataş iskele reopens.
Kabataş İskeles Closure
In August 2016 the main iskelesi (ferry docks) at Kabataş were closed for an indefinite period so that construction works for an underwater pedestrian tunnel linking Kabataş and Üsküdar could commence. During the closure, ferry services will be be relocated as listed below:
Princes Islands (Adalar) ferries: ferries operated by Istanbul Şehir Hatları will depart from/arrive at Eminönü (Katip Çelebi iskele) and Beşiktaş. Ferries operated by İDO now depart from/arrive at Beşiktaş and Yenikapı.
Kadıköy Istanbul Şehir Hatları ferries will depart from/arrive at Eminönü (Katip Çelebi iskele) and Beşiktaş.
İDO seabuses to Bursa will depart from Beşiktaş and stop in Kadıköy and Yenıkapı en route. BUDO seabuses to Bursa will depart from Eminönü.
Üsküdar, Bosphorus & Golden Horn Dentur Avrasya had not announced any plans for the relocation of its hop-on, hop-off services to the Bosphorus and Golden Horn and its regular services to Üsküdar and the Princes Islands. Check the company's website for updates.
The bus system in İstanbul is extremely efficient, though traffic congestion in the city means that bus trips can be very long. The introduction of Metrobüs lines (where buses are given dedicated traffic lanes) aims to relieve this problem, but these tend to service residential suburbs out of the city centre and are thus of limited benefit to travellers. The major bus stands are underneath Taksim Meydanı and at Beşiktaş, Kabataş, Eminönü, Kadıköy and Üsküdar, with most services running between 6am and 11pm. 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. You must have an İstanbulkart before boarding.
The most useful bus lines for travellers are those running along both sides of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, those in the Western Districts and those between Üsküdar and Kadıköy.
Car & Motorcycle
Traffic in İstanbul is always gridlocked, road rules are regularly breached and parking is both difficult to find and expensive. You are much better off without a car or motorcycle when in the city.
A dolmuş is a shared minibus. It waits at a specified departure point until it has a full complement of passengers (in Turkish, dolmuş means full) then follows a fixed route to its destination. Destinations are displayed in the window of the dolmuş. Passengers flag down the driver to get on and indicate to the driver when they want to get off, usually by saying 'inecek var!' (someone wants to get out!). Fares vary (pay on board) but are usually the same as municipal buses. Dolmuşes are almost as comfortable as taxis, run later into the night in many instances, and often ply routes that buses and other forms of transport don't service. Most travellers are unlikely to take a dolmuş during their visit to the city. The only routes they are likely to find useful are Kadıköy–Taksim, Kadıköy–Üsküdar, Beşiktaş–Harbiye and along the Bosphorus shores.
Funicular & Cable Car
There are two funiculars (funıküleri) and two cable cars (teleferic) in the city. All are short trips and İstanbulkarts can be used.
A funicular called the Tünel carries passengers between Karaköy, at the base of the Galata Bridge (Galata Köprüsü), to Tünel Meydanı, at one end of İstiklal Caddesi. The service operates every five minutes between 7am and 10.45pm and a jeton costs ₺4.
The second funicular carries passengers from Kabataş, at the end of the tramline, to Taksim Meydanı, where it connects to the metro. The service operates every five minutes from 6am to midnight and a jeton costs ₺5.
A cable car runs between the waterside at Eyüp and the Pierre Loti Café (8am to 10pm). Another travels between Maçka (near Taksim) and the İstanbul Technical University in Taşkışla (8am to 7pm). Jetons for each cost ₺5.
Metro services depart every five minutes between 6am and midnight. Jetons cost ₺5 and İstanbulkarts can be used.
One line (the M1A) connects Yenikapı, southwest of Sultanahmet, with the airport. This stops at 16 stations, including Aksaray and the Otogar, along the way.
Another line (the M2) connects Yenikapı with Taksim, stopping at three stations along the way: Vezneciler, near the Grand Bazaar; on the new bridge across the Golden Horn (Haliç); and at Şişhane, near Tünel Meydanı in Beyoğlu. From Taksim it travels northeast to Hacıosman via nine stations. A branch line, the M6, connects one of these stops, Levent, with Boğaziçi Üniversitesi near the Bosphorus.
A fourth line, known as the Marmaray, connects Kazlıçeşme, west of the Old City, with Ayrılık Çeşmesi, on the city's Asian side. This travels via a tunnel under the Sea of Marmara, stopping at Yenikapı, Sirkeci and Üsküdar en route and connecting with the M4 metro running between Kadıköy and Kartal. A small number of İstanbullus refuse to use this tunnel link, believing that safety standards were compromised during its construction so as to expedite its opening.
İstanbul is full of yellow 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!' (slow down!). Drivers in the con-artist category tend to prey on tourists. 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 trip. The best way to counter this is to tell them no meter, no ride. Avoid the taxis waiting for fares near Aya Sofya Meydanı – we have received reports of rip-offs.
Taxi fares are very reasonable and rates are the same during both day and night. It costs around ₺20 to travel between Beyoğlu and Sultanahmet.
Few taxis have seat belts. If you take a taxi from the European side of the city to the Asian side over one of the Bosphorus bridges, it is your responsibility to cover the toll (₺7). The driver will add this to your fare. There is no toll when crossing from Asia to Europe.
An excellent tramvay (tramway) service runs from Bağcılar, in the city's west, to Zeytinburnu (where it connects with the metro from the airport) and on to Sultanahmet and Eminönü. It then crosses the Galata Bridge to Karaköy (to connect with the Tünel) and Kabataş (to connect with the funicular to Taksim Meydanı). A second service runs from Cevizlibağ, closer to Sultanahmet on the same line, through to Kabataş. Both services run every five minutes from 6am to midnight. The fare is ₺5; jetons are available from machines on every tram stop and İstanbulkarts can be used.
A small antique tram travels the length of İstiklal Caddesi in Beyoğlu from a stop near Tünel Meydanı to Taksim Meydanı (7am to 10.20pm). Electronic tickets (₺4) can be purchased from the ticket office at the Tünel funicular, and İstanbulkarts can be used.
Another small tram line follows a loop through Kadıköy and the neighbouring suburb of Moda every 10 minutes between 6.55am and 9.20pm. Jetons cost ₺5 and İstanbulkarts can be used.
Public Transport Operators
İstanbul Elektrik Tramvay ve Tünel (İETT, İstanbul Electricity, Tramway and Tunnel General Management; www.iett.gov.tr) is responsible for running public buses, funiculars and historic trams in the city. Its website has useful timetable and route information in Turkish and English. Metro and tram services are run by İstanbul Ulaşım (www.istanbul-ulasim.com.tr), ferry services are run by İstanbul Şehir Hatları, Dentur Avrasya and Turyol, and seabus and fast-ferry services are operated by İstanbul Deniz Otobüsleri.
Tickets & Passes
- Jetons (ticket tokens) can be purchased from ticket machines or offices at tram stops, iskelesi and funicular and metro stations, but it's much cheaper and easier to use an İstanbulkart.
- You must have an İstanbulkart to use a bus.
- Pay the driver when you take a dolmuş (shared minibus); fares vary according to destination and length of trip.
- Ticket prices are usually the same on public and private ferry services; İstanbulkarts can be used on some private ferries, but not all.
- İstanbulkarts cannot be used to pay for Bosphorus ferry tours.
İstanbul's public-transport system is excellent, and one of its major strengths is the İstanbulkart, a rechargeable travel card similar to London's Oyster Card, Hong Kong's Octopus Card and Paris' Navigo.
İstanbulkarts are simple to operate. As you enter a bus or pass through the turnstile at a ferry dock or metro station, swipe your card for entry and the fare will automatically be deducted from your balance. The cards offer a considerable discount on fares (₺2.60, as opposed to the usual ₺5, with additional transfers within a two-hour journey window: ₺1.85 for the first transfer, ₺1.40 for the second and ₺0.90 for all subsequent transfers). They can also be used to pay for fares for more than one traveller (one swipe per person per ride).
The cards can be purchased from machines at metro and funicular stations for a nonrefundable charge of ₺10, which includes ₺4 in credit. If you buy yours from a street kiosk near a tram or bus stop (look for an 'Akbil', 'Dolum Noktası' or 'İstanbulkart' sign), you will pay ₺8 for one with a plastic cover, or ₺7 without. These won't include any credit.
Cards can be recharged with amounts between ₺5 and ₺150 at kiosks or at machines at ferry docks, metro and bus stations.
Dentur Avrasya Private ferry company
Dolmuş Shared minibus
İskele Ferry dock
İstanbul Şehir Hatları The city's main ferry service; government-run
İstanbulkart Rechargeable travel card
Jeton Transport token
Mavi Marmara Private ferry line to/from the Princes' Islands, operated by Dentur Avraysa
Otogar Bus station
Teleferic Cable car
Tünel Literally, 'tunnel'; name for funicular between Karaköy and Tünel Meydanı (Tünel Sq)
Turyol Private ferry company
F1 Funicular between Kabataş and Taksim Sq.
M1 Metro line between Atatürk International Airport and Yenikapı.
M2 Metro line linking Yenikapı with Hacıosman. Stops at Vezneciler (near the Grand Bazaar), on the Golden Horn (Haliç) bridge and at Şişhane and Taksim Sq in Beyoğlu.
Marmaray Metro line linking Kazlıçeşme on the European shore with Ayrılık Çeşme on the Asian shore via Yenikapı, Sirkeci and Üsküdar.
T1 Tram line between Bağcılar/Cevizlibağ and Kabataş via Zeytinburnu (for airport and otogar metro connections), Sultanahmet and Karaköy.
Tünel Funicular between Karaköy and Tünel Meydanı.
- Purchase an İstanbulkart to save nearly 50% on the standard ticket price every time you take a ferry, tram, metro, funicular or bus ride, and even more on connecting journeys.
- If travelling from the Grand Bazaar or Süleymaniye Mosque to Beyoğlu, consider taking the metro from Vezneciler rather than the slower tram service.
- To pick up a handy public transport map of the city or to request transport information, go to the extremely helpful İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi (İstanbul Municipality) Information Office between the Harem and Kadıköy iskeles at Eminönü.
When to Travel
- İstanbul is a busy city and even though public transport services are frequent, they are often crowded. Try to avoid rush hours (8am to 10am and 4pm to 6pm) if possible.
- If you need to get to Taksim Meydanı (Taksim Sq) from the Asian or Bosphorus suburbs after services have finished for the night, you should be able to take a dolmuş.
- All Bosphorus and Princes' Islands ferry services are jam-packed on weekends; consider exploring on a weekday if possible.
- Have your İstanbulkart or jeton ready before you go through the ticket turnstile – locals are well practised at moving through ticket barriers without breaking pace.
- If you want to stay stationary on an escalator, stand on the right-hand side; you'll need to walk if you are on the left.
- Turks are usually very polite and will give their seats to older passengers, disabled people, pregnant women or parents carrying babies or toddlers if there are no spare seats available. You should do the same.
- Queuing to board public transport is honoured in principle rather than in reality. Be proactive but not pushy.