İznik, or Nicaea (Latin)/Nikaia (Greek) as known in ancient times, was the site of the both first and seventh ecumenical councils of Christianity (i.e. First and Second Councils of Nicaea), convened in 325 and 787 respectively. Later it served as the capital city of Sultanate of Rum, first Turkic state established in Asia Minor. After the Crusaders of Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople and established Latin Empire in 1204, it also served as the capital of Empire of Nicaea, a rump Byzantine state, for more than 60 years. Despite still maintaining some traces of its past, the town today has a somewhat provincial feel to it, and is far from the importance it possessed in history.
İznik today is still mostly surrounded by ancient walls with four major gates roughly corresponding to the cardinal directions. They are named after the major town the road exiting through the gate in question leads to. In clockwise order, they are (starting from north): Istanbul Gate (İstanbul Kapı), Lefke Gate (Lefke Kapı), Yenişehir Gate (Yenişehir Kapı), and Lake Gate (Göl Kapı), providing access to the lake shore, not a town. All are roughly the same distance away from town square, which is the intersection of the two major streets of the town: Atatürk Caddesi (north-south, between Istanbul and Yenişehir Gates) and Kılıçaslan Caddesi (east-west, between Lefke and Lake Gates).
İznik is also famous for its tiles (çini), though much less so than in the past.
- Tourism Information Office (Turizm Danışma), Atatürk Caddesi (very near the town square; next to Hagia Sophia), ☎ , fax: +90 224 757 19 33. This official information office provides free brochures (which include a map) of the town.
There are minibuses, mostly running on the road following the southern shore of the lake, heading to İznik from all surrounding towns.
The minibuses are run by İznik Minibüs ve Otobüsçüler Koop. (, ☎ +90 224 757-16-48 (İznik), +90 262 414-99-49 (Gölcük).) with 20 min intervals between 8AM-midnight from Bursa, about an hour intervals between 7:30AM-9PM from Yalova (except Su when the first departure is at 9:10AM; costs 7.50 TL pp as of 2008), and three times a day (at 10:30AM, 3PM, and 7PM) from Gölcük just west of İzmit via Karamürsel.
- From Istanbul - you can either take D100 or O-4/E80 (motorway/toll-road) east to Izmit, then head west there along the southern shore of the Gulf of İzmit to Yalova, or take a ferry -which can accommodate cars- to Yalova. Once in Yalova, take D575/E881 highway south to Bursa. After about 30-40 km away from Yalova, you'll arrive in Orhangazi. At Orhangazi, you'll notice the junction of the secondary road lying on the northern shore of Lake İznik (there are İznik/Nicaea signs). From that junction, İznik is about a 30-40 min drive away.
- If you choose not to take a ferry to Yalova, you also have the option of taking the mountainous road which forks from the main highway about 5 km west of Karamürsel. This road is shorter than the above route, but curvier.
- From Bursa - Take D575/E881 highway north to Yalova. Somewhere between Gemlik and Orhangazi, you'll come across a junction with traffic lights. On that junction, you'll notice İznik/Nicaea signs. That road will take you to İznik along the southern shore of the lake in about 30-40 minutes.
The nearest train station is located in Osmaneli, about 30-40 km to the east. Osmaneli lies on the main trunk rail line between Istanbul and Ankara, therefore many daily trains have a stop at the town.
Minibuses run by İznik Minibüs ve Otobüsçüler Koop (☎ +90 228 461-30-30 (Osmaneli).) connect Osmaneli with İznik, six times a day, with two-hour intervals between 8:30AM-6:30PM, except in winter when the last minibus departs at 5:30PM from Osmaneli.
İznik is not very big, and lies on a flat ground, so walking around is a viable option. Each of the gates – the most distant sections of the town – are about 15-20 minutes at most on foot from town square – the focal point of the town.
There are also taxi stands around the town for those who prefer not to walk, both one block from town square, diagonally across from Hagia Sophia.
- İznik Taksi, Selcuk Sokak and Atatürk Caddesi (one block south from town square), ☎ .
- Merkez Taksi, Yoncalı Sokak and Atatürk Caddesi (one block north from town square), ☎ .
- Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) (at the town square, intersection of two major streets of the town). While much smaller in size compared with the cathedral of the same name in Istanbul, this rectangular, red brick building built in typical Byzantine style, holds as much historical importance, if not more, as it’s the site of the seventh ecumenical council of Christianity (i.e. Second Council of Nicaea, in 787). Located in a pleasant small park, the edifice was converted to a mosque in the early days of Ottoman Empire, and after suffering from a fire during the turmoil of the 1920s, the place laid in a semi-ruinous state for more than eight decades. After the long-awaited restoration finally finished, it has been silently re-dedicated as a mosque by the current Islamist government in 2011, much to the dismay of architectural conservationists, tourism professionals, and many others, who hoped to see it turned into a museum in the fashion of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia. Free.
- Green Mosque (Yeşil Cami) (in a little square/park on the left side when walking towards Lefke Gate on Kılıçaslan Caddesi, next to the Museum). Built in early 14th century, this mosque with its impressive minaret (tower) covered with green-turquoise-blue mosaics and tiles (that’s where the name of the mosque comes from) looks more like earlier Seljuk edifices rather than Ottoman mosques.
- Museum (Müze) (in a little square/park on the left side when walking towards Lefke Gate on Kılıçaslan Caddesi, next to the Green Mosque), ☎ . Tu-Su 9AM-noon/1PM-5PM. Housed inside Nilüfer Hatun imaret (a social security instution of the past which provided free food for the poor), built in 14th century. There are also some marble sarcographi, columns, and columnheads dating back to Roman and Byzantine times in its yard. 3 TL.
- Esrefzade Mosque (Eşrefzade Camii), Kılıçaslan Caddesi (in a side alley on the left side of the street when walking towards Lefke Gate from town square; not far from Green Mosque, only a couple streets in between). A recently built (2007) neighbourhood mosque with an ancient minaret (tower; when it was constructed is not exactly known, but likely 16th century) decorated with green tiles, in a similar fashion with the one of the Green Mosque, except that the tiles of this one are far less showy than those of the Green Mosque. So, if you have just started your trip around the town and come across with this one first, don’t be disappointed and confuse it with Green Mosque.
- City Walls. The town is still mostly enclosed by ancient walls, if partially a bit weary. You can also come across with some slowly crumbling towers here and there. Istanbul Gate (northern gate) and Lefke Gate (the eastern one) are more or less still completely intact and are quite beautiful. Just outside the Lefke Gate is an ancient aqueduct running for some hundreds of metres and eventually disappearing in the fields out of town.
- Candarlioglu Mosque (Çandarlıoğlu Camii) (on the left side of the street when going to the Lake Gate/waterfront from the town square). Another recently built (1996) small mosque. An ordinary building with nothing fascinating except that it’s mostly coated with blue/green tiles all over its exterior walls, making a quite pleasant sight. It’s directly on the street and a bit hidden from view by the surrounding multi-story buildings on both sides, so for not passing-by without noticing it, watch the left side of the street while walking.
- Take a stroll in the park along the lakefront.
- Take a dip in the lake. In the summer months the water is usually calm and pleasant. There are several easily identified spots along the lakefront that are suitable for entering the lake.
İznik has been well known for its local faience/tile (çini)and pottery tradition since 15th century.
Nowadays, designs range from classical/traditional to somewhat kitsch to avant-garde. You can see lots of tile and pottery workshops, which also double as showrooms for tiles painted on square ceramics and other products on sale, in alleys on both sides of Kılıçaslan Caddesi St, especially near the Green Mosque/the Museum.
İznik Foundation has revived the art of tiles and pottery in the traditional 15th/16th century styles, as well as applying contemporary designs and motifs on tiles and tableware. In their showrooms, there is a large choice of tiles and household pottery such as bowls, dishware, and vases, hand-painted in the traditional İznik style. Most of the production is custom-made, for architectural purposes, interior decoration, and private demands.
The design department, headquarters, and export department of Iznik Foundation are in Istanbul where a larger collection of products from the Foundation workshops are displayed and sales take place.
- İznik Foundation (İznik Vakfı), Sahil Yolu, Vakıf Sokak 13, ☎ , fax: +90 224 757-57-37.
Most banks are located on either Atatürk Caddesi or Kılıçaslan Caddesi, usually very near the town square. All are equipped with ATMs on their exterior walls.
- BİM, Atatürk Caddesi 108 (a few blocks north from Kılıçaslan Caddesi, in the direction of Istanbul Gate). 10AM-9PM. One of two İznik stores of national supermarket chain BİM, where you can find bottled water, soft drinks, and snacks on a discounted rate. No beer or wine. Credit cards are accepted.
- BİM, Mevlana Sokak 7 (on the 4th or 5th side alley to the left from the town square when walking east on Kılıçaslan Caddesi, towards Lefke Gate). Another BİM store in İznik.
- Dia, Atatürk Caddesi, Ateşoğlu İş Merkezi 101 (one block north of Kılıçaslan Caddesi, diagonally across from Hagia Sophia). A store of another national supermarket chain.
- Şok, Selçuk Sokak (just off Atatürk Caddesi, one block south of Kılıçaslan Caddesi, diagonally across from Hagia Sophia), ☎ . A store of yet another national supermarket chain. For ordering by telephone: ☎ +90 224 444 10 44.
- Köfteci Yusuf – İznik İmren, Atatürk Caddesi 73 (not far from town square; on the right side when walking towards Yenişehir Gate from the square), ☎ . This very clean restaurant, popular among the locals, serves reasonably priced meat-balls (köfte) in various styles, similar to Akçaabat Köftesi of Trabzon. A portion consists of 6 meat-balls and comes with an endless basket of toasted bread and barbecued green peppers. There is no written menu (list of dishes), but as usual in Turkey you can select and order-by-pointing from the display inside. Vegetarians may try çoban salatası (shepherd's salad), soğan ızgara (plain roasted onion slices), domates ve biber ızgara (roasted tomatoes and hot green peppers), and piyaz (bean salad), though vegans should be aware that the latter comes topped with some slices of boiled egg. The restaurant has an open-air terrace and a lovely open-air roof on the second floor. Efficient service. There is also an order-out service (paket servisi): ☎ +90 224 444 61 62. Prices (May 2009): 4 TL a portion of meat-balls, 2 TL bean salad, soft drinks from 1 TL. A glass of Turkish tea upon finishing the meal is for free. Credit cards are accepted.
- Umut Restaurant, Göl Sahili Yolu (on the waterfront road about 500 metres north of Kılıçaslan Caddesi, next to Cem Otel), ☎ . This is one of several fish restaurants on the lakefront, but unlike most of the others, it also serves beer and wine. The specialty is wels catfish (also called European catfish or sheatfish, Turkish yayın balığı; scientific name Silurus glanis), a tasty fish that is abundant in the lake, served grilled or fried. Another lake fish served is carp (Turkish sazan; scientific name Cyprinus carpio). Vegetarians can have a salad, various meze (appetizers) – although only some of these are vegetarian dishes, and various zeytinyağlılar (vegetables cooked with olive oil, typically served cold).
- Hotel Aydın, Kılıçarslan Caddesi 64 (on your left when walking towards lakefront from town square), ☎ , fax: +90 224 757-76-52, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rooms with en-suite bathrooms, central heating, air-con, wireless internet access, and satellite TV. 80 TL/double room, breakfast included.
- Çamlık Motel, Göl Sahil Yolu, ☎ , fax: +90 224 757-16-31, e-mail: email@example.com. Rooms with satellite TV, air-con, central heating, and en-suite bathrooms. Clean, friendly and right at the lake shore; with an adjacent restaurant (Çamlık Restaurant). 45 TL/80 TL for a single/double room; breakfast included.
- Cem Otel, Mustafa Kemal Paşa Mahallesi, Göl Sahili Caddesi 34 (on the waterfront promenade), ☎ . Rooms with en-suite bathrooms, air-con, TV, wireless internet access. Simple, but clean and pleasant.
- Kaynarca Hotel, Kılıçarslan Caddesi, Gündem Sokak 1, ☎ , fax: +90 224 757-17-23, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rooms with satellite TV, fan (no air-con!), central heating, and en-suite bathrooms. They explicitly state on their throughly wacky website that they do not accept bookings via telephone, fax or e-mail unless payment is done in advance. 35 TL/60 TL for a single/double room; 20 TL pp for a dorm room of three persons. Cash only, no credit cards are accepted. Breakfast for an extra 5 TL.
The telephone code of the town is (+90) 224.