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Public Transportation in Istanbul

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In a city the size of Istanbul, public transportation isn’t just a nice option, but an absolute necessity. So it’s lucky that using Istanbul’s transportation system can be so entertaining. Whether riding a funicular, subway, ferry, tram or gondola (anything, really, except the bus) we almost always had a great time getting around the city.

Tünnel Istanbul

But yes: we hated the bus, and only used it when absolutely necessary. Traffic in Istanbul is horrendous, and riding the bus does nothing to alleviate that. One foggy day, when ferry service had been suspended, we were compelled to take a bus to Eyüp, and sat in traffic for 90 minutes. For five kilometers! On the Bosphorus buses to Emirgan or Arnavutköy, we’d often get so fed up, we’d ask the driver to just let us out. And walking down the coast, we’d easily outpace the bus.

Otherwise, public transportation in Istanbul is great. We loved the trams; both the antique model which taxis up İstiklal Caddesi, and the modern one which connects Kabataş to Eminönü, the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar. And the metro from Taksim was an excellent way to get to the city’s modern neighborhoods like Sisli and Levent.

We also made frequent use of Istanbul’s two funiculars, or tünels. The underground car which connects Karaköy to Beyoğlu has a cherished spot in the city’s history. It was built in 1875, making it the world’s second-oldest underground metro system (after London’s). Historical and extremely practical. Stepping off a ferry or the tram at Karaköy, you can save your legs a whole lot of stress by tüneling up the hill instead of walking.

A more modern funicular connects Kabataş to Taksim Square, and is just as useful. Our house was only 15 minutes from Kabataş, but we almost always chose to take the Tünel up to Taksim Square and walk down the street back home, even though it added at least ten minutes to the total time. As our stay in Istanbul wore on, we discovered ever more ways to avoid climbing hills.

Gondola Istanbul

We also enjoyed the tiny gondola which stretches over Democracy Park, north of Taksim. Although we had no reason to cross the park, we couldn’t resist sitting down inside one of the antiquated cars. You get a nice view of the Bosphorus and Beşiktaş’s Inönü Stadium during the quick transit.

But our favorite way to travel within Istanbul was definitely the ferries. We hopped on the boats whenever possible. There’s just no better way to see Istanbul than from the rail of a bobbing boat. On longer trips, we’d order a tea, or join locals in throwing bits of simits (Turkish bagels) to the flocks of seagulls trailing behind.

If you’re in Istanbul for any longer than a few days, make sure to invest in an IstanbulKart. It costs a bit more at first, but you save cash on every journey, and the cards are extremely practical. Just swipe at any of the transport options we’ve written about here: ferry, tram, metro, bus, tünel. To recharge the card, look for kiosks that advertise “Akbil”.

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July 7, 2013 at 11:11 am Comments (0)

Istanbul’s April Showers

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We had been suffering through some rough weather for weeks, but spring finally arrived toward the end of April. The bad weather had us a bit of an emotional rollercoaster — overcast days are not normally our thing, but somehow the clouds struck a melancholic note appropriate to Istanbul.

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April 29, 2013 at 3:15 pm Comments (3)

The Antique Tram of İstiklal Caddesi

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The pedestrianized shopping street of İstiklal Caddesi boasts one of modern Istanbul’s most nostalgic sights: antique tram cars rattling along the mile-long street from the Tünel funicular station to Taksim Square.


The presence of the antique tram in bustling, forward-looking Taksim Square is jarring. You might initially think that it’s a replica, a stationary nod to the past… but then the thing starts moving and people clamber on, fighting for seats. Puttering down the street at speeds barely eclipsing walking pace, the tram proves an irresistible lure for kids, who hop onto the back for a free ride.

These freeloaders have the tacit permission of the tram drivers, who are dressed in period gear and spend as much time waving to photo-taking bystanders as conducting. And so the tram is a curious hybrid; both a solution to the Beyoğlu’s transportation needs, and a wistful tribute to the past. There’s the costumed driver, the rascally scamps hanging off the back, the slow speeds and the antiquated cars. Quaint, but then most of the passengers are serious-looking locals just trying to get home after a long day of work.

After our initial ride, we never used the tram for anything other than a photo op. It runs infrequently, is usually packed full, and you can walk down İstiklal just as quickly. Still, the tram is always full. Walking simply isn’t as fun as sitting at the window of an antique tram, watching the modern world slowly ramble by.

Station Locations: Taksim Square | Galatasaray School | Tünel Entrance
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March 12, 2013 at 5:22 pm Comments (2)
Public Transportation in Istanbul In a city the size of Istanbul, public transportation isn't just a nice option, but an absolute necessity. So it's lucky that using Istanbul's transportation system can be so entertaining. Whether riding a funicular, subway, ferry, tram or gondola (anything, really, except the bus) we almost always had a great time getting around the city.
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