Istanbul is a huge city. First of all, you have to know everything about transport in Istanbul, as moving around is not always easy. There is currently a major project in the city to develop public transport. There are few additional metro lines under construction, they are expanding the existing ones and they are working on a connections between Europe and Asia.
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How to get to the city?
First of all, you have to get from the airport. The airport is located in the northern area of Arnavutköy and it should take around 50 minutes to reach Taksim in the city centre.
There are 19 different routes and over 150 buses running daily from the airport to multiple destinations. For a ride you will need a ticket that can be bought in the ticket office (located exactly where the bus stop/shuttle is), your Istanbulkart or credit card for payment. You can access the bus floor by going down with elevators located by the arrival gate. The ride will cost you around 130 TRL (with baggage included) and the trip duration is around 80 – 100 minutes. You should check the price in advance, because it’s changing a lot.
Taxis are comfortable and safe option to get from Istanbul New Airport. The journey will likely be affected by traffic, so the ride might be much longer in peak hours, however for now expect around 45 – 60 minutes to reach the city centre. Taxis are available 24/7 from the airport and are either black “E” type, blue “D” type or orange “C” type taxis. The price also depends on the color – the black one is the most expensive one.
Taxis are metered, which means that you might find yourself paying more if there is traffic (and you should be prepared that there is a lot of traffic – unless you arrive around or after midnight).
Another comfortable option is private transfer. If you feel more relaxed knowing that somebody is waiting for you, you may as well book a private transfer. As soon as you arrive at the airport you will be greeted by your driver. He will be waiting for you at the terminal of your arrival. Your driver will help you out with your luggage and together you will make your way to the vehicle. There is no safety concerns and there is no need to worry about miscommunication issues that you may face with the local taxi drivers regarding your destination.
The price is 40-50€ per vehicle and it is fixed.
The most convenient and fastest option is certainly a metro connection. In January 2023, the new M11 metro line was opened, running from Istanbul Airport to Kağıthane station. The plan is to open Gayrettepe station in the next few months, so it will be possible to transfer directly to the M2 line, which leads to more important locations in the city. The opening of the new metro line will make it even easier and faster to get to the city centre.
In the meantime, you can get from the new airport to the city centre as follows: at the airport, take the M11 to Kağıthane station, where you change to the M7 to Mecidiyeköy station. Then you need to get to Şişli metro station (there is a short walk between the two stations), where you change to M2 and take the metro to the desired location – Osmanbey (Nişantaşi), Taksim, Şişhane (Galata, Karaköy), Vezneciler (near Sultanahmet Mosque).
2023 UPDATE: they have opened the Gayrettepe station too.
Public transport in Istanbul
I recommend that you use public transport in Istanbul – it will allow you to move around quickly and cheap. Istanbul is really congested and the traffic is sooo crazy! You will save a lot of time by using the metro, tram and ferries to commute. You should avoid buses and taxis during peak hours, because it is really difficult to move.
First of all, you will need the magnetic card – ISTANBULKART to use all public transport in Istanbul (metro, tram, ferry, bus, funicular, etc.). You can find it in the small kiosks near all metro stations, piers, and also bus stations or you can buy it on the yellow machines, where you can also refill your card.
The cost of the card is 70TL and you load the credit on the card. When you run out of credit, you just top it up at the yellow machines. One card can be used by up to 5 people, but I would recommend that 2 or 3 people use it together. The card has a monthly top-up limit of 500 TL, so you won’t be able to top it up till the next month if you exceed this limit. The Istanbulkart is valid for 3 years if it is not recharged in the meantime.
The most trips cost 17,70 TL.
You can use the Istanbulkart to pay the toilets (1TL) and it is very convenient when you don’t have any coins with you.
As I said, you can use all public transport in Istanbul with Istanbulkart. So, let’s find out more about transportation options.
There are so many bus lines in Istanbul and buses go all over the city (only Sultanahmet is not accessible by bus) and the majority work until midnight. Buses are very easy to use in Istanbul. It says where they’re going and there’s a list of the stops inside the bus.
The only issue is that the buses get stuck in the traffic often and the bus ride can take you a lot of time (especially during weekends and rush hours).
These buses generally run around the outskirts of the city and they are not really important if you visit Istanbul like a tourist. This bus can get you from the European side to the Asian side. However, you won’t find the metro buses in the tourist zones.
In Europe there are two lines in service , the T1 line from Kabataş allows easy access to Sultanahmet and the T4 line that goes north – west of the city. The tram in Istanbul is very clean and air conditioned.
You can reach the main attractions of the city with T1 line. I recommend that you use it as is really cheap and fast and definitely easiest way to get to the old town.
You will find two nostalgic trams in Istanbul and they look like out of an old movies. The first is on the European side and it runs down the Istiklal Street from Taksim Square.
The second is on the Asian side and it goes from Kadikoy to the Moda neighbourhoods.
Metro runs from 5.30am to 12.30pm and it is an excellent way of transportation. There are 4 lines on the European and 2 lines on the Asian side. As a tourist, you will most likely use the M2 metro line (Yenikapi – Haciosman). Metro is the fastest way to get around Istanbul and it’s easy to use.
M1A YENIKAPI – ATATÜRK HAVALIMANI: This metro leaves the airport, passes the Zeytinburnu interchange station and the grand bus station of Istanbul, and has Yenikapı, a connection hub closer to the city center, as its final destination.
M1B YENIKAPI – KIRAZLI
M2 YENIKAPI – HACIOSMAN: This is the first real metro Istanbul had and you will probably use it during your visit. It is very clean and safe. The most important stops are:
- Yenikapı — connection with the M1a metro line.
- Vezneciler — interchange station to the T1 tram line (a short walk to the tram station)
- Şişhane — Istiklal Caddesi, Galata Tower
- Taksim — Taksim Square, Istiklal Caddesi (start), Cihangir, Galata, connection to Kabataş via funicular (F1) and Eminönü/Sultanahmet via tramway (T1)
- Osmanbey — a small walk to Nişantaşı, a fashionable shopping area with lots of nice cafes and restaurants
- Levent — shopping centers such as Metrocity, Kanyon, and interchange station to M6 metro line.
- Sanayi Mahallesi — connecting metro to the Vadistanbul
- İTÜ Ayazağa — İstinye Park shopping center (additional walk or short taxi ride required)
There are also a few more lines, but probably they are not so important for you:
- M3 KIRAZLI – OLIMPIYAT – BAŞAKŞEHIR
- M4 KADIKÖY – TAVŞANTEPE
- M5 ÜSKÜDAR – YAMANEVLER
- M6 LEVENT – BOGAZIÇI ÜNIVERSITESI
This is actually the third oldest passenger underground railway system in the world. This funicular takes you in 90 seconds 573 meters uphill to Tünel, at the end of Istiklal Caddesi. From there you can easily reach Galata by walking downhill or have a stroll on Istiklal Caddesi.
It allows you to go from Taksim Square to Kabataş. From here you can take the tram (T1) to get to the old town and the boat to the Asian side or Princes Island. Another option to get to the old town is to take the M2 metro. From Kabataş you can also walk to the Dolmabahçe Palace.
They allow you to move from Europe to Asia and they save you a lot of time because the bridges over the Bosphorus are constantly busy. Once on the ferry, you will truly understand the huge size of the city and it is also a good way to see the city from the water instead of taking a Bosphorus cruise.
The main piers on the European side are Eminönü, Beşiktaş, Kabataş, Karaköy and Kadiköy and Üsküdar on the Asian side.
You can use the ferry service in the same way as other types of public transport – by using your Istanbulkart at the gate. It is also a great replacement for a Bosphorus cruise – you will get the same views for a lot less money.
With public transport you can also reach the Princes Islands – just keep in mind that you can’t pay the ride with Istanbulkart.
IS ISTANBUL PUBLIC TRANSPORT SAFE?
Yes, public transport in Istanbul is very safe. Metro, tram, and funicular lines in the city center are well maintained and constantly supervised by security personnel. The only thing you should watch out for is pickpockets, just like everywhere in the world.
IS IT COMFORTABLE?
Yes, except buses. Metro, tram, funicular and train vehicles are relatively new and air conditioned. Turks tend to leave their seat for pregnant women and women in general and senior citizens. There are also designated areas for prams and people using a wheelchair. Istanbul is making efforts to improve accessibility to platforms and vehicles for handicapped people. Major stops are equipped with elevators. Avoid rush hour to skip very crowded vehicles.
In conclusion, public transport in Istanbul is safe, clean, comfortable and easy to use, so don’t hesitate to use it.
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