Edirne (pronounced eh-deer-neh, ) is a city in Eastern Thrace, in northwest Turkey. It lies on the gently rolling Thracian plains (much of the city is fairly flat, though) and just east of confluence of Maritsa, Tundzha, and Arda Rivers.
This city can be your first or last destination in Turkey, depening on the direction of your itinerary, as it’s located on an intersection where borders of three countries meet: Turkey, Greece, and Bulgaria. Visiting this city is also feasible as a long day trip from Istanbul.
With the completion of the motorway from Kapıkule, the main borderpost of highways from Europe into Turkey, in early 1990s, the city lost much of its trade evolving around land based travellers heading east and members of Turkish diaspora in Europe heading for their ancestral hometowns in their annual visits. Today most of tourism in the city takes place around daytrippers, Turkish and foreigner alike, from Istanbul and visitors from Balkan countries looking for cheap goods in the market.
The imperial past is what makes Edirne interesting, from huge Ottoman imperial complexes to neo-classical architecture of downtown shops, although at first sight, all you’ll see will be concrete apartment blocks when entering the city (and Selimiye Mosque right in front of you).
The area around Edirne, thanks to its strategic position on the major routes towards Istanbul, Bosphorus, and onward to Asia, is one of the spots on earth that was heavily fought for—it has been site of no fewer 16 major battles and sieges since the days of Ancient Greeks.
Edirne’s former name is Adrianople (Hadrianoupolis), i.e. “City of Hadrianus”, named after the Roman emperor who founded the city on the site of Thracian village of Uskudama.
Then in 14th century, Ottomans captured the city and made it their capital, a situation which lasted until the Fall of Constantinople. Even after the dynasty moved to Constantinople in mid 15th century, Edirne was one of, if not the most, important centres of European part of the Otoman Empire, which once extended all the way well into Hungary, and still was some sort of semi-capital of the empire, with some sultans even favouring the city over Istanbul and mumbling (to no avail) about returning the throne back to the city. Between 1700 and 1750, Edirne was the fourth biggest city in Europe, with an estimated population of about 350,000 people.
However things dramatically changed with the beginning of 19th century and the city suffered heavy depopulation in the context of Russo-Turkish wars of 1829 and 1878 when Russians occupied all the way to western suburbs of Istanbul, Balkan Wars of late 19th/early 20th century, the loss of much of the hinterland and even outer suburbs to north and west when international borders non-existant before (when all was part of Ottoman Empire) were created close to the city in 1910s and 20s, and the Second World War when Nazi armies were only miles away from the city, just on the opposite banks of the rivers and most of the population was evacuated into interior Turkey. Some of whom could not flee died of following famine during this period. This depopulation trend slowly but constantly continued until very recently and the city is now home to barely 140,000 people. Although it is quite a lively city, especially compared to other Turkish cities of this size, however all you see today is just a fraction of its former glory.
The major streets of the city all fan out of main square, which is surrounded by three imperial mosques of Selimiye, Üç Şerefeli and Old Mosques — Talat Paşa Bulvarı lies towards east, eventually turning into the highway to Istanbul, while Londra Asfaltı leads to Bulgarian border at Kapıkule in the west, via Gazi Mihal Bridge across Tundzha. To north, Hükümet Caddesi connects city centre with the former palace neighbourhood in Sarayiçi and to south pedestrianized Saraçlar Caddesi lies, extension lying on the edge of old city and open to vehicular traffic of which eventually leads to Karaağaç across Tundzha and Maritsa.
Temperate continental — hot and occasionally rainy (as showers which tend to last for 15–20 minutes) summers (expect up to 40º C); cold and rainy, occasionally snowy winters (expect down to -10º C). Spring and autumn months tend to be warmer than the locations on the sea coast (such as Istanbul)—so if day-tripping from a coastal place during those months, especially in May, drink plenty of water to avoid headaches due to dehydration—but winter arrives earlier (in November). Because Edirne lies in a geography that is the entering point of many weather systems from Balkans (Southeastern Europe) into Turkey, a good way of forecasting the weather conditions for the next few days is to follow what other Balkan cities such as Plovdiv, Bulgaria is currently experiencing, as quite the same conditions will be what Edirne is experiencing within a two or three days time.
Due to cold and dry winds of winters, packing along some kind of skin moisturizer in addition to warm clothing is essential to avoid badly dried skin (which can go as far as bleeding in coldest days).
Of the nearby airports, the most convenient is Atatürk International in Istanbul, which has flights from all inhabited continents and a metro line providing an easy connection to main bus station (otogar).
Easiest way to reach to Edirne is by bus from Istanbul. Departures are at any time with a fare of some €10 and a trip of two hours, although stiff competition between the bus companies may sometimes result in fares as low as 10 TL (€5) pp. Bus station in Edirne is located way out of the city but free service midibuses will take you to the city center.
There are no direct buses to Bulgaria. It is, however, possible to take a taxi to Kapikule on the Bulgarian border. From there one can sometimes wave over a bus traveling on to Plovdiv and Sofia. Another approach could be to walk across the border and take a bus or train from Kapitan Andreevo on the Bulgarian side of the border.
There are two daily trains from Istanbul’s Sirkeci station (one at 8:30AM in the morning, and the other at 3:50PM in the afternoon. Both arrives in Edirne about four hours later). Trains from Europe to Istanbul also call at the station.
The main station (signed as Edirne Gar on the station building) lies about 4 km east of downtown, close to the main avenue heading eastern suburbs of the city (which is also the main highway to Istanbul). However, all trains to Edirne drive onward west to Kapıkule (main borderpost on Bulgarian border) and call at Edirne Şehir station on the way, too, which is little more than a platform next to the rail tracks, lying less than a kilometre away from downtown to southwest, on the edge of the old quarter (Kaleiçi) and close to the banks of Tundzha.
The city is on the main highways linking Turkey and Europe (road numbers: toll-free D100 and toll-road/motorway O-3/E80). A drive takes no more than two hours from Istanbul (224 km away) to Edirne on the motorway, even less if you drive very fast. The main European-Turkish border post Kapikule/Kapitan Andreevo (between Turkey and Bulgaria, SE of Svilengrad) is about 15-20 km away from the city, while less significant Pazarkule border post (between Turkey and Greece, north of Orestiada) is even nearer.
While it's theoretically possible for even large ships to enter the Maritsa River from the Aegean Sea and navigate upriver up to Edirne (which was indeed common during the time of Romans), the intense border area through which the river flows makes any use of any kind of water transportation impractical.
Almost entirety of Edirne is in walking distance, which is made even easier by the mostly flat topography of the city. However for some relatively distant places you may take taxi which will cost only a few euros.
There are also lots of minibuses heading for outer neighborhoods of the city.
The sights in Edirne can be roughly grouped into those that are in downtown, those in northwestern neighbourhoods (Sarayiçi, and Yeniimaret) across the Tundzha River (Turkish: Tunca), and those in southwestern neighbourhood (Karaağaç) across the Tundzha and the Maritsa Rivers (Turkish: Meriç). A good number of medieval bridges span these rivers.
Main sights in downtown are quite close to the main square and to each other, and can be (hastily) done in half a day.
Across the Tundzha from downtown, in the northwestern outskirts of the city lie Sarayiçi, literally “inside the palace” and Yeniimaret. Both are linked to city centre by their respective medieval bridges.
Most of the monuments around this section of the city were actually located in city’s suburbs, however the depopulation of the city resulted much of them now lying in the middle of open fields.
South of Sarayiçi is the neighbourhood of Yeniimaret, which, like Sarayiçi, is connected to the downtown by two bridges with an island on the Tundzha inbetween and is where the Medical Museum is located.
South of Yeniimaret, due west of city centre is Gazi Mihal Bridge (Gazi Mihal Köprüsü), a long arch bridge built during Byzantine period and then repaired in 1420 that spans the Tundzha and lies on the main highway to Kapıkule border post from city centre, and the adjacent Gazi Mihal Mosque (Gazi Mihal Camii), built by Gazi Mihal Pasha, an Ottoman commander of Bulgarian origin. These are better accessible from city centre rather than from Yeniimaret, though a stroll along the dykes along the Tundzha will bring you here too.
Southwest of downtown is the quarter of Karaağaç (pronounced kaa raa aa ach), the only Turkish territory west of Maritsa River, which forms most of Turkish-Greek land border.
Two Ottoman bridges connect Karaağaç to downtown, which are well worth a look—pick these if you don’t have time to check out any other bridge around the city. The first and shorter one, just southwest of the edge of old quarter (Kaleiçi) and actually quite close to the Synagogue at the end of Maarif Caddesi, spans the Tundzha. About 250 mt further, you’ll arrive at the second one, which spans the Maritsa and is gloriously longer than the first one, as the riverbed is gloriously larger, not much unlike that of Danube. Right at the midpoint of the bridge, there is a lookout in typical Ottoman style.
A two-and-a-half-kilometre long cobbled road through a lush forest links the Maritsa Bridge with Karaağaç. On the way, there is an urban forest named Söğütlük (admission 2 TL pp), a favourite weekend picnic spot of locals which extends along the bank of river.
Karaağaç has an atmosphere more of a town rather than a city neighbourhood, with some charming mansions scattered around its grid plan. At the southwestern end of Karaağaç is the historical building in late Ottoman style of the Presidency of Trakya University (Trakya Üniversitesi Rektörlüğü), placed in a pleasant garden (free admission). The building, which dates back to the final years of 19th century, was originally built as the main train station of the city as the steam locomotive at the backyard still attests, and had that service for years until 1970s when it was abandoned after a new railway straight to the city was laid, due to the increasingly inconvenient operation of former railtracks crisscrossing Turkish-Greek border as the relations between two nations detoriate. The university took over in 1998. At the side of the building is Lausanne Monument (Lozan Anıtı), a metallic structure of three columns symbolizing Turkey (the longest one symbolizes Asian Turkey, the middle-sized symbolizes Eastern Thrace (European Turkey), while the shortest symbolizes Karaağaç itself, being the only Turkish soil west of Maritsa River, in other words west of Eastern Thrace) with a lady in the middle holding a sheet of paper, presumably symbolizing Treaty of Lausanne, in which major western powers recognized newly founded Turkish Republic in 1923. Behind the monument, in the shades of a pine woods is an open air sculpture exhibition (free admission) which contains marble statues chipped in situ by sculptors from neighbouring countries.
Edirne is famous for its fruit-shaped soaps. They are not used for cleaning (although they can clean as well as other soaps do) but for decoration. Within the first months you put them into a room, they also work as natural air fresheners by releasing their fragrances.
Almond paste (badem ezmesi) is a local, soft cookie-like dessert which is made of bitter almond.
Brooms — While it may be a bit strange to buy brooms as a souvenir from a trip, Edirne has a long tradition of broommaking and ornamental brooms (traditionally given to brides as a gift) can be found at numerous stores (especially at those offering tourist souvenirs) around the city.
Edirne has numerous Ottoman covered bazaars.
Liver (ciğer) is a definitely must-try for non-vegetarians. It is prepared in a unique local way (whole pieces, not puree, of liver, covered in flour, are deep fried inside a cauldron full of boiling vegetable oil) and served with an infernally hot dried and crunchy pepper. If you are one of those who don’t like liver because of its distinct smell, you can be pretty sure you won’t sense it in Edirne liver. Best to be eaten with ayran, a salty yogurt drink because it’s one of two things (the other is bread, which fortunately is served free of charge at liver restaurants) that can suppress the fire the dried pepper leaves on your palate.
There is a cluster of small sit-in eateries (ciğerci) in the park next to the Old Mosque (Eski Cami), all offering basically the same menu (i.e., the fried liver), and a really filling portion of liver costs 9 TL in any of them. They also order other meals from other nearby restaurants for those who are with you and do not want to eat liver. Yudum at one corner of the cluster is good, clean, and efficient.
Compared with most cities of its size in Turkey, Edirne is full of birahanes (pubs) and restaurants that serve alcohol. There are some particuarly nice ones by the river on the road to Karaagac.
Tourism in Edirne is on the rise and hotel scene is improving with many nice hotels to stay.
Avoid hanging around the banks of Tundza and Maritsa Rivers and Karaağaç before/during/after a heavy rainfall, especially in wintertime. Although the downtown is never affected, these areas tend to have a heavy flood during such a time, mainly because of overflowing of dams located upriver in Bulgaria. So if you are in Edirne in winter and plan to visit the aforementioned locations (which you should), stay ahead of weather forecasts. If you see a water rise in the river, be suspicious, call and inform police (telephone number: 155), and quickly go to somewhere far from and higher than riverbed as much as possible. The buildings themselves in Karaağaç are rarely or lightly affected, but the problem is that the quarter is cut off from the rest of the world as the bridges which connect it to downtown Edirne sink underwater. If you are trapped in such a situation, be sure about your distance to the river and wait for evacuation crews. Because affected areas are generally the same in each flood, they are quick to respond with their boats and gear.
City’s telephone code is 284 (+90 284 when calling from out of Turkey).