The emergence of domestic airline carriers puts Istanbul within an hour or two of almost everywhere in the country. This makes short hops both easy and cheap (cheaper than driving, with petrol prices at about 100TL per tank full, compared to fares as low as 59TL). For the purposes of this guide, short hops here will include only those select popular or significant spots reachable by land or ferry in less than 2 hours. You'll be able to return to your Istanbul hotel in the evening with enough time for a big night out or a relaxing night in.
Bursa established itself as an important center as far back as pre-Roman times, attracting emperors and rulers for its rich, fertile soil and healing thermal waters. The arrival of the Ottomans in 1326 ensured the city's prosperity as a cultural and economic center that now represents one of the richest legacies of early Ottoman art and architecture. As the first capital of the Ottoman Empire, Bursa became the beneficiary of the finest mosques, theological schools (medreses), humanitarian centers (imarets), and social services (hans, hamams, and public fountains). The density of arched portals, undulating domes, artfully tiled minarets, and magnificently carved minbars (pulpits) could easily provide the coursework for extensive study of the Ottomans, and without a doubt, fill multiple daylong walking tours.
Today Bursa is a thriving cosmopolitan center with roots in industry and agriculture, renowned for its fine silk and cotton textiles, and the center of Turkey's automobile industry. The nearby ski resorts at Mount Uludag provide city dwellers with an easy weekend getaway, while others just make a special trip here to stock up on cotton towels. Still, many flock here for the same reasons the Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans did: the indulgence afforded by the density of rich, hot mineral springs bubbling up all over the region.
If you plan on just a quick architectural and historical pilgrimage, you could reasonably make Bursa a day trip from Istanbul. An overnight excursion is more realistic if you want to make it a short spa getaway and leave time to wander through the exquisite hans (privately owned inns or marketplaces) of the early Ottoman era.
To Turks, the sleepy lakeside resort of Iznik provides a respite from the sweltering summer sun; to Christendom, Iznik sits atop modern-day Nicaea, the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire during its period of exile following its ouster by the Crusaders, site of the 1st and 2nd Councils of Nicaea, and location of the 1st and 7th Ecumenical Councils. It's also synonymous with Ottoman ceramic art, which reached its pinnacle in the 15th and 16th centuries during the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent. While you're here, you should take the time to have lunch at one of the lakeside restaurants.
The Princes' Islands
The Princes' Islands are a slice of seaside heaven far from the chaos and scorching sun of the city, yet only a hop, skip, and a jump from Istanbul. For some reason, ancients and Ottomans banished their prisoners to the most idyllic spots; the islands were originally used as a place of exile for members of the royalty and clergy during the age of Byzantium. They were later taken over by the more clever residents of the city as summer homes. The atmosphere is one of pure repose thanks to the prohibition against vehicles; the only form of transportation on Büyükada (besides your own steam) is the characteristic and enchanting horse-drawn phaeton. In summer, the islands' populations swell with weekenders eager to stake out a lounge chair on one of the islands' many marvelous beaches. And thanks to the introduction of sea buses that shorten the ferry trip by an hour, the islands are only a half-hour away, making them an accessible retreat from city life.
Little more than an intersection in the road, the village itself has been designated as a national park. The bucolic setting, home to several restored Polish houses set on exquisite expanses of rolling hills, makes this a fashionable weekend getaway for residents of Istanbul or foreigners with a bit of spare time.
The origins of Polonezköy go back to the mid-19th century, when the Polish exile Adam Czartoriski lobbied Sultan Abdülmecid for the creation of a colony for Polish refugees, many of whom were fleeing from the invading Russians. The sultan granted these exiles permission to build a village in a forested area on the outskirts of Istanbul. The original settlement -- called Adampol after Czartoriski -- had only 12 residents. Today, the settlement remains ethnically Polish.
The distinctive character of the town has attracted some foreigners with impressive credentials: Franz Liszt, Gustave Flaubert, and Lech Walesa all slept here, and even Pope John Paul II stopped in for a visit in 1994.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.