Turkey’s largest city is a huge, buzzing metropolis, an architectural wonder and without a doubt, a cultural gem.
The hustle and bustle of daily life will most definitely keep you entertained but as with all big cities, may also wear you out.
The good news is that Istanbul is ideally located nearby to some of the most enviable destinations in Turkey that are perfect for taking a break from city life.
From iconic architectural sites to idyllic beaches and historic towns, the area surrounding Istanbul is rich in culture and nature alike.
Get ready for some downtime as you take a break from the metropolitan hustle and bustle with the 15 best day trips from Istanbul.
1. Princes Islands
Wildly popular amongst the locals of Istanbul, the Princes Islands provide the perfect getaway for those looking to spend a quiet day away from the hectic urban center.
You can get there by catching a ferry from Kabatas and in only half an hour you’ll be surrounded by gorgeous beaches backdropped by forests on islands peppered with traditional Ottoman-style houses.
For the best sunbathing and swimming, head to Heybeliada Island and if you’re keen to learn about the island’s history, stop off at Büyükada Island where you’ll find the Museum of The Prince’s Islands.
In the often scorching Turkish summer, another popular haven for sun-seekers and revellers takes shape in the form of the beaches of Kilyos, a coastal resort on the northern coast of Istanbul.
The long, beautiful sandy bay is the perfect place to cool off and relax and the local scene caters to a youthful and energetic crowd, with beach parties soundtracked by international DJ’s lasting late into the night.
Ideal for a relaxing day trip at the beach or for an overnight stay and some fun, Kilyos is one of Istanbul’s prime coastal destinations.
3. Belgrad Ormani
One of the things most notably lacking from Istanbul is the presence of serene and calm natural spaces, which is exactly the reason why a day trip to Belgrad Ormani is a favourite among locals looking for some tranquillity.
Translating to Belgrade Forest, Belgrad Ormani offers 5000 hectares of stunningly beautiful forested land a mere 40 minutes away from the city center, where residents and travellers alike can enjoy quiet strolls amongst the trees.
With some excellent hikes in the area, you’re also likely to come across some hidden historical remains from the Ottoman Empire such as dams and beautiful abandoned churches.
As one of the most historical cities in the country, Bursa enjoys frequent visitors from all over the world to come and walk the streets of the Ottoman Empire’s first ever capital and to marvel at its impressive buildings.
Concentrated in the center, you’ll find gorgeous mosques and tombs such as the Ulu Camii and Yeşil Camii, both incredibly attractive works of architectural ingenuity.
Just around the corner are the famous central markets, where you can spend hours browsing traditional wares.
Finally, if you want to explore outside the city, Bursa’s Uludağ Mountain is known for its excellent skiing during the winter and breathtaking views of the city during summer.
5. Anadolu Kavağı
A charmingly quaint seaside village that is not only beautiful but also steeped in history, Anadolu Kavağı is a great way to get to know a wildly different side to Turkey without having to travel far from Istanbul’s city center.
Here, you’ll find a coast lined with vibrantly coloured little wooden houses overlooked by the famous Yoros Kalesi fortress that dates back nearly a millennia.
To get here, jump on the Bosphorus Cruise from Istanbul and enjoy scenic views of the coast before you even arrive.
Work up an appetite by hiking up to the fortress and then enjoy mouthwatering, freshly caught fish at one of the waterside restaurants.
6. Gallipoli Historical National Park
Located on the impossibly scenic Gallipoli Peninsula with its verdant shores and idyllic coastal vistas, you’ll find the also beautiful Gallipoli Historical National Park, dedicated to memorialising and honouring soldiers from both sides of the First World War.
The cemeteries themselves, though melancholy, are stunning to look at and it’s easy to spend hours wandering around being captivated by them and the various other memorials.
The highlights here are Anzac Cove, Chunuk Bair and 57 Alay, all with their distinct but fascinating historical significance.
Widely recognised as a place with a very similar energy to Istanbul, but much more manageable in size, is the thriving seaside town of Çanakkale.
Found near the Gallipoli Peninsula, the town is abuzz with youthful energy as well as a number of intriguing historical points of interest.
Çanakkale is the nearest center to the archaeological site of Troy and is a good base from which to plan a trip.
Not to mention the huge Trojan Horse monument stood on the town’s waterfront promenade, which is what most visitors come to see.
Overnight stays here can be tempting, thanks to the town’s developed but not over-the-top nightlife scene.
Young adults and families alike can be found socialising and enjoying themselves outside bars long after the sun has set.
Having possessed the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site for over 20 years now, Troy is one of the most iconic ancient sites in the world, thanks to our fascination with its mythological back story fuelled by popular media and history lessons.
The site is home to ruins of the outer walls, fortified towns and a Temple of Athena, which, though they leave something to the imagination, are all fascinating to wander around.
It was also the meeting place for many Mediterranean civilisations meaning it holds a great deal of importance for understanding how they interacted over the centuries.
A worthwhile trip for history buffs and ancient myth fanatics alike!
9. Golden Horn
Acting as a crucial port to the vast stretch of water known as the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn is an incredibly beautiful natural harbour that is home to a number of fascinating historical sites as well as being a gorgeous stretch of coast.
The seven-kilometre-long inlet has been built on since the medieval era and once played a pivotal role in shipping throughout the region.
If you get off at Hasköy, you’ll have the chance to visit the opulently adorned Aynalıkavak Kasrı pavilion before heading up to the equally as impressive Eyüp Mosque, built 500 years ago and magnificent to this day.
10. Şile and Ağva
Over on the coast of the Black Sea, you’ll find the extraordinarily attractive fishing village of Şile, which, thanks to its gorgeous white beach, transforms into a beach resort during summer where you can go and frolic in the crystal clear waters.
If you want to explore a little, you’ll find a small offshore castle built on a rocky outcrop from whose peak you can get breathtaking views.
For an even quieter area surrounded by peaceful coastal scenery where you can really unwind, head over to the nearby Ağva.
Famous for being the second capital of the Ottoman Empire, Edirne is an astonishingly opulent city positively brimming with heritage listed buildings including mosques, museums and an enchanting and mysterious Old Town.
When it comes to culture, Edirne is at the forefront of the Turkish cities, with its wildly popular annual oil-wrestling contest spearheading the year’s events.
In terms of notable buildings, the Selimiye Mosque is one of the finest buildings in the country complete with captivating spires and a monstrously large central dome.
Also worth a visit is the Edirne Turkish and Islamic Art Museum, housed within the mosque’s courtyard and exhibiting fascinating ceramic, cloth and woodworks from the Ottoman reign.
12. Kilitbahir Fortress
Near the town of Çanakkale, overlooking the Dardanelles Strait, you’ll find the positively gigantic fortress of Kilitbahir, built in the 15th Century and still standing to this day.
Its size alone means that when you climb to the highest ramparts, you’re rewarded with incredible panoramic views of the strait and the peaceful fishing village of Kilitbahir below.
Take a guided tour to learn more about how the fortress played a pivotal role in defending the crucial waterway for generation upon generation.
Ephesus is a day trip that really shouldn’t be missed when visiting Istanbul.
Although the most cost and time-efficient way to get there is by plane, its more than manageable over the course of a day and definitely worth the time.
The ancient city has got some of the most incredibly well-preserved monuments on Earth, including the House of Virgin Mary, where she supposedly spent her last days.
Also not to be missed is the Temple of Artemis, which is officially one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Unless you want to explore by yourself and save a bit of cash, the best way to visit is on a guided tour, where you’ll be taken to the best spots and not have to preoccupy yourself with transport plans.
Formerly known as Nicea, the town of Iznik is another ancient fortified settlement that is brimming with Turkish, Greek and even Roman history.
It’s a wonderful place to explore on account of one of its main traditions, which was to produce and trade pottery and tiles.
As a result, the town is full of reproductions and the architecture itself is a joy to look at.
The icing on the cake is the gorgeous lake just outside the town where you’ll find restaurants and cafes serving delicious traditional food to whet your appetite.
Another full day commitment that includes a flight, Pamukkale is around two hours away from Istanbul including a plane journey and overland transfer.
Without a doubt one of the country’s most popular attractions, Pamukkale is a series of startlingly white thermal pool terraces cascading onto one another in the gorgeous flats of Turkey’s southwest.
What’s more, it’s also the site of the Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis, which has been incredibly well-preserved and adds to the entire surreal experience.
The dramatic landscape is most definitely worth the trip, offering endless opportunities to relax, snap incredible pictures, and explore one of the most unique places in the world.