With a military history strong in maritime warfare, it's understandable to see how the Bosporus River has become one of the most important travel destinations in the world. A visit to Istanbul just isn't complete without a cruise down this historic body of water with the sights and sounds of the bustling metropolis an unforgettable soundtrack to a relaxing cruise. To ensure you get the most bang for your buck, here are few simple tips to planning a Bosporus River Cruise.
Choosing a Length and Time of Day
How long you decide to spend on the water and the time of day you go can truly make or break a trip. Although the sights are the same, the blazing sun, a crowded boat, or darkness may hamper your experience. Here are a few of the main options for seeing Istanbul:
Full Circle Bosphorus Cruise offers a daylong "hop on, hop off" style of cruise. It last about 6 hours and has several points for you to disembark and tour around at. They stop at Anadolu Kavagi where you can have lunch before returning to the ship. Personally, I feel like this is a bit too long and many of the sites can be seen on a far shorter excursions, but if you’re looking for a full day outing, it may fit the bill. Cost is about 25 TL.
Short Circle Tours are the ones I highly recommend and take just 90-180 minutes. You're on the boat the entire time and get to see all the sites without worrying about when you need to be back at the dock. If you get motion sickness, the relatively short timeframe can be a blessing. Cost is about 10-15 TL.
Night Cruises are also becoming increasingly popular. Although you get beautiful sunsets and the sparkling skyline, I found the after-dark cruises to feel more like a happy hour or party boat. The cruises with dinner are your only real option for a quality night cruise, which cost about 30 TL.
*Prices are subject to change depending on time of year and provider.
Choosing a Service Provider
All riverboats offer fairly similar services, it just depends how comfortable you want to be and what time you want to depart. I would recommend staying away from private companies because they charge ridiculous amounts, sometimes over 40 euro a person, but if you have the cash to spend, it’s a good option to avoid the crowds. Many providers operate from Eminönü Ferry Docks near the Spice Market so head over to the riverside there and talk to a few captains.
A trip should cost approximately 10-15 TL for a short cruise and 25 TL for longer rides. Night boats depend on the provider. You may also want to consider booking through your hotel or hostel, but I've found them to be higher priced and hit or miss service.
Highlights of a Bosphorus River Cruise
A Bosphorus cruise is truly the best way to see Istanbul at least once. Here are some of the key attractions along the way.
Eminönü: Your cruise will usually begin here, in the heart of Istanbul. Populated by key landmarks like the New Mosque and Spice Bazaar, the area is teeming with life and energy. Take in the views as you pass under the Galata Bridge.
Dolmabahce Palace: This sprawling palace is one of the first things you'll see and one of the most iconic. Unfortunately you can't see the exquisite interior from the river, but there’s still plenty to appreciate on the exterior. 19th century architecture, which housed six Sultans, including the first president of Turkey who died here, the clock tower is truly beautiful.
Rumeli Citadel: Originally built to cut off supplies to the Byzantines, this fortress still casts an imposing shadow over the Boshporus. Preserved in remarkable detail on a hill overlooking the water, it's easy to see why this building was so remarkable for its time given it was completed in just four months during the 1400s.
Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge: Once the world’s 5th longest suspension bridge, Fatih Bridge acts as a conduit between the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. Also known as the second Bosphorus Bridge, it's easily the most recognizable, until the third is finished that is. It’s especially beautiful at night.
Ciragan Palace and Hotel: Now a five-star hotel, this former Ottoman palace rivals Dolmabahce in scale and grandeur. Finished in 1867, it’s connected to the Yidiz Palace by a stunning bridge and caters to high-end clientele similar to its original residents. With the most expensive room running about 12,000 euros night, most of us will have to admire the Baroque palace from afar.
Maidens Tower: My personal favorite. Located near the southern entrance to the Bosphorus on a small islet, this tower has had a long and legendary history dating back to the 1100s. Now a cafe and restaurant, you can charter a private boat to enjoy a quiet meal at sunset.