Public transport

Istanbul’s public transit system can be difficult to figure out; maps are rare and you often have to transfer, and pay another fare, to get where you are going. However, if you put some effort into it, you can avoid taxis and not walk too much.

Public transport

Istanbul’s public transit system can be difficult to figure out; maps are rare and you often have to transfer, and pay another fare, to get where you are going. However, if you put some effort into it, you can avoid taxis and not walk too much.

Each time you use a tram, metro, bus, or boat on the public transport system, you will need to use a token. The small metal tokens cost YTL 1.40 and can be bought at various ticket kiosks at bus, train, and metro stations. Ticket fares across buses, trams and metros are at a flat rate(i.e. not dependent on how far you go).

Buying an AKBİL (AKıllı BİLet – Turkish acronym for Smart Ticket) is a good idea if you are in Istanbul for more than a day or two, and intend to use public transport. AKBİL is a small electronic device serving as a ticket which may be used on buses, trams, suburban trains, metro, local ferries, etc. You buzz the AKBİL when you get on the bus or enter the tram/metro platform. The great part for travelers is that you can buy only one and buzz it as many times as there are passengers. You can buy or refill them at designated booths located at any major bus, tram, to metro station, as well as some other places. An AKBİL provides discounted rates compared to regular single tickets, as well as discounts in transfers (when used multiple times within a limited period). A deposit for the device itself is payable when you buy it, which is refundable if you choose to return it later.

You may also have AKBİL loaded with daily, weekly, two-weekly or monthly subscriptions for fixed prices.

Buses and streetcars tend to be very crowded during rush hours, especially on Mondays and Fridays. That can also create opportunities for pickpockets.

By bus

Bus and tram, together

Bus and tram, together

IETT, [5].  editThere are two types of public buses in Istanbul; those run by the private sector and those run by the city-owned IETT. You can differentiate these two types by their colors. Privately run buses are blue-green with yellow non-electronic destination signs while IETT-run buses come in many flavors including old red-blue ones, newer green ones and red double-deckers. The Akbil Transit Pass is valid universally while tickets that can be obtained in kiosks near bus stops for 1.4 YTL are valid only on IETT buses and cash payment only on private buses, although if you get on an IETT bus the driver will normally accept cash (normally 1.5 YTL but this is dependent entirely upon what the driver wishes to charge) and hand you his Akbil for you to use.

As a tourist, you are most likely to use the T4 bus the most. It connects Sultanahmet to Taksim Square (and so to Beyoglu and Istiklal Caddesi, the nightspots). The last bus from Taksim runs at about 11.30PM, though that’s not fixed.

By metro

Istanbul’s first underground system dates back to 19th century, when the funicular subway “Tünel” was constructed to operate from Karakoy to Istıklal Street in 1875. The distance travelled was 573 metres. Recommended option to go up-hill from Galata Bridge (Beyoglu side) to the famous Istiklal Caddesi (main street). As of April 2009 a token was 0.80 YTL (around 0.40 Eur).

In 1990’s, a modern tram line was constructed in the European side of the city, and now it’s being extended to the inner parts of the city, as well as to the Anatolian side with a sea-tunnel named “Marmaray” crossing below the Bosphorus.

Istanbul’s metro consists of two lines, the northern line is currently just a short stub connecting Taksim to 4.Levent. There is also a funicular system connecting Taksim to Kabatas where you can get on ferries and cross to the Anatolian side. The southern line is most useful for visitors, connecting Aksaray (with its connections to the tram line) to Atatürk Airport, via the Otogar.

By tram

  • Istanbul Metro & Tram, [6].

A tram connects Zeytinburnu (connection to the metro line to the airport) to Kabataş (connection to the underground funicular to Taksim). The line is 14km long, has 24 stations and serves many popular tourist sites (e.g. in Sultanahmet) and ferries (e.g. Eminönü). An entire trip takes 42 minutes.

Although you may use the same tokens (1.40 YTL) or AKBİL on the metro and tram, you must pay another fare each time you change lines.

The tram was put in service in 1992 on standard gauge track with modern cars, connecting Sirkeci with Topkapi. The line was extended on one end from Topkapi to Zeytinburnu in March 1994 and, on the other end from Sirkeci to Eminönü in April 1996. On January 30, 2005 it was extended from Sirkeci to Kabataş crossing Golden Horn after 44 years again. 55 vehicles built by ABB run on the line. The daily transport capacity is 155,000 passengers.

Hızlı Tramway stations are: Zeytinburnu, Mithatpaşa, Akşemsettin, Seyitnizam, Merkezefendi, Cevizlibağ, Topkapı, Pazartekke, Çapa, Fındıkzade, Haseki, Yusufpaşa, Aksaray, Laleli (Üniversite), Beyazıt (Kapalıçarşı), Çemberlitaş, Sultanahmet, Gülhane, Sirkeci, Eminönü (ferryboats), Karaköy, Tophane, Fındıklı, Kabataş

Between Taksim and Kabatas, there is a modern underground funicular to connect this tram line to the Taksim metro. The tram is also connected to the southern metro line (for the Otogar and Ataturk Airport) at Aksaray station, though the metro and tram lines are a short walk from each other.

Information for disabled travelers


The process of replacing old buses with newer ones accessible for people using a wheelchair is ongoing. Many buses on central lines have a low floor and a built-in ramp (consult the driver to lean the bus down nearer to the ground, to open the ramp, and to assist into the bus, though any of these might unfortunately be impossible during peak hours in interval stops. Think of a sardine-packed bus unloading all of its passengers to lean down).

Unfortunately, no stops are announced on a display or by voice in the buses.


Trams are accessible for people using a wheelchair from the station platforms if you can manage to get into the station in the first place. Some of the stations are located in the middle of very wide avenues and the only access to them is via underground passages (tens of stairs) or overpasses (more stairs!). Otherwise, platforms in tram stations are low and equipped with gentle ramps right from the street (or sidewalk) level.

All stations are announced both on a display and by voice in the trams.


All stations and trains in the northern metro line are accessible for people using a wheelchair. Look around the station entrances for handicapped lifts/elevators. Only some of the stations in the southern metro line are equipped with such elevators (among the stations which have elevators are Aksaray-the main station of the city centre, Otogar-the main bus station, and Havalimanı (Airport) station), but whether there is an elevator or not, if you manage to get into the station (there is a good chance that you can do with a little assistance because the stations in the southern line aren’t located as deep as the stations of the northern line are; only about one floor’s height under the ground), all trains are accessible from the station platforms, though a little assistance more will be helpful for passing over the narrow gap between the train and the platform. You can ask the guys in grey/black uniforms (security guards, they can be seen in the entrances of the station platforms if not elsewhere) for assistance, it’s their duty.

All stations are announced by voice in the metro trains. In northern line it is also announced on a display, but not in the southern line. Instead, you should look at the signs in the stations, which are big and common enough.

By boat

Istanbul liner crossing the Bosphorus

Istanbul liner crossing the Bosphorus

Unique Istanbul liners, sea-buses, or mid-sized private ferries travel between the European and Asian sides of the city. The crossing takes about 20 minutes and costs 1.40 YTL, and gives great views of the Bosphorous. Be aware that sometimes the ferry when arriving at a dock can bounce off the pier accidentally, even on calm days. This can cause people to fall over if they are standing up, so it is advisable to remain seated until the ferry has come to an absolute stop.

In Istanbul, liners from any given quay generally take only a certain route, and these quays are signposted ‘X Iskelesi’ (“X Quay”). For instance, Eminönü alone has more than 5 quays (including the ones used by other ferries apart from liners), so if you should head for, say, Üsküdar, you should take the ferry which departs from ‘Üsküdar Iskelesi’. Replace ‘Üsküdar’ with the destination of your choice.

Istanbul liners [7] travel on the following routes:

  • Karaköy – Haydarpaşa – Kadıköy
  • Kadıköy – Eminönü
  • Üsküdar – Eminönü
  • Üsküdar – Karaköy – Eminönü – Eyüp (The Golden Horn Route)
  • Kadıköy – Besiktaş
  • Kabatas – Uskudar – Harem
  • Istinye – Emirgan – Kanlıca – Anadolu Hisarı – Kandilli – Bebek – Arnavutköy – Çengelköy (The Whole Bosphorus Route)
  • Anadolu Kavağı – Rumeli Kavağı – Sariyer
  • Eminönü – Kavaklar (Special Bosphorus Tour-Recommended For Tourists)
  • Sirkeci – Adalar – Yalova – Cınarcık (The Princes’ Islands Route)

Furthermore, the sea-buses follow the same (or more) routes, please visit the link above for extra information.

Four main private ferry routes for travelling between Asia and Europe sides are:

  • Besiktaş – Üsküdar
  • Kabataş – Üsküdar (close to tram and funicular system in Kabataş)
  • Eminönü – Üsküdar (close to tram in Eminönü)
  • Eminönü – Kadıköy (close to tram in Eminönü)

Very useful are the fast ferryboats (travelling at 55 kilometers) running from several points, such as the Yenikapi – Yalova one, that allows you (with a connecting bus in Yalova) to be in Bursa centre in less than three hours. Prices are marginally higher and the gain in time is considerable, though the view is not as nice.

All of the ferries, including private ones, can be paid by AKBIL system.

By taxi

Taxis are an easy and cheap way to get around. As of April 2009, start off rate is 2.00 YTL (€1.00) and then 0.1 YTL (€0.05) for each 1/10 km afterwards. A one-way travel from Taksim to Sultanahmet costs approximately 7-10 YTL. Tipping is generally unnecessary. Occasionally, drivers will refuse to start the meter and try to negotiate a fixed prize (but most drivers will start taximeters at all times). You should avoid these cabs and simply take another one as you will almost certainly end paying too much. To be sure, before getting in, just ask “how much to go to …?” (most of the drivers understand basic English) since the price they tell then is quite accurate. Tell them then to put the taximeter on. Drivers do normally work with the taximeter, so they will not be surprised at all when you ask them to put it on. The price at the end will be quite close to the one they tell you at the beginning. Make sure they use the correct fare unit (gündüz=day fare, gece=night fare).

Taxis that wait near a bus station are usually a tourist trap. They start the meter but charge you 20 YTL at least. Emphasize to the driver that you will pay for the meter price before getting in. Do not buy their quick-sell tricks. Always try to stop a taxi that is passing by on the road or find a legitimate taxi stop.

Insist on going to the destination that you want because some drivers are payed by commission for each time they have someone go to a certain site.

Beware riding a taxi other than the “yellow-colored” ones since the other-colored taxis are registered under different cities and have a different rating system.

Taxis have a fixed rate; the night rate is 50 % more expensive than during the daytime. The night rate starts at midnight and lasts until 6AM. If you are riding during the day, makes sure the fare begins at 2.00 YTL, the day rate, and not 2.90 YTL, the night one as some cheating occurs with tourists. Taximeter will show GÜNDÜZ during the day and GECE during the night; look at the taximeter during the ride because some drivers try to change the rate.

Be careful on what notes you hand them for payment; some drivers have tried to pretend that the 50 lira note that was handed handed was just a 5 lira note.

Traffic can be very bad, it can take an hour for a few km through the old city. You might be better off taking the metro out of the old city and then a taxi from there.

By shared taxi

Dolmuş (Turkish: “full”) is a shared taxi, travelling on a fixed route, which costs more than a city autobus but less than a normal taxi. They can carry up to 8 passengers. They are easy to recognize, because they also have the yellow painting as taxis and carry a Dolmus sign on its top. They will only start driving when all eight places are filled, which is also where the name derives from.

The main and most important routes for Dolmuses are :

  • Taksim – Eminönü (Taksim stop, near the Ataturk Cultural Center, in Taksim square)
  • Taksim – Kadıköy
  • Taksim – Aksaray (Taksim stop, Tarlabasi Avenue, close to Taksim square)
  • Kadıköy – Bostanci (Bostanci stop, in front of the Bostanci ferry port)
  • Taksim – Tesvikiye (Taksim stop, in front of Patisserie Gezi, in Taksim square)
  • Beşiktaş – Nisantasi (Beşiktaş stop, in front of the Beşiktaş – Üsküdar ferry port)
  • Kadıköy – Üsküdar (Üsküdar stop, Near the Üsküdar – Beşiktaş and Üsküdar – Kabataş ferry port)

If you want the driver to make a stop, you can say İnecek var.(EE-neh-djek war!) (Someone’s getting out.) or Müsait bir yerde.(mU-sa-EEt bir yer-deh.) (At a convenient spot.).