From Eminönü harbour, passenger boats travel up the Bosphorus and are a great way to experience Istanbul's famous waterway and the border between Europe and Asia. Swap the crowded streets for views of palaces, serene villages, wooden summer houses and fishing harbours.
The busy waterway links the Black Sea with the Mediterranean and divides two continents (Europe to the west, Asia to the east). Fortunately for the confused visitor, all the boats (both passenger ferries and special tourist launches) leave from just one place: the Eminönü Docks just near the Dolmabahce Palace.
Touts descend on you as soon as you arrive offering you a variety of tourist trips. Don't be deceived you can simply jump on the local ferries which criss-cross the Bosphorus between the Asian and European sides if you wish and explore the famous waterway at your own pace. If you want to go the whole hog, select the smarter option of a dinner on the boat entertained by traditional Turkish belly dancers and music.
Whichever you choose, at whatever price, you set off heading towards the mouth of the Black Sea (Olu Deniz to the Turks), past some fantastic sights including the Rococco facade of the--Dolmabahce Palace and the elegant Ciragan Palace, once home to Sultan Abdulaziz and now a grand hotel. You pass under the Bosphorus Bridge, one of the largest suspension bridges in the world, spanning the breadth of the Bosphorus and linking Europe to Asia. Note too the beautiful Ortakoy Mosque, a square domed structure, now dwarfed by the modern bridge beside it.
A few kilometres further on you come to the imposing fortresses of Rumeli Hisari and Anadolu Hisari. They glare across the waters at each other, remembering centuries of hostility between the Christians and the Muslims who fought over Constantinople.As you pass under the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge just past the fortresses, turn your gaze onto the Asian side. The wooden Ottoman summer houses lining the water, many of them beautifully restored, are known as yali and are now desirable residences once more after years of neglect.
The last stop is at the northern end of the Bosphorus at the village of Anadolu Kavagi, where the Black Sea opens out towards the Baltic States and Russia. If you've taken the public ferry (about 90 minutes) you could stop here and have a meal overlooking the water and then return later by ferry.