Istanbul – how to get to main attractions

Istanbul – how to get to the main attractions? If you are planning to visit Istanbul, you may want to know what the best way is to explore it. Is the taxi the best available option? Is it difficult to use public transport? Where to buy tickets, and how to validate them? Is it safe to use the metro and tram? How to get from the airport to the city centre? All those questions will be answered in the below post. Please read it to the end, so you will know what to do while visiting Istanbul.

Istanbul – cultural capital of Türkiye

Istanbul is a city connecting Europe with Asia. Traditional values collide here with modernity, and secularism opposes the political Islamization of the country. It is said about Istanbul that this is the place where East meets West. Although the administrative capital of the country is in Ankara, Istanbul is considered the cultural, commercial and financial capital of Türkiye.

Istanbul Golden Horn. Turkey
Istanbul – Golden Horn

Today, Istanbul is one of the biggest cities in the world and one of the most populous cities in Europe. According to official statistics, about 16 million people are living here. Unofficially it is said, that there are over 24 million of them.

A short history of the city

The city has a long and colourful history. It was founded by the Greeks in 660 BC as Byzantium, in 330 AD it became Constantinople. First – there were Roman invasions and then siege by the Arabs. Second, there was conquest and looting by the Crusaders (between 1204 – 1261). In the meantime, there were commercial visits of merchants from Venice and Genoa. Towards the end of the 14th century, the Ottomans arrived at the city gates. The city was captured by the Turks in 1453.  From that time until the 20th century – it was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. In 1517, when the Ottomans had conquered Egypt, the Caliphate was transferred to Constantinople, which made the city the centre of the Islamic world.

After WWI, in 1919, the Allied troops entered the city. In 1922 it led to the liquidation of the Sultanate and the dissolution of the Caliphate. The year 1923 is when the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed, and its first president was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – called “the father of the Turks”. In the same year, the capital was moved to Ankara. In 1930, the city was officially named Istanbul for the needs of international contacts.

Geographical overview

Istanbul is located on the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. The western part of the city is in Europe, and the eastern part is in Asia. The city consists of three parts. There is an Asian part, the peninsula on the European side south of the Golden Horn and Galata district with the so-called New Town. In the European part, there are trade institutions and the headquarters of international companies. The Asian part is more of a residential area.

The area of the peninsula is occupied by two districts: Eminönü and Fatih, surrounded by the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus. Both districts are in the place of 15th-century Constantinople. All tourists start visiting Istanbul from this place. They can admire the biggest “pearls” of the city here: Topkapi Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque (the so-called Blue Mosque) and the Hagia Sofia Museum.

To the north of the Golden Horn, there are historical districts. There are districts of Beyoglu and Beşiktaş, with Sultan palaces and beautiful villas: Ortaköy or Bebek located on the banks of the strait.

How to get to the main attractions

Taxi

I have been to Istanbul over 20 times and so far, I was always using a taxi. Arriving here on business, alone – I never felt confident enough to try to use public transport. It turned out that a taxi ride is neither fast nor cheap nor safe when compared to public transport.

Travelling by taxi is not fast because the word “traffic jam” in Istanbul has a new meaning. Here, you can get stuck in a traffic jam for long hours. You never know when it will start or how long it will take. I often look out the hotel’s windows late in the evening and I can see that traffic jams there are also after 10.00 p.m.

The taxi ride is not cheap as well, and there are two reasons for it. At the airport in Istanbul, it’s easy to be welcomed by local taxi drivers, who are not affiliated with the official corporation, they drive without the counters and pre-set prices. You can therefore hear a high bill to pay, which will be much higher than in official taxis. Also due to traffic jams, taxi drivers often go “bypass” – according to the principle “just go ahead”, which means that our route to the hotel is longer and the bill on the counter display is higher than it should be.

Taxi ride – my observations

Finally, it is also worth mentioning that riding by taxi is also not safe. What I mean is the technical car condition and the practical driving skills of the drivers. How to describe it briefly? Quite often you may find out that the majority of the legal taxis are heavily old and dilapidated. The seatbelts often do not work (sometimes they do even not exist), and sometimes it is not easy to close the door or window.

Taxi drivers also drive in a quite original way. They always hold a phone to their ear and talk on the phone all the way (sometimes 1 hour). They perform all other manoeuvres with the other hand. With one hand they hold the steering wheel, change gears and regularly press the horn. In terms of temperament, I would compare it to the driving style of Italians :-). In general – it seems to me that there are no rules except one – “first come, first served”. What is happening on the city streets and how drivers drive their cars here – you have to experience by yourself to understand. Nevertheless, I would never dare to drive a car in this city. I know that I would not be able to enter the traffic, find a parking spot or manage to survive in the never-ending traffic jams.

It is also worth remembering that almost in the majority of the taxis you can’t pay with a credit card, as drivers do not have terminals. At the airport, there are ATMs and currency exchange offices. To avoid surprises afterwards, it is worth exchanging some money before we get into a taxi.

Officially registered taxis

As you step out of Istanbul Airport, the anticipation of exploring the bustling streets of this vibrant city fills the air. But before you immerse yourself in the sights and sounds, there’s the matter of transportation to address. Istanbul Airport’s taxi service is available, offering a convenient and reliable way to kickstart your adventure.

But there’s more to these taxis than meets the eye. UKOME has introduced differentiated pricing tariffs for the various taxi categories to enhance service quality and promote eco-friendly transportation. This move not only ensures fair pricing but also incentivizes the adoption of zero-emission vehicles.

Taxi in Turkye – three distinct categories

Among the fleet of taxis waiting to whisk you away, you’ll notice three distinct categories: the energetic orange ‘C‘ type taxis, the vibrant turquoise ‘D‘ type taxis, and the sleek black ‘E’ type luxury taxis. Each category offers a unique experience, catering to different preferences and budgets.

Istabul official taxis
Istanbul official taxis

According to the UKOME-administered tariff, turquoise taxi fares are set 15% higher than orange taxi fares. This adjustment reflects the commitment to promoting environmentally friendly transportation options while maintaining affordability for passengers. So, if you’re conscious about reducing your carbon footprint, opting for a turquoise taxi is a step in the right direction.

For those seeking a touch of luxury and elegance, the black ‘E’ type taxis await. However, indulging in luxury comes at a premium, with fares set a striking 70% higher than their orange counterparts. Yet, for many travellers, the promise of comfort and sophistication is well worth the additional cost.

As you settle into your chosen taxi, you can rest assured that the pricing structure is designed to be transparent and fair. Gone are the days of haggling over fares or worrying about being overcharged. With UKOME’s regulated tariff in place, you can focus on enjoying the journey ahead.

So, whether you opt for the eco-friendly turquoise taxi, the luxurious black taxi, or the vibrant orange taxi, know that you’re not just embarking on a ride through Istanbul’s bustling streets – you’re also contributing to a greener, more sustainable future for generations to come.

Public transport

Public transport – despite my earlier doubts – public transport has many advantages. It’s fast, cheap, convenient, modern and safe. I mentioned only the pros, as the only downside is that it is not possible to get everywhere by metro or tram. By now I did not have a chance to experience travelling by bus. The city bus system (IETT and Otobus A.Ş. Bus Fleet) still seems to be quite complicated. Fortunately for tourists visiting the city: the metro and tram will be enough to see all the major attractions.

Istanbul Kart

In the beginning, I recommend you buy the Istanbul Kart – a kind of universal city card. The best moment to buy is right after your arrival. At the Atatürk airport, in front of the entrance to the metro station, there are ticket machines where you can buy this card. The card costs 50 TLY (about 1,5 USD) and it is a non-refundable fee. After buying the card, you must charge it, because it is a prepaid card. To be able to use it – first, you need to top up your account on the card.

Istanbul Kart
Card charging machines

Card charging machines stand at almost every subway station. They are also available at every tram stop. That means this option is very convenient for regular use. Going through the gate in the subway or at the tram stop, the card reader will show us the available limit on our account, so we will know when it should be topped up. The charging machines accept only banknotes with banknotes of 5, 10 and 20 TL.

It is also worth noting that several (up to 5) people can ride simultaneously using only one Istanbul card. The cardholder must stand at the gate and just open it to other people travelling with him. While exiting the tram/ metro – a card is not needed, as gates are opening automatically. It is, therefore, an ideal form for couples travelling together or families with children. The card is the size of a standard credit card, so it is convenient to carry it in your wallet.

Sea transport

For a long time, boats have been crossing the waters of the Bosphorus. It may be hard to believe, but until 1973 (when the first bridge was built on the Bosphorus), it was the only possible means of transport between the European and Asian parts of the city. Today, despite three bridges and a subway passing under the water- ships are still a very popular means of urban transport. It is used not only by residents of the city but also by tourists who travel by boat on the Bosphorus as an attraction itself.

The largest ferry operator in Istanbul, Istanbul Sea Buses (İDO), has passengers and car ferries.  In their offer, there are trips to ports on both sides of the Bosporus. In 2011, the city decided to entrust the company’s management to a private company (IDO) for 30 years.

There are currently 50 passenger ferry ports in Istanbul, 37 of which are open all year round. During the summer months – daily, in the waters of the Bosphorus, there are about 600 passenger journeys. They are serviced by 28 vessels. There are currently 3 types of ferries in Istanbul: Sea Busses (İDO) – mainly catamarans, Vapur (suburban ferries) and private motorboats.

Sea transport belongs to the integrated urban transport of Istanbul and can be used by those who have valid Istanbul Kart.

Istanbul – Metro (M)

There are currently 10 metro lines in the city (2024). Lines 1,2,3 and 6, 7, 9, 11 are located on the European side of the city, and lines 4, 5 and 8  are on the Anatolian side. The plans include the construction of new lines 10, 12, and 14 on the Asian side, as well as the expansion of existing metro lines, including the new M11 from the new airport in Istanbul.

M1A (red line) Yenikapi-Ataturk Airpot Metro Line

The M1A goes from the already-closed Ataturk Airport to Yenikapi. That line was Istanbul’s first rapid transit system. With that line, you can get to the Coach Terminal Station. The full journey of this metro takes 35 minutes. During peak hours, the metro goes in every 2,5 minutes.

M1B (red line) Yenikapi-Kirazli Metro Line

M1B operation is carried out jointly between Yenikapi and Otogar stations with the M1A line. Separated after Otogar Station, the line passes through Esenler and Bagcilar Square and ends in integration with the M3 Kirazli-Kayasehir Merkez metro line at Kirazlı region. There are 23 stations on that line. The whole journey with that line will take 35 minutes.

M2 (green line) Yenikapi-Seyrantepe-Haciosman Metro Line

The M2 goes from Yenikapi to Haciosman. With that line, you can get to Taksim and Levent (the business part of the city). The whole journey with that line will take 27 minutes.

M3 (blue line) Kirazali-Kayasehir Merkez MetroLine

The M3 line goes from Kirazli to Olimpiyat, and it is mostly used by the local inhabitants, as serves connection to the “sleeping” areas of the city. There are 11 stations on the way, and the whole journey will take only 20 minutes.

M4 (pink line) Kadikoy-Sabiha Gokcen Metro Line

The M4 line connects districts located on the Anatolian side. Goes from the Kadikoy to Tavsantepe. The entire line was built under the ground including the depot and workshop areas. There are 19 stations on the way and the entire journey can take up to 65 minutes. Used only by the locals.

M5 (purple line) Uskudar-Cekmekoy Metro Line

M5 Line is the second metro line on the Anatolian Side, and it is the first driverless metro line in Turkey. The line starts at Uskudar Square then passes through Umraniye district centre and ends at Cekmekoy Square. Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality plans to extend the M5 Line to Sultanbeyli District and Sabiha Gokcen Airport thanks to works being carried out within the frame of its rail systems vision.

M6 (beige line) Levent-Bogazici U./Hisarustu Metro Line

This line ensures the access of passengers going to Bogazici University. It was built using the New Austria Tunneling Method (NATM) and as a single tube. Built on the monorail, the system intermixes at the station areas only. There is only one train which runs One Way in other areas due to the construction techniques. There are 4 stations on the way, and the journey takes 7 minutes.

M7 (pink line) Yildiz-Mahmutbey Metro Line

The M7 Yildiz-Mahmutbey Metro Line is commissioned as the first fully automatic driverless metro of the European side of Istanbul. Mecidiyekoy-Mahmutbey stage section is the first stage of the relevant line and will be providing services between Kabatas and Esenyurt when it is completed and passes through Sisli, Kagithane, Eyupsultan, Gaziosmanpasa, Esenler and Bagcilar districts where approximately 3 million people live.

Fulya and Yıldız stations, located in the 2nd phase of the line, were commissioned on January 2nd, 2023, and their connection with Besiktas was established. There are 17 stations on the way, and the whole journey will take only 32 minutes.

M8 (dark blue line) Bostanci-Dudullu-Parseller Metro Line

The construction of the line, which started by IMM in February 2016, was planned to connect the lines on the east-west axis on the Anatolian Side in a north-south direction and was built accordingly. There are 13 stations on the way, and the whole journey will take only 25 minutes.

M9 (yellow line) Bahariye Olimpiyat Metro Line

Bahariye and Masko stations of the first stage of the M9 Atakoy- Olimpiyat Metro Line will be commissioned on May 29th, 2021. M9 Line was combined with Ikitelli Sanayi, Ziya Gokalp Olimpiyat stations that provide shuttle operation within M3 Line, and started providing services between Bahariye-Olimpiyat stations. There are 5 stations on the way, and the whole journey will take only 10 minutes.

M11 (a new line)

The long-awaited Metro Line M11 finally started its routes in January 2023. Giving Istanbul airport’s passengers the possibility to travel super-fast and comfortably to the city of Istanbul, the airport subway is expected to become the most popular transportation mode among IST passengers. For the time being, the driverless M11 covers a 34-km distance from Istanbul Airport to Kâğıthane, while a further expansion during the first semester of 2023 will link Istanbul Airport to Gayrettepe Station, giving the line a total length of 37.5km.

The Istanbul airport metro line serves, for the moment, 7 subway stations. Hence, after leaving the airport (IST terminal and Cargo terminal stations), M11 calls at İhsaniye, Göktürk, Kemerburgaz, and Hasdal before ending its journey at Kâğıthane.

Tip: After arriving at Kâğıthane, you can hop on Metro Line M7, whereas once Gayrettepe Station is added to M11’s itinerary, Istanbul Airport will be linked to Metro Line M2 and the Metrobüs network (Zincirlikuyu Metrobüs Station) at Gayrettepe.

How to get there from the airport?

The new subway station of Istanbul International Airport lies opposite Exit 11, on the front side of the car park. Being within a 300-meter distance from the terminal’s entrance, it is easy to locate. Nevertheless, as the IST terminal is vast, reaching the metro station can be tedious and time-consuming. In the future, a second station is expected to be added to the airport’s complex. However, no further info is to be found about the exact timeline of this project.

Tickets

Subway tickets can’t be bought via cash or bank cards. You’ll have to buy a rechargeable card – Istanbulkart – and top it with money (using only cash). Hence, Istanbul airport metro tickets can be purchased only via Istanbulkart. Costing 60₺ (2.94€/3.10$), Istanbulkarts can be purchased and loaded at the automatic machines lying at the airport subway station. The price for a one-way ticket is 9.90₺ (0.48€/0.50$), and as the line’s construction is progressing and its traversed distance is getting longer, the ticket cost will be up to 12₺ (0.59€/0.70$).

What is worth knowing about Metro

Istanbul Railway Network Map
credits: www.metro.istanbul
  • The Istanbul Railway Network Map shows the integrated Istanbul Rail Network. There is an underground metro, tram, cable car, heritage tram, Tunnel metro, funicular lines, Marmaray line and Metrobus.
  • Istanbul Metro runs from 06:00 a.m. till 00:00 midnight. In peak hours goes in every 2,5 to 5 minutes.
Istanbul
Istanbul – Golden Horn and museum Hagia Sofia (pink one on the left)

Istanbul transport – how to get to the main attractions in the city?

The tram T1 line can take you to almost all major attractions in the city. You can easily get to the Grand Bazaar, Sultan Suleiman Mosque and museum Hagia Sofia. With that line, you can also get to the Topkapi Palace, Galata Bridge, Karaköy district and the Dolmebahce Palace. Kabatas is the last stop on the T1 tram line.  Here you can get a ferry to Princes’ Islands, Bosphorus cruise or Maiden’s Tower.

With the tram line T1, you can also get to metro M2, going to the business part of the city. You can also connect with the Marmaray train (crossing the Bosphorus) or with the undergrad funicular – line F1.

Future of the Istanbul Railway Network

It is also worth noting that currently, the city of Istanbul is continuing a great construction project, under the slogan “Metro everywhere”. To emphasize the speed at which construction works take place here, there are a few brief facts below:

  • Before 2004, there were only 45 km of metro lines in the city
  • Currently (2018) there are over 160 km
  • In 2019 it is planned that the metro will cover over 350 km
  • in 2024, it is over 1,100 km

The tramway route is being expanded at an equally rapid time. If you are interested in seeing how the Railway map of Istanbul will look shortly, you can download it from Metro Istanbul.

The actual map of public transport can be downloaded from the Metro Istanbul website.

Istanbul transport – interesting facts

Historic trams / Nostalgic tramways

Istanbul
Nostalgic tramway

There are two historic tram lines in the city. One of them is on the European side (Taksim-Tünel) – T2 line. The second one is on the Anatolian side (Kadıköy-Moda) – T3 line. In the past, horse-drawn trams were running around the city. When the development and modernization of Istanbul started, horse-drawn trams were replaced with electric cars. The most developed tram network in the city was in the year 1956. Unfortunately, the rapid development of the city and the rather chaotic architecture caused, that in 1966 it was decided to withdraw the trams from the city. At the same time, all road investments were concentrated on the development of the highways.

Over time, it turned out that crowded streets need a modernized public transport network. After 24 years – trams again returned to the streets of Istanbul.

In 1990, it was decided to restore the historic streetcar to İstiklal Caddesi (“Avenue of Independence”) in the Taksim district. The purpose was to check the potential of such transport. The huge interest in the tram was mainly among the tourists. Its popularity was so great that in 1992 and 2007 modern trams went to the city streets – both on the European and on the Anatolian side (lines T1, T3 and T4).

A trip by tram along Istiklal Caddesi takes only a short time. It may be from 10 to 20 minutes depending on the traffic. There are only 5 stops on the route, but the tram moves very slowly. On its way, it passes through the middle of a popular shopping street and turns into a pedestrian walk promenade. The tram goes quite slowly, and it rings all the time to be able to pave its way. It’s worth taking advantage of this attraction or at least seeing the tram from outside.

F2 – the Tunnel

This underground cable car “the Tunnel”, is the oldest subway line in continental Europe. It is also the second one in the world after London. The queue was commissioned for the first time in 1875 and continues to be used to the present day. The tunnel is 573 m long and the height difference between Karaköy and Tünel Square stations is 60 meters. The journey by train takes about 1.5 minutes. There are approximately 15,000 people who use it daily, including tourists. Formerly, the wagons were powered by steam, but after modernization in 1971, they are now powered electrically. There is no doubt that both attractions are super interesting and worth visiting.

You can use your Istanbul Kart in both historical trams.

How to get to and from the IST Airport

Please check my travel pots below.

Istanbul New Airport

Internet – how not to be bankrupt due to phone bill, in a country where roaming does not work


Unfortunately, roaming does not work in Türkiye. Therefore, we should consider the fact that we will only be able to use the internet in the hotel or internet cafes. And what if we want to use the Internet after leaving the hotel? What if we want to turn on the GPS, check the address, check the museum’s working hours, and find out how to get to the place we are looking for? What if you want to order Uber (yes, Uber works in Türkiye) or check the number for a taxi corporation? I have my patent for such situations. I tested it in Japan, South Korea and Europe when we didn’t have integrated EU regulations yet.

Whenever I have such a need – I am looking for whether it is possible to rent a pocket wifi. This is a small portable device that can be connected to up to 5 devices at the same time.

In Türkiye, few companies are offering such services. I did not try them personally, but please share your experience if you will use any of them:

Credits: Istanbul Welcome Card

What is usually included in the price?

  • Internet 4G service
  • connect up to 5 devices
  • unlimited and safe internet
  • the small size of the device allows you to always have it with you
  • coverage – all over Türkiye

The most important to know after placing your order, a Wi-Fi device will be delivered to the hotel you specify. The device will be delivered with a charging cable and connection security code. On the day of departure, just put the device in the same envelope in which you received it and leave it at the reception of your hotel. In some companies, you must send it back in the original envelope to the renting company, which means you have to put the envelope in the mailbox.

Streamlining Your Istanbul / TurkishTravel

All Your Transport Needs in One Place with 12Go

Are you planning a trip to or from Istanbul and feeling overwhelmed by the logistics of navigating the city’s diverse transportation options? Whether you’re looking to buy bus or train tickets, hop on a ferry to explore nearby towns, or even book a flight to other cities or countries, there’s a convenient solution that simplifies your travel planning process: 12Go*.

Why 12Go?

12Go is your one-stop platform for all things transportation in and around Istanbul. With its user-friendly interface and comprehensive range of services, 12Go takes the hassle out of organizing your journey. Here’s why you should consider using 12Go for your travel needs:

  1. Convenience: Instead of scouring multiple websites or standing in long queues to purchase tickets, 12Go allows you to book all your transportation options in one place. Whether you are travelling within Istanbul or venturing beyond its borders, you can easily compare schedules and prices, making informed decisions tailored to your preferences.
  2. Variety: From buses and trains to ferries and flights, 12Go offers a diverse selection of transportation modes to suit every traveller’s needs. Whether you prefer the scenic route on a ferry across the Bosphorus or the convenience of a direct flight, you’ll find plenty of options to choose from on 12Go’s platform.
  3. Reliability: With 12Go, you can trust that your travel arrangements are in good hands. The platform partners with reputable transportation providers, ensuring reliable services and seamless experiences for travellers. Say goodbye to last-minute stress and hello to worry-free journeys with 12Go.
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How to Use 12Go

Using 12Go to book your transportation in Istanbul is simple. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Visit the 12Go website or download the mobile app to your smartphone.
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  3. Browse through the available options, comparing schedules and prices to find the best fit for your needs.
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Start Your Journey with 12Go

Ready to embark on your Istanbul adventure? Let 12Go be your trusted companion every step of the way. With its convenient booking platform, diverse transportation options, and commitment to customer satisfaction, 12Go simplifies the travel planning process, allowing you to focus on what matters most: exploring the beauty and culture of Istanbul and beyond. Say goodbye to logistical headaches and hello to seamless journeys with 12Go. Start planning your trip today!

Streamlining Your Istanbul Travel, All Your Transport Needs in One Place with 12Go
All Your Transport Needs in One Place with 12Go

Connect with TOP travel destinations to and from Istanbul or main Turkish cities.

Türkiye – my other posts

I also encourage you to read my other posts about Istanbul, Cappadocia and Türkiye:

*links to the offer from 12Go are affiliate

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