Getting Around Istanbul
The best ways to get around Istanbul are the buses and trams, which conveniently cover the touristy areas. The metro is also a reliable and cheap means of getting around; however, stops are farther apart and not as well-positioned for seeing the sights. Note: The buses don't have maps inside, nor will the driver announce the stops. So, you need to remain vigilant and watch where you are going. In fact, most visitors arrive through Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST), then take either the metro or bus into downtown. Walking around the distinct neighborhoods is certainly a must; just know that you'll need public transit to travel longer distances. We strongly discourage driving -- particularly if you can't read Turkish road signs at high speeds. Additionally, traffic can be a royal pain. If you can, avoid the roads during rush hour altogether. Buses traverse the Bosphorus, but we would recommend a scenic ferry ride between Istanbul's European and Asian sides.
You'll find walking is easy and enjoyable in the Sultanahmet neighborhood. But other areas are less dense. Definitely explore the alleys and bazaars on foot, but hop on a bus if you are going greater distances. And carry a reliable map.
The Istanbul bus system is very effective with routes running throughout the entire city. As we mentioned, buses do not have maps. You should know where you're going before stepping on and pick up a bus map at a terminal. If you are planning to stay for a few days, it may be useful to buy an AKBIL. Essentially a plastic electronic ticket, the device can be refilled at bus and metro stops and works on buses, trams and metros. Not only will the AKBIL card save time, your transportation fares will be discounted -- about 10 percent 1.50 Turkish Lira per ride (that's just under $1 USD). If you don't have the AKBIL, you can purchase a standard ticket forfor a little more than 1 2 Turkish lLira (about $1 USD.25 USD) on any public transit vehicle.
You'll see the tram scurrying through the streets, and you'll want to hop on. They are a good way to see the city and to get from one place to the other. The Zeytinburnu-Kabatas Tram will probably be the most helpful to getting around the touristy portions.
Although the metro only has two lines, it reaches the airport and the central bus station (Otogar), which is key. Other than those two stops, the metro does not extensively cover the city. Buses (if you know where you are going) can be faster. The tracks are underground, so use the metro particularly during rush hour.
Water ferries depart from the European and the Asian side from many points along the Bosphorus at all points of the day. There are several different ferry companies -- some more expensive than others -- so double check prices to find the best option. If you' are in a hurry though, the bus might be faster.
Taxis are plentiful, cheap and convenient in Istanbul, but the drivers have a reputation for scamming riders. Check the flashing meter when you get into the cab and make sure the driver is not charging you the higher gece (nighttime) rate during the gündüz (daytime). A sly cabbie might even tell you the meter is broken and quote you a higher flat rate. If this happens, you should have no qualms about getting out of the cab and into a different one. It might also be helpful to write down the address of your final destination to and show your driver -- this will make communication much easier.
Driving in Istanbul is not recommended. Istanbul traffic tends to be slow and congested; parking is hard to find; and gas is expensive. Lastly, the roads are difficult to navigate. But if you absolutely need your own set of wheels, you can acquire a rental car at the airport. You'll need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) from the American Automobile Association (AAA) before leaving for your trip. For more information visit the AAA's website.
Entry & Exit Requirements
Even though Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia you can travel freely between the two sides. You will need a valid passport to enter Turkey, however, as well as a visa. You can purchase a visaone for $20 USD at customs (Turkish lLira are accepted, but most major credit cards aren't, so carry cash). The sticker visa (which is placed in your passport along with an official stamp) is valid for 90 days. To stay longer, contact a Turkish embassy or consulate to apply for a residence or work permit or a Turkish ID card. For more information, visit the U.S. State Department's website.