Safranbolu makes for a great trip from Ankara, as it’s just a 3 hour drive north. It is a cute little city with an old downtown area full of restored Ottoman houses, shops, mosques, and great views. Safranbolu is a World Heritage Site due to its architectural history. During Ottoman times, it was on a major trade route. Plan on wandering the streets, shopping, stopping at cafes for a break, and soaking up the old and interesting architecture.
Because of Covid and our desire for strict and standardized hygiene practices, we chose to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn for our 2 nights. We arrived about 11, checked in (room wasn’t ready), and then left our car and walked to the market area downtown. From the hotel it is a 1.6 mile walk downhill. GoogleMaps works well here, so we stuck in our destination and headed off. The first half was along a sidewalk down normal roads. Then the GPS wanted us to head down some very narrow, steep, cobblestone “roads” (I am not sure that cars would be possible on these).
We figured, “Why not?” and started down. The kids weren’t huge fans as it was pretty slippery and uneven and steep. Also fairly warm in the sun. This then led us to some side roads through pretty architecture and we popped out in the old market area. Our first goal was lunch. First place we tried was a typical cafe and only had drinks and dessert (If it says cafe but not restaurant, that will probably be the case). Next attempt was a restaurant at the Kuşçu Han Otel with outdoor seating.
Found a shady table and ordered. Kids got Izgara Köfte (Turkish meatballs). DH and I tried the Safranbolu ravioli as a starter. Turns out, it was not pasta at all but rather bread stuff with a spinach mixture. We also got yaprak sarma for a starter. This is normally one of DD’s favorite foods here (grape leaves wrapped around a rice mixture), but it came out with the yogurt sauce all over it (rather than on the side as we normally see it). She doesn’t like yogurt anything and was horrified. Poor girl.
Next door we shopped at the Safran Evi Lokumları (Saffron Turkish Delight House). Lokum is the word for Turkish Delight here. I did not particularly like Turkish Delight back in the US, but the fresh local stuff is delicious. Safranbolu is known for its Lokum, particularly its Saffron Lokum. The employee in the shop was very nice and helpful. She let us try a bunch of samples, including from lokum rolls. I’d never heard of lokum rolls before and they are AMAZING. They are stuffed with different fillings and then have an outing coating. My favorite was probably the brownie lokum roll–chocolate Turkish Delight rolled around a brownie mousse-type filling with chocolate powder on the outside. The hazelnut cream lokum roll was also really good. We also ended up buying some of the rose lokum, which had various nuts inside and then was rolled in dried rose petals.
She offered us tea, so we sat and drank some tea after our purchases (2 boxes of saffron lokum and a box of various lokum rolls). The kids don’t like tea, so she offered them Saffron Sprite. DD7 loved it, but DS4 doesn’t really like bubbly drinks!
Then we headed out to explore. We went into two different mosques and the Cinci Han. The Cinci Han is 350 years old and was a stopping spot and inn for traveling merchants. Now it is a hotel. The open lobby area had a restaurant. One mosque opened in 1661 and the other in 1779.
By this point, the kids were getting hot in their masks. Honestly, I was hot too. So we tracked down a spot for ice cream. There surprisingly did not seem to be dondurma (ice cream) shops, but we found a little grocery store that had an icecream cooler out front with packaged cones and bars. So we got some ice cream cones and found a shady bench in a mosque courtyard.
Near that mosque is a taxi stand, which was great because there was no way we were getting the kids to walk to very uphill 1.6 miles back to our hotel. The taxi stand is here.
We relaxed some at the hotel, and then walked to dinner. There were a surprising number of restaurants near the hotel. That night we ate at Sarmaşık Cafe, just 5 minutes from the hotel. They have a very large, walled in yard with tables scattered throughout. We were at least 20 feet from all the other tables. They also had plenty of space for kids to run around and play while waiting for food. Kids both got Tavuk Şiş (marinated chicken kebabs) and I got chicken fajitas. Kids ended the meal with ice cream, while I got a slice of cheesecake and DH got tiramisu. Very pleasant spot for a meal and good food.
I was impressed with the Hilton Garden Inn. Our room was a king suite, with a completely separate (with door) bedroom. The living room had a pull out sofa (that became a bed slightly wider than a twin). They also set up a cot without us even asking. That room also had 2 chairs and a desk area, plus a mini fridge and tv. Kids slept in there. The bedroom had a king bed, chair and table, tv, and the bathroom. Our suite had a shower only, but other king suits have a bathtub (so ask, if that’s important to you).
Because of Covid, they did not do housekeeping during your stay unless requested. For breakfast, you could have a cold continental breakfast delivered to your room, or go to the restaurant for a hot breakfast. Every person got a plate of mini Turkish breakfast and then eggs made to order. They also brought out bread and you had a choice of coffee, tea, juice, milk, or water. The mini Turkish breakfast plates had various cheese, a sliced deli meat, watermelon, green melon, olives, cucumbers, and tomato. Unfortunately, my kids don’t love Turkish breakfast as DS only eats the cucumber and DD eats the melon and cucumber only. I was glad I had brought DS his favorite Larabars and applesauce pouches. DD prefers her eggs hardboiled, which weren’t an option the first day, but were the 2nd day. But safety wise, everything seemed very safe. People were spread out, food and silverware were wrapped, and servers were wearing masks.
Our 2nd day in Safranbolu, we drove to Amasra. I have a separate blog post about our trip there. It was great and I highly recommend it. That night we ate dinner at Peron Steakhouse, also just a few minutes from our hotel. They have a backyard eating area that isn’t apparent from the road and we ate there. Not space for kids to run around, but away from the road traffic at least. I got Kaşarlı Köfte, which is essentially 2 hamburgers made from the Turkish meatball meat with melted white cheese on top. Like a bunless burger. DD7 got a Köfte burger, DS4 got Tavuk Şiş, and DH got a mixed meat platter that came with I think 4 different types of meat. Quite good! The restaurant (as its name implies) is focused on meat and probably not the best choice for a vegetarian. They brought out some great watermelon at the end as a gift.
Our 3rd and final day in Safranbolu, we walked back downtown for some more sightseeing and shopping. This time we took a slightly different walking route which avoided the steepest and slipperiest of the paths and stayed more on roads. The roads had very little traffic and it was very pleasant working our way downhill, looking at the views. I love the red roofs of Ottoman houses.
In town, we did a bit of shopping. We popped out into a metal working area. The kids both got magic lamps for genies or jinns. The proprietor of the shop was great, and allowed me to take a photo of him. Right by the shops there was also an overlook spot to look down into the canyon that Safranbolu is built over.
We wandered through a few more shops, and ended up buying some bowls we’ll use for ice cream. They are colorful and fun. I bought some soap–saffron, donkey milk, and lavender. DH got some ground saffron Turkish coffee and DD7 bought necklaces for friends. I was amazed by how cheap everything was. The bars of soap were pretty good sized and were 5 for 20 tl! That’s less than $3. The bowls were 3 for 20 tl and the necklaces were 3 for 10tl. The metal genie lamps were 40tl each (about $5.50).
Not much in terms of playgrounds that we could find. This one pictured above was old, but the kids enjoyed climbing on it a bit.
Took a taxi back to the hotel to pack and check out. Then went to eat lunch at Sosyete Ocakbaşı Restaurant, just around the corner from the hotel. It was also a meat heavy place. Quite good and again, they brought out watermelon at the end!
On our drive back to Ankara, we checked out Soğuksu National Park, but didn’t end up hiking. It was very busy with locals (being a Saturday afternoon) and while we could find a number of picnic areas, we couldn’t find trail heads to get away from the crowds. But it had some pretty views!