Istanbul is home to incredible sights like the Hagia Sophia and the oldest covered bazaar in the world. You can get 360-degree views of the city from the Galata Tower. It's the only city in the world that lies on two continents: Europe and Asia. Yet, these sights aren’t all close together.
So, what’s the best way to get around Istanbul? Find out how to explore the city’s famous sights, ranked from best to worst.
The Best Ways to Get Around in Istanbul
1. On Foot
The best way to explore Istanbul is on foot; however, you can’t explore all of Istanbul this way.
Tourists should plan to get around Istanbul on foot as much as possible to see more of the city and its rich culture.
You’ll see more of the city and its people on foot than by any other mode of transportation.
Walk along the Bosphorus Bridge, wander the old roads of the Grand Bazaar, and plan a day on foot at Sultanahmet, where you can see Topkapı Palace and the Hagia Sophia.
Wear proper walking shoes to the Grand Bazaar. The winding streets aren’t all paved and can easily catch a high heel. Wear low wedges or flat, comfortable walking shoes to avoid tripping down one of the city’s hills.
Although walking is the best way to get around Istanbul, it isn’t always practical. Few people have the time or energy to walk the length of the city, especially if they’re booked for a Turkish hammam.
The best form of transit in Istanbul is the tram. There are 4 tram lines in Istanbul. You’ll likely rely on Bağcılar-Kabataş (T1), which serves the city’s main sights, like the Galata Tower. Istanbul’s trams are just as nice as any European tram.
Print an Istanbul tram map ahead of time, as stops don’t always have them listed. It’ll help you find stops and know which line to take. Trams are great options for budget travelers.
Get an Istanbulkart for 6 TL to reduce your transit costs from 4 TL to 2.30 TL.
Istanbul has the third oldest metro in the world, but you wouldn’t know that from riding it.
The city’s metro is a comfortable way to get around. It runs from all corners of the city, even outside of the tourist districts.
This is a great way to get into the city center from a hotel on the outskirts of the city. You can even ride beneath the Bosphorus continental divide with the Marmaray Rail Tunnel.
The metro is a great discount way to get from the city center to the Istanbul Airport (IST). Planned for August 2021, the M11 line will connect the airport to the city center in just 35 minutes. You can see more on Istanbul's airports in another article.
Although the stops are more spaced out than the tram or bus stops, Istanbul’s metro is one of the few ways you can avoid the city’s rush hour traffic. At 8 am and 6 pm, traffic comes to a standstill above ground. Go below the ground to avoid the slower transit above the ground.
The Istanbul bus network is the most extensive transit in the city. Although it runs to more locations than the tram or the metro, it has one major problem: space.
Due to the heavy traffic and designated bus lanes, people pack the buses to their limits. You may find yourself squished against strangers or struggling to get off past the mass of people.
Avoid the buses during rush hour times to maintain your personal space. The buses run outside of rush hour, from 6 am to midnight.
Although the buses go around the city, they aren’t a great way to take in any sights. You’ll spend most of your time focused on the coming stops, as the Istanbul buses don’t announce them.
5. Ferry or Seabus
Riding the ferry or the sea bus is one of the best ways to get around Istanbul.
Not only do the water vehicles avoid heavy rush hour traffic, but they also offer stunning views of the Bosphorus and Istanbul’s skylines.
There are several ports along the city’s shores used by both tourists and commuters. Keep your Istanbulkart handy to get discounted tickets, like a ride to Princes’ Island for 5.50 TL. You can even get a two-hour Bosphorus tour for 12 TL or a full-day adventure for 25 TL.
Not only does the ferry offer one of the most unique views of the city, but it’s also one of the cheapest tours you can find. Avoid the overpriced and scammy Bosphorus tours offered near the pier of Eminönü and opt for the affordable tour offered by the municipality.
Check the ferry timetables on the Şehir Hatları website.
Taxis are usually one of the best ways to get around a city, but not in Istanbul. Here, taxis are one of the biggest tourist scams in the country. Unfortunately, Istanbul’s taxi drivers continue two ruses meant to overcharge tourists.
Be careful of taxi drivers who claim their meter is broken, as they’ll give you a massively overpriced charge at the end of your journey. Don’t let your taxi driver take you sightseeing. They may try to take you on the scenic route or to see a particular place, meanwhile, they’re running their meter up to charge you more.
To get a safe taxi, ask your hotel to call one for you. Taxis are less likely to try to scam you if they are looking for the hotel’s repeat business.
You can also use the popular Turkish app BiTaksi (available in English) to find trusted taxis to take you around the city. Avoid taxis during rush hour, as road times can triple, and so will your fee.
Cars are the worst way to get around Istanbul.
Here are four reasons why:
- Turkey is known for its terrible drivers
- Istanbul has some of the worst traffic in the world
- Road signs are in Turkish
- Istanbul has almost no parking
While driving is a great way to get around Turkey, it is not the best way to get around Istanbul. You’ll spend more time in your car than seeing the city’s sights.
Between parking issues, traffic jams throughout the day, getting lost, and not understanding Turkish drivers’ inability to respect the rules of the road, you’ll quickly come to agree. Istanbul is not a city for driving.
Skip the car for your Istanbul trip and stick to public transport when you need to get somewhere further away.
Istanbul has so many great neighborhoods to see and amazing things to do, but it can be hard to find the best way to get around the city. What works in Europe or North America won’t necessarily be the best here.
Usually, cars and taxis are the best way to get around cities due to their privacy and speed. Here, you’ll end up in a traffic jam as long as your trip.
Instead, opt to take public transit and walk when you can. Walking lets you see more of the city than you can on public transit. Istanbul’s tourist and bazaar areas are very easily walkable if you’re wearing good shoes.
Public transit will let you venture further than the tourist zones for a low price. Get the Istanbulkart for further discounts. Get a beautiful perspective of the city on the Bosphorus with the affordable Şehir Hatları (municipality) tours.
Use this guide to the best ways to get around Istanbul, so you don’t miss out on Istanbul’s best experiences.