Istanbul’s ancient history as a city owes all to its strategic place on the water: the crux between Golden Horn, the Bosphorous, the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea, and even today there is nowhere in the city where the watercourses are not prevalent.
For a visitor to Istanbul, there is also a bewildering variety of boat trips available, many in the luxury bracket. But to get an authentic water’s-edge view of the city, you can save money and get stuck into local life by taking advantage of the city’s extensive ferry network.
In this article, we show you how to take the ferries in Istanbul, inner-city ferry lines, schedules, price information, what to do on board, and tours of the Bosphorus.
Popular ferry routes in Istanbul
It’s said that you haven’t truly been to Istanbul without having crossed from the European to the Asian (Anatolian) side by ferry.
Major city ferry routes are:
- Eminönü – Kadıköy
- Eminönü – Üsküdar
- Beşiktaş – Kadıköy
- Karaköy – Kadıköy
- Karaköy – Üsküdar
Other routes travel into the Golden Horn (which is a dead end) or hop up the Bosphorous towards the Black Sea. Yet more will take you to the famous Princes’ Islands.
Where are the Istanbul ferry piers located?
The major piers on the European side are located in Beşiktaş, Karaköy and Eminönü.
On the Asian side of the Bosphorous the major pier locations are at Kadıköy, Üsküdar and Bostancı. Most piers on one side will have a ferry that goes to the major piers on the other side. For example, if you are in Beşiktaş or Karaköy and want to go to Kadıköy, go to the pier and take the Kadıköy ferry, and vice versa. The trip usually takes about half an hour and only costs 4 Turkish lira (less than 50c US – pay using your transport card) to use the inner-city ferry lines. Bear in mind that the ferries may be crowded at rush hour since they are frequently used by the locals for commuting.
Where to buy a ticket for the Istanbul Ferries
In order to take the ferry, you will need an Istanbul Kart, which is the transport ticket used in Istanbul. You can get your Istanbul Kart from the yellow vending machines located in metro, metrobus and tram stations or some kiosks near metro and tram stations. Alternatively you can save time by buying one before you leave. In order to see all the public ferry lines, schedules and pricing, please visit this link.
Ferry operators in Istanbul
The ferries in Istanbul are operated by two different companies:
This is the main government-run entity for public ferries in Istanbul. Şehir Hatları carries out 600 trips per day between 50 ferry terminals.
Turyol is a private ferry operator in Istanbul, but is just as popular as Şehir Hatları. You can also use your Istanbul Kart to take the Turyol ferries, which costs the same as the public ferries. The Turyol ferry terminals are usually located 100-300 m away from the public ferry terminals.You can find detailed information about all the ferry lines and schedules of Turyol on their website.
Domestic ferry tours are great if you want to meet the locals and experience daily life in Istanbul. However, if you want to a bit more comfort and leisure, often with food and drink thrown in – a private tour will be the best option for you.
In order to enjoy the beauty of Istanbul’s most famous sea channel, a Bosphorus tour will doubtless be one of the most memorable events of your Istanbul trip – not to mention your life. During the cruise, you will get to see the top landmarks of Istanbul, such as the Maiden’s Tower, the Bosphorus Bridge, Dolmabahçe Palace, and the beautiful Bosphorus mansions, which are known as ‘The Pearls of the Bosphorus’.
There are numerous companies that offer Bosphorus tours with a wide range of options, including Şehir Hatları, Turyol and private Bosphorus tour companies. We are proud to recommend the following Bosphorous tours:
- Bosphorus & Black Sea Afternoon Cruise with Lunch
- Bosphorus & Black Sea Full Day Cruise
- Bosphorus & Black Sea Half-Day Cruise
- Bosphorus Cruise & Bus Tour & Cable Car
- Bosphorus Cruise 1.5 Hours
- Bosphorus Cruise 2.5 Hours
- Bosphorus Sunset Cruise
Our locals’ tip? We recommend you take your Bosphorus tour at sunset, since the city looks stunning at that time. You can have a the most amazing time sipping your drink and watching the mesmerizing view of the Bosphorus as the sky lights up above the towers and minarets of the city, fretted with golden fire.
Warning: there are also private yacht companies that offer Bosphorus cruise tours. Sometimes they will try to stop you and give you information about their tours when you are searching for a Bosphorus tour. Unfortunately, not all tour companies offer trustworthy tours. Therefore, make sure that you pick a good company by getting detailed information about their tours, such as the number of people taking the tour, the length of the tour, what landmarks to see, etc. You could also prefer a guided tour, which will enable you to get information about the historical landmarks as you pass by them.
Tours to the Princes’ Islands
The Princes’ Islands are a short trip away from the city in the Marmara Sea. With their genteel historic history as the holiday retreats of the Byzantine and Ottoman royals, they make a calm and interesting distraction from the bustle of Istanbul.
If you want to spend a day on the islands, which we highly recommend, you will need either to use the ferries or take a tour. It usually takes an hour to get to the islands from the European side. However, if you take the ferry from Bostancı or Kadıköy piers, it only takes half an hour. On a standard pubic ferry it will cost 10 Turkish lira ($1.20) to get to the Princes’ Islands – alternatively we recommend the more luxurious:
What to do on board an Istanbul ferry
A fun tradition for Istanbul locals is to grab yourself a delicious simit from one of the street vendors before you board. There are two good reasons to do that. Firstly, simits are yummy hoops of joy, and the second reason is that you can break bits off to feed the seagulls that will trail the ferry for most of the voyage, which makes for many fantastic photo opportunities. If you are lucky enough, you could capture a seagull taking the simit out of your hand!
Another thing that you can do during your cruise is to head below deck to relax with a lovely hot glass of Turkish tea while enjoying the beautiful view (and listening to the seagulls)! They serve tea on board as well as lemonade, fresh orange juice and snacks. You can enjoy your tea at the front of the vessel and imagine you are a sultan in Istanbul. If you are visiting Istanbul in winter, you can stay inside and get a good window seat so you can watch the waves splashing against the window as you pass by the coasts of Istanbul. Also, it is very likely that you will hear a musician performing live music on board as you gaze out on the Bosphorus strait. Before you know it, your journey will be over!
Whether it is a Kadıköy- Eminönü cruise, a Princes’ Islands trip or a Bosphorus tour, do not leave Istanbul without having taken the ferry, as you will miss out on an absolutely unforgettable experience.