If you’re a tourist coming to Istanbul to explore all its sights and treasures you’re doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t take advantage of this system. I’ve compiled the information below as an introduction and resource for those coming to Istanbul:
So what’s included in the Istanbul transit system? Pretty much any form of public transit you can think of is in use in Istanbul, including the metro (subway), ferries, trams, underground funiculars (trams that climb hills), buses, and cable cars. The following is a brief description of each one.
The Metro: The main subway running under Istanbul, consisting of 9 intersecting lines. Click here for a map.
The Marmaray: This is the most impressive of the transportation options in the city. It is 76.6 km long with 36 stations and a portion travelling under the Bosphorus strait which connects the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, travelling between Istanbul’s European and Asian sides. This is actually just another metro/subway line, but on steroids, and seems to have its own name due to the size and importance in the system. The Wikipedia page for the Marmaray can be found by clicking here.
- The one at the Kabataş tram station was having maintenance done lasting until the end of August 2021 while we were there so we weren’t able to try it. More information.
- The other – probably more popular one – is a half block west of the Karaköy tram station at the north end of the Karaköy İstasyonu bridge taking you uphill to a few blocks north of the Galata Tower, avoiding the climb normally involved in getting from the river to that area of the city. We took it a couple of times, and it’s a good way to avoid getting too sweaty in the summer heat. More information.
Buses: We didn’t use the buses, and I couldn’t find much information about them, but if you check this map you’ll seem them in yellow.
- The most popular is at the Eyüp station to the north-west of the main part of Istanbul next to the water up the Golden Horn. Information can be found here.
- The other is a bit north of Taksim Square and runs across the valley behind Dolmabahçe Palace, from near the Istanbul Hilton to near the Hilton ParkSA Istanbul. Information can be found here.
Istanbulkarts can be purchased from machines at most metro and tram stations. We bought ours at the entrance to the metro at the Istanbul bus station when we arrived from Bulgaria. After we purchased the cards we immediately went online using our mobile hotspot and linked it to the HES codes we had applied for and received a few days earlier, then we were able to get on the metro to travel to our Airbnb.
I won’t go into the details on the card and how to link it to your HES as there are a number of sites out there with good information. One can be found by clicking here, and a good video showing the HES linking can be found by clicking here. Reviewing both of these resources before arriving allowed us to quickly get through this process and get on our way.
To use the card you touch it to the pad on the top of the turnstile. There will be a beep, then you can push your way through the turnstile. The turnstile has a screen on it, and when you touch your Istanbulkart to the pad it will display the fare for this trip on top, then the amount remaining on your card after this trip was paid for on the bottom so you know if you need to top-up.
How much does the Istanbulkart cost? The initial cost of getting your Istanbulkart is ₺10 Turkish Lira ($1.50 CA$, $1.20 US$, €1.00), with ₺6 paying for the card, and the remaining ₺4 loaded on the card for your use on transit. After that you use the machines to top-up the card with more funds as needed.
Fares are dependent on the type of transit and the distance you travel. This site gives some information on the cost.
Using Istanbul’s transit system is easy and convenient. If you’re going to be visiting the city for more than a few days I highly recommend getting the Instanbulkart.