Almost on a daily basis I get emails from people about to take a cruise liner to Istanbul. Trying to plan their trip, they have questions like “Where is the cruise port in Istanbul?”, “How far is it from the cruise ship pier in Istanbul to Sultanahmet?” or “What are the transportation options from the cruise ship dock to the main sightseeing spots?” In this post I’ll try to answer these very common questions, and much more.
Where Is the Istanbul Cruise Ship Dock Located?
Cruise ships dock at the passenger terminal (Yolcu Salonu) in Karaköy. And as a passenger, you couldn’t have dreamt of a more central location to set foot on Istanbul soil. Karaköy is loacted exactly where the Golden Horn flows into the Bosphorus. It is centrally located because it takes about as much time to travel over the Galata Bridge to Eminönü and Sultanahmet (the historical part of Istanbul) as it would take you to reach Taksim (the modern part of Istanbul).
In case Istanbul is the end or start of your international cruise, a taxi between Karaköy and the Atatürk International Airport would set you back for about TL 30 during the daytime.
Do I Need a Visa to Leave the Ship?
Foreigners who arrive in Turkey by cruise liner and sleep on the ship are allowed to enter Turkey without a visa for a maximum period of 72 hours, with the permission given by the local security authorities as soon as you set foot ashore. If you stay longer or stay in Istanbul (or Turkey for that matter) before or after your cruise, you are obliged to obtain a visa.
How To Reach the Various Sightseeing Spots?
- Eminönü – to reach Eminönü, home to the Spice Bazaar, just make a left once leave the passenger terminal (Yolcu Salonu), walk along the boardwalk until you reach the Galata Bridge, and cross it. It shouldn’t be more than a 10 minute stroll. Although Istanbul is among the safest world cities, after sundown and certainly when not accompanied by a man, play safe and take a taxi or the tramway (see below).
- Sultanahmet – you can still walk to Sultanahmet. I would recommend it if you’re in relatively good shape and are not pressed for time. Just cross the Galata Bridge, make a left at the end, cross the pedestrian bridge about 200 meters further and follow the tram rails up the fairly steep hill until you reach Sultanahmet.
Alternatively, you can walk to the tram stop in Karaköy by making a left once you leave the passenger terminal (Yolcu Salonu) and walk along the boardwalk until you reach the Galata Bridge. Look for a place that says jeton gişesi to buy a TL 1,5 token, and board the tram in the direction of Zeytinburnu. The first stop is Eminönü, the second is Sirkeci Station, the third is Gülhane (Park) and the next one is Sultanahmet. This ride shouldn’t take longer than 5 to 7 minutes.
A taxi ride, assuming the taxi driver is not hustling you, will cost around TL 7. How long it will take you to get there of course depends on traffic (jams).
- Taksim – again a few options are available. Walking is one of them, but I don’t recommend it. Climbing the steep hill is not only time consuming, it will definately make you sweat in summertime. You can take a taxi, which will set you back for about TL 5. Alternatively you can walk to the Galata Bridge and take either the tramway to Kabataş (the final stop) and connect to Taksim Square via the funicular. Another option is to take Tünel, and find yourself at the end of İstiklal Caddesi, ideal if you want to visit the Galata Tower.
- Princes’ Islands or Asia – if you can’t get enough of sailing and are in for a trip to either the Princes’ Islands or the Asian shore of Istanbul, then take the tramway to Kabataş and use the (quick) ferries or sea buses to reach your destination.
Any Other Questions You May Have
Upon docking in Istanbul, there will be some kind of official welcoming party waiting for you. These people are there to facilitate your stay in Istanbul. You can address them with any questions that may spring to your mind. For example, if you plan to buy some valuables (leather, electronic goods, etc.) you can get a VAT refund. They will tell you what paper to obtain while purchasing your goods, and how to get the tax paid back to you prior to your departure.