Green spaces are at a premium amidst Istanbul’s dense urban sprawl, but the city does have some lovely spots to take a breather, ranging from leafy historic parks to waterfront promenades with dramatic views. When the weather is fair, you’ll find many of them bustling with local residents seeking a respite from the concrete jungle.
Here are our picks for Istanbul’s top parks and open spaces.
Best park for a quintessential Istanbul experience
A stroll along the Bosphorus is one of the great pleasures – and favorite weekend pastimes – of life in Istanbul. On the European side of the strait, the views of the sparkling water and passing ships open up north of the first bridge, with two stretches of waterfront green space in Kuruçeşme, followed by a smaller but popular park in Bebek.
Best park for a post-sightseeing stroll
With its tall trees, winding paths and colorful flower beds, Gülhane Park retains a formal, regal feel befitting its past as part of the Topkapı Palace grounds. It’s a tranquil oasis in the busy Sultanahmet neighborhood where many of Istanbul’s top sights are located. The park’s main path is bookended by the beautiful 16th-century Alay Köşkü (Parade Kiosk), from which the sultan used to view processions, and the 3rd- or 4th-century Column of the Goths, believed to be the oldest extant Roman monument in the city.
Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.
Take a walk through Yıldız Park before brunching at its cafe-restaurants © Sabri Kele_ / 500px
Best park for weekend brunch
Nestled amid the lush tree cover of Yıldız Park in Beşiktaş, two ornate late-19th-century residences, the Malta Köşkü and the Çadır Köşkü, have been converted into municipality-run cafe-restaurants. Exploring the leafy park’s many hilly paths is a surefire way to build an appetite for the large buffet brunch served at both cafes on weekends.
Süleymaniye Mosque Complex
Best park for city views
The hilltop Süleymaniye Mosque is one of the finest examples in Istanbul of a traditional külliye (mosque complex), and its extensive, serene grounds include a grassy lawn where you’ll often find people strolling or sitting. The view from the complex walls is spectacular, looking out over domed rooftops to the Beyoğlu district, the Bosphorus and the Asian side of the city.
Moda Coastal Park
Best park for a seaside walk
Lined with parks for much of the way, the long shoreline running from Kadıköy’s Moda neighborhood southeast along the Marmara Sea is one of the best places in central Istanbul to walk, run or ride a bicycle (rentals are available from the city’s İsbike stations). The picnicking scene is lively on summer weekends, and great sunsets silhouette the minaret-speckled skyline of the old city across the water.
Maçka Park offers a walking and jogging path © Jennifer Hattam / Lonely Planet
Best park for picnicking
Set among the built-up districts of Beyoğlu, Beşiktaş and Şişli, Maçka Park’s sunny slopes and shaded corners throng on pleasant weekends with picnickers of all ages. Dog-walkers, joggers, outdoor yoga classes, slacklining groups and children at play add to the laid-back liveliness.
Best park for urban life
The newly beautified stretch of Golden Horn shoreline between the Galata Bridge and the Haliç Metro Bridge has quickly proved popular with locals starved for open space in the city center. It’s particularly beguiling when free sunset concerts take place along the water’s edge in summer, with the vividly colored skies and lit-up mosques and bridges providing a dramatic backdrop to the show.
Best park for tulips in April
Istanbul puts on a show every April for the annual Tulip Festival, when millions of the bulbs planted around the city burst into a rainbow of blooms, and Emirgan Park is one of the best places to see the spectacle. Get there in the morning or be prepared to face plenty of competition for selfie space next to the most elaborate displays.
Atatürk City Forest
Best urban forest park
The 250 wooded acres of Atatürk City Forest, one of Istanbul’s newest parks, sit conveniently between the Darüşşafaka and Hacıosman metro stations, but they feel decidedly remote from the city’s hustle and bustle. Within the forest’s hilly confines, you’ll find three small lakes and 12km (7.5 miles) of walking tracks.
Best park for a peaceful ramble
Locals have fought to keep development out of this small nature preserve in a residential area of Üsküdar, and it indeed is still pleasantly wild, with meadows full of tall grasses, hidden paths and dozens of trees that are more than 100 years old. Keep an eye out for the ornate little hunting lodge (av köşkü) that belonged to the mid-19th century Sultan Abdülaziz.
Sultan Ahmet Square contains ancient Byzantine monuments © Panom /Shutterstock
Hippodrome and Sultan Ahmet Square
Best park for history lovers
Once home to chariot races and sultan-toppling riots, the ancient Byzantine Hippodrome is today a landscaped open space dappled with monuments, the oldest dating back to 16th-century BCE Egypt. Its northeastern end spills into Sultan Ahmet Square, which sits between the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya, and the smaller Mehmet Akıf Ersoy Parkı, where there are scattered remnants of the grand Byzantine palace that long ago stood in the area.
Haydarpaşa British Cemetery
Best park for quiet remembrance
This serene cemetery in Üsküdar is the final resting place for more than 6000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Crimean War, as well as in World War I and World War II. Graves of foreign civilians who lived in Istanbul are also found among its manicured lawns and tall trees, many inscribed with poignant sculptures, verses and remembrances.
Baltalimanı Japanese Garden
Best park for a tranquil moment
Behind an elegant gate on the main Bosphorus shoreline road in Baltalimanı sits this tribute to the relationship between Istanbul and its sister city of Shimonoseki, Japan, which sent designers to lay out the tiny garden’s cherry trees, mini-pagodas and carp ponds in traditional Japanese style.
Best park for hiking, trail running and mountain biking
The “lungs of the city,” Belgrade Forest is a 13,000-acre expanse at the northern fringes of Istanbul that is crisscrossed by trails and forest tracks ripe for exploring on foot or two (sturdy) wheels. Some of the trails pass by the seven Ottoman-era dams within the forest that used to provide fresh water to Istanbul’s city center. For those seeking tamer pursuits, picnic areas are plentiful.
Best park for botany buffs
From sweet gums to cypresses, nearly 2000 kinds of trees and other plants fill the 730-acre Atatürk Arboretum on the edge of the Belgrade Forest, beautifully laid out around stone paths, fountains and small lakes.