Istanbul has plenty of excellent public transportation options, but the inner-city buses are in my opinion not one of them.
For starters, it is not the quickest means of transportation. Unlike Istanbul’s tram and metro system, they don’t have their own lanes and therefore suffer through the chronic Istanbul traffic jams. Secondly, it is not the most comfortable method of transportation. In an attempt to catch up on lost time, bus drivers sometimes dangerously swing their buses around to find a way through traffic.
Moreover, buses tend to be very crowded throughout the day, which makes your chances in finding a seat very slim. And to make things worse, most buses don’t have (properly working) air-conditioning systems, so in summer you’ll most likely start sweating (and smelling) just like the person next to you.
Take my advice and make use of Istanbul’s excellent tram, metro and funicular system, use the (quick) ferries where available and for all other destinations under 15 km take a taxi. But if you personally want to experience a bus ride, here’s how it works.
Different Buses, No Difference
There are two kinds of city buses: the ones operated by the municipality (İETT) and the ones operated by a private company (Özel Halk Otobüsleri).
Good to know? Yes and no. They both operate under municipal jurisdiction, most of the times they use the same bus stops, they follow the same route, and charge an equal fare. Both will display their destination either electronically just above the driver’s windshield, or in the right bottom corner if the bus is older.
How to Pay for Your Ride
To board a bus, you must either use your istanbulkart or have a ticket (bilet). If you buy an istanbulkart and load money on it, it will be cheaper than buying tickets one by one. Tickets and istanbulkarts can be bought from the white fiber booths at major bus stops, and istanbulkarts can be loaded both in these white booths and in the small shops near bus stops (look for “Akbil dolumu yapılır!” so you know they load money).
What Bus to Take
Most buses run from 06:00 until 24:00. Major bus stops like Taksim Square have route maps of the different lines, but the best way to find what bus you need, is to go to the website of the İETT.