Not far from Süleymaniye Mosque you’ll find the Istanbul University Botanical Garden also known as the Alfred Heilbronn Botanical Garden – open to both students and visitors. But more often then not, you will find that you have the garden all to yourself or almost all to yourself. Despite Istanbul being a bustling city with many visitors, few tourists come to visit the garden. Many don’t know where it is and when they ask locals, sometimes they’re sent off to another botanical garden close to Sariyer because even some locals are not aware that this garden exists.
The moment you set foot in the garden, the city disappears – humming off into the distance and what you hear instead is the rustling of leaves and the slight running of water from one of the many pools. Each time I’ve visited the staff have always been friendly. The garden is free to enter but I was asked to leave a piece of ID behind.
On my second visit with Nil a member of staff, who was very kind and knowledgeable offered to show us around and share with us his knowledge of the various species of plants. I remember him being very proud of each one. We then continued to explore the grounds on our own.
Opened 1935, the botanical garden is named after Prof. Dr. Alfred Heilbronn who contributed to the garden plan and the greenhouse projects. The botanical garden was created for educational purposes and is the oldest botanical garden in Turkey.
The garden covers an area of 15,000 m2. It’s divided into various sections including 7 glasshouses, a rock garden and an Arboretum. The glasshouses are home to various tropical fruit trees, shrubs, orchids and ferns as well as fossil and arctic plants.
A special section of the garden is devoted to conservation and multiplication of the bulbous plants of Anatolia at risk in the wild.
The plants found in the rock garden include native Turkish snowdrops, cyclamens and hyacinths, among others. There is also a large collection of crocus from natural habitats in Turkey.
What you will also find in the rock garden peeking through the trees is a unique view of the Bosporus and Golden Horn. Pretty views of Istanbul and its iconic skyline can be seen from various other parts of the garden as well. These views make it very clear as to why real estate developers are trying to get their hands on this plot of land, but with green spaces such a rarity in Istanbul, it would be a shame to lose this oasis.
Visitor services include garden tours, educational displays and art exhibitions. The garden may not be open on the weekend so it’s best to check ahead. Admittance is free but there may be a small fee for groups.
The easiest way to get there is to go to the Vezneciler metro stop and walk up past Süleymaniye Mosque, to the corner of Şifahane Sk. and Mimar Sinan Cd. There you should be able to see signs leading you in the right direction.
If you don’t mind walking uphill, it’s about a 20 min walk up from Galata Bridge or Haliç metro station in the direction of Süleymaniye Mosque.