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When I told my colleagues that I was planning on visiting Istanbul, a colleague told me that a Bosphorus River Cruise was a must-do for my itinerary. I visited the city in early March and the city is still quite cold at this time, so I was concerned about the weather being suitable, but our Saturday was quite sunny and mild, so we picked this day as the best one to go and wandered over about lunchtime.
The cruises leave from Eminonu which is by the Galata bridge and Spice Bazaar. There is a tram stop here but it is walking distance from the Sultnahmet district. There are a a few places here and a number of companies touting their cruises. I am sure different companies have other departures but there seemed to be quite a few going at 2.30pm for either 90 mins or two hours. Here is also a good place to get a 'regular' local ferry too. We didn't really have enough time to justify a full day cruise (which, as I understand it, gives you three hours in a touristy village before heading back) for TL25 so we opted for a two hour cruise with Sehir Hatlari lines for TL10 (£3.60). They also do evening cruises.
Part of the reason we chose this company (prices were the same regardless of firm) is that the boats looked bigger and more steady. Some of our party were a bit nervous about the smaller boats and the fact that they were bouncing up and down a bit more. The top areas are outside and here you will get the best views, so if you are travelling out of season, I recommend wrapping up warm. Inside and down a level or two are inside areas and a bar that sells hot drinks and snacks. Toilets are on the lower level and left a lot to be desired so go before you board, if you can. They weren't horrendously dirty, but stank to high heaven.
We started out on the top deck where we managed to get seats, and on one side where we could see the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, and later the Topkapi Palace and on the other the Galata Tower. Once the boat started moving, we ended up walking around and taking photographs. Even though it was out of season the boat was quite busy (I believe it only operates at weekends during the winter). The boat does a round trip and (I think) the right side is the best place to sit if you can, as this side is closer to the shore. Another point of interest is the Dolmabahce Palace, somewhere that we were not planning on visiting. 600m of the palace faces the river so you can see a lot of the building and it looks like it could be worth a visit if you have the time. Just past here the boat docks to allow other passengers on and off at a stop called Ortakoy. From the boat it looked a very pretty area, with a nice square with cafes and restaurants. There is a neo-baroque style mosque here also, but at the time it was hidden behind a lot of scaffolding.
Ortakoy is right by the Bosphorus bridge which makes for some striking photographs. There are no other stops until the boat loops around and comes back to Ortakoy and Eminonu. However it is interesting to look at the building and riverside. The European side is on your left and Asia is on your right. The Asian side at this point is more interesting, with a number of old palaces and buildings such as the Beylerbeyi Palace. Finally you will go under the Fatih Bridge and loop around and return home. At this point (for us) it started to get quite chilly and we retreated inside to the warmth where we enjoyed a sitdown in the warmth.
As advertised, the trip took two hours, and although quite chilly and windy at times, it wasn't rocky and no one felt ill. I do recommend trying to squeeze in a trip if you can, although if you have more time, I think it would be fun to get the 'regular' ferry and get off and explore some of the places further up
If you're in Istanbul for more than a couple of days, a boat trip along the Bosphorus is an essential part of your visit. The Bosphorus is the stretch of water connecting the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, which separates Europe from Asia, and ferries run along it daily - (between once and three times per day, depending on the time of year) - leaving from Eminonu port on the south side of the Golden Horn river, on the European side of the Bosphorus. BOARDING Between December and March, ferries along the Bosphorus only run once per day (departing Eminonu at 10.30am). In April, May, October and November, a second ferry runs at 1.30pm. And, between June and September, a third ferry operates at 11.30am. The ferry leaves from Port 3 at Eminonu, labelled 'Bogaz Hatti'. You should buy your ticket from the ticket booth at the port itself (it should be easy to spot by the large queues of people waiting to buy tickets). When I went on the ferry (in May 2001), the price of a return ticket on the ferry was 2,000,000 Turkish lira (about £1.30). Given the instability of the Turkish currency, don't expect the price in lira to be the same when you travel - when I went, the price quoted on the ticket had been altered from 1,800,000 lira with a biro! Avoid the many touts who will attempt to sell you tickets for the ferry, charging several times the price quoted on the tickets, for identical tickets to the ones you can queue for. Tickets are hardly in short supply, despite what the touts will try to tell you, so you should have no problems getting hold of one by queuing. If you want to guarantee getting a good seat for the trip, it's as well to get to the port about 30 minutes, or more, before the ferry's departure. However, you will not be allowed on the ferry until just a few minutes before the departure time - instead you have to wait in a large holding room on the other side of the ticket barriers before you ca
n board the boat. This holding room gets increasingly crowded with passengers as the departure time approaches, so it's best to get there early, so that you can stand near the large sliding doors that are opened when the boat is ready for boarding. The ticket itself has two parts, and is good for two journeys on the ferry. So, if you decide to disembark at one of the stops en route, and get the next ferry north, you will need to buy an additional ticket. WHERE TO SIT The main thing that people seem to go on the ferry for is to get that all-important shot of the southwestern peninsula of Istanbul from the Bosphorus, which has an impressive minaret-filled skyline. For this reason, you tend to find that the stern of the boat (particularly the outside areas) fills up most rapidly, on the northbound portion of the trip. Interestingly, people seem to have forgotten about this when it comes to the return journey, when the bow end offers the best views of the Istanbul skyline. The boats have two decks. The lower deck doesn't have so much public seating on it, although there are rows of seats along the outer sides of the boat, which give nicely unobstructed views of the banks of the Bosphorus, though there's not a lot of space to get past people if you choose to sit there - so you'd better be prepared to sit more-or-less still for the whole journey. The upper deck is mainly enclosed, with a small open area at the stern of the boat. The enclosed area has pretty filthy windows, which make taking pictures through them slightly problematic. Usually, during the course of the journey, people move around quite a lot on the boat, so if you want to get a photo of a building that you pass en route, you can usually find a nice, unobstructed place to get your photo. VENDORS During the course of the trip, vendors (either independent, or working for the boat itself) will wander up and down the boat, at
tempting to sell you things you really don't want at excessive prices. The boat's employees tend to sell food and drink, whereas independent sellers try to sell you rip-off La Coste sweatshirts and fake Rolex watches. Of course, if that happens to be what you want to buy, then this'll be a really handy feature of the trip. However, I don't think many of the tourists going on the trip actually want to buy fake merchandise at higher prices than they could get the same naff rip-offs in the twisting bazaars of Istanbul! THE TRIP ITSELF - EMINONU As the ferry pulls out from Eminonu, you get what is unquestionably a superb view back of the southwestern peninsula of Istanbul, looking out at the Topkapi Palace, Haghia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the New Mosque and the Suleymaniye Mosque. As the boat leaves the Golden Horn, and begins heading up the Bosphorus, you can look back at Leander's Tower, a small tower surrounded by water, as featured in the James Bond film 'The World Is Not Enough'. The ferry doesn't pass particularly close to the tower, but you should still be able to pick it out, if you look back as the boat heads north. As the boat heads into the Bosphorus, you'll notice the sprawling tall buildings of the city's northward expansion on the western (European side). The first building of any note that you pass is the Dolmabahce Palace on the European side - an enormous 19th century palace, which was where Ataturk died. Just after passing the Palace, the boat makes its first stop - Pasha. - PASHA After stopping at Pasha, the boat continues the Bosphorus, passing the attractive little Mecidiye Mosque on the west side, just before passing under the mammoth Bosphorus Bridge - the first bridge built across the straits, and the world's sixth largest suspension bridge. On the east side, just after the bridge is Beylerbeyi Palace, a peculiar set of buildings, reminiscent of the
Brighton Pavilion. A little way further up the Bosphorus, you pass a small island covered in Astroturf football pitches - this is the training ground of Galatasaray, one of Istanbul's football teams. The next stretch of the Bosphorus after that is the narrowest section. Here, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge crosses the straits, and the remains of the Fortresses of Europe and Asia can be seen on the west and east sides of the Bosphorus respectively. The Fortress of Asia is the older of the two, constructed in the late fourteen century just before the failed Ottoman siege of Constantinople. The Fortress of Europe was built in the mid-fifteenth century, by Mehmet II, just before his successful invasion of Constantinople. The next stop, on the Asian side of the strait, is Kanlica. - KANLICA Kanlica is an attractive little village, and is a nice place to get off and explore, if you want to wander off and get the next ferry. There is a small mosque here, built by the architect Sinan, who designed many of the city's best known mosques. The town is also well known for its yoghurt, which is sold at a small café next to the ferry stop. The next stop is just a short way up the Bosphorus, and on the European side. - YENIKOY Yenikoy is a small town, with a series of attractive nineteenth-century villas looking out onto the Bosphorus. From here north along the straits can be seen some really impressive villas (or yalis) along the shores of the Bosphorus, many of which were built to serve as summer residences for the richer inhabitants of Istanbul. On the stretch of Bosphorus up to the next stop, the boat passes the Turkish president's impressive summer residence, Huber Koshku, as well as the attractive Tarabya Bay. The next stop on the Bosphorus trip I went on was Buyukdere, and not Sariyer (as suggested by most guidebooks), on the European side. - BUYUKDERE Buyukdere is
another attractive town filled with attractive yalis bordering the banks of the Bosphorus. Many tourists on organised trips disembark here, to get on coaches to take them to other tourist attractions. From Buyukdere, the boat sets off across the Bosphorus to its final port of call, the Asian village of Anadolu Kavagi. - ANADOLU KAVAGI The boat arrives at this last port approximately an hour and a half after leaving Eminonu, and stays here for about three hours before heading back. This gives tourists plenty of time to have a meal in one of the village's many fish restaurants, and to walk up to the Genoese Castle, a fourteenth-century Byzantine fortress overlooking the straits. There isn't a great deal to do in Anadolu Kavagi, though the walk up to the Genoese Castle is well worth the effort. It's about a thirty-minute walk up to the castle, most of it at a distressingly steep angle (about 1 in 5). There's a small café about twenty minutes up the hill, which is great if you set off a little too enthusiastically and run out of steam, however, they do charge a lot for their drinks (compared to other places in the area)! When you get to the Castle, you can't help but be impressed by the view, however you will, no doubt, be less impressed by the incredible amount of litter scattered over the top of the hill. There are no bins here, nor any lavatories, and the inside of the ruined castle has suffered badly, apparently having served as both to thousands of tourists in recent years. Also, the Turks seem to have felt the need to send electricity cables across the Bosphorus just a little way south of Anadolu Kavagi, supported by huge pylons on either side of the straits, considerably marring what would otherwise be an outstanding view. THE JOURNEY BACK The journey back takes slightly less time than the journey north up the Bosphorus, and stops at the same places en route. CONC
LUSIONS The Bosphorus trip is well worth embarking on if you're staying in Istanbul for more than a couple of days. The shore-side yalis are particularly elegant, and some of the palaces you pass along the straits are very attractive. The skyline of the southwestern peninsula of the city is very impressive from the ferry, either coming into Eminonu at the end of the trip, or as you leave. The view back along the straits from the Genoese castle at the north end of the Bosphorus trip is impressive, though not as attractive as it would be, were it not for the electrical cables running across the view. It is also a shame that so many tourists have treated the area around the castle with so little respect - though part of the blame for this must be levelled at the lack of bins or toilets at such a popular tourist destination. The trip itself is also remarkably cheap at about £1.30 for a three-hour round trip, though the ferries are usually incredibly crowded. Virtually all of the passengers on the ferries are tourists, so if you're hoping to get the chance to chat to locals, and get more of a feel for the "real" Istanbul, you almost certainly won't get it here.
A strait, south-eastern Europe and south-western Asia, connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara and separating Turkey in Asia from Turkey in Europe.