As an international city, Istanbul offers a wealth of activities and attractions for visitors. While most people think of shopping and sightseeing when they think of Istanbul, the city also boasts numerous parks that are perfect for a day out.
Istanbul parks are fantastic places to visit every season but especially around April and May, some of these parks are becoming the most colorful and gorgeous parks in the world when they are covered with millions of tulips as part of the Istanbul Tulip Festival.
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The History of Tulips in Turkey
We’re going to tell you a little secret about tulips and Istanbul. The tulip mania, which also affected the Netherlands, originated in the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul.
The Tulip was originally a wildflower that grew in Central Asia. The Turks were the first to cultivate it, doing so as early as 1000 AD. From the 16th to 18th century, cultivating tulips which was a culturally ambiguous emblem had become a celebrated practice among the elite and high-class people of Istanbul.
The flower had become so popular that the society in Istanbul had developed an insatiable fondness for them. The popularity of the tulip had not only made it a symbol of aristocracy and privilege, but also a symbol of leisure time and material goods. This tulip period which symbolizes a peaceful and prosperous era without excessive taxation lasted for centuries. Tulips are still one of Turkey’s most popular flowers.
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Istanbul Tulip Festival
It’s a tradition in Istanbul to plant millions of tulips every April. The flowers line the streets, grace parkways, and decorate open ground for anyone who visits this beautiful city during their blooming season! While the center of the Tulip Festival is Emirgan Park, tulips are found everywhere in Istanbul, including Topkapı Palace and Sultanahmet Square.
During the Istanbul Tulip Festival, the many beautiful parks of Istanbul will be overflowing with fragrant flowers. The most famous of Istanbul’s parks that include tulips are Emirgan Park, Gülhane Park, Yıldız Park and Çamlıca Hill. The square outside the Blue Mosque has, in previous years, had a tulip carpet.
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The list of 15 best parks to visit in Istanbul:
1. Yıldız Park
Located between Yıldız Palace and Çırağan Palace, this grove used to be a forest. It was later transformed into a hunting ground and then palace gardens. Yıldız Park has vast biodiversity of flora collected worldwide since the Ottoman era. Yıldız Park also has an artificial lake, manmade ponds, waterfalls, beautiful gardens, lime trees, ash trees, and even a porcelain factory.
Located on the European side, this is one of the largest public parks in the city. Like many other parks in Istanbul, there are panoramic views of the Bosphorus strait. There are also several restaurants in the mansions. If you feel like dining with spectacular views, this grove may be what you’re looking for.
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2. Gülhane Park
The name Gülhane Park is derived from the Persian “House of Roses.” On the grounds of Topkapı Palace, this is one of the oldest parks in Turkey. Further, it’s famous for its rose garden, which supplied the flowers to Topkapı Palace. Gülhane Park was also mentioned in Nâzım Hikmet’s romantic poem, “The Walnut Tree.” Supposedly, the first statue of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Turkey is also in Gülhane Park.
After a series of renovations, there are museums nearby. Further, Gülhane Park has its own stop on the tramway.
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3. Emirgan Park
This is the place to see some rare flora in Turkey. One of the oldest trees, the Japanese umbrella pine, casually hangs out with aromatic lime trees in Emirgan Park. Sometimes known as Emirgan Grove, this place has three historic pavilions named after their colors: the Yellow Pavilion, the Pink Pavilion, and the White Pavilion.
Though there are picnic tables, you may be overwhelmed if you visit during the tulip festival. This is one of the best parks during the festival. They have many events, including calligraphy, music, glass blowing, and more.
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4. Maçka Park
Sometimes this spot is called the Maçka Democracy Park. Take the cable car to give you a birds’ eye view of the beautiful pools, the wonderful fountains, the beautiful gardens, and all of the lovely park features. You may bump into many students on the walking trails because this park is near Istanbul Technical University. This is a great place to have a picnic with friendly cats.
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5. Göztepe 60. Yıl Parkı
Suppose you want to escape to zen green space after shopping on the luxury Bağdat Avenue. In that case, this is one of the gardens in Istanbul that you just have to visit. The tulip and rose gardens, the colorful fish, the natural ponds, fountains, and so forth. On the Asian Side, you may see the tourist and Istanbulites after work, playing on the gym equipment, or watching the sunset.
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6. Bebek Park
Sometimes called the Türkan Sabancı Bebek Park, you’ll find many locals here. Grab some ice cream and take in all you can of the beautiful park. There’s a huge area dedicated to kids. There are shops, cafes and fabulous restaurants nearby.
Renovated by Italian Architect Ermanno Casaco and reopened in 2008, you’ll find street artists, clowns, photograph sellers, and entertainers inside.
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7. Otağtepe Park
The stunning views of the city make this grove one of the loveliest in Istanbul. The name comes from the Ottoman army forces, called OTAĞ, and tepe means hill. The Emperor wanted to see the whole of the Bosphorus after the first siege of Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1391.
Locals call it Otağtepe, but the signs refer to this grove’s official name, Fatih Korusu. There are no entry fees, no cafes, and no restaurants. There are children’s parks, bridges, ponds, and a botanical garden with 15,000 means. At the far end of the coast of the Bosphorus, there is the Anatolian Fortress, where there are cafes.
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8. Cemil Topuzlu Park
You’ll find the visitors to be Istanbul locals off the touristic track. Though it is a small park and located on the busy European side of Istanbul, it is a nice little escape from the city.
If you want to explore, there is a monument of Piri Reis, who was the first person to draw a world map. If you love seafood, pop into a restaurant as this spot used to be where all the fishermen hung out.
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9. Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanical Garden
This is an educational botanical garden promoting scientific research and education relating to plant life worldwide and to the rich flora of Turkey. Their partners include universities in Turkey and Botanic Gardens from around the world. The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, Edinburgh, and the Batumi Botanic Gardens in Georgia are just to name a few.
Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanical Garden is located on the Asian side. This park offers its visitors an opportunity to learn. They have a library with primarily English and Turkish books. If you’re not up to doing research, you can earn a certificate here or even bring your kids to both play and understand nature.
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10. Mihrabat Korusu (Mihrabat Grove)
This grove has gorgeous pine trees, cafes, restaurants, and a stunning view of the Bosphorus. There is a hiking trail that’s 3km long. One of the bigger green spaces, this grove is about 25 hectares. It’s also known for Yahya Kemal Beyatlı’s, a famous writer, line: “I looked at you from a hill yesterday, dear Istanbul”. The grove is located on the Asian side, and there is a wide variety of flora and fauna. One of the many animals you might bump into is a tortoise!
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11. Hıdiv Korusu (Hıdiv Grove)
This grove is part of the gardens of a mansion that is referred to as Khedive’s Palace in English. Built for Abas II, the last Khedive of Sudan and Egypt, the estate has the first steam-powered elevator in Turkey. It used to be a hotel, but now it houses a restaurant.
The park area comprises a forest, fake waterfalls, a large rose garden, fountains, and lovely pools. This is one of the many magnificent parks with splendid views. It’s best enjoyed in spring and autumn.
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12. Ulus Park
This is one of the smaller parks. Though it may not compete with the more extensive gardens in Istanbul, it’s still a lovely green space that can be visited year-round. You can insert a coin into one of those telescopes to see the Istanbul city skyline.
At the top of the hill, there’s a cute cafe. If you’re visiting in winter, you may want to grab something warm to drink. The restaurant is the star of the show with its superb duck dishes. This park gets quite busy on the weekends, especially Sundays.
If you want to feel like one of the Istanbul locals, wake up early and watch the sunrise from Ulus Park.
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13. Çamlıca Tepesi (Çamlıca Hill)
Over 50 years ago, Çamlıca Hill had a reputation for being a lovers’ spot. Now, you can catch a newly wedded couple taking pictures with one of the most beautiful parks and the Bosphorus in the background. It’s named after the pine trees, and there isn’t only one hill. There’s the big hill, the small one and a separate huge area as a children’s playground. If you’re raising free-ranged kids, this is the spot to be.
While the kids run around, you can use this hill to see some of the most fabulous sights, from the 15 July Martyrs Bridge to Sultanahmet Mosque to Dolmabahçe Palace. This is also the spot for the new Çamlıca Mosque.
When you’re done exploring, you can visit one of the many teahouses, restaurants, and cafes. The Ottoman cafe has a historical theme. The nearby and recently built Çamlıca Tower has stunning architecture.
If you miss the tulips, then in Sept/Oct, from Çamlıca Hill you can watch the birds migrate from Europe to Africa.
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14. Beykoz Korusu
A quiet, forest-like grove, this may be one of the rare gardens in Istanbul that has a funny story behind it. It is said that Abraham Pasha won this place during a chess match. Hence, this park is colloquially known as Abraham Pasha Grove. You can see some of the ruins of the palace, but Abraham Pasha’s house has been renovated, and there is a new Glass and Crystal Museum there. This is a 30-minute walk from Beykoz Mecidiye Pavilions if you’re up for culture.
The trees are centuries old. The poolside/fountain-side tea garden is absolutely stunning. In spring during the Tulip Festival, the tulips make their way here as well. Though there are picnic tables, you may want to visit one of the lovely restaurants. That way, you can avoid sharing your lunch with the squirrels. Maybe their friendliness is why there’s such a cute squirrel statue.
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15. Fenerbahçe Parkı
Fenerbahçe Parkı is sometimes described as an island; however, it’s more like a peninsula. This park used to be where Istanbulites cooled down in the Marmara sea. Nowadays, you’ll find them picnicking. Just be warned, if you do picnic here, you’ll feel like Snow White because the local fauna will want to share! You might even see hedgehogs crawling in bushes!
It is a small park, on the Asian side, surrounded by marinas. You’ll find a dozen cats here during the day. In the evenings, there’ll be lights on the gorgeous nature highlighting centuries-old trees. You’ll hear seagulls and the horns of the ships. If you have time, you might want to visit the historical landmark of the Fenerbahçe lighthouse – which is the namesake of this spot. Fener means lighthouse, and bahçe means gardens.
This place attracts a younger, more vibrant crowd. It may be because it’s only 30 minutes away from Bağdat Avenue – an upmarket shopping street. There are sailing clubs, and the Fenerbahçe soccer team is based here. You can hire a yacht and take a personalized cruise if you want to feel like royalty.
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