Transportation in Istanbul: How To Get Around

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Discover essential tips for hassle-free transportation in Istanbul; we’ve got you covered from public transit and taxis to car rentals!

Navigating through a bustling city like Istanbul can be a challenge, especially for first-time visitors. With its rich history, vibrant culture, and diverse landscape, understanding the various modes of transportation in Istanbul is essential to make the most of your visit. This guide aims to provide you with a comprehensive overview of how to get around and enjoy the city’s many attractions seamlessly.

From public transit to taxis, car rentals, and more, we’ll delve into the intricacies of transportation in Istanbul. Whether you’re an urban explorer looking to traverse the city’s bustling streets or a leisure traveler wanting to navigate Istanbul at your own pace, this guide will equip you with the necessary information to ensure a smooth journey.

We’ll cover all the various modes of transportation in Istanbul, including public transit in Istanbul, taxis in Istanbul, car rental in Istanbul, and more!

Transportation in Istanbul

This post is all about the various modes of transportation in Istanbul and everything you should know about them before visiting.

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How to Get from the Airport

My first and most important transport question is, “How do we get from the airport to our hotel?” Each city has different options ranging from dedicated airline rails to super expensive taxis or even carrying your luggage in your lap on a trike. Luckily, Istanbul has made it easy to get from the airport to the city center on the European and Asian sides.

Istanbul International Airport (IST)

Istanbul Airport (IST) is Turkey’s main international airport and the Turkish Airlines hub. If you are flying from the US or a larger European hub, you will likely be flying to this airport. It’s located on the European side, about 54 km (34 miles) from the Old Town area of Istanbul.

Public Transportation from IST Airport

This is not the easiest airport to travel from via public transportation. It is far from the city center and will likely require a transfer or two to get you to your hotel. The quickest route is via the Arda Tur Bus route, which will drop you at the Istanbul Bus Station. The most direct is the HVIST-12 Bus route that will drop you at Yusufpasa where you can likely hop on a tram, grab a taxi, or walk to your hotel. Use Google Maps to find the best route based on your arrival or departure time.

Private Transfer from IST Airport

You can always book a private transfer to pick you up from the airport. We love doing this when we have an especially early or late flight. This ensures a smooth and easy transport from the airport directly to our hotel. You can expect the drive to take around an hour, depending on traffic. Private transfers are especially valuable for groups of 2-4 since it’s usually a group rate.

We personally love to book with Welcome Pickups. They are easy to communicate with and will track your flight so they know if you land early or are delayed. Welcome Pickups charges around $45 for a transfer from the IST Airport to the city center.

If you have a larger group or are looking for a larger vehicle, you can book a private transfer in a van for around $50.

Taxi from IST Airport

There are taxis you can take from the IST airport. A taxi stand is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at the airport. They are located at the Domestic and International Passenger exit doors at the Plaza Section. Your fare will be metered, and it will take around an hour to get to the city center. Check the airport’s list of estimated prices for where you are getting dropped off. To get to the main Old Town area of Istanbul, you can expect to pay around $40 for a taxi. Read more about taking taxis in Istanbul.

Car Rental from IST Airport

If you are looking to rent a car in Istanbul, it’s a great idea to start your car rental when you land at the airport. The IST airport has a large selection of rental car companies, so you can find a vehicle that works for you. If you are driving into Istanbul, it’ll likely take an hour. Just note that some routes might have tolls. Most tolls in Turkey accept credit cards or cash for payment. Note you will also likely have to pay for parking at your hotel in the city.

Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW)

The SAW International Airport is located on the Asian side of Istanbul, about 45 km (28 miles) from the city center. It is the hub for AJet and Pegasus Airlines and hosts many budget airlines from Europe and western Asian countries.

Public Transportation from SAW Airport

The SAW airport is older than the IST airport, so it’s easier to get to via public transportation. It will still take you about an hour from the city center. In the past, we’ve taken the M4 train to get from the airport easily. For some reason, Google Maps adds 20 minutes of walking at the start of the journey at the airport to get to the train station, but that’s just not true. The M4 station is located inside the SAW Airport. You’ll find signs on the Arrivals floor near McDonald’s.

Private Transfer from SAW Airport

You can have a private transfer waiting for you (with a sign and your name) at the SAW airport. This is the most convenient option since they will pick you up at the airport and take you directly to your hotel. You can prepay for the ride via credit card. We love booking with Welcome Pickups. They charge around $50 for a ride from SAW to the Old Town area of Istanbul on the European Side. You can also book larger transfers for around $60 per group.

Taxi from SAW Airport

You can also hail a taxi directly at the airport to your hotel in the city center. There is a taxi stand located just outside the main arrivals exit. This is open 24/7. Your fare will be metered based on the cab type (C, D, or E). The drive will take around an hour to get to the city center. To get to the main Old Town area of Istanbul, you can expect to pay around $40 for a taxi. Read more about taking taxis in Istanbul.

Car Rental from SAW Airport

If you are looking to rent a car in Istanbul, it’s a great idea to start your car rental when you land at the airport. The SAW airport has a large selection of rental car companies, so you can find a vehicle that works for you. If you are driving into Istanbul, it’ll likely take an hour or two, depending on how heavy the traffic is. Note that some routes might have tolls, although you can usually pay with a credit card. You will also likely have to pay for parking at your hotel in the city.

Transportation in Istanbul

Public Transit in Istanbul

Istanbul’s public transportation includes trams, funicular, metro, ferries, and buses. The infrastructure is well-laid out and easy to use. We found it the best way to get around and even used it to and from the airport (IST and SAW).

The trams are the best for most tourist destinations and are easy to use. The NT route is one of the historical trams in Istanbul, running the length of Istiklal Street.

The hours of operation depend on the route and the mode of transport. Most options run from 6:00 a.m. to midnight, with limited service after 10:00 p.m. The ferries start around 7:00 a.m. and end by midnight.

Overall, we found getting around by public transportation easy to figure out and safe. We did ride it later at night and never felt threatened. There were a few drunk people at night, but nothing dangerous. Just keep your wits about you and your belongings all zipped up.

How to Ride Public Transportation

Simply plug your destination into Google Maps and select the transportation method. It’ll pull up the best route based on time, transfers, or the least amount of walking (you can select a preference). The app had accurate routes, stops, and times for everything except the buses. We found the bus timetable inaccurate. Each time we tried to ride a specific bus, it wouldn’t show up. I am not sure if the location of the stop was wrong or the number changed on the bus or the day of the week was different. We only ended up using the trains and trams.

Tickets

Tickets are always the hardest part of public transportation. Luckily, most of the time, we could use contactless payment. You simply tap your credit or debit card (MasterCard only) at the turnstiles. If you are traveling with two or more people, you’ll need a separate card for each person so they can properly track the route taken. There were a few stations where they didn’t take the contactless payment, but we could purchase a single journey ticket with cash at the station. They only take small bills (100TL or smaller) and don’t give change! If you need to break a bill, you can ask someone or go to a small kiosk and buy a water bottle or snack. Each one-way trip cost us around 18 TL ($0.56) per person.

Ferries in Istanbul

Ferries are also included in the public transportation system in Istanbul. The most popular route with tourists is between Kadiköy on the Asian side and Eminönü on the European side. This route costs 30 TL ($1.05) per person one-way and takes a leisurely 20 minutes to cross the Bosphorus. These routes are also included in Google Maps. You can purchase your tickets at the gates before entering the ferry with cash. These are manned by a person, but you should have exact change to pay.

Car Rental in Istanbul

You can also get around the city by renting your own car. Since it is a large city with thousands of people trying to get around all the time, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are staying outside of town or planning on continuing a road trip through Turkey. You’ll have to pay for parking almost everywhere in the city. Our hotel charged €10 per night for overnight parking. You can still rely on Google Maps to help you get around the city and give traffic updates.

They drive on the left side of the car and the right side of the road. You will need an International Driver’s Permit (with your home country’s driver’s license). Most car rentals had manual transmissions, but automatic was available for a higher rate.

Taxis in Istanbul

There are plenty of taxis in Istanbul to help you get around. We don’t often use taxis unless it’s late at night or early in the morning. You can spot a taxi by its “Taksi” sign on the roof. There are a few different types of taxis in Istanbul. Orange taxis (C) are the cheapest option. Black taxis (E) are the luxury option and are often larger vehicles for more people and/or luggage. Their rate is 70% higher than the orange taxis. And there are turquoise taxis (D), all electric vehicles from Tesla. These are slightly more expensive (15% higher) than the orange option. From our understanding, they don’t have rate increases for night fares. All taxis are metered and start at 5 Turkish Lira ($0.16) with a minimum of 13 TL ($0.40).

You can also use the Uber app to call taxis to your location. It’s not the same as in the US, where you pay the price the app tells you. It simply hails the taxi to you and estimates the meter, but you’ll have to pay whatever the end price is, regardless of the estimate. You still pay in the app via credit card. The rates will be slightly higher than hailing a taxi since they do have to pay for Uber’s service.

A ride around town will cost between $5 and $15, and a ride to or from the airport will cost around $30-40.

Hop-On Hop-Off Bus

hop-on hop-off bus is a great way to see all the major tourist sites without having to find your own transportation. The one in Istanbul puts the hard work in for you and transports you up all the necessary hills to see some of the top sights in Istanbul all in one day. 

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Private Tours

Booking a private tour is another good way to have all your transportation taken care of, although this is the most expensive route. Welcome Pickups has some great customizable tour options and is more affordable per person the more people you have in your group.

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