Istanbul City Guide

Istanbul is a monstrosity. Historically, the city dates back over 2,500 years enduring the Ancient Greeks, Romans and Ottomans as well as three name changes – Byzantium and Constantinople before claiming its current day titling when the Ottoman Empire seized control in 1453. As the excellent Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities puts it – to learn the history of Istanbul is to study the story of its many forms. The city’s latest chapter started in 1923 as part of the Republic of Turkey with much of the multilayered urban core remaining visible intact. Today the city’s three bridges span two continent – global crossroads linking Europe and Asia.

To make the most of this Istanbul city guide for endurance athletes, note a few patterns and features. Facilities are broken into categories according to their running, cycling or swimming focus, with a separate section highlighting quality gym facilities in Istanbul. Finally, the Sleeping & Eating section towards the end of the guide provides an insight into good places for sleeping and fuelling during your time in Istanbul. A full directory of Google Map-linked addresses are found in the Directory section.

Orientation & Logistics

Physically, Istanbul’s boundaries extend from the Sea of Marmara to the South, nearly up to the edge of the Black Sea. There are two airports, IST and SAW (they’re quite far – so do yourself a favor and confirm which airport you’re heading to), one representing each of the city’s continents. 

Without getting bogged down into the minutiae distinguishing between municipalities versus districts versus neighborhoods, the areas mentioned here will be listed as they’re commonly referred to. The European half is where most visitors congregate, specifically in Eminönü and Sultanahmet. Eminönü’s north end is lined with ferry ports and street food vendors, but it’s also home to the tourist attractions of the famed Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Bazaar (also known as the Spice Bazaar), as well as the Suleymaniye Mosque and Istanbul University. To the neighborhood’s east lies Topkapı Palace, the former palace of the Ottoman sultans. South of Topkapı is Sultanahmet, which includes two of the most popular sites in the city, the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. 

Ferry crossing Golden Horn

Just across the Golden Horn, the waterway that splits apart the European part of the city and enters the Bosphorus, you’ll find Karaköy (not to be mistaken for Kadıköy) a historic neighborhood known now for its cafes, bars, and art. Up the steep winding streets from there is the small pocket of Galata, home to the ever-visible Galata tower, built by Genoese traders in the 13th century. Continuing north from there is the buzzing shopping and dining street of İstiklal Cadessi, which runs directly into Taksim. Taksim as a neighborhood is a bit more upscale, home to many international businesses and hotels, but Taksim Square has long been a social and political gathering point in the city. And if you’re looking for a place to eat while on this side of the Golden Horn, the Beşiktaş neighborhood – near Dolmabahçe Palace – is heaven for a food crawl. 

Moving to the east, across the Bosphorus is the Asian, or Anatolian side of the city. Üsküdar – formerly the ancient city of Chrysopolis – is a popular destination because of its waterfront promenade, which offers gorgeous views of sunsets and the skyline of minarets. Further south is Kadıköy, a neighborhood that is less visited that it should be, compared to its European counterparts. Between the quieter section of Yeldeğirmeni and the throbbing heart of Moda, you’ll find bookstores, sweet shops, paths for waterfront exercise, and places to drink rakı

Istanbul is a city best seen from the water if your desired route allows, and thankfully its public ferry system is robust and used frequently by locals and tourists alike. The simplest way to get around Istanbul is to utilize IstanbulKart (Istanbul Card). This is a transit card that can be used for nearly every type of public transportation, including ferries, buses, trams, funiculars, trains, etc. These can be purchased for a small fee at the airport, or kiosks around most transit stations. 

The climate in Istanbul is Mediterranean, and is therefore pretty mild. There are warm summers and cold winters, but nothing too brutal in either direction. Winters tend to be wetter and linger a little bit longer than some other waterfront European cities on the Mediterranean, with the average low temperature in the winter sitting at about 37 degrees Fahrenheit (3 Celsius) in February. The months of December through March have the most precipitation, and occasionally the city will get some snow. Sunlight in the winter bottoms out in December, with the sun rising at 8:30 a.m. and setting at 5:40 p.m. The summer is dry, with an average high temperature of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 Celsius) in July. Sunlight peaks in June, with a sunrise of approximately 5:30 a.m. and sunset around 8:40 p.m. Istanbul is a pleasant place to visit anytime between April and October, despite it being a little warm and humid in the summer. 


Between its running tracks, forested trails, and waterfront esplanades, there’s something for every type of runner in Istanbul.

If you’re looking to throw on some spikes, in the inland section of the Üsküdar neighborhood there is the Burhan Felek Spor Kompleksi – a beautiful, well-maintained public track. It’s open 24 hours a day, though reportedly the track is often reserved from the hours of 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. for clubs and professionals, so you might want to plan for an early morning or evening workout. 

Gülhane Parkı

As a first-time visitor to Istanbul, it would be fitting to run the classic 5km Sultanahmet scenic loop. Start anywhere between the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, or the Hagia Sophia, and head north through the peaceful Gülhane Parkı. You’ll find yourself approaching the beautiful waterfront where the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara converge, and you can follow the waterfront path heading southwest for another few kilometers down J.F. Kennedy Street, before cutting back into the neighborhood at the Little Hagia Sophia. 

The best uninterrupted running path on the European side is the scenic stretch from Yenikapı beach down to Ataköy Marina Park. This path is a clearly marked, blue-painted pathway for runners and cyclists that stretches between seven and eight kilometers in one direction. This can also be connected to the Sultanahmet scenic loop by simply following along J.F. Kennedy Street to where the routes merge. 

The best waterfront stretch for running on the Asian side of the city starts conveniently at the Kadıköy ferry pier. The path follows the water south along the edge of Moda, taking a few winding turns around the marinas, all the way to Dalyan Parkı, near Caddebostan beach. This will put about eight kilometers on your legs. But better yet, if you’re looking to extend for a long run, this route can then be connected with an additional 25+ kilometers of trails down to Pendik along the coast. 

There’s also a beautiful waterfront pathway that extends from the Üsküdar to Harem ferry stops, offering an opportunity to gaze over to the iconic sights of the European side of the city, and get a close look at Maiden’s tower. 

Istanbul is a city of many names, one of them being “the city of seven hills.” So if it’s inclines you’re after for some Vo2 Max efforts or a hilly tempo, there are options. If you’re staying on the European side of the city, there is a winding street that leads directly to up to Galata Tower from the south – and it’s a gut-buster. Start here, and go early in the mornings to beat the crowds that’ll flock to the base of the tower each day. 

Part of what makes the Çamlıca Mosque – the largest in Turkey – so special, is the elevation that provides viewpoints across the city. As such, the surrounding area has plenty of hills. The neighboring Büyük Çamlıca Camii Parkı has some nice climbs on its trails, as do the surrounding roads leading up to it. 

A little bit further out is Aydos forest. Here there are miles of dirt trails and some nasty climbs. If you start from the north entrance near the national garden and make your way to the high point of the park, you’ll climb nearly 1,000 feet over just three kilometers. 

For an even more robust list of running routes, there’s a list of recommendations put together by the İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi (iBB) Spor Istanbul (essentially the municipal sports department), with routes all over the city. 

If you’d like to explore Istanbul with a group of runners, the running group Runarchy is a nice option. They meet every Tuesday at 7:45 p.m. and explore routes all over Istanbul, offering a way to see new parts of the city on foot. Be sure to check out their Instagram page on Monday evenings for the upcoming meet-up spot. You can also utilize their routes page to discover places to run on your own. 


Here, the focus will be on routes that are fairly easily accessible for those staying close to the city center, but many excellent, often more difficult routes can be found in the farther reaches of the city – options like routes from Riva on the Black Sea, or Üvezli around the Darlık Dam. Thankfully, similar to the compilation of running routes, the city’s municipal sports department has plenty of additional vetted suggestions for where to cycle in and out of Istanbul – in addition to some of the city’s islands. 

Istanbul still doesn’t have a fully developed cycling infrastructure throughout the entire city, on top of the fact that many neighborhood streets are centuries of years old. There are many patches in between dedicated bike lanes, and watching for cyclists may not be top of mind for many drivers. So while cyclists can still find plenty of places to ride, it’s best to ride with a sense of caution. 

The same Kadıköy to Pendik route mentioned for runners is also suitable for cycling, and at ~60+ kilometers round trip, it’s a bit more feasible to cover all of it on two wheels. The same goes for the Yenkapı to Ataköy Marina route – it can be done with a bike.

But there are opportunities to head north as well. From the hotspot of Beşiktaş, there’s a route popular with serious cyclists along the main road that hugs the Bosphorus up to Istinye, about 11 kilometers in one direction. If you do so, you’ll pass the likes of Rumeli Hisarı (the former Ottoman fortress), the three trans-continental bridges, in addition to many gaudy waterfront mansions. This can be continued even further for another ~20 kilometers to the coastal town of Rumelifeneri, where the expanse of the Black Sea reveals itself. This is a little more of an advanced extension due to some of the climbs and the fact that the coastal roads head inland to skirt the national park and hiking area. So be sure to map out the route beforehand (the map on the “Stinye and extending to Rumelifeneri” section here should help).  

The dirt trails of Belgrade Forest also offer a nice reprieve – putting the steep hill climbs aside – from the traffic of central Istanbul. The park can be reached by cycling from the Sariyer ferry pier.  

One of the best and most unique places to cycle in the Istanbul area is the Beykoz Sports Forest – part of the Beykoz Ecological Park, which is aimed at ecological revitalization and education in an era of rapid climate change. There are kilometers of rolling roads that are car-free and filled with forested beauty. Thankfully, public buses will take you pretty close to the entrance of the park.  

If you’d like to put in some miles and see the city, led by the expertise of a local guide, Istanbul On Bike offers guided tours around the city, ranging from a leisurely 20-kilometer route around Sultanahmet’s famous sights, to an 80-kilometer “performance” ride up and down the Bosphorus. 

For bike rentals, check out Delta Bisiklet near Kadıköy. They offer rentals ranging from the hour to the month, with prices depending on the style of ride. The website suggests giving the store a heads-up in advance, so if you plan to rent a bike while in Istanbul, contact the store to ensure availability. 

Sedona Concept Bisiklet Cafe is one of the most well-renowned cycling hubs in the city, also offering premium road bike rentals. As a hotspot for cycling enthusiasts, they also host events to watch major cycling races throughout the year from the store. Check out the slate of races for spectating, and reserve your spot here

If you’re looking to hop into a group ride, Performans hosts weekday rides on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 5:30 a.m., meeting at the Bostancı Caffè Nero. According to their Instagram account manager, the best way to stay up to date is to follow along on their Strava page so you can stay aware of their longer weekend rides. Other options include rides hosted by Sedona Concept, in addition to the Early Birds Cycling Club, which has an active Strava profile as well. 

For a more casual ride without the fuss of locking and renting, ISBIKE is to Istanbul what Citibike is to New York. These are far from performance bikes, but with doc locations scattered all over the city, they can be an affordable, convenient way to cruise the waterfronts. 


Most five-star hotels in Istanbul have beautiful pools, with the one at the Çiragan Palace Kempinski being the crème de la crème, with its outdoor pool and well-manicured grounds just feet from the waters of the Bosphorus. Day packages are available in the summer months. 

Many of the best municipal lap swimming facilities aren’t easily accessible for non-residents, so visiting swimmers looking for a more fitness-focused swim in Istanbul are best suited to heading for open water. Partially because of boat traffic and partially because of water quality, the best places to swim are typically a little ways away from the city center. 

Starting with options on the European side, there’s the Florya Güneş Beach route on the Sea of Marmara. The water is shallow, but following the buoys along the beach will take swimmers about 1,000 meters out, making for a nice long route. The beach can be accessed fairly easily using the Marmaray train line. Also accessible via the Marmary line, and a little bit closer to the center of the city, is Yeşilköy Çiroz public beach. This beach lies in a little cove, making it a safely protected sandy beach that’s perfect for swimming in loops.

On the Asian side, a popular stretch for open water swimmers is near Maltepe Orhangazi City Park. The water is deep, and there are two breakwaters located about 1,000 meters apart from each other, helping to calm the water and offering easy turnaround points. It can get crowded at times with boats and rowers, so be sure to wear a swim buoy, and hop in with a group if there are other swimmers around. Closer to Kadıköy is the popular stretch that includes both Caddebostan and Erenköy beach. Both are popular with casual beachgoers, so be sure to go early to avoid the crowds. 

For the full list of suggested swimming routes and all the important safety information, compiled by the iBB Spor Istanbul, use the link here

If open water swimming in a new city feels daunting, or if you’re just looking for a refresher in the open water before diving into the Bosphorus, Sea of Marmara, or the Black Sea, Teo Sport offers sea swimming lessons.

And if you’re particularly ambitious, take the rare opportunity to swim from one continent to another and try your hand at the revered summer tradition of the Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swimming Race. The 6.5-kilometer course starts Kanlıca in Asia and winds its way down to Kuruçeşme in Europe. It’s been an annual tradition since 1989!  


Outside of the many luxury hotels in Istanbul that have fitness facilities, your best bet for a private gym is the Turkish chain MAC. With dozens of locations scattered throughout the city, no matter where you stay there’ll be a convenient location. The standard and most common style of gym is MACFit, but there are also other concepts like MACStudio Boxing and MACStudio HIIT. MACFit locations typically have free weights, stationary bikes, and oftentimes will have options for instructor-led classes. You can sign up here for a free daily membership at any of their locations. Otherwise, if you’re in town for a longer period of time, you can sign up for a monthly package, with affordable, yet location-dependent pricing. 

For a truly free option, there’s a simple outdoor gym with a few machines in Büyük Çamlıca Camii Parkı just behind the exit of Çamlıca Mosque, which pairs well with some hill running and great views!

Sleeping & Eating

As endurance athletes know, the formula to success and progress is as follows: Stress + Rest = Growth. And in a way, Istanbul embodies that formula beautifully. Its buzzing streets, frenetic markets, and an endless array of food smells awaken and stress the senses, while its çay bahçesi‘s (tea gardens), coffee houses, and scenic overlooks offer an incentive to slow down, recover, and enjoy some sweet respite.

Coffee at Sedona Concept

Coffee and tea have a long history in Istanbul. Turkish Coffee, or Türk Kahve, goes back to the Ottoman Empire when beans and roasting techniques were brought back from Yemen. Turkish coffee is not for the faint of heart, as it is known for its brutal strength, as well as the fact that the grounds are left in the bottom of the cup (some say revealing your fortune). Tea, or çay, as a commonplace drink is a little bit more of a recent phenomenon, picking up steam in the 1800s. Nowadays, it’s an essential part of Turkish culture, with the sight of the hourglass-shaped ince belli tea cups ubiquitous across the city.

As far as cycling cafes go, the cycling hub of Sedona Concept Bisiklet Cafe is perhaps the most famous and is known for its high-quality beans. Across the strait is Trek Segafredo Caddebostan, a bike shop accompanied by a cafe. 

For a beautiful view while sipping on a çay, try Cafe Kemal on the southern edge of Moda – a serene çay bahçesi overlooking the water. In the lovely Çukurcuma neighborhood known for its cocktail bars and cafes, Cafe Smyrna is a place where a late morning coffee can easily turn into a round of early afternoon cocktails.  

Beyond the caffeinated essentials of coffee and tea, there are many other dishes and beverages that are “must-try’s” while in Istanbul. There are few places in the world with such a depth of culinary culture. Starting with the morning, you can’t go wrong with grabbing a simit – put simply, a cross between a pretzel and a bagel, coated in sesame seeds. There’s no need for a recommendation on where to go for a simit, the red and white striped stands are everywhere in the city. Just grab one and take it to go like everyone else. 

Kokoreç, sheep intestine and offal roasted and shaved into a sandwich, is a dish found all over Istanbul yet is rarely found on Turkish menus in the West. It’s easy to find, but for a destination, head to Ozzies, a place famous for this delectable dish. Another must-try for any gourmand is mantı. Essentially boiled dumplings served with a variety of toppings, this is a dish found in varieties throughout Central Asia. Try Sinop Mantı for some of the best – with locations in both Beşiktaş and Kadıköy.  

Lokantas are lunch counters serving ready-made food, often buffet-style. They are all over the city, and serve all ends of the economic spectrum. Kanaat Lokantası in Üsküdar is a long-running one that’s lasted for good reason. Another quintessential Istanbul establishment is the pideci, a restaurant that specializes in pide and lahmacun – both variations of flatbreads that bear a bit of resemblance to pizza. The casual fast-moving counter of Borsam Taşfırın Bahariye on a busy corner in Moda is a great place to start, otherwise, you can keep an eye out as you explore the city, with green and white striped awnings often acting as the marker of a pideci. 

While you could get by in Istanbul eating quite affordably at lokantas, street stalls, and pidecis, it would be misguided to suggest that the city doesn’t have high-end cooking chops. It does. The first excellent example of this is Turk Fatih Tutak, a restaurant with two Michelin Stars and rated number 66 on the World’s Best Restaurant list in 2023, with its beautiful wooded interior and a menu highlighting ingredients and techniques from all over Turkey at the highest level. Another standout dining destination is Neolokal – with its own Michelin star – showcasing Anatolian cuisine. It’s also known for its local wine list, and it has sweeping views over the water that only enhances the experience.  

When you’re in need of a drink in Istanbul, it’s probably time to get into some rakı. This clear brandy liquor is flavored with anise, and is an essential drink of Istanbul. It is best imbibed at a meyhane, which is a style of classic tavern found throughout the city. Meyhanes serve rakı, with small plates of meze. The atmosphere at most meyhanes is quite social, and you’ll often see groups of friends and family getting more jovial as the evening progresses. It’s best to wander around and discover which meyhane looks the most inviting, and a plethora can be found on the offshoots of Istikal Caddessi in Beyoğlu, or Osmancık in Moda. 

There’s quite a bit of live music scattered throughout Istanbul, streaming out of bars and restaurants, particularly along the meyhane streets of Kadıköy. But there are a couple of standouts, including the famed Nardis Jazz Club, a small old-school venue that hosts shows every night (named after the Miles Davis composition). There’s also Buddha Sahne in Moda, a mostly underground rock and pop venue if you’re looking for something a bit more uptempo. 

Bedroom at Bank Hotel, Istanbul
Bedroom at Bank Hotel, Istanbul

As a big global city, Istanbul has the big names – your Four Seasons, your Raffles, your Six Senses. And without a doubt, they’re all great. But if you’re seeking some lesser-known, boutique hotels at the higher end of the scale, both the 63-key Bank Hotel Istanbul (Design Hotels Collection) and the Ecole St. Pierre Hotel in the Galata neighborhood are elegant options in a buzzing part of the city. Artika Hotel is priced more modestly. 


Artika Hotel: +90 212 458 72 55

Cafe Kemal: +90 216 336 03 94

Cafe Smyrna: +90 212 244 24 66

Delta Bisiklet: +90 543 340 40 30

Cafe Kemal: +90 216 336 03 94

Cafe Smyrna: +90 212 244 24 66

Bank Hotel, The: +90 212 283 00 55

Borsam Taşfırın Bahariye: +90 216 349 43 23

Bostancı Caffè Nero: +90 216 373 40 50

Buddha Sahne: +90 216 345 87 98

Ecole St. Pierre Hotel: +90 212 244 26 75

Kanaat Lokantası: +90 216 553 37 91

Neolokal: +90 551 447 45 45

Nardis Jazz Club: +90 532 244 57 78

Ozzie’s 1968: +90 212 361 91 23

Sedona Concept Bisiklet Cafe: +90 212 262 44 44

Sinop Mantı: (Mulitple Locations)

Trek Segafredo Caddebostan: +90 216 629 24 32

Turk Fatih Tutak: +90 212 709 56 79