Updated: Mar 18
When visiting Turkey, there is so much more to see and do than just Istanbul. Other places you should consider include:
In these other cities, there are cultural, historical, and Biblical things to see and do. Keep reading to learn about these places and see what you should add to your Turkey itinerary.
What to Do
Church of the Apostles
Dance show at Katerina Saray
The Church of the Apostles is in the city center in Kars and is now partially used as a mosque. The building has a similar style to all of the buildings in Ani, which is a very interesting cultural aspect to consider.
Overall, the city of Kars has many Russian style influences in its architecture.
Overlooking Kars sits a fortress. For the best photos, you should plan to be at the citadel at sunrise or sunset. The views of Kars from the Kars Citadel are gorgeous. You can walk to the fortress from the courtyard of The Church of the Apostles.
One of the most famous tourist attractions in Kars is the ancient city of Ani. The ruins are located about 45 minutes by car from Kars. You should consider allotting a half day at least
Also about 45 minutes by car from Kars is Lake Cildir. In the winter months you can take a horse drawn carriage ride across the lake. If you want to go ice fishing, you can fish on this lake. Right next to the lake is a fish restaurant that has delicious fish and other Turkish foods.
If you stay at the Katerina Saray hotel, then you can take in a delicious meal topped off with an amazing cultural dance. The dance shows a warrior trying to win a woman's hand in marriage. The dance troupe also did a great job incorporating humor into the story. The hotel finishes the night with a fire and drum show.
Near the Armenian border, this Turkish city was a part of the Armenian Kingdom during antiquity. It is now an important military town. Kars is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ani, which was the Bagratid capital in the 10th Century. Kars was captured in the 11th Century by the Seljuk Turks and then taken by the Mongols in the 13th Century. It became a part of the Ottoman Empire in 1514. The city successfully held back the Iranians and the Russians before eventually falling to the Russians in 1828. It was returned to Turkey in 1918. The Soviet Union attempted to reclaim Kars as a part of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic in the 1940s and failed.
What to Do
Twin Minarets Madrassah
The 3 Tombs
Fairy Chimneys of Narman
Georgian Church Ruins
Erzurum also has a castle right in the middle of the city center. You can go inside, climb the clock tower, and get a panoramic view of the city.
One of the most iconic buildings in Erzurum, and from where the city logo comes, is the Twin Minarets Madrassah. A Madrassah is an Islamic learning center or university. Just a walk up the street from the Madrassaah is the 3 Tombs. These are unique and interesting Selcuk tombs that were built in the 1200s.
Take a day and see the Fairy Chimneys of Narman in Erzurum. The geological formations are amazing to see. You will want to allow for half a day to visit the fairy chimneys.
Erzurum is both a city and a province.
Erzurum is the highest major city in Turkey, sitting at 6,400 feet above sea level. It is a fertile plain surrounded on all sides by beautiful, tall mountains. Historically speaking, Erzurum has been a major commercial and military center since antiquity. It was a major city on a caravan route from Anatolia to Iran and an important stop along the Silk Road.
Although its foundation was probably much earlier, Erzurum achieved real importance as Theodosiopolis, a 5th-Century Byzantine fortress. This city fell to the Arabs in 653 and was then disputed among the Byzantines, Arabs, and Armenians until it was conquered by the Seljuq Turks in 1071. The Arabs and the Turks called it Arzan al-Rūm, “Land of the Romans”. That is where we get its current name, Erzurum. It came under Ottoman control in 1515, before being occupied by the Russians in 1829, 1878, and 1916–18. In Erzurum in 1919, Atatürk presided over the first Turkish nationalist congress, leading to the establishment of the Turkish republic.
What to Do in Sanliurfa
Harran - Ride Camels
Sanliurfa Archeology and Mosaic Museum
Perhaps the most famous of all sites in Eastern Turkey lies in Sanliurfa-- Gobekli Tepe. Experts believe this ancient temple dates back 10,000 years making it the oldest known temple on earth. This site is 50 times larger than Stonehenge and 7,000 years older. You should allot an entire day to visit the site, go to the ruins, and explore the museum.
A beautiful park in the old town city center of Sanliurfa has a lake. This lake has a legend associated with it. Nimrod, a pagan king, threw Abraham into a fire because Abraham tore down all of Nimrod's idols. The fire turned into a lake and the burning logs turned into fish. These carp have a protected status in this lake. You can feed the fish by purchasing fish food from a stand on the edge of lake.
If you head to Harran, you can see Abraham's birthplace and traditional Turkish homes. Turks lived in these homes as late as 1990.
At the Sanliurfa Archeology and Mosaic Museum, the very last exhibit is a mosaic of Jesus. After is was uncovered, a museum in the Dallas-Fort Worth area somehow wound up with the mosaic. The Sanliurfa Archeology and Mosaic Museum recently regained possession of the mosaic and has it on display.
The Hittites began ruling the area of Sanliurfa in 1370 BC. Alexander the Great conquered and named it Edessa. Eventually, the Romans came into the picture and conquered the region. This city was fought over many times, mostly due to its location which was at that time on the border of the Persian and Roman Empires. The Arabs took over in 637 and there was peace for 300 years. The Turks, Armenians, Arabs, and Byzantines all fought over the city until the successful Crusade of Count Baldwin established the Latin County of Edessa. The Seljuk Turks conquered in 1144 and reigned here until the Ottomans took it. The ottomans named the city Urfa (coming from the original Aramaic name Urhai) in 1637. In 1984 "Sanli" ("glorious" in Turkish) was added to the province's name. Glorious Urfa, constantly fought over, was an ever-important city along the ancient road leading from Anatolia to Mesopotamia. Naturally, it's full of historical sites and ancient ruins.
Perhaps the most famous of all sites in Eastern Turkey lies in Sanliurfa-- Gobekli Tepe. Experts believe this ancient temple dates back 10,000 years making it the oldest known temple on earth. This site is 50 times larger than Stonehenge and 7,000 years older.
Tip: Locals call Sanliurfa (pronounced: shan-la-ur-fa) Urfa. So don't get confused if people refer to it as Urfa.
What to do in Van
Cat Research Facility
Van has a military fortress that you can explore. It was built on a bluff by the Urartu during the 9th to 7th centuries BC. It was used for regional control.
Van is very proud of their local cats. The van cat is a local cat with one green and one blue eye but is not recognized breed. There is a research facility where you can observe and play with the cats and buy Van cat souvenirs.
Akdamar Island is on Lake Van, the biggest lake in Turkey. The Turks actually call the lake a sea because of how large it is. The Armenian Holy Cross Cathedral is on the island. It opened in 921 and operated until 1915.
The Muradiye Waterfall is absolutely gorgeous, especially with the changing of seasons. The area has a cafe where you can order snacks and tea. The waterfall is located about an hour outside of Van's city center.
Van has been a city since the first millennium. It has been under the rule of Armenians, Urartu, Byzantines, Sassanids, Artsrunis, Selcuks, and Turks. They have a local dish of beyti (a type of tortilla that contains meats covered in tomato sauce) that you must try.