I was advised by a colleague that a cruise down the Bosphorus River was an essential on any trip to Istanbul, so we took his advice.
The Bosphorus River goes through Istanbul, cutting the city in half. Rather fascinatingly, it also provides the border between the continents of Europe and Asia. Crossing the Bosphorus was a wonderful thing to do, but more on that later. In terms of the cruise, after much deliberation about which boat to take, we chose the larger vessel which would take us on a half-day tour. The boat proceeds at a leisurely pace up the River towards the Black Sea, past palaces and castles and under massive suspension bridges. It is also a good vantage point from which to see all the summer houses (which are basically mansions) lining this big river.We enjoyed the cruise (and the on-board ice creams were reasonably priced!) but it would have been better in hotter weather; it was a bit windy and cold on deck. We didn’t want to go inside obv. as we are complete sea dogs and wanted the full experience! It was interesting to see that on every hill along the river there was a gigantic Turkish flag. I guess they are really proud of it!
Overall I’m sad to say that the cruise didn’t bowl me over. Maybe it was because my expectations were high, maybe it was the weather, or maybe it was because I didn’t find it much more impressive than previous boat rides I have done – eg. down the River Danube.
However, what I did LOVE about the Bosphorus was crossing it. I found it immensely thrilling to cross from Europe to Asia on a quick ferry crossing. This was inexpensive (3 Turkish Lira for a single – about £0.80) and took only around 5 minutes. The sailing was also fun as besides sight-seeing, we were entertained by a seagull which skillfully hovered above the boat and caught small pieces of bread thrown to it by locals, much to everyone’s delight!
Once on the “Asia” side, we got off the boat and explored a little, eating ice creams and little Turkish pastries and watching the fishermen fish. They kept throwing their fishing rod lines (is that called casting? casting off?) back across the pavement so any pedestrians walking past (of which there were many) had to keep an eye out for this, otherwise they would risk having, well, an eye out.
We experimented quite a bit with these ferries while we were there, crossing from Eminonou to Uskudar and from Emononou to Kadikoy. You get a great view of the mosques and spires from the boat and once we crossed while the sun was setting which was particularly lovely. As it was a little chilly we treated ourselves to coffee which was delicious; they have a full-on coffee bar on board. It was awesome! 🙂
One day we took the Golden Horn Line ferry, which unsurprisingly goes down the Golden Horn. This is the river which branches off the Bosphorus and divides New Istanbul (Iztiklal etc) from the Old Istanbul. This was another inexpensive ride and we stayed on the ferry until the last stop; cruising from stop to stop. You have to get off at the end of the line (Eyup) but if you’re quick you can jump off and buy a ticket for the return journey and get straight back on. Of course you could look around here, but we were treating it like a mini cruise and just wanted the ride really 🙂 The coffee was not great on this boat (instant coffee).
The Galata Bridge near Eminonou (where many of the ferries go from) crosses the Golden Horn and is a lovely place to have dinner after hard day of cruising down the River. There were plenty of fishermen fishing off this bridge, and underneath the bridge is a row of seafood restaurants. Some of these were upmarket and a bit pricey for us but there was a cheap one almost like a street-food stand on the Old Town side of the bridge, where we enjoyed dinner of a Fish Kebap (haddock in a baguette with lettuce and onion – v tasty!) for 19 Turkish Lira (about £3 each).
- Unless you are going in the heat of the summer, it can get chilly on the water, especially in the evenings so take some layers!.
- For the public ferries, do your research before and then be tenacious. None of the ferry info is in English so you will have to recognize the names of the places you want to go to. If you want to come back again you need to disembark, go out and buy a new ticket to come back with.
- To buy ferry tickets, you have to buy a coupon from a machine. The machine dispenses a small round plastic coupon, which you have to put in the turnstile to enter the boarding area. It’s the same for the trams.
- In relation to the cruise on the Bosphorus, there were a couple of different options provided by private companies, as well as the public ferry providing the same. They seemed to offer full day or half-day. The information about this wasn’t great and we (and other tourists milling around) were confused. In the end it comes down to; do you want to cruise all the way up to the Black Sea or not? If you do it is a full day and you need to depart early morning. If not, the cruise will only take about 3 hours and they depart around 3 times a day; different companies have different departure times. Good luck! 🙂
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