Top 10 Most Beautiful Parks and Gardens in Istanbul
If you’ve ever been to Istanbul during spring, then you’ve probably noticed the colourful roadside flowers, particularly, of flowers native to Turkey: Tulips. April is tulip season in Turkey and to celebrate, Istanbul’s city hall holds an annual Tulip Festival in the many parks and gardens across the city.
Imperial palaces such as Topkapı Palace and Dolmabahçe Palace have their gardens impeccably landscaped. Some parks such as Gülhane Park and Yıldız Park were once part of the palace grounds, while others were newly created. The list contains some lesser-known sights in Istanbul that have become popular very recently. In general, Istanbul is not known for its green spaces but there are a few that help you escape the urban jungle. Let’s check them out below.
Located right beside Topkapı Palace is the small but calm Gülhane Park. The park is beautifully decorated with colourful flora during spring, especially for the annual Istanbul Tulip Festival. You can find visitors relaxing under the tall oak and walnut trees on benches or walking along the numerous paths available.
Once part of Topkapı Palace and only accessible to the royals, it was later opened up to the public. Today, the beautiful park is loved by Istabullites residing in the Fatih district. It’s the only expansive park in the historical part of Istanbul. Afterwards, venture out and discover the area’s historical buildings.
First, grab some street food before you enter as the street peddlers aren’t allowed in. Second, wander inside the park, discover some wooden bridges and wonderful fountains. Then, take a break at the tea garden at the end of the park. Here, enjoy an unparalleled view of Europe and Asia and the Maiden’s Tower in the distance with a cup of tea in hand.
Additionally, the area has historical monuments such as the Column of the Goths, an ancient marble column. Take a peek at the Turkish literature museum/library and the Museum of History of Science and Technology in Islam, for instance.
South of the park, there’s an elegant entrance to the Topkapı palace complex. It was known in the past as the Sublime Porte — the seat of the Ottoman vizierate. The Archaeology Museum, Tiled Pavillion Museum and the Cağaloğlu Hammam are also nearby. You can get off at the Gülhane tramway stop or the nearby Marmaray Sirkeci station.
Located on Istanbul’s European side and past the Second Bosphorus Bridge, the expansive Emirgan park and its grove is probably the most beautiful park of Istanbul. Accessible by a small ferry terminal as well as public buses, it’s right next door to the Sakıp Sabancı Museum.
As it lies further to the north, past Ortakoy, Arnavutköy and Bebek, the park can be difficult to reach given Istanbul’s traffic. Nonetheless, the seaside route can offer some respite from the chaos of navigating the city’s roads. As you pass by some great neighbourhoods such as the ones mentioned above, you’ll come across waterfront mansions, small parks, the Rumeli Hisar citadel and some great waterfront restaurants. An alternative route is to take the M2 metro. Get off at ITU-Ayazağa station and then take a bus east on Katar street and get off at Emirgan Korusu stop.
Once inside the park, visit the three historical two-storey pavilions that today serve as restaurants or cafes. They feature wooden Ottoman architecture with European influences and many decorative features. All three pavilions are named after the colour they are painted in — yellow, white and pink.
Take a stroll through many park’s trails and enjoy the landscaped gardens and carefully planted flowers in different shapes. Spend some time at the huge pond in the middle of the park admiring the cascading mini waterfalls or any of the other fountains.
If you’re visiting in April, you’ll see a spectacular display of tulips in a variety of colours. Millions of tulips bulbs are planted here for the Tulip Festival that has become popular internationally. The Istanbul municipality which owns the park organizes a photography competition in conjunction with the event. Check out the small Tulip Museum in the park’s ground. It highlights the flower’s importance in Turkish history and culture.
Dolmabahçe Palace Gardens
Located in the popular shopping district of Beşiktaş, Dolmabahçe Palace overlooks the Bosphorus on the European side. In the mid-1850s, Sultan Abdulmecit moved the entire palace from Topkapı complex to Dolmabahçe Palace, leaving behind the palace complex and its traditional architecture/interiors.
Luxurious interiors with a mix of Ottoman and European styles, in contrast to Topkapı Palace is easy to spot here. The lavish palace with its 285 rooms, elegant rooms donned in silk and rugs, a grand staircase and massive crystal chandeliers all showcase the opulence of its inhabitants and the skills of its architects.
The gardens and the fountains of the Dolmabahçe Palace and the Palace itself can be explored in one day. The grounds are impeccably landscaped with some beautiful pools, fountains and statues. The grandeur of the place is highlighted when one looks at the palace from the sea. One could even argue that the extravagance of the place rivals that of Versailles.
Otağtepe Fatih Grove
While there other panoramic spots, this lesser-known spot is worth it. Situated in the Beykoz area, this picturesque park has expansive views of the Bosphorus. Observation decks and trails offer visitors a visual feast of European Istanbul. As it sits on a hill just beside the First Bosphorus Bridge, it’s offers a unique perspective. Get there at/before the sun sets for the day and you’ll witness similar views such as the photo above.
Now known for a cultural centre operated by the TEMA/Vehbi Koç Foundation, it focuses on the preservation of nature and protection of natural habitats. As such, the area has a vast number of trees and plants as well as a greenhouse, with regular projects undertaken by the institutions.
Istanbul’s only cable car system is installed in this park in the posh Nişantaşı quarter. The park lies between Nişantaşı/Harbiye and Dolmabahçe Palace and is one of the biggest green spaces you’ll find around this area.
Locals enjoy it to walk their dogs with kids’ playground, some outdoor sports equipment, decorative pools and benches. A small “Art Park” in the northern corner of the park has busts of important Turkic emperors. Street cats are abundant here. Stairs leading downhill from here will lead you to a tea garden and playgrounds. The Park is home to the KüçükÇiftlik Park, a multi-purpose outdoor venue that hosts concerts and local festivals all year round.
To reach here, take a short walk from Taksim to Taşkışla tramway line. The short 3-minute gondola ride runs every 5 minutes and is close to the Istanbul Technical University’s campus. As a result, the cable car is popular with students who frequently use it to go from the Taksim/Gümüşsuyu campus to the Maçka campus. The area is also home to a few Ottoman-era historical buildings so be sure to take a walk in the nearby streets.
The Atatürk Arboretum is an amazing botanical garden with an artificial lake in Istanbul’s Sarıyer district. The 296-hectare area is home to many endemic species and thousands of different plants from all over the world.
The arboretum is connected to the larger Belgrad Forest. As it’s further away, it’s not very accessible but if you have a car, then you can spend the day here, and then explore the trails and dams in the forest. Technically the forest is around an hour away so it’s not particularly easy to reach, but it’s still a beautiful place. There are many trails and paths here that lead to different dams and ponds.
Many Istanbulites escape the city for barbeques and picnics here. Spend some time alone here to take in the beautiful landscape and plants on display here. Don’t be alarmed to find couples dressed in their wedding garb, for instance. The arboretum is a popular spot for local wedding photography shoots and is always busy as a result. It’s open all days of the week except Mondays and an entrance fee is charged.
This big hill in Üsküdar has Istanbul’s most amazing panoramic views of the Golden Horn. Its gardens have thousands of flowers, especially tulips during the spring season. It’s also one of Istanbul’s highest points and provides 360-degree views.
After enjoying the expansive views, enjoy a stroll in the colourful gardens. Take a break at the historical recreational facility on its premises. It’s a typical Ottoman style townhouse with matching interiors. Run by Istanbul’s municipality, meals include Sirloin steak stuffed with veggies and roasted eggplants, for example. In addition, traditional Turkish music along with your meal makes it an unforgettable experience.
Once part of the royal gardens of the Yıldız Palace, this park lies on the steep hills of Beşiktaş. It’s a green oasis right in the city as it’s not far away from hustle and bustle of the neighbourhood and is hidden behind walls.
Beautiful plants and trees offer a relaxing atmosphere with waterfalls and ponds with swans. The grounds have some wooden bridges and a suspension bridge.
Similar to other palace grounds, a few two-storey pavilions exist here. They offer some amazing views of the historical district of Istanbul and the Bosphorus, for instance. The Şale Mansion is a well-known face of the park and has hosted international dignitaries. On the other hand, Çadır Pavillion overlooks a pond. All of them house 19th-century Ottoman artefacts, elegant furnishings and interiors, and display Neo-Baroque influences.
Nearby the posh Bağdat Avenue, you’ll find the huge60th Year Göztepe Park. One of the largest parks on the Asian side, the park features a few ponds, low hedge landscaping, wooden bridges and aquariums. It has both cobblestone and paved pathways, a huge children’s playground with a variety of sets and a big play fountain.
Enter the park from the Bağdat Avenue entrance and walk the paths inside. Explore the rose garden south of the park, which is in full bloom in May. In springtime, the park is in full bloom in April, with tulips in particular, for instance.
In addition, benches are scattered throughout the park for adults and an adults gym area with outdoor sports equipment. This is a common feature in most parts of urban parks in Turkey. Moreover, just outside the park, the municipality has installed a public bike system. Rent a bike here and then return it elsewhere in the city using the same system. The park is popular with the locals of the area and is busy all year round.
Seaside Promenade Parks
Istanbul’s Kadikoy suburbs is home to a number of promenades. Almost all the seaside neighbourhoods on the Asian side have green spaces. You can explore each of their respective parks.
The green spaces complement the concrete walking/jogging paths along the sea. For example, Moda’s walking trail and the area’s Yogurtçu Park are worth a visit.
The coastal parks in Fenerbahçe and Caddebostan extend all the way to Maltepe. This 10 kilometres area has tennis courts, urban gyms for adults and playgrounds for children. A dedicated bike path allows both pedestrians and bikers to share the area with ease.
The Caddebostan coast is popular given its location to the upscale high street, Bagdat Avenue, a bar street in the area and even a public beach. The beach is popular during the hot summer months. Traditional Ottoman-era pavilions such as the Ragıp Paşa Mansion and the Sabiha Hanım Pavillion are worth a visit and are visible from the seaside.
The area is extremely popular for picnics and chilling out with drinks and snacks. A great view of the Princes’ Islands awaits you here! Moreover, an urban ferry station in Bostancı can get you to the islands from this side of Istanbul.