Boulder Istanbul: Your Favorite Neighborhood Gym in Istanbul, Turkey (Climbing Gym Review)

Boulder Istanbul is your neighborhood climbing gym on the Asian side.

It’s akin to your favorite little cafe down the street, full of character and familiar faces. Or it’s the climbing set-up you wish you had in your two-car garage, just for you and your buddies.

The Vibe:

Make no mistakes, this is an “old school” gym and one of the first in Istanbul.

This place has a slightly gritty feel which adds to its well-worn charm. The holds are a little polished, rubber streaks mark the walls, and the paint has faded from years of use.

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for places like this, perhaps because I got my start at the small-town gym in New Paltz, NY (imprinting matters, I guess). I enjoy places and people that have an edge to them, that have been around the block, that have a story to tell.

No gym is complete without a community: The staff and regular climbers are welcoming, friendly, and helpful. They are happy to get to know you, share beta, and connect you with other climbers in the area if you’re looking to go outside.

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Photo source: facebook.com/boulderistanbul

The Climbing:

Let’s be clear: This is good climbing.

The settings are safe, the mats are sufficient, and the routes are interesting enough (if somewhat limited).

It is bouldering-only with 9 walls ranging from just-less-than-vertical incline to 45 degree overhang. The routes trend towards reachy moves and a pumpy style. You will get stronger by climbing here, though you won’t necessarily become a master technician.

Given the set-up, it is better for newer climbers. The routes require attentive foot placement, practice with smearing, and the occasional bridge or heel hook in order to conserve arm strength. Many moves give beginner climbers a taste of the strength and coordination required for outdoors, while also forcing them to push past some sketchy-seeming maneuvers.

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Photo source: facebook.com/boulderistanbul

With that said, more advanced climbers looking to focus on crimps and quarter-dollar footholds would do well to look elsewhere. The hardest routes are quite difficult, but they are all featured on the overhanging sections so you will be training a very particular style of climbing. They would do well to add more balance-based routes and finger-pocket holds.

If you are looking to improve your strength and aerobic endurance, or want to get started on your climbing journey, I’d highly recommend coming here.

Amenities:

You get solid climbing, two hangboards, a small campus board, and not much else (but really, what more do you need?).

For beginners, they offer shoes and chalk bags for rent, as well as personal training.

They also sell coffee if you need a pick-me-up.

How to Get There:

Boulder Istanbul is located in Kadiköy, on the Asian side of Istanbul. Here is the location in google maps.

From the European side, you can take the Marmary to Ayrılık Çeşmesi station (then it’s about a 15 minute walk from there) or you can take the ferry to Kadıköy İskelesi (which is just three blocks from the gym).

Resources:

Boulder Istanbul website (with the basic info you need in English)

If you would like to climb outdoors near Istanbul, check out my review of Ballikayalar, the best climbing within an hour of the city.

The Best Climbing near Istanbul – Ballikayalar, Turkey aka the sweet, sweet Honey Crag! (Trip Report)

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Photo by the author

Overview

Ballikayalar (or Honey Crag in Turkish) is the best outdoor climbing near Istanbul.

It is about an hour drive from the city of 15 million and consists of over 70 routes on limestone. The routes range from 7 to 35m, and most fall within a difficulty rating of 5.10 to 5.12 (or VI to IX- in UIAA). Many of the older routes were originally climbed as trad, now that they are bolted the line naturally follow the cracks.There are two main sectors, the Left and the Right, as in, on the Left or Right of the valley (when peering into it).

To climb here is to steep in the history of rock climbing in Turkey. Ballikayalar is one of the original crags to be developed in the country. By sheer luck, I had the opportunity to climb with one of the pioneers: Emre has been climbing here for over 33 years and has many first and second ascents to his name.We were joined by Sevki, a big wall climber who has spent time at Yosemite. Fun fact: He met Alex Honnold there… on El Cap!… While Alex was free solo down-climbing!Overall, it’s a beautiful valley with a babbling brook running down the middle. After spending nearly a month in Istanbul, this was a desperately needed respite from a city sorely lacking in nature. Oddly, Balli sits on the edge of an industrial area. Look one way and you see factories spewing smoke. Turn around and it’s nature at it’s finest.

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Photo by the author

Suggested Routes

I am a beginner and stuck to the lower grades. Sevki and Emre showed me some of the “classics”, which had been developed in 1987 (older than I am!).

Percussion: VI/VI+. Originally climbed as a trad route (by Emre and others), this follows a thin line on the inner side of a cave. It involves lean-backs, bridging your feet wider than expected, and big reach ups. It is quite pumpy.

Davul (Drum): VI+: Emre had the first ascent on this one. This is pumpy, featuring big, juggy holds, bigger reaches and a lot of lean-backs. Drum and Percussion are meant as brothers of sorts, and their names allude to the pounding your arms take when climbing them.

 

How to Get There

The easiest way is by car. Take the E80 or D100 East towards Ankara. The closest town is Gebze.Public Transport: TheCrag.com and RockClimbing.com have suggestions for how to get there by bus. I won’t pretend to give advice here since I didn’t try this myself.

When to Go

Istanbul and the surrounding area to the East has mild weather in the Winter (we had 50 F/ 10 C in late December). Reading other people’s accounts, the area is climbable year round.
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Photo by the author

We started in a corner on the Left Sector away from the sun. The closest area to the entrance of the Left Sector faces the East and was receiving direct sun when we arrived. Around the bend, the sectors stayed in the shade until mid-afternoon. It had rained two days before and the routes were still wet in the shade. The Right Sector receives sun nearly all day.

Supplies

You can pick up food and snacks in Gebze. There are several bodegas and cafes right in town.If you need climbing gear, Istanbul is unfortunately lacking in this regard. I only found two shops that sell climbing shoes (K2 Outdoor and Everest Outdoor). Atlas Outdoor had some draws and biners. Decathalon also sells some gear, but I didn’t check out the selection.

Resources: