Cruising the Bosphorus is naturally on the top of things to do in Istanbul for any traveller. It’s the one activity that encompasses the most unique facet of this city that sits straddling two continents at once. I couldn’t wait to cruise the waters that lay between Europe and Asia, taking in two continents in one panorama. Picking a cruise was the tricky bit, because cruise companies were a dime a dozen, offering lunch, dinner, entertainment, belly dancers and more. I knew I wanted an authentic experience, one that gave me enough time to understand and appreciate all the major places along the Bosphorus, perhaps a chance to hop over into Asia as well. Enter Sehir Hatlari’s Full Bosphorus Cruise.
Touted as the best midway option, it isn’t an expensive rip off that offers a zillion things on-board that would rival a casino, neither is it a regular commuter ferry that’s difficult to navigate and overflowing with hurried and harried locals. With two cruise options, the Short Circle Bosphorus Cruise (where you don’t really get off, it just takes you on a quick round of the Bosphorus and brings you back to Eminonu) or the one we took – the Full Bosphorus Cruise which takes you on one Catamaran and brings you back on the next one, giving you a couple of hours to get off at Anadolu Kavagi Asia and either have lunch or explore the Yoros Kalesi Fort. Remember to be back at the Terminal in time or getting back by land can be time consuming and expensive. Check the website for frequency and timings as they change depending on the time of the year and the weather. All the tours leave from the Sehir Hatlari Ferry Quay at Eminonu where you can buy the 25 TL ticket on the spot, and rent an AudioVisual Guide Device as well.
Europe: Eminonu to Anadolu Kavagi
We passed by and spotted the following on the European side on our onward journey towards Anadolu Kavagi.
- Galata Tower – The erstwhile tower of Christ, later used to control the entrance to the Golden Horn can be seen from the ideal position to imagine how Celebi made the first transcontinental flight jumping from there to the Asian side with artificial wings. Also used as to spot fires in the city, the tower has had its own share of fires.
- Dolmabahce Mosque – Initially a part of the stylish new palace of Dolmabahce, the mosque was constructed in what was then considered a very a la mode neo classical and imperial design. The fact that sovereigns prayed here, naturally it is quitw ostentatious.
- Dolmabahce Palace – The palace where the Ottoman Empire shifted in their attempt to be more European in style, it is one of the most luxurious palaces in the world. Baccarat staircase, the world’s largest bohemian chandelier et all. Read about our visit to the palace coming soon.
- Besiktas Ferry Terminal
- Ciragan Sarayi – The glorious palace has its share of interesting stories of alleged suicide, a reign of 93 days and the house arrest of a mentally ill sovereign, but today is the uber luxe Kempinski hotel.
- Ortakoy Camii- Designed by the same guy who did the Dolmabahce mosque, it’s famous for the beautiful calligraphy work inside.
- Bogazici Koprusu- The famous Bosphorus Bridge is argued to be the second bridge across the two continents even though it is commonly known as the First Bridge.
- Yilanli Yali- Waterfront mansions were quite the obsession at a time in Istanbul, and loads of expensive Yalis popped up along the Bosphorus. Naturally, considering the prime location. This particular one was the most famous, and its new avatar was rebuilt after a fire.
- Rumeli Hisari- The old fortress is located at the narrowest point of the Bosphorus to protect the Constantinople from Ottoman conquests. Rumour has it that the shape in which it was built (which from an ariel view spells Mohammed) actually spells Mehmet (the ruler who commissioned it)
- Fatih Sultan Mehmet Koprucu- The Second Bosphorus Bridge, named after the 15th century Ottoman ruler.
- Sakip Sabanci Muzesi- Private art museum featuring Ottoman and religious work and more recently, Picasso and Rodin’s.
- Salt Halm Pasa Yalisi- Another gorgeous old waterfront house that today serves as an occasion venue and has restaurants in the summers.
- Huber Kosku- Another beautiful waterfront property rumoured to have been owned by an arms dealer is now Government property and closed to the public.
- Azaryan Yalisi- A 19th century villa which is now a museum to archeology and ethnography exhibits.
- Sariyer Ferry Quay
- Rumeli Kavagi Ferry Quay
Exploring Anadolu Kavagi
We got off at Anadolu Kavagi looking at our watches, we had almost 3 hours before we’d have to catch the next ferry on its return journey. I’d read that you only have enough time for either lunch or taking the long walk up to the fort. Naturally, we ate. We’d heard a lot about the seafood to be had at Anadolu Kavagi, but I’m not sure if it was just the hype or the wrong season. While there was plenty of seafood, that looked beautiful, all of it tasted rather regular. (Later a fisherman told us all the good catch from the Black sea goes to Eminonu’s restaurants).
After lunch a bit of strolling around found us wandering into tourist shops, and I was on guard assuming everything here would be overpriced and ridiculous. Ended up finding some beautiful and quirky souvenirs at a very decent price. (And the Turkish salesmen make bargaining such a lovely experience)
Back on board, the weather had suddenly turned strange. The skies had cleared up and it was sunny again, but the winds were raging and it was freezing outside, so we went indoors and enjoyed our first Turkish Coffee. I’d heard a lot about it and was looking forward to trying some. What I hadn’t heard though were the warnings. This isn’t strained out, so the dregs in the bottom half of the cup hit your mouth rather suddenly. Blech. I braved the winds long enough to enjoy a beautiful sunset with seagulls chasing us.
Asia: Anadolu Kavagi to Eminonu
Setting off on the return journey, even the audio guide seemed to realise it was a time for contemplation, as everyone onboard seemed to go silent all of a sudden, staring into the sunset. A smattering of points along the way were mentioned, merely because they were the kind of structures that made one ask, what’s that?
- Kanilca Ferry Quay
- Goksu Kasri- Also known as the Kucuksu Palace, this stunner was the summer palace of the Ottoman’s used for their hunting escapades. You may notice it from a certain James Bond film.
- Adile Sultan Sarayi– Former royal residence and present day cultural centre sits atop a hill, and can be just about spotted through the trees.
- Beylerbeyi Sarayi– Another gorgeous Ottoman summer palace with Baccarat interiors and other opulent marvels.
- Mihrimah Sultan Camii– A stunning mosque in Edirnkapi dedicated to Suleiman the Magnificent’s favourite daughter.
All information is valid as of December 2013 when we experienced the Bosphorus Cruise.25 TL per head Full Bosphorus Tour Sehir Hatlari Cruises, Eminonu, Istanbul +90 212 444 1851