Diyarbakir is a city in southeast Turkey and home to the country’s largest Kurdish population. There are lots of wonderful things to do in Diyarbakir from exploring the bustling old town to walking the remarkably well-preserved city walls or strolling through the lush gardens at Hevcel Bahceleri.
The city is located on the Tigris River not far from the borders of Syria and Iraq and is often used as a jumping-off point to enter northern Iraq (and the reason for my own visit). The old town is surrounded by 3 miles of well-preserved defensive walls harking back to the ancient Mesopotamian city of Amida.
In late 2022 I spent almost a month in the city staying with a wonderful Kurdish family and was lucky enough to explore all the major Diyarbakir attractions as well as plenty of hidden gems and nearby places like Mardin.
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15 Best Things to Do in Diyarbakir
The following list of things to do in Diyarbakir contains all the top tourist attractions in this historic city. From the ancient walls harking back to the Roman city of Amida, to the impressive Grand Mosque, Ten Eyed Bridge, bazaars, restaurants, cafes and more.
1. Climb the City Walls (Diyarbakir Fortress)
The old city is surrounded by over 3 miles (5km) of ancient Roman walls in remarkably good condition. There are four main gates; Dag, Urfa, Mardin and Yeni, and these have steps from street level up to the top.
Diyarbakir’s city walls are free to explore and you can walk along the tops, though there are no safety barriers and sections of the wall are crumbling, so do so at your own risk. The 10-metre (33-foot) walls date back to the 4th Century and a seven-year restoration project was completed in 2007.
The views of the Sur district and over Hevsel Bachceleri are worth scaling the steps for even if you don’t want to walk along the top. Exploring the city walls from above or at ground level is certainly one of the best free things to do in Diyarbakir.
I scaled various sections of the wall during my extended stay in the city, and the views from the southernmost section are fantastic. The walls and fortress are definitely one of the top Diyarbakir attractions.
2. Hevsel Bachceleri (One of the Best Things to do in Diyarbakir)
The UNESCO-listed Hevsel Bahceleri is a patch of lush gardens and farmland just south of the old city between the southernmost walls and Ten Eyed Bridge. The area covers over 700 hectares (1,730 acres) along the Tigris and mentions of the gardens date back to the 9th Century BC.
The gardens were created to provide food and water for the enclosed city of Diyarbakir and have fulfilled this role for centuries. One of the most famous crops to be grown at Hevcel Gardens is the watermelon, as well as grapes, apricots and vegetables which can be bought in the markets.
Walking around the southern part of Diyarbakir Fortress offers magnificent views, and if you follow the road from the Archaeological Museum to the southernmost section of wall there are lots of viewing platforms overlooking the gardens.
There are also many cafes and teashops above the gardens and sipping the local chai with panoramic views of Hevcel Bahceleri is definitely one of the best Diyarbakir things to do.
3. Marvel at Ongozlu Bridge (Ten-Eyed Bridge)
Ongozlu Bridge, also known as Dicle Bridge in Turkish and the Ten-Eyed Bridge because of its ten arches, is a stone bridge spanning the River Tigris two miles south of the old town. This impressive structure dates to 1065 and was made with black volcanic stone.
There are lots of cafes and restaurants along the river overlooking the bridge serving chai, kebab and other local delicacies. Walking across the bridge is one of the best things to do in Diyarbakir, as is drinking chai in one of the cafes overlooking the bridge and river.
You can take a cab or marshrutka from the old town, but the walk is pleasant and I did this myself there and back with my friend and host and it took less than 30 minutes each way.
4. Visit Diyarbakir Museum
The Diyarbakir Museum is located next to the Amida Mound just inside the fortress in Sur District. The mound has seen human habitation since at least the 6th Millenium BC and is surrounded by open parkland and the city walls.
The area is home to a few different museums including the Diyarbarbakir Museum, the Ataturk Museum and the Archaeology Museum. There is also the Hazreti Suleyman Camil mosque, a large park and access to climb up the fortress/city walls for stunning views of Hevcel Gardens.
Entrance to the museum costs 15 Lira ($0.80) and is well worth spending a few hours exploring the fascinating exhibits charting this corner of Mesopotamia.
5. Wander Gazi Caddesi (the Main Street)
One of the first things to do in Diyarbakir after you arrive is to check out the bustling main street; Gazi Caddesi. This busy thoroughfare is packed with interesting shops and market stalls selling everything from fresh olives, almond candies and kebabs to shawls, keffiyehs and tea (chai).
There are plenty of interesting buildings along Gazi Caddesi from Ulu Camii, the Great Mosque of Diyarbakir (the oldest in Anatolia) to rooftop cafes, and of course the sprawling city walls at each end.
You’ll find plenty of restaurants along Gazi Cadessi including Firin-C housed inside an old building with a domed roof. There is also a Burger King, banks, exchange offices and convenience shops.
6. Ulu Camii (the Great Mosque)
The 11th Century Ulu Camii (great) Mosque is the oldest in Anatolia and was constructed in 1091. It is considered by some Muslim scholars as being one of the five holiest sites in Islam and is based on the Great Mosque of Damascus in Lebanon.
The Mosque is located about midway down Gazi Caddesi. There is a pleasant square with tea sellers and the main gate opens into a large courtyard with large arched porticos and a fountain in the middle. The mosque can house up to 5,000 worshippers and is one of the largest in the region.
7. Discover the Hasan Pasha Inn (Kervanseray)
The Kervanseray (caravanserai) at Hasan Pasha Inn is home to cafes, a bazaar and a hotel where you can stay in rooms dating back to the times of the Silk Road. After entering the stone gateway from Gazi Cadessi the Kervanseray opens up into a beautiful courtyard.
Inside you can find anything from bronze tea sets to silverware (the city is famed for its silver jewelry), and kaffiyehs in a range of colours (I bought one for 40 lira which is just over $2.00) and all sorts of other trinkets, gifts and sweets.
The cafes and restaurants are spread over two floors with balcony seating overlooking the courtyard. This is definitely one of the best places to visit in Diyarbakir for souvenir shopping and drinking in the atmosphere.
8. Cemil Pasa Mansion
Hidden in the winding alleyways of Diyarbakir’s old city is the Cemil Pasa Mansion where Ataturk once stayed. This beautiful residence was built in 1888 and has a large courtyard and inner buildings that now serve as the City Museum.
Inside you can explore the rooms, which have separate sections for men and women and get a free guided tour if you are lucky like me. Unfortunately I lost all the photos I took inside Cemil Pasa Mansion, save for one or two on my phone.
The Mansion is free to enter and there is also a cafe in the courtyard next to a small pool and fountain. Perfect for escaping the summer heat of the city.
9. Virgin Mary Church
Although the mosques are much larger in number, there are a couple of churches in Diyarbakir including St George’s and the Syriac Orthodox St Mary Church. This place of worship is hidden in the backstreets of the old city which are worth exploring also.
The church is open for visitors but closed on Mondays (when I tried to visit). The church was constructed in the 3rd Century on the site of a pagan temple dating back to the 1st Century BC. Open 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Tuesday to Sunday. Entrance is 5 Lira ($0.30).
10. Diyarbakir Archaeological Museum
The small archeological museum is spread over three rooms of exhibits charting the area’s history. Here you can learn about the many peoples that have called the city home from ancient Romans and Assyrians to Byzantines, Ottomans and Kurds.
The museum is located close to the main Diyarbakir Museum and is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Tuesday to Sunday.
11. Drink Chai with Views
Drinking chai (black tea ) is a national pastime in Turkey and is drunk as much as in England (but they’ll think you’re nuts if you put milk in tea here).
There are lots of wonderful cafes with magnificent views dotted around Diyarbakir. Whether you want to sip chai in an old caravanserai in the centre of the city, or just outside the city walls with sweeping views across Hevsel Bachceleri and down to the Tigris you want go thirsty.
Expect to pay around 40TL for a pot of traditional tea (which seems to always come with an additional bottle of drinking water you can take with you).
Things to do Near Diyarbakir
12. See the Ruins of Zerzevan Castle
Zerzevan Castle (also known as Zerzevan Kalesi / Samachi Castle) is the site of a former Roman castle and Mithraen temple. It’s located 40km south of Diyarbakir on the main road to Mardin. Parts of the structure are still intact and sit on a hilltop overlooking the plains below.
You’ll need to arrange your own transport to get to the castle or you can try using one of the many buses that go from Diyarbakir to Mardin, Cizre and beyond, but getting back might be a problem. The castle is free to enter and open 24/7.
I stopped here briefly on my way to Mardin and was impressed with the architecture which dates back to the 4th Century when Romans inhabited this part of Mesopotamia as the easternmost flank of the empire. There are information boards in both English and Turkish, public toilets and a few benches to admire the views.
13. Visit Stunning Mardin
The absolutely gorgeous city of Mardin lies atop a large hill overlooking the plains of Mesopotamia. The town has a long history and is famed for its Artuqid architecture of sandstone and ochre buildings built into the cliffside.
There are lots of great things to do in Mardin from exploring the madrasas to drinking coffee on rooftop terraces overlooking the plains and browsing the bazaars for silverware, sugared almonds and more.
Visiting Mardin was definitely one of the highlights of Eastern Turkey for me and the views are just phenomenal (it’s said you can see to the end of the world, which is quite apt considering the town overlooks Syria).
14. See the Roman Dara Ancient City
As a lover of all things Roman, I was excited to visit Dara Ancient City, the easternmost outpost of the Roman empire. Here you can explore the ancient dwellings carved into the rock, see a large necropolis filled with human bones, and enter a palatial ancient prison at Zindan.
The site is spread over quite a wide area, and there is no public transport to Dara, but I would strongly suggest making the effort to visit. Hiring a car is the best option, or see if you can find a taxi driver willing to make the trip for an agreed price (starting from Mardin rather than Diyarbakir).
There was no entrance fee when I visited in November 2022, which was strange for such an impressive site. Perhaps this was because it was out of the main tourist season. There are no facilities at the site, but there are some kiosks and cafes outside.
15. Go to Erbil, Iraq
The northern Iraqi city of Erbil is well worth a visit if you are this close to the border. It’s easy to get from Diyarbakir to Erbil by bus and I made this trip there and back in November 2022. There is a lot to see in Erbil from the impressive Citadel to an array of interesting museums, mosques and more.
See my complete guide on things to do in Erbil for more.
If you’re looking for entertainment in Diyarbakir there is a surprising amount to do from some excellent bars specialising in a local Syriac wine to traditional Kurdish live music, jazz and swing clubs and much more.
If you just want to drink tea, then you won’t have to look far for lots of homely cafes dotted around the old city from Gazi Cadessi to the Hasan Pasha Inn and the area above Hevcel and by Ongozlu. However, if you’re looking for something a little stronger you will have to look a little harder (don’t worry, I got you).
This is one of the best restaurants in Diyarbakir where you can feast in the beautiful surroundings of an old building with stone walls, a domed roof and lots of little rooms. This is a real experience of the Levant and is one of the best things to do in Diyarbakir. I had the grilled lamb and it was amazing.
Meal for two which included salad and meatball starters, bottled water, two large mains and tea cost just under 300 ($15.00). This was definitely one of the highlights of my stay.
Burger: Balta Burger
Now this burger joint is pretty far from the centre, however the burger I had here was one of the best I’d ever tasted (and I’m usually not much of a burger guy) so would highly recommend going out of your way for it.
Beer: Green Park Hotel
The Green Park Hotel is located at the bottom of Gazi Caddesi and has a small bar serving a very drinkable lager for 50 Lira ($2.70). This was my first stop in town as I needed to find WiFi and the place was filled with kilted Scotland football supporters in town for a big match.
Wine: Suluklu Han
This restaurant and bar set in a lovely courtyard behind the Hasan Pasha Inn just off the main street and serves delicious Syriac red wine with a local cheese which is well worth stopping by for. 40 Lira for a glass with complimentary cheese.
Dancing: Diyarbakir Arts Centre
Every other Sunday the Arts entre hosts a dance night with swing music that is popular with many locals. I went a couple of times and it was great fun with lots of very cool people. Free entry and beers cost 50 Lira ($2.70).
Getting to Diyarbakir
The city is well connected to the rest of Turkey. The airport is only a few miles from the old town and a taxi into town should cost no more than 100 Lira ($5.00).
There are regular daily bus services from across the country. I took the bus from Bodrum to Diyarbakir which was 30 hours and cost around $25.00.
There are also buses from Istanbul, Ankara, Gaziantep, Van, Erzurum and Kars. There are many companies operating and all have offices at the major bus stations. Buses are a cheap and comfortable way to get around and I’ve travelled much of the country this way.
Getting Around Diyarbakir
A taxi from the bus station (Otogar) will cost between 100 and 120 Lira ($5-$6). Most taxi drivers seem to have a hard time finding addresses so try and have a phone number for your accommodation.
Dolmus and Bus
There are lots of dolmus (minibusses with a fixed route) that ply the city. However, if you don’t speak Kurdish or Turkish then it’s probably not going to be easy to work out which one you need. The same applies to buses, but you can ask around and try your luck. Journeys cost around 5 Lira ($0.30).
Everywhere in the old city is walkable on foot including the city walls and major sites. The Ongozlu Bridge is a 2-mile walk from town. It should be easy to flag down a dolmus or bus on this route as it’s very popular with tourists year-round.
The Green Park Hotel is located on the main street of Gazi Caddesi in the old city. It has an onsite bar and cafe and is just a couple of minutes’ walk from the city walls and other top Diyarbakir attractions.
This modern apartment near the Otogar (Bus Station) is where I stayed for most of my time in Diyarbakir. My host and her family were fantastic and treated me like one of their own for which I am forever grateful.
This cozy artists’ apartment in the centre of the old town is perfect if you want all the top Diyarbakir things to do right on your doorstep. The host was welcoming and helpful and the large room very comfortable.
Is Diyarbakir Safe
Diyarbakir has something of a wild-west feel and the city has had a troubled history, culminating in the Battle of Sur in 2016 when Turkish forces shelled the old town. Many civilians, including children, lost their lives and much of the old town was destroyed.
While I was there it was a daily occurrence to hear Turkish fighter jets overhead on bombing runs in nearby Syria and Iraq. Kurdish friends are worried that Erdogan may have his sights on the city once again and there is certainly a lot of military about. I hope for their sake there is no more violence.
I felt completely safe the whole time I was here. There is obvious poverty and you will see people begging, but this is no different from anywhere else including London. The streets are extremely crowded so just be sure to keep your belongings safe and don’t flash valuables around.
Avoid the back alleys of Sur and the old town after dark as it’s easy to lose your bearings.
There is a large military base close to the city centre. Heed the signage and don’t take any pictures or hang around outside. You’ll also notice that GPS doesn’t work when in this area (which caused me problems telling taxi drivers where to go).
As you enter and leave the city you will go through military and police checkpoints. Just show your passport and they should be satisfied. Occasionally they will ask to search your bags.
Read more about safety in Turkey.
Conclusion – Is Diyarbakir Worth Visiting?
The city is definitely worth visiting and I was not bored once in the month that I lived there. Now you know what to do in Diyarbakir, with so many great attractions in and around the city, this ancient Mesopotamian settlement is well worth your time.
I will always remember my time in the city for the amazing hospitality I was shown by my Kurdish hosts and their family. I hope to return one day and see them again and explore this fascinating part of Turkey some more.
You might like my other articles about places in Turkey:
About the author:
Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has travelled to over 60 countries, lived in China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.
Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of Europe and Asia by train, bus and boat.
Where I am now: Yerevan, Armenia 🇦🇲