‘Bosphorus, Bosphorus!’ they cry repeatedly. Take even a brief stroll up the docks in Istanbul and you will be approached by multiple people trying to sell you tickets for a boat tour of the Bosphorus. Don’t agree! We did, but I’m here to tell you there is a better way.
These tickets will range in price depending on your bargaining power (we got ours for around €15 each – I’m not sure how this compares to average but I’d wager ‘badly’). In exchange for our money were first driven up the dock maybe a mile and put onto a boat, where we then went on to wait a further half an hour while another car or two were driven down to the main dock area to pick up more tourists. Since the boat doesn’t leave till it’s full, if you are first on you’ll be in for a wait. We were actually one of the last groups to get on board, so I can only imagine how long the first party had been sat there for. The tour itself was good, it lasted for around 90 minutes and covered a large part of the river with some brilliant views. I couldn’t knock that at all.
The reason I say don’t go for the boat tours is simple, there is a better, cheaper option! What’s not to love there? The main area of the docks is home to a few huge ferry ports which take you between central Istanbul, the Asian side of town and the Princes’ Islands. Plenty of locals commute on these ferries, and as a tourist it is your best/only way to travel between the different parts of Istanbul. We ended up catching a few during our week in the city, and I loved them! Not only are they super cheap, at around 1.5-3 lira (that’s roughly 40-80p!) but they also have some wonderful quirks. These are my favourite things about the Istanbul ferries:
Tea in Turkey is not just a drink, it’s a way of life. There is nowhere in Istanbul (that we ever found), where you were ever more than 5 meters away from the opportunity to drink tea – a bit like London and rats, apparently. Right in the middle of the Bosphorus on a large public transport ferry might be just the place where you’d expect to not have access to a decent brew you might think, but no. Çay sellers were always wandering around selling tea for 1 lira, in the same small glass cups & saucers that you can expect to drink from everywhere else, which somehow felt more decadent in this unusual setting. I’ve never had a bad cup of tea in Turkey, and this was no exception. Perfect to warm you up if you’re sat out on the balcony on a chilly day. Or perfect anytime if you happen to chain drink tea like I do.
Never a dull minute
From a small boy around the age of 10 playing accordion, to the best potato peeler salesman in the world (you’ll just have to trust me on this one), you’re not going to get bored on the ferry. Because many people use the ferry to commute between work & home, you’ll be surrounded by locals which is a great way to immerse yourself in Istanbul. The aforementioned potato peeler salesman was very entertaining, there was no fruit or vegetable which that man could not peel at lightning speed. Let’s just say, he made a fair bit of money on that ferry journey!
The Seagull game
Quite possibly the most entertaining thing I’ve ever done; you have to play the seagull game. Not only are there çay sellers wandering the ferry, but also sellers of simit, everybody’s favourite Turkish sesame seed covered bread. Seagulls have learnt over the years that there is bread on the ferry, and they follow in flocks. Obliging bread purchasers can tear off tiny bits of bread to throw to the seagulls, who catch them mid-air. How impressive is that? There is nothing that feels more awesome than working together with a determined seagull to line up the perfect shot and have him duck and dive in order catch your bread, trust me. I made a particularly good team with one seagull, who was able to catch my bread 6 times in a row in quick succession, with no misses. I don’t mean to brag, but that’s surely a record. By all means try to beat my score & let me know! (You won’t manage it though…)
Your choice of view
Unlike the boat tour, where we ended up sat on one particular side of the boat, meaning we only got a good view of one side of the river, you are free to walk around as much as you like on the ferry, or sit directly at the back of the ship on the balcony for a panoramic view. This isn’t really a big point, but the ferries are massive and I just really enjoyed being able to wander around. There is loads of seating indoors too, with big windows where you can keep warm on chillier days. You can even sit around the outside of the bottom level of the ferry to really get up close and personal with the Bosphorus, which was a personal favourite spot of mine!
Last but not least, catch the ferry in the evening for some amazing Bosphorus sunset beauty…