While in the West we most often tend to associate tulips with Holland, the flower originated in Central Asia and was first domesticated in the Ottoman Empire. Before being domesticated tulips made it beyond Ottoman lands and into Europe. The tulip was highly valued with the Sultan placing tight restrictions on the buying and selling of tulip bulbs. In fact, it was so popular that the flower became one of Turkey’s most enduring motifs and the golden age of the Ottomans became known as the ‘Tulip Period’ in culture, art, and architecture.
Every April, in celebration of the history of the tulip in Turkey, Istanbul holds a festival where the public parks burst with the colours of millions of tulips. Some parks will even hold concerts and tulip-themed art exhibits.
Keep in mind that the dates for the Tulip Festival can only reflect the events, not the actual blooming of the tulips.
Emirgan Park is the heart of tulip season in Istanbul. It has more tulips and more varieties than any other park in Istanbul. Apart from the magnificent tulip gardens, Emirgan has beautiful views, three historic mansions, woods, playgrounds, ponds, fountains, and hosts art exhibitions and classical concerts. Set just north of the second Bosphorus bridge it is a bit harder to get to than the others in this list but if you’re looking for tulips then it’s well worth the trip!
Gülhane is definitely the park with the highest pedigree on this list. Once the private park of the Ottoman Sultans, the beauty of Gülhane is now open to the public. Heavily treed and closed in with ancient walls, Gülhane Park is a perfect setting for a grand tulip garden. Beneath the giant plane trees are ponds, playgrounds, and ornate pavilions making this a good one to visit with kids. The greatest advantage of this park is its location, which is right below Topkapı Palace or just down the street from the Hagia Sophia in the heart of historic (and now touristic) Istanbul. The one drawback is that sometimes ugly plastic fencing is erected to protect the flowers, completely ruining the experience. In our experience this hasn’t been done every year so hopefully we don’t have to see it again.
Göztepe 60th Year Park
(Göztepe 60. Yıl Parkı)
On the Asian side of the city your best option is Göztepe’s 60th Year Park. The park is beautifully manicured year-round and has great playgrounds for kids. In April there are so many tulips you can smell the park before you see it. Next to the park is a large rose garden that is also well worth visiting during rose season.
Just north of Beşiktaş is yet another idyllic park overlooking the Bosphorus. The park is home to a pavilion, small palace, and mansion left behind by Ottoman and German royalty. Among the royal residences, trees, ponds and streams are hundreds of thousands of tulips. Set just up the coast from the centre of Beşiktaş, Yıldız Park is one of the easiest parks to get to.
How To Get There
With the exception of Gülhane Park, none of these parks are right in the touristic centre of the city, however, none of them are very far either. So if you don’t want to take public transit a taxi is great option. Just make sure that the distance from where you’re staying isn’t too far or check with the taxi driver before setting off.
If you’re considering going to 60th Year Park in Göztepe then you should take the ferry to Kadıköy before boarding a taxi.
Unfortunately the hardest to get to park is also the grandest. To get to Emirgan Grove leave from Beşiktaş taking the 22, 22RE, 40, 40T, or 42T. From Beşiktaş it’s a long though direct trip.
By far the easiest of all the parks to get to is Gülhane Park, just below Topkapı Palace near Sirkeci Station.
60th Year Park
If you’re considering going to 60th Year Park in Göztepe then either take the ferry to Kadıköy or the Marmaray (underground metro connecting the Asian and European sides of the city) to Kadıköy via a connection at Ayrılık Çeşme. From there board the 4, 16, 16D, or 222 bus.
Yıldız Park is within walking distance from Beşiktaş under a kilometer from the ferries. From the water front just walk north-west along Çırağan Street.
Your hotel may also have additional tips on which parks you should go to and how to get there.
Where To Stay
As there are good parks all over the city you could really stay anywhere in the city. However, if you’re coming specifically for the Tulip Festival then I would recommend Beşiktaş as you’ll be close to some of the best parks in the city and still close to the other sights of the city.
If possible, try to hit the parks on a weekday as they are absolutely swarmed with families and children on the weekends.
Have any tips or info to add? Spot any mistakes? We’d love to hear about it.