The Turkish town of Canakkale (pronounced Shana -kalay), situated some 350 Kilometres from Istanbul is a bustling place that caters essentially to the needs of those tourists visiting the Gallipoli Battlefields just across the Dardanelles, the straits that join the Sea of Marmara with the Aegean Sea. It also gets a number of visitors who are visiting nearby Troy, though many visitors to that site come only for the day from resorts on the coast. Thanks to the high number of young Aussies and Kiwis who come to see the graves of their ancestors, Canakkale is an extremely lively resort, quite different to other towns in northern Turkey.
Turkey has an extensive and efficient network of comfortable, air-conditioned coaches so getting to Canakkale is very easy. There are a number of travel companies targeted at visitors to the battlefields who also provide coach travel and accommodation packages to the town from Istanbul. There are loads of hostels, pensions and hotels so turning up without a booking is not a problem except for Anzac Day (25 April) when booking is essential.(Apparently the whole town is heaving for the Anzac Day commemorations so it is better to visit some other time.) There is accommodation on the other side of the water at Eceabat but there are fewer other services over there. Regular ferries cross back and forth so if you do stay on that side it's no hassle to come over.
Although it is used primarily as a base for visitors to Gallipoli and Troy its a nice enough town in its own right with a couple of decent museums, Turkish baths and an attractive waterfront lined with excellent restaurants and the liveliest bars outside of the main beach resorts.
For a change the bus station is not some out of town otogar but is situated close to the centre. If you are heading straight for the ferry it's a five minute walk down the main road to the terminal. Much of Canakkale centre is fairly traffic free except for access and so it's a nice place to walk.
A couple of kilometres out of town (you can walk or take a dolmus from the centre) is the Archaeology Museum which displays items found during the excavations at Troy. It's quite interesting but not really as satisfying as visiting Troy itself. There are also items unearthed at another site, Assos.
We didn't visit the Army Museum (more to do with general Turkish military history than the Gallipoli campaign) but we did stop at the Cimenlik Kalesi, a fortress built in the fifteenth century by Mehmet the Conqueror. There are some interesting exhibits connected with Ataturk inside and some striking paintings of battle scenes from the Gallipoli campaign.
Another point of interest is the five storey Ottoman clock tower which stands near the harbour. It was built thanks to money left for that purpose by an Italian consul. There's also a giant copy of a Canakkale pot (it's an important centre for handmade ceramics) which is more kitsch than cultural.
It's worth taking the small ferry over the Dardanelles to the sleepy fishing village of Kilitbahir to see the fifteenth century heart shaped (some say cloverleaf) fortress, another part of the legacy of Mehmet the Conqueror. Our guidebook said it was closed on the day we wanted to visit but although there were no tours we were able to walk through the castle on our way to the village atop the hill. The construction is a special one which consists of three inner courtyards and extra high walls. Similar castles can be seen dotting the landscape overlooking the Dardanelles. If you do go over be sure to stop at one of the tea gardens which have good views of the straits. It is possible to swim on this side too; there is no beach as such but a couple of pebbled spots where it is easy to get into the water. Stay close to the edge though as some huge vessels use this body of water on their way to Istanbul and the Black Sea and the wash can be tremendous.
While Canakkale has some excellent restaurants I would recommend trying something from one of the stalls that opens at night by the harbour. The kofte are delicious and very cheap. During the day you have to take your chances at the handful of places that are open but the Canakkale restaurant scene is much livelier in the evenings. There is plenty of seafood and some great mezze offers and you will be plied with ouzo. Further along the harbour there are lots of noisy bars if that is your thing (I don't know how the Aussies in our hostel made it in time for breakfast as they were staggering back very much the worse for wear) but you can stay at the restaurants until late if you wish and won't be hurried away.
At opposite ends of the waterfront are two excellent tea gardens which are brilliant places to recharge your batteries with a glass of tea or a cold lemon drink. Alternatively a visit to the town's excellent hamam (Turkish baths) will also do wonders. The hamam is open for men between 6am and 11.30pm and between 8am and 5pm for ladies and is in the centre of town. It's not an especially old hamam (and they do charge more than in non-touristy towns) but it is friendly and some staff speak English.
Canakkale is a fun and lively town - though still much quieter than the tourist resorts in the south - which has plenty of facilities for visitors wishing to visit Gallipoli and Troy. It is especially geared up for backpackers with several internet cafes and travel agencies offering tours. We found everyone we encountered was very friendly; one of the highlights of our time there was an encounter with some young boys who dived in the water to bring out a jellyfish we had asked them about. There were loads of ultraviolet tinted jellyfish in the water by the marina and we asked an elderly man whether they were dangerous. Some boys were listening and jumped straight in, emerging gingerly carrying one jellyfish to demonstrate that they weren't dangerous. One boy invited me to touch the jellyfish though I declined politely!
If you do intend to visit Troy or Gallipoli I would certainly recommend Canakkale as a base; it's a much better idea than trying to do it all in one day then return to Istanbul or the coast.