For many people who visit Turkey, the highly sought-after destination is Istanbul. But as an expat living in Turkey, I saw many other cities in Turkey that I consider hidden gems. One of those cities is Bursa. Although I have never considered a visit to Bursa, but because we were passing through on a road trip to Istanbul, we decided to make it one of our stops to check it out.
If you seek authenticity, fewer tourists, historical sights, fabulous bazaars, then Bursa is the place to visit.
Bursa is the fourth largest city in Turkey. It has incredible historical landmarks along with the authentic Turkish ambiance and flair a visitor might be seeking when visiting Turkey. Most people do not take the easy two-hour trek or excursion to see Bursa, but it is well worth the trip. The most popular travel companies tell you that Bursa is only worth a day trip. I’m afraid I must disagree as we stayed for two nights and should have stayed longer so that we could see all the wonderful historical sights.
I still love Istanbul, but I believe Bursa is a better destination to plant yourself in for a few days and experience genuine Turkish culture. Get yourself on a ferry or bus to Bursa and stay for a few days.
Reasons to Visit Bursa
- Bursa is a beautiful city with mountains on one side and the sea on the other. Buras is known as the “Green City” because of the many natural features.
- Bursa is full of rich history, as it was the first ancient Greek settlement, later became a major Byzantine city, and eventually the first capital of the Ottoman Empire.
- Bursa is easier to navigate and walk about the city than Istanbul. Many of the main attractions are in the city center. One can easily walk from one end to another. Even though Bursa is smaller than Istanbul, it is large enough to have all the amenities of a modern big city.
- Bursa is less touristy; therefore, shopkeepers and restauranteurs generally won’t harass you in the bazaars.
- Bursa is easy to explore. There are fewer tourists, shorter lines at attractions, fewer tour buses, and fewer tourist traps to avoid, allowing you to get up close to history, culture, and people.
- The people of Bursa are quite pleasant—hospitable, genuine, warm, and ready to accommodate.
- Bursa has a modern side to the city. New malls, restaurants, and development are available for visitors to enjoy.
Things to Do in the City Center
Ulu Cami (Bursa Grand Mosque)
Perhaps the most prominent building in the city center is Ulu Cami (Grand Mosque). The mosque is over 600 years old with 192 oriental calligraphy written by 42 different calligraphers, making it the most important collection of Islamic calligraphy in the world.
In the center of the mosque is a beautiful washing fountain (which is unusual; typically, outside the mosque). The reason for a fountain inside the mosque is to drown out voices because not only was the mosque a house of worship, but it also hosted political gatherings.
The mosque has 20 domes making it one of the unique mosques in Turkey. The reason for the 20 domes is that when Sultan Bayezid I was fighting in the battle of Nicopolis in 1396 and promised; if he won, to build 20 mosques. Although he did win the battle, but instead of building 20 mosques, he built the Bursa Grand Mosque with 20 domes. It is the 5th holiest mosque in the Islamic world.
Orhan Gazi Mosque
Orhan Gazi Mosque is near the Bursa Grand Mosque, but it was being restored at the time of our visit. Many locals enjoy taking a break on the steps overlooking the bazaar.
Bazaars and Hans
The central complex of the bazaars and hans (once a building that functioned as a hotel, stable, storage depot, and wholesale selling point) is extensive. It is an excellent place for watching locals and finding some great inexpensive souvenirs to take home.
Located in the center of Bursa, near Ulu Mosque, is the Grand Bazaar. The bazaar, which mainly houses jewelry shops, is one of the most respected places for gold shopping.
Long Bazaar (Uzun Çarş)
A continuation of the Grand Bazaar is the Long Bazaar, with more than 80 shops of textile and ready-to-wear products.
Bedesten Jewelers Bazaar
One of the most historical bazaars is the Bedesten Jewelers Bazaar and is an extension of the jewelry market.
Ulu Bazaar (Towel Bazaar)
If you are looking for some of the best quality towels made in Turkey, visit the Towel Bazaar. Here you will find table coverings, bathrobes, and so much other textile goods.
Çancılar Bazaar was once known to be the place to purchase the metal bell that goes around the goat’s neck. Today you will find approximately 300 shops to find antiques, chandeliers, printing products, and everyday items made from wood.
We did not explore other bazaars because we ran out of time, which we’ll visit on our next and longer trip to Bursa… here are the other bazaars: Hallaçlar (Poppy) Bazaar, Quilter Market, Kavaflar Bazaar, Old Booksellers, and Bridal Shop Bazaar, Haci Ivaz Pasha Bazaar, The Old Mirror Bazaar, Sipahi Bazaar, and Archers Bazaar.
In addition to the 13 bazaars, Bursa has five different hans, each with its own specialty.
One of my most favorites is the Koza Han which is another brilliant example of Ottoman architecture. It once operated as a silk cocoon bazaar, and the silk trade has been taking place since the 15th century. Today you can find some of the most beautiful silk scarves, pillowcases, and silk textiles at this han.
Old Ipek Han
Old Ipek Han was designed in the 15th century for the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed to bring silk merchants and spinners together under one roof. Today, it is used by drapers, wedding dresses, and evening dress seamstress shops. It is included in the UNESCO World Heritage.
Setbaşı Bridge and Irıgandı Bridge
Setbaşı Bridge and Irıgandı Bridge are two passages across the stream separating the Yeşil(green) area from the rest of the city center. Crossing the Setbaşı Bridge, you can drink tea at a streamside café or step into the historic city library. The Irıgandı Bridge is a gem in itself—a semi-covered pedestrian-only bridge lined with local artisans’ shops.
Green Mosque (Bursa Yeşil Cami)
The name comes from its exuberant decoration with green and blue tilework. The geometric design tiles are unique to Persian style artistry. Following the earthquake in 1855, the building underwent extensive damage, which was restored in 1863. Before the damage, the domes were decorated with colorful tiles. Within the mosque are multi-level floors indicating that the building functioned as a governmental office.
The Green Tomb (Yeşil Tomb)
The Yeşil Tomb is a must-see in Bursa’s city center. The tile-lined tomb of Celebi Sultan Mehmet is arguably one of the most beautiful structures in all of Bursa. The Green Tomb or Mausoleum is symbolic to Bursa.
It was built in 1421 by Murad II after his father’s death, the 5th Ottoman Sultan Mehmet I. Inside are eight tombs, one of which is from Sultan Mehmet I. The exterior of the hexagonal building is blue/green in color and designed by the same architecture of the Green Mosque. The entrance is very ornate and contains green, blue, white, and yellow Iznik tiles. Atop of the door is a muqarnas niche. The interior is elaborate with walls that are tiled, giving a decorative outline of the windows.
Turkish Islamic Arts Museum
Walk through the Turkish Islamic Arts Museum in the 15th-century madrasah, built-in 1419. In the museum, tiles, and ceramics from the Seljuk, Beylik, and Ottoman periods. From the 13th century to the 20th century are wooden, carved, and inlaid works. You can see Turkish metal art, tombak (goblet), Seljuk and Ottoman coins, and other metal artifacts. Traditional Turkish handicrafts and clothes are displayed.
Tarihi Yeşil Hamam Bazaar
Near the multi-complex of the Green Mosque is the Tarihi Yeşil Hammam Bazaar. The only hammam was built in 1480. Today it serves as a bazaar with shops offering varied Turkish goods. Browse the shops or enjoy people-watching at one of the cafes.
Find treasures in some of the city’s best souvenir and antique shops nearby. We had the pleasure of meeting Yunus who is the owner of the Ottoman House and invited us into his shop for a cup of tea.
Bursa Castle has been in existence since the beginning of the 1st century B.C. Today the city walls are what remains. On the road leading to Tophane is the Castle Gate. The best-preserved section of the wall is from this gate to Üftade.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many historical sites in Bursa. Many Turks visit Bursa as it is one of the best locations for snow skiing in the winter. Within Bursa province, you will find beautiful waterfalls, forests, and great places to hike.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel- Sheraton Bursa Hotel is one of Bursa’s luxury hotels. Rooms are spacious with large spa-like bathrooms. Nearby are plenty of great restaurants and if you desire shopping a Sur Yapi Marka (Mall) is across the street.
WHERE TO EAT
Bursa is known for Isklender kebab, named after the creator Isklender (Alexander) in the middle of the 19th century. Iskender kebab consists of pita bread cut into pieces, tomato sauce, thin-sliced lamb meat, thick yogurt, and melted butter on top.
Kebapçı Hüseyin Usta Restaurant is one of the best places to eat Isklender kebab. The owner of the Huseyin came out and visited with us. He was so kind and was excited to take a picture.
ZennUp 1844 Restaurant has been serving customers for centuries with its Turkish flare of amazing dishes, prepared with the creative touches of Chef Omur Akkor, with a wide variety of dishes offered on the menu. The wait staff treated each guest as if they were the only ones to be served in the restaurant.