Istanbul is a city that’s established on two continents separated by the sea forming a strait. The city is located between two seas, the Marmara Sea and the Blacksea, so it is only logical that it has many modes of transport. One of the modes of transport are the sea ferries through that carries people between the European and Anatolian sides of the city. Some of these ferries are most suited for carrying the working people of Istanbul from one side of the city to the other, they are also suitable for the braver tourists that do not fear to explore, used mostly by the locals that commute between home and their workplaces. There are also sightseeing ferries that tour the city from the sea offering unique sights and views which will astonish you.
The Ferry Lines
There are 18 “official” commuting ferry lines and 2 “official” ferry tours in Istanbul. The “official” means that they are run by the company that used to belong to the state and was privatized but they are still the “city” lines. The communing lines are:
- Kadikoy – Eminonu
- Kadikoy – Karakoy
- Uskudar – Eminonu
- Kadikoy – Besiktas
- Golden Horn
- Bostanci – Karakoy- Kabatas
- Kadikoy – Karakoy – Besiktas (Night lines)
- To Bosphorus – From Bosphorus
- Sariyer – Rumeli Kavagi – Anadolu Kavagi
- Kucuksu – Besiktas – Kabatas
- Cengelkoy – Istinye
- Kadikoy – Sariyer
- Anadolu Kavagi – Uskudar
- Uskudar – Ortakoy
- Rumeli Kavagi – Eminonu
- Kucuksu – Istinye
- Prince’s Islands
- Istinye – Cubuklu
The departures of the ferries are generally 20 to 40 minutes apart, but the timetables vary regarding the time of the day and the year. For example, in the commuting hours, some of the ferries of certain lines are 20 minutes apart but generally, you should not have to wait for more than 45 minutes. You can reach the timetables through the website below.
You can get further information about the timetables, the lines and the tariffs from the site of the city lines here: https://www.sehirhatlari.istanbul/en (All in English no worries).
The lines from 1 to 6 are considered inner Istanbul Ferry Lines. The lines from 7 to 16 are considered the Bosphorus lines. The 17th line is the one that commutes between the Prince’s Islands District of Istanbul (Located on islands) and the mainland. the 18th line is a car carrying ferry. There are also 2 touristic tours of the same company that were named pretty self-explanatory: The Long tour, and the Short Tour. The prices of the tour ferries vary from 7.5 Turkish liras to 20 Turkish liras depending on the distance. The price of the tour ferries’ can vary depending on the season that you visit Istanbul and depending on the content of the tour.
Before going on to explain the touristic tours of Istanbul, some history of the ferries in Istanbul is due. The first steam-roller, which connected the two sides of Istanbul, started its travels in the Bosphorus in 1839, and a great controversy broke out in the city. Most of the protesters against the ferry were th boatmen and paddlemen, who feared to lose their jobs and they numbered around 19 thousand. It was not easy for Istanbulites to get used to these vehicles, which were covered with soot when they functioned. They had large bodies and were very noisy. Bosphorus ferries, which are accepted as the symbol of the city today, were not welcomed at first, just like the Eiffel Tower of Paris. However, since that first time 166 years ago, nearly 200 boats have served Istanbul locals.
The ferries meant to Istanbul what the underground metro means for London for a long time. Transportation was difficult with small boats since the city spread to the shores of the Historical Peninsula and Rumelia. But the ferries created a great convenience. Even the city was growing towards the districts that ferries reached and connected to the city center.
A company was established with the authority of the Sultan in 1851. A British and a Russian company saw profit in this situation and started a ferry trip to the Islands from Galata Bridge in 1846. At that time, there was no pier in Istanbul, the ferries approached the Galata Bridge to pick up passengers. Wherever there was a suitable place in the places where they made a trip, they would take the passengers wherever it was available. Sometimes they approached the garden of a mansion that was onlooking to the sea, sometimes they transferred the passenger to the boats waiting in the open sea. The most popular ferry waiting places were central coffee shops.
The Touristic Tours
Having been the capital of two mighty empires like Byzantine and Ottoman in the past, Istanbul is a city rich in places to visit and full of activities to do. The best and most enjoyable way to discover the history and nature of this megacity, where the continents of Asia and Europe are connected, is the Bosphorus tour. Moreover, while touring the strait by boat, you can be free the stress of finding your direction in the traffic of the city with nearly 15 million inhabitants and focus only on the beauties of Istanbul.
Istanbul is a city that offers many unique beauties in the Golden Horn and Bosphorus line for those who want to watch and enjoy the view from the sea. Rumeli Castle, Anadolu Castle, Dolmabahce Palace, the mansions on the Bosphorus, Ciragan Palace, Ortakoy Mosque, Beylerbeyi Palace, Goksu Pavilion and Emirgan Grove are just a few of the beauties of Istanbul that you will come across on these tours.
Bosphorus tours, which allow you to see the historical and natural beauties of Istanbul from a different angle, are carried out both by private companies and boats and boats connected to Istanbul City Lines. Boats owned by private firms departing from points such as Eminonu, Kabatas, Ortakoy, Besiktas, Avcilar, Uskudar and Arnavutkoy, float on the shores of the Bosphorus for a period determined by the scope of the tour. A private company in association with The National Palaces administration, offer hop-on-hop-off tours on the coast and integrate the magnificent beauties of the Bosphorus with history.
How To Reach the Tour Start Points?
The fact that the companies organizing the tours have chosen the central districts of Istanbul as the starting point allows the guests to use many options for reaching the boats. Transportation to Uskudar, Eminonu, Besiktas, Kabatas and Ortakoy tours is quite easy, especially considering the developed public transportation network of the city. City buses and metro lines are among the transportation options you can use to join the Bosphorus tours. If you have never used the public transportation system of the city before, you can find out which vehicles you can use to reach your destination by using the “How I Go” application on IETT’s website.
You can also easily go to the departure points of the tours, which allow you to enjoy the historical sights and natural beauties of the city, with your own vehicle. Because there are many areas where you can park your car safely around almost all the piers selected for the start of the tour. You can search for the pier that you want to reach from Google Maps by searching the “Istanbul ferry pier”.
Istanbul city lines have 3 different alternative Bosphorus tours, short, long and moonlight tours. The duration of Istanbul Bosphorus tours varies according to the company and the route that is taken during the Bosphorus tour. The shortest Bosphorus tour is approximately 1 hour 40 minutes, there are also medium and long term alternatives such as 2 hours, 6 hours. A private company that makes a Bosphorus tour tours departing from Eminonu, Uskudar, and Karakoy. The one-way journey is completed in approximately 1.5 – 2 hours. The long tours that take a break at Anadolu Kavagi. When you come to Kavak, you can take a break of 3 hours so that you can travel around and explore. One of the private companies’ sites can be accessed through here: https://www.turyol.com/ (they have the English version on the top right corner of the site).
City Lines, on the other hand, have varying time schedules at certain times instead of taking a break, giving travelers freedom of movement. The duration of the moonlight tours is slightly longer. Depending on the departure point, the journey can go up to 4.5 hours in private tours with meal options. About 2 hours and 30 minutes are the duration of the tour from Bostancı to Anadolu Kavagi on the moonlight tour of the City Lines that take place only on Saturdays.
The Hop-on Hop-off Tours that is to visit The National Palaces that a private company cooperates with the National Palaces take place 7 days a week, departing from Kabatas and Besiktas. The boat, that starts from Kabatas the tour, lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes, and dock to Beşiktaş, Emirgan, Küçüksu Pavilion, Beylerbeyi Palace, and complete the tour in Kabatas, the starting point of the trip.
What’s to see?
Historical buildings that you can see during the Bosphorus cruise are not just palaces but also and manors. Along the way, you can witness the beauty of Istanbul’s architecturally rich palaces, as well as manors such as Esma Sultan, Sait Halim Pasha, Ferik Ahmet Akif, and Bahaî. After seeing the landmarks of the Buyuk Mecidiye Mosque and Bezm-i Alem Valide Sultan mosques, two magnificent buildings will greet you: Rumelian and Anatolian fortresses that played a key role in the conquest of Istanbul. You can reach the link to the website of the official National Palaces Directorate to get further information about some of the historic buildings that you can around the strait of Istanbul here: https://www.millisaraylar.gov.tr/en
How to get around by yourself?
Off course you don’t have to adhere to the preset tours in order to travel, enjoy and explore Istanbul you can get by yourself with the itineraries that I would suggest to the avid tourist who wishes to act on his or her own. If you wish, you can complete the route we offer you in one day by simply pressing the land to move from one pier to another. If you want, you can divide it into several days and enjoy each stop both from the sea and the land. You can reach the information about the lines that we are about to talk about on the website of the city lines once more: https://www.sehirhatlari.istanbul/en
Besiktas – Kadikoy Route
There’s nothing better to welcome the new day from Besiktas in Istanbul. You can enjoy Besiktas by the sea or in one of the small, warm places in Besiktas Bazaar, you can start the day freshly by tasting the traditional Turkish breakfast. But I would advise you to reserve your coffee tasting to Kadikoy and to catch a Kadıköy ferry that leaves at quarter past or a quarter to each hour from Besiktas pier. I would recommend that you buy a Turkish bagel from one of the bagel vendors on the road before getting on the ferry. You can get the best of your travel companions by throwing bagel pieces to the seagulls from the back of the ferry. In the ferry, you can enjoy the view of the sea, the Maiden’s Tower and Haydarpasa Station accompanied by seagulls.
Kadikoy – Karakoy
When you set foot in Kadikoy, you are sure that you will not regret it if you go along the coast and visit Haydarpasa Station, one of the “gates” of Istanbul, and drink your Turkish coffee in this historical station built-in 1908. While sitting in the shadow of Haydarpasa Station, where even those who did not see Istanbul are familiar with movies and postcards, you will find that it was a good decision to put the station in the list of the most beautiful train stations of the world in 2009. If you walk back the same road and catch the Karakoy ferry, which runs at twenty to and twenty past the hours, you can have your lunch at one of the fish restaurants in Karakoy. Move to the front of the ferry as you approach Karakoy, the magnificent silhouette of the historical peninsula will welcome you. When you see the minarets of the Sultanahmet and Suleymaniye mosques and the Topkapi Palace, you will understand why it is called the historical peninsula. We recommend you to visit a dessert shop where you can taste the traditional Turkish dessert baklava after enjoying the fish in Karakoy. You can go on to Eminonu by watching amateur fishermen from Galata Bridge.
Eminonu – Eyup
When you pass through the Galata Bridge and arrive in Eminonu, you can feed the pigeons in the courtyard of the New Mosque, and buy souvenirs for your loved ones from the Grand Bazaar. You can go to Eyup by taking another ferry ride on the Eminonu – Golden Horn line and watch the sunset from the famous Piere Loti Hill. Eyup Sultan Mosque and tombs are among the historical works that you must see if you visit Eyup. If your journey coincides with the month of Ramadan in Istanbul, also attend the events held in Ramadan at Eyup Feshane and you will find the opportunity to experience the traditions of Turkey.
Eyup – Uskudar
You can get back to the Anatolian side by taking the Uskudar ferries departing from Eyup. You can walk from the Uskudar coast to Kuzguncuk and take a pleasant break in one of the neighborhood coffee houses there. If you are not interested in walking, you can get the opportunity to go to the Maiden’s Tower and have a meal in the Tower by taking the ring services from Uskudar. The Maiden’s Tower, built on a small island off the coast of Salacak, is the oldest witness to the history of Istanbul. You can enjoy watching both sides of Istanbul from this tower, which was built at “an arrow’s distance” as described by a Turkish traveler.
As you can see by now, you can “bricole” your own ferry trip in Istanbul. It is an alternative side of the city by which you can avoid getting stuck in traffic. Other suggestions for trips would be:
- Uskudar – Anatolian Fortress
- Anatolian Fortress – Ortakoy
- To the Prince’s Islands from Kabatas, Kadikoy, and Bostanci
All in all Istanbul’s special position between two continents puts it in a unique position from other metropolitan cities of the world, you can pass your time there exploring it only by the sea which offers once in a lifetime experience to the tourists. I hope you enjoy your stay and decide to explore the city in a different way.