Getting Around Istanbul – Transport Guide & Tips

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Getting Around Istanbul – Transport Guide & Tips

News flash – Istanbul is huge.

Literally massive.

You just can’t comprehend how big Istanbul is.

But, the good news is that it’s a pretty easy city to get around, thanks to an excellent network of public transport methods. The only major issue is traffic.

You’ve never seen traffic until you’ve seen Istanbul traffic, and it’s only getting worse.

Thankfully, there are a few ways you can get around that, too – this city thinks of everything!

So, to help you navigate Turkey’s biggest city by far, let’s check out how to get around.

First Things First – The Istanbul Card

Best Things To Do In Istanbul - Ortakoy mosque and Bosphorus bridge

The Istanbul Card, or IstanbulKart as you’ll see it named, is how you pay for public transport in the city.

It’s worth buying this at the airport if you can as you’ll need it to get to where you’re staying. You can buy a new card at any of the yellow or blue machines in the airport, and you can also purchase them from kiosks in the city where you see the IstanbulKart sign.

You will pay just 13 Lira for a card, and it will come with no credit loaded onto it. Due to COVID-19 rules, you’ll first need to obtain a HES code (if you haven’t already), and you’ll match it to your IstanbulKart. Your card won’t work unless you do this before loading any credit onto it.

Adding a HES Code to Your IstanbulKart:

  • Send a text to 2023 with:
  • Type ‘HES,’ space, your nationality (in a format such as GER (Germany), ARG (Argentina), etc.), space, your passport serial number, space, year of birth, space, and your surname
  • For example – HES GER 123456789 1990 SMITH

You’ll then receive a text back in a few minutes with your HES code.

Once you have that code, head to https://kisisellestirme.istanbulkart.istanbul, and you can select the English version before following the instructions to add your HES code to your Istanbulkart.
Tick the box that says, “I am a foreigner; I want to continue by my passport number.”
Your card number is the serial number on your IstanbulKart.

It doesn’t sound very easy, but it’s actually far easier than it looks. Once you’ve completed that step, you can then load credit onto your card and use it. This can be done at any of the machines you’ll see in public transport stations or at kiosks where you see the IstanbulKart sign.

To use the card, simply scan it at the entrance to bus/Metro/ferry, etc., and you’ll be charged a flat rate of 4.03 lira for every journey.

Istanbul Public Transport

There are several different types of public transport you can use to get around Istanbul. While you can walk between certain places, remember that distances are pretty large. You might think somewhere looks walkable, but once you set off, you’ll think otherwise!

It’s also not the best idea to hire a car and try and drive in Istanbul. The traffic, the roads, the beeping, oh, it’s enough to drive you crazy! Seriously, save yourself the stress and use public transport instead.

You’ll find hand sanitizer stations around, but it’s best to carry a small bottle in your bag or pocket and spray your hands once you get off the bus/Metro. Also, obviously remember not to touch your face while on public transport. Of course, with COVID-19 restrictions, that means wearing a mask on all public transport and in stations – masks are currently mandatory in Turkey anyway, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Taxis In Istanbul

Getting around Istanbul - Taxi in Istanbul

First, let’s talk about the most difficult to use type of transport and one you would think would be the easiest – taxis.

Now, if you can get a taxi to stop and take you to where you want to go, you’re golden. But, over the last few months, this has become much harder. Taxis will not always stop on the street, so you’re best heading to a taxi rank. However, you then have to tell the driver where you want to go, and they will tell you if they wish to take you or not.

Strictly speaking, they should take anyone, anywhere, but the truth is that drivers will wait for tourists who want to go further because they earn more money. Otherwise, they’re stuck in traffic for short journeys, earning less cash. You can understand it, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less annoying.

However, let’s assume you find a taxi that will take you where you want to go.

Only ever get into yellow, marked taxis.

Ask the driver how much you can expect to pay and set your price before you get in – most will go by the meter, but you should know the cost beforehand.
It’s a good idea to know beforehand which way the taxi should take you. While it shouldn’t happen, it has long been a common scam for drivers to take the scenic route to earn more money. You can ask someone at your hotel for advice on this, and they’ll be glad to help.

Istanbul Buses

There are two types of buses in Istanbul: regular and fast metro buses. You can also use this bus to get you from the European side over to the Asian side. However, you won’t find the metro buses in the middle of the city, i.e., Besiktas, Taksim, etc., and they’re more in the suburbs or outskirts, in places such as Yenibosna, Zeytinburnu, etc.

But, because regular buses are much easier to use and much easier to find, let’s focus on those. Buses are very easy to use in Istanbul. They say where they’re going on the front, and they have a list of the main stops too. Then, when you get on and beep your IstanbulKart, you’ll see that there’s a screen telling you where it’s going and the list of stops underneath in the direct order the bus will stop in. A voice also tells you the name of the stop.

The only issue is that buses do get stuck in traffic and they can be VERY busy at certain times, especially during weekends and from around 6 pm during the week. Despite that, they’re the cheapest and most accessible way to get around. Buses also run until the early hours, although check particular service times or just ask the driver if you’re not sure.

Using The Metro In Istanbul

Metro is without a doubt the single fastest way to get around Istanbul, and although many people are worried about how to use it, it’s so, so easy. Once you’ve used it one time, you’ll probably wonder why you were concerned about it!

There are several lines, but the main two will take you where you want to go. The Metro doesn’t cover the whole city, but it does cover a huge chunk of it, including Fatih, Taksim, Etiler, Levent, and it also connects to the outer reaches of the city, including the central long-distance bus station, Esenler, and some of the big shopping malls, such as Cevahir.

Look for the red, blue, and white M sign, and that’s a Metro station. Head down the steps and scan your IstanbulKart to get through the gates. Then simply follow the arrows to the particular Metro you need; you’ll see a massive map on the wall, and if you do get stuck, just ask one of the security staff who will point you in the right direction.

Again, the Metro can get VERY busy during weekends and from around 5-6 pm, and you should expect to stand rather than sit – finding a set on the Metro is akin to gold dust.

The Metro runs from 6.15 am until midnight.

Marmaray – Europe To Asia

The Marmaray is a Metro service, but it takes you from the European side over to the Asian side. In this case, you’ll head to Sirkeci, close to Sultanahmet, and you’ll use the service in exactly the same way as the regular Metro. However, you’ll head under the Bosphorus this time and come out the other side in Kadikoy. Obviously, just reverse the advice to head back in the opposite direction.

The last service leaves at midnight.

Ferries In Istanbul

Getting around Istanbul - The ferry in the Bosphorus, Istanbul

Another way to get from Europe to Asia and back again is to use a ferry. It’s a fun way to cross the water, and be sure to buy a simit to feed the seagulls from the top deck!

Ferries run from Besiktas, Karakoy, Eminonu, Uskudar, and Kadikoy and leave every 15-20 minutes. The last service is at 11pm.

You use the ferry service in the same way as any other type of public transport, by using your IstanbulKart at the gate. While ferries can get quite busy, they’re rarely super-packed, so they’re a more relaxing way to cross the water, and it’s also something you should add to your experience list in Istanbul.

Istanbul Trams

Best Things To Do In Istanbul - taksim square Red tram in Istiklal street

The final option is to take the tram. Now, trams don’t cover the whole of the city, but if you’re looking to get from near to Besiktas and over to Sultanahmet and just beyond, it’s a great way to save your feet.

The line starts at Kabatas, which is down the hill (a very steep one) from Taksim and close to Besiktas and goes as far as Bagcilar. There are 31 stops along the way, and you use the service in exactly the same way as the Metro. Again, trams can become quite busy during rush hour, although they’re never all that quiet. The tram runs from 6 am until 11 pm and is known as ‘tramvay.’

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