Lapped by water on all sides, Istanbul had a thriving beach culture in the first half of the 20th century, but rapid population growth and urbanization have squeezed swimming spots out of the city center. Though there are still a few beach (plaj) spots at the upper end of the Bosphorus, most opportunities to get into – rather than just gaze at – the water are either on the Black Sea north of the city or the Marmara Sea to its south.
In popular swimming areas, beach clubs ranging from simple to swanky have colonized much of the shoreline. They typically charge a daily fee for use of one of their şemsiye (umbrella) and şezlong (plastic lounge chair), though some have a minimum purchase of food and drink instead. Beach clubs have bathrooms, changing areas, indoor or outdoor showers, and usually some kind of cafe or restaurant. On weekend nights, some beach clubs turn into party spots, with DJs and dancing. The hot locations can change with each season, as can the names and ownership of beach clubs.
Another option is halk plajları (public beaches), which are free and sometimes offer basic facilities, but can be crowded and are not always in the cleanest or most scenic locations. In general, Istanbul beaches don’t compare to those elsewhere in Turkey, but if you want to take a dip while visiting the city, here are six of the best options in the vicinity.
Princes’ Islands (Adalar)
Best beach for a day trip from Istanbul
Tantalizingly visible from the mainland on a clear day, the Princes’ Islands (Adalar) off the coast of Istanbul in the Marmara Sea are one of the most popular day trips from the city, for residents and visitors alike. The four main islands of Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada and Kinalıada all have beaches – a mix of sandy shores, rocky coastlines, and wooden or concrete swimming platforms erected over the water – and an array of beach clubs. Head away from the ferry docks towards the sides and backs of the islands for more tranquility and better swimming water. Burgazada and Kinalıada have some particularly nice spots. A smaller island, Sedef Adası, is harder to reach by ferry, but its beach clubs offer boat service from Büyükada.
If you tire of sunbathing and swimming, you can stroll the islands’ car-free streets – ideally with an ice cream in hand – gawking at grand historic mansions and poking into small boutiques, hike up to hilltop monasteries with sweeping views or have a fish dinner by the waterfront. The beautiful ferry ride – from one hour to one hour and 45 minutes each way depending on the island you’re visiting – is part of the attraction.
Şile and Ağva
Best beach for a weekend getaway
In the far eastern reaches of Istanbul, the Black Sea towns of Şile and Ağva hug the rugged coastline, which is dotted with sandy beaches. Beyond the sands, both towns have ample activities, attractions and accommodation options to fill a whole weekend away. Şile has a historic mid-19th-century lighthouse and fish restaurants lining its harbor, while Ağva’s twin rivers wind inland from its beaches, past cafes, restaurants and hotels. You can go for a boat ride on the river or explore the nearby woods on foot.
Best beach for watersports
The Black Sea crashes onto sandy shores along the stretch of Istanbul’s northern coast west of the town of Kilyos (also known as Kumköy, or “Sand Village”). Strong winds and waves draw fans of surfing (sörf) and kiteboarding (uçurtma sörfü), with a couple of schools offering lessons and rentals. (Surfers also favor the rocky coast around Rumeli Feneri, farther east.) The same conditions, plus periodic undertows, mean swimmers should take particular caution and stay within designated areas, where the water in places remains at wading depth well out into the sea. Beach clubs in Kilyos range from family-friendly to see-and-be-seen scenes and are wildly popular on summer weekends and holidays, so expect a lot of traffic getting in and out of the area.
Çilingoz Nature Park
Best beach for escaping into nature
This forested reserve at the northwestern edge of Istanbul has a handful of beaches along its Black Sea coastline, including some in and around the small town of Yalıköy. Accommodations are rustic – think camping and bungalows – and access roads can be rough. Away from the beach, the 45-acre nature park (tabiat parkı) has lakes, caves and waterfalls to explore amidst its beech, alder and oak trees.
Suadiye and Caddebostan
Best beach for urban sunbathing
On the Asian (Anatolian) side of Istanbul, the neighborhoods of Suadiye and adjacent Caddebostan have small strips of beach beside their shorefront parks and promenades. The cleanliness of the water and sand can be variable, but the proximity to the city center is hard to beat for a quick spot of sunbathing or swimming. Caddebostan has a windsurfing center too. Bicycle rentals are available along the shore, and there’s no shortage of places nearby to grab a bite or a drink.
Best beach for a relaxed family vacation
Farther away from Istanbul than the Princes’ Islands, but less busy with visitors, the Marmara Islands have a small year-round population as well as summer homes for Turkish families. Avşa Island (Avşa Adası) has the biggest selection of beaches and the most nightlife, while the beach resorts on green, mountainous Marmara Island (Marmara Adası) are sleepier. Marmara Island was an important source of marble in ancient times, and some relics of the Byzantine and Ottoman past remain scattered around. Numerous apartment and villa rentals are available on both islands, making them a good option for families or groups who prefer more space than a hotel offers or want to settle in for a longer, more home-like stay.