Getting around Istanbul
Those arriving for the first time in Istanbul may initially find themselves disoriented in front of such a large metropolis. In reality, it is quite easy to find your way around and you will soon get used to using public transport.
We write this page to first understand how to orient you, and then have a complete overview of the various alternatives on how to get around Istanbul using the available transport, always knowing where to go.
The history of public transport in Istanbul
Istanbul has a large public transport network. The public transport system of the city consists of many infrastructures, including subways, trams, buses, funiculars, express buses, railways and airports.
The public road transport system in Istanbul dates back to August 30, 1869, when a contract was signed for the construction of a tram system in the capital of the Ottoman Empire. With this agreement, Konstantin Krepano Efendi’s Société des Tramways de Constantinople obtained the concession for the management of public transport for the next forty years.
Simultaneously with the start of the horse-drawn trams, on June 30, 1871, construction began on the Tünel, a short funicular line between Pera and Galata. The funicular began service on December 5, 1874, the second-largest underground railway in the world, after the London Underground. Initially, only goods and livestock were transported and only on January 17 of the following year, once the rehearsals were over, the funicular was open to the public. It is still in operation today.
A suburban railway line was opened in the European part of the city in 1872 between Sirkeci and Hadımköy, followed the following year by another line on the Asian side between the Haydarpaşa terminal and İzmit.
The ferry is one of the oldest means of transport in Istanbul, being a city with two parts separated by the Bosphorus Strait and surrounded by the sea.
Wheeled public transport in Istanbul began in 1926, with four Renault-Scania vehicles between Beyazıt and Karaköy. The fleet grew to become the backbone of the city’s ever-expanding public transport network.
On May 27, 1961, trolleybuses were put into service between Topkapı and Eminönü, following the abolition of the tram. However, these vehicles were removed from service shortly thereafter due to the fact that they too obstructed the growing traffic in the narrow streets of the old city.
Various British and French companies operated all of Istanbul’s public transport services until June 16, 1939, by which time they were all nationalized. The newly founded company İETT (İstanbul Elektrik Tramvay ve Tünel) has since taken over the management of Istanbul’s public transport. In 1988, a new company, called Ulaşım A.Ş., was founded by the municipality of Istanbul to manage the services of the light rail (since 1989), the metro (since 2000) and the new tram network (since 1992). The company changed its name in 2016, becoming Metro Istanbul, and is still active today.
Getting around by Bus in Istanbul
The bus is by far the most used means by the inhabitants of Istanbul, it has a very capillary network that covers the whole city from Beylikdüzü to Pendik. On some lines the connections are so frequent that a bus runs every 30 seconds. They are in operation until midnight but for some routes they travel 24 hours a day.
There are various types of buses. Those of the Municipality are colored: white-red (the older ones), green (the more modern ones) and purple (the eco-friendly ones introduced recently). The blue buses, on the other hand, are half privatized, but fully integrated into the public system and implement the same fares, so there is no difference for users.
The terminus to report are Eminönü, Kabataş, Taksim, Beşiktaş, Kadıköy, if you are in any area of the city and don’t know how to get back to the center, look for the nearest stop and get on the first bus to Eminönü or Taksim.
The company of the Municipality responsible for the circulation of the buses is the IETT.
Getting around by Metro in Istanbul
The Istanbul Metro consists of six lines: four (M1, M2, M3 and M6) on the European side of the city, two (M4 and M5) on the Asian side.
The M2 line is certainly the most interesting for tourists, as it connects Taksim with the historic peninsula, passing over the Golden Horn, thanks to the recently opened bridge. It can be useful because it connects the Beyoglu and Sultanahmet districts (the stop is located in Vezneciler, not far from the Grand Bazaar). The line continues south to Yenikapı, while north to the financial center of the city, in the Şişli and Levent area. The M5 and M7 lines are currently under construction. In operation from 6 to 24.
The M1 runs from Aksaray to Atatürk airport, making it very convenient for traveling from the airport to the center. Another stop that could be important for tourists is Otogar, the large bus station, from which buses leave for all destinations in Turkey. In operation from 6 to 24.
Getting around by Tram in Istanbul
In Istanbul we have ultra modern and other historical trams.
The modern is functional, very comfortable even for disabled people or wheelchairs, fast and punctual (one leaves every 5 minutes). It is structured on a single T1 line that passes through Sultanahmet and touches many important destinations, so its use is absolutely recommended. The two terminus are Kabataş and Bağcılar. In Zeytinburnu it is possible to transfer to the M1 line that leads to Atatürk airport. In operation from 6 to 24. The company of the Municipality responsible for the circulation of Metro and Tram is ISTANBUL ULAŞIM.
Not only picturesque but also useful tram (T5) that runs along Istiklal Caddesi for its entire length, starting from Taksim and arriving up to Tünel. To be used to take some nice pictures but also if you are in a hurry and want to avoid walking the busiest kilometer and a half in Istanbul. For about ten years, a twin tram (T3) has been traveling a ring on the Asian side, in the Kadıköy district. In operation from 7 to 20.
Getting around by Funicular in Istanbul
The second oldest metro in the world built in 1875. It is actually an underground funicular, clearly modernized, which connects Karaköy and the Galata area. Indicated on the map by the abbreviation F2 it is very convenient for quickly reaching Istiklal when you are near the Galata Bridge, thus avoiding a tiring climb. For the reverse journey it is not strictly necessary to use it as it takes 5 minutes on foot. In operation from 7 to 22.45.
The other funicular is the Kabataş – Taksim.
It is the second underground funicular in Istanbul, indicated with F1, inaugurated in 2006. It connects the Kabataş hub (terminus of the T1 tram and an important ferry port) directly to Takism Square in less than 2 minutes. In operation from 6.15 to 24.
Getting around by Ferry in Istanbul
In Istanbul the ferries (vapur) are means of transport widely used especially by those who work on the European side but live on the Asian side or vice versa.
It is the best way to travel from one side of the city to the other and also to enjoy a crossing on the Bosphorus for the price of a normal ticket.
The two ports on the Asian side are Üsküdar and Kadıköy, while on the European side the ports are Eminönü, Kabataş and Beşiktaş. Departures are very frequent and the timetables can be viewed on the ŞEHIR HATLARI site (the company of the municipality).
It is also important to remember that it is possible to easily reach the Princes’ Islands from Kabataş with 8 daily connections. In addition to Şehir Hatları, 2 private companies also operate ferry services but integrated within the public transport system: DENTUR and TURYOL.
Other public transports in Istanbul
A temporary but effective solution implemented by the municipality. It is simply a bus that travels on a preferential lane in the middle of the road and therefore without traffic (MB). It follows an almost circular and peripheral route, it is mainly used by commuters and therefore not very useful for tourists.
There has been a lot of talk about the new tunnel that passes under the Bosphorus, the MarmaRay line in fact connects the European side and the Asian side of Istanbul with an underwater tunnel. For tourists, in reality, its use is not essential, since if you want to visit the Asian side, the most suggestive way is to reach it in 15 minutes by ferry. Even arriving at Sabiha Gökçen airport on the Asian side, OTHER SOLUTIONS are certainly more functional and faster.
THE TELEPHERE Eyüp-Pierre Loti
It connects the port of Eyüp on the Golden Horn to the panoramic Café Pierre Loti. In operation from 8 to 22.
Istanbul transport tickets and fares
There is no type of subscription for public transport, neither daily nor weekly. There is only a monthly pass (Mavi Kart), however, reserved only for Turkish citizens or residents of Turkey. Foreign students on Erasmus can purchase a special student card with discounted rates.
On many of the public transports mentioned so far it is possible to use plastic and red tokens (jeton). The cost of a token is 5 Lire and can be easily purchased from the numerous machines or kiosks located at the tram, metro or ferry stops. The operation is simple, insert the token and go through the turnstiles. But pay attention to one thing: for the ferries you cannot use the tokens valid for the tram and vice versa.
However, there are exceptions, the most important of which are buses, in the latter there are no turnstiles and therefore it is not possible to use tokens. It is therefore necessary to buy an electronic ticket (valid also on all other public transport), which has a price of 5 Lire. It is also possible to buy a ticket valid for two journeys at the price of 8 Lire, for 5 journeys at the price of 17 Lire and for 10 journeys at the price of 32 Lire.
What is Istanbul Kart and how you can use it
To save money, you should buy the Istanbul Kart, a rechargeable card valid on all public transport. Using the Istanbul Kart you save first of all on the price of the single ride, as for any public transport you pay 2.60 Lire. Furthermore, whenever you make a transfer from one public transport to another you are entitled to one discount to scale, paying 1.85 for the first transfer, 1.40 Lire for the second transfer and 0.90 for the following ones, instead of the full rate. It is possible to carry out 5 transfers within 2 hours.
Istanbul Kart is convenient because it is valid without time limits, theoretically it is valid forever, to get it you pay a deposit of 6 Lire.
The remaining credit on the card is non-refundable. It is found in all kiosks and machines at tram, metro, bus and ferry stops, and can also be bought at the machines at the airport. To use it, simply pass it in front of the turnstile sensors and wait for the confirmation beep. It can be easily refilled in the same kiosks where you buy it or through the special machines.