There are a few traditional day trips from Istanbul for those who find, when they have free time, that they’d rather get away for a day. Depending on the weather, one can go up to the Black Sea beaches, head out to the Islands, take the ferry to Bursa, drive to Edirne, or ski at Kartepe, Kartalkaya or Uludag. All are pretty darn nice, but there’s another place whose Istanbul daytrip potential has been sadly overlooked: Gebze. Anyone here long enough to call Istanbul home should definitely check out this hidden gem of a town, south of Istanbul on the Asian-side Marmara shores.
I visited Gebze on somewhat of a whim – my friend the Art History Grad Student (AHGS) was in town and wanted to visit the Osman Hamdi Bey house, located in Gebze (more specifically in Eskihisar, better known as the place to catch the slow car ferry towards Bursa if the fast ferry at Pendik isn’t running). Even though it poured the entire time we were there, and we made it back to Istanbul thoroughly drenched with teeth chattering, it was awesome and I’d definitely go back, especially now that it’s warmer.
Gebze has a hodgepodge of sights that should keep pretty much everyone entertained: First, there’s the Osman Hamdi Bey house and museum. Osman Hamdi Bey was a true Renaissance man and perhaps Turkey’s best-known painter, and the house was his family home and studio. It’s set up with the original furnishings and copies of many of his better-known works (the originals are at the Pera and the Sabanci museum). One of the cool parts of the house, particularly for those art history students out there, is the doors in the downstairs study, which were hand painted by Osman Hamdi Bey. The museum is also home to an art gallery and a painting cooperative, where you can stop by for tea and chat with the very nice and very talented women who spend their weekends painting together there.
In addition to the house and museum, Gebze is also home to the Coban Mustafapasa Mosque, which is very big, very old, and interesting to explore as it’s architecturally closer to the mosques of Bursa than to Istanbul’s Mimar Sinan archetype. The mosque grounds are gorgeous, and there’s a turbe in the back to check out as well as a few outbuildings. The city is also home to an ancient kale or fortress, which is not safe to climb when it’s raining but which otherwise would be a great thing to scarper over.
The area of town around the house and museum, Eskihisar, is home to many small fishing boats and a few decent fish restaurants along the shore, affording beautiful views across the Marmara. A daytrip to the area could easily start off at the museum, do lunch next door at one of the restaurants, then head up into town for the mosque before finishing the day at the kale and heading back to Istanbul after a very full day. There are almost no tourists; when I visited we were the day’s only guests at the museum and the kids on the bus we took to the mosque very clearly did not see tourists all that often. Gebze is a sadly overlooked daytrip with a lot of potential and is definitely part of my Istanbul.
Easy to get to via the Asia-side banliyo train from Haydarpasa; trains every half hour or so, TL 1.5
Gebze is the last stop, you can walk to Eskihisar from the station through some picturesque back streets. From Eskihisar, catch a dolmus up the hill to the mosque and a dolmus or bus from the mosque to the train station. The kale is visible from Eskihisar and is most likely walking distance.
Gebze fun fact: Hannibal, he of the Alps-and-elephants fame, died in Gebze.