48 + 48 hours in
Gaziantep & Şanlıurfa
Gaziantep is a city in the southeast of Türkiye, and it's widely known as the country's cuisine capital. In fact, it's on the UNESCO Creative Cities Network for precisely this reason! But the reason the food is so wonderful is the same reason that Gaziantep is such an incredible place to visit – it's the history of the place and the mixture of civilizations who've left their mark over the centuries. This is really the heart of Mesopotamia, where human civilization itself was born. There's so much history in the culture, in the city, and in the cuisine that you really have to try it all to understand it!
But of course, you never have as much time in a place as you'd like, so we're here to help you take that long weekend (or even normal weekend if that's all you got!) on how to see Gaziantep in just 2 days!
What To Eat
One of the highlights of your trip will be the food. On this tour, we're not going to list specific restaurants or which food you'll want to eat when, per se – you can choose that. But obviously you'll want to gorge yourself with delicious local delicacies after just about every site you visit, so here's a list of the kinds of things you'll want to be eating throughout your tour.
You might want to think about starting your day with a traditional Antep (another name for Gaziantep) breakfast food: Beyran Soup! This is smoky spiced lamb and rice in a lamb broth that really wakes you up and is a fantastic way to get your day started. The flavour of the lamb is brought out perfectly and the spice does everything a large cup of coffee would do to perk you up. But if soup's not your thing – you've only got two days after all – start off with a big heavy “Cağırtlak” Kebab, made of lamb’s liver that is truly delectable. Or if you've got a sweet tooth, start off with the sweet “katmer”, essentially a pistachio pancake with a healthy dollop of clotted cream on top. However, even if you start with just a traditional Turkish breakfast, it's sure to be memorable.
After that, the possibilities are endless, and there's so much to try! Yuvarlama is an incredible mix of rice, minced meat and yoghourt all blended into a kind of soup (seriously, you have to try it to understand – it's amazing!). The dolma (stuffed vine leaves) in Gaziantep are out of this world, Lahmacun a thin pizza with meat, diced vegetables and garlic, kebabs (Gaziantep is considered the home of kebabs) like Aubergine Kebab, Garlic Kebab, Onion Kebab, a dessert truffle kebab called Keme Kebab, and New World Kebab (made with loquats) are kebabs you won't really find anywhere else. Kebabs you can find elsewhere, like Alinazik are still better in Gaziantep than you'll find in other places. And then, of course, there are the desserts: baklavas, carrot baklava, Şöbiyet baklava, Dolama baklava, pistachio Kadayif (shredded filo pastry), and so much more. Don't be shy about trying everything you see!
Our advice is essentially to wake up, get a big hearty breakfast, then see the old city and get lunch down there. Then head to the castle before a big hearty dinner, finishing up at the Tahmis Café. On Day two you'll want to see the Zeugma Mosaic Museum (again after a nice long breakfast), and then head to a big hearty lunch. After that it's time to buy some souvenirs at the bedesten (covered market hall), where you can pick up some unique local souvenirs before heading out to dinner again and stuffing yourself so full you won't need any more food on the plane ride home!
It can be argued that Urfa is one of the most important historical sites anywhere in the world, and you can still see almost all of it. Göbeklitepe is just one of 3 Neolithic spots surrounding the city and is one of the oldest settlements known to mankind. From there, the city's position as a centre of religion is well documented. Abraham is believed by some to have come from here, with Balıklıgöl an obvious must-see to all who visit. The city is also associated with the Biblical character of Job, and it's considered a holy city for Armenians, as well as being where the Armenian script originated.
Its location is right in the middle of Mesopotamia means that it's played host to countless civilizations. While many cities in the world may claim the title of “cradle of civilizations”, to justify Urfa’s claim here's a preliminary list of the number of civilizations who've made Urfa their home over the millennia: The Ebla, the Akkadians, the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Hittites, the Armenians, the Hurri-Mitannis, the Assyrians, the Medes, the Persians, the Ancient Macedonians (as led by Alexander the Great), the Seleucids, the Arameans, the Neo-Assyrian Osrhoenes, the Romans, the Sassanids, the Byzantines, the Mamluks and the Arab empire. It's truly one of the most remarkable cities on Earth.
These civilizations each left their mark on the history, the culture and the cuisine of Gaziantep and Urfa, so without further ado let's check out how you can see this amazing city in just a couple of days!
If you trip can extend to more than 2 days in the area here are some suggestion for things to do for a further 2 days in Gaziantep and its environs:
Visit the Mediaeval fortress of Rumkale on the banks of the Euphrates. As with the rest of Gaziantep and Urfa, it's been held by many different civilizations and still houses a wonderful church inside dating from the 13th century. It's accessible only by boat, which makes it all the more imposing and wonderful.
This Bronze Age village is still intact and life here now is much as it was 3,000 years ago. Its traditional mud brick homes are extraordinary, the traditional construction allows them to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter without any modern technology or electricity required. The village maintains a traditional lifestyle that will transport you back to how our ancestors lived in the ancient past. It is a place unlike anywhere else in the world.
Sira nights literally translates to “nights by turn,” and they're essentially how friends gather in Urfa to spend an evening together with food and live music. Traditionally householders took turns to host gatherings. Nowadays some Urfa restaurants have adapted the idea of such gatherings The best boast a beautiful old house with a courtyard where you eat the delicious local cuisine (and there's a lot of it!) while listening to traditional local music. It makes for a truly magical experience.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the earliest examples of human settlement that exists. Many believe it to be the first ever religious sanctuary, possibly the first known temple in existence. It dates back to the 10th–8th millennium BCE and features the world's oldest known megaliths in the form of massive T-shaped stone pillars. There are pictograms whose meaning we have yet to understand, and in general the site is a level of development previously thought impossible in a period still dominated by hunter-gatherer societies. In essence, this is a site that changes what we know about human civilization and may literally mark the beginning of what we call civilization today. It is simply incredible.
Balıklıgöl, or Pool of Abraham
This pool, aside from being a beautiful spot to sip tea and stroll along, is believed to be the spot that Abraham was thrown into the fire by Nimrod. He was saved from a fate of burning to death because God turned the fire into water. It has holy significance for all three of the major monotheistic religions, and it truly is a beautiful spot.
Shopping in the Historical Bazaars and Hans
Shopping for souvenirs in Urfa is truly a pleasure! The bazaars are all historic and pieces of the rich mosaic of the region’s history. Even the souvenirs are often part of a long family tradition of craftsmen making the same beautiful pieces for generations, explore and enjoy!