Here’s your travel knock-out combo: Istanbul is inconspicuously enormous, overflowing with people, and completely awesome. And with these 11 modes of transit, you can get around the whole city without having to spend too much money or time. Istanbul boasts a phenomenal public transit system (moving an average of 11.5 million people per day), and nearly all of its various types connect with each other. Plus, to make transiting even easier, you can pay to use almost all of them with a single, simple payment system called ISTANBULKART, an electronic RFID pass card. For more information on routes, rates and schedules, check out this information guide.
It operates just like an American taxi, though it’s likely its insides are far nicer. But beware, the roads in Istanbul are often congested, so be prepared to wait a while in traffic.
These are essentially group taxis — shared yellow vans that usually carry eight people and a driver. Only accepts cash. And since you’d have to wait in that same city traffic anyway, you might as well split the cost with other passengers and chat up the locals.
While they do tend to be slower and more crowded, especially during the city’s morning and evening commuter rushes, they are a decent and inexpensive way to hit the main spots around town.
The three lines can take you to and from Ataturk Airport, the main bus terminal, main sea ferry terminal, the famous Taksim Square and almost everywhere in between. It’s a solid underground subway system.
The historic tram cars that run up and down — and offer a good, quick tour of — Istiklal Caddesi are nostalgic, small and almost always full. The ride is relatively slow (with the conductor constantly ringing his bell to clear the way of pedestrians) but nonetheless memorable.
The Tünel (Funicular):
These two metro trains have only one stop and serve a specific purpose — connecting one sea-level station to a higher station atop an immensely steep hill. The Tünel is also one of the oldest subways in the world, dating back to the Ottoman Empire, and worth the experience alone, even if not to avoid climbing the steep incline on foot.
Local Trains (Banliyö Treni):
Though they are dirty, old and decrepit, the suburban trains running into parts of the city are cheap and reasonably reliable (offering trips every half-hour). On the plus side, one of the rail lines is currently being rebuilt, so it’s only a matter of time before it’s completely modernized.
Cable Car (Teleferik):
Take a ride on this to enjoy some spectacular views of the Golden Horn and rise above all the traffic.
Motorboats that provide a fast, customized, and private journey around the clock. Really, it’s a taxi that can float.
Seabus/Fast Ferry (Deniz Otobüsü):
Remember the dolmuş from before? Well, just imagine it on water and you’ve got the idea. These are more expensive than regular ferries and run routes usually of less interest to the traveler (i.e., more for the local going to and from work and about their everyday lives), but they can take you to more places off the beaten path as well.
A large, cheap and scenic water ride that carries passengers around to the most important spots of the Bosphorus along its slow journey. You can also book tickets for longer cruise tours (ranging from 30 minutes to 5.5 hours) on these vessels to see all the sights the strait has to offer.
While spring break might look vastly different this year than anticipated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's not too early to start planning to do some good with your time next spring break. Consider doing volunteer work over spring break 2021.
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