Traffic in Istanbul can be manic; expect a stressful drive because you will get cut off and honked at constantly. The city currently holds more than 1,500,000 automobiles and there is a strong demand for building of new or alternate highways.
If you've arrived in Istanbul by car, and you're not familiar with the streets, it's better to park your car in a safe place and take public transportation to get around.
The city, lying on two different continents and separated by the Bosphorus, is connected by two bridges. The bridge on the south, closer to the Marmara Sea, is called the "Bosphorus Bridge". The bridge closer to the Black Sea is named "Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge" and is longer than the first one. Both are toll bridges, and you must pay a fee to cross.
Since 2006, the Bosphorus Bridge toll stations do not accept cash, and payment must be made using electronic cards, either manually (KGS) or automatically via a transponder mounted on the front of the car (OGS). Drivers without either of these two methods must take the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.
On weekdays, drivers should be aware of potentially hour long traffic jams on the highways leading to both bridges, particularly heading west in the mornings and east in the evenings, since most people live on the Anatolian side but work on the European side.
There is a great shortage of parking in Istanbul, and existing lots are quite expensive. You will see many cars parked on the sides of the road, in front of garage doors even.
Drivers unfamiliar with the city should also be aware that street signs are rare. It is a common thing to pull over and ask for directions, something the natives and taxi drivers do quite often.
Istanbul's public transit system can be difficult to figure out; maps are rare and you often have to transfer, and pay another fare, to get where you are going. However, if you put some effort into it, you can avoid taxis and not walk too much.
Each time you use a tram, metro, bus, or boat on the public transport system, you will need to use a token. The small metal tokens cost YTL 1.40 and can be bought at various ticket kiosks at bus, train, and metro stations. Ticket fares across buses, trams and metros are standard (i.e. not dependent on how far you go).
Buying an AKBİL (AKıllı BİLet - Turkish acronym for Smart Ticket) is a good idea if you are in Istanbul for more than a day or two, and intend to use public transport. AKBİL is a small electronic device serving as a ticket which may be used on buses, trams, suburban trains, metro, local ferries, etc. You buzz the AKBİL when you get on the bus or enter the tram/metro platform. You can buy or refill them at designated booths located at any major bus, tram, to metro station, as well as some other places. An AKBİL provides discounted rates compared to regular single tickets, as well as discounts in transfers (when used multiple times within a limited period). A deposit for the device itself is to be paid when you buy it, which is paid back if you choose to return it later.
There are two types of public buses in Istanbul: those run by the private sector and those run by the city-owned IETT. The Akbil Transit Pass is valid universally while tickets that can be obtained in kiosks near bus stops for 1.4 YTL are valid only on IETT buses and cash payment only on private buses, although if you get on an IETT bus the driver will normally accept cash (normally 1.5 YTL but this is dependent entirely upon what the driver wishes to charge) and hand you his Akbil for you to use.
As a relatively quick tourist, you might use the T4 bus the most. It connects Sultanahmet to Taksim Square (and so to Beyoglu and Istiklal Caddesi, the nightspots). The last bus from Taksim runs at about 11.30PM, though that's not fixed.
Istanbul's first underground system dates back to 19th century, when the funicular subway "Tünel" was constructed to operate from Karakoy to Istıklal Street in 1875. The distance travelled was 573 metres.
In 1990's, a modern tram line was constructed in the European side of the city, and now it's being extended to the inner parts of the city, as well as to the Anatolian side with a sea-tunnel named "Marmaray" crossing below the Bosphorus.
Istanbul's metro consists of two lines: the northern line is currently just a short stub connecting Taksim to Levent; the southern line is most useful for visitors, connecting Aksaray (with its connections to the tram line) to Atatürk Airport, via the bus station Otogar. There is also a funicular system connecting Taksim to Kabatas where you can get on ferries and cross to the Anatolian side.
A fast tram was put in service in 1992 on standard gauge track with modern cars, connecting Sirkeci with Topkapi. The line was extended on one end from Topkapi to Zeytinburnu in 1994 and on the other end from Sirkeci to Eminönü in 1996. On January 30, 2005 it was extended from Sirkeci to Kabataş crossing Golden Horn. The line has 24 stations on a length of 14 km and 55 vehicles run on the line. An entire trip takes 42 minutes. The daily transport capacity is 155,000 passengers.
Between Taksim and Kabataş, there is a modern underground funicular to connect this tram line to the Taksim metro. The tram is also connected to the southern metro line (for the Otogar and Ataturk Airport) at Aksaray station.
Unique Istanbul liners, sea-buses, or mid-sized private ferries travel between the European and Asian sides of the city. The crossing takes about 20 minutes and costs 1.40 YTL, and gives great views of the Bosphorous. Be aware that sometimes the ferry when arriving at a dock can bounce off the pier accidentally, even on calm days. This can cause people to fall over quite dramatically if they are standing up, so it is advisable to remain seated until the ferry has come to an absolute stop.
All of the ferries, including private ones, can be paid by AKBIL system.
Taxis are an easy and cheap way to get around. A one-way travel from Taksim to Sultanahmet costs approximately 7-10 YTL, about 5 Euro. Tipping is generally unnecessary. Occasionally drivers will refuse to start the meter and try to negotiate a fixed price. You should avoid these cabs and simply take another one, as you will almost certainly end up paying too much.
Taxis that wait near a bus station usually are a tourist trap. They start the meter but charge you 20 YTL at least, about 10 Euro. Make sure that you will pay for the meter price before getting in. Always try to stop a taxi that is passing by on the road or find a legit taxi stop.
Beware of riding in a taxi other than "yellow-colored" since the other colored taxis are of different cities and have a different rating system.
Taxis have a fixed rate; the night rate is 50 % more expensive than during the daytime. The night rate starts at midnight and lasts until 6AM. If you are riding during the day, makes sure the fare begins at 2.05 YTL, the day rate, and not 2.90 YTL, the night one.
By Shared Taxi
Dolmuş (Turkish: "it's full") is a shared taxi, travelling on a fixed route, which costs more than a city autobus but less than a normal taxi. They can carry up to 8 passengers. They are easy to recognize, because they also have the yellow painting as taxis and carry a Dolmus sign on its top. They will only start driving when all eight places are filled, which is also where the name derives from.
The main and most important routes for Dolmuses are: Taksim-Eminönü, Taksim-Kadıköy, Taksim-Aksaray, Kadıköy-Bostanci e Besiktas-Nisantasi.