- 1 Istanbul — the provincial capital, where 95% or more of the population of the province resides
- 2 Anadolu Kavağı — pleasant village with the hilltop Yoros Castle northeast of Istanbul, near the Black Sea
- 3 Ağva — at the far northeast of the province on the Black Sea, with charming guesthouses lining the banks of an emerald river
- 4 Büyükçekmece — a lakeside suburb on the western end of the urban sprawl of Istanbul, worth a visit for its stone bridge, mosque, and caravanserai on the ancient route to Europe
- 5 Çatalca — one of the most rural parts of the province, and a good base to explore the historic sites lost in the northwestern forests from
- 6 Kilyos — village on the Black Sea north of European side of Istanbul with an easy access to the city; its sandy beaches are a favourite getaway from the city in summertime
- 7 Polonezköy — a village in the backyard of Istanbul founded by Polish settlers in 19th century, with pleasant traditional houses and beautiful forests
- 8 Rumelifeneri — pleasant village on the tip of western peninsula, at the northern entrance of Bosphorus, with a citadel and fish restaurants
- 9 Şile — town on Black Sea coast northeast of Istanbul; a favourite location for swimming in weekends
Istanbul Province basically extends over two peninsulas surrounded by Black Sea, Bosphorus, and the Sea of Marmara—Çatalca to the west of Bosphorus on European mainland and Kocaeli to the east of Bosphorus on Asian mainland.
Since 2005, Istanbul Province has been co-terminous with the city of Istanbul, as the city borders were extended to include everything within provincial borders, but whatever official designations say, other than the huge metropolitan area—in a triangular shape, which has its base on the Marmara coast, covering an area up to 25-30 km long from the southern mouth of Bosphorus at each side, with the height of the triangle going all the way to Black Sea along the Bosphorus—the rest of the province is rural, or at least suburban, in character.
On Çatalca Peninsula, geographically an extension of Thrace, a continuous conurbation formed by summer houses of Istanbulites—concrete cottages in usually densely packed, albeit somewhat leafy, housing estates, which people of the crowded city flee in every possible opportunity, which makes highways west of city verysted on Sunday evenings in summertime—lines the southwestern coasts along Marmara. Inland is mostly open farmlands producing much wheat and sunflower, and dotted by villages, although landscapes get more industrial as you get closer to the major highways or the outskirts of Istanbul. The vegetation gets lusher as you approach Black Sea coast, although some of the forests close to the shore are pierced by ugly open pit-mines. Another feature along Çatalca's Black Sea coast is quite large Lake Terkos (Terkos Gölü, a.k.a. Durusu Gölü), a freshwater lake although separated from brackish Black Sea only by a series of dunes and one of the major sources of drinking water of Istanbul.
On the Marmara coast of Kocaeli Peninsula, the city of Istanbul proper well extends to (and beyond) the provincial border. Inland of this peninsula is more verdant than Çatalca, with some of the hills (around Alemdağ) covered by heathlands, a rare habitat that is found only in a handful of locations around the world. The Black Sea coast of this half of the province is also wooded, but again just like its counterpart to west, is cut through by open-pit mines at several locations.
On both peninsulas, the southern coasts are flatter and it gets hillier as you go north, which is a part of the mountain chain that lines all along the southern edge of the Black Sea, albeit divided by the deep "valley" of the Bosphorus—there is indeed a theory that hypothesizes the Bosphorus was a river in prehistory, emptying into the Black Sea which was then a quite large freshwater lake but still smaller than its current size, that was later flooded by the rising waters of the Mediterranean at the end of glacial age, turning the riverbed into the strait that it is. The theory goes on arguing that this might gave rise to the legends of great flood and Noah's Ark.
While the official standard of Turkish is based on Istanbul dialect, five decades of heavy immigration from all over Turkey means that just about any dialect or language spoken in the country can be heard in Istanbul, in which communicating in many of major world languages is no problem, especially in tourism-related businesses. In the western reaches of the province, around Silivri, Çatalca, and the surrounding countryside, Thracian dialect prevails among natives, although that is hardly a barrier to communication for travellers speaking Turkish, as that dialect is fairly close to standard Turkish.
Virtually among all options of getting into the province, you will have to touch down Istanbul first in one way or another, although it is generally possible to get off the buses heading for Istanbul from locations in Eastern Thrace in Silivri, around 60 km west of Istanbul.
Due to the geography of the province lying elongatedly on peninsulas, major routes follow a west-east axis.
The highway D100 which closely follows the coast of Marmara on both sides of Bosphorus, and the motorway/toll-road O-3/E80 which lies in parallel with D100 a few km inland to north, are the main backbones of the traffic in the province (and also are the main roads connecting it with neighbouring regions), turning into heavily congested urban roads, especially in the case of D100, when crossing the city of Istanbul proper.
D020 and D010 (which is essentially a continuation of D020 through Belgrad Forest), lie further north of O-3/E80, mostly traversing wooded rural areas of northern parts of the province, on both sides.
A few daily trains from Sirkeci Station connect a number of remote inland villages in addition to the town of Çatalca to Istanbul. Other than the line in the city of Istanbul, which lies along the Marmara coast, there is no railtrack on Kocaeli side, so your option of getting around by train there is pretty much limited to suburban trains plying between Haydarpaşa Station and Gebze out of provincial borders.
Outlying towns have fairly frequent bus/minibus connections with Istanbul. The buses to towns in western parts of the province depart from Yenibosna metro station, one of the westernmost stations on M1 line. Villages along northern coast are served by buses and minibuses from Sarıyer, the northernmost neighbourhood of city on Bosphorus, while the buses to towns and villages on eastern peninsula usually have their terminals in Harem, the main bus station on Asian Side.
Of course, your prime reason to be here is to experience Istanbul. When you've done as much as you can cope with there, or need a break from the city, take time to explore the surrounding province.
West of the Bosphorus in Europe:
- Belgrad Forest (Belgrad Ormanı) northwest of Istanbul close to the Black Sea coast is named after a village, founded by a band of Serbian settlers in the 16th century from the namesake city. The original village, once a rural resort popular with the pioneering European travellers, is now in ruins deep in the forest, as its inhabitants were resettled to the western edge of the forest in the 19th century presumably to protect the nearby water sources from pollution. A mostly primordial forest with minimal human intervention, Belgrad Forest is dotted with Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman aqueducts (kemer; many of which were built by Sinan, the Ottoman architect of 16th century), which provided the city with fresh water, as well as small late Ottoman dams (bent), many of which are accessible (or at least can be seen from a distance in the case of aqueducts) from the well-paved forest road between the villages of Bahçeköy and Kemerburgaz. Pedestrians pay 2 TL entrance fee, car drivers are charged with a somewhat higher amount. For transportation see Atatürk Arboretum.
- 1 Atatürk Arboretum (Atatürk Arboretumu), Bahçeköy (Bus 42T from Taksim & Beşiktaş, bus 42M from 4-Levent, or bus 153 from Sarıyer), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Tu-Su 08:30-17:30. From Bahçeköy village follow the road lined with very old trees, turn opposite the Faculty of Forestry (Orman Fakültesi) and follow signs for "Kemerburgaz" and "Atatürk Arboretumu" for 10 mins. The arboretum, surrounded by a natural oak forest, is planted with many non-native tree species (turning crimson/golden/purple as winter approaches) and has a pond complete with sometimes-aggressive ducks. It's an almost mystic place during hazy autumn days, but is always very scenic no matter what the season. There's also a wooden observation tower on one of the hilltops, offering a view of the surrounding forests and the distant Bosphorus. Watch for migratory birds in autumn. No eating, no picnicking, no video photography and no smoking. Weekend 20 TL, weekdays 7.5 TL.
- Kemerburgaz is a low-rise suburb surrounded by the forest, primarily known for a relatively high density of nearby Ottoman era aqueducts, the longest of which gave the town its name ("aqueduct castle", although no castle is to be seen around nowadays).
- Anastasian Wall (not to be confused with the Theodosian Walls of Istanbul proper) is an ancient defence network built by the Byzantines to stop the barbarian raids onto the imperial capital from the west, that is comparable to Hadrian's Wall of Britain in size (but certainly not in popularity!) While most of the actual walls, which once stretched for 56 km between the coasts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, i.e. along the entire width of the Çatalca Peninsula, some 60 km west of Istanbul (the southern end of the walls are thought to be in Silivri), were re-used in some other constructions through the ages, it is very much possible to see some fairly well preserved sections in the woodlands to the north; have a read of the detailed directions before setting out as the Wall is not signed in any way.
East of the Bosphorus in Asia:
- Anadolu Kavağı (also known as Kavak): The northernmost neighbourhood of Istanbul city, this is practically a separate village, accessible only by a windy and narrow road through the forest, by infrequent public buses, or by ferries (the best way to go there). The ferries depart from Eminönü (a couple times daily, from the pier named Boğaz İskelesi) and Sariyer (much more frequently), which is the northernmost district on European side (take the buses from Hacıosman, the northern terminus of the M2 metro line, for Sarıyer). Once in Anadolu Kavağı, climb up to the hilltop Yoros Castle (follow the signs starting from the square near the quay, it takes about 20 minutes on foot, free admission). While it is unclear who built it, maybe the Byzantines or the Genoese perhaps, it is pretty obvious that it was built to protect the northern entrance of Bosphorus. The castle offers a view of the mouth of the Bosporus and the Black Sea beyond, and it would look as if not much had changed since Jason and the Argonauts sailed through here in pursuit of the Golden Fleece, if it weren't for the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge that blocks part of the view north. When you turn your back to Black Sea on the other hand, you’ll have a distant view of business district of the city, full of skyscrapers. When you’re done in the castle, return back to town centre, and before boarding the ship that will take you back to the city, have a waffle and a hot coffee in one of the cafés near the shore if it’s winter. Open-air cafes just across the street from the citadel overlook the pleasant wooded vale, the village, and the Bosphorus below. (The citadel and surrounding areas get really crowded at weekends during summer months, which makes falling into mythical dreams a little difficult. Also avoid staying around the castle after the night falls in winter, as scarily large dogs occupy all over the place.)
- Polonezköy: A village on the Asian side of Istanbul, about 20 km away from central parts of the city. It was founded by Polish settlers in 19th century.
Although the beaches are popular, the sea is rough and drownings occur each year at almost all beaches along the Black Sea coast.
While the alternatives for your next destination are limitless thanks to flights from Istanbul Airport to all six inhabited continents, here are some of the closer destinations:
- Eastern Thrace to the west, geographically European and culturally Balkan part of the country. Close to the borders of Istanbul Province are Saray, Vize, and Kıyıköy on the Black Sea, to the northwest of the province, which may be combined with a trip to the Lake Terkos, and who knows, maybe with some exploring along the Anastasian Wall.
- The beautiful city of Edirne, a former Ottoman capital lies further afield towards northwest. Tekirdağ to west is a pleasant coastal town noted for its local meatballs and raki; and highway leading to which is lined with the extension of summer houses conurbation of southwestern Istanbul Province.
- To east, Eastern Marmara lies. Sapanca is a pleasant lakeside town 2-2½ hours away by frequent trains. If you happen to take the coastal road from Ağva in the northeast, Kefken—which has very scenic beaches and forests—is the next town on your itinerary.