Istanbul offers more than just its popular tourist attractions. Numerous hidden gems go beyond the typical guidebook recommendations for travelers eager to experience this vibrant city like an “active” local. Here are three non-touristy activities that reveal a different side of Istanbul, providing a unique and enriching experience.

1. Swim at the Karaburun Beach

Karaburun is a neighborhood within the Arnavutköy district in Istanbul Province, Turkey, home to 1,813 residents as of 2022. Nestled along the Black Sea coastline, approximately 29 kilometers (18 miles) west of the Istanbul Strait’s northern entrance, it lies north of the villages of Durusu and Yeniköy.

It is about 16 km (10 miles) from Istanbul Airport.

Featuring an expansive sandy beach, Karaburun is a favored destination among local tourists. While it may not be well-known to international visitors, it stands as the second-most frequented seaside resort on the Black Sea in the European section of Istanbul Province, trailing only behind Kilyos.

When the north wind blows, the sea at Karaburun becomes wavy, and the north wind is commonly found in the area. However, if there is a south wind or no wind at all, the sea is calm, clear, and very beautiful.

Non-Touristy Activities to do in Istanbul: Karaburun beach
Karaburun beach, Istanbul. The sea is calm, clear, and very beautiful if there is a south wind or no wind at all.
Non-Touristy Activities to do in Istanbul: swimming in the Black Sea at the Karaburun Beach
Non-touristy activities to do in Istanbul: swimming in the Black Sea at the Karaburun Beach. The man swimming on the right is me.

How to go to Karaburun?

  • You can use public transportation – there’s a bus line [336K] from Arnavutköy, (not the famous Arnavutköy near Bosphorus, this one is the district that borders the Black Sea. Istanbul Airport is in the district).
  • You may rent a car
  • You can cycle there!
Non-Touristy Activities to do in Istanbul: Going to Karaburun by bike is possible, as we always do.
Non-touristy activities to do in Istanbul: Going to Karaburun by bike is possible, as we always do.

2. Walk in the beautiful Belgrade Forest

Belgrade Forest is a historically rich and ecologically significant area located near Istanbul, Turkey. Spanning approximately 5,300 hectares, it is one of the most important natural forests in the region. I live in Bahçeköy, which is a village inside the Belgrade Forest.

The forest’s name, “Belgrade,” originates from the Serbian captives brought to the area by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century. These captives were primarily from Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, which had been conquered by the Ottomans in 1521. The Sultan resettled these captives in the forest to manage and maintain the new water supply system he was constructing to facilitate Istanbul’s growing needs. This system included the construction of dams and aqueducts, some of which are still in use today. The presence of these Serbian workers is why the forest was named “Belgrade.”

Topuzlu Bendi, Belgrade Forest, Istanbul (June 2021)
Non-touristy activities to do in Istanbul: You can hike in the Belgrade forest. Photo: Topuzlu Bendi, Belgrade Forest, Istanbul. I took this photo in June 2021.

Belgrade Forest is a vital green space for Istanbul, offering recreational opportunities such as hiking, mountain biking, picnicking, and jogging. I sometimes go through it using my road bike, there’s a road that goes from Bahçeköy to Kemerburgaz via the forest, and it’s OK for road bikes.

The forest also houses historical sites, including the remnants of the Byzantine and Ottoman water systems. The forest is characterized by its rich biodiversity, featuring a variety of tree species, including oak, beech, and chestnut, and supports a wide range of wildlife. This combination of historical importance and natural beauty makes Belgrade Forest a cherished area for both conservation efforts and cultural heritage.

Belgrade Forest offers beautiful scenery and hiking trails throughout the four seasons of the year. In winter, if it snows, the forest is enveloped in a unique and mysterious tranquility under the snow. The exuberant revival of green in the early days of spring is magnificent. The colors of autumn provide a unique visual display. In the summer, the majestic trees offer shade, providing a cool escape from the hot urban environment.

Non-Touristy Activities to do in Istanbul: if you are lucky, you can walk in the snow-covered Belgrade forest.
Non-touristy activities to do in Istanbul: if you are lucky, you can walk in the snow-covered Belgrade forest.
Snow-covered Belgrade Forest
Snow-covered Belgrade Forest

How to go to Belgrade Forest?

  • You can take the M2 Yenikapı-Seyrantepe-Hacıosman Metro Line to Hacıosman (the last station) and from there, take the 42HM buses to Bahçeköy (the last stop). The entrance to Belgrade Forest is 200 meters ahead of the bus’s last stop.
  • You can get to Bahçeköy from Baltalimanı on the Bosphorus coast by taking the 42T buses.
  • Or, you can go there by bike.

Please note that it would be better to go there on weekdays, as weekends are usually crowded with picnickers.

3. Have breakfast or eat a meal at Rumeli Lighthouse, where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea

Rumelifeneri is a fishing village located at the northernmost tip of the European side of the Istanbul Strait in the Sarıyer district. It gets its name from the Rumeli Lighthouse. Positioned opposite Anadolufeneri, together they mark the line separating the Black Sea from the Bosphorus. Koç University is situated in this neighborhood.

The village, which is more than 10 kilometers away from the Sarıyer district center, has a tranquil atmosphere away from the urban environment. The settlement is centered around the fishing port found in the village. There are rocky cliffs along the coast of the neighborhood, known as Öreke Islands.

Non-Touristy Activities to do in Istanbul: In Rumeli Lighthouse village, you can have breakfast or eat a meal at one of the restaurants that offer a perfect view and elevation of the point where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea. Afterwards, you can take a tour to see the village, the lighthouse, and the castle.
Non-touristy activities to do in Istanbul: In Rumeli Lighthouse village, you can have breakfast or eat a meal at one of the restaurants that offer a perfect view and elevation of the point where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea. Afterward, you can take a tour to see the village, the lighthouse, and the castle.

The neighborhood is mentioned in ancient Greek mythology; the Argonauts, in search of the Golden Fleece, also visited Rumelifeneri. Construction of the Rumelifeneri Castle in the neighborhood began in 1769. It was redesigned in 1783 by Toussaint, in 1785 by Lafitte Clavé, and again in 1794. The documents related to the castle date back to 1781 and 1793. Additionally, the neighborhood houses the tomb of Sarı Saltuk.

Non-Touristy Activities to do in Istanbul: It's me, at the Rumeli Lighthouse Castle. Photo is back from 2019.
Non-touristy activities to do in Istanbul: It’s me, at the Rumeli Lighthouse Castle. The photo is back from 2019.

The Rumeli Lighthouse itself is historically significant, serving as a navigational aid and as a strategic watch point controlling the entry into the Istanbul Strait. The serene and picturesque surroundings make it a popular spot for local tourists and residents seeking a scenic escape from the city. The area is also appreciated for its historical depth, with relics and architecture that speak to its past significance in regional defense and maritime safety.

In Rumeli Lighthouse village, you can have breakfast or eat a meal at one of the restaurants that offer a perfect view and elevation of the point where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea. Afterward, you can take a tour to see the village, the lighthouse, and the castle.

Rumeli lighthouse

Rumeli Lighthouse (Turkish: Rumeli Feneri) is a historical lighthouse that remains operational and is situated on the European side of the entrance to the Black Sea along the Bosporus Strait in Istanbul.

The name Rumeli (or Rumelia) historically refers to the Ottoman territories on the western side of the Bosporus Strait. It literally means “the Greek land” in Turkish. The lighthouse is named in correspondence with Anadolu Lighthouse, which is its counterpart on the eastern side of the Bosporus Strait.

Located directly across from Anadolu Lighthouse (Anadolu Feneri), which stands on the Anatolian side of the strait, Rumeli Feneri is 2 nautical miles (3.7 km) away. According to Greek mythology, the two islets where these lighthouses are built were known as the Symplegades. Legend has it that these rocks would crush any ship passing between them. A line drawn between the two lighthouses marks the northern boundary of the Port of Istanbul. The village around the lighthouse, Rumelifeneri, is today a fishing community within the Sarıyer district.

The French constructed the lighthouse to ensure the safe navigation of French and British warships during the Crimean War (1853-1856), and it was inaugurated on May 15, 1856, simultaneously with its Anatolian counterpart. The French managed it until 1933 when a 100-year concession ended, and control was transferred to Turkish authorities. Currently, it is maintained by the Coastal Safety Authority of the Ministry of Transport and Communication.

Non-Touristy Activities to do in Istanbul: cycling to the Rumeli Lighthouse
Non-Touristy Activities to do in Istanbul: cycling to the Rumeli Lighthouse (the lighthouse is at the background in this photo. I am the man with red jersey). Rumeli lighhthouse is an operational historical lighthouse on Istanbul’s European side at the Bosporus Strait’s Black Sea entrance. Built by the French during the Crimean War for safe navigation, it opened in 1856 and is now maintained by Turkey’s Coastal Safety Authority. Perched 58 meters above sea level, it is Turkey’s tallest lighthouse and features a unique octagonal prism shape.

Perched on a hillside 58 meters (190 feet) above sea level, the lighthouse towers at a height of 30 meters (98 feet), making it the tallest in Turkey. The tower is shaped as a two-staged octagonal prism. Originally fueled by kerosene, it later switched to Dalén light using carbide (acetylene gas). Currently, it operates on electricity, with a butane gas lighting system as backup. The Fresnel lens, with a 500-millimeter (1.6 feet) focal length, emits a white light that group flashes every 12 seconds with a range of 18 nautical miles (33 km).

The lighthouse, designated under the code “TUR-053” with the radio call sign TC1RLH, is open to the public as a historical site.

How to go to Rumeli Lighthouse?

  • You can take a bus from Hacıosman Metro Station (150).
  • You can cycle to Rumeli Lighthouse! The road is very nice and there are a lot of wonderful views!
Non-Touristy Activities to do in Istanbul: The road to Rumeli Lighthouse offers amazing views if you go there by bike.
Non-touristy activities to do in Istanbul: The road to Rumeli Lighthouse offers amazing views if you go there by bike.

Sources

Özgür Nevres

Published by Özgür Nevres

I am a software developer, a former road racing cyclist, and a science enthusiast. Also an animal lover! I write about the city of Istanbul on this website. I live in Istanbul since 1992.

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