12 Amazing Things to do in Van, Turkey in 2023

Are you looking for things to do in Van, Turkey? Then this is the post for you! During my two-month-long trip backpacking Turkey last year, the far eastern city of Van was definitely one of the highlights for me thanks to the stunning scenery.

Even though Turkey is 1.25 the size of Texas, it holds everything from the Mediterranean coastline to ancient cities to stunning mountains. The East, however, is like you’re stepping into an entirely different magical world. There is a little something for everyone in Van.

So, join me as we look at 12 must-do experiences in Van. Its unique allure will both intrigue and surprise you. Let this city’s charm win you over to finally making your way to Turkey.

Let’s jump in!

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12 Things to Do in Van Turkey

Van is a charming city located in eastern Turkey famous for its lake of the same name, ancient kalesi (castle), beautiful natural scenery, rich cultural heritage, and delicious local cuisine. Here are 12 things to do when visiting Van:

1. Visit Van Castle

Van Castle
Van Castle

Van Castle, also known as Van Fortress or Van Citadel, was one of the absolute highlights of my trip around Turkey. The castle dates back to the 9th century and stands on a rocky hill overlooking the city and Lake Van.

The castle was built by the Urartian civilization, and it was later used by the Armenian Kingdom of Vaspurakan during the Middle Ages. Today, you can explore the castle ruins, which include massive walls, towers and gates.

The views from the top of the castle are breathtaking and offer a unique perspective on the city and the surrounding mountains. I visited the castle twice during my stay as it was so impressive, and such a wonderful place to sit and take in the jaw-dropping views.

Address: Yalı, 65040 Merkez/İpekyolu/Van, Türkiye. Click here for directions.
How to Get There: It’s about a 45-minute walk from the city centre, or you can take a dolmus.
Opening Hours: 8am to 5pm, Sun-Mon
Entry Cost: 20 Lira ($0.85)

2. Explore Akdamar Island

View of Lake Van from the Castle

Take a ferry to Akdamar Island, also known as Aghtamar or Akhtamar, is the second largest of the four islands in Lake Van located in eastern Turkey. It is about 0.7 km² in size and is home to the Church of the Holy Cross and some Armenian monastery ruins.

The island lies close to the shore of Lake Van and can be reached via ferry from Gevaş. Akdamar Island is famous for its Armenian church which has a significant place in medieval Christian art.

While you’re here you can explore the town of Gevaş, known for its hot springs. Enjoy a relaxing soak in the therapeutic waters while surrounded by beautiful natural scenery.

Address: Gevaş/Van, Türkiye. Click here for directions.
How to Get There: Take the ferry from Gevas.
Opening Hours: 24/7
Entry Cost: Free

3. Take a Dip in Lake Van

Van Lake
Van Lake

Did a trip to Van happen if you didn’t go to the lake? Most locals would say no. Unfortunately, it was December when I was there so I wasn’t brave enough for a dip.

The water temperature in Van Lake varies depending on the season, but it generally ranges from 15°C to 25°C, making it perfect for swimming during the hot summer months, at least for us Westerners.

As the largest lake in Turkey, Van Lake offers crystal-clear waters, surrounded by stunning mountains and scenic landscapes. The lake is also home to numerous species of fish, including trout, carp, and the endemic pearl mullet, making it an ideal destination for fishing enthusiasts.

You can find several beaches around the lake, with facilities for sunbathing, picnicking, and enjoying water sports such as windsurfing and kayaking. Be aware that beaches here will be separate for men and women.

4. Learn About Local History at Van Museum

Van Museum
Van Museum

If you’re a history or archaeology buff, then don’t miss the Van Museum. The Van Museum is a fascinating cultural institution dedicated to preserving and showcasing the region’s rich history and heritage.

The museum’s collection includes a wide range of artifacts, artworks, and exhibits that span from prehistoric times to the present day, providing visitors with a comprehensive overview of the region’s development and evolution.

The museum’s exhibits are organized thematically, covering topics such as archaeology, ethnography, arts and crafts, and local customs and traditions. The star attraction of the museum is the Urartian artifacts, including monumental sculptures, inscriptions, and pottery, which offer a glimpse into the ancient civilization that once flourished in the area.

The museum also hosts regular events and activities, such as lectures, workshops, and concerts, that promote awareness and appreciation for the culture and history of Van. A visit to the Van Museum is a must for anyone interested in archaeology, art, and the cultural richness of the region.

Address: Yalı, Van Kalesi 1. Sk., 65140 İpekyolu/Van, Türkiye. Click here for directions.
How to Get There: The museum is a short walk from the castle.
Opening Hours: 8am to 5pm, Tue-Sun (closed Mondays)
Entry Cost: 50 Lira ($2.10)

5. Go shopping at Kapıköy

Fruit and nuts for sale at the bazaar (the blue ones are sugared almonds)

I don’t know about you but I am a sucker for a good bazaar. Kapikoy is a bustling bazaar close to the Iranian border and is famous for its vibrant shopping scene.

The market is filled with small shops and stalls selling a wide range of products, from handmade carpets and kilims to colorful spices and traditional handicrafts. You can find unique souvenirs and gifts to take back home, including beautiful pottery, handwoven textiles, and intricate jewelry.

Kapikoy is also the perfect place to sample yet more of the local cuisine. Bargaining is a common practice in the market, so don’t be afraid to negotiate on the price and get a good deal. Visiting Kapikoy is a great way to experience the vibrant culture and rich history of Van, and it’s an unforgettable shopping experience that you won’t want to miss.

Address: Kapıköy, 65830 Saray/Van, Türkiye. Click here for directions.
How to Get There: Take a dolmus from Van to Kapikoy.
Opening Hours: 7am to 6pm, Tues-Sun
Entry Cost: Free

6. Sample the Local cuisine

Cag Kebab - the Most Famous Dish of Erzurum

The local cuisine of Van, Turkey is a fascinating blend of flavors and ingredients that reflect the region’s rich cultural heritage. Traditional dishes include kuymak, a cornmeal porridge that is served with honey; stuffed lamb intestines; and baklava made with local honey instead of syrup.

I would also add, don’t miss out on a Van-style Turkish breakfast. Turkish breakfast is a little different in each region as they all bring their own traditions to the table. You could even do Turkish breakfast in Istanbul and compare the two.

I mainly stuck to kebab and shawarma as it’s cheap, tasty and filling I ate at Hacıoğlu Kebapçısı almost daily as chicken shawarma with bread and salad cost 40TL ($1.70). I also ate a couple of times at Şehr-Van Döner & Köfte which was pricier but delicious.

If you’re heading to Erzurum afterward like I did, be sure to try the cag kebab!

7. Check Out the Van Cat House

Van Cat House is a unique attraction located in Van, Turkey, dedicated to the famous Van Cat, a breed of feline known for its distinctive white fur and colored markings. The Van Cat is native to the region and is considered a cultural symbol of the area.

The Cat House provides a sanctuary for these cats and allows visitors to see them up close and learn about their characteristics and behavior. The facility also offers educational programs and activities, such as feeding sessions and games.

You can interact with the cats and take pictures with them, making it a popular destination for families and cat lovers like myself. The Van Cat House is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in the unique cultural heritage of Van and the fascinating world of felines.

Address: Bardakçı, Yüzüncü Yıl Ünv., 65000 Tuşba/Van, Türkiye. Click here for directions.
How to Get There: Take a dolmus or taxi from central Van
Opening Hours: 8:30am to 7:30pm, Mon-Sun
Entry Cost: Free

8. Visit the Varagavank Monastery

Khor Virap Monastery

Varagavank Monastery is a historic Armenian monastery nestled in a picturesque mountain valley. The monastery was founded in the 11th century by Queen Mlk’tsuyan and was later expanded and renovated during the 13th century.

The complex includes a main church, chapel, cemetery, and several khachkars (Armenian cross-stones) that are intricately carved with religious and cultural motifs. The architecture reflects the unique Armenian style, with ornate facades, reliefs, and frescoes that depict biblical scenes and stories.

Today, the monastery is a popular tourist destination and pilgrimage site, attracting visitors from all over the world who come to admire its beauty and spiritual significance. A visit to Varagavank Monastery is a must for anyone interested in history, architecture, and religious heritage.

If, like me, you’ll be heading to Armenia after your Turkey trip, be sure to check out my guide to Yerevan.

Address: Bakraçlı, 65250 İpekyolu/Van, Türkiye. Click here for directions.
How to Get There: Taxi
Opening Hours: 24/7
Entry Cost: Free

9. Visit the HoŞap Castle

Hosap Castle
Hosap Castle

Hosap Castle is a stunning example of medieval architecture and an example of the region’s history and cultural heritage. The castle was built in the 17th century by the ruling Ottoman Empire and features massive stone walls, towers, and gates that are still intact today.

The castle offers panoramic views of the surrounding valley and mountains, making it a popular destination for photographers and sightseers. The interior of the castle is equally impressive, with intricate carvings, decorations, and paintings that reflect the unique blend of Ottoman and Armenian cultures in the region.

The castle has been restored and preserved over the years and is now open to visitors who can explore its many rooms and chambers. A visit to Hosap Castle is a must for anyone interested in the history, architecture, and cultural richness of Van and Turkey.

Address: Güzelsu, Hakkari Yolu 60. Km, 65900 Gürpınar/Van, Türkiye. Click here for directions.
How to Get There: Taxi
Opening Hours: 7am to 7:30pm Mon-Sat (closed Sundays)
Entry Cost: 20 Lira ($0.85)

10. Explore the BostanİÇİ Forest

Van Countryside
Van Countryside

Bostaniçi Forest is a beautiful wooded area and is one of the largest and most important forests in the region. The forest covers an area of over 2000 hectares (or roughly 8 sq. mi.) and is home to a diverse range of plants and animals, including oak, pine, and juniper trees, as well as various species of birds and mammals.

The forest offers numerous trails and paths for hiking, biking, and walking, making it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Along the way, visitors can enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, as well as stop at picnic areas for a relaxing break.

Bostaniçi Forest is also an important cultural site, with several historic Armenian churches and monasteries located within its boundaries. A visit to Bostaniçi Forest is a must for anyone who appreciates nature, history, and the beauty of the outdoors.

11. See the Muradİye Waterfall

The Waterfalls at Krka National Park

Who doesn’t love a beautiful waterfall? Muradiye Waterfall is a breathtaking natural wonder named after the nearby town of Muradiye and is situated in a lush green valley surrounded by towering mountains. The waterfall is fed by a stream that originates from the nearby hills and cascades down a series of rocky ledges, creating a spectacular display of water and mist.

The area around the waterfall is also rich in flora and fauna, with numerous species of plants, birds, and animals that thrive in the cool and humid environment. Visitors can enjoy hiking trails that wind through the forest and lead to the waterfall, as well as take a dip in the refreshing pool at the base of the falls.

The Muradiye Waterfall is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves nature, adventure, and the beauty of the great outdoors.

Address: Görecek, 65500 Muradiye/Van, Türkiye. Click here for directions.
How to Get There: Take a dolmus or taxi from Van
Opening Hours: 24/7
Entry Cost: Free

12. Explore the Çavuştepe Ruins

The Çavuştepe Ruins are an important archaeological site located about 25 km from Van and they offer a glimpse into the ancient kingdom of Urartu.

The ruins are situated on a hill overlooking the surrounding valley and are accessible via a steep path that winds through the forest. The site includes the remains of a massive fortress, several temples, and residential areas that date back to the 8th century BC.

The Urartian empire was known for its advanced architecture and engineering, and the Çavuştepe Ruins are no exception, with stone walls, pillars, and reliefs that attest to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the ancient builders.

Visitors can explore the various structures and learn about the history and culture of the Urartu people, as well as enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. The Çavuştepe Ruins are a must-visit destination for anyone interested in archaeology, history, and the ancient civilizations of Turkey and the Middle East.

Address: Çavuştepe, 65900 Gürpınar/Van, Türkiye. Click here for directions.
How to Get There: Take a dolmus or taxi from Van.
Opening Hours: 24/7
Entry Cost: Free

When Should I Visit Van, Turkey?

Lake Van Turkey

This really depends on what you want to be doing. Obviously, the summer months are the peak of the season. There will be large crowds, expensive hotels, and hot hot weather, though less so in the east which is far from the resorts and still off the beaten track.

I spent November and December in eastern Turkey and the weather was still warm until the end of November (25 C). Obviously, it gets a lot colder the closer you are to the mountains, and Van was a bit more chilly than the southeastern areas.

One thing when considering the timing of your visit to Van is Ramadan. Make sure you check the dates of Ramadan for the current year. Because it is a religious holiday based on the moon and not tied to a specific day, it changes every year.

While visiting Istanbul during Ramadan might be fine, you might have more difficulty traveling to a more conservative part of the country during this time. There is fasting, both food and water, during the day and you may find it hard to find food then crowded when the restaurants open in the evening.

How to get to Van

Diyarbakir to Erbil Bus

The easiest, quickest, and, these days, the cheapest is to fly. You can hop on a 3-hour flight that will cost you roughly $130 roundtrip and then once you get there, you can rent a car. Click here to check prices with Discover Cars.

I took the bus to Van from Diyarbakir which was a long but very scenic journey of around 20 hours. I left by bus for Erzurum which was another long, and equally beautiful journey through the mountains. Buses are cheap and comfortable and a great way of getting around the country.

Getting around Van

Unfortunately, Van is not the most walkable city and many of the attractions are quite far apart. However, it’s a gorgeous place to stroll with lakeside and mountain views at every turn. I covered over 20km on foot during my time in Van.

I definitely recommend renting a car anytime you’re outside of Istanbul. While driving in Istanbul is a bit of a nightmare and stress-inducer, it isn’t nearly so bad outside of the capital. Our partners at Discover Cars have some great deals on car rentals in Turkey. Click here to check the prices.

If you’re wanting to rent a car, check out Driving in Turkey for a bunch of tips to make your life easier and less stressful. There are of course dolmuş available, which is like a large shared taxi. If you don’t know the language it can be a little stressful, although I managed to take a couple without incident.

Is Van, Turkey safe?

Central Van
Central Van

This part of Turkey is a lot more conservative than Istanbul and seaside resorts like Bodrum and Izmir. There have been reports of people being attacked for eating or smoking during Ramadan, so probably best to avoid this time of year.

Turkey is also prone to earthquakes, one of the biggest of which happened a couple of months after I left in February 2023.

Violent crime towards tourists is thankfully rare, and you’re more likely to fall victim to a scam in Istanbul than out in the sticks. Use your common sense and trust your gut. Read my article Is Turkey Safe to Visit for more information on safety.

Our partners at SafetyWing provide cover for travellers, backpackers and Digital Nomads. Get a quote here and ensure you have the proper cover for your trip.

Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Van, Turkey

As you can see, Van Turkey offers a wide range of experiences and attractions for tourists to enjoy. From exploring ancient ruins and cultural institutions to hiking through breathtaking natural landscapes and interacting with unique and fascinating wildlife, Van has something to offer everyone.

Whether you’re interested in history, adventure, or simply relaxing and enjoying the beauty of the outdoors, there are plenty of things to do and see in this amazing region. I hope that this list of 12 things to do in Van Turkey has inspired you to plan your trip and experience all that this remarkable place has to offer. Happy travels!

This article was researched and co-written by Kimberly McCauley at The Art of Living in Turkey who has lived in Turkey for 4 years. I have added up-to-date information and photographs from my recent stay in Van.

Check out my other articles about off-the-beaten-path destinations in Turkey:

Dunhuang, Gobi Desert, China

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 🇦🇲

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