Istanbul is surrounded and divided by water. Because of this you’ll see a bustling activity of floating devices on the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara and in the Golden Horn. A whole array of water-borne craft, ranging from privately owned (fishing) boats, over regular ferries (vapur) to a fleet of high-speed catamaran sea buses (deniz otobüsü).
İDO, Istanbul’s Fast Ferry and Sea Bus Company, is the market leader and offers visitors and locals alike probably the most relaxing and quickest way of transportation available in Istanbul. Whether you want to go up and/or down the Bosphorus, travel between the European and Asian shores, or make a short trip to the Princes’ Islands, they have a suitable and cheap solution for all of this.
Destination, Schedule and Ticketing Differences
İDO operates on inner-city and inter-city lines. Inter-city lines head for places such as the Marmara Islands, Bursa or Bandırma, which are all located outside of Istanbul. For these destinations you need to make (online) reservations, preferably a few hours or a day ahead.
But in this article we’ll focus on the inner-city lines, since that is what 99,9% of the tourists need during their stay in Istanbul. To avoid any confusion, the Marmara Islands mentioned earlier are NOT the same at the Princes’ Islands. If you want to visit Büyükada, you are heading for the Princes’ Islands, and they luckily are inner-city.
For inner-city lines you don’t need to make reservations. To get on board, you can either buy a token (jeton) or ticket (bilet) from the booth (gişe) at the pier, or use your akbil. The only exception is the Scenic Bosphorus Tour (by Night), for which you can’t use your akbil and need to pay cash to obtain a ticket.
Each destination and every type of boat has its own schedule and dock (see below). Moreover, in wintertime (mid September to mid June) and summertime (mid June to mid September) different timetables apply. Timetable booklets are freely available in Turkish and English at all ferry terminals or online on the excellent İDO website.
Most of the typical tourist destinations are reachable by both type of boats. It’s up to you to decide which craft to use, based on your personal preference. Let me list the pros and consof the two ferry types.
The principal ferry dock on the European side is undoubtedly Eminönü. There are four piers with the destinations clearly written outside, above the boarding hall: Bosphorus (Boğaz), Golden Horn (Haliç), Kadıköy and Üsküdar. Another important dock is located in Kabataş, where you can take a ferry to the Princes’ Islands.
On the Asian side, the main piers are located in Kadıköy (to Beşiktaş, Eminönü, Karaköy and the Princes’ Islands) and in Üsküdar (towards Beşiktaş, Eminönü and Kabataş).
- boats come and go frequently, on average every 20 minutes
- you can sit inside or outside on the deck and enjoy a tea & snacks
- fares are cheap, between TL 1,5 and TL 3 p.p. (Bosphorus tour TL 20)
- they are much slower than the sea buses
Fast Ferries or Sea Buses
The interior of the high-speed catamaran ferries or sea buses resemble aircraft cabins, with long rows of comfortable seats and air-conditioning. The main docks are Bostancı and Kadıköy on the Asian side, and Kabataş, Yenikapı and Bakırköy on the European side. As a tourist, chances are you’ll only use this ferry type to reach the Princes’ Islands from the Kabataş pier.
- much quicker than the conventional ferries
- more comfortable than the conventional ferries
- they are more expensive: TL 4 to 6
- there are only a few departures per day, mostly during commuter hours
- you can’t sit outside on the deck
- they are more sensitive to bad weather conditions
One last but important note: smoking is prohibited on all inner-city ferries, even outside on the deck!