Istanbul public transport: the made-easy guide!

Are you planning on using Istanbul public transport for your Istanbul visit? We’ve already mentioned this in our ‘driving in Turkey’ guide, but – in case you’ve missed it – rest assured that using public transport in Istanbul is a wise choice. The Istanbul metro & tram network is dense, and you can complement it by using buses, boats, and the popular dolmuş. Even if you’re not really on a budget, Istanbul’s public transport network may be the best option. Why? Because traffic in and around the city is congested at virtually every hour of the day. So, taking a cheap taxi isn’t always the fastest method to reach your destination.

In this post, we’ll explain the ins and outs of using public transportation in Istanbul. You’ll also find the information you need on how to buy an Istanbulkart, links to current timetables for lines that are most used by tourists, an Istanbul metro map, and how to use public transport for your Istanbul airport transfer. And don’t worry, we didn’t forget about the nostalgic tram!

Istanbul Public Transport Nostaljik Tramvay

Istanbul public transport Nostaljik Tramvay

Istanbul public transport: the right choice!

Unless you are having serious mobility issues, there are virtually no excuses not to use public transport in Istanbul. Even if you have a general dislike for using stairs, you’ll notice that almost all metro stations have escalators. Check out the major advantages of using public transportation in Istanbul:

    • the price: unless you’re traveling with a large group, the fares with an Istanbulkart are hard to beat
    • time-gain: as mentioned earlier, it is the fastest way to make your way around the city
    • flexibility: even at night you have access to public transportation on Istanbul’s major lines

Of course, there are always exceptions. You may have heavy luggage or an appointment in high heels unsuited for several transits from a tram to a funicular. In that case, a taxi is a good alternative. We’ll discuss the best options in detail below. We do not aim to mention all possible options with this Istanbul public transport guide; instead, we want to give you an overview of the cheapest and fastest way to make your way around the city.

You’ll even explore Istanbul for free with our number one tip: when in the old town, walk!
Walking Is A Great Way To Discover The Quarters Of Istanbul

Walking Is A Great Way To Discover The Quarters Of Istanbul

Istanbul airport transfer by public transport

First things first, upon your arrival, you’ll need to get to Istanbul from the airport. Istanbul has two international airports for passenger flights:

    • Istanbul Airport, or IGA Airport: the new airport in Istanbul that inherited its IATA code ‘IST’ from the old Atatürk Airport
    • Sabiha Gökçen Airport: located on the Asian side of the city with IATA code ‘SAW’

We have a dedicated article on IGA Airport, the new Istanbul Airport with information on how to get to Taksim or Sultanahmet, as well as some other valuable tips to make the most out of your airport transit.

How to get from Istanbul Airport to the city center using public transport?

Currently, you have two options when using public transport to get to and from Istanbul Airport. You can use IETT buses (lines H2, H3 & H4) or HAVAIST shuttles (lines IST1, IST2, IST3, IST7 & IST19).

If you are going to use public transport, please note that HAVAIST shuttles do no longer accept the Istanbulkart as a way of payment. Most other public transport lines in Istanbul only accept the Istanbulkart as a way of payment.
So, before you head to the bus, make sure to find an ATM at the terminal where you can get some Turkish Lira, preferably in small notes (none of the buses accepts foreign currency or credit cards, except for HAVAIST) and buy an Istanbulkart, which is the most flexible and cheapest way to use public transport in Istanbul.

For more information on how to buy an Istanbulkart, see below. To go from IGA to Taksim, take HAVAIST line IST19, and get off at the terminus. For Sultanahmet, take the HAVAIST line IST1, which ends at Yenikapı. From there you can either walk or take a taxi. In the future, there will also be a metro line which is currently under construction.

A follower of our Facebook page pointed out the following if you’re using HAVAIST and you are traveling with luggage: “Whilst I would highly recommend using the HAVAIST bus from the new airport. It is important to note that if you are travelling with luggage you must stipulate which stop you wish to get off at. The luggage for each destination is held in separate compartments and will be placed into the final destination compartment unless you inform otherwise.

For example… The bus for Sultanahmet leaves the new Airport from departure point 17 and travels to Piyalepaşa, Eminönü and Sultanahmet. Make sure your luggage is stored in the correct area of the bus.”

How to get from Sabiha Gökçen Airport to the city center using public transport?

If you’re traveling to either Taksim or Kadıköy, your best option is HAVABUS. You’ll find the HAVABUS shuttles outside the arrivals terminal. HAVABUS is operational from 03:30 am to 01:00 am, so virtually 24h/day. It takes about 1,5h to reach Taksim Square. You need to pay cash on the bus, so make sure to have some Turkish Lira before you board the bus. The ticket price for 2019 is 18TL.

Alternatively, you can use IETT Istanbul public transport buses to and from all destinations below:

    • E3 – 4.Levent or 122H – 4.Levent – Yenişehir
    • E9 – Bostancı
    • E10 – Kadıköy – Kurtköy or E11 – Kadıköy
    • 16S – Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport – Metrobus Uzuncayır
    • KM33 – Pendik YHT – Esenkent Metro or 132H Pendik YHT
    • 130H – Deniz Harp Okulu

If you prefer a visual, below is a map of the public transportation options to and from Sabiha Gökçen Airport. You’ll find the interactive version here.

Istanbul Public Transport Map To And From ©️ Sabiha Gökçen Airport

Istanbul public transport map to & from ©️ Sabiha Gökçen Airport

How to buy an Istanbulkart?

Even if you’re not using HAVAIST to get from Istanbul Airport to the city center, buying an Istanbulkart is the smart thing to do if you intend to use the Istanbul public transport network. An Istanbulkart looks like a credit card, and it is the cheapest and most convenient payment method available for public transportation in Istanbul.

There are several versions of the Istanbulkart, but as a traveler, we recommend you buy the ‘anonymous card’. This non-personalized, pre-paid card can be used by anyone, which means you only need one card for the whole family.

Where to buy an Istanbulkart?

If you’re arriving by plane, our advice is to buy your Istanbulcard at the airport. At Istanbul Airport (IST), you can buy your Istanbulkart from the Biletmatik machines located in 4 different areas. You’ll find the machines by following the route boards at the airport. There are yellow and blue machines. Both of them accept cash (only small Turkish Lira notes, no coins), and the blue machine accepts credit cards as well.

At Sabiha Gökçen Airport, you’ll find a kiosk outside the terminal, across the domestic flight’s exit. The price of an Istanbulkart is 10TL, which includes a 4TL transport credit. It is best to load an additional amount on it before you use it. You can do this using the same machines. There are over 2.000 places throughout the city where you can buy or reload your Istanbulkart. You’ll notice that almost all important transit stops also have a selling/loading point.

How to reload an Istanbulkart?

Reloading an Istanbulkart is easy; look out for the Biletmatik machines at major transit points. You’ll be happy to learn that the instructions on the machines are available in different languages. Also, plenty of small shops or newsstands have this option.

How to use an Istanbulkart?

Once you’ve bought your Istanbulkart and you’ve loaded credit on it, all you have to do is approach the validator device in Istanbul public transport vehicles and swipe your card. At rail stations, Metro bus stations, or at the maritime transport piers, swipe your Istanbulkart at the card reader on the baffle gate. The applicable fee is charged automatically, and you’ll hear a sort of confirmation tone.

To use the same card for several passengers, remove your card and swipe it again. After each swipe, you’ll see the due amount as well as the balance on your card on the card reader screen. Read more about what to do in case of failure on the official Istanbulkart website. (you will need to use Google Translate for this) If the screen reads ‘kontör yetersiz’, it means you’ve got insufficient funds for the ride. No need to panic; just reload some credit on your card, and you’ll be good to go.

Why you need an Istanbulkart

We’ve mentioned it before: An Istanbulkart is the cheapest and most convenient payment method available to use Istanbul public transport. It is:

    • Fast & easy: after buying your Istanbulkart and putting credit on it, you won’t be losing time when on the road. Hop on and off whenever you want, and wave your card in front of the reader. No more waiting for a ticket!
    • One card to ride them all: with an Istanbulkart and you’re able to use it on all means of Istanbul public transport. Roll-on buses, trams, metros, funiculars, and ferries! You can even ride the nostalgic tram with it!
    • Cheap: you’ll save about 40% on public transport costs by using an Istanbulkart. It is also good to know that if you’re transferring from one vehicle to the next within 2h from your previous ride, the price per trip becomes cheaper. Further discounts apply for up to 5 transfers within the 2h period.
    • One card for multiple travelers: you can use one anonymous card for the whole family by removing your card and swiping it again after each person has passed the turnstile.

Know that you cannot pay cash on Istanbul public transportation, yet another reason to opt for an Istanbulkart. And to make you feel completely at ease, the video below shows how to use and buy an Istanbulkart. It is in Turkish, but it is self-explanatory.

Most popular Istanbul public transport lines for tourists

As we said, our aim is not to give you an overview of all Istanbul public transport options and timetables. For a metropole like Istanbul, it would only confuse you. Instead, you’ll find a practical overview of the most common lines used by travelers to get to the cities’ popular sights. If you are viewing this table on a mobile phone, slide the text to the left to see the frequency of each line.

LINE
PLACES OF INTEREST
STOP
TIMETABLE
FREQUENCY
T1 – Tram Grand Bazaar Beyazıt T1 Tram Kabataş – Bağcılar From 06:00 to 00:00 every few minutes
T1 – Tram Blue Mosque – Hagia Sophia – Topkapi – Basilica Cistern Sultanahmet T1 Tram Kabataş – Bağcılar From 06:00 to 00:00 every few minutes
T1 – Tram Train station Sirkeci T1 Tram Kabataş – Bağcılar From 06:00 to 00:00 every few minutes
T1 – Tram Ferry Docks – Egyptian Market or Spice Bazaar Eminönü T1 Tram Kabataş – Bağcılar From 06:00 to 00:00 every few minutes
T1 – Tram Galata Tower Karaköy T1 Tram Kabataş – Bağcılar From 06:00 to 00:00 every few minutes
F2 – Funicular Istiklal Caddesi – Galata Tower Tünel F2 Tünel – Karaköy – Beyoğlu From 07:00 (7:30 on Sundays) to 22:45 every 5 or 7 minutes
M2 – Metro Taksim – Istiklal Caddesi – Galata Tower Taksim M2 Yenikapı – Hacıosman From 05:57 to 00:00 every few minutes
M2 – Metro Nişantaşı Osmanbey M2 Yenikapı – Hacıosman From 05:57 to 00:00 every few minutes
F1 – Funicular Dolmabahçe – Princes’ Islands – Kadıköy Kabataş F1 Taksim – Kabataş From 06:00 to 00:00 every few minutes
M1 – Metro Bus station or otogar Otogar M1a/b Yenikapı – Atatürk Airport/Kirazlı From 06:00 to 00:00 every few minutes

If you’re traveling to other sights in Istanbul, you’ll be happy to learn that Metro Istanbul has a convenient journey planner on their website. Just make sure to use the Turkish place names if you want them to be recognized.

Below, you’ll find the map of all their lines to help to better plan your journey. Click here to download the Istanbul Metro map as a PDF. This Istanbul Metro map includes metro lines, tram lines, funiculars, and cable cars, such as the one to Pierre Lotti Hill.

Istanbul Metro Map

Istanbul Rail System Map ©️ Metro Istanbul

Istanbul public transport – Istanbul Rail System Map ©️ Metro Istanbul

The Nostalgic Tram

Many Istanbul travelers have a ride on the nostalgic tram or ‘Nostaljik Tramvay’ in Turkish on their list. Trams were first used in Istanbul in September 1869. At the time, they were drawn by horses but gradually changed to electric-driven trams. After the historical trams disappeared for a long time, the city now has two operational heritage tramlines: the ‘Nostaljik Tramvay’. You’ll find them on both the European and the Asian side of the city:

    • T2 Tram: Taksim – Tünel Nostaljik Tramvay. This line operates from 07:00 to 21:30, except on Sundays when it starts at 7:35 am.
    • T3 Tram: Kadıköy – Moda Nostaljik Tramvay. This line operates from 07:00 to 21:30, every 10 minutes.

The nostalgic tram is the perfect way to go from point A to point B with the perks of plenty of photo-ops!

Photogenic Nostaljik Tramvay In Istanbul

Photogenic Nostaljik Tramvay In Istanbul

Istanbul public transport at night

New York is the city that never sleeps, but Istanbul keeps the buzz going at night as well. On Fridays and Saturdays, and on national and public holidays, certain metro lines and bus routes in Istanbul are operational for 24 hours. On the lines below, you can catch a metro every 20 minutes from 00:30 to 5:30 am at the double price of the daytime fare. On national and religious holidays, however, Istanbul public transport is free of charge, even at night.

These are the lines that are operational on 24-hour weekend services:

    • M1A/B Yenikapı – Atatürk Airport/Kirazlı
    • M2 Yenikapı – Hacıosman
    • M4 Kadıköy -Tavşantepe
    • M5 Üsküdar – Çekmeköy
    • M6 Levent – Boğaziçi University/Hisarüstü

In addition to these lines, a few ferry lines are also operational at night. This is a new service since March 2020, currently only on selected lines and on Friday and Saturday night. Click here for a link to the Istanbul ferry night routes and timetables. The page is currently only available on the Turkish version of the website. We will update this link as soon as the English version is online.

Below, you’ll find the map of all the night metro lines. Click here to download the night Metro lines map as a PDF.

Istanbul Night Metro Lines Map

Istanbul Night Metro Lines Map ©️ Metro Istanbul

Istanbul public transport – Istanbul Night Metro Lines Map ©️ Metro Istanbul

Istanbul shared taxis or yellow dolmuş

Another convenient and economical way to use public transport in Istanbul at night is to take a yellow dolmuş. These are, in fact, a sort of shared taxi, except that they run on dedicated lines. You’ll recognize them by their dolmuş sign instead of ‘Taksi’. The advantage is that you can get out whenever you want, and, because of the shared fare, you get a cheap ride.

The yellow dolmuş operate 24/7 in Istanbul and usually carry around eight passengers. You pay to the driver, preferably with Turkish Lira coins or small banknotes. You’ll find them all over the city, including on main lines to an from places such as:

    • Kadıkoy
    • Taksim
    • Nişantaşı
    • Şişli
    • Üsküdar
    • Bostancı

Click here for a complete list of yellow dolmuş routes, as well as the fares for each particular route. While these pages are in Turkish, they are easy to understand.

A Bosphorus cruise by public transport

How does that sound? Good, right? Life in Istanbul evolves around the Bosphorus, with the city extended on both sides of the strait. That’s why Istanbul public transport also includes an array of ferry lines, including trips to the Princes’ Islands and even Bosphorus Tours.

You’ll find the different timetables for ferries in Istanbul using the links below:

Click here consult the prices for the regular ferries in Istanbul and use this link to go to the prices for the Bosphorus cruises. You’ll notice that you can even do a moonlight Bosphorus cruise for as little as 20 TL!

Bosphorus Cruises By Public Transport In Istanbul

Bosphorus Cruises By Public Transport In Istanbul

If you have special accessibility needs, you’ll find an overview of accessible travel options on Istanbul public transport on the Metrobus website.

For more practical tips to prepare your trip to Turkey, head over to our Turkey travel resources page. Or check out our new Turkey Trip Planner, a free Turkey travel planning tool.

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Check the weather

Never wonder about the weather in Turkey again. The Turkish climate is as diverse as the country with significant differences between the regions.

This page contains the current weather and weather statistics for all regions in Turkey.

Prepare your trip

How to order a tourist visa for Turkey?

What about public transport?
Can you skip the line at Istanbul Airports?

General Turkey travel information, essential to help prepare your trip, on one page!

LISTS & REVIEWS

Bookmark your favorite places, find other destinations nearby, get directions from your location, and read or leave reviews.

Our Turkey Trip Planner wad designed to do just that. You'll find all our favorite spots in one place, including scenic road stops.

Map of Turkey

Do you like to see things on a map? On our interactive tourist map of Turkey, you'll spot nearby points of interest right away. We've done the heavy lifting for you. Just click on the icons to go to each post.

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Istanbul public transport: the made-easy guide!