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How to Navigate the Transit System in Istanbul

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Getting around Istanbul can feel like an adventure in itself. But don’t fret, fellow traveller because with a few insider tips, you’ll be zipping around the city like a pro. Whether it’s hopping on a historic tram, gliding across the Bosphorus on a ferry, or navigating the bus system, here are your golden rules for mastering Istanbul’s public transport.

In such a big, chaotic city, using the metro system can feel intimidating for a newbie. The great thing about Istanbul is that it's foreigner friendly and the city has made navigating the transit system quite easy. Announcements are made in both Turkish and English, ticket kiosks offer the ability to change to multiple languages, easy-to-read maps are found all over each metro station and when all else fails, don't hesitate to ask a local. Many people in Istanbul speak at least basic English and are always happy to help a lost tourist.

That being said, let's take a look at some basics about taking the metro in Istanbul that will help you feel like a pro during your stay.

Check out these helpful sections:

Step 1: Get the Istanbulkart (transit card)

The easiest and cheapest way to get around Istanbul is to use the Istanbulkart. This card will give you the cheapest fare possible and give you access to buses, subways, ferries, and airport shuttles with just a tap of the card.

Where can I get the Istanbulkart?

The card is available at the electronic kiosks located at any metro station. You can also find the kiosks at the airport terminals as well, allowing you to buy a card upon arrival into the city. The kiosks also allow you to load funds onto your existing card keeping you moving around the city with ease. There is also a mobile app where you can purchase an electronic card and use the QR code in the app to tap on and off of transit. Find the mobile app here:

How much does it cost?

The Istanbulkart can be purchased for 70tl and one ride on the metro costs between 15tl and 50tl depending on the route and mode of transportation.

You can find the full list of fees here:

(Note: "Tam" refers to the full, single fare.)

Step 2: How to take the ferry in Istanbul

Taking the ferry in Istanbul is by far, one of the most enjoyable means of transportation in the world. There are several ferry lines that connect different neighbourhoods around the city. Even if you're staying close to major tourist destinations, I would highly recommend taking a ferry even once just to experience the romance of the Boshophorus. You can easily access the ferries with your Istanbulkart.

The ferries you'll most likely want to use:

1) Kadıköy/Eminönü/Karaköy

This ferry crosses every 15 minutes from the European to the Asian side of the city and visitors to Istanbul will stay close to one of these ports on either side of the city. This ferry visits all 3 ports and takes about 15-20 minutes to cross. The ride at sunset is particularly beautiful as the sunsets behind the skyline of Eminönü giving a beautiful silhouette of the historical mosques.

Pier Locations:

2) Adalar (The Prince's Islands)

The Prince's Islands are located off the coast of Istanbul. There are 4 Islands which can all be accessed using this ferry. The most popular is the last island, Büyükada. The ferry to Buyukada takes about 1 hour and costs 51tl. You can take the ferry from Kabataş (near Taksim, Beşiktaş and Karaköy) from Kadıköy and Bostancı on the Asian side.

Pier Locations:

Find the Adalar ferry schedules here.

**Make note of the return times of the ferries, they don't run frequently.

3) Balat and the Golden Horn

Balat is becoming increasingly popular for visitors to Istanbul as a day trip outside of the usual tourist itinerary. I would highly recommend visiting this area to get a feeling of the other side of Istanbul beyond mosques and bazaars. It's very easy to get to this area on the ferry but can be confusing if you've never been. You can take the ferry from the Asian side of the city as well as the European side. Here's how:

The ferry is called Haliç Hattı/Eyüp

Visit Balat from the Asian Side:

Depart Üsküdar

Pier Location:

Depart Kadıköy

Pier Location:

Visit Balat from European Side:

Depart Karaköy

Pier Location:

*Note: It's best to exit the ferry at Fener Station, not Balat.

Find the schedule

Üsküdar & Karaköy - Haliç Hattı/Eyüp schedule here.

Kadıköy - Eyüp here

More Ferries

There are other ferries in Istanbul like those to Beşiktaş and Ortaköy that you may want to use. Beşiktaş can be accessed easily from piers in Karaköy, Kadıköy and Üsküdar, and Ortaköy can be accessed from Üsküdar and by taking a bus from Beşiktaş.

Step #3 - How to use the Metro in Istanbul

It's not absolutely necessary to take the ferry in Istanbul to get from one side to the other, you also have the option to take the underground metro system. The metro in Istanbul is quite extensive, clean, safe and efficient.

Find a map of the Metro with QR code, here.

You can easily use the metro with your Istanbulkart and navigate your way around the city like a pro.

Frequently used lines:

City Lines are open from 6am to midnight daily

M2 - Travel from Eminonu through Taksim and up to popular venues like the Zorlu Centre, Maslak and LifePark.

M4 - Travel from Sabiha Gokcen Airport all the way to the Kadıköy pier.

M11 - Travel from Istanbul Airport to Gayreteppe station (near Taksim) and connect to the M2 for further travel.

Regional Lines

The Marmaray is the cross-continent underground system running from Gebze to Halkalı. It's an alternative (although not as enjoyable) to taking the ferry from the European to the Asian side. The Marmaray runs from 6am - 11pm during the weekdays and on Fridays and Saturdays, until 1:20am.

For more info, check the site here.

Step #4 - How to take the Nostalgic Tram in Istanbul

The tram system in Istanbul began in 1871 first as horse trams but later modernized to an electric system. The city decided to end the system in 1966 but later re-opened the line in Taksim in 1990 and the line in Moda in 2003. Today, they are mostly tourist attractions, making a nice subject for your Istanbul photography tour.

The city has two completely separate heritage tram systems, one on the European side (the Taksim-Tünel Nostalgia Tramway, aka. T2 line), the other on the Asian side (T3 line, aka. the Kadıköy-Moda Nostalgia Tramway). Use your Istanbulkart to access the trams.

T2 Taksim-Tünel

If you don't feel like walking up or down the hill to get to Galata Tower and Taksim, then use the Tünel! The Tünel starts across from one of the Karaköy ferry ports and goes up the hill to Taksim, just past the Galata tower. It's a short ride but saves your legs which you'll appreciate after a long day of exploring.

Find the start of the Tünel here.

Find the end (top) here.

The Taksim Tram or T2 goes across Istiklal Street from Taksim Square to the Tünel.

Get on the tram here.

T3 Kadıköy-Moda

This is a delightful little tram that travels clockwise around the neighbourhood of Moda.

Catch this tram at the Kadıköy ferry port and enjoy the beautiful seaside area of Moda, full of cafes and great restaurants.

Find the Moda tram stop here.

Regular Trams in Istanbul

There are 2 other tram lines in Istanbul that you might find helpful during your stay.

T1 Line - Kabataş to Bağcılar

This is an extremely useful line for sightseers or people staying in the Sultanahment or Beyoğlu areas. The tram begins at 6am and runs until midnight. Take this tram to save your legs walking between the Grand Bazaar, Hagi Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Karaköy and all the way to Dolmabahçe Palace.

Step #5 - Buses in Istanbul

The bus system in Istanbul is extensive and you can get almost anywhere using the bus.

There are a ridiculous amount of buses in Istanbul so adding a map will probably just look confusing. My advice is to either use Google Maps to help you navigate or download the Moovit app which also works for Istanbul.

The Metrobus

The Metrobus is a rapid transit route in Istanbul using dedicated bus lanes and runs across the Bosphorus Bridge from the European side to the Asian side. The system has 44 stations and the Beylikduzu – Söğütlüçeşme line runs 24-hour service. This is a great choice if you need to get across the continents late at night.

In the end, you'll find that taking the metro in Istanbul is the cheapest and most efficient way to get around. After following this simple guide, you'll be a pro in no time!

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