An overview to the transportation in Istanbul: Where to go and how, which vehicle should be taken and what are the means of public transportation in Istanbul? Answers are here…
Most Popular Means of Transportation in Istanbul
While planning your trip to Istanbul; transportation is an important factor to count, especially when timing is important and city traffic tend to be heavy. While trying to figure out how to go to the city center from your airport, taxi sounds like the best option. But what if you landed at a rush hour and traffic is a big problem? And obviously you cannot make use of the maritime transportation of Istanbul… Do not worry, Istanbul is full of possibilities!
Other ways of getting around in Istanbul
Getting Around in Istanbul by Metro, Tram and Funicular
The most efficient and cheap way to get from a to b in Istanbul is undoubtedly by metro, tram, funicular and/or ferry. These forms of public transportation are very efficient, quick and punctual. This is because they don’t move through Istanbul’s constantly clogged streets. In this article I focus on what lines you can take, how and where to catch them, their operating hours and fares.
Istanbul has 2 metro lines, 5 tramlines and 2 funiculars. I won’t cover all these lines, because as a tourist you will probably only need and use (a combination of) the M1, M2, T1 and F1. For all of these lines I’ll mention the most important stops.
The Aksaray-Airport (Havalimanı) Metro Line (M1)
If you’ll choose this way, while going to the city center from Istanbul Atatürk Airport, you will take the metro line to start with. It’s not a ‘real’ metro line, since it runs both below and above ground. This is why it is called the ‘light metro’ or ‘light tramway’ (Hafif Tramvay). Keep in mind that you will have to transfer to the T1 (see below) in Aksaray (the final stop) to reach Sultanahmet, and transfer again from the T1 to the F1 (see below) in Kabataş to reach Taksim (Beyoğlu). The transfer in Aksaray also means you’ll have to carry your suitcase(s) up and down some stairs.
• First Train: 06:00
• Last Train: 24:00
• Frequency: every 5 minutes; every 7.5 minutes on Sundays
The Yenikapi-Haciosman Metro Line (M2)
This is the only real metro in Istanbul. It is a work in progress, with new stops being added regularly. Currently there are 15 stops. As a tourist, you’ll probably use the metro to go north from Taksim for shopping purposes. Get off in Osmanbey to reach Nişantası, in Şişli to visit the Cevahir and Profilo shopping centers or in Levent to browse around in the Kanyon, Metrocity & Akmerkez shopping centers. The last one requires a short taxi ride or walk to reach it.
•First Train: 06:15; 06:30 on Sundays
•Last Train: 00:00
• Frequency: every 4.5 minutes; every 7 minutes on Sundays
The Zeytinburnu-Kabataş Tram Line (T1)
For tourists, this is undoubtedly the most interesting line of all. Not in the least because it connects the historical part of Istanbul with the modern part of Istanbul by crossing the Galata Bridge.
It has stops like Laleli Üniversitesi (to reach the Süleymaniye Mosque), Beyazıt and Çemberlitaş (gates of the Grand Bazaar and famous hamam), Sultanahmet (plenty of sightseeing spots), Eminönü (Spice Market, New Mosque and Bosphorus Cruise & Kadıköy ferry dock), Karaköy (with connection to Tünel), Tophane (Istanbul Modern) and Kabataş (connection to Taksim via F1 or quick ferry or sea-bus dock for a visit to the Princes’ Islands).
• First Train: 06:00
• Last Train: 23:50
• Frequency: every 5 minutes
The Taksim-Kabataş Funicular (F1)
Funicular connecting Taksim & Kabataş
This funicular, inaugurated in 2006, has been long-awaited and takes you up the steep hill from Kabataş to Taksim in only 150 seconds!
• First Train: 06:15; 06:30 on Sundays
• Last Train: 00:00
• Frequency: every 5 minutes
Real Life Example
So, how to go from Sultanahmet to Taksim? Well, hop on the T1 . In maximum 10 minutes, you’ll arrive in Kabataş. Transfer to the F1. Summarized, this trip will take no more than 15 minutes.
In other words, unless you’re traveling with a party of more than three, using the tram/funicular combination is not only quicker, but also cheaper compared with taking a taxi.
Istanbul Kart is an electronic card which you can top up and use for public transportation. It is very economical and makes things very easy since if you have an Istanbul Kart, you don’t have to wait in lines to buy tokens every time. It is also much cheaper than buying a token for 4 TRY everytime you need to use a public transportation vehicle. Moreover, in public buses, it is not possible to pay cash so you’d need a card in case you take a bus to an attraction in Istanbul or to your hotel.
You can purchase Istanbul Kart at some subway or bus stations, IETT ticket offices or some kiosks nearby the stations. You can top it up at any subway-ferry station and at some kiosks close to bus stops.
Dolmuş or Shared Taxi in Istanbul
Dolmuş is the Turkish word for filled, stuffed or full, and refers to the yellow, shared taxis or minibuses that operate in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey. They are an easy, quick and convenient means of transportation for small rides to/ from destinations just outside the city center. But, what destinations do they cover, how do you take such a shared taxi, how and where can you get off, and how do you pay for it? And where can you find the dolmuş stops?
What is a dolmuş?
A dolmuş is actually a shared taxi that seats a maximum of 8 passengers. They drive day and night on pre-determined routes, but without set stops. The idea is that each passenger only pays one eighth of the fee a normal Istanbul taxi would charge for the same destination. Therefore, the minibus normally only sets off when all the seats are taken.
How and where can you take a dolmuş?
You can either go to the dolmuş departure point for a certain route, or flag them down on the street. I suggest getting on the dolmuş at its point of origin, because on popular routes it’s very difficult to find a shared taxi with seats available once it’s on the road.
Before you get into the minibus, make sure it is the correct one. Their point of origin and final destination are displayed in the front window, usually on the passenger’s side. Once you’re sure it’s going in the right direction, just hop in and take a seat. No need to buy a ticket or token; you’ll pay once it starts moving (see below).
How and how much do you pay for a dolmuş?
I can’t give you a pricelist. The prices vary from route to route, and you can even bargain if you intend to get off halfway to the final destination. But to give you an idea, rates vary between 2.5 to 5 TRY. You can of course ask the driver, but it’s easier to watch what everybody else is paying.
Make sure you have small notes (maximum 5 or 10 TRY) or exact change. Paying starts after the dolmuş leaves its stand. In case you can’t reach the driver to hand him your money, just give it to a fellow passenger in front of you. She/He’ll forward it to the driver and give you back your change. You may be asked to do the same for locals seated behind you.
How and where can you get off the dolmuş?
If you want to get off before the shared taxi reaches its final destination, just shout “inecek var” – somebody wants to get out. The driver will stop at the first convenient spot available and probably open the door beforehand. Obviously, don’t jump out before the minibus comes to a complete standstill.