Running in Istanbul. Athletic-Minded Traveler's Guide to Where & Why.
Running is an athletic-minded traveler's favorite means to explore any city and it works super well in Istanbul! This city boasts stunning and historic sights, some over two thousand years old. It's unique geography is another reason to explore by foot. Istanbul is split between its European and Asian halves by the Bosphorus Strait, and the waters of the Golden Horn divide the older European side.
The question becomes: Where to run?
While cracked pavement, offers from street sellers, and stares from locals are common on a run in Istanbul, the following routes help mitigate these distractions, while maximizing enjoyment of this enchanting and historic city!
Do you love to run alongside (and try to race against) boats? Then run next to the Bosphorus!
- Start near the first bridge along on the European bank of the Bosphorus, such as in Kuruçeşme.
- Head north up the river. As you continue along this route that hugs the water, both of the Bosphorus’s captivating bridges will be in view.
- You can make your run as challenging as you like, such as continuing up to the second bridge, and then turning around. The round trip distance between the bridges is about 6.5 miles.
- Need a place to rest on the way back? You will pass a Starbucks (in Bebek) that overlooks the water with its outdoor balconies. It is a perfect spot to rest and fuel. (Drip coffee is available here, which can be difficult to find in Turkey).
- On this route, you will encounter local fishing culture, with the countless fisherman and their fishing poles that line the banks. Beware getting tangled with the fishing lines!
Looking to run a bridge and be near a sea? Run to Sarayburnu and your route will take you near some of Istanbul’s main tourist attractions, including the Hagia Sophia.
- Start in Galata, potentially at the historic, stately, and easy to locate Galata Tower.
- Run downhill to Karakoy, and cross the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn.
- Turn left and follow the wide path that encircles Sarayburnu, below the Topkapi palace. You will be well protected from street traffic.
- Less than a mile after the bridge, Gulhane Park will be on the right. You can take a short detour and make a loop (approx. 1/2 mile) of the park’s running path.
- The Sarayburnu route will curve right, following the Bosphorus. On your left, the Bosphorus will then merge into the Sea of Marmara.
- Run to the Yenikapi ferryboat station and take a ferry back to Karakoy, or you can return the way you came. The Galata Tower to the ferryboat station is roughly 4.5 miles.
- Right before crossing the Galata Bridge, grab a fish sandwich. This area is widely acclaimed as having the best fish sandwiches in Istanbul.
- When crossing the bridge, be careful of the foot traffic, including the many fishermen in the process of catching the very fish destined for the fish sandwiches.
Is there an earthen running path in Istanbul? Yes! Maçka (Machka) Park provides a well-maintained and unpaved path to run on.
- Start at Gezi Park in Taksim Square. The square is a cultural center, where you frequently encounter a harmless political protest taking place.
- From Taksim, take İnönü Street. You will pass Gümüşsuyu Park on your right, then run around İnönü Stadium.
- Enter the lower end of Maçka Park (across from the Swissôtel), or stay on the road until the top of the hill and enter the park at Harbiye.
- The route between Taksim and Maçka Park is a little over a mile long, and the park is a little under a mile in length. Distance seekers can make the most of this popular running destination by clocking multiple laps!
Tired of the hectic city experience and looking for nature? Head to Belgrade Forest.
- Located about 9 miles outside of Istanbul, with 21 square miles of forest.
- Contains a 4-mile long running track that traces the outline of a lake, which often hosts migratory birds during the warmer seasons.
- Can be difficult to get to without a car. However, there are a number of running groups, with varying levels of athletic abilities that meet every Saturday and car-pool from the Istanbul city center to the forest. (Adim Adim meets near the Levent Metro, for example. And Bal Kaymak is another English speaking group. Facebook link here.)
Just do it. And mind your manners :)
Running while navigating a foreign city can be fun, challenging, and immensely rewarding. Tourists frequent these areas of Istanbul and locals are usually very willing to help you find your way, even if they are wary about the concept of running. Runners will get some stares from locals, as running is not a common part of Turkish culture. While this seemingly strange behavior is perhaps becoming more expected from foreigners, it is also important to be culturally respectful. For runners, this mainly means not wearing shorts and tank-tops, and when navigating a crowd and accidentally running into people, you can say “Pardon” or “Afedersiniz”.
Also, bring some money (Turkish Lira) with you on the run to buy bottled water from one of the many sellers that frequent the streets. You can easily purchase a cold drink for a Lira or less.
Last But Not Least!
It is important to keep up to date on the current security situation in Turkey and follow the recommendations of the US Consulate in Istanbul. Before traveling to Istanbul, always review the US State Department’s online page on Turkey. Travel warnings and other important information can be found via these links.
Have fun and be safe!
Editor's Note: Zoe Walder-Hoge contributed this article while working as an intern for AthleticMindedTraveler.com. She visited Istanbul in 2012 while living in Turkey through the US State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship. She traveled to the city again in 2014.