Balıkesir is a city in the Southern Marmara Region of Turkey, which in 2020 had a population of 662,199. It's mostly modern but has several old mosques.
The town is on the main trade route from Istanbul to Izmir, so it's been settled from antiquity. In Roman times circa 124 AD there was a hunting lodge and small town somewhere around the present football stadium. It became known as "Old Castle", in Greek "Palaeokastron" and in Turkish "Balukiser", and grew into the provincial capital. Very little remains of these times, as in 1898 there was a devastating earthquake, so what you see now is mostly modern.
The area is hilly but fertile, so Balıkesir has industries based on dairy, wheat, olives, sunflower oil and other agriculture. It quarries limestone and borax (sodium borate), which has a remarkable range of uses such as cleaning. Balıkesir has a university and as one of the "Anatolian Tiger" towns continues to develop new industries.
International visitors will find it most convenient to fly into either of the Istanbul airports and take overland transport or a ferry.
Edremit Airport has been re-named Balıkesir Koca Seyit Airport (EDO IATA) but you might wonder if "Koca Seyit" is Turkish for "nowhere near". (Actually it's "Corporal Seyit", the gunner hero of Gallipoli.) It's 100 km west of town, with daily flights from Istanbul and once a week from Ankara. The airports at Bursa and Çanakkale are just as inconvenient and sparsely served.
Balıkesir Merkez Airport is 5 km southeast of town but even less convenient, as it has a military airbase but no commercial flights and is regarded as an expensive joke.
Balıkesir is at the junction of two railways. All your patience will be needed to use them, and there are no plans to extend the YHT high speed trains to town.
From Ankara the İzmir Mavi Treni (Blue Train) runs nightly, taking nine hours via Eskişehir and Kütahya. From Balıkesir it takes another four hours via Manisa and Soma to Izmir. Ege Ekspresi is a daytime train on the section between Izmir and Eskişehir, which has YHT trains from Istanbul, Ankara and Konya.
Also from Izmir, 6 Eylül Ekspresi (6th of September) runs daily via Manisa and Soma, continuing north from Balıkesir to Bandırma on the coast (another two hours). When it returns south from Bandırma it's called 17 Eylül Ekpresi (17th of September) but even TCDD can't dawdle for ten days: it departs at 16:00, so you can connect with the ferry from Istanbul.
See Turkish State Railways TCDD for timetables, fares and online tickets.
The 1 railway station is on Cumhuriyet Meydanı at the east edge of downtown. Across the highway from the station is the old bus terminal, Eski Garaj, focus of local transport.
Balıkesir is on the main route between Istanbul and Izmir, so it has a service every 30 min with competing companies. These buses take six hours via Gebze and Bursa for a fare of 200 TL, and continue south via Akhisar and Manisa to Izmir (another 3 hours, 70 TL). Bus lines include Metro Turizm, Pamukkale and Flixbus.
The 2 Otogar is 5 km northeast of town along Bandirma Cd D220. Buses ply frequently to Eski Garaj the old bus terminal north side of the railway station.
Walk: most places of tourist interest are within 500 m of the railway station and clock tower.
Local bus and dolmuş lines radiate from Eski Garaj by the railway station.
- 1 Clock Tower (Saat Kulesi) is the focal point of the city, on Anafartalar Cd. It's described as a copy of Istanbul's Galata Tower, which is cylindrical and doesn't remotely resemble this Italianate tower which ought to grace a railway terminus. The original of 1827 was destroyed by the earthquake of 1898 but it was rebuilt to the same design.
- Balıkesir National Forces Museum (Balıkesir Kuva-yi Milliye Müzesi), Anafartalar Cd 58 (by clock tower), ☏ . Daily 08:30-17:30. Kuva-yı Milliye were an irregular force assembled in 1919 in the wake of Greek troop landings in Smyrna. They were the main resistance until 1920, when they were absorbed into the regular army fighting for Turkish independence. Hostilities ended with the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. This former mansion house was their headquarters. Later it became Balıkesir town hall, but the council vacated in 1986 and it was converted into a museum. This displays documents, personal items and photos of the fighters, and photos of Kemal Atatürk visiting the city. Archaeological and ethnographic findings from the region are exhibited upstairs.
- Ömer Ali Bey Yazma Eser Kütüphanesi is a reference library of early Ottoman books and manuscripts, for serious scholars only by prior arrangement. It's by the clock tower.
- Photography Museum 100 m north of the clock tower remains closed in 2022.
- Umurbey Mosque is fairly simple. It was built in 1413 and repaired in 1635 and 1925. It's 200 m west of the railway station.
- 2 Zagnos Pasha Mosque (Zağnos Paşa Camii), Turan Cd. This was built around 1461 by Zağnos Pasha, grand vizier of Mehmed II, as a religious complex. The hammam survived the earthquake of 1897, while the mosque, tombs and shadirvans (decorative ablutions fountains) were rebuilt. The engravings on the minbar - pulpit - are especially fine; Atatürk himself preached a sermon here in 1923. The tombs of Karesi Bey and his five sons are south side of the mosque. He founded the Karasid dynasty or emirate, which ruled Southern Marmara 1297–1360 until engulfed by the nascent Ottoman Empire. Free.
- 3 Yıldırım Mosque. This was built by Sultan Bayezid I in 1388. A couple of years later he built the similar Yıldırım or Bayezid mosque in Bursa. Free.
- 4 Devril Erbil Contemporary Art Museum (Devrim Erbil Çağdaş Sanatlar Müzesi Kent Arşivi), Gazi Bv. M-F 08:30-17:30. The stated opening hours are just a token of good intentions.
- Old houses: town centre is modern. A few higgledy-piggledy streets with traditional houses survive in the Aygoren and Karaoglan neighbourhoods east of Atatürk Park.
- 5 Atatürk House, Edremit Cd, ☏ . Tu-F 09:00-17:00, Sa Su 10:00-17:00. Opened in 2021, this is a replica of the house where Atatürk was born in Thessaloniki, and depicts events of the War of Independence.
- Kuş Lake: see Bandırma for this birdlife reserve on the road north to the coast.
- 6 Balya is a town 50 km northwest on the scenic mountain road to Çanakkale (D555/210). Today, it's a struggling community of 2,000 people, but back in its heyday, it was home to about 20-30,000 thanks to the lucrative business created by its lead and zinc mines. In the 19th century, a French company got a concession to exploit the ore, but in the 1930s, the economically extractable portion of it by the technology of that time was running out so the company left and the town has never recovered since. When the mines were active, Balya had the earliest public electricity supply anywhere in Turkey, and it also saw the earliest use of cyanide processing in the world, so there are still patches of ground any grass barely grows and some of the local streams still run acidic, even almost a century after the end of the practice. The main mining heritage is to the north of the town, around the road to Gönen. Follow the brown signpost at the turn-off 1 km north of the town to arrive at the atmospheric shell of a stone building overgrown by pine forest. The signboard on site doesn't mention what purpose it served, but it's safe to assume that it was some kind of administrative building. The ruins of the actual extraction and processing units are just behind the corner and are far more extensive: shells of much larger buildings cascading down the hillside and those of what seems to be furnaces on the level ground beneath. As of Jan 2023, this area is messy as it's once more developed for further mining. Back on the main road, about 350 m north of the turn-off is a pair of derelict villas, one on each side of the road, known locally as Fransız evleri ("French houses") — perhaps residential quarters for the white collar.
- Atatürk Park is a bosky green space 200 m south of the railway station.
- Football: Balıkesirspor were relegated in 2022 and now play soccer in TFF Second League, Turkey's third tier. Their home ground Atatürk Stadium (capacity 15,800, all-seater) is at the south end of Atatürk Park.
- Thermal springs emerge in the hills around town, with spa hotels. North is Ilica; south is Pamukçu and see also Sındırgı.
- Migros is the main supermarket chain, with several outlets open daily 08:30-22:00.
- Shopping centres are Avlu and Yaylada both east of the railway station.
- 1 Mega Yıldız, Cumalı Cd (200 m north of railway station), ☏ . Daily 06:00-00:00. A city institution, where you come for family meals. Wide range of typical inexpensive Turkish dishes, and above all it's clean, and has a children's garden.
- Town centre eating strip is east of the railway station in the triangle bounded by Milli Kuvvetler Cd and Vasıf Çınar Cd. Lots here: Sirin Lokantasi, Nese Sucuk Evi, Köfteci Şaban, Köfteci Sedat, Buhara Aile Lokantası and more.
- Hisler Kahvesi Avlu hasn't quite decided whether it's a cafe or live music venue. It's within the shopping centre off Kepsut Cd 500 m east of the railway station, and open daily 08:30-00:00.
- Local specialties include keskek (meat and barley stew), tirit (leftover bread, meat and offal), fringed ravioli, and eggplant with cheese. Desserts are höşmerim (cream cheese halva, topped with ice-cream, honey or nuts) and zerde (saffron rice pudding, but with water not milk).
- Rakı is Turkey's national drink, the aniseed-flavoured twice-distilled spirit similar to anise, ouzo, sambuca and arak. The first distillation produces a fiery spirit called suma, and in Balıkesir there's a tradition of drinking this. Visitors who wish to avoid concussion should await the second distillation, the standard commercial rakı at 40% abv strength - Manisa near Izmir is where most of it is made.
- Ayran is a cold savoury yoghurt drink found throughout the Turkic regions and the local brand is called Hisar ("fortress") Ayran. It's often drunk to accompany rice and meat. Under no circumstances display any signs of sleepiness after quaffing it. In 2015 the President in his wisdom declared this to be a national insult, when an advert for tea dissed ayran in that way.
- Otel İnanöz is a creaky old place 100 m north of the railway station, but clean and inexpensive.
- 1 Saray Otel, Başsaran Sk, ☏ . Simple place close to transport hub. B&B double 400 TL.
- Özdemir and Tekinler hotels are next to Saray, similar price and quality.
- Otel Mola is 100 m south of these, cheaper but cleanliness varies.
- 2 Hotel Asya, Gazi Bvd 11, ☏ . Most visitors are satisfied, but the place sometimes reeks of tobacco smoke. B&B double 450 TL.
- Elit Asya at Pamir Cd 22 turns its back on Hotel Asya.
- 3 Onhann Hotel, Bandırma Cd (within Yaylada AVM), ☏ . Decent business hotel, 4-star going on 3. B&B double 800 TL.
- Anafartalar Hotel, Anafartalar Cd 29 (by clocktower), ☏ . Small rooms but clean, and friendly staff. B&B double 500 TL.
Balıkesir has 4G from all Turkish carriers. As of April 2022, 5G has not rolled out in Turkey.
- Bandırma on the Marmara coast has a museum but is basically just the place you get the ferry to Istanbul. Erdek on the peninsula northwest is a beach resort.
- Bursa is modern, but as the Ottoman's first city it's full of historic sites.
- Edremit is a small resort on the Aegean coast. Turn south for Pergamon and Izmir, or west to reach ancient Troy.
|Routes through Balıkesir|
|Istanbul () ← Bursa ←||N S||→ Akhisar → Izmir|
|Tekirdağ ← Bandırma ←||N S||→ Merges with|
|Ends at ← Edremit ←||W E||→ Kütahya → Eskişehir|