Eastern Turkey Itinerary: How To Explore Upper Mesopotamia

Harran beehive houses

Ancient history buffs, architecture enthusiasts, and food lovers will love my South Eastern Turkey itinerary. This is an explorer’s route, so be sure to get there before the tourists.

I have done and tested the Eastern Turkey travel guide myself and I can assure you it is easy to organize and follow and totally worth it.

Mor Gabriel Monastery
Mor Gabriel Monastery

Why go to Eastern Turkey?

When you travel to Southeastern Turkey, you’re visiting part of ancient Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia means “land between two rivers,” the Tigris and Euphrates. Ancient Mesopotamia corresponds to modern Iraq and parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey. While the political situation in the first three makes tourist visits somewhat risky and complicated, southeastern Turkey is completely safe for tourists.

The Southeast Anatolian region of Turkey is home to ancient civilizations and a cradle of Christianity and culture.

Following the Eastern Turkey itinerary, you will visit three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Mount Nemrut (Nemrut Dağ), Gobeklitepe and Diyarbakir Fortress and three more that are on the tentative list: Harran, Sanliurfa and Mardin.

When is the best time to visit Eastern Turkey?

I did this Eastern Turkey travel itinerary in May. The best time to do it is late spring or early fall. This is the time when the temperatures in the Mesopotamian Valley are bearable and the roads to Mount Nemrut are passable.

What should you know before going to Eastern Turkey?

  • This is a more conservative region of Turkey, so women in particular should take care to dress appropriately. Show respect for the local people and their traditions and religious customs.
  • Very few restaurants serve alcohol. However, I will show you some. If you happen to be there during Ramadan, they will not serve you alcohol until after sunset.
  • Do not expect to find many English-speaking people, even among the youth and those working in tourism-related businesses. The vast majority of tourists who come to this part of Turkey are Turkish. So be prepared with a translation app.  And a few words of Turkish are always welcome. Despite their lack of English, the people there are welcoming, helpful and friendly. They go out of their way to please their guests.

How to get to Southeastern Turkey?

Although Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Mardin and Diaybakir airports do not have international flights, they all have several daily flights to and from the two Istanbul airports. Domestic flights are reliable and inexpensive.

So book your international flight to Istanbul and then continue with a domestic flight to one of the cities mentioned above. I would recommend booking your domestic flights with Turkish Airlines as they have several daily flights to the following destinations.

You will also need a rental car to follow the Eastern Turkey itinerary. The roads in Turkey are in very good condition. Some of them, marked with an “O” and a number, are toll highways. To drive on them you need a HGS sticker. You can buy it at post offices and gas stations where you will see the HGS sign. Alternatively, you can avoid the “O” highways. The rest of the roads are pretty good.

After studying the itinerary carefully, I found that starting and ending in Gaziantep worked best for me. Since this is a round trip, you can start and end wherever you want.

Day 1: Gaziantep

What is Gaziantep famous for?

Gaziantep Yemeni Shoes
Gaziantep Yemeni Shoes
  • Gaziantep’s cuisine is one of the richest in Turkey with its mixture of Anatolian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern tastes. Gaziantep is famous for the tastiest balklava and the great variety of pistachios.
  • Gaziantep Yemeni shoes are genuine leather shoes made by centuries old method. They are all handmade without using any artificial materials.
  • Gaziantep Мenengic Coffee, which is actually not coffee at all because it is made from the dried fruit of a type of wild pistachio and does not contain caffeine. I liked the pistachio baklava though the Menengic coffee was not something I would drink every morning.
Gaziantep baklava and menengic coffee
Gaziantep baklava and menengic coffee

What to see in Gaziantep?

  • Tarihi Gümrük Hanı (Historical Customs Inn, open until 7 pm)
  • Zincirli Bedesten (Chain Bazaar, open until 7.30 pm)
  • Bakırcılar Çarşısı (Coppersmiths Bazaar, open until 11 pm)
  • Almacı Bazaar (open until 5.30 pm)
  • Tahmis Kahvesi (open until midnight)

Where to eat in Gaziantep?

Have dinner at Bayazhan Butik Hotel & Restaurant. I found their cuisine to be outstanding. I am not sure whether they have it every night, but there was live music playing when I was there.

Bayazhan Restaurant in Gaziantep
Bayazhan Restaurant in Gaziantep

Where to stay in Gaziantep?

I would suggest staying at Hampton by Hilton Gaziantep or Novotel Gaziantep. Both hotels are conveniently located for sightseeing and have a private parking.

Day 2: Zeugma Mosaic Museum in Gaziantep and then follow the Eastern Turkey itinerary to Sanliurfa

Zeugma Mosaic Museum Gaziantep
Zeugma Mosaic Museum Gaziantep

After breakfast, drive a few kilometers to the ZEUGMA MOSAIC MUSEUM. The museum has a collection of 3000 square meters of mosaics, 140 square meters of frescoes, 4 Roman fountains, 20 columns, 4 limestone statues, a bronze statue of the god Mars, sarcophagi and architectural details from the Roman and Byzantine periods. Opening hours in the summer period (April 1 – October 24): 8.30 am – 6.30 pm.

After visiting the Zeugma Mosaic Museum, drive to Sanliurfa. The distance is about 150 km and you’ll drive a little over an hour and a half.

Sanliurfa, called Urfa by the locals, is the 7th largest city in Turkey. It is known as the “City of the Prophets”.

What to see and do in Sanliurfa?

  • Prophet Abraham’s Cave, open 24 hours a day
  • Mevlid-i Halil Mosque
  • Balikligol
Sanliurfa Balikligol
Sanliurfa Balikligol
  • Urfa Fortress – a Roman fortress from the 2nd century BC, open 8.00 – 19.00, closed on Mondays.
  • Kizilkoyun Roman Tombs, open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Kizilkoyun Roman Tombs in Sanliurfa
Kizilkoyun Roman Tombs in Sanliurfa
  • ZİNCİRLİ SOKAĞI (Chain Street) – a traditional narrow street from the Ottoman period.
ZİNCİRLİ SOKAĞI (Chain Street) in Sanliurfa
ZİNCİRLİ SOKAĞI (Chain Street) in Sanliurfa
  • Attend to a sira night. It is a show with traditional music and dancing, typical for Sanliurfa.
Sira Night in Sanliurfa
Sira Night in Sanliurfa

Where to eat in Sanliurfa?

Nahrin Hotel & Restaurant in Sanliurfa
Nahrin Hotel & Restaurant in Sanliurfa

I can highly recommend Mandelion Hotel & Şarap evi (address: Bıçakçı, 1269. Sk. No:1, 63200 Eyyübiye/Şanlıurfa) and NAHRİN OTEL VE SANAT MERKEZİ (address: Bıçakçı, 1251. Sk., 63210 Şanlıurfa Merkez/Şanlıurfa).

Mandelion Hotel & Restaurant in Sanliurfa
Mandelion Hotel & Restaurant in Sanliurfa

The food is fabulous. Both restaurants serve alcohol. When I first went to Nahrin restaurant it was for lunch. The owner invited us to a sira night the following evening, which happened to be a great show.

Where to stay in Sanliurfa?

I stayed at PALMYRA BOUTIQUE HOTEL. It is a traditional house converted into a hotel. There is a parking lot next door. The owner of the hotel had secured a place for our car for free. The breakfast was nothing but fabulous. We were only 4 guests in the hotel and the staff was waiting for us to get up to start cooking our breakfast. I have never seen such personal attention to the guest, even in a 5-star hotel.

Palmyra Boutique Hotel in Sanliurfa
Palmyra Boutique Hotel in Sanliurfa

Day 3: Gobeklitepe and Harran

The distance between Urfa and GÖBEKLİTEPE is about 20 km. You will be there in half an hour.

Göbeklitepe is a cult center about 12,000 years old. A small part of the site has been excavated. It has not yet been determined how this religious complex was built, but it is known to be 7,500 years older than the Egyptian pyramids and about 7,000 years older than Stonehenge. Summer Period (April 1 – October 24) opening hours are from 8.30 am to 7 pm. I highly recommend renting an audio guide on site.         

Gobeklitepe
Gobeklitepe

The next stop of the Eastern Turkey itinerary is Harran. To get there you will drive approximately 60 km and will be there in an hour.      

Harran’s beehive houses have been a favorite in the region since ancient times, with the present ones being about 200 years old. Their domed shape provides coolness in summer and warmth in winter. Harran is open to visitors during the summer from 9 am to 7 pm. The site is free.

Harran Turkey
Harran

Drive back to Urfa (about 50 km) and spend the night there.

Day 4: Mardin

The distance from Sanliurfa to Mardin is about 200 km and will take you a little over 2 and a half hours.

Mardin Old Town
Mardin Old Town

What to do in Mardin?

  • The old town of Mardin is on UNESCO’s tentative list for its unique architecture. Walk the streets and enjoy it.
  • Visit Mor Behnam (Kırklar Kilisesi) – a 6th century Syriac church
Mor Behnam (Kırklar Kilisesi) church in Mardin
Mor Behnam (Kırklar Kilisesi) church in Mardin
  • Have a glimpse at Mardin Fortress, which is more than 3000 years old
  • Try to find Leylan Cafe û Kitap. It is not just a cafe. It is also a bookstore selling rare books about Mardin and the region. All in Turkish, unfortunately. Address: Cumhuriyet Cd. No:194, Merkez/Mardin
Leylan Cafe and bookstore in Mardin
Leylan Cafe and bookstore in Mardin
  • Buy a souvenir of Sahmeran. Şahmeran is a mythical creature depicted with the head of a beautiful woman and a second head of a poisonous snake on its tail. Her image can be seen on embroideries, jewelry and other souvenirs. She is considered to be one of the symbols of Mardin. Şahmeran image is very popular among the people of the region, but she is especially revered by the Kurds, who are a significant part of the local population.
  • Taste Assyrian wines from the Mardin and Midyat regions.
Şahmeran images in Mardin
Şahmeran images in Mardin

Where to eat in Mardin?

Bağdadi Restaurant (address: Şar, Vali Adil 228 Sk., 47100 Artuklu/Mardin) is in a traditional building with a nice terrace, great food and impecable service.

Bagdadi restaurant in Mardin
Bagdadi restaurant in Mardin

Leyli Muse Mutfak (address: Cumhuriyet meydanı, Şar Mahallesi.227 çavırlı sokak.No.4, Mardin müzesi yanı, 47100 Artuklu/Mardin) is a restaurant in the old town with traditional interior, tasty food, great wine selection and a live music in the evenings.

Leyli Muse Mutfak restaurant in Mardin
Leyli Muse Mutfak restaurant in Mardin

Where to stay in Mardin?

 ULUBEY KONAĞI is a traditional building in the old town converted into a hotel. It has a terrace with a stunning view and a parking lot, which is not easy to find in the old town.

ULUBEY KONAĞI HOTEL IN MARDIN
ULUBEY KONAĞI HOTEL IN MARDIN

Day 5: Deyrulzafaran (Mor Hananyo) Monastery – Dara – Mor Gabriel Monastery – Midyat

Deyrulzafaran (Mor Hananyo) Monastery is less than 10 km away from Mardin. It is a very interesting religious complex that I would highly recommend not to miss.

Deyrulzafaran Monastery
Deyrulzafaran Monastery

After visiting Deyrulzafaran (Mor Hananyo) Monastery, drive 30 km to the south to reach the ancient city of Dara. Dara ancient city, also known as the Ephesus of Mesopotamia, is one of the most famous cities along the Silk Road. The settlement was founded in 505 by Emperor Anastasius as a military garrison to protect the eastern border of the Byzantine Empire. The ruins of the city cover an area of 9 km and are mostly cave houses carved into the rock.

The next stop of my Southeastern Turkey itinerary is Mor Gabriel Monastery. The distance between it and Dara is about 100 km and you will drive about an hour and a half. Part of the way you will drive along the Turkish-Syrian border. Stay calm, it is completely safe. Plan well your time as Mor Gabriel Monastery is only open from 9 am to 11.30 am and from 1 pm to 4.30 pm.

Mor Gabriel Monastery is the oldest surviving Syrian Orthodox monastery in the world. It was founded in 397.

The next stop is the town of Midyat. The distance from Mor Gabriel Monastery to Midyat is 25 km. The beauty of Midyat lies not so much in its individual sights as in its overall atmosphere. Unlike Mardin, which has always had a mixed population, Midyat was once entirely Christian. Now there are only a few hundred Christians, and the city is mostly populated by Kurds.

Midyat
Midyat

If you like it, you can spend the night in Midyat.

I preferred to go back to Mardin (65 km away) and enjoy a dinner with live music at Leyli Muse Mutfak.

Day 6: Diyarbakir

Diyarbakir Fortress Walls
Diyarbakir Fortress Walls

The distance from Mardin to Diyarbakir is less than 100 km. Diyarbakir was a special stop for us because my husband’s great-grandfather was exiled in Diyarbakir after being captured in World War I.

What to see in Diyarbakir?

  • Diyarbakir Fortress is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is also the symbol of the city. Unfortunately, parts of Diyarbakir Fortress suffered serious damages after the earthquake of Feb’ 2023.
  • Diyarbakır Grand Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in the Anatolian region.
  • Sülüklü Han – a 17th century inn.

Where to stay in Diyarbakir?

Diyarbakir is a big city and offers plenty of accommodation options.

Day 7 – one of the highlights in my Southeastern Turkey itinerary: Mount Nemrut

Mount Nemrut
Mount Nemrut

You will drive from Diyarbakir to Mount Nemrut about two and a half hours, as the distance is about 160 km.

Mount Nemrut is the largest mountain in Mesopotamia. A UNESCO heritage site, it contains the tombs of King Antiochus I, huge statues of gods up to 10 meters high and weighing up to 6 tons.

Try to catch the sunset. Check the exact hour of the sunset and allow plenty of time. The last 10 km of the road will take you 20 minutes to drive. Then you will need 30 min more to climb to the top.

Accommodation

I chose to stay at Hotel Euphrat Nemrut as it was the closest accommodation to Mount Nemrut and on our way from Diyarbakir. I DO NOT recommend it. It has a nice terrace with a stunning view and that is all good I can say about it. The accommodation is very basic, but the biggest problem was the total lack of hygiene. It was not just dirty, it was disgusting. And after having dinner in the hotel restaurant (nowhere else to eat) I had some digestive problems.

If I was to do this Southeastern Turkey itinerary again, I would stay is Adiyaman, which is 40 km west of Mount Nemrut. So if you are coming from Diyarbakir and have chosen an accommodation in Adiyaman, which is to the east, give yourself even more time.

Day 8: Halfeti – Gaziantep

The drive to Halfeti is 200 km and will take you almost three hours.

Halfeti is a small fishing village that is more than 3000 years old.

Halfeti boat ride
Halfeti boat ride

What to do in Halfeti?

  • Take a boat ride on the Euphrates River.
  • Enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants overlooking the river.

Drive to Gaziantep and spend the night there.

Day 9: back home

Return your rental car and have a safe flight home. Or get a flight to Nevşehir to visit Cappadocia staying at a cave hotel and taking an exciting hot air balloon ride.

Share this itinerary on social media. Someone else might like it too.

You may also like:

FIRST TIME IN ISTANBUL: 51+ BEST TIPS FOR 2024 TRIP

Aspendos Theater: The marvel of the Ancient Roman World

11 MUST-SEE AMAZING PLACES TO VISIT IN TUNISIA

ULTIMATE JORDAN 5-DAY ITINERARY TO VISIT THE HIGHLIGHTS

5-DAY MONTENEGRO ITINERARY WITH THE MOST INSTAGRAMMABLE SPOTS

HOW TO EXPLORE BERAT, THE TOWN OF THE FLOATING WINDOWS

Author

6 thoughts on “Eastern Turkey Itinerary: How To Explore Upper Mesopotamia”

  1. We have only visited Turkey as cruise port stops and really want to go back and explore more. Great to read about Southeastern Turkey and discover some spots that are far less touristy. The UNESCO sites look like ones we should be visiting. Such great history to explore.

  2. A great Itinerary, you certainly packed a lot in there! I did Antakya to Mardin in late autumn in 2021 using only public transport, which made it a very cheap trip, but I had to leave out many of the smaller places, which I wish I had seen now. Did you visit since the 2023 Earthquake, and are tourist facilities affected?

  3. Thank you, Anja! I had done a thorough research before planning the itinerary and the best time-efficient way to follow it was by a rental car. Renting a car in Turkey was cheap and hassle-free. And the roads in Turkey are in very good condition. I did this trip before the Feb’ earthquake. Luckily, all the places I visited didn’t suffer serious damages. The most affected by the earthquake were Diyarbekir city walls and Gaziantep fortress.

  4. Thank you, Linda, for your comment. Yes, this part of Turkey is extremely underrated and deserves tourists’ attention. Go there, if you have the chance, you won’t regret it.

  5. Your posts are making my travel list to Ireland very long. I have never heard of Swords. Love that you can get up on the wall at the castle. Fun to read that this is sold as a spot to practice driving. A good tip to remember.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top