For someone that is not used to living in a city of 20 million people, like me, Istanbul’s public transport options can be rather overwhelming. However, I have spent the past year getting to know the ins and outs and I can give you some simple guidelines to make sure that you reach your destination.
Before you read on, check out the top things to do in Istanbul for firs timers!
My thoughts about the Public Transport in Istanbul
When I first arrived in Istanbul the public transport was the bane of my existence. I especially hated taking the Metrobus. However, after a while I began to understand that in a city as large and crowed as this, crowded, impersonal public transport is a necessary evil. I have since developed a sense of tolerance towards, and a great sense or admiration for all the people that use public transport in Istanbul.
First things first- Get your Istanbulkart!
IstanulKart card is your key to all Istanbul public transport lines: buses, trains, trams and ferries. You can purchase your Istanbulkart from any Istanbulkart vending machine which is called Biletmatik. This machine allows you to purchase and top-up your Istanbulkart.
If you wish to add money to your Istanbulkart you simply place the card in the designated card space and insert your money. Once your money has been accepted by the machine, do not remove your card until you see the amount added to your account. You will see your account balance turn green. This means that it is safe to remove your card. The cost of a new Istanbulkart is 6TL. So, if you insert a 10 TL note into the machine, the remaining 4TL is automatically added to your account.
Pro Travel Tip: The machine doesn’t give you back change so make sure you don’t stick a 200TL note in there unintentionally.
Did you know that you can also buy bottled water from the vending machines at stations using your Istanbulkart?
COVID update: Link your IstanbulKart to HES Code
Your Istanbulkart won’t work if it’s not linked to your HES code. So, what is this code? How does it work? and most importantly how to get it and link it yo your card.
Under the measures to curb and track the rising numbers of Covid19 cases, the Ministry of Health in Turkey implemented the HES- Hayat Eve Sığar code system. The HES code is basically your new “Covid era” ID number in Turkey. A unique indiviaul code that is attributed to every person living or visiting Turkey. The HES code is linked to the national ID or the passport number for foreigners. Wether you are a local, a resident or a tourist you will have to get this code.
The HES code serves as a way to track Covid-positive cases in the country and limit their transportation by linking it to the famous Istanbulkart. It means if you are Covid positive the Ministry of heakth will block your HES code preventing you from taking traveling around the country, taking bublic trasportationa and visiting places that require a HES code check such as shopping malls, restaurants and many public places.
How can get my HES code? There are 4 easy ways to get your HES code:
- #1 At the takeoff airport: If you are flying to Turkey, you will be assisted and given a HES code at the airport before you take your flight to Turkey.
- #2 Through Hayat Eve Sığar mobile application: You simply download the mobile application Hayat Eve Sığar (IOS and Android).
- #3 Via E-Government: Residents can also get their HES code through their e-government portal E-develet.
- #4 By sending an SMS to the 2023 short number: You can also get your HES code by sending an SMS with your ID or passport to 2023. I found this Facebook viodeo post that shows how to get your HES code with your passport.
- Also, check the Hayat Eve Sagır website for a detailed guide on every step of these.
Now that you’ve a HES code and an Istanbulkart, the next and last step is to link them together. Easy peasy, fill in this online form and you’re good to go.
All the public transport lines in Istanbul
#1 Tramway (T1, T2, T3, T4 )
This tramway line is probably the most convenient for tourists. You can visit The Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sofia, and Galata Tower using this line. Even if you are lost you will be able to view famous landmarks by looking out the window. See our article about the Hagia Sofia and other iconic mosques in Istanbul.
The most important tramway line for tourists is T1 starting from Kabataş near Taksim and runs through Eminonu, Kapılı Carsi (Grand Bazaar), and Sultanahmet stations ending in Bagilar.
T4 line stops and attractions to see
- Kabataş — Dolmabahçe Palace, Taksim connection with the funicular (F1)
- Tophane — Museum of Modern Art in Istanbul.
- Karaköy —Connection Tünel funicular, (F2) which will drop you on Istiklal Street.
- Eminönü — Spice Bazaar
- Sirkeci — Train station and connection to Marmaray transport line.
- Sultanahmet — Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Archaeology Museum.
- Beyazit — Grand Bazaar.
Another famous Tramway line in Istanbul is the T2, the historical Taksim tram. It serves as a transport line through Istiklal street down to Krakoy-Beyogul Tunel (F2).
SERVICE HOURS || between 06:00 – 23:00 [Note: T3 is suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions] More details on Metro Transport website.
The metrobus is an organised bus line that runs on its own designated road along the D100 highway. It is regarded as one of the fastest ways to travel but its also notorious for being ‘kalabalık’ overcrowded. To be honest, it is the most overcrowded system I have ever seen. You want to avoid the metrobus during peak hours unless you don’t mind having loads of people in your personal space.
This is the easiest and by far the most enjoyable mode of transportation in Istanbul. Crossing the sea on a ferry is always a treat for me. It’s pretty straight forward. Look for the name of your desired location. You will find it signposted on the front of the station along with the time of departure. If you want to make sure you can ask someone before you board. Swipe your Istnabulkart and enjoy. I always like sitting outside. As an added treat, you can purchase a cup of tea or coffee to enjoy while soaking up the amazing views.
This is an underground train line that operates on both the Asian and European sides. It is the fastest way to travel intercontinentally in Istanbul with stations all the way from Küçükçekmece on the European side to Gebze on the Asian side. It’s a great choice for longer trips. Its also a boring way to cross the sea.
#5 Dolmus (Minibus)
The Dolmus is a private minibus service that people use to get to smalled neighborhoods that are not easily accessible via other transport lines. For instance, if you like far away from your nearest train station, you might take a Dolmus to the train station.
You cannot use your Istanbulkart in a Dolmus ride, you need to pay cash. It costs between 2 to 5 TL and you will probably stand the whole way because there aren’t many seats available. However, people prefer the Dolmus since it’s quicker, especially in traffic. One of the skills that a Dolmus driver has is his ability to collect your money and give you change while simultaneously driving!
Costs of Istanbul’s public transport
The cost of Istanbul public transport has been going up. You could pay anything from 2,50 to 5TL per swipe. For long-term stay in Istanbul there are options to get discounted cards. These options will reduce your transport costs.
How to select the best transport line for your trip
There are several mobile apps that can help with this issue, notably Google maps. However, the results are not the same. I have found the most success with Moovit. I noticed that its bus timings are accurate and it gives me options that Google can’t find. Moovit also gives info about transport lines. For example, you can select a bus number and view its route. If all else fails, try and ask someone. You will probably get a push in the right direction.