Sea of Marmara (Region): 10 Interesting Places to Know!
As a travel destination, the Marmara hardly ever appears in English travel catalogues.
The small islands, bays and sandy beaches of the sea are a perfect addition to sightseeing in Istanbul.
10 places of interest on the Marmara Sea
The Marmara Sea is enclosed by the European and Asian part of Turkey.
In the north, it is connected to the Black Sea via the Bosporus and to the south via the Dardanelles Strait with the Aegean Sea.
The 280 kilometres long and only 80 kilometres wide inland sea takes its name from the marble island of Prokonnessos. In ancient times it was one of the most important sources of white marble. It has been built into monuments such as the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace.
I don’t have to write much about Istanbul.
Once founded as the capital of the Roman Empire with the name Constantinople, the 15 million inhabitant metropolis is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
This is due to attractions such as Hagia Sophia, the Bosporus, Golden Horn, Grand Bazaar and many other interesting places in Istanbul.
2. Prince Islands:
The residents of Istanbul love the nine Prince Islands in the Sea of Marmara. On weekends, thousands make their way to the local recreation area, which is an hour away by ferry from the Bosporus.
The most popular is Büyükada, the largest of the nine Prince Islands.
Cars are not allowed on Büyükada. That’s why you must either take a horse-drawn carriage through the island or a bike.
Places to visit on Büyükada are:
Greek Orthodox monastery on the tip of the island
Harbour area with many restaurants
Nature, barbecues …
Kinali is the other interesting Prince Island for me. The island’s beaches are located directly across from Istanbul’s old town, Sultanahmet.
The UNESCO World Heritage City of Bursa is considered the birthplace of the Ottoman Empire. With around 3 million inhabitants, it is also the third largest city in Turkey.
In Bursa you should definitely see the green mausoleum and the green mosque. Together, they are the symbols of the city.
Ottoman sultans such as Mehmed I and the founder of the Ottoman dynasty, Osman I, are buried in the numerous mausolea of Bursa.
Bursa is also an indispensable part of Turkish cuisine. Iskender Efendi invented the Iskender kebab and the vertical kebab skewer in Bursa in the 19th century. His descendants run a chain of restaurants where you can eat the original Iskender kebab.
Other destinations in the region are:
Skiing on the 2,500 metre high Uladag
Thermal springs in Cekirge.
Cumalikizik, 70 year old Ottoman houses and excellent Turkish breakfast.
4. Marmara Islands:
There are a total of 12 islands in the southern Marmara Sea.
Marmara, Avsar and Pasilimani are the largest islands. There are also Inlik, Koyun, Mamali, Hasir, Pale, Fener, Asmali and two small islands in the Pasalimani Bay.
Ferries to the islands leave from Istanbul, Erdek (Asian side) and Tekirdag (European side). The fast ferry trip from Istanbul takes three hours. The travel time to Erdek from the Marmara Islands is one hour and 45 minutes.
Next, I will briefly describe the three most important Marmara Islands:
It owes its current name to an occurrence of almost completely white marble with small grey stripes – the Prokonnessos marble. It has been mined on the island for over 2,000 years. It was used, for example, in the construction of Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) in Istanbul.
Do you know the Pergamon Museum is also in Berlin? Inside are the remains of the Pergamon Altar. It is also made from Prokonnessos marble.
Most of the marble quarries can be found around the port of Saraylar. The quarry, together with the ruins of the palace of the mining director, is a kind of open-air museum.
Many other quarries are spread across Marmara Island, 18 kilometres long and ten kilometres wide. Unfortunately, you won’t find it that easily. This is due to the dense vegetation on the island. It is overgrown with olive trees, grapevines and Calabrian oak forests.
You should / are allowed to take your bathing suit with you to the island. The small fishing village of Gündogdu is known for its beautiful bays with sandy beaches. Around the island you will find a few secluded bays just for you. The best bathing time is from mid-June to mid-September.
Pasalimani and Avsa:
Pasalimani is the second largest Marmara island. On it you can visit the ancient city of Prokonnessos. The island is covered with forests. There are beautiful natural beaches for swimming around Pasalimani.
Avsa is a natural island with beautiful beaches, forests and just a few small settlements.
5. Imrali Adasi:
Imrali is the fourth largest island in the Sea of Marmara. It lies between Istanbul and the Marmara Islands. Unfortunately, you cannot visit Imrali because the whole island is a maximum security prison.
Until 2009, Abdullah Özalan, the ideological leader of the PKK, was the only prisoner on Imrali. Several other prisoners have been added to the island since then. Among them are said to be some of the military involved in the attempted coup in summer 2016.
The Imrali Adasi became known outside of Turkey through the film: “12 o’clock at night – Midnight Express”. You may know the book the film is based on: Midnight Express by Billy Hayes (Night Express). It tells the fictional story of the real student Billy Hayes. He wanted to smuggle two kilos of hashish out of Turkey. For this, he has been sentenced to a 30-year prison term on Imrali.
6. Dardanelles Strait:
The Dardanelles are a 65 kilometer long, one to six kilometer wide strait between the Marmara Sea and the Aegean Sea.
The Greeks called the strait the Hellespont. You may know the name from the story of Jason and the Argonauts.
The Dardanelles have always been fought over in their history. For example, the Persians crossed from Asia to Europe with the help of a bridge made of boats in order to conquer Greece.
Several other famous battles took place at the entrance to the Dardanelles Strait. You have certainly heard of one of them at school in UK or at least seen a film about it. I’ll get to that in a moment!
Canakkale is full of tourists during the summer months. This is due to the good location of Cannakkele and the many interesting sights in the area.
The city is the starting point for exploring the ruins of Troy, the Gallipoli Peninsula and the southern Marmara Sea, 30 kilometres away.
The highlights in the town of Canakkale are its harbour with the original replica of the Trojan horse (from the film with Brad Pitt) and the Troy Museum. Most of the excavation finds from the ancient city are exhibited in it.
8. Gallipoli Peninsula:
The European side of the Dardanelles Strait forms the Gallipoli peninsula. It has a very special meaning for Turkey.
During World War I, the British, French, Australians and New Zealanders tried in vain to conquer the peninsula and the Dardanelles Strait. They want to penetrate as far as Istanbul. Their hope was to force the Ottoman Empire to surrender from Istanbul.
More than 500,000 Turks were either injured or killed in the battle. Almost every Turkish family had a relative who fought or died on Gallipoli at the end of the First World War. Almost 100 years later, the battle is still firmly entrenched in the minds of the Turks. Almost all Turkish school classes visit the battlefield at least once.
Large-scale memorial events are still held annually on the peninsula and in Canakkale. Australians and New Zealanders still come to Gallipoli after many years to commemorate their ancestors. For many countries it was the costliest battle in their history.
Gallipoli is also important because Mustafa Kemal Ataturk started his ascent to becoming the founder of the Turkish Republic in Gallipoli. He was one of the commanders of the Ottoman forces.
Are you sure you know the history of the ancient city of Troy?
Throughout history, the Dardanelles Strait has often been contested for its strategic importance. One of the most famous battles took place between the Trojans and Greeks, which Homer spoke of in the Iliad.
The German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann found the ruins of the real Troy 150 years ago at the entrance to the Dardanelles Strait.
At that time, the city earned a golden nose for its entry and exit into the strait and further into the Marmara Sea and Black Sea with its road tolls. The ruins are definitely one of the must-see sights in Turkey.
In practical terms, Thrace comprises the entire European part of Turkey, i.e. everything west of the Bosporus.
I am concentrating here only on the areas that are close to the Marmara Sea and not the Black Sea.
Apart from the Gallipoli Peninsula, Tekirdag is the most interesting travel destination on the Sea of Marmara in Thrace. In Turkey, tthe city is famous for its wine-growing regions and the raki from Tekirdag.
In addition, you should plan a detour to Edirne in Thrace and visit the city’s mosque. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
My tips for a trip to the Marmara Sea
The Sea of Marmara is nowhere near as popular with summer vacationers as the Turkish south coast. This is due to the slightly colder water temperatures and the lack of all-inclusive hotels.
Still, the beaches and bays of the sea are not empty.
The Sea of Marmara is particularly popular as a day or weekend destination. This applies equally to the locals in Istanbul and Bursa as well as for international travellers.
Prince’s Island in Istanbul, for example, is always extremely crowded on weekends and in the summer months.
The Sea of Marmara is now also very popular as a destination among yacht owners from Istanbul. The bays on the small islands in the south are therefore always quite full. That is why there is seldom a good place to moor in the small fishing ports of the coastal towns.
At the moment there are almost no organised trips to the Sea of Marmara, apart from Istanbul. So if you are planning a trip to the area, fly to Istanbul and make your way from there.
For example, there are good ferry connections between Istanbul and Bursa. Buses run from Istanbul to all the interesting places on the Marmara Sea.