Edirne (pronounced eh-deer-neh) is the chief city of Eastern Thrace, in the Marmara Region of northwest Turkey. It lies on the gently rolling Thracian plains at the confluence of three rivers, close to the borders with Greece and Bulgaria. Most visitors crossing those borders drive straight on east, or stay on the bus or train, to reach Istanbul. Yet Edirne was for a time the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and continued to be an imperial retreat, adorned with magnificent mosques. It's definitely among the top sights of Turkey.
The Thracian settlement of Uskadama was rebuilt from 125 AD by Roman Emperor Hadrian, who (lacking false modesty) named it Hadrianopolis. It was astride a major trade and transport route, and set in a fertile region, so it was frequently fought over, with 16 major battles and sieges during its 1900-year history. Its longest spells of control were as part of the Byzantine Empire, then under the Ottomans. When Sultan Murad I captured Thrace, he turned the city of Adrianople (which he and his people pronounced as "Edirne") into his capital in 1369. Once Byzantium / Constantinople / Istanbul was captured in 1453 the capital moved there, to become the centre of the vast Ottoman Empire. Edirne remained important as a summer palace and imperial retreat, and between 1700 and 1750 it was the fourth-largest city in Europe, with an estimated population of 35,000.
But by 1700 that empire was in decline. Austria-Hungary drove the Ottomans out of central Europe; Russia gained control of the Black Sea and sought to seize the Bosphorus and Dardanelles. Edirne's population fled before Russian invasions in 1829 and 1878, which reached the western outskirts of Istanbul. The Balkans were literally "balkanised" - broken up by nationalist movements and wars, and one of those conflicts escalated into World War I, which Turkey joined on the side of Germany. That continued after 1918 with a war with Greece, which became the War of Turkish Independence.
The Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 redrew Turkey's borders. Alas for Edirne, these were just west of the city, so much of its hinterlands (even some suburbs) were lost, and trade was stifled across a not-very-friendly border. (See below for the convolutions this caused the railway.) Turkey was neutral in World War II, but just across the river, Nazi flags fluttered over Axis Bulgaria and occupied Greece. Much of the city was then evacuated, and those who couldn't flee suffered cold and famine. Nor was there much reason to return after that war, as industrial regeneration favoured other cities. So Edirne grew slowly, reaching a population of 185,408 in 2019.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
The River Tundzha or Tunca flows south, and makes a loop around the west edge of the city before joining the River Maritsa. At the core of the city are the three imperial mosques of Selimiye, Üç Şerefeli and Old Mosque. Highways radiate from here: Talat Paşa Bulvarı heads east, becoming D100 to Istanbul, while Londra Asfaltı heads west as D100 to the Bulgarian border at Kapıkule. A series of Ottoman bridges and causeways cross the two rivers and their islands and flood-plains: the main routes are Gazi Mihal Bridge west, Hükümet Cd north towards the former palace at Sarayiçi, and Lozan Cd south to Karaağaç.
The main sights are therefore in a compact area and can be seen on a day-trip. If you don't have time for the outlying districts, at least stroll as far as the historic bridges: those closest to the centre are the south-side bridges to Karaağaç.
Late spring and early autumn are the best times to visit. Edirne is well inland and has more of a continental climate than the Marmara coast. It has hot dry summers, 26-35°C daytime, hotter but less humid than Istanbul, nevertheless with occasional thundery downpours. Winters are chilly, with both rain and snow, and bitterly cold nights.
The TIC is on Talat Paşa Cd next to the Old Mosque. It's open daily 08:30-17:30.
Istanbul Airport (IST IATA) has a wide range of direct flights to Europe, Asia and beyond. By public transport you'll have to head into Istanbul city centre then travel out again, but with a hired car you're quickly on the road to Thrace. If you fly into the city's other airport Sabiha Gökçen (SAW IATA), that's Asia-side and you face a congested cross-city journey.
Buses run from Istanbul Esenler station at least hourly, taking 2 to 4 hours non-stop, for a fare of 75 TL. Metro Turizm is the main operator. In normal times buses run round the clock but in early 2021 they cease between midnight and 05:00.
The 1 bus station in Edirne is 5 km southeast of the centre, junction of D100 and the city bypass. Town buses will take you to city centre.
There are no direct buses to Bulgaria. You could take a taxi to Kapikule on the Bulgarian border, where you might be lucky and wave over a bus towards Plovdiv and Sofia. Or walk across the border and take a bus or train from Kapitan Andreevo in Bulgaria.
A single regional train per day leaves Kapikule at the Bulgarian border at 07:00, stopping at both stations in Edirne around 07:30, and reaching Istanbul Halkali by 11:30. The return train leaves Halkali at 18:00, reaching Edirne around 22:00 and Kapikule by 22:30. Halkali is 15 km west of Istanbul city centre but is connected by the frequent Marmaray metro train.
The overnight train from Bucharest and Sofia runs nightly year-round, operated by TCDD. It arrives at Edirne around 03:00, while the westbound service is around 01:30; you're not destined to get much sleep because everyone has to get off at the border for passport and customs checks.
Optima Express is a car-train from Villach in Austria to Edirne twice a week April-November, taking 33 hours. Departure days vary. This train enables motorists to avoid the tricky, tiring roads through the Balkans, and it's also open for passengers without cars. Optima don't offer tickets from intermediate stations such as Zagreb.
In June 2019, another train ran daytime between Plovdiv in Bulgaria and Edirne. It was meant to be a permanent service, but lasted for just one weekend then was cancelled! It's not known if it will ever resume - it created a useful extra route between Bulgaria and Turkey, avoiding arrival / departure in the small hours.
The railway between Edirne and Istanbul is being upgraded to create a better conventional line and a YHT line, cutting the journey to 80 min. The forecast completion date of 2024 looks highly optimistic.
2 Edirne Gar is the main station, 4 km east of downtown, close to the main highway east to Istanbul. International and regional trains stop here.
3 Edirne Şehir is 1 km SW of the centre, on the edge of the old quarter near the riverbank. The regional trains stop here but not the international trains.
4 Kastaniés (Καστανιές), just across the border into Greece and 4 km southwest of Edirne, has trains from Alexandroupolis on the line to Dikaia, operated by TrainOSE and taking just over two hours. In Feb 2021 there's only a single train M-F, leaving Alexandroupolis before 09:00 and heading back from Kastaniés around noon.
The city is on the main highways between Turkey and Europe, the toll-free D100 and toll-motorway O-3 / E80. Istanbul is 224 km east, say two hours.
All border crossings are open 24 hours. The main border post is Kapikule (Turkey) / Kapitan Andreevo (Bulgaria), 15 km west of Edirne. Svilengrad 8 km further is the first Bulgarian town you reach.
The minor nearby crossing is Pazarkule (Turkey) / Kastaniés (Greece) 4 km southwest of the city.
The other crossing, which you're unlikely to use, is 40 km north on D535 at Hamzabeyli (Turkey) / Lesovo (Bulgaria).
The centre is compact, fairly flat and walkable. The outlying districts are within a long walk, but you might prefer to take a taxi or dolmuş at least one way.
- 1 Selimiye Mosque (Selimiye Camii), Mimar Sinan Cd. Daily 05:30-23:30. Magnificent mosque that dominates the city skyline, approach from northwest to appreciate the full effect and miss the shops. It's the masterpiece of Mimar Sinan, built 1569-75, and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The eight pillars supporting the dome are unobtrusive, so the dome hangs over a vast interior space, while 999 windows admit a flood of light. Four delicate fluted minarets soar to 70.89 m, surpassed only by Qutb Minar in Delhi. The interior is decorated with calligraphy and geometrical designs in pink and blue. The inverted tulip decoration, an emblem of Edirne, is said to acknowledge the previous landowner who was reluctant to give up his tulip garden for the mosque to be built. Free.
- Arasta Bazaar, if you do want to find the shops, is the covered market along the southwest flank of the mosque.
- 2 Old Mosque (Eski Cami), Muafakathane Sokak 1. This was built in the 15th century, so it's the oldest and smallest of the city's three imperial mosques. It's a low building with nine domes and two minarets, with striking calligraphy within. Free.
- 3 Üç Şerefeli Mosque (Burmalı (Serpent) Mosque). Mosque built 1438-1447, its name refers to the three balconies or galleries on its tallest minaret. The other three minarets are all of different designs. The mosque interior has a colourfully decorated central dome, surrounded by smaller domes in different colour patterns, supported by stately columns. Free.
- Macedonian Tower (Makedonya Kulesi) is the crumbling bastion just west of Üç Şerefeli Mosque. The last remnants of the city's Roman walls are here: they were part of the fort established by Hadrian in the 2nd century AD, then extended in the Byzantine 10th century. There were four watchtowers, and this one looked towards Macedonia, though what they were most anxiously watching for was the Bulgarians, or fires taking hold in the city. The fort was demolished in the 19th century leaving only this tower, which was built upon to create a clock tower. It was rocked by several earthquakes and in 1953 had to be partly dismantled. Some modern repairs have been made but the tower is dilapidated and can't be entered.
- Sokullu Mehmet Paşa Hamamı, Çavuşbey (facing Üç Şerefeli Mosque). This hammam is another masterpiece by Sinan, the Grand Architect. Built in 1568-69, the baths are still open to the public, with (naturally) separate areas for men and women. The building has been well restored but cleanliness and water temperature are erratic, so it's one to "See" not "Do".
- 4 Archaeology and Ethnography Museum, Kadirpaşa Mektep Sk 7 (behind Selimiye), ☏ . M-F 09:00-17:00. The original museum from 1924 was part of the mosque complex; it moved here in 1971 as the collection expanded. The museum displays the area's eventful history, majoring on the Thracian period. The gardens have a prehistoric dolmen moved from its original site, a reconstructed ancient Thracian hut, and Roman and Ottoman tombstones. 10 TL.
- Museum of Islamic Arts (İslam Eserleri Müzesi) (east side of Selimiye). M-F 09:00-17:00. This was the original Edirne museum, in a madrassah of the mosque. The main collection moved across the street in 1971 leaving this branch, separately ticketed. You enter past a statue of Sinan the Architect. Lots of calligraphy and other fine arts and crafts. 10 TL.
- 5 Old quarter (Kaleiçi, "walled city") corresponds to the area of the old fort, though the walls and gates are long gone. It was re-built on a grid pattern in the 19th century after a fire: all those wooden houses. The main thoroughfare is Maarif Caddesi, two blocks west of Saraçlar Cd. Many wooden houses survive, with artfully crafted exteriors, though some are derelict. South end of the street is the Synagogue, see below. At the north end, look for the small former Catholic church: it's in an alley attached to a primary school. There are numerous small Ottoman mosques around the district.
- 6 Grand Synagogue, Maarif Cd 75. Tu-Su 09:00-17:00. The great fire of 1905 destroyed its predecessor, so this synagogue was opened in 1909 to serve the large Jewish population. They were mostly Sephardic, descended from those expelled from Spain in 1492 who fled to Ottoman territory. The synagogue is in Moorish Revival style and modeled on the Leopoldstädter Tempel in Vienna. It was abandoned in 1983 and fell derelict as its community left for Israel and elsewhere. It was restored and re-opened in 2015 with a service, but isn't routinely used for worship. There's a small museum within. Free.
- 7 Şükrü Pasha Memorial, Şükrüpaşa (by city cemetery, on the highest hill of the city, with a big flag). Monument to Rüştü Pasha, the commander defending the city during the Balkan Wars of 1913. The small museum adjacent is closed indefinitely "for restoration".
- 8 Muradiye Mosque (Muradiye Camii), off Muradiye Bayırı. This was built 1435 / 36 as part of a Mevlevi dervish complex but later became a stand-alone mosque. It has beautiful tile work, especially in the mihrab, probably by the "Masters of Tabriz" who decorated the mosque in Bursa and later the Üç Şerefeli mosque in Edirne. Some of the wall decoration has been whitewashed over, and the building has needed multiple repairs after earthquakes: the minaret was rebuilt in 1957. It's in a grubby neighbourhood where children pester for baksheesh. Free.
- 9 Church of Sts. Constantine and Helen (Св. св. Константин и Елена), Mezarlık Sk. Bulgarian Orthodox church built in 1869.
- 10 St George Church (Sv Georgi Bulgar Kilisesi), Tavukçu Sokak Street, Barutluk (off Kız Türbe Sk). W-Su. Bulgarian Orthodox church on a basilica pattern, opened in 1880 and still in use. Usually locked except for services but the caretaker might let you in. Ask also to see the upstairs museum, and (if he seems amenable) to climb the bell tower.
Medieval bridges cross the River Tundzha to Sarayiçi and Yeniimaret. These were once important city districts, but depopulation left them lying at a distance across the fields. Another factor is the flood-prone river: even the most reckless property developer couldn't get away with urbanising its banks. The bridges have a modern flagstone surface and may be used by light vehicles.
- 11 Sarayiçi means "inside the palace", of which only scraps remain. From downtown you go north along Saray Yolu, "Palace Road", a grand name for a lane that you expect any moment to dead-end in sports fields. This crosses the valley by two fine bridges: Kanuni Bridge south onto a broad river-island and Fatih Bridge north.
- Kırkpınar on the island is an arena for oil-wrestling, with statues of past champions.
- Justice Tower (Adalet Kasrı) by Fatih Bridge is a sturdy square tower, the last intact remnant of the palace.
- Balkan Wars Memorial and cemetery are 100 m right / east as you come off Fatih Bridge. Some 30,000 soldiers are interred here, who fell in the 1913 siege of Edirne.
- The palace north of the bridge is just scraps. It was built 1450-1475 and (you'll have to use your imagination) the seat of power of the Ottoman Empire. Even when the capital moved to Constantinople it was still a grand summer retreat and hunting lodge. But from 1718 it suffered neglect, earthquake, fire, military occupation, and finally in 1878 an ammunition depot was deliberately blown up to prevent capture. The kitchens have been restored. It's intended to build a conference hall around the Panorama Pavilion, which would be a total ersatz re-construction, and since 2018 the area has been closed off. You see enough from the street.
- Saraçhane Bridge downstream is another bridge and causeway link from downtown.
- Yeniimaret is reached from Sarayiçi by following the road west 1 km, and from downtown by going northwest on Horozlu Bayır Sk onto the causeway (light traffic only) over another river island. The Health Museum is the only reason to linger here.
- 12 Bayezid II Health Museum (Sağlık Müzesi), Within Beyazıt Mosque, Yeniimaret, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. M-F 10:00-16:00. This complex was founded by Sultan Bayezid II in 1484. As well as the hospital there was a medical school, mosque, guesthouse, almshouse and Turkish baths. Initially it was a general medical and surgical hospital but it came to specialise in mental health. It followed enlightened holistic methods before these were taken up in the west: instead of locking patients into cells with shackles, they used meditative music, fragrances and flower gardens. It's been incorporated into Trakya University, and the museum displays miniatures from Ottoman medical textbooks and models of patients.
- 13 Gazi Mihal Bridge is on the highway to Kapıkule, so from downtown simply follow D100 west. It was built in the 13th century and extended and rebuilt in later centuries. What you see now is a 19th century re-build, pedestrian-only, with D-100 on a modern bridge alongside. Gazi Mihal Mosque is on the west bank.
- 14 Hıdırlık Tabyası (Hıdır Baba) (Bus 3A from city center and ask for Hıdır Baba). Closed. A vast hilltop redoubt and fortress built from 1829 against Russian attack, though its finest hour was in the Balkan Wars of 1913. It had little value against 20th century weaponry and fell derelict. Restoration has been under way since 2011, with no end in sight, so the fortress remains fenced off, though you can still access Hıdır Baba park.
Karaağaç (say kaa raa aa ach), 4 km southwest of downtown, is the only part of Turkey to lie west of Maritsa River, which otherwise forms the border with Greece.
- Two Ottoman bridges link Karaağaç to downtown along Lozan (Lausanne) Cd. The first, at the edge of the old quarter at the foot of Maarif Cd, spans the River Tundzha. 250 m further is the longer bridge over the Maritsa, with a lookout midway. There are cafes on the far bank, where you're paying for the view. The bridges are open to light traffic.
- City forest (Edirne Kent Ormanı, aka Söğütlük) is a bosky park along the west riverbank, a popular weekend picnic spot.
- Karaağaç meaning "elm wood" was laid out on a grid pattern in the 19th century. It's a pleasant district with several charming mansions.
- 15 Trakya University Faculty of Fine Arts (Trakya Üniversitesi Güzel Sanatlar Fakültesi) is not where you'd expect to find the city's main railway station. But the first railway from Istanbul to Europe ran further south then wound up the Maritsa Valley, looped into the station at Karaağaç then continued up the valley towards Bulgaria. Once the Treaty of Lausanne defined the river as the border, trains (such as the Orient Express) had to enter Greece twice in transit between Turkey and Bulgaria. Not until the 1970s was new track was laid, leaving this place cut off; it became part of the university in 1998. By the old station is a small museum, a wooded park and sculpture garden, and a monument to the Treaty.
- The border with Greece is at Pazarkule, 2 km further west along Ortaköy Cd. It's open 24 hours.
- You need a car to reach outlying sights.
- 16 Lalapaşa is a village 25 km north of Edirne with a large dolmen, a stone passageway to tombs that would originally all have been covered by an earth mound. Dolmens in Thrace are typically late Bronze / early Iron Age, 1400-900 BC. Follow D535 north from the city, branching off to enter the village on 19 Mayıs Cd, and the dolmen is in village centre. There are others further northeast along that lane, though they're obscure as the stone has been re-used. The lane is a through-road across the hills on the border with Bulgaria: there's a crossing on D535 but not on the lane.
- Eventually the various lanes return to the lowlands at Kirklareli.
- The Fence is the great barricade striding up hill, down dale for 269 km along the border with Bulgaria. It's been a "hard border" for almost a century but was reinforced in 2014 in a moral panic about who and what might be crossing from the east. Greece built a similar fence in 2012 but it's less obtrusive as the river forms a natural barrier. These fences rankled with Turkey, but Emperor Hadrian would have approved.
- Oil-wrestling (yağlı güreş) is practised all over Turkey, but a major competition (which has become the national event) is at Kırkpınar stadium. Wrestlers coat themselves in olive oil then try to grapple their slippery opponent to the ground. Bouts last up to 40 min. There's evidence of the sport from 2650 BC, and the Edirne contest dates from 1360 AD. The 2021 event is expected to be late June / early July but tba. Kırkpınar is on the river island on the approach to Sarayiçi, see above; it's walking distance from city centre.
- Football: only for die-hard fans. Edirnespor nowadays languish in TFF Third League, soccer's fourth tier in Turkey - and that's after being promoted in 2020.
- Fruit-shaped soaps are primarily used for decoration, and as air-fresheners.
- Ornamental brooms are traditionally presented to brides. They're found in many souvenir shops, but just think about your carry-on luggage limits.
- Ottoman covered bazaars: several, two central examples are Arasta next to Selimiye Mosque (signposted “Çarşı Girişi”), and Alipaşa which parallels Saraçlar Cd.
- Liver (ciğer) is the local delicacy, prepared in a distinct Edirne style: whole pieces are dusted with flour, deep fried in vegetable oil, and served with a ferociously hot dried and crunchy pepper. If you don’t care for the smell of liver, you won't notice it in Edirne liver. Eat it with bread and ayran, a salty yogurt drink - these blunt the fire of the pepper. Small eateries that specialise in liver are called ciğerci; there's a cluster in the park by the Old Mosque. If one of your party doesn't like liver, they can fetch something different from another nearby restaurant.
- Balkan Piliç Lokantasi on Darüleytam Sk is open daily 09:00-21:00. Good food but pricey for the small portions.
- Ciğerci Kemal, Alipaşa Orta Kapı Cad 3, ☏ . Daily 09:00-21:00. Popular fried liver restaurant, clean and friendly.
- Alipaşa Köfte ve Ciğer, Alipaşa Çarşısı İç Yolu, ☏ . Daily 09:00-21:30. Smart efficient place for meatballs and liver.
- Serhad Köftecisi, Tahmis Çarşısı Sk. 10, ☏ . Daily 09:00-23:00. Good central place serving meatballs and liver.
- Ciğerci Niyazi Usta at Ortakapı Cd 9 is open for fried liver daily 09:30-20:30.
- Cafes that you mainly choose for their location are:
- - along Saraçlar Cd, the pedestrian mall a block east of the old quarter.
- - south end of Maritsa Bridge, especially when sunset bathes the old town in lemon and olive oil.
- - Sera Cafe at Mimar Sinar Cd 8 behind Selimiye Mosque.
- Almond paste (badem ezmesi) is a local, soft cookie-like dessert of bitter almond. Keçecizade is a chain store selling this and other desserts. Their main outlet is at Hükümet Cd 5 opposite Üç Şerefeli.
Edirne's accommodation is mostly around Old Quarter and east of centre. Many places are tatty: those listed appear to have been cleaned at least once during 2021.
- 1 Palace Hotel, Sabuni, Vavlı Cami Sok 4, ☏ . Clean modern place in the grubby town centre. Some street noise, secure parking. B&B double 300 TL.
- 2 Trakya City Hotel, Sabuni, Mehmet Ağa Sk 21, ☏ . Clean modern hotel a short way east of centre. B&B double 250 TL.
- 3 Hotel Balta, Talatpaşa Bulvarı 97, Ayşekadın (500 m east of centre), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Big block of a place, rooms have air-con, satellite TV, cleaning erratic. B&B double 700 TL.
- 4 Efe Hotel, Maarif Cad. 13 (Old quarter), ☏ , , ✉ email@example.com. Clean central place, rooms have a/c, satellite TV, hot water, and free wifi. B&B double 700 TL.
- Tuna Hotel, Mithat Paşa 27, Maarif Cd (close to Efe Hotel), ☏ . Basic, usually clean, small rooms en suite with air-con, satellite TV, and Wi-Fi. B&B double 150 TL.
Floods are a hazard after heavy rain especially in winter. Districts such as Karaağaç may be cut off as the medieval bridges become inundated. Never try to cross a flooded bridge, see local advice on work-around safe routes.
As of Dec 2020, Edirne has a good 4G signal from all Turkish carriers, which extends along the main highways up to the Greek and Bulgarian borders. 5G has not reached this area.
- No English-speaking nation is represented in Edirne. There are Consulates in Istanbul and Embassies in Ankara.
- Consulate of Bulgaria (Bulgaristan Başkonsolosluğu), Talat Paşa Asfaltı 146, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M-F 09:00-13:00. May assist citizens of other EU countries within the provinces of Edirne, Kırklareli and Tekirdağ.
- Honorary Consulate of Germany (Almanya Fahri Konsolosluğu), Balıkpazarı Caddesi, Of Sitesi C Blok, D.2, Kaleiçi, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. M-F 11:00-18:00. The Honorarkonsul may also cover France.
- Consulate of Greece (Yunanistan Konsolosluğu), Şükrüpaşa, 123. Sok. No:2, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M-F 09:00-17:30. Visa applications are 09:00-13:00.
- Honorary Consulate of Romania (Romanya Fahri Konsolosluğu), Londra Asfaltı 64, Kıray Apartmanı, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. M-F 09:00-17:00. You need to call for an appointment.
- Uzunköprü, literally "the long bridge", has a remarkable 15th century stone bridge of 174 arches.
- Keşan further south is just a transport hub, but you have to go that way to reach the beach resorts along the Gulf of Saros.
- Down the Gallipoli peninsula, the 1915 battlefields and memorials are near Eceabat.
- Istanbul is the must-see metropolis to the southeast.
- Kapıkule on the border with Bulgaria, and Pazarkule on the border with Greece, are both just a few kilometres away.
|Routes through Edirne|
|Sofia ← Plovdiv ← Turkish- Bulgarian border ←||W E||→ Junction (N/S) → Çorlu → Istanbul|