Public transportation in Istanbul

Figuring out the public transit system in Istanbul is not as daunting as it might seem at first. True, I was quite overwhelmed during my first day or two in Istanbul, and my unfamiliarity with the transit system had a little something to do with it. But once we got the hang of it, the rest of our travels via public transportation were cake.

Here is some helpful information based on my experiences:

  • Finding a decent, accurate map of the public transit system is difficult. Prior to our departure for Istanbul, we searched online for transit maps or trip planners (similar to ones offered by the Chicago Transit Authority), but had no luck. Mark found an app or two for his iPhone but they either were: a) only in Turkish; or, b) very user unfriendly. I even asked a local (via Twitter) where to find an accurate, reliable transit map and was directed to Wikipedia. So, there you go.
  • Turns out, navigating the Istanbul public transit system is NOT difficult. On our first day out and about in the city, we received excellent directions from our hotel concierge. We needed to get from Levent to Sultanahmet. He gave us a little map, highlighted our route, and we were off. We were a little nervous as our route required two separate transfers and three different modes of transportation: subway, funicular, and tram. We made it, though – and back to Levent later that evening. We rode public transit for the next seven days with absolutely no problem.
  • Transit riders must first buy tokens (jeton) before boarding any of the system’s vehicles. Tokens cost 2TL apiece and can be purchased from the Jetonmatik at just about every stop or station on the transit lines. So, in my example above, my journey consisted of three legs. That means I needed three tokens for a one-way trip, at a total cost of 6TL. Deposit money into the Jetonomatik, indicate how many tokens are needed, and the appropriate number are dispensed by the machine. Deposit the token at the turnstyle; access is granted and riders are then free to board. Don’t forget to plan for return trips!
  • Ferry boats are part of Istanbul’s public transportation system. The price of a one-way ride on a ferry is the same as the other modes of public transit: 2TL. However, the tokens for the ferries are different than the other tokens; they are much smaller in size. We didn’t try to use them elsewhere, but I imagine they would not be accepted at the subway, funicular, bus, or tram stations. Even if you don’t need to ride the ferry to get from point A to point B, I suggest doing it anyway. Who doesn’t love a boat ride?! And for a quick cruise on the Bosphorus, at that price? Can’t beat it.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of instructions on mastering Istanbul’s public transportation system. Rather, it’s a list of helpful bits of information, things I wish I had known prior to arrival in Istanbul. Just don’t be afraid to ride public transportation. It beats sitting in the notoriously heavy traffic of Istanbul in a taxi, or getting ripped off by a taxi driver. Plus, it’s a fun, easy way to get a glimpse of everyday life in Istanbul.

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3 Responses to Public transportation in Istanbul

  1. Mary @ The World Is A Book December 23, 2011 at 1:10 am #

    I have been enjoying reading your Istanbul posts. What a wonderful adventure for you. It has been on my bucket list for awhile but hubby has reservations especially with the logistics of traveling with 2 kids in tow. Thanks for these tips.

    • Francesca December 23, 2011 at 6:59 am #

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Mary! I’m glad you’re enjoying my posts. Istanbul is a fabulous city and I definitely recommend a visit. Hubs and I went without our daughter, and I’m glad we didn’t bring her. Istanbul is insanely crowded and I can’t imagine trying to push a stroller through the throngs of people, or trying to keep a small child close to me. I’m not saying don’t bring the kids; just be prepared for the crowds!


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