11 Day Road Trip in the Black Sea and Eastern Anatolian Regions of Turkey with Kids: A Summary

A Church at the ruins of Ani, near the Armenian border and the Turkish town of Kars

If you’ve been following my blog posts, you’ll know that we did an 11 day road trip around the Black Sea Region and Eastern Anatolia in Turkey back in October with our two kids, who were 4 years 9 months and 7 years 5 months at the time. It was awesome, and I highly recommend it! I wrote detailed blog posts about each day, but I thought I’d summarize it here for anyone interested in duplicating all or part of it.

You’ll need your own car for this. Preferably one with plenty of space inside and has enough power to do some steep and winding mountain roads. I don’t really recommend the route in the winter as some of the roads are intense and snow is very likely. But if you do, you need excellent tires and four wheel drive. And nerves of steel!

This was our itinerary, with links to the appropriate blog posts:

Day 1: Drive from Ankara to Samsun on the Black Sea Coast. Approximately a 5 hour drive. We stopped for lunch in Çorum. Night 1 was spent at the Sheraton Grand Samsun Hotel, where we used Marriott points. It’s a great hotel and doesn’t use many points at all, so I highly recommend it if you have points to spend. Did the Bandirma Ferry Museum and walked along the sea.

Day 2: Drove from Samsun to Trabzon, also on the Black Sea Coast. Approximately a 5 hour drive. Stopped in Giresun for lunch and to explore the Giresun Castle. Stayed at the Radisson Blu Hotel. They had a family room with 2 connecting rooms. Walked to Trabzon Meydan Park and stopped at a playground.

Looking over the town of Giresun

Day 3: Did a day trip to Sumela Monastery, a 1 hour drive from Trabzon. Very cool place. Stayed at the Radisson Blu a second night.

Day 4: Drove from Trabzon to Kars, along the Black Sea through Rize and turning inland at Hopa. About a 7 hour drive. Stopped in Artvin for lunch. In Kars, stayed at the Hotel Katerina Sarayi. Booked 2 rooms (not connecting)

Inside the Sumela Monastery near Trabzon

Day 5: Day trip from to Ani Ruins on the Armenian border, a 45 minute drive away. In the afternoon, we did the Kars Castle and walked around Kars. Spent a 2nd night at the Hotel Katerina Sarayi.

Day 6: Drove from Kars to Van with a stop in Doğubeyazıt for lunch, to explore the İshak Paşa Sarayı (Palace) and see Mount Ararat from a distance. About 5.5 hours from Kars to Van via Doğubeyazıt. In Van, we stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton in the Presidential/King Suite (which was actually rather disappointing, though spacious).

Looking over the İshak Paşa Sarayı near Doğubeyazıt and Mount Ararat

Day 7: Day trip Akdamar Island on Lake Van via a boat from Gevaş. Explored the Armenian Church on the island, then did a trip to Van Castle in downtown Van. Spent the night at the DoubleTree again.

Day 8: Our laziest day, we did an outing to Edremit to walk along the lake and played at several playgrounds/parks. Spent the night at the DoubleTree again.

Private boat to Akdamar Island on Lake Van

Day 9: Drove from Van to Diyarbakır, about 4.75 hours. Explored the Diyarbakır Castle, Sülüklü Han, and the Grand Mosque. Spent the night at the Hilton Garden Inn in a King Corner Room.

Day 10: Breakfast at Hasan Paşa Hanı and then drove from Diyarbakır to Malatya, via Mount Nemrut. It was a 2.5 hour drive to Mount Nemrut, and then another 2.5 hours to Malatya. Hiked around Mount Nemrut and ate a light lunch at their cafe. VERY mountainous and winding route from Mount Nemrut to Malatya. Spent the night in the Ramada Plaza by Wyndham.

One of the giant heads on Mount Nemrut

Day 11: Drove from Malatya to Ankara, a 7.5 hour drive. Ate lunch just past Kayseri. (No separate blog post, see Day 10 for a few details)

What Would I Do Differently?

Samsun was probably my least favorite stop. I’d probably either skip it and drive the 9.5 hours straight to Trabzon, or spend the night in Amasya, an inland Black Sea region town that looks really cute. There is not a ton of things to do in Samsun as a tourist, aside from the Bandirma Ferry Museum.

2 nights in Van, rather than 3. So the larger region around Lake Van does have plenty to do, as long as you’re willing to drive a while. But right around the town of Van itself, there was not as much as I had hoped. Particularly since we were trying to stay outside. If it was not Covid time, and you like museums, there were a few more options. I would probably take my 3rd night in Van and change it to 2 nights in Diyarbakır. Or perhaps add in another town along the route. Or possibly 2 nights in Malatya, so we’d be able to see the apricot and copper bazaars. Another option would be to stay closer to Mount Nemrut and then stop in Cappadocia on the return to Ankara.

While we were mostly happy with our hotel choices and specifically picked chains because we wanted to be sure of Covid precautions (and that we’d understand them) and we wanted to have in-hotel breakfast options without hauling food around, you could also easily do the trip staying in B&Bs or AirBnBs. A friend did a modified version of our trip, and I believe they stayed all in AirBnbs. You won’t find luxurious ones in this region for the most part, but they are available.

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