Destination, Schedule and Ticketing Differences
There are companies which operate on inner-city and inter-city lines. Inter-city lines head for places such as the Marmara Islands, Bursa or Bandırma, which are all located outside of Istanbul. For these destinations you need to make (online) reservations, preferably a few hours or a day ahead.
For inner-city lines you don’t need to make reservations. To get on board, you can either buy a token (jeton) or ticket (bilet) from the booth (gişe) at the pier, or use your akbil. The only exception is the Scenic Bosphorus Tour (by Night), for which you can’t use your akbil and need to pay cash to obtain a ticket.
High-speed ferry or sea bus.
Each destination and every type of boat has its own schedule and dock. Moreover, in wintertime (mid September to mid June) and summertime (mid June to mid September) different timetables apply. Timetable booklets are freely available in Turkish and English at all ferry terminals.
Most of the typical tourist destinations are reachable by both type of boats. It’s up to you to decide which craft to use, based on your personal preference. Let me list the pros and consof the two ferry types.
The principal ferry dock on the European side is undoubtedly Eminönü. There are four piers with the destinations clearly written outside, above the boarding hall: Bosphorus (Boğaz), Golden Horn (Haliç), Kadıköy and Üsküdar. Another important dock is located in Kabataş, where you can take a ferry to the Princes’ Islands.
On the Asian side, the main piers are located in Kadıköy (to Beşiktaş, Eminönü, Karaköy and the Princes’ Islands) and in Üsküdar (towards Beşiktaş, Eminönü and Kabataş).
- boats come and go frequently, on average every 20 minutes
- you can sit inside or outside on the deck and enjoy a tea & snacks
- fares are cheap, between TL 1,5 and TL 3 p.p. (Bosphorus tour TL 20)
- they are much slower than the sea buses
Fast Ferries or Sea Buses
Interior of a high-speed sea bus.
The interior of the high-speed catamaran ferries or sea buses resemble aircraft cabins, with long rows of comfortable seats and air-conditioning. The main docks are Bostancı and Kadıköy on the Asian side, and Kabataş, Yenikapı and Bakırköy on the European side. As a tourist, chances are you’ll only use this ferry type to reach the Princes’ Islands from the Kabataş pier.
- much quicker than the conventional ferries
- more comfortable than the conventional ferries
- they are more expensive: TL 4 to 6
- there are only a few departures per day, mostly during commuter hours
- you can’t sit outside on the deck
- they are more sensitive to bad weather conditions
One last but important note: smoking is prohibited on all inner-city ferries, even outside on the deck!