Getting Around Istanbul
The best ways to get around Istanbul are the buses and trams, which conveniently cover the touristy areas. But remember, buses don't have maps inside and drivers do not announce stops, so you'll need to remain vigilant and watch where you are going. 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. The city's metro and bus networks can also be used to get to downtown from Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST). When visiting Sultanahmet and Eminönü, walking between the area's attractions is doable, but you'll need to rely on another mode of transportation to reach other neighborhoods. Driving is strongly discouraged since road signs are in Turkish and accidents are fairly common. Ferries are also available to get to the Princes' Islands and between the European and Asian sides.
You'll find walking is easy and enjoyable in neighborhoods like Sultanahmet and Eminönü, but other areas are less dense. Definitely explore the alleys and bazaars on foot, but hop on a bus or tram if you are going greater distances. Also, be sure to carry a reliable map.
Istanbul's bus system – operated by Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality – is very effective, with routes running throughout the entire city. Buses do not have maps, so you should know where you're going before stepping on. A bus map can be picked up at any terminal, and timetables for all routes are available on Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality's Route/Station Search page. Most buses run daily between 6 a.m. and midnight.
To ride one of the city's buses, you'll need to purchase a limited use ticket or an Istanbulkart card. Limited use tickets are good for one, two, five or 10 rides; fees start at 4 Turkish lira ($1). Istanbulkart cards, meanwhile, work on buses, trams, metros and ferries and cost 6 Turkish lira (about $1.50). When using one of these reloadable, plastic cards, ride fees are reduced to 2.30 Turkish lira ($0.50); trips to and from the airport cost 8 Turkish lira (roughly $2). Istanbulkart cards can be refilled at bus and metro stops, and limited use tickets and Istanbulkart cards are sold at more than 2,100 transportation counters and participating vendors.
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 get from one place to the other. Four tram lines are available, but the Bagcilar-Kabatas (T1) Tram will probably be the most helpful to get around the touristy portions, as it makes stops near must-visit sights like Galata Tower, Istanbul Modern and the Hagia Sophia Museum.
One-time rides on any tram line will set you back 4 Turkish lira (approximately $1). If you have an Istanbulkart card, each tram ride costs 2.30 Turkish lira ($0.50). A tram network map is available on Metro Istanbul's website. Note: Metro Istanbul's Taksim-Tünel (T2) and Kadiköy-Moda (T3) tram lines are not handicap-accessible.
Metro Istanbul offers six metro lines, most of which service the European side of the city. The Yenikapi-Atatürk Havalimani (M1A) makes stops at the airport and the central bus station (Otogar). The majority of the metro's stations are not the closest public transportation option for popular attractions, but this system's underground tracks made it a quicker option during rush hour. One-time rides cost 4 Turkish lira (about $1) per person, while travelers with Istanbulkart cards will pay 2.30 Turkish lira (roughly $0.50) per ride.
Known locally as vapurlar, ferries – which are operated by Sehir Hatlari – depart multiple times a day from the city's European and Asian sides. Several ports along the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn are available, including ones in Kadiköy, Eminönü, Ortaköy and Karaköy. Using the ferry system is the best way to reach the Princes' Islands, and it is also the most affordable way to tour the Bosphorus.
To ride the ferry, you'll need to purchase a one-way token for 4 Turkish lira ($1) – trips to and from the Princes' Islands cost 5.50 Turkish lira (about $1.50) – or tap your Istanbulkart card. Fares for Istanbulkart cardholders vary by route but start at 2.30 Turkish lira (roughly $0.50). Two-hour Bosphorus tours cost 12 Turkish lira ($3) per person, while full-day, round-trip tours are 25 Turkish lira ($7) per passenger.
Taxis are plentiful, cheap and convenient in Istanbul, but the drivers have a reputation for scamming riders. A sly cabbie might 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.
Taxis can be hailed on the street, but to decrease your chance of getting scammed, ask your hotel to call one for you. Taxi drivers are less likely to overcharge passengers being picked up from a hotel because it may hurt their future business. All taxis charge a base rate of 3.45 Turkish lira (about $1), plus a metered rate of 2.10 Turkish lira per kilometer traveled (or less than $1 per mile). The Uber ride-sharing service also operates in and around Istanbul.
Driving in Istanbul is not recommended. Istanbul traffic tends to be slow and congested, distances are measured in kilometers, parking is hard to find and gas is expensive. The roads are also difficult to navigate. But if you absolutely need to have your own set of wheels, you can acquire a rental car at the airport. You'll need to get an international driving permit, which is available through AAA and DMV.org. Rental car fees vary by company, but expect to pay $20 to $30 per day for standard models.
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