Transportation in the City
Metro & Tram
Below is a list of Istanbul’s metro and tram lines which are commonly used by visitors:
M1 Metro line: This line connects Atatürk airport to Aksaray, stopping in at Istanbul’s central bus station (Büyük Otogar).
T1 Tram Line: This line runs from Zeytinburnu to Kabatas, passing through the old city center of Sultanahmet.
F1 Funicular line: This line is a funicular system which connects Kabatas to Taksim Square, which is at the modern centre of Istanbul. After using the T1 line, you can use the F1 line to go to Taksim Square and the start of Istiklal Street.
Karaköy-Beyoglu Tunnel: This underground tunnel is the world’s shortest and second oldest passenger terminal in Europe after London. It travels the uphill route from Karaköy to the end of Istiklal Street in Beyoglu in only one stop. Tünel is also the name of the district at the end of the Istiklal Street which is packed with bars, restaurants and cafes.
Taksim- Tunnel Tram: This nostalgic 19th century tram runs the length of Istiklal Street from the tunnel to Taksim Square.
M2 Metro line: This line connects Taksim to the business center of Istanbul, Levent.
See the website of Istanbul Transportation Co. for the schedules and details of tram and metro lines.
Ferries & Seabuses
Ferryboats are definitely one of the best and most enjoyable ways to discover Istanbul.
There are 2 kinds of ferries running in Istanbul: the ‘conventional ferries’ and the faster, more comfortable (but also more expensive) ‘seabuses’ or fast ferries.
Ferries run to destinations all over Istanbul, including along the Golden Horn, Bosphorus Strait, Marmara Sea and the Black Sea.
There are frequent ferries which make the trip between the Asian and European sides of the city, to the Princes Islands and to other Turkish cities such as Bursa.
See Şehir Hatları's website for conventional and Bosphorus Cruise timetables, and IDO for seabus, fast ferry and car ferry schedules.
Buses run to destinations across the city. Although they have the disadvantage of being subject to lengthy traffic delays, buses are an inexpensive way to travel around Istanbul and the routes are numerous.
See the website of Istanbul Public Transport Authority for schedules of public buses.
The concept of a Dolmus or shared taxi takes its name from the Turkish word ‘dolma’ or ‘stuffed.’ Dolmuses, which are recognizable by their bright yellow colour, travel a large number of set routes across Istanbul and wait until the van is full before departing. Unlike buses, Dolmuses do not have prescribed stops and they will drop you off just about anywhere along their route that you ask.
Some of the most popular Dolmus lines are the Taksim – Besiktas route and Taksim – Kadiköy, which makes the journey from Europe to Asia on a 24-hour basis.
Taxis are numerous in Istanbul and they are one of the most common transportation vehicles for locals and tourists as well. They are much cheaper in Turkey than in many European countries, however, it’s important to be aware of a few tips before embarking on a taxi ride in Istanbul. Though generally a safe form of transport, it’s not uncommon to be overcharged or for the drivers to behave dishonestly.
Taxis are yellow and they have the word ‘Taksi’ on top of their car. The use of the taxi meter is mandatory in Turkey. The fare shown on the meter reads according to distance travelled. For journeys between Asia and Europe, the crossing fee is subject to be paid by the passenger.
Visitors sometimes complain of having negative experiences with taxi drivers in Istanbul, so we recommend that you keep in mind the following:
- Try to use your hotel service to call a taxi or ask a nearby hotel to call for you. In this way, you at least have someone to complain to.
- Check that the taxi meter is started by the taxi driver when the journey begins. If the driver refuses or claims that the meter is off, get out of the taxi.
- Watch when paying the driver at the end of the journey. Try to have small cash on hand and give the full amount or something close to it to the driver. Be careful when handing over big banknotes, as it is a common trick of taxi drivers to replace the bigger banknote with a smaller one and request more from you.
- Since Sultanahmet is a highly touristic area, taxi drivers are more inclined to be dishonest. Walk or take the tram to another neighbourhood (Eminönü, Sirkeci) and take a taxi from there.
- For airport transfers, try to use private transfer services if you can afford the extra cost. Although it can cost around 40% more than a taxi, your journey will be secure, reliable and comfortable.
Keep in mind that there are also many respectable taxi drivers in Istanbul. Tipping taxi drivers is not common for locals, but if you want to you can give some small change.
Average taxi fares from Atatürk Airport to major districts can be found on our 'How much' page.
Akbil: (Smart ticket for Istanbul Transportation)
If you’re planning to stay in Istanbul for longer than a few days then investing in an Akbil could go a long way in making travel in the city easier, cheaper and less time consuming.
What is an Akbil?
The Akbil is a pre-paid Automatic Fare Collection System is in the form of a small round button attached to plastic tag with a keychain. The Akbil can be touched on entry to various public transport options in Istanbul, removing the need to buy tokens. Akbils can be used for multiple passengers.
How do you use an Akbil?
Ferries, sea buses, Metro, tram and funicular stations all have turnstiles at entry points. Touch your Akbil onto the green socket and wait for 2 beeps to sound before entering. The display screen will also let you know how much you paid and how much money you have remaining on your Akbil.
Buses are equipped with small orange screens from where the Akbil can be used in the same way.
What are the benefits of an Akbil?
Using an Akbil entitles the user to a 10% discount on travel on buses, trains, ferries, sea buses, funicular, tram, Metro and Metrobus and up to five journeys made within 120 minutes are discounted by 50%. The Akbil cannot be used on minibuses or dolmuses.
Where can you buy an Akbil?
Akbils can be purchased from designated booths outside many bus, tram, Metro and train stations, for a returnable deposit; look for the signs reading ‘Akbil Satis Noktasi’ in places such as Taksim Square. Make sure to keep your receipt if you plan to return the Akbil at the end of your stay.
Where can you top-up/recharge the Akbil?
As it is a pre-paid transport system, you must charge your Akbil with the required amount before travelling. Akbils can be recharged at blue and white IETT (Istanbul Public Transportation) booths reading ‘Akbil Satis Gisesi’ or on automatic machines, although be aware that payment at machines can only be made in Turkish Lira notes (not coins), and machines do not give change. There are multiple language options on the machines including English.
To charge Akbils on a machine, press the button onto the socket and wait for instructions before paying. Make sure to check that the money has loaded before taking it off the socket. A receipt can be requested.
Akbil will soon be replaced by IstanbulKart, a new contactless smart card designed to be used in Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality services as well as paying for mass transportation. However, it is still in its implementation process.
Topkapi Palace © Yildirim Ince...
Bosphorus ©Helen Simpson
Istanbul at night by Mista Rig...
Princes Islands ©Helen Simpson
"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things " - Henry Miller