Mardin is a city in the far southeast of Turkey built onto a rocky outcrop overlooking the plains of Mesopotamia. There are lots of incredible things to do in Mardin, which has a history dating back to antiquity.
The town is famed for its Artuqid architecture dating the 11th and 12th Centuries with ochre and sandstone-coloured buildings clinging to the cliffside. Top Mardin attractions include Zinciriye Madrasa with stunning views across the plains and out over Syria, the Grand Mosque and the many bazaars and rooftop cafes.
I was lucky enough to visit Mardin in late 2022 while staying in nearby Diyarbakir and below you’ll find a selection of my photographs along with the best places to visit in Mardin. So, if you’re looking for what to do in Mardin, you’ve come to the right place.
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Best Things To Do in Mardin
Below you’ll find the top Mardin things to do from museums to mosques, madrasas and the best rooftop cafes for stunning views of the old town and surrounding plains. This is really one of the most impressive places I’ve visited on my travels in Turkey, and should not be missed.
1. Explore the Old City
The old city of Mardin has been occupied by many different empires from the ancient Mesopotamian Syriacs to the Romans, Mongols, Byzantines and Ottomans. For the ultimate Mardin sightseeing, wander around the back alleys and cobbled streets soaking up the atmosphere of this ancient place.
Dive into the many mosques and madrasas or grab a Syriac coffee in one of the many cafes. Marvel at the incredible views that open up as you make your way higher above the town. The town has been home to Kurdish, Turkish, Arab, Yazidi and Assyrian peoples over the centuries which give it a unique Middle Eastern feel.
See the sandstone houses rising up the cliffs above the plains with minarets towering above the ochre rooftops. The place really has a fairytale feel to it that harks back to the days of the Silk Road and caravanseries.
2. Zinciriye Madrasa (One of the Best Things To Do in Mardin)
The impressive Zinciriye Madrasa was built in 1385 and is one of the highest buildings in the city. This ancient Islamic centre of learning is one of the best Mardin tourist attractions for the incredible views from the rooftop.
The first floor opens up into a courtyard with a small pond and channel representing renewal. The courtyard is surrounded by arched columns leading to various small rooms. The second floor overlooks the courtyard and from here you can ascend a narrow stairway to the roof.
On the roof two large domes give way to incredible views across the rooftops and out across the Mesopotamian plains far below. The madrasa is open from 9:00am to 5:00pm Monday to Saturday and costs 5TL ($0.30) to enter.
3. Kasimiye Madrasa (One of the Top Mardin Attractions)
The Kasimiye Madrasa dates back to the Artukid period and was constructed between 1407 to 1445. The madrasa is now a museum and cafe which is well worth a visit. Walking around the courtyards and rooms of this architectural gem is one of the best things to do in Mardin, Turkey.
Upon entering the impressive structure you will be met with a pleasant courtyard with a pool underneath the arches. You’ll notice that the doorways are very low, and this was done to ensure students entered the classrooms with bowed heads as a sign of respect.
Climb to the second floor for panoramic views out across the Mesopotamian plains. Entry is 5TL ($0.30). Open seven days a week from 9:00am to 6:00pm.
4. Visit Seyr-i Merdin Cafe
There are lots of pleasant cafes dotted around the old town, many of them with roof terraces offering panoramic views of the city and plains down below. I visited the Seyr-i Merdin Cafe and Restaurant for a coffee, but they also have a food menu focusing on Syriac specialities.
Seyr-i Merdin is open daily from 9:30am to 10:30pm and is one of the best places to visit in Mardin for traditional food and drink with some of the best views in the old city.
5. Shop at the Mardin Bazaars
You’ll find gift shops and bazaars selling everything from keffiyehs to tea, brightly coloured sugared almonds, and silverware along the main street, (1. Cadde/Cadessi) in the centre of the old city.
Be sure to shop around/haggle for the best prices. I bought a Kurdish Kaffiyah in one shop for 100 Lira ($5.40), only to find the same thing for sale next door for half the price.
The largest bazaar can be found towards the end of the main street and down the hill. Here you’ll find metalworkers, teashops and stall selling everything you can possibly imagine from tea sets to donkey saddles.
6. See the Old Town Square
You’ll find the main square at the entrance to the old city on Cadde (look for the large #Mardin sign and get a selfie). The square is home to various cafes, such as the Kultur Cafe, restaurants, the Kirklar Kilisesi church and the Mardin Museum.
Climb the stone steps up to the square for fantastic views of the town. There is a statue of Ataturk, lots of benches and is a great place to relax and drink in the atmosphere of this incredible place.
7. Visit Mardin Museum (What To Do in Mardin)
The Mardin Museum was constructed in 1895 and sits on the main town square. Here you’ll find ancient artefacts from the Mesopotamian empire to the Roman, Assyrian, Byzantine and Ottom empires. Displays chart the rich history of this intersection between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.
Archaeological discoveries include a Roman moasiac on the first floor and exhibitions relating to trade, daily life, ritual and various ornaments. The museum has a cafe, shop and classrooms where regular workshops are held.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 8:30am to 5:30pm. Entrance costs 25TL ($1.35). Visiting the museum is definitely one of the best things to do in Mardin to understand the rich history of this unique city.
8. Drink in the Views
The views from the old town are incredible and can be seen from across the city, however equally impressive is the view to Mardin from the main road out of town. It’s a thirty-minute (one-and-a-half mile) walk or five minutes in a taxi to the viewpoint, but definitely worth it.
9. Kirklar Church of the Forty Martyrs
The Assyrian Kirklar Church, also known as the Church of the Forty after the 40 martyrs of Sebaste, is located on the main square. The church has a uniquely Middle Eastern feel to it with arches, columns and inscriptions showing biblical scenes.
The church is open every day from 9:00 to 6:00pm and closed between 12:00pm and 1:00pm for lunch.
10. See the Citadel and Castle
Unfortunately you can’t actually enter the citadel or castle as they are located in a military area which should be given a wide berth (I was told it is akin to suicide to try and enter).
That being said, you can view the citadel from many places in the old town such as the main street (Cadde), Zinciriye Madrasa and many of the rooftop cafes.
11. Ulu Cami – The Great Mosque of Mardin
The Grand Mosque, known locally as Ulu Cami, is located just south of Zinciriye Madrasa. It is well worth checking out for it’s distinctive domed roof and towering minaret. The mosque was allegedly built on the site of an Assyrian church, and dates back to the 12th Century Artuqid period.
Things to do Near Mardin
There are lots of fantastic places to explore around Mardin from the ancient Roman city at Dara to the Mor Hananyo Monastery, castles, stunning nature and more. Below you’ll find a few of the best nearby attractions.
12. Deyrulzafran/Mor Hananyo Monastery
Deyrulzafran Monastery, also known as Mor Hananyo Monastery is a large Syriac temple dating back to the 5th Century. This is a working monastery and not a tourist attraction as such, though tourists are welcome to take a guided tour.
The monastery is surrounded by towering peaks and olive groves on the Mesopotamian plains 5 miles southeast of Mardin. Inside there are 365 rooms, one for each day of the year, and this community is built on an ancient sun-worshiping pagan site.
Visitors should dress modestly, and refrain from smoking, talking loudly and using mobile phones once inside. Wait at the cafe for the tour guide who will show you around the open sections of the monastery.
13. Dara Ancient City
One of my favourite sites in eastern Turkey has to be the ancient Roman city of Dara, the easternmost outpost of the Roman empire. Upon entering the canyon-like archeaological site you’ll see ancient cave dwelling on either side.
You can explore some of the caves and see ancient tombs before heading to the necropolis building, which reminded me of Petra (or more accurately, the building in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where he choses the cup).
Upon entering the necropolis through a an ornate archway, you are greeted with a large excavation pit full of human remains. What’s even more impressive is the ancient cicstern and former prison at Zindan a few hundred metres to the east of the main settlement.
The ancient ruins at Dara are located about 20 miles southeast of Mardin. You’ll need to arrange your own transport either with a local tour or taxi as there is limited public transport (I had my own transport from Diyarbakir).
14. Take a Day Trip to Diyarbakir
The city of Diyarbakir lies around 60 miles north of Mardin, and is where I spend almost a month living in late 2022. There are so many amazing things to do in Diyarbakir from climbing the ancient city walls to walking through the UNESCO-listed gardens at Hevcel Bahceleri.
The Ten Eyed Bridge (Ongozlu) spans the mighty River Tigris and is so named for the ten arches used in its construction. Other attractions include the Grand Mosque, Archaeology Museum and Caravanserei. There are plentiful daily buses from Mardin to Diyarbakir and the journey time is around 90 minutes.
Read my complete guide to the Diyarbakir attractions.
15. Visit Erbil, Iraq
Although Syria lies only a few miles away from Mardin, the country remains difficult to visit due to the ongoing conflict. However Iraq is only 120 miles from the city and there are daily buses to Erbil (read about the Diyarbakir to Erbil bus which stops in Mardin).
The Kurdish city of Erbil in Northern Iraq is well worth a visit if you are in the region. From the ancient citadel to interesting museums, parks and bazaars, this gem of Iraqi Kurdistan should be on every serious travellers list.
Read my full guide of things to do in Erbil.
How to Get to Mardin
Mardin Airport lies 12 miles southeast of the city and there are frequent shuttle buses back and forth. A taxi should cost around 200 Lira ($11.00).
There are daily coaches from Diyarbakir, Batman, Cizre and other surrounding towns and cities and the prices are cheap (90 Lira from Diyarbakir). You can buy at any bus station (Otogari) or online at Obiliet or BusBud.
If you want the freedom to explore the surrounding areas including the monastey and Dara Ancient City then hiring a car is the best option.
Getting Around Mardin
There are two distinct parts to Mardin; the old city and the new, and they are a mile or two apart. There isn’t much (anything) to do in the new city, so be sure to stik to the old part on the southern slopes of the cliff.
You can easily cover everywhere in the old town on foot, and taxis are plentiful if you wish to go farther afield (expect to pay around 100TL for a 5-mile journey).
Is Mardin Safe
Mardin is a very safe city, but be aware that there are lots of army bases around the town. These are obvious with high security, checkpoints and armoured cars. Do not approach, and certainly do not take any photos unless you want to see the inside of a Turkish prison ala Midnight Express.
Conclusion – Is Mardin Worth Visiting?
Mardin is definitely worth visiting and is one of the most interesting cities in Turkey thanks to its rich history, archaeology and the many cultures that have called it home. Now you know what to do in Mardin, this gorgeous city should be high on your list of places to visit in Turkey.
You might also like my other articles about 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 🇦🇲