In such an enormous city as Istanbul, figuring out how to get around can be a challenge! There are many forms of public transport and it can be difficult to find out which one is the best for you. There is also a security aspect either for couples or women on their own that needs to be considered. Once you know the rules and the right hints, relax and enjoy the ‘city of a thousand and one nights!’
Walking in Sultanahmet and Taksim
If you are lucky enough to be accommodated in the Sultanahmet district, you will have most monuments and sights on your doorstep. Grab a map from the tourism booth on Sultanahmet Square and walk from one place to another.
It is safe to walk in this area and there are a lot of policemen standing around during the day. At night some narrow streets are quite deserted and might not be that appealing as this is not the area for nightlife.
Although there isn’t much traffic in the old city, pay attention when you cross the road: as a pedestrian, you are at a disadvantage and transit regulation is overruled by the size of the city and population. During rush hour, you will find the streets totally packed: this is the pickpocketer’s ‘happy hour’ so mind your purse! Another place where you should walk to is in the famous Istiklal Caddesi avenue in the Taksim district. To get there you will probably need to use public transportation.
Using Public Transportation, Part 1
The range of choice is as big as the city. You can choose between train, metro, bus, minibus (also called Dolmuş) funicular and tram. There is a Turkish site with information about all available transportation, which can be useful when you are planning your trip. But once there, your common sense will help you even better. Look around and you will quickly see that the best mode of transport is the tram. They’re easy to spot, fast and operate with frequency, and there are plenty of stops so you can enjoy the city and take pictures while you are travelling. They are also cheap (around TL 5 per trip, per person if you don’t have a pass). If you are travelling with your family you will get a good discount if you buy the Istanbulkart pass. Children up top 6 years of age travel for free if they don’t use a seat. Only Turkish students can benefit from a discount.
The Istanbulkart can be purchased upon your arrival at the airport or from machines in major transit stations like Eminönü. It will cost you around TL 10 and you can have one per family or group of up to five persons, although it is recommended to get one for three people so that you can benefit from the discount on each fare (you will get 50% off on the next five trips if they don’t exceed two hours). Then load the card with money, estimating around TL 3 per trip, per mode of transport and per person. At each stop you will find a machine and a turnstile where you can present the card. If you are staying in Sultanahmet or Taksim, use the T1 which crosses the Golden Horn over the Bosphorus. You can easily find a tram map at any stop and you get a full map when you buy the pass. You can either hop off at Karaköy and walk up to Istiklal Caddesi or take the modern funicular (F1) which will take you to Taksim Place in no more than 150 seconds from the Kabataş stop!
Using Public Transportation, Part 2 – Boat
If you love water, then a ferry boat or a sea bus ride is a must! It will take you along the Bosphorus and from June to September, it is a marvellous mode of public transport. That means that if you bought the pass, you can again save money. The ferry is the regular type and is older than the sea bus but has some advantages: you won’t have to wait more than 20 minutes for the next one, you can sit inside or outside on the deck, it is cheap (TL 1.5 to 4 per person depending on the itinerary, the company and if you have a pass, except Bosphorus boat trips that are more expensive) and it is easy to find their dock in Eminönü, downtown in the old city (main companies are İDO and Şehir Hatları).
The destinations are indicated on the pier. Ferries are not as fast as sea buses but this shouldn’t be a problem. Sea buses are modernised and are faster. The cost is also higher (TL 4 to 6 ) and the routes are made for locals more than for tourists unless you wish to go to the Princes’ Islands (then go to Kabataş pier).
Note that the traffic, either by road or by the river in Istanbul is so hectic that you should check information on public transport before your departure. It means that changes can occur to tram or boat stops.
By Taxi… Is That a Good Idea?
If you wish to enjoy a typical Turkish experience, then grab a taxi. Bear in mind though that out of around 40,000 taxis in the city, half of them are illegal! Therefore it’s a good start to look for an official one. The cars are yellow with this word ‘Taksi’ on the roof and the outside of the car advertising the owner of the company. Once inside, the most important thing is the taxi metre. If it shows the night fare there is something wrong (the word for night is ‘gece’) as day/night fares don’t exist any longer. The metre should always show day (‘gündüz’ in Turkish). Don’t try to negotiate the price with the driver: the taxi metre will show you the fare. Nevertheless, the driver may still try to cheat you by driving around and taking other routes to hike up the fare. So, in order to feel that you more or less paid a fair price, remember that when you get in the taxi, there is a basic rate of around TL 4 to start with and a maximum of TL 10.
Each kilometre costs around TL 3 and in case the car stops an extra TL 0.50 per minute. To save you time calculating, from Sultanahmet to Galata Tower or Dolmabahçe Palace you will pay around TL 20; to Kadıköy on the Asian side, it should be around TL 60. From Taksim to Sultanahmet, around TL 20 and again to Kadıköy TL 50. If you intend to take a taxi at the airport, the same recommendations outlined above apply and the cost should be between TL 60 and 70 from Atatürk Airport. You can get a better price (around 50% less) if you book your airport transfers in advance on the internet. Choose one who asks for your flight number and reacts quickly to your request. Once at the airport, be careful as a swarm of attendants will buzz around you asking for your name. These guys work for several web-based companies at the same time. It is important to reconfirm the agreed price and your name. You don’t usually tip a taxi driver but you can round up. Also, if your host offered a transfer service it might be the best way.
By Train Underneath the Bosphorus
Unless you are planning a trip outside of Istanbul, you will not need to use the train. However, there are two interesting trains that you might wish to try at least once. The first one is the famous ‘Tünel’ which was built in the 1870s and is one of the oldest railways in the world. It has been renewed since then but still bears an old-fashioned appearance. If you are staying in Karaköy take the train up to Taksim – the ride will take no longer than a minute and a half.
The second train worth trying out goes underneath the Bosphorus on the ‘Marmaray Line’. That means this modern train takes you from the European to the Asian side of Istanbul underneath the water! It’s quite thrilling when you look at the geography of the city. Five underground stations have been built for that project going from ‘Kazlıçeşme’ on the Western side to ‘Ayrılık Çeşmesi’ on the Eastern side. It might not be as charming as travelling by tram or boat but it’s a quick way to go from one side to the other. Plus, you can use your Istanbulkart for both means. The old train costs around TL 1.5 and the modern one costs TL 2.15.