Istanbul covers more than 5000km². Getting around is not always easy because on the one hand it is one of the most congested cities in the world and on the other hand its topography makes the development of public transport complicated (Istanbul, like Rome, is built on 7 hills). There is currently a large construction site in the city to develop public transport in Istanbul. This work consists mainly of the development of the metro and the connection of the two banks. The first stage of this construction site was inaugurated on October 29, 2013, and allowed the connection between the Asian and European banks via a railway tunnel passing under the Bosphorus.
During your stay we advise you to use public transport and especially the tramway to get to the old city. This will allow you to get around quickly at a lower cost and to save time because Istanbul is really very congested. At peak times (between 8 and 9:30 am and between 5 and 8 pm) it is really difficult to get around by car.
To use all public transport in Istanbul (boats, subways, buses, streetcars, funiculars) you will need an Istanbul Kart magnetic card. You can buy it directly from the vending machines at the entrance of the streetcar and metro stations. You will find it in the small kiosks near all the metro stations, the landing stages, and also the bus stations. It costs 7 TL, and you will have to charge it (3.50 TL per trip). For more information you can visit the website of the municipality: https://www.iett.istanbul/en. If you buy a card with a limited number of passages, you can do it directly at the turnstiles. The prices are 7 TL for one trip, 11 TL for two trips, 15 TL for three trips, 23 TL for five trips, and 40 TL for ten trips.
THE MODERN TRAMWAY
In Europe, there are two lines in service, the T1 line from Kabataş which provides easy access to Sultanahmet, and the T4 line which goes up to the northwest of the city. It runs from 6am to 11pm. The streetcar in Istanbul is very clean and air conditioned. The T1 line will take you to the main tourist sites of the city. We recommend you to use it, it is really the easiest, cheapest and fastest way to get to the old city. The main stops of T1 are:
- Kabataş – Dolmabahçe Palace, connection with Taksim by funicular (F1).
- Tophane – Istanbul Modern Art Museum.
- Karaköy – Connection with Tünel by funicular (T) which will drop you off at the bottom of Istiklal street.
- Eminönü – Spice market.
- Sirkeci – Railway station.
- Sultanahmet – Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Archaeology Museum.
- Beyazıt – Grand Bazaar.
- Zeytinburnu – Connection with the M1 metro from the old Atatürk airport.
- Karaköy-Tünel (T): It will take you quickly down Istiklal Street and avoid you having to climb the slopes to get to areas like Galata. Once in Tünel you can use the historical streetcar (NT) to get to Taksim Square. It runs from 7am to 9pm.
- Taksim-Kabataş (F1): It will take you from Taksim Square to Kabataş. From here you can take the streetcar (T1) to the old city (another option is to take the M2 metro from Taksim directly to the Haliç stop), you will be in front of the spice market and the Eminönü streetcar stop.
THE HISTORICAL TRAMWAY
This streetcar looks like the streetcar in the old movies, two lines are in service, the first one on the European side (NT) goes down Istiklal street from Taksim square to Tünel. The second line (T3) on the Asian side starts from Kadıköy pier and goes to Moda district.
THE METRO (SUBWAY)
It is open from 6:15 a.m. to midnight, there are currently two lines on the European side that are connected to Yenikapi. There is also a line on the Asian side (M4) but it is not of much interest to you as it is not yet connected to Sabiha Gokçen Airport.
- Atatürk-Yenikapi Airport (M1A): This metro used to allow tourists to go to the center of Istanbul from the old airport on the European side – Atatürk Airport – via Yenikapi to the M2 metro. From now on, Atatürk Airport will only be used for freight and VIP flights. As the new airport (IST) is not yet served by the metro, this line is not essential for walking around Istanbul.
- Yenikapı-Hacıosman (M2): This is the most important metro in Istanbul. It is the one you will need the most during your stay. Since the beginning of the year it has been expanded, it is now possible for example to go to the old town from Taksim square. This is especially useful for businessmen residing in the Levent district, or for travelers who have made the choice to reside in more local and less touristy neighborhoods like Nisantaşı for example. Taksim Square is now only 2 stops away from the Eminönü neighborhood where the spice market is located. The main stops of the M2 are: Yenikapı – This station is the hub of transportation in Istanbul. From Yenikapiı you can use the Marmaray (it is the subway passing under the Bosphorus) which will take you to Üsküdar on the Asian side.
Haliç – This is the most useful station for tourists who want to get to the old city or to get out of the old city to explore other parts of Istanbul. Here you will be close to the spice market and the Eminönü streetcar station (T1).
Şişhane – Located down the street from Istiklal, it will take you to the Tünel funicular located right next to the station, as well as the Galata district.
Taksim – Located in Taksim Square, you can quickly reach Beyoğlu neighborhoods such as Cihangir or Çukurcuma on foot. You can also use the funicular (F1) to Kabataş to get to the Princes’ Islands from its embankment, as well as the streetcar (T1) to get to the old town.
Osmanbey – Located just a few minutes away from the central and nice neighborhood of Nisantaşı. It is a very nice area with many bars and restaurants, as well as luxury and designer stores.
Levent – This is the business district of Istanbul. There are also two large shopping malls near this metro – Metrocity and Kanyon.
İTÜ Ayazağa – Located near the very chic İstinye Park shopping mall (you’ll have to walk a bit or take a cab or minibus to reach it). This gallery is a paradise for all fashion and luxury lovers; you will find all the most luxurious brands there, among others.
- Marmaray: After many years of work, the European and Asian sides of the city are now connected by this metro which passes under the Bosphorus. It will allow you to go to the Asian bank from Yenikapı or Sirkeci. The two stops on the Asian shore are Üsküdar and Ayrılık Çesmesi. You can use the M4 to get to the Kadıköy district.
There are more than 400 bus lines in Istanbul, the majority of which run until midnight, while others run all night. With the exception of the Sultanahmet district (accessible by streetcar), buses serve the entire city. Destinations and main stops are indicated on yellow signs on the sides of the buses.
These buses run on dedicated lanes, thus avoiding traffic jams. The areas served are mainly on the outskirts of the city. Therefore, it is not very interesting to use if you are visiting the city. Only the Istanbul Kart and the Mavi Kart (for monthly passes) are accepted for access to the metrobus. You can buy or recharge your Istanbul Kart at any metro station.
They allow you to go from Europe to Asia. Just like the metro, Istanbulites use public boats/ferries – vapur in Turkish – every day, and they save a lot of time by avoiding the constant traffic jams on the two main bridges of the Bosphorus. By taking the ferry, you will really get a feel for the vastness of the city, and it is also a good way to see the city from the water at a lower price. The main piers on the European side are Eminönü, Kabataş, Karaköy and Besiktaş, and on the Asian side, Üsküdar and Kadıköy.
Like the metro, metrobus, and some bus lines, public boats operate 24 hours a day during the weekend (Friday evening to Sunday morning; midnight to 06:40 for the last boat before the morning hours). The following pier lines are affected by this measure: Kadıköy-Karaköy-Beşiktaş, and Beşiktas-Üsküdar. You can use your Istanbul Kart to access the boats or buy your ticket at the ticket office at the piers, for a price ranging from 3.50 TL to 5 TL (4 TL for the lines listed above) depending on the route you wish to take. The ticket costs 8 TL for night trips.
These public boats are also useful to reach the Princes’ Islands for 5.20 TL: a day trip to the Princes’ Islands.
THE DOLMUŞ (pronounced “dolmouche”)
These are collective cabs that operate 24 hours a day. They are a fast and economical means of transportation that is widely used throughout Turkey. They make a precise route, they leave when they are full (they are yellow mini buses of 8 passengers), on the way you can get off wherever you want. The method of payment is simple, once you get on, tell the driver your destination and he will tell you the price to pay. The main dolmus lines are in Europe: Beşiktaş – Taksim; Taksim – Bakırköy, Yeşilköy; Sarıyer – Beşiktaş; and in Asia, between Kadıköy and Üsküdar. There are also routes connecting Europe to Asia from Besiktas and Taksim.
We hope this article will help you get around the huge megalopolis that is Istanbul. If you have any questions, you can ask us in the comments so that all readers can benefit from your questions and our answers.