7 Best Day Trips from Istanbul

Istanbul offers a lot for travellers seeking history, culture and cuisine. But if you’ve got your fill of the city, then there are many other options for those curious to see more. Not far from Istanbul, you’ll find some unique places to spend a day out.

Lucky for us, there are many options to spend some time in nature and enjoy a picnic with friends and family. If culture is more your interest then cities such as Edirne and Bursa are easy choices. For something unique in Turkey, head to Polonezköy with its Polish history.

Some places can only be reached by car but for some others, there are local buses. These bus operators offer rides in modern buses and comfortable seats. 

Anadolu Kavağı’s waterfront buildings, image sourced from Flickr

Most of these day trips take less than 3 hours one way and are a great addition to an Istanbul trip if you’ve got an extra day or two. If you have a car, then exploring these places becomes even easier as you can take in the sights at your own pace. 

Some places such as the Anadolu Kavağı and Polonezköy are within the city’s limits and can be reached in less than 50 minutes. Others like Şile and Ağva take around an hour from the Asian side. Bursa and Edirne are on opposite sides of Istanbul and take around 2-3 hours one way. The Sapanca Lake and the Seven Lakes National Park can be explored one after another.

1. Belgrad Forest

A great escape that’s not far off from Sarıyer is the Belgrad Forest, with many different parks and gardens inside. This is the place to slow down in nature.

Take a day off here and explores the many nature parks located inside. Many Istanbulites escape here for barbeques and picnics, on weekends and hot summer days. Bring your bicycles and/or sports shoes and enjoy the marked trails in the forest. On the way, explore the area’s many aqueducts, ponds and dams, and the ruins of a church. 

You can find your way here after the aqueducts at Bahçeköy on Valide Sultan street, opposite Istanbul University’s sports pitch. A running/jogging path can lead you to the Neşet Suyu Nature park or Bentler park. 

Image sourced from Flickr

The Atatürk Arboretum is in the area. This botanical garden is beautifully landscaped. You’ll have to pay a little for it, however. Take in the beautiful views of the swans and lilies in the ponds throughout. It is a protected area so there are no facilities for food and drinks. As it is closed on Mondays, you’ll have to enjoy it on weekdays. Don’t be surprised to find the place teeming with photographers capturing couples in wedding attire. 

2. Anadolu Kavağı 

Anadolu Kavağı can be a great choice for a day out of the busy city because it can be described as a sleepy fisherman’s village. A 30-min walk up to a nearby castle called Yoros Kale rewards you with a great view of the confluence of the Bosphorus and the Black sea.

Image sourced Wikimedia Commons

Perched atop the hill nearby, excavations in the castle revealed artefacts signalling the importance of this place. The castle is in ruins now and hence, there are no admission fees. Nonetheless, it offers great views of the strait and the Third Bosphorus Bridge.

The views north from here highlight the importance of this lookout/defence point, as it served the Byzantines, the Genoese and later, the Ottomans. Nearby, Joshua’s Hill is thought to be the resting place of the Biblical figure, Joshua, and is a popular pilgrimage site.

After exploring the castle, enjoy some fresh fish at the waterfront restaurants near the pier. It’s a popular place frequented by locals. The Bosphorus ferry boats offer rides here from/to many parts of Istanbul. Catch one early in the morning and enjoy this peaceful part of Istanbul, preferably during the weekdays. 

3. Şile and Ağva

An hour outside of Istanbul, you’ll be in Şile on the Black sea coast. The resort town has a striking stone lighthouse that is painted black and white. Around 19 meters tall, it overlooks the rocky cliffs and its illumination can be seen miles away. 

Image sourced from Pixabay

The rough Black sea currents make the beaches in this part of Istanbul for advanced swimmers. Other attractions such as a small castle and a waterfront park make it a great choice for a day trip. Take a stroll at the port and visit the renovated castle perched on a huge rock. 

You’ve got plenty of choices for seafood in the small town so pick a crowded place and you won’t be disappointed. Small boutique accommodations in the town can be an option for an overnight stay. The Ağlayan Kaya Picnic area with an amazing view of the Black Sea can be another option.

A smaller town East from here is Ağva. At the mouth of two creeks, you’ll find many hotel options. If you’ve ever dreamed of riverside board and breakfast, then Ağva can fulfil it. You can then explore the wonderful river via boat excursions, offered by hotels. You can be picked up on the riverside right outside your room!

4. Polonezköy

On the Asian side not far from Beykoz, you’ll find the village called Adampol or Polonezköy, settled in by emigres from Europe. After Polish rebellions and other revolutions against the Russian Empire in the 1800s, a Polish nobleman Adam Czartoryski bought land in the Ottoman Turkey. 

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Today, the village has turned very touristy, but it offers something unique in Istanbul. Some old houses have now been converted into hotels or boarding places. You can find some brunch spots and bistros housed in European-style wooden houses, providing some real village atmosphere. Try some dishes at Mari’s House from 1842 or at Polina, for instance. Indulge in some Polish cuisine at Gospada 1882 or a breakfast at Leonardo Polonezköy. 

If you explore the area, you’ll see some homes with cultural memorabilia such as the Zosia Teyzenin Anı Evi (Zosia Aunt’s Memory House). The village also has a library, a church and a bee/local honey museum. Moreover, a cultural centre offers a guide to the cultural history of the place. In the summer months, the village hosts a Polish festival with folk dancers and food from the motherland. 

5. Bursa

Not far from Istanbul, the smaller city of Bursa offers historical Seljuk architecture in the form of early Ottoman mosques, a historical city centre, and a citadel. A conservative city when compared to Istanbul or Izmir, Bursa offers visitors many religious and imperial sites.

Ulu Cami, image sourced from Flickr

In the city centre, explore  Grand Mosque (Ulu Cami) and the Green Mosque (Yeşil Cami) among other smaller mosques, tombs of sultans, consorts and princes.  Visit the Ottoman-era caravanserais in the city and take a trip to an extensive mosque complex in the west of the city. 

Next, explore the covered market and grab the local speciality dish called Iskender kebabThe city is famous for its silk and the market highlights the importance of the city to the Silk trade. Koza Han was an old silk caravanserai but today it offers a quiet place to have some tea and coffee in its courtyard. 

Image sourced from Flickr

Another area you can explore is the UNESCO World Heritage town of Cumalıkızık, some 10 km to the east. The town is 700 years old and features traditional wooden houses with original architecture and in wonderful colours. Explore the cobblestone streets and grab a meal at a family-owned restaurant. Take a tour of a traditional house at Kupeli House which houses cultural items. 

Bursa’s Uludağ mountain is a popular sport with locals and out of towners for winter sports. There are many accommodation choices here for every budget ranging from luxury ski resorts to camping grounds. A steep ride up the mountain on a cable car can be a highlight of the trip to Bursa. Taking around 40 minutes, it takes you to the top where you can also explore the national park. 

6. Edirne

A 2-3 hours drive west from Istanbul on the motorway will take you to Edirne, a city with a rich past. There are historical sites such as Ottoman stone bridges, covered markets and an old city quarter where you can do some shopping. Next, take a tour of the splendid mosques such as the Selimiye Mosque (Cami) and the Old (Eski) Mosque.

Edirne is located nearby to the Greek and Bulgarian border and it can be as a pitstop for those travelling further West. Walk down the Ottoman-era Meriç stone bridge located some12 minutes from the Greek border. Take a break at Emirgan Tea Garden (çay bahçesi ) overlooking the Meriç River. 

Meriç River, image sourced from Flickr

One of the capital cities of the Ottoman Empire, it has several religious sites with great architecture including a synagogue. Some of the imperial mosques and buildings in the city are even older than the conquest of Constantinople. The most famous of these is the Ottoman-era Medical Museum (founded in the mid-1400s) located within the Sultan Bayezid complex. Medical research was conducted here and mental disorders were treated with music, aroma and sound therapy — something unheard of in that era! 

The restored Great Synagogue offers a glimpse into the Jewish community of the city. In the streets of the old quarter called Kaleiçi nearby, there are a variety of shops and restaurants housed in old buildings and traditional houses. The old covered market also called a bedesten offers options for shopping. Buy some local fruit-shaped air fresheners which are popular souvenirs.

Explore a historic caravanserai with classical Ottoman architecture at Rüstempaşa Kervansarayı named after the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman’s grand vizier and son-in-law. As for the local cuisine, the city is known for its fried liver dish called Ciğer Tava. It’s served with raw onions and fried dried red peppers. In other words, it’s not for the faint of heart! Check out Aydın Tava Ciğer and Meşhur Edirne Ciğercisi to try this dish.

7. Sapanca Lake and Seven Lakes National Park

Surrounded by forests along the lake by the same name, the small town of Sapanca offers some great lakeside restaurants and accommodations.

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Try the Naturköy Seyir Terasi (Observation Tower) for an amazing view and a great start to the day. Grab a spa package at the Richmond Nua Wellness Spa, a lakefront view hotel that offers excellent services. Later, visit the public Sapanca çay bahçesi or Serdivan Gölpark in the Northeast offering lake views.

Another picnic area popular with locals is the Masukiye village, southwest of Sapanca.  With its waterfalls and riverside restaurants, it offers a cool respite during the hot summer months. On the other hand, nearby Kartepe is great for winter sports.

Onwards from Sapanca Lake, you can explore Abant Lake (Abant Gölu) and Gölcuk (meaning Lagoon) Nature Park, for instance. These bodies of water and their respective national parks lie a further 1-3 hours away.

After that, the larger Seven Lakes (Yedigöller) National Park is an option. An adventurous ride into the mountains allows you to see beautiful tall trees, among them beech and pine. Some areas have vehicle restrictions. It allows visitors to experience nature at its finest — birds chirping, the sun shining and no sounds of the city or urban transportation! Moreover, admissions are charged per vehicle in the national parks so make it a road trip to remember with friends and family. 

In early autumn, the seasonal colours of brown, orange and yellow leaves are spectacular. In the summer season, the trees and the canopy can provide relief from the hot sun. As such, camping here can be a wonderful choice.

Venture further inside once you’ve parked your vehicle and explore the small creeks, ponds and wooden bridges, for example. There are even some bungalows available if you want to spend more than a day here.