For centuries, the Bosporus straight has been central to the history and identity of this region. A waterway of enormous strategic and historical significance it simultaneously divides Istanbul into the European and Asian sides while also connecting it with ferries, bridges and even a tunnel – moving Istanbul’s over 15 million citizens.
To see Istanbul, you must see the Bosporus, but there are so many options. From private tours on luxury yachts to dinner cruises with buffets and live entertainment there is an option for all tastes and budgets. But if you’re looking for the biggest bang for your buck it’s hard to beat the 6 hour “Nostalgic Bosporus Cruise” offered by local ferry company Şehir Hatları.
For only ₺25 (about $3 USD) per person you get a cruise of the Bosporus from Istanbul all the way up to where it meets the Black Sea. There is a 2.5 hour layover with some amazing sightseeing opportunities and then a return trip back to where you started. Here we’ll show you all you need to know to enjoy your cruise to the fullest.
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Where to Stay
- Luxury Accommodations – Ritz Carlton Istanbul
The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul is located in the heart of the city overlooking scenic views of the city and the Bosphorus. This brand name speaks for itself. You will be immersed in luxury throughout your stay
- Mid Range Accommodations – Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus
Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus Hotel is located in the heart of the trendy Karakoy to explore the artistic and cultural activities, as well as the Golden Horn, historical Sultanahmet and Galata.
- Budget Accommodations – Hotel Peninsula
Located conveniently in historic peninsula, just 300 m from the sea. Topkapi Palace is 700 metres, Hagia Sophia is 450 m and Basilica Cistern is 550 m from the property. Guests will also enjoy the delicious free breakfast
- Budget Hostel – Bahuas Guesthouse
If you are on a tight budget and don’t mind a hostel, this one is not to be missed. With private rooms as low as $25 per night and shared dorm rooms as low as $9 per night. This hostel even organizes their own events every day of the week. From pub crawls to attractions.
- Or search a broad range of accommodations here
Timetables and Boarding
The cruise starts at the pier in Eminönü, near the south end of the Galata bridge. There are several terminals for Şehir Hatları on this pier. The two nearest the bridge are for local commuter ferries while the third is clearly marked as Bosporus Tours (Uzun Boğaz Turu in Turkish.) This is your destination.
Don’t be distracted by the people trying to sell you a private tour or tickets for the ferry outside the terminal, make your way to the ticket booth attached to the terminal and bring cash as credit/debit cards are not accepted. Also, while your Istanbulkart for transit fares will get you aboard Şehir Hatları’s commuter ferries, it will not work for the Bosporus tour fare.
The full Bosporus daytime tour leaves Eminönü twice a day. There is a day tour leaving at 10:35 am and an evening version leaving at 5:30pm and it makes a few stops on its way north through the city. If you happen to be staying near Beşiktaş or Üsküdar you can also catch the tour at those piers. A full timetable and maps can be found here.
Boarding the Boat
The boat for the Nostalgic Bosporus cruise isn’t brand new, but is comfortable and has all you’ll need for your trip. On the lower level there are benches outside along the rails, great for soaking up the views and the sun. There is also some seating inside if the weather isn’t great.
On second level there is a covered outdoor deck with benches and also indoor seating that is padded and softer if your behind gets tired of the hard outdoor seating. On the second level indoors there is also a small cafe serving coffee, tea and snacks. There is a basic toilet on the lower level as well, be aware that it is an old style squat toilet and there is no bathroom paper, so be sure to bring a pack of tissues and some sanitizer or wipes for cleaning up.
Sights on the Cruise
For the best experience I would suggest sitting on one side of the boat both your way north, and then the same side on your way back south. This way you’ll be able to see both the East and West banks of the Bosporus and you can focus your eyes (and camera) on only one bank at a time so you don’t miss anything!
We sat on the left side of the boat on our way north, so we could focus on the much more developed West side of the bosporus on the first leg. You’re going to pass many noteworthy sites in both directions, and there are no announcements or guide to tell you what you’re looking at, so a little research before you leave helps you to not miss the major sights you’ll be passing.
Here are some of the sights you’ll see – Listed from South to North
- Galata Tower
- Maiden’s Tower (Kiz Kulesi)
- Dolmabahçe Palace
- Çırağan Palace
- 15 July Martyrs Bridge
- Beylerbeyi Palace
- Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge
- Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge
Stopover in Anadolu Kavağı – Yoros Castle and Break for Lunch
After about 2 hours of relaxing and enjoying the views of the Bosporus the boat docks in the small village ofAnadolu Kavağı for 2.5 hours. Giving you just enough time to explore Yoros Castle, have a bite to eat and get back for the return cruise.
Once you get off the boat there are dozens of small fish restaurants and ice cream vendors vying for your attention. We decided to build up a bit of an appetite first with a 20 minute hike up to the village’s main site, Yoros Castle. I don’t think anyone would suggest that Geoff and I are in peak physical condition but the walk, while strenuous, was do-able and there were people much older than us able to make it up the steep hill and steps. The entire walk took about 20 minutes. If you think you might have a hard time with the hill, there are taxis by the dock that can take you up in a matter of minutes.
Despite how out of breath we were from the steep uphill walk, the views from the top were absolutely a reward for the workout. Don’t forget your camera as you’ll enjoy a sweeping vista of the upper Bosporus where it meets the black sea and a stunning perspective of the beautiful Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge, the 4th highest bridge in the world.
The Yoros Castle itself is quite impressive, estimated to be built in the late 1200’s as a defensive fortification guarding and controlling access into the Bosporus and the Black sea. There is one large tower still standing and you can walk inside the barren structure to have a peak at what it may have looked like centuries ago.
Once you’ve built up an appetite, there are several restaurants at the top of the hill near the castle, where you can enjoy some refreshment overlooking the stunning views of the surrounding countryside. We chose to walk back down the hill into the town and have a quick lunch of the local fish sandwiches (balik ekmek) before boarding the boat for the cruise back to Istanbul.
The Full Bosporus cruise is an enjoyable and affordable way to spend a day in Istanbul, allowing you to take in a lot of the local sites all rolled into one activity. We’d recommend for any travellers looking to stretch the most value out of their activity budget in Istanbul.
Looking for other things to do in Istanbul? Check out these great deals
- Bosphorus evening cruise on a luxury yacht
- Essential Istanbul Group Tour
- Private Full Day Tour of Istanbul
- Taste of Two Continents Food Tour