We stayed five full days in Istanbul. The first four were spent exploring all its major tourist areas on foot. From the museums, mosques, and palaces of Sultanahmet to the shops and restaurants of Beyoğlu to the hip neighborhoods of Kadıköy.
As you can imagine, we covered a LOT of ground in those four days. We had already visited all of Istanbul’s major sites so we wanted to do something that was fun but a little more relaxed on our fifth and final day. Going on a scenic all-day cruise of the Bosphorus — an experience that some say is one of Istanbul’s greatest pleasures — was exactly that.
We went on a cruise with Şehir Hatları, Istanbul’s official ferry company. They offer three Bosphorus Cruises — Full, Short, and Moonlight (Evening). We went on their Full Bosphorus Cruise which takes you all the way to Anadolu Kavağı, the last dock before the Black Sea. It leaves Eminönü at 10:35AM and gets back around 4:25PM. Full Bosphorus Cruises run everyday year-round and cost 65TL per person.
For people who don’t have a full day to spare, Short Cruises last just two hours and cost 32TL.
A word of caution: Be wary of hustlers offering private Bosphorus cruises. Even in Sultanahmet you’ll see them holding up private Bosphorus Cruise signs. Though there are reputable companies out there, many are scammers offering overpriced (often double) abbreviated tours on crappy boats. Their tours can hardly be called private either since you’ll often be riding with 50 or more people. Avoid them at all costs and go with an established company like Şehir Hatları. Just look for their ticketing office pictured below on the Eminönü ferry dock.
The inside of the ferry. We went in November so the ferry was less than half full. I’m sure they get packed during peak seasons though so be sure to arrive at the dock early to buy your tickets.
As expected, open air seating is the most popular. We arrived early and elbowed our way to prime seats. 😉
Waiting to set sail from Eminönü ferry dock, there’s Galata Bridge with Galata Tower in the distance.
And away we go! The crew makes it a point to feed the birds so the passengers can get pretty shots like this.
There’s Dolmabahçe Palace.
Sailing past Ortaköy Mosque
Not sure which port this was but it’s one of four the Full Cruise will dock at before Anadolu Kavağı. The Short Cruise will stop just once to pick up more passengers at Ortaköy.
Approaching Rumelihisarı and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge
Rumelihisarı, also known as Rumelian Castle, is a fortress located in the Sarıyer district of Istanbul.
If I remember correctly, up ahead was Rumeli Kavağı, the second to the last stop on the Full Cruise. It takes about an hour and a half to get from Eminönü to Anadolu Kavağı.
And finally, Anadolu Kavağı! All along the pier are seafood restaurants jockeying for your business.
Arriving just after 12 noon, you’ll have three hours to have lunch and explore before the ferry heads back to Eminönü at 3PM.
There’s my lovely Captain happy to be back on solid ground.
Anadolu Kavağı is a charming seaside town that’s home to a number of restaurants and shops. Though they clearly cater to tourists, they don’t feel very “touristy” if that makes any sense. A very pleasant atmosphere indeed.
We didn’t do it but many people who go on the Full Cruise hike up to Yoros Castle, a medieval fortress perched atop a hill. If you’re in the mood for a hike, then you may be interested in doing that since the castle is said to offer breathtaking views.
As for us, we were done with walking so the only thing on our agenda today was to sample as much fresh seafood as we could.
There are dozens of restaurants to choose from in Anadolu Kavağı, though they all pretty much serve the same things so it doesn’t really matter which one you walk into.
Offering the best views, restaurants by the water seemed the most popular.
We chose Kavak Baba which was the very last restaurant at the end of the street.
A cloudless sunny day, we sat as close as we could to the banks of the Bosphorus to enjoy a lunch of fresh seafood on our last full day in Turkey. Can life get any better than this? ♥
Hamsi — Tasty anchovy fillets in olive oil and spices
Levrek — The freshest grilled sea bass
Midye Izgara — Battered and deep-fried mussels. Can’t believe we’ve never had these anywhere before!
When you fly for food, you learn not to eat too much at one place. This was the perfect example why. Walking out of Kavak Baba just full enough to be content, we immediately spot this balik ekmek stall. Balik ekmek, or “fish bread“, is something I’ve been wanting to try since I first started planning our Turkey itinerary.
Grilling up the mackerel fillets
You can get balik ekmek at the various restaurants and stalls along the Eminönü ferry dock as well.
And there you have it — a freshly grilled mackerel fillet sandwich with onion, lettuce, tomato, and a spritz of lemon.
As you’d expect, we weren’t done yet. With over an hour left before departure time, we stopped at a pastry shop for coffee and this delicious Turkish apple/almond (?) dessert. I don’t know what it’s called (or if it were even made with apples for that matter), but it was delicious.
Neither Ren nor I are big fans of boats but we both enjoyed this cruise tremendously. One and a half hours each way, it’s just long enough to give you great views of Istanbul without being boring. Any longer then it may have started to feel monotonous.
As enjoyable as it was however, the Full Bosphorus Cruise is a whole day affair so not all travelers will have the time to do it. At just two hours from start to end, the Short Cruise may be the more popular option. Just be aware that unlike the Full Cruise, it isn’t available year-round. It’s offered daily only during peak seasons.
We didn’t do the Moonlight Cruise but based on what I’ve read, it’s a magical experience all its own. You leave right before dusk to enjoy the golden light of sunset and stop for dinner in Anadolu Kavağı before heading back. Regardless of which one you take though, a Bosphorus Cruise is a memorable experience and one you shouldn’t miss in Istanbul.
Şehir Hatları, Eminönü, Istanbul, Turkey
Boğaz İskelesi Ferry Dock, Eminönü, Istanbul, Turkey
Tel: +90 212 313 8000
Email: [email protected]
Full Bosphorus Cruise (Roundtrip) — 65TL (Adult) / 32.50TL (Children under 12)
Full Bosphorus Cruise (One-way) — 39TL (Adult) / 16TL (Children under 12)
Short Circle Cruise — 32TL (Adult) / 16TL (Children under 12)
*All tours are free for children under 6.
HOW TO GET THERE:
From Sultanahmet, take the T1 tram to Eminönü station. Walk to the ferry dock and look for the Şehir Hatları ticketing office pictured at the top of this post.
For more Istanbul travel tips, check out our First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Istanbul, Turkey
Saturday 4th of February 2023
Hye. May i know if i should buy the tickets earlier or is it ok to buy the tickets right on the spot?
JB & Renée
Sunday 5th of February 2023
This Tripadvisor thread is helpful.
JB & Renée
Sunday 5th of February 2023
Hi Muhammad, we bought our tickets on the spot. Not sure if you can actually get Sehir Hatlari tickets in advance. The line can get long so it's a good idea to arrive at the ferry dock early. Hope that helps and enjoy your cruise.
Thursday 3rd of June 2021
Finally I have all the answers about the cruise, can we use Istanbul Kart for this ferry? keep writing like this JB, thank you so much 😁😁😁
JB & Renée
Friday 4th of June 2021
Happy you found it useful Berry! Yes, you can use the Istanbul Kart on the Sehir Hatlari ferry. You can refer to their website for pricing. Enjoy!
Monday 16th of September 2019
I used this as a guide for my travel down the Bosphorus and I don't think it could be written any better. The journey to Anadolu Kavaği took less time than expected, leaving me with 2 and a half hours to explore the area and get food. As a young, moderately fit person, I was able to complete the climb to the castle, take in the view, and come back down within about 40 minutes.
During school term times, and going on a Monday meant that Kavak Baba was nearly empty, so I was able to sit right on the Bosphorus, with a better view than the other restaurants. The Levrek & Midye Izgara were good recommendations, and the cheesecake was great as well. Along with a few drinks, it totalled to 80TL without the tip which is amazing for how good the food was.
Overall, it was a great experience and possibly the best thing I have done in Istanbul. Thank you for your help!
JB & Renée
Sunday 22nd of September 2019
That's awesome Bradley! Happy to hear you enjoyed it. It was one of our favorite days in Istanbul as well. Thanks for sharing your experience too. It will be helpful to others. All the best. :)
Wednesday 5th of June 2019
Hi JB, These are fantastic photos of your trip and the ferry is great. I'm not sure if everyone knows this but you can also rent your own boat if you like - great if you're a family or small group wanting more comfort and to do your own thing. Check out Zoe Yacht Cruises at https://www.bosphorusyacht.com who go daily.
JB & Renée
Thursday 6th of June 2019
Thanks for the tip Judy!
Tuesday 9th of October 2018
if we were going to take a private yacht cruise on the Bosphorus, would you suggest Istanbul Bosphorus cruise Tours company, www.bosphorustour.com? any suggestions on that ?
JB & Renée
Friday 12th of October 2018
Thanks for the recommendation Nermine! We may check it out on our next trip to Istanbul. :)