Decades ago, officials of Istanbul’s Şehir Hatları ferryboat systemnoticed a strange thing: foreign tourists were riding the ferryboats up the Bosphorus all the way to the Black Sea at Sarıyer and Anadolu Kavağı—and sometimes they rode them all the way back to the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn without getting off!
(The tourists may have gotten the idea from a guidebook.)
Of course, these smart travelers were getting a good cruise-tour of the Bosphorus, guidebook in hand, for a fraction of the price they’d have paid to a tour company to take them in a private boat.
Fast-forward to today: there are now lots of boats embarking on this Bosphorus cruise. The traditional Şehir Hatları Istanbul ferryboat trip, once fun and inexpensive, is now a relatively expensive, not-as-comfortable all-day excursion.
You must arrive at the Eminönü ferry dock at 30 to 45 minutes before departure, stand in line to buy your ticket, then stand in the sun waiting to board the ferry—no place to sit. A loudspeaker blasts unintelligible promotional messages all the while. This is not comfortable.
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The voyage from Eminönü to Sarıyer, a northern Bosphorus town on the European shore, takes just over one hour, but the entire round-trip voyage from Eminönü past Sarıyer to Anadolu Kavağı on the Asian shore (with a 3-hour wait at Anadolu Kavağı), and return to the Eminönü ferryboat docks, takes 6 hours. More…
The Şehir Hatları 10:35 am departure runs year-round, so this is the most reliable one.
The 12:00 noon departure may run in high summer, when demand for these cruises is greatest.
Many people cruise on the traditional ferry for 1.5 hours, get off at Sarıyer (23 km/14 miles north of Istanbul by road), have lunch(especially seafood), then take a bus, minibuses or taxis southward to return to the city, stopping at various sights along the way. More…
If you continue to the end of the line at Anadolu Kavağı, you’ll have three hours for a picnic or a seafood restaurant lunch and/or to climb to the ruined fortress of seven towers on Yuşa Tepesi(Joshua’s Hill), reconstructed by the Genoese in 1350, and repaired thereafter by Byzantines and Ottomans.
Frankly, if you’ve done the cruise from south to north, you needn’t do north to south. But if you end up at Anadolu Kavağı, it’s a longer trip back to the city along the Asian shore by bus, minibus or taxi, so most passengers wait for the Bosphorus Tour ferry to depart for its return trip to the Eminönü ferryboat docks.
To take this Bosphorus cruise, get to the Eminönü ferryboat docks at least 30 minutes before departure if possible to buy your ticket. ( I got to the dock 45 minutes before departure and there was already a crowd, and it wasn’t even a weekend.) Then you’ll stand in the sun until about 10 minutes before departue time, when you’ll be allowed to board the ferry.
Ignore the guys asking “Bosphorus tour?” as you approach the docks. Buy your ticket from the clerk in the ticket booth.
Here are alternatives to the full-day cruise.
Istanbul ferries were one the heart of the city’s transport system. Sitting on the rear deck of a traditional Istanbul ferry on a fine summer’s day with a glass of Turkish tea at my lips is a living example of the title of my humorous travel memoir, Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea.
—by Tom Brosnahan