Every visitor to Istanbul wants to—and should!—take a Bosphorus cruise on the 32 km (20-mile)-long strait which joins the Sea of Marmara to the south with the Black Sea to the north of Istanbul.

Your cruise can take as little as 25 minutes, or a full day; it may just be transport across the water, or may include sightseeing and lunch.
There are many varieties of Bosphorus cruises:

Intercontinental Ferryboats

In 30 minutes or less, for only a few Turkish liras you can board a ferryboat in Europe at Eminönü, Kabataş or Beşiktaş and cruise across the Bosphorus to Asia: Üsküdar, Harem, Haydarpaşa or Kadıköy. The cruise takes as little as 10 minutes (one-way/single between Kabataş and Üsküdar on a Dentur Avrasya commuter ferry) to 1 hour (round-trip/returnŞehir Hatları or TurYol ferry between the Golden Horn (Eminönü or Karaköy) and the Asian portsof Haydarpaşa or Kadıköy.)
You’ll get to see the domes and minarets of Old Istanbul, Leander’s Tower (Kız Kulesi), the magnificent façade of Dolmabahçe Palace, the sprawling new districts of office towers, and the sweep of the Bosphorus to the north and the Sea of Marmara to the south.
This is the shortest and least expensive kind of Bosphorus cruise. It’s not really a cruise, of course. It’s the short but pleasurable voyage that Istanbul commuters get to experience every day.

Short Bosphorus Cruises
Several companies operate short Bosphorus cruises that take you part way up the Bosphorus and back down. They run frequently in warm weather, so it should be easy to find a date and time that suits your plans.
Dentur Avrasya Hop On – Hop Off
Dentur Avrasya operates 1-hour 40-minute Hop On – Hop Off loop cruises from Kabataş, taking you to the Fatih Bridge about half-way up the Bosphorus and stopping at docks that allow you to visit several Ottoman palaces and interesting sights along the way. You can stay on the boat and finish the cruise in less than two hours, or you can hop off, visit a palace for an hour, then hop on the next ferry to continue your voyage at no additional fare. It’s the most efficient and pleasurable way to combine a Bosphorus cruise with visits to Ottoman palaces!

Şehir Hatları Short Bosphorus Cruise
Traditional Şehir Hatları ferryboats depart the Eminönü docks by the Galata Bridge each afternoon, sail up beyond the Fatih Bridge, turn around and return, taking about 2 hours, for TL10.

Bosphorus private yacht

Don’t let the term “private yacht” scare you. If you have a group of 10 passengers, you can cruise the Bosphorus on a chartered yacht for as little as 38€ per person! 

Efendi Travel, a TurkeyTravelPlanner.compartner, offers a variety of private yachts for charter for private Bosphorus cruises. Most vessels have capacities of at least 10 voyagers, several can host larger groups. Minimum charter time is 2 hours, but longer times are available, as are food and beverage services on board, and the services of a professional guide.

Full Day Bosphorus Cruise

Two companies will take you from the city center all the way to the northern Bosphorus port of Anadolu Kavağı where you can visit the hilltop Byzantine fortress of Yoros Kalesi, enjoy panoramic Bosphorus views, have a pleasant lunch, then return by the same boat to the city center, all in about 5-1/2 hours.

Dentur Avrasya Long Bosphorus Cruise
The Dentur Avrasya cruise departs before noon and takes you from the Kabataş and Beşiktaşdocks all the way to Anadolu Kavağı and return on a modern ferry in 5-1/2 hours for TL20—the best value.

Şehir Hatları Long Bosphorus Cruise
A traditional Şehir Hatları ferryboat departs the Eminönü docks by the Galata Bridge mid-morning and cruises all the way up the Bosphorus to Anadolu Kavağı and return in about 5-1/2 hours for TL25. The bonus here is that you sail on a traditional Istanbul ferryboat.

What you will see:

The most impressive sights are along the southern shores of the Bosphorus, nearest to the city: Topkapı Palace, the mid-Bosphorus Maiden’s Tower (Kız Kulesi), the Selimiye Barracks (where Florence Nightingaleworked), Dolmabahçe Palace, Çirağan Palace, Yıldız Park & Palace, the chic art-boutique-and-café scene in the village of Ortaköy, the pretty Ottoman baroque Mecidiye Mosque, and the Bosphorus Bridge.

Northern Bosphorus
Beyond the Bosphorus Bridge there’s plenty more to see: Beylerbeyi Palace, the village of Çengelköy, Kuleli Naval Academy, Arnavutköy with its photogenic Ottoman yalıs (wooden Bosphorus seaside mansions), Rumeli Hisarı (the mighty Fortress of Europe), the town of Bebek with its pretty bay, and Bosphorus University.
North of the Fatih Bridge, second to be built across the Bosphorus, is Anadolu Hisarı (the Fortress of Anatolia), Küçüksu Kasrı (a fine little rococo palace), the Hıdiv Kasrı (fine Art Nouveau villa built in 1900 for the Khedive of Egypt), the pretty restaurant village of Tarabya, the town of Büyükdere (with its excellent Sadberk Hanım Museum), and Sarıyer (with a fish market and several seafood restaurantson the shore).
Rumeli Kavağı (the farthest northern dock on the European shore of the Bosphorus), and Anadolu Kavağı (the final dock on the Bosphorus cruise-tour) are about 10 km (6 miles) south of the Black Sea, but these docks are as far as the Bosphorus cruises go.
If you take the cruise all the way to the end, you may have to wait three hours at the northern terminus of Anadolu Kavağı for the ferry’s departure for the return to Istanbul. But you can get off the boat in Sarıyer, have lunch, then ride south along the shore.

Some boats do not stop but make a continuous cruise, bringing you back to the Galata Bridge in just over an hour. Dentur Avrasya operates a hop-on hop-off cruise that is among the best ways to see the Bosphorus.

By Tom Brosnahan

Watch the video for a virtual tour of Istanbul

View of Istanbul from the ferry

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