Located in the midst of converging continents, Istanbul is a gateway into multiple cultures. But what about the neighboring cities, coastlines, and sites of ruins? With so many points of interest nearby, you’ll want to look into a day trip or two during your stay here, though choosing which world to explore first may be difficult. Read on to make that decision easier!
On the northern edges of the Bosporus (Strait of Istanbul) lies Anadolu Kavağı, a sparkling seaside village that makes for the ideal day trip. Anadolu Kavağı is known for its seafood delicacies, quaint streets, and the storied Yoros Castle. This former citadel was built by the Byzantine and requires a steep climb to reach, but once atop the hill, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the Bosporus and Black Sea. While there, you’ll also want to check out the Kumdöken Fountain, whose waters are believed by locals to have healing powers.
To reach the quiet town, hop on one of the ferries leaving Eminönü Pier through the Şehir Hatları ferry company. The ride takes roughly 90 minutes and costs just 25 TL ($4 USD) round-trip!
As Turkey’s fourth-largest city, Bursa won’t serve as a complete break from the urban bustle, but with just a fraction of Istanbul’s population (roughly two million), it will provide a much different view of Turkish culture. The city, once a capital for the Ottoman Empire, has seen much of its ancient infrastructure preserved and restored, so much so that it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. Some of the city’s biggest attractions include the Yeşil Cami (Green Mosque) and the Muradiye Complex, though there are plenty of other sites worth checking out, such as the Yeşil Türbe and the Karabaş-i Veli Cultural Center. Due to the city’s fruitful location on the slopes of Mount Uludağ, the region is also known for its fresh cuisine, with dishes like Iskender Kebap (lamb served with tomato sauce, pita, lamb butter, and yogurt) and Kestane Sekeri (candied chestnuts) serving as local specialities.
To reach this charming city, you have a number of choices, as cars, ferries, and trains all journey between the two locations. For the most scenic route, though, you’ll want to opt for a ferry ride across the Sea of Marmara. The easiest way to do this is by booking through BUDO, which leaves from the Eminönü Pier and arrives at the nearby town of Mudanya in just two hours (this trip costs $5.50 USD each way). From there, hop on bus F/1 or F/3 toward Bursa’s intercity terminal. More details about the commute can be found here.
If you’re looking for a dose of nature during your stay in Istanbul, head to Belgrade Forest for a day. The forest acquired its name during the 16th century, when Suleiman the Magnificent (the former Ottoman Sultan) brought thousands of Serbians to Istanbul following the Siege of Belgrade. Since then, the forest has grown in popularity and is now one of premiere green spaces in all of Turkey.
Throughout this beautiful deciduous forest you’ll discover historic ruins, marshes, reservoirs, pathways, and picnic areas. These landmarks are spread throughout the forest’s 13,600 acres and help make up nine separate nature parks, all of which can be enjoyed by foot or bicycle, no matter the season. With only 20 miles (30 kilometers) between Istanbul and the heart of the forest, the easiest way to get there is to simply taxi or Uber (prices range between $12 and $20 USD). That said, you can save a few dollars by taking a train part way (leaving from the Vezneciler station and disembarking at Darüşşafaka) and then hopping in a cab for the remainder of the journey.
Though not to be outdone by the Mediterranean, Turkey’s coastline along the Black Sea offers some of the country’s best scenery. And one of its most pristine sections can be found in Kilyos, a resort town home to amazing beaches, restaurants, and plenty of entertainment options, such as water activities and concerts. The beaches are especially crowded during summer weekends, but if you head there during the week, you’ll be in for a more relaxing experience. The easiest way to sneak away from the city is to ride the ferry from Eminönü to Sarıyer, then take bus 151 from there — an excursion that, in total, shouldn’t cost more than $10 USD.
Spread out in the Sea of Marmara are nine pieces of land that make up the Prince Islands, though only four are open to the public: Burgazada, Büyükada, Heybeliada, and Kınalıada. This assortment of small islands is popular because their serene allure is just too hard to ignore. Despite the crowds, the first thing that sticks out when visiting this archipelago is its peace and quiet. You’ll quickly notice the absence of engine drone, as no cars are permitted on any of the islands. Transportation is left to walking, cycling, or horse-drawn carriages — their unique taxi service.
Büyükada is undeniably the busiest island, and for good reason. It’s home to numerous old churches, mansions, and the famous Prinkipo Greek Orthodox Orphanage — the largest wooden structure in Europe. If you have time, be sure to do some island-hopping, as the others feature the same quaintness but with even fewer people. That said, catching the earliest ferry will help beat any crowd and allow for an even more idyllic scene upon your arrival. IDO and Şehir Hatları boats leave throughout the day from either Eminönü or Beşiktaş.
Like many small towns along the coast of Turkey, Şile proves to be a relaxing hiatus from the crowds of Istanbul. Located 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast on the shores of the Black Sea, Şile offers warm and sandy beaches, as well as plenty of restaurants in town serving fresh local specialities. Adding to the seaside scene are the town’s historic lighthouse and 14th-century Genoese castle.
Though there is a city bus from Istanbul to Şile (it leaves from Üsküdar on the Asian side of the Bosporus), this is one day trip that may be better suited for those with a car, as the bus makes numerous stops in small villages along the way, which will take up most of the day. With a car, you’ll also have time to explore the nearby town of Ağva — another coastal village full of picturesque scenery!
One of the best parts about visiting Istanbul is its diversity in cultures and scenery, but that also applies to what lies just outside the city. So make sure to explore the surrounding options during your trip!
Header image by @thejournalofrose.