Getting Around in Istanbul

The Galata Tower

Public transport in Istanbul is one of the cheapest and best I have experienced anywhere in the world, only Buenos Aires comes anywhere near. Recently, I have been showing Sue how to get around the city on all the various types of transport. Our first venture was over to Beyoğlu, as she had read about the Galata Tower in the Lonely Planet Guide, and was keen to see the famous view over the city.

The view of the Bosphorus from the Galata Tower

We live on the Asian side of Istanbul, and as we needed to cross to the European side, we first caught a yellow dolmuş to the Kadiköy ferry docks. The word "dolmuş" means "stuffed" in Turkish, and is the name of the shared minibus taxis. They travel up and down set routes throughout the city and are a great way of getting about. They have no scheduled stops along the way, as they pick up and drop passengers on request. The drivers are always on the lookout for potential customers and often hoot as they drive along, to let people know they have room for more.

The view down to the ground from the Galata Tower

The dolmuş drivers are very adept at driving on Istanbul's busy roads, and weave in and out of the traffic at a hair-raising pace; all the while collecting fares passed to them from behind, distributing change, answering calls on their mobiles, and remembering passengers instructions as where to drop them off.

We saw this knife grinder sharpening a knife for the kebab shop.

From Kadiköy we took the ferry to Karaköy, on the other side of the Bosphorus. Ferries criss-cross the Bosphorus every day, and mostly manage to avoid the international shipping passing through the straight. Amazingly, there are very seldom any accidents involving ferries on this very busy waterway.

To access the ferry, I used my akbil (see left). The word "akbil" is a condensed form of the Turkish words "akıllı bilet", which means "intelligent ticket", and is so useful for travelling around Istanbul. It is a pre-paid electronic pass that can be used on ferries, buses, trams, the metro, Tünel, and the funicular. It consists of an electronic button, set on a plastic fob, that conveniently fits onto a key chain. An akbil means no waiting to buy tickets, and not only gives a 10% discount on the original fare, but for any subsequent transfers within 2 hours, the discount is 50%. There are machines to fill the akbil at all ferry ports and railway stations. It is very easy to do, and there is always someone nearby to offer assistance should you need it

The vintage tram that runs from Tünel to Taksim Square

Once across the Bosphorus, we headed for Tünel. This is a short funicular railway connecting Karaköy, at sea level, with Beyoğlu, 60 metres higher up a very steep hill. Tünel was built by French engineers and has been used continuously since January 1875. It was built to transport people and goods up the steep incline from the waterside in Karaköy to the embassies and residences in Beyoğlu. From the station at the top of the funicular, we walked a little way back down the hill to Galata Tower; from the top of which we had a magnificent view of Istanbul.

Istiklal is always crowded with people

We saw these mouthwatering desserts in Istiklal

After descending from the tower, we had lunch at The House restaurant, and then walked all the way up Istiklal to Taksim Square, where we caught our dolmuş home.

Sue at the top of Istiklal, by the roasted chestnuts stall.

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