The biggest city in the country, Istanbul covers an area of 1,500 square kilometers and is occupied by 16 million people. It is 25 times more than any other area in the country, which is one reason why Istanbul is the historical and cultural center of the country.
You can imagine how crowded Istanbul becomes during the tourist season. It is easy to get lost or confused, and hotels are usually pre-booked long before the tourist months. Apart from choosing one of the hotels to stay at, the best way to make your journey great is by finding an easy way of getting around.
Biletmatik, or a ticket shop
To motivate people to use local public transportation options, the government released an Istanbul card. This card allows you to use transport for the best price. The first ride on any transport will cost you 4.03 Turkish lira.
There are many top-up points if you run out of money, and the process is quick. You can top it up as you go. The best option would be to have a fixed amount of money on your account.
Top-up points are available at the airport, subway, ferry, terminals, and yellow vending machines. One card costs 10 TL. The prices for the 1 and 2 transfers between transport vehicles are 5,49 and 4,17 TL, and the other transfers will cost 2,63 TL.
The 15 million residents of the city use public transport, and two-thirds of them travel more than 12 km around the city daily.
There are several types of public transport in Turkey, Istanbul.
There are 3 tramlines. Heritage tramways are located in the Asian area of the city. The third one is a modern tram system.
Trams are located both on Asian area and continental side of Istanbul. The first side owns the Kadıköy-Moda Nostalgia Tramway (T3), while Europe has the T2, Taksim-Tünel Nostalgia Tramway. If you choose T2, stop by the public square it was named after. Taksim Square is a highly demanded tourist area. It has the main pedestrian boulevard of the city, İstiklal Caddesi, a historical area where tourists stop for shopping.
The European line (1,5km) has operated since 1990. Trains on the European line arrive every 10–20 minutes, and the working hours are from 7 a.m.- 8 p.m. The European line has 5 functioning stops.
The other side is longer (2,6 km) than European, and trains come every 10 minutes. All 5 stations on this line finish operating 1 hour later than the side named after Europe.
Riding heritage trams costs 1,75 Turkish liras.
Modern tram system
The top modern tram system in Istanbul has 3 sections, easy to orientate: T1 (compound by two emerging sections), T4, and T5. Trams cost 2.30 Turkish liras, but students pay just 1.15 TL.
T1 (Kabataş–Bağcılar tram line) covers a distance of 18,5km and has operated since 1992. There are 31 stops, some of which can function near popular tourist attractions (e.g., Topkapi Palace, Eminonu Square). T1 operates from 6 a.m. until midnight. Topkapi station is the only station under the bridge, while all the others are level. 320,000 people in Istanbul use T1 each day.
T4 (Topkapı - Mescid-i Selam tram line) is shorter than T1 (15,3 kilometers and 22 stations, 7 of which are underground stations). It has operated since 2007 and has the same working hours as T1. Trains run every 5 minutes ( 2–15 minutes for T1). 95,000 people use T4 daily, which is less than the number using T1. The reason is that T4 mainly covers the north-southern part of the city, while T1 covers most public attractions.
T5 is the last opened line, functioning since the beginning of 2021, and some sections are yet to open. T5, or Eminönü–Alibeyköy Coach Station, is located on the coastline of the Golden Horn, a major inlet of the Bosphorus. T5 has 14 stops working and hosts 114,000 trips daily. It takes a space of 10,1 km.
For a low price, ferries are the top Istanbul attraction that allows you to see the city from the water. They attract a lot of passengers but still feel comfortable. Ferries are large and are capable of fitting 1,000–2,000 people.
Sea buses in Turkey connect the country with other best tourist destinations, such as the Greek islands and Greece. Ferries are an easy and comfortable way of traveling from Istanbul to Eminonu, Kabatas, Kadikoy, and the other areas of Turkey, including the Princes Islands. Every destination has its own schedule.
The ticket price depends on your destination, but the average fee is 4–8 TL. Riding a ferry with Istanbulkart will cost you around 1,50–2 TL for transfer and 2,60–4 TL for one way, with discounts for students and other categories of people who get a lower price (0,55–0,88TL). Traveling to Princes’ Island by ferry will be more expensive, charging you around 5,20TL (2,60–3,70 TL for people from the privileged group).
Buses are the most convenient and easy vehicles in Istanbul, they take more than 10 primary routes and 400 bus lines. They run from the early morning to midnight in Istanbul. With Istanbulkart, you pay nearly half of the price. You can also pay with tokens or jetons for the bus: you can buy them at any bus stop or dock. Purchasing a token (5 TL) is twice as expensive as an Istanbulkart.
Buses are not as quick things as other vehicles, so take your time, but this is the best and most affordable way of moving around Istanbul.
Avoid traffic jams by checking the schedule for your bus online.
One more detail is that buses in Turkey are divided into public and private. Public buses require you to buy tickets before you board them, while private buses accept cash.
Bus and taxis (photo by franz12)
Local taxi drivers often overcharge tourists. There are nuances to learn if you don’t want to overpay or get in trouble on your way.
Notice the color. Yellow taxis in Istanbul offer C economy and standard options. Turquoise drivers provide high service with greater comfort. Finally, the best ones are black: they imply luxurious cars with relatively high prices. Tesla automobiles are also available; these electric vehicles are the best option if you travel in a group. Taxis cost more than standard cars.
Now, to the price for ordering a taxi. As you probably know, you pay for every meter in Istanbul. When you get into one, there are already 5 Turkish liras to pay, and every next kilometer will cost you around 3 TL. The minimal cost is as much as 13TL; the final price will round this number in any way. Just make sure you know how far you are going, and that you are capable of paying for yourself. If you did not book the taxi in advance, we recommend handing cash in Turkish liras. It is also helpful to ask your driver about the indicative price before you go. Many drivers of taxis tend to choose the longest route and overcharge you.
Crossing the Bosphorus bridge by taxi will add to the sum you need to pay. The best thing is that tipping your driver at the end of the ride is not obligatory.
For sure prepare to be stuck in a traffic jam in Istanbul with the other automobiles and taxis. However, taxis are probably the most comfortable way of getting from the airport to one of the hotels you have decided to stay at, or vice versa.
Metro (photo by Fertas)
The metro is a very convenient means of transportation in Istanbul. Clean and air-conditioned trains are getting in nearly any possible direction.
There are eight metro lines in Istanbul. The metro takes around 137 kilometers. Six routes are located in the region of Europe, while the other two are in the Asian region. The government will add three new routes.
The metro schedule is very convenient: the working time for the metro is 6 a.m. to 12 p.m., and you usually need to wait 10 minutes. Now, to the fares. You need to pay with IstanbulKart or purchase a token from the machine in the metro. The current price for a ride in the metro with an Istanbulkart is 3.50 TL.
Some tourist metro stations lead you to the best local attractions of Istanbul. For example, Yenikapi leads to the Marmaray port and sea, and the M1 metro line leads to Topkapi Station. There is an enormous underground system called Marmaray that you can use. Marmaray is a rail line almost 77km long, which goes under the Bosphorus Strait and along the Sea of Marmara.
Why might cars be a problem?
We have discussed taxis as one popular type of transportation in the city. Some people use car rentals and taxis, which may cause inconvenience. First, traffic jams are getting especially heavy during rush hour (when everybody attends local attractions). Second, if you stick with a taxi driver, know that some can be rude or try to charge you extra.
Night is the best time to drive a car around the place. You will avoid the traffic jam, and the view of Istanbul at night will take your breath away! On your night tour around Istanbul, see the main sights. If you enjoy it, rent a car for the rest of your journey.
Getting around Istanbul on foot
Tourists near Blue Mosque
Traveling around the city on foot is a perfect option to see much of Istanbul. The list of things to do around Istanbul is endless.
There are rules for you to follow if you want to feel safe in the city of Istanbul. First, keep an eye on your personal things. City of Istanbul hosts many tourists and is a perfect bait for pickpockets. We recommend leaving your belongings at your accommodation. Second, avoid walking around at night.
The best places to travel on foot in Istanbul are the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, and Basilica Cistern. To make sure you visit them, take a full-day private tour and learn much about significant remnants of Turkish history, and Istanbul .
Take 2 days to see the best destinations in Istanbul with an E-Pass and enjoy your journey to Istanbul from the airport!