Located halfway between Istanbul and Ankara, the quaint provincial capital of Eskişehir perfectly lends itself as a stopover between Turkey’s biggest cities. Albeit limited in its touristic potential, the town impresses with its immaculate urban landscape, appealing to locals and visitors alike, and its well-preserved Ottoman buildings.
Slow travel is not simply about lingering. The joy of travelling at reduced speed arises as much from decelerating the journey and venturing to the places between, the lesser-known settlements, obscure destinations, and forgotten sites that would normally be dismissed for a more linear and efficient travel itinerary.
That is how I ended up in Eskişehir.
After thoroughly consulting Google maps for a hot minute, my choice for a break of journey fell on this mid-sized Anatolian town, conveniently dividing my trip from Bursa to the Turkish capital Ankara. Although I was warned that the city did not offer much in terms of historical or cultural significance, two aspects sparked my interest. Firstly, the apparent existence of a beautifully restored Ottoman-era quarter, and secondly the revelation of her frankly unsuspected nickname: “Venice of Turkey”. Besides, try to convince me a place is of little interest, and I’ll happily be on my way to prove you wrong.
And thus, throwing a last glance at buzzing Bursa bathed in warm light, I found myself on a late afternoon bus, eager to ascertain whether Eskişehir was rightfully compared to splendid La Serenissima (Spoiler alert: after taking a closer look at the city map, I had serious doubts) and whether I would find my calling as an Instagram influencer between the colourful facades of Odunpazarı (obviously, no doubts about that at all!).
Disclaimer: while lovely Eskişehir is an ideal stop to unwind and enjoy the little pleasures of travel, she indeed lacks substantial attractions other Turkish cities possess in abundance. Even though her name literally translates to “Old city” (her foundation can be traced back to the Phrygians in the 1st millennium BCE), the opposite might be the case. In a lot of ways, the city appears as a caricature of her own name, almost too modern and chic, as if her cornerstone was merely laid yesterday. No crumbling ruins, no grand mosques, or luxurious palaces alluding at her extensive past.
And yet, Eskişehir doesn’t need any of that.
A perfect example for what thoughtful urban development can achieve, the city offers visitors meandering channels flanked by well-kept gardens, innovative parks that appeal to citizens of all ages, wonderfully designed pedestrian streets, functioning as open art galleries, sites of culinary adventures, and playgrounds, as well as beautifully arranged squares boasting sprawling fountains, curious statues, and various seating possibilities, inviting you to simply sit down and let the world pass by as you sip on a glass of sweet çay or nibble on a Turkish pastry.
Travel doesn’t have to be about top sights or the greatest cultural experience. Sometimes, seemingly doing nothing at all can be a (Turkish) delight, as well.
However, I couldn’t write about Eskişehir without mentioning the picturesque neighbourhood of Odunpazarı. Situated on a hill overlooking the centre, these flamboyant dwellings, hailing from the times of the Ottoman Empire, might justifiably be called the old town. While the lower part of the area has been substantially renovated, the vast majority of the quarter appears unchanged for centuries. Yet, it is exactly this stark contrast, these signs of transition between an emerging tourist destination and times past, that held me captive and drove me to wander the winding roads and narrow alleyways for quite some time.
Ok who am I kidding, I was seeking the most instagrammable spot. No but seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised to see hordes of iPhone-wielding insta-babes and baes descend on Odunpazarı at some point in the future (after further renovations). It has all the ingredients: easy accessibility (on the railway line between Istanbul and Ankara), colourful buildings…and cats. Lots of them! Luckily, not a lot of people read this blog (yet!), so, even after this goes live, you will still be able to roam the streets of Odunpazarı without crowds of lookalike influencers stepping on your toes.
In any way, would I recommend spending more than a day (two at most) in Eskişehir? Probably not, unless you seriously geek out about urban planning (reasonable) or are looking to recharge the batteries for further adventures down the road (also very reasonable).
Does the city deserve the title “Venice of Turkey”? Certainly not! Yes, there is canals (literally two or three) and even a few gondolas floating down her waterways, however, the mere existence of Venice’s signature tourist attraction doesn’t automatically turn her into an imitation of the latter. I can’t even call this claim exaggeration. It is simply wrong and misleading. Seriously, people need to stop comparing places to other (Western) destinations (but that’s a discussion for another time).
However, is it ultimately worth spending some time in this Venice imposter on your way to/from Ankara? Most definitely! Although Eskişehir, without a doubt, is devoid of the historic depth of Istanbul (to be fair, most places are), the architectural highlights of Bursa, or the more recent, political importance of the Turkish capital, it excels in other areas.
Its world-class urban planning, paired with the exciting Ottoman neighbourhood of Odunpazarı, and the beautifully designed canal sections create a very enjoyable stopover destination, well worth checking out.
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