During my all too brief time in Istanbul, I spent a day exploring the city, and the second day on the famed Bosphorus Cruise from Istanbul to the Black Sea. Booking this cruise with a travel agency or tour group will set you back anywhere from $25 to $100 USD, depending on the nature of the cruise.

Istanbul from the Bosphorus

However, budget travellers need not worry. Instead, do as the locals do — hop on the commuter ferry run by Şehir Hatları. The full Bosphorus cruise (25TL / $8.50 USD) leaves once a day at 10.35 a.m., while the short cruise  (12TL / $4.25 USD) departs at 2.30 p.m. (at time of writing, though there are usually additional sailings in the summer, so check the links).

Long and short Bosphorus cruise routes, from the Şehir Hatları website.
Long and short Bosphorus cruise routes, from the Şehir Hatları website.

Upon arriving at the Eminönü ferry terminal (just off the Galata Bridge), ignore the touts trying to push Bosphorus cruise packages on unsuspecting tourists. Instead, make your way to the Şehir Hatları ticket stand and purchase your ticket from the counter. You’ll  want to arrive at least a half hour in advance, as the lines can be pretty long. If you’re especially concerned, you can purchase tickets the day before, though I simply showed up earlier and it was totally fine.

Bosphorus Strait Istanbul
I’m on a boat!

Like everywhere in Istanbul, tea (çay) is plentiful and cheap (my kind of place!) As we sailed up the Bosphorus Strait, past the Dolmabahçe Palace and Rumelian Castle, a ferry attendant made the rounds with glasses of çay for 1TL. During the summer, ice-cream and the famous yoghurt from Kanlica are also available for purchase on the ride.

Rumelian Castle
Rumelian Castle. Cloudy days make for sad photos.

I also learnt that the weather in Turkey, much like anywhere else, changes on a whim. A bright, sunny day swiftly turned overcast.

One of the small villages where we docked. Kanlica is famous for its yoghurt!
One of the small villages on the way — Kanlica is famous for its yoghurt!

On the full Bosphorus Cruise, the ferry docks at Anadolu Kavağı, a small fishing village at the mouth of the Black Sea. True to its local economy, seafood restaurants are plentiful and cheap, though that doesn’t stop enterprising restaurateurs from dashing up to the ferry in attempts to draw customers to their business.

Anadolu Kavagi
Ferry terminal in Anadolu Kavağı

The stop at Anadolu Kavağı is several hours long, to allow for lunch and some exploration of the town. However, by the time we had arrived, it was positively pouring. Any hopes of visiting the ruins of Anadolu Kavağı Kalesi, a medieval Byzantine castle, were completely dashed. Instead, we settled for staying dry with a decadent feast of fried mussels, grilled seafood, and fish soup before re-boarding the ferry for the trip back.

Houses and boats along the Anadolu Kavağı coast.
Houses and boats along the Anadolu Kavağı coast.

So there you have it: how to experience the Bosphorus Cruise on a budget, for less than half the asking price (at the very least!) from travel agencies and tour companies. It’s definitely worth taking a day out to see a little more of Istanbul, beyond the Galata/Sultanahmet/Old City areas.

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