How to get around Istanbul

Driving underneath the Valens Aqueduct

By Jennifer Hattam, your Istanbul expert

I write for DK Eyewitness, Time Out .... Read more

Getting around Istanbul - my advice

The central parts of Istanbul where most visitors will spend their time -- Beyoğlu, Sultanahmet, and nearby neighbourhoods -- are compact and easily walkable, though not always simple to navigate, as streets aren’t laid out in anything resembling a grid and signage can be scarce. Fortunately, getting a little lost can be the best way to stumble on a quaint café, an authentic restaurant, or a quirky shop. And when your feet get weary, there are plenty of public transportation options available. The standard fare for a one-way ride on any mode of transit is 1.75 Turkish Liras. Most buses still take cash fares; tram, Metro, and ferry stops have machines where you can buy a "jeton" (token).

Travellers who will be using public transportation extensively should consider buying an Akbil, or electronic ticket. A 6 lira (refundable) deposit is required, but it’s convenient and will save you 10 kuruş per ride and significantly more on transfers. Look for the “Akbil Satış Noktası” (Akbil sales point) booth at Taksim Square or other transit hubs.

Getting around by tram

The well-kept-up tramway line will probably be of most use to visitors. From its Kabataş ferry dock terminus (see below), it stops at Tophane (near the Istanbul Modern), Karaköy (on the Galata Bridge), Eminönü (near the Spice Bazaar and the Bosphorus Tour departure point), Sirkeci, Gülhane (outside Topkapı Palace), Sultanahmet, Çemberlitaş, and Beyzaıt/Kapalıçarşı (near the Grand Bazaar). Two funiculars connect the tramline with the Beyoğlu area -- one running from Karaköy to Tünel and the other from Kabataş to Taksim.

Getting around by ferry

The most pleasant and scenic way to travel in the city, Istanbul’s ferries are primarily useful for getting to and from Asia and Europe. Eminönü and Kabataş have the biggest ferry docks on the European side, though both city-run (www.ido.com.tr) and private boats (www.turyol.com) leave regularly from Karaköy and Beşiktaş as well. Kadıköy and Üsküdar are the main ferry stops on the Asian side. Smaller, less-frequent ferries also ply the Golden Horn between Eminönü and Eyüp.

Getting around by Metro

The city has two Metro lines, one running from Aksaray to Atatürk Airport and the other serving stops between Taksim and Ayazağa. Visitors likely won’t use them unless they’re going to the otogar (bus station) or one of Istanbul’s big malls.

Getting around by bus

Istanbul is criss-crossed by dozens, if not hundreds, of private and public bus routes, including the often jam-packed minibuses known as dolmuş (meaning, appropriately enough, “stuffed”). Figuring out how to get where you’re going can be a bit of an adventure, but both Taksim Square and Eminönü (just up the Golden Horn from the tram stop) are major hubs.

Getting around by rail

The creaky suburban train from Sirkeci will take you to Yedikule Fortress, the restaurants near Kumkapı and Samatya (Koca Mustafa Paşa stop), and the local horse-racing track, but not much else of interest.

Getting around by taxi

Licensed yellow cabs ply the city and are not outrageously expensive, especially if a small group of travellers is sharing the fare. You need to watch out for scams, though: Make sure the driver turns the meter on, and have an idea of how to get where you’re going before you hop in the car so you can tell if he’s giving you the run-around to jack up the fare.

Getting to the city

For advice on transport to and from the airports, see Istanbul flights.
 

For more expert advice on Istanbul, follow these links: