A Tourist’s Guide to Getting around Istanbul

At first thought or glance, getting around Istanbul can seem intimidating. But once you familiarize yourself with all the available options, Istanbul is one of the best cities to travel through in terms of exploring by Public Transport and Walking. It’s safe, easy, affordable and straight forward. As a solo female traveler in Istanbul, I have felt safe in all forms of transportation listed below. Out of the 10 ways I’ve listed, renting a car in Istanbul would be the least recommended and not necessary.

getting around istanbul

Getting around Istanbul: 10 Major Ways

  • Istanbul by Foot
  • Metro Istanbul
  • Marmaray
  • Tram
  • Ferry
  • Bus
  • Funicular
  • Dolmuş (shared van taxis)
  • Taxis & Ubers
  • Rent a Motorbike, bicycle or car

Explore Istanbul by Foot

There’s no better way to really familiarize yourself with a new city than to walk. Though Istanbul is a busy, crowded city, I do enjoy walking as much as I can through it’s dozens of beautiful and incredibly unique, historical neighborhoods. Istanbul is a very large city so you can do a mix of walking and hopping on and off of public transport. Apple Map and Google Map are good for directions.

I prefer Apple Maps if you’re walking, and Google Maps for Public Transportation. If you don’t have cellphone service, download Maps.Me for offline maps.

Nisantasi, a hip, wealthy neighborhood in the Besiktas district of Istanbul (on the European side) which is fun for restaurants, bars and shopping.

A Simple Guide to Istanbul Public Transportation

Google Maps is a good way to map out the fastest routes depending on the time of day. During the day, especially rush hour, public transportations as in Metro, Marmaray and Trams are faster ways to beat traffic as it has its own platform to run on. Though in the evening after traffic hour, taking a taxi can be faster in some cases, as public transport options become less the later it gets.

To Start, Sign up for a HES CODE:

  1. Due to Covid, everyone (Turkish Nationals and Foreigners included) are required to sign up for a HES Code. In a nutshell, it’s an app that tracks where you have been, to track the level of Covid cases in each area. Sign up here: https://hayatevesigar.saglik.gov.tr/hes-eng.html
  2. Once you sign up, they will text you the CODE.
  3. Download the HES Code APP “Hayat Eve Sigar“, then register your Code. Your QR Code will appear in one of the tabs. This will be easily accessible anytime you enter malls, hospitals, airport and everywhere requiring it.
balat
Balat is a colorful neighborhood that is known historically as a Greek and Jewish neighborhood. There are still synagogues and churches you can explore. It’s definitely worth a day visit to this adorable area.

Next step: Get your IstanbulKart

IstanbulKart is your access card to all public transportations. Unfortunately, you cannot pay with cash or credit card, so this is the only route. But it also makes things a lot easier to just have one card to access all.

  1. Purchase your “IstanbulKart” in front of any of the public transport stations.
  2. Select English, and then “Purchase Card” for 10 Turkish Liras. The card will be dropped down from the machine.
  3. The machine will now refresh to start. Click “English” again, and “Top Up Kart”.
  4. Place your card in the slot next to the screen. Select the amount you want to add to the card – up to 100 TL. Enter the cash (oftentimes, credit card doesn’t work). And your card is filled!

Now to connect your HES Code onto your IstanbulKart, fill out this form: https://kisisellestirme.istanbulkart.istanbul. Now you are ready to go on any public transportation system!

Metro Istanbul & Marmaray

There are 8 Metro lines throughout Istanbul. The Marmaray only runs in 2 directions (east and west) between Halkali and Gebze and is a faster train (that goes under water) than Metro. Metro lines are connected to the Marmaray as well, so you can change within the stations.

Website: https://www.metro.istanbul & http://marmaray.gov.tr

Tram

There are 6 Tram routes throughout Istanbul which are all above ground. It’s my favorite Public Transportation method in Istanbul as you get to gaze outside during your trip.

Ferry

If taking a ferry is recommended in your route, I would almost always recommend it as it is an absolutely beautiful ride any direction you go. It’s also a way to spend less than $2 for a scenic boat ride.

Website: https://www.sehirhatlari.istanbul/en

Bus

As with the other public transports in Istanbul, taking a Bus is easy. Your google map directions will tell you which Bus # to take and from which stop. Simply find the Bus Number, ie: Bus 22 from Kabatas-Besiktas, swipe your Istanbul Kart and on you go. Even if you don’t research ahead of time and just show up at the bus station, you can easily see which direction they are headed as listed in the front of the bus.

Funicular

There is 1 Funicular, “F1” which runs between Taksim Meydani and Kabatas. You can take this from the Metro exit of Taksim. Or off the Tram or Ferry exit from Kabatas. Since getting to Taksim and Galata Tower requires a steep climb up hill, this Funicular railway is especially helpful.

Dolmuş (Shared Van Taxi)

Dolmuş is an ideal way to get around Istanbul in short distances for about 3 TL each (50 cents). There will be a sign in front of the bus showing which direction it will go.

Taking Taxis in Istanbul

Taxis are overall safe to take throughout Istanbul. The Yellow Taxis are cheaper than the Blue Taxis. The meter should always start at 5.5 TL. There are faster routes via tolls which you would pay extra for. This is sometimes a way for taxi drivers to scam passengers, so it’s best to get an idea of how much each toll should cost, as well as count each toll as you pass them.

Uber is supposedly banned in Istanbul, but they have contracted with Yellow Taxis. If you do have uber, I would recommend using it (over hailing a random cab on the street) so that you can use your credit card on file, and the route cost will be estimated ahead of time. There is less room for scamming by using Uber. And as usual, if you lose something, you can contact Uber to get ahold of the taxi.

Rent a Motorbike, Bicycle or Car

getting around istanbul

Bicycle: There are a number of new bicycles to rent throughout the city, but with the chaotic traffic, I personally don’t find it very safe.

Renting a Car: I’ve rented a car almost everywhere I traveled to in Turkey which has been easy to navigate. However, I do not recommend, nor do I think it’s necessary to rent a car in Istanbul. There is, as mentioned above, a variety of sufficient ways to getting around Istanbul. I would recommend a motorbike if you feel comfortable in navigating through the windy, busy roads. While driving through most of Turkey is incredibly easy with nicely paved roads, Istanbul is a whole other story. Drivers are aggressive and chaotic, on a comparable level to India. I would actually say that India has more of an organized Chaos situation over Istanbul.

Renting a Car: If you do want to rent a car, I’d recommend using SkyScanner.com as a starting point to see where you can rent the cheapest cars. Manual cars will always be cheaper than Automatic by 20-30%.
Tolls: There are some tolls which you can pay as you pass, or after.
Car Insurance: If you have international credit cards that cover Auto Insurance around the world, such as Chase Sapphire Reserve, you will not be required to purchase it. You can simply decline insurance coverage. And I have not been asked to provide proof of insurance either.

getting around istanbul
Istanbul is a beautiful historic city that is so easy to navigate for tourists.
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