A Wheelchair User’s Guide to Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul is a city rich in history and beauty. Oftentimes, places with a long history don’t offer the best accessibility. However, thanks to Istanbul trying to keep up with modern times, there are a number of wheelchair accessible things to do. We’ll show you how to navigate Istanbul with a wheelchair so that you can enjoy the “center of the world” to its fullest.
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General wheelchair accessibility on the streets of Istanbul
For the most part, Istanbul has sidewalks and ramps where needed. However, be prepared for bumps along the way.
Dropdown curbs don’t always drop all the way and cobblestone is prevalent. Also, sidewalks can be narrow and/or have any number of posts and makeshift corn on the cob, chestnut, and coffee stands to get in your way.
Wheelchair accessible Restrooms in Istanbul
Many public restrooms in Istanbul are accessible, particularly in touristy areas. Below are places we came across with accessible public restrooms:
- Sultanahmet Square (near the German Fountain)
- Haga Sofia Museum (inside- requires paying the entrance fee)
- Gülhane Park
- Moda Sahil Park (Kadıköy)
Note that many of the public wheelchair accessible restrooms in Istanbul are gated. If you head up the ramp, you’ll come across a button that will open the gate.
Wheelchair Accessibility on Public Transportation in Istanbul
Istanbul is well connected by accessible public transportation, so we highly recommend using it during your stay.
When you arrive to Istanbul, make sure to purchase an Istanbulkart (a public transportation card). This will offer you lower fares for your initial trip and even lower fares from there, if you have connections within a two hour period.
You can purchase an Istanbulkart at the airport, metro stations, and convenience stores near tram/bus stops.
Travel Tip: People with disabilities are eligible to receive an Istanbulkart that offers free entry on all public transportation. However, you’ll need to fill out an application and wait to receive a custom card, so this is only a good option if you’ll be staying in Istanbul long term.
Below is an overview of the three most common ways to get around Istanbul:
The tram in Istanbul is easy to use, with labels on the tram map if there’s a major tourist attraction nearby.
Trams are accessible from any entrance. You’ll encounter about a two-inch gap between the platform and tram. There’s also about a 1” difference in height; the difference is downward going in and upward coming out.
You can easily visit Istanbul without taking the bus, as the tram goes through tourist areas where vehicles aren’t allowed.
Nonetheless, if you find yourself needing to take the bus, all city buses are equipped with ramps. The ramp entry is located at the second door, towards the middle of the bus. There’s a button you can press to open the door and access the ramp.
Note: Buses to and from the airport aren’t accessible.
Istanbul is surrounded by water and is the only city in the world on two continents. As such, it’s common to travel between the European and Asian sides by ferry.
Ferries vary in their accessibility. Some ferries have fully accessible first floors, both inside and on the outdoor deck. Others are only accessible on the outdoor deck, as there are stairs leading inside.
Most of the ramps leading to the ferries are wide. The ramps usually aren’t perfectly flush with the ground, with a ledge you may have to go over.
There are many ferries that travel between the ports located on both the European and Asian sides. We recommend going to the port at whatever time is convenient for you. The port staff can then assist you with recommending the most accessible ferry.
Travel Tip: Your Istanbulkart card is valid on the ferry, regardless of whether or not you take a public or privately owned ferry. Prices are the same for both the public and private ferries.
Wheelchair Accessible Things to do in Istanbul
Now that you know how to get around Istanbul, let’s talk about the many wonderful wheelchair accessible places the city offers. Istanbul is huge, so we recommend spending at least a few days to explore.
1. Hagia Sophia Museum
This church-turned-mosque-turned-museum is an iconic symbol of Istanbul and deserves the top spot in this post.
Hagia Sophia is accessible via the main entrance, with ramps leading through the security area. The grounds around the museum are small, so once you pass through security, you’ll likely be ready to make a beeline for the museum entrance.
The first floor of Hagia Sophia is accessible, but not perfectly so.
Ramps are scattered throughout the first floor of the museum so that you have full access. However, you’re going to have to manage some bumps going to and from the ramps.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here are a few we took for you:
2. Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque)
Located across from the Haga Sofia Museum, the Sultanahmet Mosque, nicknamed the Blue Mosque for its blueish rooftop, is accessible.
The accessible entrance to the Blue Mosque is located near the German Fountain. When looking at the Blue Mosque from the front, head around to the right side of the building. Within a couple of minutes, you’ll be at the accessible entrance.
As with Haga Sofia, “accessible entrances” are not the average Westerner’s idea of accessibility. Below is a photo of the ledge you’ll need to pass over:
The grounds of the Blue Mosque are open 24/7 and are free to explore. Sidewalks weave throughout the property making it easy to manage with a wheelchair. From the grounds, when facing the front of the Blue Mosque, there’s a ramp leading to the patio of the mosque.
From here, you can line up to go inside. Since people are required to enter the mosque without shoes, they have special wheelchairs designated for the mosque that you’ll need to use. The mosque staff will support you with transferring between chairs if you need assistance.
As with any mosque, there are rules for how men and women must dress, as described in the photo below.
A note for women: You can enter the grounds of the mosque in shorts and a t-shirt. There’s a stand where you can borrow a long skirt and headscarf free of charge if you wish to enter the mosque.
3. Sultanahmet Square
The Sultanahmet Square, located between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, is stunning. Wide, brick sidewalks, manicured lawns, and fountains make this area a popular spot to explore.
There are a few vendors scattered about selling corn on the cob and roasted chestnuts. However, you won’t have to worry about being hassled to buy things in this area, making it a nice retreat from nearby vendors around the bazaar.
4. Drink tea in a madrasa
Turkey is known for being lenient about traditional Islamic law, and this is perhaps no better showcased than with non-Muslim tourists being welcomed to the Çorlulu Alipaşa Madrasa. “Madrasa” means a school of Islamic teaching, although the madrassa is no longer active today.
Çorlulu Alipaşa is open to the public, where you can enjoy tea while smoking hookah with your friends. Even if tea drinking and hookah smoking isn’t your thing, it’s still fun to take a peek inside.
This is a popular place with locals, so it’s a nice chance to escape the crowded tourist streets without leaving the touristy area.
A flat entry from Yeniçeriler Street makes the Çorlulu Alipaşa Madrassa one of the most wheelchair accessible activities in Istanbul on this list, so far.
Istanbul is famous for its bazaar and it just so happens that the bazaar is very easy to navigate with a wheelchair.
The bazaar is huge and has a number of different entries, all of which require going through security. The lines are usually quick, but the metal detector machine is too small for most wheelchairs to pass through. In this case, they’d wand you down and let you pass through the wide space beside the machine.
Many, but not all, entries are accessible. Gates 1, 2, and 7 have flat entries and/or ramps. We didn’t get around to visiting all the gates since the bazaar is so huge, but these gates lead from some of the most popular tourist areas, so they should have you well covered.
There are signs throughout the bazaar pointing you in the direction of the various gates and sections of the market.
Even if shopping isn’t your thing, you should still give the bazaar some of your time; the architecture and paintings on the ceiling are stunning.
6. Spice Bazaar
Head down the street from the bazaar and you’ll come across the Spice Bazaar. Like the bazaar, you’ll be wanded down before entering.
The Spice Bazaar has a similar look as the bazaar in terms of wide aisles, paintings on the ceiling, and pretty architecture.
However, as its name implies, the focus of this market is spices. Nonetheless, knowing that the Spice Bazaar is a tourist magnet, Turkish Delight sweets of all flavors are sold there, along with dried fruit and nuts.
7. Taksim Square
Taksim Square is located in Taksim, a newer quarter of Istanbul, and is a hub for both bus transportation and nightlife. The square is known for the Republic Monument, which was built to honor the formation of the Republic of Turkey.
The square is easy to navigate with a wheelchair, thanks to lots of space and a flat surface.
That being said, getting to Taksim is far from flat. We recommend either driving or taking the metro to the Taksim stop, which will drop you off at the square.
8. Istiklal Caddesi
Don’t leave Taksim Square without wandering down Istiklal Caddesi. This is a wide, pedestrian street that’s lined with cafes, boutique clothing stores, and souvenir shops.
Istiklal Caddesi is quieter in the morning and gradually becomes packed with people as the day- and night- goes on. However, thanks to how wide the streets are, you shouldn’t have trouble navigating the area with a wheelchair, regardless of the hour.
Just be on the lookout for the tram. It’s the only public “vehicle” allowed to pass through the area. Going from Taksim Square to the end of Istiklal Caddesi will take you around 20 minutes….that is, if you resist the temptation to make stops along the way!
9. Take the Tünel
Assuming that you walked the length of Isiklal Caddessi from Taksim Square, you’ll end near the entrance of the Tünel funicular. The Tünel is the second oldest underground railway in the world.
All entries to get on the Tünel are accessible. This is a great option for traveling between the upper part of town, where Isiklal Caddessi is located, to the lower part of town, by the water.
The ride is quick and since it’s underground, there aren’t any views. However, the entrance area to the Tünel from both the upper and lower sections will give you plenty to photograph.
10. Galata Tower
The Galata Tower is a landmark in Istanbul. Located in the Beyoğlu district, it’s close to Isiklal Caddessi.
Including the Galata Tower in a list of wheelchair accessible things to do in Istanbul is a stretch, as the tower itself is not accessible.
However, if you’re up for navigating some cobblestone, have someone drop you off at the street behind the Galata Tower. From there, you’ll be able to access the platform surrounding the tower.
The area around the tower gets very crowded in the afternoons and evenings. We recommend visiting in the morning and having breakfast at one of the restaurants around the entrance of the tower.
Travel Tip: While you’re in the vicinity of the Galata Tower, drive around the Beyoğlu district. This area has steep, narrow, cobblestone hills so it’s a sight to see, but best done from a vehicle.
11. Cross the bridges
There are two main bridges that connect the European sides of Istanbul- the Atatürk Bridge and the Galata Bridge.
It’s easy to believe that you’re crossing from the European side to the Asian side of Istanbul when you pass over these bridges.
But, we’ll get to how to cross to the Asian side in the next point.
Even though these two bridges won’t get you to different continents, they do offer beautiful views of Istanbul’s skyline without you needing to get on a boat.
The bridges are fully accessible, with the Atatürk Bridge offering an elevator to get you to a higher viewpoint.
12. The Asian side of Istanbul
Up to this point, everything in this post has been about the European side of Istanbul. Crossing by ferry is the most popular way to travel between the European and Asian sides of the city.
You’ll have two port options to choose from when taking the ferry- either Üsküdar or Kadıköy. Most ferries only travel to one port, so make sure you get on the right one before departing.
The Asian side of Istanbul has a more laid-back vibe than the European side. The area around the ports are cement, flat and overall offer the best accessibility. There are some parks that branch away from the ports along the Bosphorus.
Venturing inland, particularly in Kadıköy, you’ll come across cobblestone streets (usually with sidewalks on at least one side), cute cafes and street art. Nonetheless, these districts aren’t well designed for wheelchair users. Therefore, you may want to consider hiring a car to take you around.
13. Topkapi Palace
In the most basic sense, Topkapi Palace is a wheelchair accessible site in Istanbul.
After going through security and paying the entrance fee, you’ll be able to explore the grounds. Sidewalks are in the form of stone slabs that wind among beautiful buildings of the former palace.
The downside is that some of the buildings are not accessible. For buildings that are accessible, they require passing over elevated marble slabs. Take a look at the photo below so that you have an idea of what to expect:
The viewing area over the Bosphorus Strait is accessible. It’s pretty, but you’ll get better views from the bridges we talked about earlier.
14. Gülhane Park
If you’re looking to save some Turkish Lira, skip Topkapi Palace and explore Gülhane Park instead.
Gülhane Park is located below the palace. While it doesn’t showcase the intricate details of the palace buildings, there are some buildings throughout the park with pretty architecture.
This is a great area to escape the busy streets of Istanbul. The sidewalks are wide, paved, and surrounded by trees and flowers (if you’re traveling in season).
15. Eat fish at Eminönü
This title is a little misleading; you may not want to eat the fish at Eminönü. But let’s not jump ahead here.
Eminönü is one of the ports in Istanbul, located near the Galata Bridge.
When on the Galata Bridge, you’ll see a number of boats with Turkish flags bobbing along the shoreline. That’s Eminönü and that’s where the fish are cooked- directly on those bobbing boats.
Fish sandwiches cooked on the boats are a signature of Eminönü. The actual sales stand and dining area for the fish stands are makeshift tents along the shoreline, which are accessible.
Our experience with the fish sandwiches wasn’t ideal. For starters, the fish had a really fishy taste. Plus, bones were abound. It’s one thing to pick bones out of a bite of fish. It’s a whole different story when you have to sift the bones out of that bite through bread, lettuce, and tomato.
Nonetheless, this is a popular spot, so you just may want to try a fish sandwich for yourself!
Istanbul is well worth the visit and with a bit of planning and modification, it can be managed with a wheelchair. Will you be visiting Istanbul or already have experience exploring the city by wheelchair? Leave a comment and let’s start a conversation!
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.