Istanbul is not exactly a beach resort, but the hot summer months and the many attractive sea-front areas surrounding Istanbul will certainly tempt you to go swimming. Istanbul is surrounded by as many as four water areas: the city is divided into two different continents, i.e. Asia and Europe, by the Bosphorus Strait, in the middle of the city on the European side is the Golden Horn Bay, in the south is the Marmara Sea, and farther north is the Black Sea.
Basically, there is no swimming in the center of Istanbul due to insufficient water quality. Although there are exceptions to this, as some of the locals also swim in the downtown area. However, I cannot recommend this. Sometimes you see dolphins in the Bosphorus, so you might think that the water is clean, but the dolphins are only passing through, so you shouldn’t draw too direct conclusions about the water quality because of the dolphins.
Near the center, on the Asian side, you can find small sandy beaches (e.g. Caddebostan Plajı) where some locals swim, but these beaches cannot be recommended for sure either. My grandchild isn’t even allowed to dip his toes in these, but I have walked in the waves of these beaches myself – but I haven’t swum.
The closest place to the city center where you can generally swim are the Princes´ Islands, and on the islands you can find countless sandy beaches (from Google: ´Adalar Plajı´). Several beaches are connected to the hotels. There are regular ferry routes to the Princes´ Islands from both the European and Asian side, and the distance is short.
When you head on the European side along the shore of the Marmara Sea towards Greece, you will also find long sandy beaches. The beaches get longer the farther from the city you drive. The first and smallest beaches are in Yeşilköy, such as Yeşilköy Çiroz Plajı (Yeşilköy).
After that, you will continue to Florya Güneş Plajı (Florya), Menekşe Plajı (Küçükçekmece) and Büyükçekmece Plajı. I still consider these areas to be part of the urban area of Istanbul.
But when you drive on, the kilometers-long sandy beaches start in Kumburgaz (Kamiloba) and continue forward, e.g. Silivri, Gümüşyaka, Marmaraereğlisi.
With the Marmaray local train, you can easily get to the first three of these beaches, and therefore the smallest (stations in brackets), but otherwise your traveling becomes a little bit more difficult by involving buses, taxis or preferably your own car. And the distances involved in your trip are starting to become considerable.
All these beaches are specifically used by locals, so they are not actual tourist beaches. It is also worth noting that especially on the long sandy beaches located in Kumburgaz, there are almost exclusively summer homes of locals (they are blocks of flats here), so the areas are almost empty in the winter. That’s why the services work best only from June to August. However, access also to these beaches is free.
Please also note that the swimming pools of hotels (and ‘residence’ apartments) in Istanbul are usually only used when the temperature exceeds 30 degrees, i.e. from about mid-June to the end of August. This is because Istanbulites think below 30 degrees is too cold for swimming. This might surprise at least Finnish tourists, because some of us are used to swimming even in holes in the ice in the winter.
Some people in Istanbul have an even stricter policy regarding beaches than mentioned above, and the beaches they accept can only be found in the north, on the shores of the Black Sea, on the European side, in a place called Kilyos (Kumköy, Sariyer). These beaches resemble traditional southern sandy beaches.
Of course, there are many other beaches on the Black Sea, e.g. on the Asian side in a place called Şile. But these places are already so far that traveling to these beaches is more difficult. The only possible public transport is to combine metro plus bus or minibus (Dolmuş).
Whichever beach you head to, it’s important to know that the sea currents are particularly strong in the water areas around Istanbul, so please take this into account when swimming.
I hope this post helped you find your own sandy beach. And if you’re not thinking about swimming, you can find charming beaches everywhere in Istanbul to enjoy beautiful views of the sea.
Wishing you a wonderful summer ☀️🌊