In a crowded and busy city like Istanbul it may be time consuming as well as expensive if you travel by taxi to go from point A to B. Thankfully, the public transport system in Istanbul is fantastic and cost effective. Moreover it is very easy to understand for an outsider which can be understood by my own experiences. I didn’t have to use buses any time so we will exclude them and just focus on metro, tram and ferries.
The first thing you need to do is buy an Istanbul Kart which is a smart card used for payments in place of cash payments each time. This not only is convenient but also offers discounted rates for successive transfers. After collecting my luggage at Istanbul airport, I moved towards exit and there I could see sign boards for Airport Metro. Just near theentry gates for metro I could see machines which can provide card on a payment of 10 TL.
Instructions are written very clearly on machines and still if you need help you can take help from friendly Turkish people. In my case it was other way and I helped a Turkish man who was coming first time to Istanbul in getting a card from machine :). You just need to deposit 10 TL note in machine to get a card. This is one time price of card which is justified for the savings you make on each transfer using the card. Once you have a card then there is second machine nearby which can be used to recharge the card. Recharge can be made in denomination of 5 TL. For a single traveler, a recharge of 10 TL is good start which is sufficient for 5 transfers.
Once recharge is done you are ready to board the train. I used following guide to use the metros and I never had to ask any one as everything was very clearly explained in this article. You can easily reach Sultanahmet or Taksim using the metro plus tram combination in few Liras where as a taxi would cost you a lot. Moreover since you are boarding the metro from airport which is starting point you will get a seat easily.
You make your payments at the entry gate for station and not at train. At each entry gate there is sensor and you don’t even need to touch the card to it. It will read the card from few centimeter distance when you bring close to it and after reduction of amount remaining balance is visible on screen. After boarding the metro you need to change at 6th station ‘Zeytinburnu’ and board a tram. Tram will take you straight to Sultanahmet. The trams are considered crowded by lot of tourists but crowded in most of the cases means you will not get seat :). I had traveled in ‘real’ crowded local trains of Mumbai in India, so trams were extremely comfortable for me.
Smart Card Readers
You can also buy tokens at each station instead of using Istanbulkart but you will be spending more if you are planning to use public transport extensively. Inside each tram tourist spot is written near station name. e.g. famous spots like Grand Bazar, Galata tower etc are mentioned near respective station names in map inside each tram so its very easy to go to your chosen destinations. Moreover whenever you are in doubt you can take help from security guards near entry gates of each tram station and they will assist you.
Metro at Taksim
Similarly there are ferries to go to parts of cities which are across the sea. I didn’t travel in them myself except a ferry to Princess Islands, but I heard good feedback from fellow travelers about them. You can get a ferry schedule along with map easily available everywhere.
The best way to explore a city is by public transport. Not only you save costs but you get to see life of local people more closely. Moreover people may like that visitors are using their mode of transport and would like to talk to you. Of Course this is applicable to safer cities and you need to be extra alert of issues like pickpockets. But give it a try. It’s totally worth.