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 www.ido.com.tr 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.
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.
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.
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