When you’re traveling as a family, oftentimes you want to visit all the historic beauty and the rest of the family just wants to run around and play. But Istanbul’s greenery and beauty has tons of places where you can enjoy a nice picnic (or more!) and your kids can play in the local playground or run around to their heart’s content. Here’s a list of 5 amazing parks, all near each other in Istanbul so you can pick and choose, or go to more than one of them in a single day!
Yıldız Park is the biggest park in the city, located between Beşiktaş and Ortaköy. It covers 25 acres and is right in the middle of the city, and was recently completely renovated to become one of Europe’s most beautiful city parks.
The park is essentially situated on one massive hill, making for what is now a set of rolling parklands with a river running right through the middle of it, leading into a number of streams and waterfalls coming off of it. There are wooden bridges over the river and the streams, perfect for children to run along and swing on (and are perfectly safe and high enough for them to go on!).
It was originally a complex for the sultan’s hunting palace, and before that the palace was forest-land. There are four köşks located throughout the park, each one serving tea and small snacks. There are also dozens of playgrounds all over the park, built for different ages and abilities.
The park is massive – it’s quite easy to get lost – but that means that it’s really easy to find a little corner all to yourself and just relax amidst the greenery as squirrels, hedgehogs, and other wildlife come up and ask for offerings from your picnic basket!
Just up from Beşiktaş, not far from Yıldız sits an undiscovered gem of Istanbul. Another former hunting palace, this park has no playground, but it makes up for it by having peacocks, ducks and rabbits running around free. The park is closely manicured, so bringing in food is disallowed (beyond little sandwiches for yourself or your children) and children are discouraged from chasing the animals.
The köşks on the premises are breathtakingly beautiful, and you can wander into the main one, which is used as a dining area during the winter months. There’s a pond at the back of the park with turtles and frogs jumping about, and there’s a more wild garden leading up that kids can explore, possibly discovering a resting peacock trying to escape visitors! This park is lesser known and is almost never crowded, so it’s a great place to take the family and see both the history of the city while also letting the little ones have their fun in the sun. This is the only park on this list with an entrance fee, but it’s negligible (2.5 Turkish lira) and the upkeep is extensive so you certainly see where the money is going.
Emirgan is another massive park, a little farther along the Bosphorus than the other two. It’s known in particular for the beautiful flowers that are planted, and it’s a must-see during the spring for the variety of colors of tulip that are planted all over in various incredible arrangements. There are squirrels running around, many different playgrounds (including some excellent climbing jungle gyms for older children) and the park is sloped up to a köşk at the top which provides breathtaking views of the Bosphorus and an excellent place to get a cup of Turkish tea and relax, looking out some of the most beautiful flower arrangements you’ll ever see.
Meyve Bahçesi (Fruit Garden)
Another hidden treasure, this huge park is right under the bridge in Ortaköy, and as its name implies is a fruit garden with endless trees where kids can come and pick their own mulberries, apples, pears and pomegranates (when in season). There’s only one playground, located at the bottom of the park, but it’s well closed off and almost never crowded. Then fruit trees line a 20-minute walk up to the top of the park, where there’s a lovely café that serves a surprisingly wide variety of things to eat and drink, making sure to keep things cold in the summer months after the walk up (there is a major road just above the park, for those who’d rather walk down than up).
This may be cheating a little bit, but the palace gardens at Dolmabahçe are free of charge and impeccably well maintained. They are quite large and along the waterfront there’s a café which serves snacks and drinks with the best view you’ll find anywhere in Istanbul right along the waterfront. Look one way and you’ll see Topkapı Palace rising before you, another and you’ll see the bridge crossing to the Asian side of the city. And of course, the stunning palace itself sits before you in all its glory. Kids are encouraged to run around and enjoy the beautiful gardens, and in the summer months there are lovely flower arrangements to admire as well.