The best way to get around Istanbul is on foot and the layout of the city makes is easy to do so. If you are staying at one of the hotels in Sirkeci and you are in relatively good shape there are few places in the city that you can't walk to in twenty minutes or so. Not that you have to if you are unable to or don't want to. Istanbul has a terrific transportation system and all the different modes, be it by land or sea, by bus, tram, boat, cable-car or metro,
up with each other somewhere. But the city has been developed with pedestrians in mind with greenways connecting many of the important areas as well as streets closed to automobile traffic.
Instead of starting with the basics let me begin with the boats which are my favorite. If you stand on the shore, or better yet on the Galata Bridge you will be amazed at the amount of activity on the water. There are ferries
of all shapes and sizes coming and going from every direction. The most common are the old passenger ferries that dock at Eminonu
on the south side of the bridge and Karakoy on the north side of the bridge and these are bound for Haydarpasa, Kadikou and Uskudar on the Asian side of Istanbul. To the east of the Eminnonu ferry terminal is the car-ferry pier. To the west, beyond the bridge is the ferry that goes up the Golden Horn to the Fener which is low enough to pass under the bridge and go across the Bosphorus to Uskudar too. There is also a ferry that goes up the Bosphorus. You can take the Bosphorus Excursion Ferry which leaves Eminonu
at 10:30am and sail up the straits and back and if you have the timetable you can get off and explore some of the towns on the way. You should try to get there early during the tourist season, if you want a good seat. In the summer there is also a sunset cruise. You can buy ferry tokens (jetons) at the booths in the terminal or from vendors outside. A ticket costs 1.5TL (Turkish Lira). The tickets for the Bosphorus cruise cost 20TL.
You can also use the AKBIL which is a travel pass that can be used on all the city transportation (except the cruise). You buy the AKBIL pass from public transport ticket counters and you pay for units (plus a 6TL refundable deposit) and when you use up your units you can buy more from the machines which are in terminals, station entrances and buses.
Other passenger boats include the Deniz Otobushu (sea buses) which are modern catamarans, with interiors that are more like a passenger jet than a ferry boat. These go to the Princess Islands from Kabatas ferry terminal.
The ferries also do the Bosphorus Cruise
The modern looking Istanbul tram is really like the central nervous system for European Istanbul, starting at Zeytinburnu and going past or near just about everywhere you will want to go, crossing the Galata Bridge and
ending up at Kabatas where you can catch the Funicular Railway to Taksim Square. The tram goes right past the Grand Bazaar, Hippodrome,
Blue Mosque, Agia Sophia, Sultanahmet, Sirkeci and the Spice Market as well as the cruise-terminal where all the big International Cruise Ships come in so it is really convenient but also crowded. To use the tram just buy a jeton(token) at the stop or use your AKBIL travel pass. By the way if you are walking down the street be aware that the tram can come out of nowhere as it does not make a lot of noise and in places the sidewalks are very close to the tracks.
Metro, Suburban Light Rail, Cable Cars, Funiculars and Nostalgic Trams
Chances are you won't be seeing much of the metro since it is completely underground and mostly serves people who live in the suburbs and have to come to work in the city. The Suburban railway is useful for
getting from Sirkeci International Train Station to Kumkapi (for the fish restaurants and market) and Yeni kapi for the ferries to Yalova,
Bursa, Bandirma and Bakirkou-Avcilar. The light railway (hafif metro) connects the airport to the tram and the inter-city bus station at Otogar and probably the only time you will use it, if even then, is coming or going. There are three interesting trains that will probably be more useful, the cable car that climbs from Karakoy to Tunel Square in Beyoglu, the funicular train that climbs from Kabatas ferry terminal to Taksim Square, and the old-style street car that connect the two by way of Istiklal
Taxis, Buses and Dolmuses
Like most any city you won't have any trouble finding a taxi whether it is hailing one in the street, or finding a taxi stand or having your hotel concierge phone one for you. Probably the only time you will use one is getting to or
from the airport (if your hotel does not provide transfers) or going home late at night when you are not exactly sure where
you are. Like taxis all over there is a meter and you pay whatever it says when your trip is over. Some taxi drivers speak English but don't count it and don't expect them to know every address and every historical site in the city.
Buses go all over the city but most visitors who are staying somewhere central have little reason to use them. They also require an AKBIL pass. I suppose there are places that some traveler might need to get to that is only serviced by bus but for the most part if you use the tram, the ferries and your feet you pretty much have Istanbul covered unless you are going to some remote neighborhood to visit someone you met on Facebook. But even in this situation
if it is meant
to be they will help you with transportation issues. The same with the dolmuses which are sort of in between a bus and a taxi and cover some of the main routes around the city. Stops are marked by a sign with a big D on it and they don't run on a schedule, they just leave when the vehicle is full, thus the name dolmus which means stuffed, reason enough to not use them.
Other Methods of Getting Around Istanbul
There are bicycles to rent through I would suggest that you get a feeling for the city and the traffic and guage you own abilities before jumping on one to begin your exploration. In cities where bicycle travel
is not very common, drivers often don't see them. Plus Istanbul is very hilly. There is a bike stand near the Hippodrome
in Sultanahmet. The first hour is free of charge, and then after 1 hour it has
different costs depending for how long you rent it for. There is a small
kiosk next to these bikes where you can
leave your passport and take one for the day.
Renting a car is not recommended if all you are doing is exploring the city. If you plan to visit places outside Istanbul then OK but keep in mind that parking can be even more difficult than driving in the city which is hard enough, so you may want to have a car delivered to your hotel the morning of your excursion and picked up at a specific time when you return. You may be better off doing one of the Organized Day Tours that are available. That pick
you up at your hotel or nearby and bring you back 8 hours later.
Of course as I mentioned, the best way to see the city is on foot, either on your own or on the many walking tours of the city that are available.
You can see the photos full-size by clicking on them. You can also see Transportation Maps of Istanbul