POSTED: April 22nd 2013

Istanbul 2020:Crossing the Waterways between Europe and Asia

Bosphorus cruises give you a waterway view of Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque and the city / Tim Leffel
Bosphorus cruises give you a waterway view of Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque and the city / Tim Leffel

The rivers meet to join Europe and Asia / Tim Leffel
The rivers meet to join Europe and Asia / Tim Leffel

TIM LEFFEL / Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Istanbul is a city on the water, but unlike many port cities, it’s not just one body of water that has shaped its history. Due to some geological quirks back when the Ice Age ended, a lake turned into the Sea of Marmara, connected to the Aegean and the Mediterranean seas. The really big advantage was the opening of the Bosphorus—a deep salt water river leading to the Black Sea.

Istanbul was therefore in a prime location throughout history, home to empires of the Romans, Greeks, and Ottomans. Its history could be its own university religion class and the strategic location meant whoever controlled the Golden Horn harbor and the Bosphorus likely controlled an empire.

As a visitor to Istanbul, it would be a shame to only see the city by land. With Europe on one side, Asia on the other, getting on the water is essential to understanding the history and the future of Turkey..

A Cruise up the Bosphorus

A popular option for seeing the strategic Bosphorus waterway is to take a ferry cruise up the swift current on a powerful ship that makes stops along the way. It pulls out of a dock near the Egyptian Spice Market (Eminönü). It’s just down the hill from Topkapi Palace, with the Blue Mosque and other skyline staples in view as you pull away.

The route up the waterway starts with views of Dolmabahçe Palace, the last home of the Ottoman sultans before they faded away after World War I. You pass a few luxury hotels on the water, including the Çırağan Palace Kempinski, part of it a restored former palace.

A few miles up the waterway, however, the view changes to restored wooden houses and summer embassy residences constructed in the last 200 years. In the past couple decades these seaside houses have gone from tumbled-down structures to prime renovated real estate, one villa reportedly selling for $250 million recently. You also pass a fortress built in a hurry by Mehmet the Conqueror, who conquered what was then Constantinople from the Byzantines when he was just 21.

The route stops at several docks, the last being the village of Anadolu Kavağı, which is lined with fish restaurants. You can see the Black Sea in the distance, with historic fortress walls at the mouth of it.

Tours on the most comfortable ship leave twice a day. See the Sehir Hatlari site  [] for current information.

The Prince Islands in the Sea of Marmara

A few islands poke up from the Sea of Marmara not far from Istanbul and can be seen from shore on clear days. Ferries run out to the islands in winter and then really pick up the pace in summer, when residents with summer homes take advantage of the location.

While each of the islands has its charms (and are refreshingly car-free), large Büyükada is the most popular with tourists. Here you can rent a bicycle and explore at your own pace, seeing impressive houses, monasteries, and churches harkening back to a more ethnically mixed past. Fish restaurants and kebab houses serve food and beer with a view.

The fastest way to get to the Princes’ Islands is on one of the fast catamaran ferries, leaving from the Kabataş pier. You can’t sit outside on these and the schedule is not as frequent as the slower and cheaper ferries, but they are quite comfortable, are air-conditioned, and still only cost three or four dollars. The slower boats are roughly half the price and take 30-50 minutes longer to get to the last island, which is a one-hour trip on the faster ship.  See the IDO website [ ] for the fast catamaran schedules.

Riding from Europe to Asia on a Ferry

You can easily see Istanbul from the water and ride between Europe and Asia. Just act like a local. From multiple ferry points on the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn, you can travel to the Asian side with the commuters going back and forth. Stroll along the waterfront, see local life in action, then return to the same place you left.

The shortest route is from Eminönü to Üsküdar, but it’s not much further to other stops on the Asian side. Most tickets are 1.2 to 3 Turkish lira, or less than $2. You can buy tickets on the spot or use a metro card (akbil). Avoid rush hours to have a more leisurely ride. Ferries leave frequently enough that you don’t have to plan ahead.

For more information on Istanbul see the official Turkey Tourism site. []

**Tim Leffel is the author of four travel books and editor of the award-winning webzine Perceptive Travel.

Keywords · Istanbul 2020 · Bosphorus · Olympic bidding · tourism

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