When people think about traveling to Turkey, they often envision grand mosques in Istanbul and balloons flying over spectacular rock formations in Cappadocia. There is, however, another highly intriguing Turkish location that combines Ottoman grandeur with oriental flair. Enter Bursa.
Welcome to Bursa: Ottoman Capital and Silk Road Hub
With a population of over three million people, Bursa is the fourth-largest city in the country. Today, the metropolis is the heart of Turkey’s automotive industry and a regional business hub.
But Bursa’s charm doesn’t reside in its modern business district. Located around 150 km (96 miles) south of Istanbul, Bursa was an important trade hub in ancient times and a stop on the fabled Silk Road. It was also the capital of the Ottoman Empire between 1335 and 1336.
Thanks to its history as a political powerhouse and trading center, Bursa is home to bustling bazaars and an impressive panoply of Ottoman monuments.
Better still, the city of Bursa and the nearby town of Cumalıkızık form one of Turkey’s 18 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Situated in the foothills of the majestic Mount Uludağ, the Bursa Province is also famous for its natural beauty – catering for some excellent day trips.
If you’re road-tripping or looking for some lesser-known places to visit in Turkey, Bursa is a great choice. Two or three days should suffice for the city, but I suggest you rent a car and explore the region for one or two extra days.
The Best Things to do in Bursa, Turkey
Most of the top places to visit in Bursa are Ottoman monuments and structures, including mosques and bazaars. Aside from that, the region’s natural beauty and the city’s laidback vibe are other reasons to include Bursa on your Turkey bucket list.
On this basis, here are eight of the best things to do in Bursa, Turkey.
Soak in the Views From Hisar Fortress and Tophane Clocktower
When exploring a new city, enjoying some panoramic views is always a good way to start.
That’s where Hisar Fortress comes into play. Located in the old Ottoman center, the fortress offers stunning views over central Bursa, the Grand Mosque, and the mountainous backdrop.
Hisar (Citadel) is the oldest part of the city, dating back to the 14th century. In 1855, an earthquake destroyed most of the area, but the Ottoman structures – including some of the most picturesque houses – were rebuilt.
The fortress also holds the mausoleum of Osman, the first sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Finally, you’ll find a cozy tea house with beautiful views over the city and also the well-known Bursa Clocktower here.
Admire the Majestic Bursa Grand Mosque
Next, any visit to Bursa should include Ulu Camii (Bursa Grand Mosque). Finished in 1399, Ulu Camii is one of the most impressive mosques in all of Turkey.
The complex contains 20 domes and two minarets, as well as intricate wood carvings and interior calligraphy.
The Grand Mosque is a spectacular example of Seljuk architecture and undoubtedly one of the top places to visit in Bursa.
Feel the Silk Road Vibe at the UNESCO World Heritage Bazaar
The best things to do in Bursa certainly also include the city’s bazaars.
The ancient “Silk Road” – often defined as a network of trading routes between China and Europe – had a substantial influence on the city of Bursa.
Fully-restored, the Ottoman Silk Bazaar (Koza Han) and its adjacent markets tell stories from caravans and traders bringing exotic goods from faraway lands – transporting you back hundreds of years.
Full of authentic tea houses and charming restaurants, the bazaars are among the best Bursa attractions and a lot less touristy than their Istanbul counterparts.
Explore the Green Mosque and Green Tomb
When in Bursa, don’t miss the stunning Green Mosque (Yeşil Camii) and Green Tomb (Yeşil Türbe).
Both structures are part of a larger religious complex in the eastern part of the Ottoman center. They were built under Sultan Mehmet I, who ruled from 1413 to 1421, and the Green Tomb nowadays houses the sultan’s sarcophagus.
The mosque and mausoleum are famous for their intricate green tiles, explaining the names. Both are in pristine condition and popular Bursa attractions for locals and tourists alike.
Wander Around Muradiye Complex
If you’re looking for calm, serene places to visit in Bursa, Muradiye Complex is one of your best bets. Home to several Ottoman mosques, mausoleums, a cemetery, and leafy gardens, the complex is a great place to admire examples of early Ottoman architecture and take a relaxing stroll.
Check out the Historic Irgandı Bridge
Many locals claim that Irgandı is one of only four bridges in the world that still house shops. That statement is incorrect, but one thing is for sure: not many medieval bridges of this type still exist.
Irgandı was completed in the mid-15th century on the orders of a wealthy merchant. The bridge has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, notably during the 1855 Bursa Earthquake and the Turkish War of Independence (1922).
Today, the bridge is one of the most iconic locations in Bursa and still holds traditional shops, much like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy.
Enjoy Some Tea at a 600-Year-Old Tree
If you’re looking for an unusual tea house in Bursa, head to İnkaya Historical Plane Tree.
The tree is 37m (121ft) tall and over 600 years old. As such, it looks like straight out of Lord of the Rings, and its tea house is a laidback place for some Turkish çay. It’s a popular spot among locals who head up here on weekends, so be prepared for crowds.
Enjoy Some Delicious Turkish Cuisine on the River
If you’re wondering where to eat some traditional Turkish food in Bursa, check out the area around Setbaşı Bridge in the old Ottoman center. You’ll find lots of restaurants, coffee shops, and bars in this neighborhood, all offering delicious kebap and other Turkish specialties.
Be aware that Bursa is a bit more on the conservative side, so most restaurants and cafés don’t serve alcohol. If you want to enjoy some beer or on the river, La Bella Bar is a popular spot in the old center.
Take a Day Trip to Cumalıkızık, Lake Uluabat, or Mount Uludağ
The city of Bursa is one of the most underrated places to visit in Turkey, but its surroundings are equally appealing.
If you’re short on time, head to Cumalıkızık. The village is located around 13 km (8 miles) east of Bursa and part of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage ensemble. It has countless beautifully-restored Ottoman village houses that now contain markets and restaurants.
If you have a bit more time, check out Lake Uluabat (also called “Ulubat”), more specifically the town of Gölyazı. The lake is peaceful, authentic, and dotted with excellent fish restaurants. It’s situated around 40 km (24 miles) west of Bursa, so you’ll need a car, but the excursion is worth it.
Finally, if you’re an avid hiker or visit during the skiing season, Mount Uludağ National Park is among the best things to do in Bursa for nature lovers. It’s accessible by cable car from the southern edge of the metropolis.
Where to stay in Bursa, Turkey
The old Ottoman center is undoubtedly the best area to stay if you’re visiting Bursa as a tourist.
Look for a hotel or Airbnb close to the Silk Bazaar (Koza Han), and you’ll be within walking distance to some of the top places to visit in Bursa. The city is quite spread out, but you’ll find most of Bursa’s historic attractions in this area.
Find your place to stay in Bursa in Bursa here.