The Bosphorus Strait defines Istanbul. It is the divide between Europe and Asia, and the main connection between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Dotted with parks and elaborate Ottoman mansions, including Dolmabahce Palace, and spanned by three intercontinental bridges, the Bosphorus is the veritable heart of the city.
As a major shipping and trade lane, the Bosphorus Strait has attracted empires for centuries, and their remains are visible along the coastline. Ottoman summer houses, the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya), historical imperial gardens, and more are visible from the water. The Bosphorus draws people to its shores, and many take boats out on the water.
Many small-group and private tours of Istanbul include Bosphorus cruises. These boat rides typically include visits or views of Dolmabahce Palace, Anadolu Kavagi, Rumeli Fortress, Topkapi Palace, and more.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Bosphorus is a must-visit for history buffs and all first-time visitors to Istanbul.
- There are city-run public Bosphorus cruises as well as more intimate private Bosphorus cruises available. Some include lunch or dinner on board.
- In the summer, it’s popular to rent a boat for dining on the Bosphorus.
How to Get There
The Bosphorus Strait bisects the city, and there are many departure points for boat cruises. Popular ones are at Eminonu, Kabatas, Kadikoy, and Bebek, all of which are easily accessible by bus or taxi. Make sure to check where your departure point is before you set sail.
When to Get There
Bosphorus cruises are most popular during the warm summer months, though they run all year long. Often cruises set out in the afternoon or evening, depending on which option you choose. It’s good to arrive at least 15 minutes before your boat is scheduled to leave.
Mansions on the Bosphorus
The shores of the Bosphorus are lined with Ottoman-era mansions, many of which served as summer homes, palaces, or embassies. Kucuksu Palace is as ornate as Dolmabahce Palace, as is Ciragan Palace, which is currently a high-end hotel. The Kibrislilar Mansion, near Uskudar, is the widest on the Bosphorus, while Sadullah Pasha Yali is one of the older wooden Bosphorus mansions.