With thousands of years of history and a lively contemporary culture, Istanbul has plenty to keep visitors occupied. But a day trip to nearby beaches, forests and sleepier towns at the edges of the city and around the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea serves as a welcome break from the concrete jungle. Two history-filled former Ottoman capitals are within reach as well.
Here are the best day trips for an adventure outside Istanbul.
1. Princes’ Islands
A scenic ferry ride away from the city, the Princes’ Islands (known as Adalar in Turkish) are a favorite outing for Istanbul residents and tourists alike, with their historic mansions, scenic views, small beaches, waterfront seafood restaurants and relaxed seaside vibe. The largest of the four main islands, Büyükada, is also the most popular with visitors; its hilltop Church and Monastery of St. George is elaborately decorated with Greek Orthodox iconography and has grand panoramic vistas. Neighboring Heybeliada has lush pine groves and its own landmark monastery. Bucolic Burgazada and beach-dappled Kınalıada are less-visited but have their own charms. No cars are allowed on the Princes' Islands, so be prepared to walk or rent a bike on the serene (but hilly) streets.
Seaside cafes, ice cream shops and (largely interchangeable, often overpriced) fish restaurants abound around the harbor area of each island. Kalpazankaya around the back of Burgazada has a sublime setting and better-than-average meze and seafood, while Heyamola Ada Lokantası on Heybeliada is generally regarded as one of the islands' best restaurants.
How to get to the Princes' Islands from Istanbul: City-run Şehir Hatları ferries depart from the Kabataş docks to the four main Princes' Islands, calling at Kadıköy en route, near-hourly in summer (less frequent in winter) from around 7am to 11pm or midnight. There are also a handful of daily departures from Beşiktaş. The trip takes roughly one to 1.5 hours depending on your destination. Avoid visiting on summer weekends and holidays if possible, as the ferries and the islands can be packed.
2. Belgrad Forest
The 13,590-acre Belgrad Forest (Belgrad Ormanı) at the northern edge of the city is beloved by Istanbul’s walkers, runners, mountain bikers and picnickers. Most visitors stick close to one of the nine nature parks within the forest, where there are picnic tables, parking and other facilities, but venture off on any of the dozens of trails and you’ll have the serene greenery nearly all to yourself. Bring a GPS as the trails are not marked. Tucked away amidst the trees you’ll find seven Ottoman dams, some of them quite grand, dating as far as back as 1620 and built to supply water to the city through an extensive system of aqueducts and channels. The Atatürk Arboretum within the forest has lakes, walking paths and nearly 2000 different kinds of trees and plants.
There are rustic cafe-restaurants by the parking lots of some of the nature parks within the forest, including Ayvat Bendi and Falih Rıfkı Atay, and plenty of places for self-catered picnicking. A strict no-food-or-drink policy is enforced within the Atatürk Arboretum.
How to get to Belgrad Forest: Take the metro (M2 line) from Taksim to Hacıosman station and then the 42HM bus to reach Bahçeköy, the nearest settlement to the forest. From Bahçeköy, you can walk into the forest or catch a taxi to the more popular picnic areas. Getting a taxi back out can be trickier, however. For Atatürk Arboretum, get off at the Kemerburgaz Yolu bus stop just before the village center. The trip from Taksim metro station takes about an hour.
The Black Sea coastal village of Kilyos, about 22 miles (35km) north of Istanbul’s historic districts, is surrounded by some fine stretches of sand that draw city crowds in their droves on summer weekends. The main beach that's below Kilyos center is overlooked by fish restaurants, cafes and ice cream shops. Though the beach is free to the public, it's not always very clean. Many beach clubs in the area charge a daily fee but offer sun loungers, umbrellas and parking, and have on-site bars and restaurants that sometimes host lively DJ parties in the evenings. Burç Beach is one of the best of the bunch.
How to get to Kilyos: The 151 bus runs roughly every 30 minutes from Hacıosman metro station to Kilyos. You can also take a bus to Sarıyer (25G from Taksim, 25E from Kabataş, 40B from Beşiktaş or 25 from Hacıosman metro) and then a dolmuş (shared taxi) to Kilyos. The trip takes about 1.5 hours if traffic isn’t too bad.
4. Şile and Ağva
The seaside towns of Şile and Ağva, along the Black Sea coast east of Istanbul, make for a charming, low-key escape. Şile’s distinctive striped 19th-century lighthouse stands guard over a rugged coastline, near the town center with its active fishing harbor and beaches to either side. Ağva also has a beachfront, but it's better known for its two meandering rivers where you can canoe or fish. The green woods around Ağva have hiking trails and waterfalls. Both towns have a variety of accommodations – pensions, hotels, cabins and camping – if you want to continue your relaxation for longer than a day.
How to get to Şile and Ağva: Take a local ferry from Eminönü, Karaköy, Kabataş or Beşiktaş to Üsküdar, where you can catch the 139 bus to Şile or the 139A to Ağva (passing through Şile). Buses leave every hour or so. From Istanbul, it takes approximately three hours to Şile and 3.25 hours to Ağva.
The wooded hillside town of Termal, some 25 miles (40km) across the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul, is best known for its hot springs. Waterfalls, lakes and hiking paths can be found in the surrounding forests. Termal’s hamams (Turkish baths) and other spa facilities are its main attractions. In the nearby city of Yalova, you can visit the Karaca Arboretum and the Yürüyen Köşk, a small waterfront mansion once used as a summer house by Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic.
How to get to Termal: İstanbul Deniz Otobüsleri runs multiple car ferries a day (roughly every two hours between 7:45am and 9:45pm) from Yenikapı to Yalova. From Yalova, it’s a 8.5-mile (14km) minibus or taxi ride to Termal. Travel time is about 1.5 hours.
The western border city of Edirne was the capital of the Ottoman Empire after Bursa and before Istanbul. It boasts what is widely considered to be the masterpiece of Mimar Sinan, the architect who designed many of Istanbul’s most famous mosques and other monuments. In addition to Sinan’s Unesco World Heritage–listed Selimiye Mosque, Edirne’s cultural patrimony includes a 15th-century hospital and medical school complex, a beautifully restored 1906 synagogue and numerous other grand mosques and small museums. The city is also famous for its Kırkpınar oil-wrestling festival, a uniquely Turkish sporting tournament held annually in late June or early July. There are plenty of hotels in Edirne if you want to extend your stay.
How to get to Edirne: Numerous travel companies run frequent, comfortable coach services from Istanbul’s main bus station (upstairs from the Otogar metro stop on the M1 line) to Edirne. The journey time is about three hours.
7. Anadolu Kavağı
A former fishing village clinging to the water’s edge, Anadolu Kavağı is today the terminus of the long Bosphorus tour (uzun Boğaz turu) on one of Istanbul’s ferry boats. The approximately two-hour voyage each way is a spectacularly scenic ride past waterfront palaces, mansions and fortresses. Upon arrival, passengers have just under three hours to explore Anadolu Kavağı before the return trip, plenty of time to hike to the ruins of its castle, which overlooks the windswept Black Sea, and stroll back through town for a bite to eat in one of the fish restaurants by the harbor.
How to get to Anadolu Kavağı: Daily tours with the city-run Şehir Hatları ferry company depart from Eminönü at 10:35am, returning from Anadolu Kavağı at 3pm.
Set in the midst of a beautifully wooded nature park, Istanbul’s “Polish village” was founded by Polish emigrants in the mid-1800s and retains a small population of Polish speakers. The village’s sights include a Polish church (Our Lady of Częstochowa) and cemetery as well as a historic home that’s been converted into a small museum of local memorabilia. Most visitors come here to while away a late morning or afternoon over brunch or a barbecue picnic at one of Polonezköy’s numerous restaurants. A few have Polish specialties like pierogi on the menu alongside Turkish dishes. A stroll in the woods on the walking path (yürüyüş parkuru) that starts from the edge of town is a great way to work up an appetite.
How to get to Polonezköy: It’s about a one-hour drive, depending on traffic, to Polonezköy from central Istanbul. The closest public transportation hub is Kavacık, on the Asian side of the city near the second bridge. A taxi ride from here takes 20 minutes or so.
9. Yeşilköy and Florya
The seaside suburb of Florya is home to the Atatürk Marine Mansion (Atatürk Deniz Köşkü), a striking modernist building sitting on pillars in the sea that served as a summer house for Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and now operates as a small museum. Nearby is the Florya Güneș Plajı beach club, and just a bit inland, the Florya Atatürk Ormanı, a large public park with plenty of play areas, picnic tables, trees and cycling and walking paths.
To the east of Florya along the Marmara Sea, the pleasant village-like neighborhood of Yeşilköy has a charming harbor area, historic wooden homes and churches tucked away in its backstreets (the late-19th-century St. Etienne Latin Catholic Church is open to visitors daily), and lots of restaurants and cafes. The Istanbul Aviation Museum in Yeşilköy, on the edge of the old Atatürk Airport, is a mostly open-air display of military planes and equipment.
Yeşilköy and Florya are connected by a long waterfront promenade and park that’s frequented by local families out for a picnic or a stroll. The path passes by the Istanbul Aquarium, featuring more than 1500 aquatic and terrestrial species; an old-fashioned amusement park (lunapark); two small public beaches with minimal facilities; and various spots to rent bicycles, scooters and pedal cars.
How to get to Yeşilköy and Florya: Take the metro (M2 line) from Taksim to Yenikapı and then transfer to the Marmaray rail line, which stops at Yeşilköy (across from the Aviation Museum), Florya Akvaryum (by the aquarium) and Florya (close to the Atatürk Marine Mansion). The whole trip should take less than an hour each way.
10. Rumelifeneri and Garipçe
The fishing village of Rumelifeneri sits at the far northern point of Istanbul where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea; its namesake lighthouse was built in 1856 to monitor the strait during the Crimean War. Nearby are the evocative ruins of a 17th-century fortress and arsenal, with waves crashing below its twin turrets and the remnants of its walls. Even less is left of the fortress in the village of Garipçe, approximately two miles south. The two villages are popular spots for Istanbulites to have a leisurely weekend breakfast or fish dinner by the seaside. Both also have small beaches that are not particularly inviting, but you might spot surfers riding the waves off of Rumelifeneri.
How to get to Rumelifeneri and Garipçe: The 40 bus runs from Taksim to Rumelifeneri, stopping in Garipçe en route. Alternatively, take the metro (M2) line from Taksim to Hacıosman station and then transfer to the 150 bus, which also goes to both villages. The one-way journey takes approximately 1.5 hours either way, but if traffic is bad (as it often is), the second option will probably be quicker.
11. Thrace Vineyard Route
Wine grapes have been grown since ancient times in Thrace, a region shared by Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece, and modern Turkish winemakers are keeping that tradition alive. A dozen boutique vineyards have banded together to create the Thrace Vineyard Route (Trakya Bağ Rotası) as a way to bring attention to the area’s wines, as well as its cuisine, history and natural landscapes. Most offer tours and tastings while some have fine restaurants as well.
How to get to Thrace Vineyard Route: The main areas for wineries are around Tekirdağ, Şarköy, Kırklareli and Gelibolu, each within a three- to four-hour drive from Istanbul. A few vineyards, including Arcadia, Barbare and Vino Dessera, have boutique-hotel-style accommodations and offer package stays inclusive of all food and wine.
A bustling modern metropolis and Turkey’s fourth largest city, Bursa retains a wealth of important monuments from its days as the first capital of the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century, including grand mosques, historic markets and the ornate mausoleums of the early sultans. The area’s thermal springs flow into some of Bursa’s hamams and spa hotels. Uludağ, the “great mountain” that towers over the city, offers skiing in winter, wooded hiking in summer and a ride on the world’s longest cable car any time of the year. Though you can visit Bursa on a long day trip, its attractions are sufficient to merit an overnight stay at one of the city’s many hotels.
How to get to Bursa: BUDO and İDO ferries make the roughly two-hour journey from Istanbul (departing from Eminönü and Yenikapı, respectively) across the Sea of Marmara to Mudanya around six times a day. From Mudanya, take a bus or taxi the final 20 miles to central Bursa.
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