A cruise on the Bosphorus is probably the most overlooked Istanbul tourist attraction. Understandable, with such an abundance of historical sightseeing spots in Istanbul and too little time to squeeze them all into your short holiday. But take my advice and set a few hours aside to take an unforgettable Bosphorus tour. Certainly if you’re in town between May and September. You won’t regret it — at least if you follow these simple guidelines.
Stay Clear of Private Bosphorus Tours
I see this scene unfold almost every day: poorly informed tourists willing to take a Bosphorus tour, walking on the docks of Eminönü in search for a Bosphorus cruise. Private companies can spot this kind of behavior from a mile away and offer them a seat on their Bosphorus cruise boat. But please, don’t get tempted by the offer these ‘hustlers’ make. Their tours are overpriced (double and more), shorter and on boats that can barely be called seaworthy.
IDO/Şehir Hatları Offers the Best Bosphorus Tour Experience
Istanbul Deniz Otobüsleri (IDO) / Şehir Hatları are Istanbul’s official sea bus, fast ferry and regular ferry companies. They offer three great Bosphorus tours: Short Circle Bosphorus Cruise, Full Bosphorus Cruise and the Full Bosphorus Cruise by Night. Unfortunately, the availability of these tours change according to the season. So do keep on reading and check out the respective links for the most up-to-date departure times.
The IDO/Şehir Hatları Bosphorus lines sales offices are located on the right docks of Eminönü when coming off the Galata Bridge.
Short Circle Bosphorus Cruise (Kısa Boğaz Turu)
First up is the brand new non-stop Short Circle Bosphorus tour. This one is great for people who are pressed for time but don’t want to miss a genuine Bosphorus experience. This tour is available every day in summer time (April 1st until October 31st). The cruise takes you from Eminönü to Istinye (well past the second bridge that is), and back. The ferry leaves the Eminönü docks at 14:30, arrives at Ortaköy around 14:50 to pick up more people, and then continues its two hour non-stop tour. The price per person is 10 TL. For the latest updates, check the official timetable.
Full Bosphorus Cruise (Uzun Boğaz Turu)
The Full Bosphorus Tour offers a great Bosphorus experience and will take several hours in total. For a mere 25 TL this cruise will take you from Eminönü all the way to the Black Sea, and back. Each way takes about 90 minutes since the ferry makes 5 short stops to let people on and off. You must get off the ferry in Anadolu Kavağı, the last harbor before the Black Sea. This gives you the opportunity to grab a (late) lunch in one of the town’s fish restaurants located on the shore and/or visit the fortress.
The ferry does a few complete tours a day, so check the official schedule with the latest timetables. On board you can use digital guides explaining over 70 points of interest along the way, in 10 different languages (Turkish, English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Persian, and Arabic). The price for a round trip is 25 TL.
Full Bosphorus Cruise by Night (Mehtap Gezi)
It offers the exact same tour as the regular Full Bosphorus Tour, but you get to see Istanbul at night! The ferry leaves before dusk providing great Istanbul sunset views. It again stops in Anadolu Kavağı for a bit over two hours so people can enjoy dinner in the fish restaurants at the shore. Around 22:30 the ferry departs again for a moonlight cruise on the Bosphorus — a unique experience!
Unfortunately, the Full Bosphorus Tour by Night is only available on Saturdays in July and August. The good news is that it still only costs 20 TL. Needless to say you better buy your tickets in time.