Istanbul has many beautiful parks and I am going to introduce you some of my favourite ones. Despite being a megacity, I think Istanbul is actually quite green and leafy. There are numerous parks, both historical as well as modern. Even the motorways passing through the city are flanked by green grassy areas on the sides, often with colourful patterns shaped from various flowers and shrubs. Besides man-made green areas, there are also forests near many suburbs. Or to put it more accurately, the city has expanded into forested areas. Locals often complain that Istanbul is losing its greenery, because many older residents remember the times when they were kids and used to go swimming and camping in the areas that now have become built up suburbs of Istanbul. Those were the times when Istanbul had only a fraction of the population that it has now. It has grown exponentially over the last decades as people from rural areas are coming to the city for more opportunities and jobs. This trend is happening all over the world and Turkey is not immune to it.
Having said all that, I am pleasantly surprised that Istanbul has managed to keep so many green areas and even create new ones, such as claiming land from the sea and creating green spaces there. Naturally, it doesn’t always come easy, local residents have had to fight to keep their city green. There is this constant tug-of-war between the desire for more green spaces and the need for more housing as well as developers’ wish to build more shopping centres and office buildings. Geographically speaking, Istanbul is situated in a very favourable location, its seaside position provides plenty of coastline, which is largely open to the public. There are bicycle and walking paths, playgrounds, outdoor gyms, cafes and picnic areas amidst lawns, trees and flower beds. Besides that, there are district parks and historical buildings, old Ottoman-era palaces, which are surrounded by their own mature parks and gardens. Here are some of the parks I like and visit as often as possible.
Gulhane Park is the first park I visited in Istanbul years ago. It is located right next to the Topkapi Palace and used to be part of the palace grounds in the past. For me, the best part of this park is its huge trees, many dating back to the 1800s. It sits in the middle of the most touristy part of Istanbul and so it is often quite crowded. In winter, though, it is much quieter. The park is not very big, but it is the oldest in Istanbul. It’s a pleasant place to relax and unwind. In spring, it has also nice tulip gardens to enjoy.
In spring, perhaps one of the most spectacular parks in Istanbul is the Emirgan Park, situated in the Sariyer district on the European side of the city. Every year in April, it holds a tulip festival. Its gardens and hillsides sloping down to Bosphorus are full of tulips of many colours then. In the Byzantine times, it was a cypress forest. In the Ottoman era, it belonged to Feridun Bey, then Emir Gun Han who was a Persian commander and had since had several other owners. By the end of the 1860s, it was owned by Ismail Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt, who also had three pavilions built on the grounds as hunting lodges: Yellow, Pink and White Pavilion. These days they are used as cafes, restaurants and event venues. He also had a tulip garden there. In the 1940s, it became a public park and is one of the largest parks in Istanbul. There are two beautiful ponds in the park, as well as many species of trees. I have never had enough time to explore the whole area yet so there is always a reason to go back for more.
I have been to Yildiz Park in several seasons. My most vivid memories of it are from the last summer when I went there with the kids. It was such a lovely green oasis in the scorching heat of August, with cool and shady pathways, extensive lawns, ponds and streams. We had a delicious Turkish-style lunch on the terrace of the Malta Pavilion there, overlooking the park and the Bosphorus beyond. The large park is located in the Besiktas district on the European side of Istanbul. It was a forest in Byzantine times and a hunting ground for sultans in the Ottoman era. In the 19th century, when the Yildiz Palace was built nearby, the former grove was redesigned as a park complex, including pavilions and a still-operating porcelain factory. And while you are in the park, check out the colourful parakeets flying around or perched on the branches of huge mature trees by the lake.
Beylerbeyi Palace Gardens
Beylerbeyi Palace was built in the 19th century as a summer residence for sultans. It is located right on the shores of the Bosphorus, in the Uskudar district on the Asian side of Istanbul. The palace itself is magnificent and hosted foreign dignitaries in the Ottoman days. However, while you are visiting the palace, make sure to stroll around its lovely gardens. Although a small part of the grounds is open for visitors, they are nevertheless impressive with beautiful pools with fountains, rose beds, a seaside promenade, a small cafeteria, a bamboo grove and marine pavilions. Sit under a large shady tree by the fountain or on the bench by the sea and gaze at the ships passing by on the Bosphorus.
Beykoz Pavilion Park
Beykoz Pavilion is another palace where sultans hosted foreign dignitaries, including the Empress Eugenie of France, the wife of Napoleon III, in the 19th century. It is located on the shores of the Bosphorus in the Beykoz area on the Asian side of Istanbul. The grand pavilion has a tumultuous history and it was used as a summer retreat for sultans. The surrounding park is terraced. The pavilion sits on the top terrace with commanding views over the Bosphorus. Meadows and linden, magnolia and pine trees adorn the lower terraces sloping down to the seashore. Visiting Beykoz Pavilion together with its large grounds is a treat to anyone who enjoys beautiful architecture, walks in historical parks and expansive vistas over Bosphorus.
Ihlamur Pavilion Gardens
In the busy Nisantasi district on the European side of Istanbul, there is an Ihlamur Valley between the hills of Besiktas, Nisantasi and Yildiz. In the past centuries, it was a countryside where sultans used go for day trips with their families. The name ‘Ihlamur’ comes from the linden trees which used to be plentiful in the area. Sultan Abdulmecid had two pavilions built there in the 19th century. These pavilions are situated in a small attractive garden. There are peacocks walking on the lawn, magnolia trees blossoming in spring and beautiful statues placed around the pool. It is a respite from the surrounding hustle and bustle in one of the busiest districts of Istanbul. If you are in that area, pay a visit, enjoy a cup of coffee at the cafe in one of the pavilions and marvel at the surrounding beauty.
Khedive Palace Park
In the Cubuklu area of the Beykoz district on the Asian side of Istanbul, there is a small palace built for the last Khedive of Egypt and Sudan. The pretty Art Nouveau-style palace was completed in 1907. The palace and its gardens are sitting at the top of the hill and the surrounding park slopes down towards the Bosphorus. We once visited it in early spring just before the sunset and the views from this elevated position over the Bosphorus were quite spectacular. There is a large rose garden and in spring it is a venue for the tulip festival. Take a walk among the magnificent trees on the hill slopes and enjoy the vistas.
If you happen to walk along Bagdat Street, make sure to stop by Goztepe Park situated right off the street. Bagdat Street is a well-known shopping street for locals on the Asian side of Istanbul. Its wide tree-lined pavements on both sides of the street are full of shoppers and strollers at weekends and weekdays alike. You see plenty of luxury shops and department stores there, as well as cafes and restaurants. About midway down the street, you will find this gorgeous urban park. There are beautiful rose gardens, various fountains and pools, complete with turtles, kids’ playgrounds, an outdoor gym and large fish tanks to name some of its features. It is very decorative and ornamental in its layout, with several sections in various styles. So after you’ve shopped till you dropped, why not go and sit on a bench by the pool in the Goztepe Park, cool off, take a rest and smell the roses?
Besides historical parks surrounding the palaces, there are many modern green areas in Istanbul. I particularly like the parks in the coastal areas of Istanbul. I enjoy walking along the coast of the Marmara Sea on the Asian side of the city. The walking and cycling paths are right by the sea, with views of the Princes’ Islands and the European side of Istanbul in the distance. There are over 20 km of continuous paths with green areas of various sizes, lots of trees, expansive lawns, rose gardens, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and cafes starting from the farther end of the Asian side and going all the way to Kadikoy. Many of these areas have been reclaimed from the sea not so long time ago. These coastal parks are full of Istanbulites at weekends who like to have picnics and stroll by the seaside. On weekdays, these parks are much quieter with just a few joggers and walkers from nearby areas. And if you like, take a ferry to the Princes’ Islands from the ferry stations located along the route.
So, who said that Istanbul is very crowded? You just need to go to the right places and you will find plenty of greenery in the city, both Asian as well as European sides of Istanbul. I am glad that the city residents value their green parks and gardens as they are generally very well taken care of and appreciated. Every time I go to Istanbul, I, too appreciate its green areas and try to enjoy them as much as I can. If you visit Istanbul, I invite you to do the same.