This post appears as part of our Turkish Family Travel Adventure series, chronicling a fun fall fling in the city of Istanbul.
While the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque are generally the stars of the Istanbul show, let’s not forget that the Bosphorus has made headlines for thousands of years.
Until 1973, the only way to cross the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia or vice versa was by boat. Now, for the mere price of a toll or subway ticket, you can whoosh your way back and forth between the continents.
But forget all that modern innovation – wouldn’t you rather experience the strait like a pirate on the high seas?
Okay, maybe not a modern pirate. Those chaps are mighty frighty. More like a fairy-tale, swashbuckling-yet-serene pirate. Eye patch optional.
Since we only had a few days in Istanbul, I didn’t want to devote an entire day to one tour. If I would have had the time, though, we could’ve sailed straight up to the Black Sea. Throw in a walk up to the medieval Anadolu Kavağı Kalesi and the opportunity for a stellar picnic, and I’m sold.
Ah well, that adventure will have to wait until our next time in Turkey.
Not wanting to give up on the dream entirely, we settled for a shorter cruise. Our ship left from Eminönü right down in Sultanahmet and was scheduled to depart at 1430. We showed up about forty minutes prior to sailing, bought tickets, and boarded.
Fortunately, the boat wasn’t crowded, but the upper deck filled quickly. Expert tip: Stake out seats for your party as soon as you board. Don’t stop to use the loo or buy a drink. If you do, all the choice spots will be gone.
From the upper deck, we were treated to a view from above of the spice market area as well as the back side of Topkapi Palace and two other mosques. All that, and we hadn’t even left the dock!
The ship chugged out of port, slipping past behemoth cruise liners and dingy fishing boats on its way out to sea. She stopped briefly to pick up another set of passengers at Ortaköy which is near the most charming little mosque (Büyük Mecidiye Cami) and nearly underneath the massive Bosphorus Bridge.
Viewing this feat of engineering from such a close angle completely fascinated me. I learned later that the bridge took more than 3 years to build, boasts 8 lanes which can be assigned to either direction depending on the time of day and flow of traffic, costs about 4TL to cross, and is closed to pedestrians.
Apparently, it was possible to walk across the bridge in the first few years of its opening, but this is now forbidden. Too bad, because that’s definitely something we would have done!
As we made our way up toward the Black Sea, our eyes were treated to beautiful palaces, mosques, homes, and gardens along the water. We were given a free brochure with the names of these landmarks, but no further information was provided. If you’re particularly interested in learning more about each building, it’s possible to rent an audio guide for the journey.
Once we reached the second bridge (Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge), the ship sputtered around, spinning to position herself for the journey back to Istanbul. I had hoped for a bit of excitement, say nearly missing a colossal container ship, but no dice. Slow and steady she went.The unfortunate reality for both the full and half day cruises are that there’s only one way up to the Black Sea and back, so you’ll have to retrace your steps no matter what.
At this point, the constant whir of the motor, the lapping of the waves, and the sea breeze lulled me to dreamland. Docking back at Eminönü rudely interrupted my 12TL nap. Shame.
So, was the Bosphorus Boat Cruise worth it? Eh, maybe. The answer really depends on why you want to set sail.
We had two purposes in indulging in our maritime excursion: (1) Grab a glimpse of the Anatolian/Asian side since our short stay made exploring that area impossible and (2) entertain little boys who think boats are pretty awesome.
While we did fulfill both of those wishes, I can’t say that I thought this boat trip was in my top five Istanbul favorites. Top ten, yes. Top five, no. Perhaps I shouldn’t have expected pirates, James Bond, or container ship collisions.
There are certainly worse ways to spend two hours of your life, but I can think of better ones as well.
Now before you write me off because boats are to you what trains are to Sheldon Cooper, you should know that I’m not totally a boat trip hater. We’ve had great fun at sea in Brugge, Hvar, and Berchtesgaden just to name a few.
So, tell me, are you a boat trip aficionado? Would you want to do the full-day Bosphorus tour or skip the seas all together?