Istanbul’s Tulip Festival has ancient origins.
From as early as the 12th Century, migrating Turkic peoples brought wild varieties of treasured tulips with them from Central Asia to Anatolia. By the 16th Century the elegant blooms were adored by Ottoman society and Istanbul, then widely known as Constantinople, became very famous for them from the late 17th to the early 18th Century. Palace gardens were planted with new cultivars and European visitors to them were enchanted. ‘Tulip Fever’ began spreading steadily west, taking in the Netherlands along the way.
The 12 years leading up to the 1730s became known as The Tulip Era or Lale Devri in Turkish. It was a relatively peaceful time, during which the Ottoman Empire began to orient itself towards Europe.
When is the Istanbul Tulip Festival these days?
The contemporary festival’s events happen across Istanbul every spring for the month of April. Exactly when the flowers are at their best however, is climate dependent. In 2023 the festival is expected to be for the last 3 weeks of April, possibly into early May as there has been late snow this year.
Teams of gardeners will have planted millions of tulips citywide, throughout parks and public spaces. During the festival you’ll find them in full bloom, inviting you to wander. The park authorities will put on performances, concerts and exhibitions to accompany them.
The experience probably works best if you don’t plan too much, so our advice is to just explore and see what finds you.
Which parks are best for the Tulip Festival 2023?
Emirgan Park, European side
This large park is the main hub of the Istanbul Tulip Festival and overlooks the Bosphorus, so has stunning long distance views too. The köşk mansions within the park host traditional craft demonstrations such as paper marbling, calligraphy, glass blowing and painting. Musical performances are dotted around outside on pop-up stages.
How to get there from Galata? Jump on a ferry. Regular services usually run from Kabataş to Emirgan.
Sultanahmet Square, European side
This is the square alongside the Blue Mosque, historically the Hippodrome of Constantinople. In previous years it’s been planted up in a huge carpet design and has been the world-record-breaking largest ever ‘tulip carpet’, proving extremely popular.
How to get there from Galata? Walk down to Galata bridge, take the T1 tram only 4 stops to Sultanahmet and you’re there.
Gülhane Park, European side
This is the most relaxing park on the historical peninsula. It runs around the lower old walls of Topkapı Palace in Sultanahmet. Happily there are lots of benches under mature and ancient trees from which to quietly enjoy the floral displays.
How to get there from Galata? Walk down to Galata bridge and take the T1 tram only 3 stops to Gülhane station. The tram stop exit is just in front of Gülhane Park’s entrance.
Yıldız Park, European side
Complimented by its beautiful old pavilions and gardens running down to the Bosphorus, Yıldız Park makes a gorgeous backdrop to impressive tulip displays during the festival. Popular with families.
How to get there from Galata? Walk across Galata Bridge to Eminönü and take a ferry from there to Beşiktaş. It’s then about 10 minutes more walking to reach Yıldız Park.
Çamlıca Hill, Asian side
A bit off the beaten track and rarely touristy, Çamlıca Grove has views from the Asian side across to the Old City. If you don’t mind a bit of a climb, the thousands of tulips on the way up and the view from the top make it an enjoyable adventure.
How to get there from Galata? Take the metro to Taksim then funicular to Kabataş. A ferry from there runs to Uskudar, from where a No.11 bus can be taken to the Çamlıca stop. Then you can walk for 15 minutes or take a taxi.
What else is there in Istanbul about tulips?
The tulip motif was used in Ottoman culture for hundreds of years, so you can have some fun spotting it as you explore. You’ll find versions on tiles in mosques and palaces around the city and in ceramic and textile designs on display in museums. Topkapı Palace, a great destination if you have children with you, is a particular treasure trove for tulips in Ottoman artwork.
Tulips are often used in contemporary culture too, from corporate logos to council-designed street furniture and grafitti. Tag us in any interesting ones that you post on social media!
Are there other Tulip Festivals?
The Netherlands are more famous than Istanbul these days for tulips and we’ve recently heard that Seattle in the US also has a great tulip festival. Are there others? Do tell us if you know.
Where can I stay in Istanbul to visit the Tulip Festival?
We thought you’d never ask! Istanbul’s Galata neighbourhood, on the European side, makes a central, enjoyable and characterful base for getting to all the parks featured. You can see the geography of everywhere we’ve mentioned in this special map:
Most of our apartments are in Galata and any one of them would make a great base for your adventures. The boutique shops and cafes in the streets around have plenty of tempting discoveries for tulip-hunters too.
So if winter’s feeling a bit too long wherever you are now, come and discover what the 17th and 18th Century Tulip Fever fuss was all about!
Do you have questions?
We really love spring in Istanbul and throughout the rest of the year too.
Do ask us any questions you may have below, we’d be pleased to hear from you.
If you’d like to book an apartment with us for spring 2023 or later into the year, we may still have availability. Check here.
John Kageorge says
The tulip is so prominent in Türkiye … thank you for this great article. There are many tulip festival around the world, from Australia and Japan. And they all have different ways to celebrate the early, high reaching flower. The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival (near Seattle, Washington) is all about farming bulbs and Pacific Northwest lifestyle (salmon barbecues, paintings of farm fields, quilts, etc.) while the ‘world’s largest tulip festival’ in Ottawa, Canada blooms with 3 millions flowers celebrating peace and the amazing friendship between the Netherlands and Canada formed during World War II. Many of the larger festivals convene annually as members of the World Tulip Society, led by Canadian Michel Gauthier, who has planted bulbs at Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque). https://tulipfestival.org/ https://tulipfestival.ca/
Many thanks for this John, the two links are very interesting to see: maybe one day we can head west to experience the festivals in Skagit and Ottowa ourselves. It’s wonderful to think that the bloom has become a symbol of so much for different cultures and communities around the world. We appreciate your thoughtful comment.
There is an annual tulip festival held at Kashmir, India in every April
Thanks Dee, that’s really interesting. It makes me wonder about the historic connections between Kashmir and Istanbul – perhaps Tulips were traded?
Pier 39 in San Francisco has a relatively small tulip festival, about 30-40,000, in mid-February. They are in wine barrel containers, not fields of tulips like gorgeous Istanbul. Most of the varieties are labeled with common names. We love it and the sea lions that live on docks in the marina.
This is so interesting to hear Cassie, thanks for telling us! It sounds different and special – also a great way to learn about available varieties. Many years ago I visited Pier 39 and sang ‘sitting on the dock of the bay’ to myself and the sea lions 😀 so I can imagine what you describe there well.
Kahardy Kamaludin says
Hi, I’m planning to visit Istambul from 22-31 March 2020. Will there be tulips to see or is it too early?
It’s really hard to say Kahardy, as it will depend on how the weather this winter and spring goes. Fingers crossed for you!
Hi Julia, we arrive in Istanbul on 10th May staying near Gulhane Park will the tulips still be in bloom?
It’s looking like it’ll be a close thing Rosemary as they’re towards the end of their blooming. There’s already been some replanting though, so Gulhane should still be a pretty place to walk when you get there.
Angela Cardona says
We are visiting the city the last week of May,is there any chances to see the tulips or do you think will be to late?
The end of May probably will be too late for tulips, but even if so the parks are usually re-planted well and the weather cool enough for enjoyable wanders. If tulips are your particular interest, you’ll find lots depicted in gorgeous Ottoman textiles and ceramics at the museums. Have a great visit!
Hi, do you know when the end date of Tulip Festival in Istanbul is?
I’m not sure there even is an official end date, as the tulips are so season-dependent. If you’d like to check how the blooms are doing you can search for #Emirgan on Instagram (then choose ‘recent’) to see users pictures of the flowers there. Not an exact science! but it should give you an idea.
MARIA FE GALANG says
Hello we will be in Istanbul .Is it too early to see Tulips at Emirgan Park on April 5 2019. That’s the only date possible for to go there as we are in a group tour so our time and dates are pretty scheduled. Thank you for your response.
We understand that the tulips at Emirgan are already in bloom and should still be looking lovely on April 5th :)) In fact we’d really like to see them soon ourselves! Hope you enjoy istanbul and your time in the parks.
Katerina Bakunina says
Dear Julia, thank you for this concise overview and your tips!
It’s a pleasure Katerina – so glad it was helpful :))
emmy ashuri mashuri says
I can’t decide which date is better to see the tulips in full bloom? The date I’m planning for the trip is either 6-16th April or 20-30th April 2019.
It’s so hard to say Emmy! It varies each year depending on how the weather has been over the previous winter, which no-one quite knows yet. If we had to choose we’d say mid-April, which is close to both your options, but it’s a guess… sorry not to be able to help more.
Kathryn King says
I had no idea Istanbul had such a strong connection with Tulips! Great article – thanks for sharing 🙂
So glad you liked it Kathryn. Bet you’d enjoy the elegant Ottoman tulip designs, they’re really beautiful. That can be another post but we’d love to see you in Istanbul for the real museum pieces one day too!