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In Search Of Calm In Gülhane Park, Istanbul

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To witness the tulips. That was the reason for our dash to Istanbul’s Gülhane Park – one of the city’s most famous parks – on our most recent visit to this sprawling megacity.

We were primarily in Istanbul for one of Turkey’s top running events; the Istanbul Half Marathon.

But any running event is also always a perfect excuse for a short break, too.

A swirling pattern of tulips and other flowers. Red, yellow and orange.
We dashed to Gülhane Park in hope of catching the tulips

As the half marathon event falls on the final Sunday in April, that means it also coincides with the latter days of one of the country’s top festivals, too – the Istanbul Tulip Festival.

And we know Gülhane Park is one of the best places to view the tulips during the festival. And we’d had a cool start to spring.

Would we be lucky enough to catch the tulips in bloom in one of the city’s largest parks?

Gülhane Park, Istanbul

Set on a hillside on the historical peninsula of Istanbul, Gülhane Park has been a public park since 1912.

The park is the outer gardens of Topkapı Palace and, these days, offers welcome respite from the crowds around Sultanahmet Square and beyond.

Skirting around the outer walls of Alay Köşkü, tourists who have braved the queues to witness the majesty of Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the wonder of the Basilica Cistern can make the short walk downhill.

Just follow the tram line.

An Escape

From there, it’s a quick dart off the busy side street, through the archway in the historic walls and into the tranquility of Gülhane Park.

But it’s not just a haven for tourists looking to enjoy some open space. Gülhane Park is also popular with local people enjoying a Sunday afternoon stroll.

With its huge plane trees, rose gardens and ornamental features, it’s the perfect place to wander, explore or just to sit for a while.

This article about the trees of Istanbul suggests the plane trees were prevalent during the Ottoman Empire because they manifested the strength and power of the empire.

As Gülhane Park was formerly part of the outer gardens of Topkapı Palace, it no doubt explains the commanding presence of these trees.

Gülhane Park, Istanbul
Autumnal Gülhane Park

Our last visit to Istanbul – and those of previous years – have all been in late autumn. Yes, another running event dictating this decision – the Istanbul Marathon which takes place each November.

No tulips in Gülhane Park in November, of course. But that doesn’t make it any less beautiful. This is a park for all seasons!

Who doesn’t love the colour and the crunch of autumn leaves underfoot on a crisp autumnal day?

Ceviz Ağacı – Walnut Tree

We’re far from being tree experts so have never identified all of the different types of trees in the park.

Turkish musician, Cem Karaca – a prominent member of the Anatolian rock scene – composed the song, Ceviz Ağacı (Walnut Tree):

Ben bir ceviz ağacıyım Gülhane Parkında – I am a walnut tree in Gülhane Park

Ne sen bunun farkındasın ne de polis farkında – Neither you nor the police are aware

Red and white tulips fill the foreground of a park backed by trees
Wonder how many types of trees there are in Gülhane Park

The song is based on the the famous poem of the same name, written by Nazim Hikmet.

Hikmet was attempting to meet his lover in Gülhane Park at a time when the police were searching for him (he was often arrested and imprisoned for his political beliefs whilst Cem Karaca also spent a period in exile in Germany).

On seeing so many police in the park, he hid in a walnut tree.

He could see his lover waiting for him – and he could see the police searching for him. Neither the police nor his lover knew he was there.

So, look out for those walnut trees when you do visit the park.

The Gülhane Edict

Gülhane Park also holds another significant place in history as this was the location for the proclamation of the Gülhane Edict (the Noble Edict of the Rose Chamber) by Ottoman Sultan, Abdülmecid I in 1839.

This marked the reorganisation of the Ottoman Empire with various laws being introduced that, amongst other rights, guaranteed life and property rights regardless of religion or ethnic group.

By this time, the power and influence of the Ottoman Empire had significantly declined so the Edict was designed to modernise the empire, adopting more European ideas of the time.

Ancient History In Gülhane Park – Column of The Goths

As well as the ever-changing seasonal scenery of Gülhane Park, strolling the tree-lined pedestrian-only lanes between the lush green lawns and ornamental flower beds rewards you with a bit of ancient history, too.

For such a prominent landmark, you really wouldn’t know the Column of the Goths was there just by strolling the main lane through the park.

It was only rediscovered once Gülhane Park opened to the general public in the early 20th Century.

You need to veer off, uphill towards the park’s northeastern edge.

In April, this is a climb along a pathway flanked by vibrantly coloured tulips and sunshine yellow daffodils.

Be sure to glimpse behind you often, too.

Overlooking the Golden Horn through trees. Galata Tower can be seen in the distance, topping the hill.
Look back for Golden Horn vistas

As you climb higher, there are fabulous vistas through the swaying trees; the Golden Horn flowing whilst the steep hillside rises on the opposite shore.

This is the maze of streets of Beyoğlu, crowned by one of the standout sights of Istanbul – Galata Tower.

As for the Column of the Goths, there is debate as to its era of construction. 3rd or 4th Century AD is the general consensus.

Away from the debate, it’s generally agreed it was constructed to honour a Roman defeat of the Goths.

A tall marble column of the goths.
Surprisingly easy to miss, the Column of the Goths

An 18.5 metres high freestanding marble column, it’s a wonder we’d never noticed this historic structure before our most recent Istanbul visit.

Another reason why we don’t subscribe to the ‘been there, done that’ way of travel. A return visit always reveals something new.

Gülhane Park Cistern

If you haven’t had your fill of ancient cisterns after visiting Yerebatan and the Cistern of Theodosius, make sure you head into the Gülhane Park Cistern; fully restored by Istanbul Archaeology Museums and opened to the public in 2023.

If you know Gülhane Park from years gone by, you might recognise the building as it previously housed an aquarium. Happily, we can now witness this beautiful building with its original features restored.

Now, throughout this article, we have said Gülhane Park is an oasis of calm.

It is!

Gülhane Park visitors walk the lane lined by red and white tulips
Not packed – but the park is busier than usual and (tulip) security guards are on alert

It’s just that if you’re there as those tulip bulbs have done their thing and burst into bloom, well, you’re not going to be the only person in Istanbul who wants to enjoy being a part of this free festival.

The occasional burst of a whistle from good-natured security staff cut through the chatter around the park as we wandered around.

It was their (constant) job to make sure groups didn’t clamber into the tulip beds to have their photo taken amongst the blooms. We didn’t envy those security staff!

A path leads up to an ancient stone building housing a Byzantine cistern
Opened in 2023 after restoration – the Gulhane Park Cistern

So a Gülhane Park with more people than we’ve witnessed previously.

But we got the Gülhane Park Cistern all to ourselves for a few minutes.

As with Yerebatan (the Basilica Cistern), this cistern is now being used to exhibit art works.

At the time of our visit, we were treated to the creations of Turkish sculptor, Büşra Kölmük and her current exhibition, Polen.

A metal sculpture in an ancient cistern. Backed by stone columns and lighting.
Part of the Polen exhibition in the Gülhane Park Cistern

This is part of a bid by IBB (the Istanbul Municipality) to bring life to ancient buildings.

It’s thought the cistern itself dates back to the period of Emperor Hadrian 117-138 AD.

There’s also a small sultan’s fountain, known as the Gülhane Park Fountain, just next to the cistern. And this bears the signature of Sultan V. Mehmet Raşad from 1911.

Ancient history, 20th century Ottoman history and 21st Century modern Turkish art all on display in one small space.

Water Feature

Art features prevail in Istanbul at the moment and we loved the water feature in Gülhane Park.

A waterfall of patterns words that welcome you to Gülhane Park.

And it definitely took me more than one attempt to capture these tumbling words on camera before they disappeared!

Falling water spells the word Gulhane against a black screen
The falls create words and patterns

Amongst the flowers, trees and pathways, benches around this waterfall allow the visitor to enjoy the (creative) sight and sounds of tumbling water.

We have a real affection for Istanbul. But, as with any city, sometimes the senses need to calm and regroup away from the noise and the masses.

Green spaces like one of the most beautiful parks in the city, Gülhane Park, are precious areas where that can happen.

Gülhane Park – FAQs

What time does Gülhane Park open and close

The park is open early morning from around 6:30 am until around 10:30 pm in the evening. Times may vary depending on the season.

How much is the entrance fee to Gülhane Park?

The park is free to enter, as is the Gülhane Cistern.

If you want to visit the former imperial stables building which is now home to the Istanbul Museum of the History of Science & Technology in Islam, there is a small fee for this.

How do you get to Gülhane Park?

The park is in the Fatih district of Istanbul, adjacent to Topkapı Palace (see map below).

Most people enter the park via the southern entrance on Alemdar Caddesi. This is the main road that goes downhill from Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque).

This is also the road used by the Kabataş – Bağcılar T1 tram line.

This is the tram you will need if you want to get to the park using public transport. Get off at the busy Gülhane tram stop and follow the crowds.

If you’re near Hagia Sophia and want a more peaceful, historic walk to the park, head along the cobbled Soğuk Çeşme Sokağı – Street of the Cold Fountain – which will take you downhill and comes out at the southern entrance.

When is the best time to visit Gülhane Park?

If you want to be there for the swaths of colour provided by the tulips, April is the month this annual festival takes place.

This is weather dependent. Mid April is perhaps your best bet of giving yourself a good chance to catch them. Be sure to also check out Emirgan Park for the most extravagant display of tulips.

Gülhane Park is stunning year round. Rose gardens provide colour at different times of year including late spring. And new plants are placed around the park according to the season.

We also love to visit in autumn when the leaves are falling from the trees and the crowds are lighter.

What facilities are there in Gülhane Park?

As well as the sights and the gardens, Gülhane Park has WC facilities and also has tea gardens where you can get çay, Turkish coffee, cold drinks and snacks.

At the main entrance to the park, there are often street food sellers offering the likes of chestnuts, simit or fresh popcorn.

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Judy Buckley-Sharp

Tuesday 16th of May 2023

Love Gulhane Park. We have found a great little hotel in Taya Hatun Sok and we are able to see into the park. It was great to see the Storks nesting when we were there last in 2018. Looking forward to a return next month.

Turkey's For Life

Wednesday 17th of May 2023

Hi Judy, yeah Gülhane Park is a really lovely place to while away a bit of time when in Istanbul. Great you got to see the storks nesting! :) Enjoy your return visit. We're hoping to be back again before the year is out.

Renee - RambleCrunch

Thursday 28th of November 2013

Beautiful post, Julia. We can't wait to visit Istanbul again, and when we do, we'll know where to go to escape for a bit.

Turkey's For Life

Friday 29th of November 2013

Thanks Renee. You've got to escape the Istanbul crowds occasionally :)

Rambling Tart

Wednesday 27th of November 2013

Such a beautiful, wonderful place to walk. :-)

Turkey's For Life

Friday 29th of November 2013

We all need good, open spaces like Gülhane Park. :)

Ozlem's Turkish Table

Tuesday 26th of November 2013

Such a lovely post! I passed too many times in front of Gulhane Park and haven't been there for quite a while, it really is gem of a place. So much to do in Sultanahnmet, yet Gulhane offers a delightful break!:) Ozlem

Turkey's For Life

Friday 29th of November 2013

A lot of the 'extras' have been removed Özlem, so it feels more spacious and relaxing now.

Backto Bodrum

Tuesday 26th of November 2013

Let's hope the trees are still there the next time you visit.

Turkey's For Life

Friday 29th of November 2013

Hmm, yes, long may Gülhane Park be a part of our lives...

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