İstanbul is one of the most amazingly situated cities in the world. How many other major world cities can claim four major bodies of water to their names (the Black Sea, the Marmara Sea, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn), not including the various lakes, rivers, streams and so on?! The Bosphorus Strait is the body of water connecting the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, and it’s been the center of the city for literally millennia.
As such, it’s no surprise that a tour of the Bosphorus is essentially a tour of İstanbul. While other cities force you to take a bus around to see all the sights, just take a tour of the Bosphorus in İstanbul and see it all set amidst the deep blue of the Bosphorus.
Here’s how they go:
The easy way – just take the commuter ferries!
There are organized Bosphorus tours of different varieties that we’ll get to later, but as the Bosphorus literally cuts the city (and continents!) in half, one of the easiest ways to take a Bosphorus tour is simply to take the commuter ferries that cross the Bosphorus using your "İstanbul Card," which is valid for all forms of public transportation in the city.
The primary ferry stops are Eminönü and Beşiktaş on the European side, and Üsküdar and Kadıköy on the European side, though there are ferry stops that leave less frequently all over the city. From these hubs, ferries leave just about every 15 minutes to cross the Bosphorus to another hub.
But there are special commuter ferries that go up almost the entire Bosphorus (and Golden Horn as well) during "rush hour" hours in the mornings and evenings, taking commuters home from what has to be the most pleasant commute in the world.
Long Bosphorus Tours:
These tours tend to leave from the Historic Peninsula in Eminönü and pass through many different stops along the Bosphorus on their way up to the point where you can see the point where the Bosphorus opens up to the Black Sea. The final stop on these tours is often Anadolu kavağı, a little fishing village on the Asian side of the city which now caters to people looking to get away from the hustle and bustle and sit at a nice café or restaurant and look out over the stunning views of the Bosphorus and Black Sea.
At the top of the hill, above the cafés sits the Ottoman fortress that forms the namesake for the district (Anadolu kavağı), built as part of the patrol of the strait centuries ago.
These tours tend to last all day, something like 5-7 hours and make a few stops including a lengthy stop for lunch and tea along the Black Sea.
Short Bosphorus Tours:
These tend to take off from Eminönü, Üsküdar, and Ortaköy and last only an hour or two. They more or less go between the first two bridges across the Bosphorus, and are a great way to get a sense of the grandeur of the Bosphorus without taking all day to do it.
Especially in the summer, night tours go from major ports and are often full of music, fun and merriment. The specific sights you see are less the point of these tours and it’s more about the pleasant experience of being on the Bosphorus with friends and family and enjoying the beautiful atmosphere around you.
What to do on your tours
- Take photos
- Share your food with the seagulls who fly next to your boat!
- Look at the sights
Some of the most iconic things you’ll see on your tour
This lovely little tower is set on an islet right in the middle of the Bosphorus. It can be seen from quite a lot of vantage points and is the scene of many different legends. Now it serves as a restaurant and an observation point, particularly stunning during sunsets.
The Bridges of İstanbul:
There are 3 cross-continental bridges in İstanbul, typically referred to as the first, second and third bridges (as you go from the Marmara Sea to the Black Sea). The actual names of the bridges, in order, are the 15 July Martyrs Bridge, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, and the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge. The three bridges are all large suspension bridges that light up at night and are truly marvels of architecture each and every one of them. From your tour, the approach to the bridge, passing underneath it and passing from one to the next is a wonderful experience.
The Ottoman Palaces
Whew there are too many to mention here! (Keep an eye out for our blog on Ottoman palaces 😉 ) But as you go you’ll certainly see Dolmabahçe, Yıldız, Çırağan, and Beylerbeyi Palaces as you approach the first bridge. Dolmabahçe of course used to be the home of the Sultan, and after that of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The other palaces were mostly used as summer palaces and hunting palaces for the sultan, and you’ll see many of them all along the trip on either side of the Bosphorus.
The Homes, the sights, the city
Along the tour you’ll see lots of stately homes along the Bosphorus, called "Yalı"s, as well as get a sense of the city’s life. High rises in some districts, beachfront in others – this really is the best way to get a sense of what İstanbul is all about, as well as just enjoy the most pleasant way to spend a day or an afternoon. So get the tour that fits into your schedule and enjoy the Bosphorus!