Istanbul is massive with a sprawling population of around 15 million people. The city spans the Bosphorus Strait between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea. The Bosphorus Strait divides continental Europe from continental Europe with Turkey being a bridge between the countries. While Istanbul is a very rare city to be more or less equally divided between the two continents.

Istanbul's ferry system is one of the largest and possibly, one of the most enjoyable ferry systems in the world. The ferries (called "Ferryboats") operate very efficiently and are able to embark and disembark in a minute or two.

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Istanbul And Its Historic Need For Ferries

Istanbul (and before that, Constantinople) has a very long history of operating many ferries across the Bosphorus. In fact, until relatively recently, this was the only way of crossing the strait (the first Bosphorus bridge opened in 1973).

With around 7 million people on both sides of the city, there is obviously a need for efficient connections to facilitate mass movements of people. But there is only one bridge across the strait (with another one bypassing the city to the north). There is one road tunnel underneath the Bosphorus and one metro line connecting the Asian and European side's metro networks.

These 3ish connections are able to move masses of people but nothing like the sheer masses required of a city of 15 million split down the middle with many people working and living on opposite sides of the strait. That's where Istanbul's extremely impressive ferry system comes in.

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Taking (or Even Watching) The Ferries Is A Surreal Experience

Taking these ferries is a truly surreal experience. One is confronted with many thousands of years of history. One will see the iconic Hagia Sophia, remains of the Walls of Constantinople, the Galata Tower, the old palace of the Ottoman Sultans, the Blue Mosque and so much more.

  • View: Busy Shipping Lane, Old City of Constantinople, Fishermen...

It doesn't feel as much like a ferry crossing as a tour and a trip through time. The cost (as of the time of writing - March 2022) is around 6 Turkish Lira ($0.40) but it feels like a boat tour that one would normally pay $25.00 for.

  • Cost: Around $0.40
  • Main Ferry Termainals: In Karakoy, Kabatas, Besiktas, Eminonu, Kadikoy, Uskudar
  • Piers: 48 Piers
  • Ferry Lines: 22 Public Ferry Lines

But that's not all, the Bosphorus is the bridge between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. This is also a very busy shipping route, the ferries are constantly dodging and going around all the continuous lines of cargo ships and tankers powering their way through the strait.

And then there are all the local fishermen in their little private fishing boats. It is a surreal experience sea soooooooo many ships, boats, and ferries all seemingly weaving and dodging each other in such a narrow confined.

Picture a city one and a half times the size of NYC split by a strait a couple of miles wide. In just one gaze, one can see countless thousands of people commuting, dozens of ferries zipping back and forth, hundreds of little fishing boats, supertankers on one of the world's busiest sealines powering through the strait, the ancient city of Constantinople (with many buildings from the Romans), and the massive new sprawling gleaming modern city of Istanbul. If one can picture that, one will have an idea of just how unique these ferries really are.

All of that is not to mention seeing about a dozen cats at any one go (Istanbul loves cats and dogs - perhaps like nowhere else in the world), scores of seagulls thronging the ferries, and (if one is lucky) dolphins playing around the ships and ferries.

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Taking The Ferries And Routes

The ferries are very comfortable with indoor and outdoor seating as well as small cafes onboard.

"Ferry rides is a unique experience of Istanbul...and it is the most easiest, cheapest and the most pleasant way to travel up, down and across the Bosphorus."

- Istanbeautiful.com

The ferries depart on the popular routes every 15 or 20 minutes so it really doesn't matter when one turns up at the terminal.

Paying for the ferries is with the standard Istanbul public transport card that one uses on the metros and city buses. The largest ferry operator is Istanbul Sea Buses (İstanbul Deniz Otobusleri) and until it was privatized in 2011, it was the largest municipal ferry operator in the world. While there are different ferry companies, they all work seamlessly with the metro card.

Major city ferry routes in Istanbul are:

  • Eminönü – Kadıköy
  • Eminönü – Üsküdar
  • Beşiktaş – Kadıköy
  • Karaköy – Kadıköy
  • Karaköy – Üsküdar

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