Taking A Bosphorus Cruise Tour in Istanbul

Taking a Bosphorus Cruise in Istanbul

Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait is a channel of water 31 km long (appr. 20 miles), connecting the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea and making it a fascinating place to take a Bosphorus tour.

As the traffic of the city is often too great, it is always advisable to use the sea for transportation where possible, having long served just such a purpose throughout history. In the past, inhabitants of the city settled along the Bosphorus, where they built magnificent wooden houses and mansions, known as ‘yali’.

Many Bosphorus cruise tours of the strait begin in Eminonu or Kabatas, there being a few ways of doing it:

bosphorus tour cruise
Beautiful ‘yalı’ mansions on the Asian Side by the bridge as seen from a Bosphorus tour

Which Bosphorus Boat To Take?

(1) By Public Ferry:

The first option for a Bosphorus cruise is to get on the public passenger ferry of the municipality, which departs from the main quay and has two departures during the day all year round or three during the summer. The public passenger boat serves those who live on the Bosphorus shore and so it stops 6 times on the way for people to get on or off, taking you as far as Anadolu Kavagi at the gate of the Black Sea, about a one and a half hour journey each-way.

Positives are it is the most economical way of visiting the waterway, tea and basic snacks are available. Negatives are that there’s no guarantee of finding a seat or good viewing position in these crowded boats and there is a limited route and time. Suggested Bosphorus tour by public ferry here.

(2) By Passenger Boats:

These are medium size passenger boats which do short tours of the Bosphorus and often offer similar routes to the ferries. They tend to be very crowded and wait until they are quite full before leaving.

Positives are it’s economical and some tea and snacks are available on board. Negatives are seating is usually made up of straight-back wooden-railed benches which unfortunately are not very comfortable.

(3) By Private Boat – Rent A Yacht:

The third option of hiring your own private yacht or boat is the only alternative if you wish to relax in comfort, and with good services and facilities. This is a great way to enjoy the scenery, particularly if you are part of a small group of friends, couple or family.

Turkish families and friends are very fond of this idea too and usually book up the small yachts for a few hours or the day on the Bosphorus and islands particularly at weekends and summer.

Positives are comfort, privacy, great service with food and alcoholic beverages, a custom cruise any time you like and free pick up from your hotel. Negatives are the higher cost of boat rental.

Companies to rent a boat from:

Before Your Bosphorus Tour:

Before the boat tour, why not visit the Spice Market just across the road? Depending on the time you can also visit the Rustem Pasha Mosque, a most elegant mosque built in the 16th century, a little further away from the Spice Market.

What You’ll See During a Full Bosphorus Cruise

A typical starting point is Kabatas or Eminonu near the junction of the Golden Horn and the starting point of the Bosphorus. As the boat leaves, you will have a great view of the old city peninsula with Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofya and Suleymaniye Mosque all rising from the hill in full splendor.

A ferry and seagulls near the old city
A ferry and seagulls near the old city

As you head towards the first part on the European side, you will see the second residence of the Ottoman sultans, called Dolmabahce Palace, built in 1849 by the Balyan brothers.

The boat will stay close to the European side for some time and you will pass one of the other works of the Balyan brothers – Ciragan Palace.

After that, you will pass by the village of Ortakoy, which plays an important role in the summer nightlife of Istanbul. It has many water-side restaurants, bars and cafes. It is also an area supporting three religions – having a church, a mosque and a synagogue.

Once you pass under the first Bosphorus bridge, built in 1973, you will see two stylish outdoor night clubs on the European side, with Beylerbeyi Palace on the opposite Asian side.

Maiden's Tower and the first Bosphorus Bridge
Gulls, Maiden’s Tower and the 1st Bosphorus Bridge

Soon you will approach an artificial island in the middle of the sea, named Galatasaray Island, built for the sports team by that name.

Looking to the Asian side, you will see a massive building with two towers – the military high school of Kuleli, built in 1861. Continuing on, a great fortress on the European side – Rumeli Fortress, greets the eye. It was built in 1452 by the Ottoman Turks to launch an attack on the Byzantines for control of the city.

On the Asian side, there is another smaller fort, built half a century ago. Nearby is another small palace, again the work of the Balyan Brothers, called Kucuksu Palace, the hunting palace of the sultans.

After you pass the second Bosphorus bridge, built in 1988, there are mostly private residences and yalis on the banks. Many of these are very ornate and in attractive colors.

The boat tour will usually pass Kanlica (Asian side), Yenikoy and Buyukdere, before you reach the end point of the trip – Anadolu Kavagi village.

If you’re on the ferry or a private yacht to Anadolu Kavagi, here you can get off at the village (for a break of about 1,5 hours before the boat returns). You can enjoy something to eat in a cozy fish restaurant and go up the hill to see the medieval Genoese fortification, from where you can enjoy a fantastic view over the zig zagging Bosphorus strait, the entrance to the Black Sea and the third Bosphorus Bridge in the distance.

On the return, get off at Eminonu or Kabatas again, or disembark at another quay if it takes your interest.

Bosphorus Cruises & Boat Tours by ferry, private boat or yacht

Zoe Yacht, Istanbul
Bosphorus Cruise and Private yacht rental