Are you looking for the best way to experience Istanbul’s magnificent Bosphorus Strait? This handcrafted guide to the best Bosphorus cruise tours was tailor-made just for you!
Welcome to Istanbul, the heart of Turkey and a city full of history, culture, and breathtaking views. If you’re seeking to explore the magnificent city of Istanbul from a different perspective, then you’re in for a treat.
The Bosphorus Strait is the heart of Istanbul, dividing the city into two continents—Asia and Europe. With its stunning scenery, historical landmarks, and cultural richness, a Bosphorus cruise tour is a must-try experience for every traveler.
Lori and I are thrilled to introduce you to what we believe are the best choices for embarking on this journey of a lifetime in 2023, in our detailed guide covering tours to suit every budget.
From romantic sunset tours to luxurious dinner cruises, Istanbul offers a wide range of options to choose from.
Read on for the full scoop, including helpful first-hand tips for making your day trip truly unforgettable.
Can’t wait to dive in? Here’s a quick look at our top tour selections to jump-start your travel planning!
- ** OUR TOP PICK ** Bosphorus Strait + Black Sea Day Cruise (10 hrs)
- SUNSET CRUISE ▸ Bosphorus Sunset Cruise on Luxury Yacht (2.5 hrs)
- FOOD TOUR ▸ Taste of Two Continents Tour + Bosphorus (6-7 hrs)
- CITY TOUR ▸ Istanbul Must-See Tour + Bosphorus Cruise (8-9 hrs)
- PRIVATE CRUISE ▸ Private Bosphorus Cruise on Luxury Yacht (2 hrs)
- SHORT CRUISE ▸ Short Circle Bosphorus Cruise (2.5 hrs Morning/Afternoon)
- Plus helpful tips for taking the Sehir Hatlari public ferry cruise.
Still undecided? Keep reading for helpful information on our these top-rated tours, plus all sorts of travel tips for making the most of this bucket list experience.
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Why Cruise the Bosphorus?
Visitors come from across the globe to experience a bucket list cruise like none other, spanning continents and millennia.
The Bosphorus is a scenic and historic waterway separating Europe and Asia, as well as the historic heart of the ancient city of Istanbul.
The Strait stretches 17 nautical miles from the Sea of Marmara in the south, to the Black Sea in the north.
In addition to its natural beauty, the strait is acclaimed for its concentration of Byzantine and Ottoman historic sites, as well as the breathtaking views of the city of Istanbul.
There are now three enormous bridges spanning the Bosphorus strait connecting the continents of Europe and Asia – the 15 July Martyrs Bridge (1973), Fatih Sultan Mehmet (1988), and Yavuz Sultan Selim (2016).
Simply put, cruising the Bosphorus Strait is an unforgettable experience of a lifetime!
Keep reading for our top Bosphorus Cruise recommendations for 2023.
Top-Rated Bosphorus Cruise Tours to Book Online in 2023
There are so many Bosphorus Cruise tours operating these days, it’s hard to know which to choose. If we were booking an Istanbul Bosphorus cruise right now, this would be our short list.
➊ Full Day Bosphorus + Black Sea Cruise
** OUR TOP PICK ** 10-hour Bosphorus Strait AND Black Sea Day Cruise ⏤ Looking for the ultimate Bosphorus Cruise day trip from Istanbul? This is it!
Includes delicious Mediterranean lunch, onboard guide, and stops at Rumeli Fortress, Ortakoy, Kucuksu Pavilion, Buyuk Mecidiye Cami.
- Full Day Bosphorus + Black Sea tour
- Lunch included
- Group tour (40 max)
- Onboard guide
- Tour by IBO Cruise
- 4.5/5 rating (163 reviews) on TripAdvisor
- From US$101 per passenger
➋ Luxury Sunset Cruise
2.5-hour Bosphorus Sunset Cruise on Luxury Yacht ⏤ Experience the Bosphorus in style on this unforgettable luxury sunset tour featuring onboard guide and complimentary drinks and canapés.
- 2.5-hour cruise on luxury yacht
- Drinks & canapés included
- Small group tour
- Onboard guide
- Tour by Bosphorus Cruise Tours Istanbul
- 5/5 rating (986 reviews) on TripAdvisor
- From US$68 per passenger
➌ Taste of Two Continents Tour
6.5-hour Istanbul Food Tour with Bosphorus Cruise ⏤ Discover the flavors and delicacies of the European and Asian sides of Istanbul in this one-of-a-kind food and boat tour.
- 6 to 7-hour tour, crossing the Bosphorus twice by ferry
- Multiple tastings at 9 eateries
- Small group tour (10 max)
- Tour guide
- Tour by Yummy Istanbul
- 5/5 rating (1,311 reviews) on TripAdvisor
- From US$125 per traveler
➍ Istanbul Must-See Tour + Bosphorus Cruise
8.5-hour Istanbul Must-See Tour and Bosphorus Cruise ⏤ Experience the best of Istanbul with your expert guide on this small group tour. Tour visit top attractions such as Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, and Spice Market⏤culminating in a 90-minute guided tour of the Bosphorus Strait by public ferry.
- 8 to 9-hour city tour with guided public ferry cruise on the Bosphorus
- Small group tour (15 max)
- Tour guide
- Tour by Lütfullah FINDIKOĞLU
- 5/5 rating (106 reviews) on TripAdvisor
- From US$85 per traveler
LOOKING FOR A PRIVATE TOUR? ▸ Check out this 7-hour Istanbul Classics Private Tour with Bosphorus Cruise.
➎ Private Luxury Yacht Cruise on the Bosphorus
2-hour Private Luxury Yacht Cruise on the Bosphorus ⏤ Cruise the Bosphorus Strait in style on your own private luxury yacht tour (room for up to 10 passengers). Perfect for families, couples, and groups celebrating a special occasion or travelers who simply want to take their Istanbul experience to the next level.
- 2-hour Bosphorus cruise on private luxury yacht
- Private Tour
- Tour by Tour Book Turkey
- 5/5 rating (50 reviews) on TripAdvisor
- From US$453 per group (up to 10)
➏ Bosphorus Short Circle Cruise – Morning or Afternoon
2.5-hour Bosphorus Short Circle Cruise ⏤ The perfect options for travelers short on time in Istanbul! Choose from a range of sailing times to fit your schedule and enjoy the highlights of the Bosphorus with an experienced guide.
- 2.5-hour Bosphorus cruise
- Morning and afternoon sailing times to choose from
- Group Tour (40 max)
- Tour by Bosphorus Cruise Tours Istanbul
- 5/5 rating (792 reviews) on TripAdvisor
- From US$56 per passenger
➐ Bosphorus Cruise on a Budget
6-hr Sehir Hatlari Bosphorus Tours ⏤ There are numerous options for doing a Bosphorus cruise in Istanbul. But if you’re on a shoestring budget or just like to travel in a more independent fashion, Istanbul’s own Sehir Hatlari public ferry is worth considering.
Read on for our detailed guide on taking the Sehir Hatlari Bosphorus Cruise, plus what to expect.
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How to Take the Sehir Hatlari Bosphorus Cruise / Public Ferry
A Bosphorus cruise in Istanbul was near the top of our list of things to see and do in this amazing city, and we wholeheartedly recommend putting it at the top of yours too!
Lori and I initially thought taking a cruise up this legendary waterway might be outside of our budget. As you’ve seen already, there are top-rated tours on offer to suit every budget, from luxury sunset cruises to DIY public ferry options (which we’ll cover in this section).
Not only did our 6-hour Bosphorus cruise trip come in under budget, it quickly became one of the highlights of our time in Istanbul!
Here, we’re going to break down the process and offer up some tips for getting the most out of your budget Bosphorus cruise.
Istanbul’s inner-city/domestic public ferry lines are NOT the same as the Bosphorus cruise lines. Unless you want to compete for space with Istanbul’s millions of commuters (and see very little in the process), you’re far better off taking the public ferry lines clearly marked as “Bosphorus Tours”. More on that below.
Tours & Costs
There are two Bosphorus Tour ferry options: Long Bosphorus Tour (6 hours) and Short Bosphorus Tour (2 hours).
Up until recently the Long Bosphorus Tour was known as the “Full Circle”, and the Short Bosphorus Tour was known as the “Short Circle”. This guide will use the new terminology moving forward.
As of July 2023, the Long Tour (round trip) tickets cost 65 TL (US$2.50) for adults and 32,50 TL (US$1.25) for children under 12. One-way tickets cost 39 TL (US$1.50) and 16 TL (US$0.60) for children.
Short Tour tickets cost 32 TL (US$1.25) for adults and 16 TL (US$0.60) for children under 12.
The Moonlight Tour costs 52 TL (US$2.00) and only operates in the summer months.
Admission is free for children under the age of 6 for all cruises.
We opted for the Full Circle / Long Tour, which takes about six hours round trip including a couple of hours in the middle to enjoy the northernmost stop at Anadolu Kavagi Village.
The boat has a small snack bar and restrooms, but a lot of passengers brought on their own snacks.
There are a number of good restaurants, shops, and other amenities in Anadolu Kavagi for those who are taking the Long Tour.
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Be sure to grab an audio guide at the ticket booth when you buy your tickets.
It adds excellent context to the cruise and tells you a bit about the many highlights along the route.
Where to Buy Tickets & Board
To take the Sehir Hatlari Bosphorus Tour public ferry service, head to the Galata bridge.
From the Eminonu (Old City) side, don’t cross the bridge, but walk to the right of it and follow the signs for Sehir Hatlari.
The office is adjacent to the Red Hop-on Hop-off Bus ticket office.
We heard that the ticket office opened at 10am. We arrived 30 minutes beforehand and there was already a line (midweek in August).
They opened a bit early and we managed to snag a window seat on the port-side since the ferry hugs the left-hand shore (Europe on the way out, and Asia for most of the return trip).
However, we quickly realized the outside benches at the stern (back) of the ferry might just be the best seats on the boat on a nice day, which is where we ultimately ended up.
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Bosphorus Tour vs. Public Ferry
Which begs the question, “Which Bosphorus cruise options should you choose?”
If you are traveling on a tight budget, the Sehir Hatlari Bosphorus Cruise may seem like the obvious choice at its low ticket price. For comparison, other cruise options (not public ferries) cost anywhere from US$20 to over US$100 (see our top picks, above).
There are many advantages to paying the extra and booking a Bosphorus tour over the public ferry, such as smaller group sizes, gourmet Turkish meals, onboard guide in your language, onboard entertainment, more comfortable seating, better views of the landmarks, and seeing 6-hours worth of sights in a much shorter time frame.
On the other hand, for those who like to figure out the details themselves, aren’t fussy about seating, and are willing to devote the better part of a day to the experience, the Sehir Hatlari Bosphorus Cruise public ferry option can’t be beat for the price.
🔥 HOT TIP 🔥
If you’re thinking of doing an Istanbul city tour with a local guide, many of the best city tours include a Bosphorus cruise as part of the package. We highly recommend reading up on the various options before you book your Bosphorus cruise tickets separately.
Bosphorus Cruise — What to Expect
We were traveling on a limited budget with time on our hands, so decided to take a chance on the Sehir Hatlari public ferry option.
Here’s our own personal experience, which will give you a general idea of the route (and some of the sights you’re likely to see along the way), regardless of which company you decide to go with.
The Sehir Hatlari Bosphorus Cruise boat left Eminonu on the Golden Horn, right in the heart of the city. Leaving the Old City, the ferry passed a number of historic sights and points of interest.
As mentioned above, Lori and I rented an audio guide that was available at the ticket booth, which offered information about various points of interest along the way.
Here are just a few of the many highlights you’ll see along the way:
Dolmabahçe Palace (Sultan’s Palace), now a museum.
Ortaköy Mosque, built in 1856.
The First Bosphorus Bridge (15 July Martyrs Bridge) was completed in 1973, and as the name might imply, was the first bridge to connect Europe and Asia.
Rumeli Fortress, built by the Ottomans in 1452.
Halfway Stopover — Anadolu Kavagi Village
After about 90 minutes on the water (including a few stops along the way) we reached the farthest stop north: the village of Anadolu Kavagi.
Our ferry docked here for a few hours — more than enough time to grab lunch, do a little hike, and poke around the village.
Getting around Anadolu Kavagi and finding the path to Yoros Fort can be a bit confusing. So, we’ve included a map to help you find your way around.
From the ferry pier, you can hike up to a Yoros Kalesi (Yoros Castle), a small fortification with a commanding view of the Bosphorus and the shores of the Black Sea.
Looking north, were also able to spot the Third Bosphorus Bridge spanning Europe and Asia, and the Black Sea, beyond.
There are a number of restaurants and cafes near the pier and throughout the village, but we opted for Yoros Cafe near the fort, which came highly recommended and offered a stunning view of our route (not to be confused with Yoros Kale Kafe).
We were not disappointed with the food or the scenery.
The village was interesting enough to take a walkabout, but we were glad we took the extra time to hike up to Yoros Castle and have lunch with a view. We were able to comfortably achieve all of this in the layover time.
On the cruise back to Emononu pier in Istanbul, we hugged the Asia side with a few quick stops to let local passengers on and off.
Overall, we were pretty impressed with the amenities offered by a public ferry for the price. We found the Sehir Hatlari Bosphorus Cruise to be clean and well-organized, certainly for the cost of admission.
Lori and I particularly enjoyed riding along with a mix of people – locals and tourists – which was a fun part of the experience for us.
We also felt that the amount of time (six hours round trip with a few hours stop for lunch) was perfect for us as well, particularly since we had absolutely nothing else planned for today.
All in all, we were quite pleased with the experience. Whether it be a full-service day tour or public ferry option, we strongly recommend a Bosphorus cruise to anyone visiting Istanbul.
Have you taken an Istanbul Bosphorus Cruise?
Which type of cruise did you opt for? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured image credit: Ibrahim Uzun on Unsplash