Istanbul - Maps & Transport
The public transport system in Istanbul can sometimes be difficult to work out as there are a small number of maps and as a general rule you have to changes lines or transfer and pay another fare when you arrive at your destination. Every time you use public transport such as a bus, metro, tram or boat etc, you need to pay with a token which is a small metal/plastic piece that costs 1.75 Turkish Lira (July 2011). You can buy them at various ticket offices or with the machines located at bus, railway and metro stations using the TL. No other currency or credit cards are accepted.
The AKBIL (AKilli BILet - Turkish acronym for "Smart Ticket") is most commonly used on Turkish transport. It consists of a small electronic device which can be used on buses, trams, suburban trains, the subway and the local ferries, etc. You simply pass the AKBIL through the machines when you get on any mode of public transport. It’s great if you are coming to Istanbul in a group as you only need to buy one and you can use it as many times as there are passengers. You can also buy more or top-up the cards at designated booths or at any major bus, tram or metro stations, as well as other places such as the newspaper stands located nearby to bus stops. Using an AKBIL is a significantly cheaper way of travelling instead of purchasing individual tickets (1.75 TL compared to 2.50 TL), especially when transferring or using a card multiple times within a certain time period, roughly an hour and a half since you first used it. You have to pay a 6L deposit when you buy the card which is refunded if you choose to return the card at the end of your stay.
There are two kinds of public bus companies in Istanbul, one which is a privately owned company called ÖHO, and the other which is run by the city council called IETT. You can distinguish between them by the colour of the buses. The former is blue-green with yellow letters, and the latter comes in many colours including an old red-blue one, and a newer green and red one. Both companies accept the AKBIL Transit Pass however, cash payment isn’t, although ÖHO accepted it before. If you don’t have an AKBIL, you will have to buy a single ticket at the kiosks nearby the bus station for 2.50 TL. Metrobuses have recently started running, comprising long hybrid buses which use separate lanes from other traffic on the road thus making it a quicker means of travelling on the busy Istanbul roads. They connect the western suburbs of Avcilar with Kadiköy on the Asian Side via Bakirköy, Cevizlibag which is just outside the old city walls near Topkapi Gate and Mecidiyeköy. Most bus lines operate between 6am to around midnight, with less frequent services after 10pm. Some buses running from major cities operate 24 hours a day and the same applies for the metrobus.
Istanbul’s metro consists of two lines, the northern line connecting Şişhane to Darüşşafaka via Taksim Square, and Mecidiyeköy to Levent in the business district. This line is the fastest arriving at the last stop in the space of 20 minutes whereas by bus it takes approximately an hour. There is also a funicular connecting Taksim to Kabataş where you can get on the ferry and cross over to the Anatolian side, or transfer to the trams heading to the old city. The separate southern line is used mostly by tourists. It connects Aksaray to Atatürk Airport with further connections to the tramline running to the old city. Nowadays, most metro stations do not have a staffed ticket office, so you will have to get your token from automatic token dispensers. Insert coins (except 1 or 5 kuruş) up to 1.75 TL and then press the button marked ONAY (Turkish for "approval", no English translations are provided on the machines).
As a tourist, you are most likely to use the tram in the Sultanahmet area given that there are no bus lines running there anymore. Almost all the historical sites can be seen along the tramline running from Kabataş to Zeytinburnu. This line also has two connections, one to Taksim via Kabataş and one to Atatürk International Airport via Aksaray. The tram has a 155,000 daily passenger capacity. During the morning and evening rush hour (roughly between 7am and 9am and 5pm and 7:30pm respectively), the tram cars are really packed so if you only need to use it for a couple of stops, then we suggest you walk.
There are two suburban train lines in Istanbul. One of them is the Sirkeci-Halkali line (on the European Side) and the other is the Haydarpasa-Gebze line (Asian Side). They are very useful if you’re going on a trip in Istanbul. You can pay with a token or use the AKBIL to ride on the suburban trains. Trains depart about every 15 or 20 minutes from 5:45am until 12pm.
Taking a taxi is an easy and cheap way of getting around. They are lots of them and you can find one anywhere. They can transport a maximum of four passengers per cab. The starting fare is 2.50 TL, and then a further 1.60 TL is charged per kilometre. Sometimes there is a lot of traffic thus give yourself half an hour to get to the old district. You might even be better off taking the metro to the old district then a taxi from there.
Dolmuş is a shared taxi which travels on a fixed route. It costs more than a city bus but less than a normal taxi. They carry up to 8 passengers. They are easy to recognise as they are a typical yellow colour and carry a Dolmuş sign on top. They won’t set off until the taxi is full which is where the name comes from.