There are few more romantic ways to see Istanbul than from the deck of a “Tour por el bósforo” boat. These vessels crisscross the strait between Europe and Asia, providing passengers with an up-close view of two continents in one city. While these cruises have become so commonplace that there’s an entire industry built around them, they remain one of the most affordable and accessible ways to see this beautiful city from the water. With that in mind, read on for a detailed look at a Bosphorus boat tour, including everything you need to know before buying tickets.
What to Expect on a “Tour por el bósforo”
“Tour por el bósforo” is a Spanish word meaning Bosphorus tour which sounds very fascinating to me. Bosphorus boat tours are a great way to explore this historic city from the water. The trip should take about three hours, depending on the route and the number of stops along the way. The average ticket price is around $20–$40 per person.
- Regarding the itinerary, expect to make one or two stops along the Bosphorus, including at the Black Sea waterfront. You’ll be cruising up and down the strait for the rest of your time here. It will give you a great view of both sides of the city.
- On the cruise, you’ll likely see the “three bridges of Istanbul” (the Bosphorus Bridge, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, and the Eurasia Bridge). You might also see the iconic Yavuz Selim Bridge, better known as the “Bridge of the Sighs.” You may also pass by the 16th-century palaces lining the waterfront, including the Dolmabahçe and Çırağan palaces.
- The Bosphorus canal is a major commercial shipping route, spanned by three breathtaking suspension bridges, connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. Viewing Istanbul from the water provides arguably the best view of this incredible city, bringing to life Asian and European vistas and a shoreline lined with fabulous palaces, mosques, and imposing public buildings.
- You will discover Istanbul tourist attractions like Galata Tower, Dolmabahce Palace, Ciragan Palace, Ortaköy Mosque, Bosphorus Bridge, Beylerbeyi Palace, Üsküdar, Maiden Tower, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, and Seaside Villas.
- Typical Bosphorus cruises are taken on public ferries (Sehir Hatlari), or private boats and yachts. There are several firms. Travellers on a budget can board one of the passenger boats that zigzag around the coastline. Tourists who wish to experience a unique Istanbul attraction will enjoy traditional belly dancing, a henna ceremony, folk dancing, and a live DJ.
Where to Find Bosphorus Boats
Bosphorus boat tours are found all over the city. Any water taxi plying the Bosphorus will be a good choice. You should choose a reputable company with good reviews.
- It’s a good idea to stick with larger companies with an established presence in the industry. The best way to find reputable Bosphorus boat companies is to ask around. Your hotel or hostel will likely know of companies that are known to be reliable.
- You can also search online for Bosphorus boat tour companies if you don’t have contacts. Many online travel forums have sections devoted to the best Bosphorus boat companies.
- The Kabatas pier, easily accessible by public transit, is where most of the Bosphorus dinner cruise boats leave. You may take the tram from Sultanahmet (20 minutes), Karakoy and Galata (10 minutes), the funicular from Taksim (5 minutes), walk for 15 minutes or take any bus from Besiktas to Kabatas.
- You can go to the Galata Bridge to catch the Sehir Hatlari Bosphorus Tour public boat service. Please do not cross the bridge from the Eminonu (Old City) side; instead, go to the right of it and follow the signs towards Sehir Hatlari.
- The inner-city and domestic public ferry lines in Istanbul are NOT the same as the cruise lines on the Bosphorus. Unless you want to battle for space with Istanbul’s millions of commuters (and see very little in the process), the public boat lines labelled “Bosphorus Tours” are significantly superior.
Which Boat to Choose?
There are a few key factors to keep in mind when choosing a Bosphorus cruise that fall outside of what you’ll experience during the trip:
- The Bosphorus boat tours are surprisingly affordable. That said, there are significant price differences between companies. Make sure to shop around and compare prices, especially if you’re travelling with a group.
- Some Bosphorus boats go farther than others. If you’re interested in seeing more of the Asian side of the city, look for a ship that makes stops there. If you want to spend more time cruising the Bosphorus, choose a boat that sticks to the main channel.
- Bosphorus boat tours run throughout the day, with the busiest times being around noon and sunset. If you have a specific time you want to go, make sure to book it as early as possible. If you’re flexible, you can often find last-minute deals online.
- If you are travelling on a tight budget and have limited time, we recommend taking a risk on the Sehir Hatlari public boat. Sehir Hatlari cruise has a low-ticket price, so it will be a logical choice for those visiting on a tight budget. You can get a short Bosphorus tour for £60. Other cruise choices (not public ferries) range in price from £60 to £200.
- If you are a small group looking for a Turkish meal with an onboard guide in your language, the Bosphorous boat tour is for you. Onboard entertainment, more comfortable seating, better views of the landmarks, and seeing the 6-hours’ worth of sights in a much shorter time frame are just a few of the benefits of booking a Bosphorus tour overtaking the public ferry.
- On the other hand, the Sehir Hatlari Bosphorus Cruise public ferry alternative can’t be topped for the price for individuals who want to sort out the specifics themselves, aren’t picky about seats and are ready to commit the more significant part of a day to the experience.
Private Bosphorus Tours
Private Bosphorus cruises are great value for your money if you do them with reputable and trustworthy companies. If you are willing to take one, check out reviews of a private Bosphorus cruise. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of less reliable options.
Suppose you don’t choose a trustworthy company. In that case, you might face the following scenarios: Poorly informed tourists willing to take a Bosphorus tour, walking on the docks of Eminönü in search of a Bosphorus cruise. Such companies can spot this behaviour from a mile away and offer them a seat on their Bosphorus cruise boat. But please, don’t get tempted by these ‘hustlers’ offers. Their tours are overpriced (double and more), shorter, and often on boats that can barely be called seaworthy. Moreover, there is nothing private about a boat you share with 50 to 100 or more strangers.
Şehir Hatlari Offers the No-Nonsense Bosphorus Tours
Şehir Hatlari is Istanbul’s official ferry company. It offers three great Bosphorus tours: the Short Circle Bosphorus Cruise, the Full Bosphorus Cruise, and the Full Bosphorus Cruise by Night. Unfortunately, the availability of these tours changes according to the season. So do keep reading and check the respective links for the most up-to-date departure times.
Istanbul’s 34 large conventional passenger ferryboats, managed by Istanbul Şehir Hatları (“Istanbul City Routes”) since 2010, service 45 piers across the city. Fare information (except the Bosphorus Cruises) is available here. Apps for Şehir Hatlari are available from the app stores for Apple and Android phones and tablets.
Insider tip: Sit outside on the left-hand side of the ship for the best views.
The Şehir Hatlari Bosphorus line sales offices are on Eminönü’s left piers upon exiting the Galata Bridge. Şehir Hatlari ships leave Eminönü for the islands at least eight times every day all year, with additional trips in the summer. Ferries left each pier every 20 minutes on the 35-minute journey from around 7:00 a.m. to approximately 8:40 p.m. First departures on Sundays and holidays are after 07:00 a.m.
The Highlights of the Tour
- The Bosphorus Bridge – This bridge (or bridges, rather) is the first thing you’ll see as you approach the Bosphorus from the Asian side. The bridge connects Europe and Asia, making it the perfect symbol for this city.
- The Black Sea waterfront – If you’re on a tour that stops at the Black Sea waterfront, be sure to keep an eye out for the Maiden’s Tower. This medieval tower marks the entrance to the city’s famous Bosphorus strait.
- The Palaces – While the palaces along the Bosphorus aren’t actually on the water, they’re still worth a look. The most famous is the Çırağan and Dolmabahçe palaces, which are located just a few hundred yards from the shore.
The Costs of a Bosphorus Boat Tour
The cost of a Bosphorus boat tour largely depends on the length of the trip, the number of stops along the way, and the type of boat. Generally, the longer the tour, the higher the price.
Bosphorus cruises that last less than two hours are often the cheapest option. On the other end of the spectrum are excursions that go all the way to the Black Sea, which can run upwards of £50.
Expect to pay around £15–£25 for a two-hour cruise that makes two stops along the Bosphorus. A three-hour trip with three stops will likely cost between £30–£40.
If you like to enjoy Turkish nightlife by watching traditional dance acts. There is a lot of option on luxury Cruises and yachts. Feel the music’s rhythm via the charm of the fantastic dazzling lights of the Bosphorus. This is a one-of-a-kind experience that appeals to both the eye and the stomach. The feast of flavours begins with a range of excellent appetisers, followed by the main meal with three alternatives. The grand finale will feature the world-renowned mixed Turkish desserts and seasonal fruits. The entire tour last for 3 hours and will cost you £50.
Tips for a Hassle-Free Experience
- Book in advance – If you want a good seat, especially during high season, it’s best to book at least a few days in advance. If you’re travelling during a major holiday, book as soon as you know your travel dates.
- Bring some snacks – Bosphorus boat tours usually have a snack bar onboard, but it can get expensive if you stock up on everything. Bring a few granola bars or trail mix to keep costs down.
- Dress appropriately – While most Bosphorus boat tours are indoors, it can still get a bit chilly when the sun goes down. Bring a light jacket or a sweater just in case.
- Wear comfortable shoes on the journey.
- Bosphorus boat tours often last a few hours, so you want to make sure you’re comfortable. Wear shoes that aren’t too tight or restrictive.
- The area by the Bosphorus is a top pick for those who enjoy delving into the culture. There are plenty of museums in the district. The site also has a laid-back vibe, with lovely waterfront eateries and shop-lined streets leading inland. Karaköy rivals Taksim as one of the most happening places in Istanbul—especially after dark. You can get a hostel or hotel room as these are undoubtedly the best places to live with the best views.
The Bosphorus Canal is a major commercial shipping route, spanned by three suspension bridges connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. Viewing Istanbul from the water provides arguably the best view of this incredible city, bringing to life Asian and European vistas and a shoreline lined with palaces, mosques, and public buildings. The Kabatas pier is where most of the Bosphorus dinner cruise boats leave for dinner cruises. If you’re interested in seeing more of the Asian side of the city, choose a boat that sticks to the main channel. Make sure to shop around and compare prices, especially if you’re travelling with a group. A “tour por el bósforo” in a boat is a great way to see the city from a unique perspective. Whether you opt for a short trip along the main channel or a journey that goes all the way to the Black Sea, you’ll get an up-close view of two continents in one city.