Most people descending into Ataturk Airport have no idea about the area just whizzing by below their feet. In fact, many locals refer to the region as “the airport” not realizing that there is a wonderful, seaside corner of Istanbul. If you have some time before a long haul flight or few hours between them, take a visit to this quaint corner to stretch your legs and get some fresh air.
When you arrive in Yeşilköy you’ll get an immediate sense of the Greek and Armenian influences. In fact the old name was San Stefano (Saint Stephen) until 1926 and is still longingly referred to that by some of the older generations. Many old, ornate wooden houses still exist between contemporary architecture making them stand out that much more. Even the tree lined main avenues are calm compared to the rest of the city and are doted with fishmongers selling the catch of the day and cafes every few meters.
Ideally, Yeşilköy is best enjoyed on a layover of 4 hours or more. That gives you time to unwind and enjoy before returning to the mayhem of the airport.
How to get to Yeşilköy:
From Ataturk Airport, take a taxi and ask for “Yeşilköy Marina”. The cost will be close to 10tl ($5), the ride less than 10 minutes and will drop you off right by the sea at a marina packed with private boats, park with benches shaded by tall palm trees and a handful of restaurants. Simply take a taxi to return to the airport as well.
From Taksim, the 72T leaving from the main square will drop you off in the heart of the neighborhood.
What to eat:
Kırmızı Koltuklar Café (The Red Sofa Café) is a casual Turkish tea and coffee place located right along the coast. They are open all day and serve food. You can stay for hours, watch the sunset over the sea or play a couple games of backgammon. Kırmızı Koltuklar Location
Figaros – This restaurant still has a strong Greek influence. I highly recommend their Thessaloniki inspired breakfast that is fresh, plentiful and won’t give you a heavy feeling even if you finish every last bite. They make their own jams from the roses, figs and blackberries in the garden where you sit. Figaros Restaurant Location
Eleos – Raki, fish and mezzes Greek style at this family run place. They have a selection of mezzes that will overwhelm you and the atmosphere will make you feel like you’ve been transported to Santorini. Eleos Restaurant Location
Yüksel Balık – if you crave a view with your fish, located in the marina with two restaurants is Yuksel. Both offer big windows or open terraces looking out to the marina where you can observe boat activity in the sea or people watch. They serve delicious, no fuss fresh fish dishes and have a nice selection of wines. Yüksel Balık Location
Lebnaan - If you’re not in the mood for fish and need something to curve a hearty appetite, check out this new Lebanese restaurant in the area that is gaining in popularity. You’ll find spiced meat dishes; grilled vegetables and I suggest trying their hot hummus with pastrami. Lebnaan Location
The real attraction of Yeşilköy is being able to go for a walk without constantly bumping into people. Even at its most crowded, like on a sunny weekend, it is still significantly calm enough to stroll without requiring evasive maneuvers.
Walk along the Marmara Sea – There is a wide-open and flat cement sidewalk between the sea and the well maintained park. Head west, towards the airport. Its easy to spot as you can see planes lined up to descend. There are playgrounds dotted along the way and both adults and children might get a kick out of the planes landing. It’s about a 20 min walk from the marina to the spot where you can stand right under a jet and wave hello to the new arrivals. Be warned: it’s pretty loud right underneath, but really cool to see them coming in like clockwork and they’re close enough to see every rivet in the metal. As a bonus, on a warm day, dolphins are sometimes spotted splashing close to shore in this area.
Walk the neighborhood – From the Marina you can take any direction away from the sea you want into the neighborhood. You’ll find winding streets that take you passed old wooden houses that have been in the family for generations. You’ll find white washed homes with blue shutters, flowers carefully tended to on windowsills and more churches than mosques. All the churches in the area whether they are Armenian, Catholic or Greek Orthodox are named for the Patron Saint of Stephen and all welcome visitors. Along the way you may find some of the sets of stairs painted like a rainbow, which became a popular last year. You can rest in a shady park with the retired locals and breathe some fresh air before returning to the airport. *There aren’t any bad corners or areas to avoid, but in the safety and quiet don’t forget street smarts.
Spa- There is a Lady’s Sauna for the female traveler who would like to relax with a massage, facial or body treatments to ease those travel worn muscles. Sorry men, there are no recommended spas in the neighborhood unfortunately. There are some in other neighborhoods within proximity of the airport if you need recommendations.
With kids: This is a very child friendly neighborhood and there are several large playgrounds along the sea and some located next to the restaurants. The streets in this area can accommodate strollers fairly well, especially the coast sidewalk. They can watch the planes and ride on some of the carnival rides at the miniature, but well maintained Lunapark.
This is a very residential area, so shopping is limited, but if you have the time you can visit AquaFlorya. It’s a mall that can be easily accessed from the coast (and from the main road as well), that has hundreds of upscale shops, top-notch restaurants all with a panoramic view, food court and Aquarium.