Eastern Thrace (Doğu Trakya, usually simply called Trakya) is in the Maramara Region of northwest Turkey. Geographically it covers all of European Turkey from Istanbul and the Bosphorus to the borders with Greece and Bulgaria; however the metropolis of Istanbul is a distinct region spanning the Bosphorus and is described on other pages. The rest of Eastern Thrace, described here, is administered in four provinces (Çanakkale, Edirne, Kırklareli and Tekirdağ), but these have little relevance to travelers, and it's more convenient to consider three terrains.
Istranca Mountains and the Black Sea coast
Lush mountains, lakes, and desolate beaches
- 1 Demirköy — A town surrounded by forests up in Istranca Mountains, known for its 15th century foundry
- 2 İğneada — Long and sandy beaches where you'll have a hard time seeing someone else in the next kilometre, backed by many lakes and one of the few floodplain forests in Europe
- 3 Kıyıköy — Still widely known by its traditional name of Midye among locals, this is a town with many traditional wooden houses, preserved city walls, and a monastery carved into rocks
- 4 Saray — Inland town serving as a hub for surrounding region, with a 16th-century Ottoman mosque
- 5 Vize — Town on the foothills of Istranca Mountains not very far from Black Sea coast, known for its Byzantine cathedral-turned-mosque called Little Hagia Sophia
Gently rolling plains covering the interior of the region; with towns, most of which have some artifacts dating back to the Ottoman period, lying on the major routes between Istanbul and Europe.
- 6 Babaeski has an old mosque and a medieval bridge spanning a creek flowing through a tranquil, green meadow
- 7 Cerkezkoy is industrial.
- 8 Corlu is large and industrial.
- 9 Edirne is a former capital of the Ottoman Empire with a historic city centre: highlight is the Selimiye Mosque.
- 10 Keşan is near the Greek border, and is the access route to the Gulf of Saros.
- 11 Kirklareli has a well preserved old quarter full of traditional wooden and neo-classical architecture.
- 12 Lüleburgaz has a 16th century mosque and river bridge, but is otherwise modern with little reason to linger.
- 13 Uzunköprü means "the long bridge" - built in the 15th century, it's over 1 km long.
Marmara and Aegean coasts
Miles of beaches, stony and sandy, crowded and lonely alike; fishing towns, vineyards, and pine forests here and there
- 14 Enez is on the Maritsa delta, with wetlands, a Byzantine citadel and long sandy beaches.
- The Gulf of Saros is lined by small resorts: from Enez east are Sultaniçe, Vakıf, Yayla, Erikli, Mecidiye, Ibrice Limanı, Gökçetepe and Sazlıdere.
- 15 Marmara Ereğlisi — site of ancient city of Perinthos, once administrative centre of the region, now a small town
- 16 Şarköy District — these pleasant towns are at the centre of the wine country of the region, with nice beaches and some Greek architecture left from the former inhabitants
- 17 Tekirdağ — pleasant coastal city with some traditional wooden architecture, and where 18th century Hungarian independence leader, Ferenc Rakoczi II, was exiled
- 18 Gelibolu is a historic town where the Ottomans first controlled the Straits of Dardanelles.
- 19 Eceabat in the south of Gallipoli Peninsula has ferries across the straits and centuries of military history.
- Gallipoli landing sites, cemeteries and memorials are all around Eceabat.
- 20 Gokceada is Turkey's largest island, with a small Greek community (who call it Imbros) and abandoned villages.
- Dupnisa Cave — deep in the forest on the Istranca Mountains, an impressive and easily visitable cave with an underground creek, stalactites, and bats
- Kastro — Black Sea beach with sand lilies, backed by a beautiful forest
- Saros Bay — an indentation of Aegean Sea between Thracian mainland and Gallipoli peninsula, popular among scuba divers as this gulf is one of the cleanest and liveliest (in terms of marine ecology) bodies of water in all of Turkey
Eastern Thrace is located in the northwestern corner of Turkey and makes up 3% of the country's landmass. Although this percentage might seem small at first, Eastern Thrace is only slightly smaller than whole of Belgium, for example.
Eastern Thrace is essentially a peninsula surrounded by Greece (Western Thrace) and Bulgaria (Northern Thrace) to the west and north respectively and bouded by Black Sea, Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, Dardanelles, and the Aegean Sea to the northeast, east, south, and southwest respectively.
Central parts of Eastern Thrace are dominated by Thracian plains, which are fairly... well, plain. These plains produce much of the country's wheat and sunflower, and a ride through in sunflower season (July) is indeed very pleasant amongst yellow flowers. However, being one of the powerhouses of Turkish economy, more east you go on the plains, less agricultural the landscape becomes—around Çerkezköy and north, west, and east of Çorlu is essentially nothing other than urban conglomeration going hand in hand with endless rows of factories. Northeastern coast and its adjacent area, on the other hand, is dominated by low-lying range of Istranca Mountains covered with lush broadleaf forests, typical of Turkish Black Sea coast, as well as the northern reaches of the region along the Bulgarian border. Southwestern parts dominated by Ganos and Koru Mountains, another low lying mountain range, and Gallipoli Peninsula are covered mostly with pine forests, in addition to vast vineyards on the foothils of Ganos Mountain, which supply almost half of Turkey's wine production.
Culture of today's Eastern Thrace shares many similarities with cultures of Balkan (Southeastern Europe) countries as much of the region's population is descended from people who immigrated from those countries starting in the late 1800s.
Eastern Thrace is a part of Marmara Region.
The Thracians were an Indo-European people who formed a distinct culture around 1000 BC. Their homeland of Thrace was fluid and ill-defined, but stretched from the Bosphorus into Bulgaria and western Greece. In Greek legend they were the tribe of Thrax, son of Ares god of war, and they were described as war-like, but those accounts reflect times of conflict with Persia, Greece or Rome. The Greeks had already settled the Marmara coast from 4000 BC, founding cities such as Tekirdağ, but never colonised much inland. In the 5th century BC the defeat of the Persians created a power vacuum which enabled the Thracians to unite in the Odrysian Kingdom, centred on what is now Plovdiv. It fell in the 3rd century BC when Macedonia became the new superpower, and the Thracians were never again a nation. They became assimilated into Greek and Roman culture and disappeared from history. Their new rulers saw their military value and recruited them into armies, so the dust and bones of the Thracians lie scattered from Barcelona to Delhi. They left behind tumulus tombs for their nobles, some pottery and similar artifacts, some elements of place names, and not much else - little is reliably known about them.
In the first century BC the Roman Empire gained control of the Greek city-states on the coast and the Thracian tribes inland. In 46 AD they annexed the area into the province of Thracia, with the capital at Perinthus (nowadays Marmara Ereğlisi). Fertile Thrace was an Imperial bread-basket, and it lay on the main route between their two metropolises: from Rome to Brindisi as the Via Appia, then crossing by sea to Dyrrachium (Durrës), then overland east as the Via Egnatia through Thessaloniki, Kavala, Ipsala, Enez, Perinthus, Silivri and finally into Constantinople / Byzantium / Istanbul. In 285 AD Diocletian divided the Empire, with Thrace ruled from Byzantium; in the 10th century the area changed back and forth between Byzantium and the Bulgarian Kingdom.
The Ottoman Turks' first power base was in Thrace in the 1350s; they rose to conquer Istanbul, control the Bosphorus and Dardanelles, and found the Ottoman Empire. The area thus controlled crucial land and sea routes, and even in the dying days of that Empire in 1915, the Ottomans were able to repulse Western attacks by sea then land on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Thrace took on its modern shape in the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which adjusted national borders: Western Thrace now lies in Greece and Northern Thrace in Bulgaria, leaving Eastern Thrace as the European part of Turkey. The Treaty also mandated population interchanges from what had been a diverse region, so Greeks and Bulgarians were expelled to their own countries, while Muslims or ethnic Turks were uprooted from around the Balkans to live in Turkey. Relations across that border were cold or cordial by turns over the subsequent century. In the early 21st century Eastern Thrace lies on the border between Turkey and the European Union.
While being not a very large region, Eastern Thrace has a variety of different climate types that lie close to but are substantially different from each other. Inland areas have temperate continental climate that is similar to that found in inland regions of Balkans, while milder climate of places on the Black Sea coast resembles more of an oceanic climate, typical to other areas of Turkish Black Sea coast. Climate of areas on Marmara and Aegean coasts is similar to the Mediterranean climate, though strong winds carry continental influences easily down to coast, making it much colder than it might be, considering its fairly southern latitude.
In general, no matter where you are heading in the region, consider these facts when planning your trip:
- It can rain in any season, including summer, but summer showers tend to last no more than 15–20 minutes, no matter how heavy they may be (and they tend to be heavy). Other than sudden cloud formations before showers, it tend to be sunny throughout the summer, though.
- Haze and (sometimes very heavy) fog is common in autumn, especially in November.
- Winters are cloudy, mostly rainy (or perhaps, sleety), cold and windy in the region—it's no wonder that ancient Greeks considered Thrace to be the homeland of Boreaus, the god of cold northern winds. While the temperature usually does not drop below -10°C (although there is a record low of -24°C in 1940s infamous for their cold), it feels much colder than it actually is, due to the high-ish relative humidity in the region. It snows every winter, too, and it stays on the ground for at least a few days—more in inland locations than the coast, as expected.
Turkish is the language of choice in the region, as elsewhere in Turkey. The local dialect is loaded with slang and other colloquially used words mainly originating from other Balkan languages (mainly Bulgarian), but this won't be a problem if you can speak Turkish as local folk mostly avoid using them (or "translate" them into standard Turkish) when they see you're non-local. Also, the local dialect is one of the most similar dialects to standard Turkish (which is based on Istanbul dialect).
The most frequent foreign language is English. The fact that thousands of immigrants from Bulgaria settled in the region in the late 1980s/early 1990s means that finding someone who speaks fluent Bulgarian is also a possibility (albeit somewhat remote).
Place names on highway signs are of course everywhere in Turkish, but are most likely to cause confusion heading towards the border, when they refer to places known in the west by entirely different names. These include: Yunanistan is Greece, Batı Trakya is Western Thrace, Gümülcine is Komotini, Dedeağaç is Alexandroupolis, Selanik is Thessaloniki, Bulgaristan is Bulgaria, Burgaz is Burgas, and Sofya is Sofia. These names are picked out in yellow or brown over the standard blue / green highway signage. Hudut means "border".
1 Istanbul Airport (IST IATA), opened in 2019, is Turkey's main port of entry: it's west of the city so with a hired car you'll reach Thrace within an hour. There are also buses from the airport via Lüleburgaz to Edirne, and via Çorlu to Tekirdağ, where you can change for buses towards Gelibolu and Çanakkale. If you fly into the other city airport Sabiha Gokcen (SAW IATA), that's Asia-side and you face a cross-city journey to go west.
A train runs west into Europe every night from Istanbul Halkalı station, with stops at Çerkezköy, Alpullu, Edirne and the border at Kapıkule. Here it divides, with one portion heading to Sofia and the other to Bucharest; see TCDD for times and fares. There's also a commuter train along the same line between Istanbul and Edirne, but it only runs once a day. The upgrade of this railway is a tale of woe and all these trains remain suspended in 2021.
By road from Istanbul city or IST airport follow the motorways west. By road from Bulgaria you normally cross at Kapitan Andreevo / Kapıkule near Edirne and join E80. From Bulgaria's Black Sea coast you enter at Dereköy and head south on E87. From Greece you cross at İpsala. Cross-border buses are suspended in 2021.
Ferries criss-cross the Dardanelles, with the Europe-side ports at Gelibolu and Eceabat. Ferries no longer ply along the coast from Istanbul, though Tekirdağ is a major port for freight. However they still cross the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul to Bandırma, where you can get a bus towards Çanakkale then sail across the straits.
All cities in the region are connected to each other by bus, and smaller towns have minibus connections to nearby bigger towns and cities.
There are also many (relatively) long-haul inter-town dolmuş lines in the region, such as between Keşan and Çerkezköy via Tekirdağ and Çorlu or between Gelibolu and Silivri, via Tekirdağ and Marmara Ereğlisi. These are faster and slightly more expensive than buses.
The main highways of the region radiate out of Istanbul and generally follow a straight line towards Greek and Bulgarian borders, and Aegean Sea. Here is a list of the road numbers of main highways of the region and the notable towns and cities located along:
- D100: Istanbul – Silivri – Corlu – Luleburgaz – Babaeski – Edirne to Bulgaria
- O-3/E80 (toll-road) follows more or less the same route with D100 except that it avoids city and town centres, only providing exits to them.
- D110/E84 after splitting from D100 near Silivri: Marmara Ereglisi – Tekirdag – Keşan to Greece (as D110/E90)
- D550/E87 after splitting from D100 near Edirne: Uzunkopru – Keşan – Gallipoli to Çanakkale (as D550/E87/E90)
- D555/E87 after splitting from D100 near Babaeski: Kirklareli to Bulgaria
All roads in the region, even those leading to far away villages, are sealed, although pavement quality and road breadth varies according to how important and busy the road is.
The major crossroad with traffic lights near Keşan is probably number one hitchhiker's paradise in the region as there are major roads leading to all cardinal directions there, and all vehicles have to stop (or at least slow down) because of traffic lights. And there are lots of vehicles, day or night. And as a bonus, there is a huge supermarket nearby to replenish the supplies. It's even possible to get a lift all the way to Ukraine or Italy or Iran there (judging from the plate numbers of the trucks).
- Bridges and causeways: the Ottomans needed to carry their roads across Thracian river valleys that were not deep, but wide and dangerous in spate. They built a series of attractive multi-arched bridges-cum-causeways, some over 1 km long. Many remain in use for light traffic. There are good examples at Edirne, Lüleburgaz, and of course at Uzunköprü which means "long bridge".
- This region was important during Ottoman times, both because it was Istanbul's hinterland, and also because it was on the road between Istanbul, empire's capital city, and the European possessions of the empire. Therefore, almost all towns and cities in the region has an important landmark, such as a bridge, an inn, or a mosque (or sometimes all of them) built by Sinan, the famous Ottoman architect of 16th century. Be sure to check them out.
- War Memorials of 1915 for the Allies and the Turks are at the south end of Gallipoli peninsula around Eceabat.
- The Tumulii (sing. tumulus), ancient Thracian burial mounds for their kings and nobles. These are man-made hills all over the region.
- Dolmens and related menhirs which date back to paleolithic. Scattered around the area to the north of Edirne, near Lalapaşa and Süleoğlu.
- Do a wine-tasting trip in the Şarköy - Mürefte area (SW of Tekirdağ). Some tour companies based in Istanbul offer such day-trips in autumn (fall). You can also organize a trip by yourself if you have a car at your disposal. Many factories in the area accept walk-in wine-tasters for a token fee.
- Should you have a chance, don't miss to attend a traditional wedding feast (düğün), especially in the villages, where beer, raki, and wine flow like rivers. This region has one of the most colourful wedding ceremonies in Turkey, with Balkan tunes. No need to be invited.
- Oil-wrestling (yağlı güreş) is practised all over Turkey, but the national competition is held in Edirne in June. Wrestlers coat themselves in olive oil then try to grapple their slippery opponent to the ground.
Tekirdağ and Uzunköprü in the region are known for their local meat-balls (köfte), while Edirne is known for its fried liver (ciğer). Fish and other seafood are popular in the towns on the coasts of the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Fans of the freshwater fish may want to check out the fish market of Enez, which has an abundant supply year round thanks to the nearby delta of the Meriç River, or the trout (alabalık) restaurants near Vize and Saray on the foothills of the Istranca Mountains.
Necatiye village, on the highway (D100) from Istanbul to Edirne (exact location: west of Babaeski, east of Havsa), is known for its own brand of ice-cream, known as Nedo (shortened form of Necatiye Dondurması, i.e. "Necatiye ice-cream") which is said to draw its taste from the local flora which the local cows are fed on. The shop where producers sell the ice-cream is in the west exit of the village (there is a nedo sign), with a lovely garden where you can enjoy the ice-cream next to a little stream. Nice place to take a break. They sell a really big chunk of ice-cream cheaper than the big cities.
This region provides much of Turkey's wine, raki and beer.
The Thracian Wine Route (Trakya Bağ Rotası) connects twelve major wineries all around the region. It starts at Vino Dessera in Ahmetçe near Kırklareli in the north of the region, going past Arcadia in Hamitabat, Chamlija in Büyükkarıştıran (both near Lüleburgaz), Chateau Nuzun in Çeşmeli near Marmara Ereğlisi, and Barel in Karaevli near Tekirdağ before reaching the coast of the Sea of Marmara. Then it swings west along the coast, passing the wineries of Barbare near Barbaros, Umurbey in Yazır (both southwest of Tekirdağ), Melen in Hoşköy, Gülor and Chateau Kalpak east and west of Şarköy respectively (Hoşköy and Şarköy both being towns in the Şarköy District), and Gali in Evreşe near Gelibolu before ending at Suvla in Eceabat at the farther end of the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Raki is Turkey's national drink, the aniseed-flavoured twice-distilled spirit similar to anise, ouzo, sambuca and arak. It's distilled first from raisins or grapes, or less often from figs, beet sugar or other sources. Much is produced in Tekirdağ, using grapes, and the first distillation creates a very strong spirit called suma. This is mixed with aniseed and water, re-distilled, re-diluted then matured for 30 days. It's sold at 40% abv strength and always drunk in a long glass mixed with water, which turns it cloudy. It's nice with appetisers, meze or seafood.
- East is the seething, maddening and unmissable metropolis of Istanbul.
- Southeast across the Dardanelles straits brings you to Southern Marmara region and ancient Troy
- West you enter either Greece or Bulgaria - see "Talk" above to decode the highway signs.