There is no sure-fire way to transverse the entirety of Istanbul but there is something unique and enticing about the calculated chaos of the city. During your stay you may be traveling by foot, taxi, metro, tram, ferry, or a combination of these to reach your destinations. Be flexible and do not let this deter you! Use this guide to help you choose the best transportation option for you throughout your trip.
Neighborhoods like Sultanahmet and Eminonu are perfect for exploring on foot. When walking to your destination you are guaranteed to come across something you didn’t anticipate when you set out that day.
There are hidden alleyways, authentic restaurants, and beautiful green spaces throughout the city that you would miss if you were traveling any other way. Not to mention the health benefits! Be sure to plan for the extra time it takes to get to your destination and bring plenty of water. While I am a huge advocate for seeing a city on foot, there are areas of the city that are less compact and require traveling for longer distances between attractions. For these destinations consider taking public transportation or hailing a taxi.
On Public Transportation
The most economical way to see the city is to utilize the public transportation available. You have the option of taking the metro, tram, bus, or minibus line. When deciding which is best for you, consider what is closest to your current location and final destination. Many areas are only accessible by one transportation option, so be sure to plan accordingly. Don’t be afraid to hop between different forms of public transportation to get where you need to go. You can always utilize Google Maps if you are lost.
The European side of the city has six different metro lines. The stops do not go directly to tourist attractions so if that is your final destination be prepared to walk or take the bus after the metro if need be. However, you can easily take the metro to or from the airport or Otogar, the central bus station. The metro tends to get very crowded during rush hour so if you don’t like crowds it may be best to avoid taking it during the busiest times of the day, but it is still a great option to get around the city like a local!
There are four tram lines in the city that not only offer transportation but also a great visual tour of the city. The T1 tram line offers access to popular sites like the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, the Galata Tower, and the Hagia Sophia Museum. The great city views and easy access to iconic locations make the tram very popular with tourists.
The bus line allows you to access the widest variety of locations across the city but accordingly, it is also the hardest for foreigners to understand. The buses do not have maps and move very swiftly so if it is your first time using the bus line be sure to plan some extra time in case you get lost along the way. Buses have their own lanes but can still be slow significantly during rush hour so plan ahead!
The Dolmus are yellow minivans that offer longer trips outside the city. They tend to be more direct than the regular buses and are cheaper than a taxi ride, so they provide a good in-between option for travelers. When boarding the Dolmus, tell the driver where you want to be dropped off and ask how much it will cost. Utilize translation apps on your phone if needed.
If you anticipate using the public transit consistently throughout your visit, consider purchasing the IstanbulKart card. You can buy an IstanbulKart at any major transit station, such as the airport, for a 10TL (75 cents USD) fee. When you purchase an IstanbulKart you do not have to buy a new ticket for every ride, you can add more money onto the card at any time, and you receive a 30 percent discount on all fares.
Similar to the tram, riding the ferry is an experience in and of itself. The ferry departs from the European and Asian side of the city multiple times a day, primarily from Bosphorus between Eminönü, Karaköy, Kabataş and Beşiktaş, and Kadıköy and Üsküdar. Taking a ferry is the best way to access the Princes’ Islands and to travel between the European and Asian sides. You can pay for your ferry with your IstanbulKart as well. Plan to take a ferry at least once during your stay so you don’t miss out on this unique way to see the city!
While taking a taxi can get you anywhere in the city, the taxi drivers in Istanbul have been known to scam their riders, especially foreign visitors. The taxis that are idling at highly trafficked tourist destinations like the Ayasofya are known for being particularly untrustworthy. These drivers may claim that their meter is broken and charge you a higher rate for your ride, take you on a significantly longer route to your destination, or claim that you did not pay them the correct amount and demand more money.
However, that is not to say all taxiing experiences will be poor. To help your ride go smoother, write down your destination beforehand to aid in translation, ask your hotel receptionist to hail you a taxi to have a more reliable ride, and always bring more cash than you think you will need, just in case.
Regardless of how you get around the city during your stay here, you will not be disappointed by what you find. Istanbul is a place built on thousands of years of history with a diverse range of cultures all co-existing together. To help your trip go smoother, to save you time, and to get the most out of your time in the city, plan your transit ahead of time.