Get Around Istanbul: 2024 Guide To Istanbul Public Transportation

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Post author Nicky

Written by our local expert Nicky

Nicky, originally from the UK, is now a local in Turkey. She moved to Marmaris, Türkiye for love 12 years ago and is now your Turkey travel planner.

Here is everything you need to know about public transport in Istanbul. Because Istanbul is a huge city, public transit is the best way to get around. I have covered all the public transport options for when you visit Istanbul. Included are trams, public buses, taxis, and ferries. 

Turkey Travel Blog_Istanbul Transportation Guide

Public Transportation In Istanbul

News flash – Istanbul is really huge. 

Literally massive.

You can’t comprehend how big Istanbul is.

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

Thankfully, there are a few ways to get around that, too – Istanbul has thought of everything!

So, to help you navigate Türkiye’s biggest city center, let’s check out how to get around with my guide on how to use public transportation in Istanbul.

First Things First: Use The Public Transport System

Istanbul is a pretty easy city to get around, thanks to an excellent network of public transport methods. The only major issue is the heavy traffic jams that plague Istanbul daily. Use public transit in Istanbul to avoid – some – not all, of the traffic.

The IstanbulKart: Istanbul Transport Card

Istanbul Card - transport in Istanbul

The Istanbul Card, or IstanbulKart as you’ll see it named, is how you pay for public transport in the city – it is your key transit pass. Get one as soon as you arrive. 

This specially designed public transportation card is worth buying at the airport, as you’ll need it to get to your destination. You can purchase new Istanbul Kart cards at any of the blue or yellow machines at the airports (Sabiha gökçen Airport or Istanbul Airport) or from kiosks in the city where you see the IstanbulKart sign.

You will pay 70 Turkish Lira for a card (at the time of publication), which will come with no credit. This is a prepaid public transportation card, so you’ll need to load Turkish Lira onto the card.

Once you have your IstanbulKart, you simply head to a yellow and blue machine to add credit to it. These are typically situated in Metro stations, close to ferry ports, and around major bus hubs. You’ll also find many small markets that do top ups; just look for the ‘IstanbulKart’ sign and tell the server how much you want to add to your card. 

There is the possibility to pay by credit card directly on some buses, however this is hit and miss, and strictly speaking, most public transport only uses the IstanbulKart. The good news is that you can use your credit card to top up your IstanbulKart at machines. You can pay by card or cash, and it’s all very simple to use. The machine will guide you through the procedure and you can use the contactless option to add credit. 

Once you’ve done that, you’re good to go!

To use the card, scan it at the entrance on any bus route, Metro, or ferry line. You’ll be charged a flat rate fare for every journey, which at the current time is 15TL, regardless of whether you travel one stop or ten – making it the perfect way to see the city on a budget.

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Istanbul Public Transportation System

The tram stopped at the column of Constantine in Istanbul

You can use several different public transport types to get around Istanbul. The system in Istanbul is very efficient and runs until late at night. 

You might think somewhere looks like it will be a short walk, but once you set off, you’ll think otherwise! While walking between certain places, remember that distances are very large, and over 15 million people live in the city.

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 or Metro. 

| Want to use public transport in Istanbul?

🇹🇷 Istanbul is a city split across two continents, and each side of the city heaves with history and culture. Ride around the city with ease using an

The Istanbul Public Transportation Card is pre-loaded with 5, 10, or 20 rides valid on the Metro, as well as all bus numbers, metro bus lines, funicular lines, trams, or ferries in Istanbul.

As of November, a one-way journey on public transport with IstanbulKart is 15 lira. 

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 way – taxis.

Now, you’re golden if you can get a taxi to stop and take you where you want to go. But, over the last few months, this has become much harder. Taxi drivers 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.

Taxis in Istanbul

Strictly speaking, they should take anyone anywhere, but the truth is that drivers will wait for people who want to go to tourist attractions further away 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 to take you where you want to go.

Only ever get into yellow, marked taxis.

Taxis and uber in Turkey-1
We had zero issues with taking taxis in Turkey

Ask the driver how much you can expect to pay and set your price before you get in – by law, they have to go by the meter, but you should know the cost beforehand. Knowing which way the taxi should take you is a good idea. 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, and they’ll gladly help.

Public Bus Network In Istanbul

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

But, because regular bus lines in Istanbul 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 have a list of the main stops, too.

Then, when you get on and beep your IstanbulKart, you’ll see 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 get stuck in traffic and can be VERY busy at certain times, especially during weekends and from around 6 p.m. during the week. Despite that, they’re the cheapest and most accessible way to get around the city. Buses also run until the early hours, although check particular service times or ask the driver if you’re unsure.

Using The Metro Transportation Network In Istanbul

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

There are several lines, but the two main lines will take you where you want to go. The Metro doesn’t cover the whole city. Still, it does cover a huge chunk of it, including Fatih, Taksim, Etiler, and Levent. 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 signs; those are Metro stations. Head down the steps and scan your IstanbulKart to get through the gates. Then, follow the arrows to the particular Metro you need. You’ll see a massive map on the wall, and if you do get stuck, ask one of the security staff, who will point you in the right direction.

Again, the Metro can get very busy on weekends and from around 5–6 p.m. You should expect to stand rather than sit—finding a seat on the Metro is akin to gold dust.

The Metro lines run from 6:15 a.m., and the majority work until midnight.


Marmaray – Europe To Asia

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

The last service leaves at midnight.

Istanbul Ferries Public Transport Network

Getting around Istanbul - The ferry in the Bosphorus, Istanbul

Another way to get back from Europe to Asia is to head to the ferry docks and catch 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, Karaköy, Eminönü, Üsküdar, and Kadıköy and leave every 15-20 minutes. The last service is at 11 p.m.

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. They’re a more relaxing way to cross the water, and it’s also something you should add to your experience list in Istanbul.

Tram Network For Transportation In Istanbul

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

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

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

Public Transportation Lines In Istanbul To Touristy Areas

Your Istanbul city card will take you to all the best destinations the city offers, such as Princes Islands, Dolmabahçe Palace, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, The Blue Mosque, Galata Tower, and more!

As you can see, the public transportation network in Istanbul provides easy access to all major sites and meets the needs of tourists like us. When you consider how huge Istanbul is and how many people live and travel there, you quickly see why public transportation is such a popular choice.

Tips For Using Public Transport In Istanbul

Here are a few last things to finish off my guide to public transportation throughout the entire city.

1. Use An Istanbulkart

Purchase an Istanbulkart, a reusable transit pass that can be used on buses, trams, Metro, ferries, and funiculars. It’s cheaper and more convenient than buying single-use tokens. You can purchase and top-up the card at machines and kiosks at major transit stops.

2. Avoid Rush Hour

Istanbul’s public transport can get extremely crowded during rush hour (7–9 a.m. and 5–8 p.m. on weekdays). If possible, plan your travel outside these times for a more comfortable journey.

3. Take Ferry Rides

Don’t miss out on using the ferries. Not only are they a practical way to cross the Bosphorus, but they also offer stunning views of Istanbul from the water. The ferries are part of the public transport system, so you can use your Istanbulkart.

4. Use The Tramway For Tourists

The T1 tram line is particularly useful for tourists. It connects major attractions like Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia), the Grand Bazaar, and the Spice Bazaar with more modern parts of the city, like Beyoğlu.

5. Metrobus Is Great For Long Distances

The Metrobus system has its own dedicated lane and can be a fast way to travel long distances, especially when crossing from Europe to Asia or vice versa. It operates 24/7, but be prepared for crowding during peak times.

6. Mind The Metro Closure Times

Most metro lines in Istanbul stop running around midnight and start again at around 6 a.m. Plan accordingly if you’re out late.

7. Learn Basic Turkish Phrases

Knowing a few basic phrases in Turkish can be helpful, especially in less touristy areas where English might not be widely spoken.

8. Keep Track Of Your Stops

Especially on buses and mini-busses (dolmuş), it’s good practice to keep an eye on your location using a GPS-enabled device or app. Not all vehicles announce stops, and knowing when to get off can be tricky.

9. Be Prepared for Traffic

Istanbul is notorious for its traffic jams. Even public transport, especially buses, can get delayed. Always allow extra time for your journeys, particularly if you have a flight to catch or a reservation.

10. Don’t Mess Around When Your Stop Arrives

The Metro and the tram, in particular, don’t hang around very long once they arrive at a stop. They work on a timer, so once the doors open, get off as quickly as you can. The same goes for getting on. Otherwise, once the doors are closed, you’re either going to the next stop or waiting for the next train/tram to arrive. 

Comments (3)

  1. When I was in Istanbul the last time, June 2023, I was hoping that I could buy an Instanbul cart at IST airport with a credit card. No such luck. And I had only some larger TRY bills since I had gotten some TRY from an airport ATM. Eventually I was on my way.

    However, in preparing for the trip, I had read that the Istanbul metropolitan transit agency was about to implement the acceptance of contactless credit cards for fare payment, much like London, Sofia, Belgrade, and De Lijn in Belgium. That hadn’t gone into effect as of when I was in Turkey then. Has it started yet?

    1. Yes it has started, I was there last month and used it that way. It is not 100% done as yet though.

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