A stay in Istanbul is not complete without a traditional unforgettable boat excursion up the Bosphorus, that winding strait that separates Europe and Asia. Its shores offer a delightful mixture of past and present, grand splendor and simple beauty.
Modern hotels stand next to yali (shorefront wooden villas), marble palaces abut rustic stone fortresses, and elegant compounds neighbor small fishing villages. The best way to see the Bosphorus is to board one of the passenger boats that regularly zigzag along the shores. You embark at Eminonu and stop alternately on the Asian and European sides of the strait. The round-trip excursion, very reasonably priced, takes about six hours. If you wish a private voyage, there are agencies that specialize in organizing day or night mini cruises.
During the journey you pass the magnificent Dolmabahce Palace; farther along rise the green parks and imperial pavilions of the Yildiz Palace. On the coastal edge of the parks stands the Ciragan Palace, refurbished in 1874 by Sultan Abdulaziz, and now restored as a grand hotel. For 300 meters along the Bosphorus shore its ornate marble facades reflect the swiftly moving water.
At Ortakoy, the next stop, artists gather every Sunday to exhibit their works in a street side gallery. The variety of people creates a lively scene. Sample a tasty morsel from one of the street vendors.
In Ortakoy, there is a church, a mosque and a synagogue that have existed side by side for hundreds of years – a tribute to Turkish tolerance at the grass roots level. Overshadowing Istanbul’s traditional architecture is one of the world’s largest suspension bridges, the Bosphorus Bridge, linking Europe and Asia.
The beautiful Beylerbeyi Palace lies just past the bridge on the Asian side. Behind the palace rises Camlica Hill, the highest point in Istanbul. You can also drive here to admire a magnificent panorama of Istanbul as well as the beautiful landscaped gardens. On the opposite shore, the wooden Ottoman villas of Arnavutkoy create a contrast with the luxurious modern apartments of neighboring Bebek.
A few kilometers farther along stand the fortresses of Rumeli Hisari and Anadolu Hisari facing each other across the straits like sentries guarding the city. The Goksu Palace, sometimes known as Kucuksu Palace graces the Asian shore next to the Anadolu Hisari. The second link between the two continents, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge straddles the waterway just past these two fortresses.
From Duatepe Hill, on the European side, you can admire the magnificent panorama of the bridge and the Bosphorus. Below Duatepe, the beautiful Emirgan Park bursts with color when its tulips bloom in the spring. On the Asian shore is Kanlica, a fishing village that is now a favored suburb for wealthy Istanbulites. Crowds gather in the restaurants and cafes along its shores to sample its famous yogurt. Shortly after Kanlica and Cubuklu is the Beykoz Korusu (Ibrahim Pasa Woods), a popular retreat.
In the cafes and restaurants there you can enjoy the delightful scenery and clear, fresh air. Back on the European side, at Tarabya Bay, yachts seem to dance at their moorings. The coastal road bustles with taverns and fish restaurants from Tarabya to the charming suburbs of Sariyer and Buyukdere. Sariyer has one of the largest fish markets in Istanbul and is also famous for its delicious varieties of milk puddings and borek (pastries). On past Sariyer, the narrow strait widens and opens into the Black Sea.