Bursa is one of Turkey’s most important historical cities and is chock-a-block stuffed with monuments, mosques, and other tourist attractions dating from the early years of the Ottoman Empire.
It’s also one of the best places to visit for touring foodies, as it is home base for Turkey’s Iskender kebap, one of the most famous kebab dishes in the country.
Sprawling at the foot of the mighty mountain of Uludağ, Bursa also offers plenty of things to do for more active-minded travelers. In winter, Uludağ is a major winter sports destination, home to Turkey’s most popular ski resort, while the Bursa Teleferik cable car operates year-round up the slopes for those who want some mountain scenery.
Easily reached from Istanbul by regular ferries across the Marmara Sea and then a short bus ride, Bursa makes for a good add-on to an Istanbul visit or is an excellent stop off point for Turkey trips heading down to the Aegean or Mediterranean coast.
1. Bursa Teleferik
The world’s longest cable car is the Bursa Teleferik, which travels up the slopes of Uludağ (Grand Mountain).
The ride covers 8.2 kilometers up the side of the mountain, and it takes 22 minutes to get to the final station at 1,810 meters above sea level.
In winter, the cable car is used by skiers and snowboarders to transport them to Uludağ’s ski resort facilities, but the cable-car is a tourist attraction in itself for its scenic views, and operates year-round.
Along the way, the scenery swoops over thickly forested lower slopes, with one side providing prime vistas of the jagged mountain peak and from the other side, the sprawl of Bursa city below.
It’s a great activity for families if the kids need a break from Bursa’s historic attractions, and if you’re traveling in the summer months, the crisp mountain air at the top station provides a respite from the heat.
2. Shop and Sightsee in the Central Bazaar
Bursa was a prominent stop on the Silk Route trails between east and west, and its central city area is replete with finely restored buildings from its grandest era.
The Central Bazaar is a vast labyrinth of covered market streets, caravanserais where traders once slept, and warehouses where goods were stored. Many of the warehouse buildings (called bedestans) and caravanserais (called hans) are now home to shops, and their tranquil leafy central courtyards are used as outdoor cafés.
One of the most famous buildings in this neighborhood is the Koza Han, which dates from 1490. The arched cells on the two-story levels of this caravanserai now host stores specializing in silk products, while the large shaded courtyard at its center is home to various cafés.
3. Stroll the Alleys of Cumalıkızık
For a taste of years gone by, head into the hill villages that sit on the outskirts of Bursa.
The most famous of these villages is Cumalıkızık, just 14 kilometers east from the central city. Here, the cobblestone alleyways are rimmed with old houses, some finely preserved, and others slouching into various states of dilapidation. They’re built in typical Ottoman style, with stonework and adobe walls with wood beam detailing. Some of the houses date as far back as the earliest period of the Ottoman era.
Due to their historical importance, the villages in this area were included as part of Bursa’s UNESCO World Heritage listing.
There’s not much for visitors to actually do in Cumalıkızık. Instead, a visit here is simply about wandering the alleys and soaking up the old-world rural atmosphere amid the windy lanes while marveling that a place like this still survives, just on the doorstep of one of Turkey’s most bustling cities.
Some of the houses have been turned into cafés and restaurants, and many Bursa locals descend on the village during sunny weekends for lunch. Various village locals have also set up stalls on the alleyways to sell traditional handicrafts.
4. Muradiye Tombs
Bursa was the first Ottoman-era capital, and this complex holds the tombs of some of the empire’s earliest sultans and family.
Anyone with an interest in the artistic heritage of the Ottoman period will appreciate a visit here, as the tombs are decorated with exceptional examples of artwork from the era – replete with colorful tile work and intricate calligraphy.
There are 12 tombs set into the site. Two of the most historically important include the tomb of Sultan Murat II (father to Mehmed the Conqueror, who conquered Constantinople) and that of the famed Cem Sultan (third son of Mehmed the Conqueror), who died in exile in Italy having lost the battle of succession with his brother who became Beyazit II.
5. Ski on Uludağ
Within easy reach of both Istanbul and Bursa, Uludağ is Turkey’s busiest winter ski resort.
The resort area ranges from between 1,767 meters and 2,322 meters above sea level, with 28 kilometers of slopes available, ranging from beginner to advanced levels.
It’s particularly good for intermediate skiers and snowboarders, with a plentiful variety of slopes to choose from. Facilities are modern, and transport between the various slopes is made easy with 24 different ski lifts on-site.
The main resort area has a range of mid-range and luxury hotels, as well as restaurants and cafés. If you don’t have your own ski equipment, there are various hire shops where you can rent all the equipment you need for a day on the slopes.
The main ski resort area, 31 kilometers south of central Bursa, can be reached either by road or by the scenic ride on Bursa’s Teleferik cable car. The ski season normally lasts from December to the end of March.
6. Bursa Grand Mosque
Bursa’s Ulu Cami (Grand Mosque) sits amid the city’s central market area, so a visit can be easily incorporated into your exploration of the neighborhood.
The mosque dates from 1399 in the early days of the Ottoman Empire, so its architecture still leans towards the earlier Seljuk style, which took much of its influence from Persian mosques.
It’s most recognizable for its roof, resplendent with 20 domes. This unique stylistic feature is claimed to have been built because Sultan Beyazit I, who commissioned the mosque, had promised to build 20 mosques, but later decided that was a little too ambitious and instead installed 20 domes on this one.
Inside, the prayer hall is a vast, serene space with a particularly finely carved minber (pulpit) and some intricate calligraphy decoration.
7. Watch a Whirling Dervish Ceremony
Although Konya (home base of the Mevlevi Sufis) is the most famous city to watch the dervishes whirl, Bursa also has an active Mevlevi cultural center, and visitors are welcome to come and watch the sema (the religious ceremony of the whirling dervishes).
What sets the ceremony apart here from the sema you see in Konya is that the ceremony here is the Mevlevi Sufi community’s religious practise, rather than being shown as a touristic performance.
It’s held every evening in the community’s dervish lodge (called a tekke in Turkish), which is also known as the Karabaş-i Veli Kültür Merkezi.
Female visitors watch from the balcony upstairs, while male visitors sit on the ground level. You should be modestly dressed, and female travelers should don a headscarf on entering the tekke.
The ceremony takes around 30 minutes and begins at 9.30pm on summer evenings and 8pm in winter.
8. Green Mosque & Tomb
The Green Mosque (Yeşil Cami) was built by Sultan Mehmed I and the neighboring Green Tomb (Yeşil Türbe) is the Sultan’s sarcophagus.
Sultan Mehmed I, who was the fifth Ottoman sultan, was an important figure in early Ottoman history, as during his reign he managed to consolidate control over a wide range of territories.
The Green Mosque was built in 1422 and is a good example of the distinct Ottoman architectural style that was evolving to replace Seljuk design. The interior walls are covered in tile work decoration.
The Green Tomb also has elaborate tile work detailing on both its interior and exterior.
9. Explore the Lakeside Village of Gölyazı
Ulubat Lake is just 40 kilometers west from central Bursa. The tiny village of Gölyazı sits on a peninsula jutting into the lake and is a taste of slow-paced rural life.
On weekends, it’s a popular day trip for Bursa locals, who come to stroll the lakefront, enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, and take boat trips out onto the lake.
The village has plenty of rickety architecture rimming its alleys; a famous and huge 750-year-old plane tree; and a smattering of Roman-era ruins, including the scant remnants of the settlement’s Roman walls.
Ulubat Lake is also known as a good location for bird spotting in spring, when the migratory birds are passing through.
10. Wind Your Way through Bursa Citadel Neighborhood
Lower reaches of the Citadel neighborhood
In the central Bursa area, the well-preserved walls of the citadel surround the oldest part of the city, on the hill surrounding the modern bustle below.
Right at the top is a park, with great views down onto the Grand Mosque and surrounding bazaar area and Uludağ’s slopes rising behind in the distance.
The park is home to an old clock tower and the tombs of the Ottoman Empire’s founders, Ozman and Orhan Gazi. The actual tomb building isn’t the original, though, as it was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt in 1863.
The roads and alleys surrounding the park hold onto some nicely restored examples of Ottoman houses and mansions, and there are various portions of surviving ramparts that offer more great views.