A Bosphorus cruise in Istanbul was near the top of things we definitely wanted to do during our visit to this amazing city.
Yet, we initially thought doing a cruise on the legendary waterway was out of our budget.
Not so! On our last full day in Turkey, we decided to follow the recommendation of a friend and were so glad we did.
Not only did our six-hour Bosphorus cruise trip come in way under budget, it was one of the top highlights of our visit to Istanbul.
Here’s our step-by-step guide to doing an Istanbul Bosphorus cruise on the cheap, with tips on finding the best deal on slightly more upmarket options as well.
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Bosphorus Cruise in Istanbul: Detailed Guide to Doing it on the Cheap
What is the Bosphorus?
The Bosphorus is the waterway separating the European and Asian sides of the sprawling city of Istanbul. The strait stretches 17 nautical miles from the Sea of Marmara in the south, to the Black Sea in the north.
There are two bridges over the Bosphorus connecting the two continents of Europe and Asia, with a third bridge under construction at the most of the Black Sea.
Best Budget Bosphorus Cruise
There are countless options for doing a Bosphorus cruise in Istanbul. But if you’re on a budget (like we were), or just like to travel on the cheap, there are two words you definitely need to know: Sehir Hatlari.
On the recommendation of a local friend, and buoyed by numerous positive online reviews, we decided to try it out.
As far as DIY adventures go, putting together this day trip was fairly easy and straightforward, but could be a bit confusing if you don’t know what to look for.
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.
How to Take the Sehir Hatlari Bosphorus Cruise / Public Ferry
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.
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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.
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.
Tours & Costs
There are two Bosphorus Tour ferry options: Full Circle (6 hours) and Short Circle (2 hours).
As of January 2021, Full Circle (round trip) tickets cost 25 TL (US$3.35) for adults and 15 TL (US$2) for children under 12. One-way tickets cost 12,50 (US$1.68) TL and 6 TL (US$0.80) for children.
Short Circle tickets cost 12 TL (US$1.60) for adults and 6 TL (US$0.80) for children under 12.
For the most up to date info on ticket prices, visit Sehir Hatlari’s official website.
We opted for the Full Circle, which takes about six hours round trip including a couple of hours in the middle to enjoy the northernmost stop.
For comparison, other cruise options (not public ferries) can cost upwards of US$70.
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 at the turn-around point, Anadolu Kavagi, for those who are taking the Full Circle cruise.
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 (Outbound)
The ferry left Eminonu on the Golden Horn, right in the heart of the city (take note of the restaurants under the bridge — one of Eminonu’s popular attractions).
Leaving the Old City, the ferry passed a number of historic sights and points of interest.
As mentioned about, Lori and I rented an audio guide that was available at the ticket booth, which gave information about various points of interest along the way.
Here are few of the highlights:
Galata, and the Galata Tower.
Dolmabahçe Mosque, an Ottoman Mosque completed in 1853.
Dolmabahçe Palace (Sultan’s Palace), now a museum.
Ortaköy Mosque, built in 1856.
The First Bosphorus Bridge was built in 1970, and as the name might imply, was the first bridge to connect Europe and Asia.
Looks like it’s gonna be a close squeeze…
Rumeli Fortress, built by the Ottomans in 1452.
The Second Bosphorus Bridge.
Halfway Stopover — Anadolu Kavagi Village
After about 90 minutes on the water, with a few stops in between, we reached the last stop before turning back for Istanbul: 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 was a bit confusing, so we’ve included a helpful map including the location of Yoros Fort, a popular hike from the village.
From the ferry pier, you can hike up to a Yoros Kalesi (Yoros Fort), a small fortification with a commanding view of the Bosphorus and the shores of the Black Sea.
Looking north, we could see the construction of a third bridge spanning Europe and Asia currently under construction. Beyond the bridge, the Black Sea.
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.
Back in the village, Lori found this very large residence painted in her favorite new color: Turkish Flag Red.
Moments later, a wedding procession cut through the narrow streets of the village, with the bride and groom stopping to chat with a friend along the way. No rush.
The village was interesting enough to take a walkabout, but we were glad we took the extra time to hike up to the Yoros castle and have lunch with a view. We were able to comfortably achieve all of this in the layover time.
Bosphorus Cruise — What to Expect (Inbound / Return Trip)
On the way back to Emononu pier in Istanbul, we hugged the Asia side with a few quick stops to let local passengers off and on along the way.
On our way back into the harbor, a sun beam dramatically lit the Maiden’s Tour on the Asian side of Istanbul.
That evening, we enjoyed a perfect late-August evening in Istanbul, including a delicious meatball kebab dinner at Pasazade. Tomorrow, we hike the Land Walls!
The Verdict — Sehir Hatlari Bosphorus Cruise
Overall, we were pretty impressed with the amenities offered by a public ferry for the price, and certainly wouldn’t have paid the additional to take a private cruise, in hindsight.
We really enjoyed riding along with a mix of people, locals and tourists, which was a big part of the experience.
The amount of time (six hours round trip with a few hours stop for lunch) was perfect.
Lastly, we are so glad we budgeted time in our Istanbul visit to do the Full Circle Bosphorus cruise.
Upgrading Your Bosphorus Adventure
Looking to get a little more out of your Istanbul Bosphorus Cruise?
We’re big proponents of DIY travel. With that said, you might want to consider the tour route if you are visiting Istanbul on a tight schedule, wanting shuttle service from your hotel, have limited mobility, are thinking about doing an Istanbul city tour (they often include a Bosphorus cruise), traveling with young children, or celebrating a special occasion.
If we were to do an Bosphorus cruise on our next visit to Istanbul, this is definitely the route we’d take.
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Have you taken an Istanbul Bosphorus Cruise?
What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.
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