Located at the easternmost point of the Thracian Peninsula, the Belgrad Forest is about 15 kilometers outside of Istanbul. Covering about 5,000 hectares of land, the forest is home to a variety of plant, bird and animal species. Shaded by birch, elm, oak, pine and spruce trees, it is also a popular recreational area for residents of Istanbul.
The historical importance of the forest cannot be understated. In the 16th century, Suleyman the Magnificent resettled the area with Serbian prisoners-of-war so they could manage the many reservoirs that supplied water to Istanbul. Several reservoirs remain today, some dating as far back as the 15th century. On the fringes of the forest, sparse remains of the village of Belgrad can also be found.
The forest is also home to the Ataturk Arboretum, an expansion of the first nursery ever founded in Turkey, in 1916. Containing almost 300 hectares of land, the arboretum boasts over 2,000 foreign and native plant species. The most exotic plants can be found along a lake trail that takes about ninety minutes to walk.
A visit to the forest can be a great way to escape the tourist crowds of Istanbul and enjoy a bit of fresh air, although it can get crowded with picnickers on the weekends.
Located about 15 kilometers northwest of Istanbul, the best way to reach Belgrad Forest is by car. If you would rather go by public transport, you can take the 42T bus from Taksim or the 153 bus from Sariyer to Bahkecoy and walk from there. If you are a runner, there are running groups in Istanbul that sometimes arrange car pools to the forest for group runs on the weekends.
The Ataturk Arboretum is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.