Oh hey, we’re back with the Istanbul posts! Whilst I plot my strategy for a return trip, I thought I’d share with you a little bargain I found. Seeing as this week’s Travel Tuesday theme is Hidden Gems, what better hidden gem than a bargain cruise?!
Whilst we were walking around Istanbul old town, particularly Eminönü, we were constantly assailed by tour guides offering us Bosphorus cruises for a ‘very reasonable price’. As soon as anyone says that, you know you’re in for a tourist scam so we just walked right on past.
However, we did want to visit the Asian side, and we did want to get out onto the waters of the Bosphorus. It’s an iconic stretch of water, separating Europe and Asia, and pretty, too. So we did a small amount of research, asked our very friendly hotel concierge, and came up with a plan.
Now, the organised Bosphorus cruises are like handbags. There are infinite varieties, some are more fancy than others, and price does not equate to quality. For example, you can get cruises that include dinner – we decided against this due to the fact I’d have most likely not been able to eat the food (I’m coeliac), and anyway we’re just not that fancy. Other cruises include a audio commentary, but we figured Wikipedia via our hotel wifi could do the job just as well. Basically, you can pay upwards of £20 for your cruise, depending on which bells and whistles you go for, what itinerary you pick, and how long you go for.
We decided to do things a little more freeform.
You see, people who live in Istanbul get around using the traditional Istanbul passenger ferryboats which happen to be very well equipped, functional, and cheap. They ply pretty much all the same routes that the cruise companies go to, and you get the true local experience.
What’s more, you can truly choose your own adventure. You’re not confined to a tour schedule, you can pick a place and head off there.
Ferry Adventure 1
First, we walked from our base in Karaköy to Beşiktaş, which I mention because it was a pleasant walk and took in some great street art (it’s where we spotted the rainbow staircases). It took about 45 minutes to walk and if you fancied a break along the way, we were recommended a visit to the Dolmabahçe Palace. We didn’t quite have time, but it looks pretty from the water.
After reaching Beşiktaş, we accidentally decided to do a short hop straight across the Bosphorus from Beşiktaş to Üsküdar. This provided a great view of the Bosphorus Bridge and the river in general, although we turned around and got straight back on the boat at Üsküdar because we hadn’t meant to get that boat in the first place wanted to extend our cruise.
This is the wharf you will need if you want to take this ferry. Of course, the destination is listed clearly if you’ve got your wits about you, but if you’re running to catch a ferry that leaves any second you may not be on your A game. Pretty wharf, though.
Journey time ¦¦ 10 minutes each way.
Cost ¦¦ 2.20TL* each way, about £0.54.
<Notes ¦¦ Our concierge actually recommended that particular route to us as one to take if you have very little time, and just want a little jaunt out onto the river.
Ferry Adventure 2
After returning to Beşiktaş, we walked a little further down the shore to another jetty. This was the jetty we were looking for in the first place:
So we awaited the arrival of our second adventure. This boat was going to take us to Kadıköy, which there was really no mistake about when the boat pulled in. It’s painted right on the bow.
Inside, the boat was comfortable and we settled in to enjoy our second journey over to Asia.
There were drinks and snacks available, plenty of window seats, and it was all clean and comfortable
The views from the journey were fantastic, with sweeping vistas over the Old Town with the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia clearly visible, as well as Topkapi Palace. Basically our noses were glued to the window the entire time.
I’m going to share some more pictures here because the views were breathtaking. Here’s the sweep of the Golden Horn, including the New Mosque, Galata Bridge, Galata Tower and more minarets than I can count.
Journey time ¦¦ 20-25 minutes each way.
Cost ¦¦ 2.45TL* each way, about £0.60.
Notes ¦¦ I thought this was a fantastic way to get a good sight of Istanbul from the water, spend a decent amount of time on the river, and see a whole new part of the city. I’d really recommend this route if you can.
Bonus Adventure 2(a)
I couldn’t just leave you wondering what Kadıköy is like. We thoroughly enjoyed it; highlights included some more amazing street art:
Fabulous shopping and a lively, bustling atmosphere with (thank goodness) far, far fewer tourists than the Old Town:
And the hotel you really don’t want to stay in.
Is it just me that found this hotel name absolutely hilarious? Yep, thought so.
Ferry Adventure 3
After doing some successful sightseeing and shopping around Kadıköy, we got back on a slightly different boat; this time, from Kadıköy to Karaköy. Yes, I found the names confusingly similar too.
We chugged past Haydarpaşa station (we’d gone past it on our journey in, too, but we’d been on the wrong side of the boat) which is absolutely beautiful, although was sadly gutted by a fire recently. Restoration work is underway and luckily the façade was saved, but the interior needs to be completely rebuilt and as such you can’t actually visit it.
We also spotted Kız Kulesi, aka The Maiden’s Tower, aka Leander’s Tower, which now houses a restaurant and cafe, but has been a military base and a quarantine station at various points in history. There’s been a tower here since the 12th century, in various forms.
We got those beautiful views across the Old Town of Istanbul again, this time with a patriotic flag flying.
And finally we got a great view of Karaköy / Beyoğlu as we pulled in to our final ferry wharf. There’s the Galata Tower standing proud, and plenty of gorgeous old buildings and winding alleys just waiting to be explored.
Journey time ¦¦ 20 minutes each way.
Cost ¦¦ 2.45TL* each way, about £0.60.
Notes ¦¦ Another great option, this gives just as good views of Istanbul old town without having to go out as far as Beşiktaş for your departure point. If you’re staying in the Old Town, or around Karaköy as I’d personally recommend, this may be the best option for you.
In summary, depending on which legs you go for, you can get a very reasonable Bosphorus cruise for about £1.20*. If you want to add on more legs, you’ll do well to exceed £5. I don’t know about you, but I call that a bargain.
*NB These prices are valid if you use an Istanbulkart, which I would highly recommend. You can pick this up from a kiosk at the airport metro station for 12TL which you get back when you return the card. It makes travel super cheap and simple.
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