Mardin is an important town in Southeastern Turkey. The historic settlement is perched on the edge of a rocky hill above the plains of Mesopotamia. The golden brick architecture is incredibly picturesque with mosque minarets poking up through the roof tops. The town is at a strategic geographic corner between Syria, Iraq and Turkey and it has an incredibly interesting blend of cultures and religions.
After crossing the border from Iraqi Kurdistan, I arrived in Mardin. I really hadn’t known much about the town before arriving there, other than having read that it was worth a stop. It simply took my 20 minute hike up through the town from where the bus had dropped me to decide that I was really going to like it.
Here’s my guide to exploring Mardin and Midyat in Eastern Turkey, including the best things to do in Mardin and day trips to surrounding ruins and towns.
How to get to Mardin
From Iraqi Kurdistan | I came from Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan on a bus that took me across the border. I paid USD$25 for a ticket from Duhok to Mardin (it’s the same price if you want to get dropped in Diyarbakir as well). The company I used was Cizre Nur and the whole journey took 8 hours. You can read about my border crossing report here.
From Diyarbakir | There are large buses as well as dolmuses that run between Diyarbakir and Mardin. You can usually find a few departures through the day. The journey takes around 1.5 hours and costs around 20 TL (AU$4).
From Sanliurfa | There are large buses and dolmuses that head to Mardin that pass through Urfa. The journey takes around 3 hours and costs around 35 TL (AU$7). You can read about Urfa in my post here.
From elsewhere in Turkey | There is an airport around 20km southeast of the main town. There are regular flights to Istanbul, especially in local holiday time when domestic tourists head to Mardin. Otherwise, there are some long distance buses that connect Mardin with larger cities.
Where to stay in Mardin
Merdin Boutique Hotel | A traditional style, stone building that has incredible views over the Syrian plains. The staff were also very kind and helpful and the breakfast was one of the best I’ve had, with an incredible spread for each person. I paid 25 euros for a single room per night with breakfast included, which is very reasonable for Mardin. Find the most recent prices here.
Find more accommodation in Mardin here.
Where to eat
Seyr-i-Merdin is a famous restaurant in Mardin and has a rooftop seating area with unbeatable views of the town and Mesopotamia. It’s incredibly popular though and you have to get there early to get a top table. They have traditional food and the prices are a bit on the steeper side but worth it for the experience.
A local favourite meal is lahmacun or Turkish pizza, which is dough topped with mince meat and herbs. I was told that the best place to go was Oz Yasemin Pide Lahmacun on the Main Street where it’s cheap and delicious.
How to explore Mardin
Mardin can easily be explored on foot. The winding cobblestone streets are beautiful and best explored as you aimlessly get lost amongst them. The main street that runs through old Mardin is known as 1 Cadde. This is quite commercialised and touristy and is where you’ll find the most traffic, shops, restaurants and cafes. However, branching off from there you’ll find plenty of quiet backstreets.
Any day trips to surrounding towns and ruins can easily be explored by public transport or taxi, depending on where you want to go. The main bus station in Mardin is a bit of a walk from the old town, but has coaches and minibuses servicing all towns. Otherwise, you’ll find taxis scattered around the Main Street and lower down in the newer part of town.
Best things to do in Mardin
You could realistically tick off these main attractions in a day by just walking around on foot. Many of the main attractions are all close together and can easily be found on Maps.Me. If you pin them all, you’ll be able to find easily as you wander the streets.
Built in the 11th century, this mosque is now tucked inside the bazaar area. Its minaret is its main feature and it stands out from many places in the city.
This shopping street has a number of beautiful handicraft shops, housed in a traditional style bazaar. It runs parallel to the main street, just on the next level down.
Dating back to the 14th century, the madrassa’s main attraction is its beautiful doorway, otherwise on the inside is pretty courtyards and a mosque.
It’s housed in an old, restored mansion and has a nice archaeological collection and history of the area. The ticket price is 7TL (AUD$2).
Sakıp Sabancı City Museum
It’s housed in former army barracks which traces the history of the town and the ethnic mix of people who call it home. There’s also an art gallery there showcasing a rotation of Turkish artists work. You’ll find English translations of the information and signs and it’s incredibly well set out.
Forty Martyrs Church
This incredibly old church dates back to the 4th century and still holds mass on weekends.
The old bazaar area is down from the main street and you can reach it by following any of the small staircases or alleyways that lead down from the street. It’s very easy to get lost in the labyrinth of skinny alleys selling everything from clothing to fresh produce and souvenirs. If you take some of the even quieter streets you can also find workshops and butchers where men are working to produce what you see in the shops.
The best way to start exploring the bazaar is by heading to the Mardin Muzesi and taking the road that leads down but still parallel to the main road on the opposite side of the road to the museum complex. You’ll see lots of food stalls and shops selling olives, cheeses and fresh produce, and if you keep following it straight you’ll come into the covered bazaar and eventually end up at Ulu Cami.
People were very friendly, and taking photos was relatively well accepted, just always ask beforehand if you’re taking a photo of someone or their products.
Deyrulzafaran or Mor Hananyo Monastery
Deyrulzafaran is a Syrian Orthodox Christian monastery that dates as far back as the 5th century. It’s around 7km east of Mardin and is best visited with a local taxi.
it’s a well kept monastery and citadel, now offering guided tours to visitors. It’s very picturesque and a popular place to visit.
Day trip to Midyat
If the picturesque, sandy coloured buildings of Mardin have you drooling, then I suggest you also take a day trip to Midyat, another of Southeastern Turkey’s ancient towns. It was once home to a large Syrian Orthodox Christian community, who have mostly now migrated away after suffering heavy persecution in the 20th century. However, their old churches with towering, skinny bell towers still dot the old town.
Midyat has now grown into a large sprawl with many new developments and modern apartment buildings and shops. However, the small old town remains well intact and is great for exploring it’s back streets.
How to get to Midyat from Mardin
There are regular minibuses leaving Mardin for Midyat when full and the trip takes 1 hour. A seat costs 15TL (AUD$4) one way. They leave from Mardin’s main otogar (bus station) which is 3km away from the centre. It’s possible to walk or you can take one of the small public buses that regularly travels through old Mardin, just make sure it says otogar on the windscreen.
Midyat is quite spread out and the minibus first dropped people in the Estel Otogar, which is in the newer part of the town. He then continued on to the main roundabout, another five minutes down the road, which is where the old town lies beyond. The drivers are generally pretty helpful and will assume that you want to see the old town.
What to do in Midyat
Once you cross over the roundabout and head into the old town there’s not as many sights as Mardin. The appeal simply lies in gawking at the old churches and large stone houses with huge courtyards and intricately carved details.
The churches are not always open and you’ll have to try your luck to see if the caretaker is around. I was lucky enough to get into one, Mor Barsarmo Kiliesi, just before I was set to return to Mardin. If visiting on weekends, I would assume you’ll have more luck.
A must see, is Devlet Konuk Evi, an old house, which also opens its doors for anyone who wants to have a look inside the traditional building and climb its incredible rooftop terrace which has the best view over the old town. They charge 5TL (AUD$1.50) for this privilege and it’s incredibly worth it.
The streets are pretty quiet and you’ll mostly find locals and children going about their day. Some of the kids will offer their ‘guide service’ to show you inside their home or a nearby church and of course, they’ll expect a tip.
There are a couple of tea shops scattered around the outside of the old town, towards the bazaar area near the roundabout. I stopped in one to have a cold drink, as it was a hot day. The owner was so nice, despite no English, he gave me a lemon soda, followed with chai and a plate of grapes and then proceeded to not charge me for it. Through Google Translate he simply said, “It’s my gift to you. Thank you for stopping here.”
Getting back to Mardin
The Midyat otogar is not far from the old town and south of the main roundabout. Minibuses go back to Mardin when full and it’s best to head there before 6pm or otherwise you may be stuck in Midyat for the night.
Other day trips from Mardin
There are a couple of other day trips to take outside of Mardin, if you have more time.
Dara is a Roman ruins complex 40km southeast of Mardin and receives much less tourists than many of Turkey’s other archaeological sites. Hiring a taxi would be your best bet to get there.
Tür Abdin is a region just 10km east of Mardin where you can find scattered Syrian Orthodox churches. It’s still home to a small community of Christians, although most migrated away during the 20th century when Turkey expelled many of them.