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Getting Around in Istanbul, Turkey

Information about Transportation in Istanbul


Istanbul at Night...

By Public Transportation

The Bus -- Metropolitan buses in Istanbul are frequent, comprehensive, and economical. The final destination of the bus is indicated above the front windshield, with a selection of major stops listed on the side of the bus next to the entrance, not much help if you aren't familiar with the basic layout of the city. Always check with the driver before getting on to make sure the bus is going in the direction you need, and once boarded, ask your neighbor frequently when to get off. Some of the more useful major hubs are at Eminönü, Taksim, and Besiktas. Tickets are sold at the major hubs or on the bus -- if you're lucky enough to get one with a "cashier" onboard. At press time, one ride cost about 70¢.

One of the most useful bus routes is the no. 14, which runs between Taksim and Sultanahmet approximately every 35 minutes (service on Sun only runs from about 10:55am-5pm). The bus stop in Sultanahmet is located on Sultanahmet Parki, across from the tourist information office.

The Dolmus -- The main dolmus stands are located in Taksim, Sirkeci, and Aksaray, and connect to points all over the city. Dolmuses are often more direct than metropolitan buses and cheaper than taxis, cutting down on time and leaving more money in your pocket. When boarding, tell the driver your destination, and ask how much it will be (ne kadar?). For shorter distances, 2,000,000TL to 3,000,000TL ($1.50-$2) should cover it. The driver will drop you off at your destination, but if you want to get off sooner, say "Inmek istiyorum, lütfen," the short version of "I want to get off" with a "please" stuck on the end.

The Tramway -- When the tram from Eminönü to Zeytinburnu was built and inaugurated in 1991, the planners had overlooked one very important detail: money collection. Passengers rode for free for 1 year while the system installed booths and printed tickets. For visitors staying in Sultanahmet, the tram can be your best friend, connecting the Egyptian Spice Bazaar (stop: Eminönü) and the buses of Eminönü with Sirkeci Train Station (stop: Sirkeci), Sultanahmet (stop: Sultanahmet), and the Grand Bazaar (stop: Çemberlitas or Beyazit) for 1,000,000TL (70¢) per ride. Token (jeton) booths are located at the entrance to the turnstiles, or if they're still using the antiquated paper ticket, simply drop it in the slot next to the booth.

Another tramway makes the walk along Istiklal Caddesi shorter, connecting Taksim and Tünel just when your feet are ready to fall off. This aboveground streetcar costs 50¢ and makes stops in front of the Hüseyn Aga Camii, at Galatasaray High School/Flower-Fish Market, and in Beyoglu at Nutru Sokak (in front of the Turkiye Is Merkezi).

The Metro/Underground -- Istanbul's subway isn't very ambitious, but then again, this isn't a city you recklessly start digging up. More akin to an underground funicular, the subway known as Tünel connects the neighborhood of the same name at the end of Istiklal Caddesi with Karaköy and the Galata Bridge for 50¢. Tünel trains run Monday through Saturday from 7am to 9pm and Sunday from 7:30am to 9pm. From Karaköy you can catch a bus going to Eminönü on the other side, or walk the span of this scenic bridge to connect with the tramway (or simply wander around the back streets of Eminönü and Sirkeci).

A new and modern underground was recently completed, connecting Taksim with its northern suburbs. Because there's always traffic on these roads, hopping on the metro will not only save money, but also time. The metro runs from Taksim to Levent (Akmerkez is only a short cab ride away), making stops in Osmanbey (walking distance to Nisantasi), Sisli/Meçidiyeköy (commercial center), and Gayrettepe (more commerce). The metro is open from around 6:30am until midnight and costs 1,000,000TL (70¢) per ride.

The metro extension connecting the airport to town is now complete, providing access at Yenikapi (just outside the airport) to Aksaray via a roundabout route via the otogar (bus station). (If you're destination is Sultanahmet, exit the metro at ground level, transfer to the tramway, which is but a short walk away, and hop on any train marked EMINÖNÜ.) Eventually, the line will provide a direct connection between Aksaray, Galata, and Taksim.

The Ferry & Seabus -- Commuter ferries and seabuses shuttle passengers across the Bosphorus between Europe and Asia, as well as to the nearby Princes' Islands. Some of the more useful crossings are between Eminönü and Kadiköy; Eminönü and Karaköy; Karaköy and Kadiköy; Besiktas and Üsküdar; Besiktas and Kadiköy; and Karaköy and Haydarpasa, this last crossing indispensable for transfers to the train and points east.

The ferry that takes the time-honored cruise up the Bosphorus leaves from Eminönü, making stops at Besiktas (near Dolmabahçe Palace and the Çiragan Palace) on its crisscross pattern up the channel. Fares and daily departure times ($1; departing 10:35am and 1:35pm; confirm times, as they may change) are posted on or near the ticket window.

Long-distance ferries or the faster seabuses provide transportation to the Princes' Islands (from Eminönü and Kabatas) and to points along the southern coast of the Marmara Sea. If you're interested in traveling by car to cities along the Marmara region (e.g., Bursa, Çanakkale, Izmir, and points south), the easiest and quickest way is to take a car ferry or seabus from Yenikapi to Yalova (then drive to Bursa, a 50-min. trip) or from Yenikapi to Bandirma (then drive to Çanakkale or Izmir, etc., a trip of about 1 hr. 45 min.). For information on fares and schedules for the seabuses, contact Istanbul City Ferry Lines, Sehir Hatlari Vapurlari (tel. 0212/244-4233). For seabuses, consult the Istanbul Deniz Otobüsleri website (in Turkish and English) at or in Istanbul call their automated information line at tel. 0212/516-1212 (or contact the port offices directly: Bostanci [tel. 0216/410-6633], Kabatas [tel. 0212/249-1558], Kadiköy [tel. 0212/336-8819], Karaköy [tel. 0212/251-6144], and Yenikapi [tel. 0212/517-9696]).

Take a Quick Cruise--For a do-it-yourself Bosphorus cruise, ferries depart from Eminönü Pier #3 at 10:35am and 1:35pm daily for the 2-hour excursion to the final stop at Anadolu Kavagi. Return ferries depart from Anadolu Kavagi at 3 and 5pm, but a time-saving option is to get off at the last stop, have lunch in one of the touristy but atmospheric fish restaurants on the quay, and take a bus back to Taksim. A one-way ticket on the ferry costs $1.

By Car

You have to be an extremely aggressive driver (and not just a little crazy) to drive in Istanbul. Novices will tempt an already high incidence of theft, wonder at the ignorance of fellow drivers, curse the absence of available parking, and spend too much vacation time sitting in traffic wondering which street to take. Best to avoid the hassle and instead take advantage of the cheap -- if not a little less than streamlined -- public transportation options.

If you do decide to disregard better judgment and good counsel, be aware that parking in Istanbul is a nightmare, with very little on-street parking and with signs written in Turkish. Aside from the day lot next to the Mosaic Museum on the fringes of Sultanahmet, forget about parking in the Old City or around Taksim unless you're a guest of one of the five-star hotels, which have spaces available in their parking garages for a nominal fee. In less central areas, some side-street lots are manned with guards with a red label on their sleeves. Pay them and they will "guard" your car while you're away; or opt for a more freelance approach, where some indigent promises to keep an eye on your car for a tip. If you get towed, the fee to recover your car is about $50 -- but good luck finding it -- there are more than four car pounds around the city and not a traffic cop in sight.

Apart from the car-rental counters at the airport, the major car-rental companies in Istanbul are Avis (tel. 800/230-4898 in U.S.; 800/272-5871 in Canada, 0216/474-1800 toll-free locally, or in the Hilton Hotel Arcade, Taksim tel. 0212/246-5256); Budget, Cumhuriyet Caddesi, Taksim (tel. 800/527-0700 in U.S., 800/268-8900 in Canada, or 0212/253-9200); and Ekin/Hertz, Cumhuriyet Cad. 295, Harbiye (tel. 800/654-3131 in U.S. or 0212/233-1020). Local car-rental companies have offices concentrated on Divanyolu Caddesi in Sultanahmet and around Taksim, and tend to be a bit cheaper than the tried and true ones -- a definite plus, considering a tank of gasoline can run you up to $80. Be sure to run a quick check of the car before departing -- check the turn signals and the brakes, locate the gas cap release, and confirm your insurance coverage.

By Taxi

Taxis are plentiful in Istanbul and are more likely to hail you than vise versa. Avoid taxis that congregate around the main tourist spots like Topkapi Palace, Ayasofya, and at the cruise ship landing in Karaköy -- these are the ones adept at confusing tourists with the number of zeros on banknotes. Better to have your hotel call a cab for you, the agreement being that the hotel will continue giving the taxi stand business only as long as the drivers remain aboveboard. Similarly, when out and about, pop into the nearest hotel and have the receptionist call a taxi for you. A taxi from Sultanahmet to Taksim will cost around $4 or $5, depending on traffic, while nighttime rates are slightly higher.

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