For those of us who love nature, Istanbul isn’t exactly an obvious destination. Indeed, part of Istanbul’s charm is its noisy chaos: whether it’s nightlife, restaurants, shopping centres, historical attractions, or people-watching, you’ll never be too far from what you’re looking for. However, there are options aplenty for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers if you know where to look.
Go jogging or hiking in Belgrade Forest
Located a mere fifteen kilometres north of the city, the vast expanse of Belgrade Forest is a wonderful setting for a jog, a nature walk, a picnic, or some bicycling. Located at the edge of Istanbul’s Sariyer district, the forest is filled with Byzantine and Ottoman aqueducts, including the famous Valens Aqueduct.
The real attraction of the forest, however, lies in the plentiful hiking and jogging paths that traverse the area. At over 5,000 hectares and filled with dense vegetation, it’s hard to believe that the Belgrade Forest is only an hour’s drive from the city centre; even on summer weekends, it rarely feels crowded.
Take a weekend trip to Polonezkoy
Meaning “Polish village,” this little town on the Asian side of Istanbul was founded by Polish refugees after their own country was invaded in the eighteenth century. Today, a small Polish community still resides there; its dedication to preserving its ancestors’ traditions has resulted in a place truly representative of two cultures: Polish traditions on Turkish soil. Although technically not a “natural” attraction, the village has done a wonderful job of preserving the greenery around it, and the end result is a quaint, charming atmosphere.
In addition, there is plenty to do and see in the village to justify a weekend getaway over a day trip: Polonezkoy offers a variety of restaurants, culture centers, museums, and old churches. As an added bonus, the drive there from Istanbul offers pleasant and idyllic views of the surrounding forest.
Tour Istanbul on a bicycle
If the thought of cycling through the city makes all your hair stand on end, you wouldn’t be remiss to feel that way: Istanbul is difficult enough to navigate as a pedestrian, with its often-ignored traffic rules, seeming lack of speed limits, and hilly terrain.
Bicycling through the city has and can be done, however, and is made easier by a number of private companies that offer guided tours. The upside to a guided tour is that the path is a well-tested one: you’ll be able to avoid the worst hills, while enjoying the best view, and also take advantage of an expert’s local knowledge.
Source: Flickr/Sean Pritchard
Pack a picnic and head to Emirgan Park
One of the largest parks in Istanbul, Emirgan Park has something for visitors of all ages: restaurants, picnic and grilling areas, and playgrounds for children toddler-aged and up. Although the park is a pleasure to be in throughout the year, one of the highlights is the spring tulip festival, which begins in April of each year and lasts for roughly a month.
Although the area tends to be crammed with visitors during this busy season and parking will be limited, the early morning hours are still relatively quiet. As an added bonus, the park itself is near the Sakip Sabanci Museum: with its serene greenery and quiet grounds, the museum would be a perfect ending point for a day spent in the park.
Take a weekday afternoon to explore Ataturk Arboretum
Located within the borders of the Belgrade Forest and open to the public only on weekdays, this arboretum is mainly targeted towards researchers and scientists, but can be appreciated by anyone interested in hiking among rare species of trees or photographing beautiful scenery. The arboretum contains over two thousand species of native and foreign trees, including silver maples, redwoods, and red cedars. Because of the nature of the park, food is not allowed, but be sure to pack a camera!
© Emre Ergin/Flickr