When you’ve been wandering around sightseeing in a big city in 34 degree heat all day, it would be really nice to cool off in a pool. And that’s where you’re out of luck in Istanbul.
The only hotels with pools are the really posh, high-end ones, and they charge a fortune for day passes. If you take a cruise down the Bosphorus, you’ll see a fair few as well – but they are all in private members clubs, where the same applies. Being on the coast, you’d think beaches would be an option – but no, most of the city doesn’t have them, and anyway, the water is too polluted. The nearest mainland beach is about 60km away on the Black Sea coast, which is quite a trek on public transport when you’re just going for the day.
Best option is to head to the Princes’ Islands. The guide books play down (or fail to mention) that these have beaches, and it’s true, they’re not stunners. But when the city’s hot, they are the best option. Even these have a major downside – the ferry only goes once an hour, and being one of the few options of its type, it feels like half of Istanbul is on the ferry with you.
We got off at the first of the four islands, Kinaliada (or Kınalıada to spell it properly), which is just less than an hour’s journey. The town surrounding the port is very pretty, with lots of cafes along a tree-lined main street. The beaches nearest the port are free but get very, very crowded. Better bet is to walk or cycle round the coast road to the south side of the island, which takes about twenty minutes. There you’ll find a couple of beach clubs – you still have to pay to get in, but it’s nowhere near the price of the clubs on the mainland, and there you have the option of a pool as well. It was well worth the journey, and it’s a great way to escape the hustle of the city. There are a further three islands the ferry stops at, all of which I believe have at least one beach. One thing to note: our guidebook (Time Out) stated that the ferry went from Eminonu (nearest terminal to the Sultanahment hostels and hotels), whereas when we were there it only went from Kabatas, a short tram-ride away in Beyoglu.
Of course you may decide a better option is to combine a weekend in Istanbul with more time on Aegean or Mediterranean coast. Or go in Spring or Autumn where the heat is more bearable. Evenings are better though – most hotels and many bars & restaurants have fantastic roof terraces, where you can cool down with fantastic views out over the water.