Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Istanbul: The Bosphorus cruise

Or, booking the cheapest full-day Bosphorus boat trip in Istanbul

It was my first full day in Istanbul, Turkey, in the peak of summer. Everything around me was unfamiliar, and the hot air was filled with noise.

A full day of sightseeing behind me, I was on my way to Galata Bridge to see the attractions beyond it when I discerned one sound standing out from all of the others.

Among the little red food carts selling simit, a rounded bread similar to a pretzel, there were numerous men selling Bosphorus boat cruises, with each seller trying to out-shout the others with their offerings. Luckily, I had done some research on Istanbul's cruises, and I remembered a good tip that I had picked up during that time.

While many companies sell boat cruises, including evening versions with dinner, these usually come with a hefty pricetag. Fortunately, there is a more affordable option for the budget traveller.

Galata Bridge, with its combination of fisherman, seafood restaurants and the 14th Century Galata Tower in the background.

Sehir Hatlari is the city's official ferry operator, and you can find their ticket office to the right of Galata Bridge on the Sultanahmet side of the Bosphorus. This is where you can buy admission to one of their cruises.

There are two main options: a shorter two-hour tour of the Bosphorus, or a full-day cruise. The former costs ten lira (almost £3), while the latter, a day's tour, is a steal at only 25 lira (almost £7). At the time of my visit, the full-day cruise was only departing once a day, so, on the evening of my walk to Galata Bridge, I decided to book the cruise for the next day. 

If you're keen to experience the full-day tour, I'd recommend getting to the ticket office as soon as possible - the cruises are very popular in summer.

The day of my cruise arrived and, at 10:35, I was on the ferry, which was packed with fellow day trippers. The boat leaves from Eminonu, the same area as the ticket office.

The trip to the end of the Bosphorus strait lasts about 90 minutes, with the boat making about five stops along the way to pick up and drop off passengers. The last sight of the trip up is the entrance to the Black Sea.

Before that point, I was treated to an array of passing sights on either side of the strait. Palaces, massive bridges and castles came into my view, but at a camera-friendly pace. Each part of the banks felt completely different, and some sights made me want to get off the boat and explore on foot. If anything, the cruise gives a visual hint to just how much of massive Istanbul there is to discover.

Rumelihisari, a sprawling 15th Century fortress near the Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge.

Dolmabahce Palace - a 19th Century edifice on the banks of the Bosphorus.

In both ancient and modern history, the Bosphorus has always been a strategic waterway. Connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, as well as acting as a physical division between Europe and Asia, this strait has been a prized possession that has been fought over by many in the past. 

Since I'm a bit of a mythology nerd, I was delighted to find that even the name of the strait is linked to the ancients, where Bosphorus means 'cattle passage', referring to a myth where Io, a priestess-turned-lover-of-Zeus, is transformed into a cow. She was then stuck in that form until she crossed the Bosphorus. It was here that she met Prometheus and was eventually returned to her human form.

Gods and their mistresses aside, I was alerted back to the present time when someone walked around the side of the boat selling ayran, a local yoghurt drink. Several other people came around selling all manner of items, from hot tea to snacks to souvenirs. Since I only saw each of the sellers only once, I assumed that they got on and off at the various stops along the way.

The 90-minute trip to the Black Sea came to an end quickly, and we were all dropped off at the last stop on the tour: Anadolu Kavagi, a tiny seaside town that clearly relies on the foot traffic brought in by the boat cruises.

Anadolu Kavagi.

One of the many fish restaurants lining the port of Anadolu Kavagi.

We had three hours to spend at our leisure. To be honest, that amount of time is plenty, as there are only three things to do in Anadolu Kavagi: 1) Climb the hill to Yoros Castle, 2) Eat seafood at one of the many port-side restaurants, 3) Browse through the wares at the souvenir shops.

Since I wasn't particularly hungry, I started with the first item on the list.

Be warned, the way up to Yoros Castle is a steep (I was almost on all-fours at one point), and rather sweaty, journey. But, as you will soon see, the torturous climb is worth it and, thankfully, there is no admission fee to see the broken towers. (They couldn't possibly charge entry after that walk up!)

Once a mighty fortress during the Byzantine Empire, all that remains of Yoros Castle is the former castle gate. Nonetheless, the ruins are beautiful, especially with their dramatic backdrop of the Bosphorus leading into the Black Sea.

Yoros Castle.

The entrance to the Black Sea.

After taking many, many photos, I had an easier experience walking back down to the port. I took my time going into the shops, eating ice cream and catching a bit of sunshine.

It was also during this time that I came upon a rather strong temptation.

Near one of the restaurants, I spotted an adult female cat and her litter of multi-coloured kittens. I certainly wasn't the only tourist fawning over these cats, and they were clearly a favourite with the locals too, as one of the waiters brought out a stack of fish for them to eat.

There was one kitten in particular that grabbed my attention. A tiny tortoiseshell that seemed to enjoy bullying its siblings warmed up to me, and I think I spent a good 45 minutes just sitting there. Given my history with cats and transporting them around the world, I very nearly gave into that trend with this particular kitten too.

Sadly, I knew that this wasn't a sound or fair idea, and I was soon ushered back on the boat, leaving Anadolu Kavagi, and its adorable cats, far behind.

It was as we made our return trip back to Sultanahmet that I truly started appreciating the day that I had just had. With the ferry hugging the bank and passing a massive Turkish flag, I could hear the faraway sound of a call to prayer from one of the nearby mosques. 

I remember this so clearly, as it was at that precise moment when I was flooded by an almost uncontrollable sense of being alive and the excitement of being somewhere new. It was a perfect moment on what had been a perfect day.

The Bosphorus cruise was the ideal introduction to Istanbul and the region surrounding it, and I couldn't wait to see what the next few days had in store for me.


To find out more about Sehir Hatlari cruises and current timetables, check out the official website.


  1. I love those moments of aliveness and excitement! I know exactly what you mean. Looking forward to having more of them when I can go on amazing trips like this one. Nice post! <3

    1. Thanks, Laurie dearest! Yeah, I always hunt for those moments on my travels, and I'm lucky that I've felt it a few times, including on this occasion. Hope we can travel together some day soon <3

  2. Great post Kasha - nothing beats that travel feeling! And what an adorable little kitty :) I did that cruise as well, but at night - lovely to see it during the day!

    1. Thanks, Jessi! That kitty almost came home with me, that's for sure :P I'd love to do that cruise at night too - would be such a surreal experience.

  3. Such a lovely photo of you with the kitten Kasha! I've never been to Turkey and didn't even know about the Bosphorus cruise - sounds like a beautiful way to see some of the sights out there!

    1. Aw, thanks, Shikha! I didn't know much about activities to do in Istanbul before I planned a trip there, but it's a fascinating city with loads to see and do. I'd definitely recommend it!


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