A Local’s Guide to Unique Day Trip Ideas from Istanbul

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As a local, I know that Istanbul is one of the cities that makes a mesmerizing impact on anyone who comes to the city.

Istanbul has endless unique qualities that attract people in different ways, both the locals and visitors.

Undoubtedly, one of the main qualities of Istanbul is its vibrant city life.

Sometimes Istanbul seems so fast, and you need to slow down. The best thing to solve this problem is to take a day trip!

Istanbul is a fantastic city where you can easily have a spontaneous day trip. The choices are mind-blowingly good. Even some places in Istanbul feel like you’re miles out of the city.

As a local, I listed the destinations that only locals would know.

If you’re ready, let me help you discover the fantastic day trips from Istanbul!

Agva Town

1) Ağva

Ağva is one of the best places to visit if you want to forget the hustles of the world and lose yourself in nature.

This beautiful destination is in the Şile district of Istanbul.

So what to do in that Ağva? To begin with, located on the coast of the Black Sea, the Agva beaches are very popular.

Other than that, two beautiful rivers (Yesilçay, and Göksu rivers) flow through and meet the sea in Ağva. One of the best activities you can do is chilling near a cafe by the rivers! 

You can also take a boat tour or enjoy the rivers canoeing, riding sea bicycles, or simply taking a walk and admiring the beautiful view.

Lastly, fishing may be another option you can consider.

How far? 94.5 km – 58 miles 

Get there in approximately three hours by bus. You can get on a bus from the Üsküdar district of Istanbul.

Local’s Tip: I recommend fish restaurants near the port. Ağva Lighthouse is a fantastic place to watch rivers meet the sea and take lovely Instagram photos.

Additionally, you may want to check my “21 Fun and Unique Things To Do in Istanbul” guide to learn more things that you can do in Istanbul.

Heybeli Ada (Heybeli Island)

2) Princes’ Islands

To fully experience the beauties of Istanbul, you should at least visit one of the Princes’ Islands.

Buyukada, Burgazada, Heybeliada, and Kınalıada are the main ones. Actually, there are nine of them, but the biggest four islands are accessible by public transport. 

Buyukada is the most popular one among these islands. Yet it’s usually more crowded than others, especially at weekends.

All islands have historical buildings and beautiful streets to wander around. You may not be able to stop the urge to take photos constantly.

You can buy ice cream with unique flavors, rent a bike, pray at church, meditate near the sea and eat delicious meals at cozy restaurants.

Buyuk Ada Istanbul

How far? The islands are off the Anatolian coast of Istanbul.

You can reach them by city public ferries. The journey takes between 15-45 minutes, depending on the part of Istanbul you hop on the ferry.

Get there by ferries from (Asian Side) Kadıköy, Bostancı ports, or (European Side.) Kabataş, Eminönü, Beşiktaş ports.

Local’s Tip: Even though Büyükada is the first choice of the visitors, I believe other islands are better than Buyukada.

As mentioned, Büyükada is usually very crowded, especially at weekends. Burgazada is my personal favorite.

Istanbul is really big with many districts. Please read my guide “Where to Stay in Istanbul? A Local Answers with Map” to learn about Istanbul’s best neighborhoods.

Bursa and Uludag Cable Car

3) Bursa

Some people take a day trip to Bursa just to eat Iskender Kebab. 

Iskender is a popular dish made with pita bread, doner kebap meat (Arab shawarma, Greek gyros), butter, tomato sauce, and yogurt. 

However, is it the only activity you can enjoy when you get there? Of course not.

Bursa has been a vital silk-producing trading hub since Medieval times and has plenty of historical sites ranging from the Roman to the Ottoman Era. 

Koza Han (Silk Bazaar)

Koza Han (Silk Bazaar) and the historical bazaar are good places to explore history and culture while enjoying a good shopping experience. 

The Grand Mosque, the Green Mosque, and the Muradiye Complex are the most visited sites.

This city is also famous for its natural beauty and authentic villages. Some of these villages are Cumalıkızık, Tirilye, and Gölyazı.

Hudavendigar Park and Nilufer River

Also, in winter, Uludag is one of the top places in Turkey to enjoy skiing or snowboarding. Uludag is a popular place not only for winter sports but also for its marvelous nature.

Additionally, Uludag is a dormant volcanic mountain that provides thermal waters that you enjoy in many hammams that the city offers.

I occasionally travel to Bursa to enjoy thermal water and a quality massage. 

In short, we can easily say that Bursa offers many things at once, both to locals and visitors.

How far? 94.5 km – 95 miles (Driving distance, the ferry takes a shorter route crossing the Marmara Sea.)

Get there in one and a half hours by ferry boat from Yenikapı. You can also take the bus, but the ferry boat journey takes shorter.

Local’s Tip: In Bursa, there are many restaurants where you can eat Iskender.

I highly recommend Kebapcı Iskender, which gives you a sense of nostalgia. Kebapcı Iskender restaurant was established in 1867 and is very popular among locals.

Learn more travel tips about Istanbul by reading my guide “Is Istanbul Safe? Answered By a Local

Sapanca in the winter

4) Sapanca

Sapanca is one of the places where you can enjoy every season. This place is mainly known for its beautiful lake.

People come to Sapanca to take a walk around Sapanca Lake or to go canoeing.

It’s an excellent destination for people who want a peaceful trip surrounded by nature.

One of the popular destinations in Sapanca is Sakarya İl Ormanı Tabiat Parkı. This park offers you a chance to picnic on the coast of Sapanca lake.

Around the lake, there are many places and natural parks to enjoy. Masukiye is the most visited area of Sapanca Lake.

How far? 135 km – 84 miles

Get there in roughly one hour by train from Gebze and two hours by bus from Esenler Bus Station.

Local’s Tip:  I strongly recommend that you enjoy a delicious Circassian breakfast. It is one of the best food festivals that you should try in Turkey.

Kilyos Beach

5) Kilyos

Kilyos, also known as Kumkoy, is a highly-preferred place, especially for day trips. Plenty of people visit Kilyos to enjoy the sea and the excellent environment.

The most famous quality of this place is its beaches. Additionally, it is not the best place to kitesurf, but it is a unique place with kitesurfing schools. For more, click to read my kitesurfing spots guide in Turkey.

Kilyos is also a place worth visiting during the winter as well.

Kilyos presents a fantastic destination to see historical sites like the historical plane tree and Kilyos Castle.

As for the food, you can find many excellent restaurants in Kilyos, and seafood restaurants are the most popular ones in Kilyos.

How far? 57 km – 35 miles

Get there 20 minutes by bus from Sarıyer. Getting on a bus from Sarıyer will make the journey shorter.

Local’s Tip: Avoid visiting Kilyos during the weekends. It is overly crowded.

For more travel tips and hacks about Istanbul, click to read “What Do You Need to Know Before Visiting Istanbul?

Polonezkoy Cherry Festival

6) Polonezköy

The name of this village means Polish Village in Turkish. 

The village was founded by Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski and settled by a small group of Polish immigrants in 1842 after the Polish November Uprising. 

The town is still home to a Polish community with its church and cemetery.

Polonezkoy Synosse Otel

Polonezköy is one of the places that can make you feel like you’re in heaven.

If you need a rest, Polonezkoy is an excellent choice. Whenever I think about Polonezköy, I suddenly start picturing people lying in hammocks.

This place is the exact definition of peace with beautiful nature.

People visit this destination for many reasons. One of the main reasons is picnicking. You can also visit historical sights like Czestochowa’s Mother Mary Church.

Horse riding is another activity to do in Polonezköy.

How far? 30 km – 19 miles

Get there in 30 minutes by bus from Uskudar.

Local’s Tip:  It would be a shame, not to mention the delicious breakfasts you can eat in Polonezköy with a fusion of Polish and Turkish dishes.

Cherry and walnut liqueurs are pretty famous in Polonezköy. You should try and buy one if you’d like. Turkish people usually serve these liqueurs with Turkish coffee.

Istanbul is a multicultural place with many many languages, cultures, and religions. Read my article to learn about languages spoken in Istanbul.

Canakkale Port and City Center

7) Canakkale

Canakkale is a great city that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.

Canakkale is divided by the Dardanelles Strait. For this reason, Canakkale is the second city located in Asia and Europe, like Istanbul.

This historically significant city offers plenty of things to its visitors. 

Besides the city center, Canakkale is known for two significant destinations, Troy and the Gallipoli Peninsula. 

Troy was a culturally influential city in the early history of humankind. For this reason, many legends and ancient myths have stories about Troy. 

Trojan War, told by ancient Greek writer Homer in his famous Iliad and the Odyssey, still inspires many Hollywood movies.

My favorite Troy movie is Troy (2004), where Brad Pitt plays one of the leading roles as Achilles. The Trojan Horse used in the movie is displayed in Canakkale.

Gallipoli was a major battlefield between Allied Powers and the Ottoman Army in World War 1.   

The Kilitbahir Fortress, the Cimenlik Fortress, the Çanakkale Martyr’s Memorial, and many other historical sights of the era can be visited in the Gallipoli peninsula.

This battle is still commemorated by New Zealanders, Australians, and Turkish people. Special events occur every year around 18 March and 25 April (ANZAC Day).

My favorite movie about Gallipoli is Russell Crowe’s Water Diviner. I think it would be nice to watch before coming to Canakkale.

Assos is another of the most incredible holiday spots in Canakkale. People visit Assos for its beautiful beaches, historical sights, and breathtaking nature. 

On your way to Canakkale, you can also stop by the many villages to enjoy nature with Turkish tea and authentic Turkish food.

Assos Canakkale Athena Temple

Additionally, Canakkale’s food is exceptionally delicious, and it would be a shame not to have local delicacies. Peynir helvasi is the famous dessert of Canakkale. 

How far? 305 km – 190 miles

Get there in roughly four and a half hours by bus from Esenler. I recommend leaving early in the morning if you’re planning a day trip.

Also, if you take the west route from Istanbul crossing Dardanelles Strait by the newly opened bridge, you will arrive in Canakkale sooner.

Local’s Tip: Yalova Balık Restaurant is an excellent place to eat delicious meals.

Kıyıköy Kırklareli

8) Kıyıköy

Kıyıköy is a fishing town and a very popular location for day trips. This small town lies west of Istanbul within Kırklareli city borders.

Kıyıköy is a place where you can see coves, parks, and many other natural beauties. 

One of the places that are worth visiting in Kıyıköy is Aya Nikola Manastırı (Saint Nicholas). It’s an amazing historical site built in a gothic style.

You can also visit Aşıklar Tepesi, translated as Lover’s Hill, which is another well-known spot in Kıyıköy.

Additionally, there are beautiful restaurants in Kıyıköy. Therefore, you won’t have a problem finding a good place to eat delicious meals.

How far? 156 km97 miles

Get there in two hours by bus from Esenler.

Local’s Tip: Some restaurants are expensive in Kıyıköy. Also, people who aren’t good at swimming should be careful because the sea has stronger waves and currents than usual.

Going on shopping may replace your urge to travel outside of Istanbul. If that’s the case, please read my guide about Fashion in Istanbul – Places to Shop, Brands, Designers, and more.

Belgrad Forest Istanbul

9) Belgrad Ormanı (Belgrad Forest)

Belgrad Ormanı (Belgrad Forest) is a location that people prefer to visit when looking for a peaceful environment.

It’s hard to believe that this place filled with solitude is actually in Istanbul. 

Belgrad Ormanı offers different kinds of beauty every season. However, I think the best times to visit this place are during the spring and fall.

You can take a walk and wander freely in this untouched nature. Many couples come here for their wedding photos. 

How far? 24 km15 miles

Get there around one and a half hours by bus from Yeniköy.

Local’s Tip: Summer weekends are very crowded. It is best to visit on weekdays.

SUGGESTED READING: Why and When Istanbul became Constantinople? A Local Answers


10) Ephesus

Ephesus, the ancient city near Selcuk Izmir, is a marvelous place that can impress anyone.

If you want to travel back in time, you can go to Ephesus. It was the second biggest city in the Roman Empire before Istanbul (Constantinople) became the capital of the East Roman Empire. 

The ancient city of Ephesus welcomes plenty of visitors each year. The Library of Celsus, the Terrace Houses, and the Temple of Artemis are some of the spots worth visiting in Ephesus. 

You can also visit the Ephesus Archeological Museum as well.

Click here to read my guides on Ephesus and the Temple of Artemis.

Ephesus is one of the biggest excavations in the world. Yet, most of the city lies buried under the ground.

Additionally, you should definitely see the House of Mary, the Basilica of St. John, and the Ephesus Ancient Theater.

I regularly visit this ancient marvel to take my visitors as it is very close to my summer house in Kusadasi.

Ephesus Theater was designed to have a capacity of 25000. Today, rare events still take place in this venue.

Kusadasi is an excellent place for a weekend trip. Sirince, on the other hand, is a small tranquil village visited by millions. You can click here to check my guides on Kusadasi and Sirince.

Sirince is known as Ephesus on the hills.

Lastly, don’t forget to visit Selcuk town and its streets. You can find many unique items, from religious souvenirs to beautiful magnets.

Lastly, Sirince or Kusadasi can be the best places to stay overnight. Sirince, is a beautiful village known for its wines and serenity.

How far? 542 km – 337 miles

Get there in one hour by plane, and when you land in Izmir, Efes is only 49 miles away. The Izmir subway connects Izmir Airport to Selcuk. 

This journey takes approximately five hours by car.

Local’s Tip:  Çöp Şiş is a dish made with lamb pieces cooked with a stick on the grill. The area is famous for çöp şiş dishes.

Mimar Sinan is the most famous Turkish architect. He constructed many marvelous designs in the Ottoman Empire’s Golden Era. Selimiye Mosque in Edirne is one of his masterpieces.

11)  Edirne

If you visit Edirne, you will see a modern city filled with culture. This city is known for its historical mosques, such as Selimiye Mosque.

Places you can visit in Edirne are the Ali Pasha Bazaar, the museums, the Mimar Sinan Statue, the Meric River Bridge, and much more.

Another signature of this city is Edirne tava ciğeri (liver). Some people go to Edirne just to experience this unique deliciousness.

Of course, you can eat ciğer in Istanbul as well. So, why do people bother to visit Edirne?

Trust me, it makes all the difference. Just like people go to Bursa to eat Iskender, Edirne is famous for tava ciğeri.

How far? 230 km – 148 miles

Get there in roughly three hours by bus from Esenler Bus Station.

Local’s Tip: Rent a bike when you visit Edirne. Edirne is a very condensed city, and you can visit all destinations by riding a bike, and it will be a fantastic experience.

To learn more about Turkish Culture, please read my guide “Is Istanbul in the Middle East? Location, Culture, Climate, and More.”

Bolu Abant Lake

12)  Bolu

There are some cities that make it hard to decide which season is the best to visit. Well, Bolu is one of them.

People refer to Bolu as the “Switzerland of Turkey.” because of its wonderful hills and natural beauty.

Undoubtedly, one of the most popular places in Bolu is Lake Abant. This spot is like a portrayal of tranquility.

You can enjoy the view at any time of the year. Taking a walk around Lake Abant is truly something else.

Winter provides extraordinary beauty in Bolu.

Other than that, Yedigöller National Park is another wonderful place that is a top-rated park where people go for a walk in the fresh air.

Other places to visit include Lake Golcuk, Mudurnu houses, and Kartalkaya Ski Resorts.

How far? 257 km – 160 miles

Get there in five and a half hours by bus from Esenler Bus Station; approximately three hours by car.

Local’s Tip: If you visit Bolu during winter, bring cozy clothes, because this city is known for its cold weather.

2 thoughts on “A Local’s Guide to Unique Day Trip Ideas from Istanbul”

  1. This is great thanks. I want to try to rent a car and explore. I only have 7 days starting in Istanbul and I want to see Pergamum, Troy and any place that has lots of ancient history. Selcuk and Sirince sound great. Some places seem quite far away from each other. Do you have any suggestions of a route which would include my choices and a nice beach?

    • For a round trip, exit European side of Istanbul, you can use Canakkale Bridge, then visit Troy, Bergamum, Selcuk and Sirince. Then you take the Izmir Istanbul Highway to Istanbul Asian side. or do the reverse.


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