Most people think of Kars , 1500 km (932 miles) east of Istanbul and 215 km (134 miles) northeast of Erzurum (map) as a remote frontier post, the bitter end of Eastern Turkey, but I like it. It’s got interesting things to see, do and eat.
Most people—at least foreigners—also mispronounce its name. It’s KARSS (rhymes with ‘farce’ and ‘sparse’), not ‘karze.’
Now that that’s settled, Kars (alt. 1768 meters, 5800 feet, pop. 115,000), set on its high, chill plateau beneath a steel-grey sky, dominated by its stolid, forbidding citadel, does not immediately endear itself to the visitor, but give it a chance.
What to See & Do
It holds an odd mix of interesting things to see: the Armenian Church of the Apostles (937 AD), the 15th-century OttomanStone Bridge (Tas Köprü), the grim Citadel (1579), a 19th-century Russian cathedral, and a good local museum.
The region produces some of Turkey’s best butter and honey, and thick, rough but appealing carpets made with wool of different natural colors.
But most people come to Kars on the way to the ruins of Ani, the great medieval Armenian capital 45 km (28 miles) to the east on the Turkish-Armenian frontier.
Where to Stay
Kars is served by air, bus and train. Turkish Airlines has daily flights from Istanbul and Ankara to Kars, Pegasus Air has daily flights from Istanbul‘s Sabiha Gökçen Airport, but many travelers fly to Erzurum instead and rent a car or take a bus to Kars.Virtually all long-distance bus service is via Erzurum. Minibuses will take you to Ardahan, Iğdır or Sarıkamış.
To get to Yusufeli in the Kaçkar Mountains without your own car, you’ll need to go via Erzurum.
Although the Doğu Ekspresi train travels to and from Ankara several times per week, bus and plane are far faster. If you do go by train, it’s a better idea to catch the train at Erzurum, and to reserve a place in a sleeping car.
There is a rail link between Kars and Tiflis and Baku in Georgia for freight trains. By the end of 2019, the plan is to have passenger service in this line as well.
A Bit of History
By the way, Imperial Russia tried to grab eastern Turkish territory for centuries, and actually did grab Kars in 1878 and held it until 1920, which accounts for Kars’s having some Russian-style buildings.
—by Tom Brosnahan
Distances & Travel Times
Ani: 45 km (28 miles) E, 1 hour
Ankara: 1086 km (675 miles) W, 16 hours
Artvin: 207 km (129 miles) NW, 4.5 hours
Doğubayazıt: 290 km (180 miles) SE, 6 hours
Erzurum: 206 km (128 miles) W, 3.5 hours
Hopa: 277 km (172 miles) NW, 6.5 hours
Iğdır: 235 km (146 miles) SE, 5 hours
Istanbul: 1435 km (892 miles) W, 25 hours
Posof: 123 km (77 miles) N, 4 hours
Sarıkamış: 53 km (33 miles) SW, 1 hour
Trabzon: 434 km (270 miles) W, 8.5 hours
Yusufeli: 204 km (127 miles) W, 4 hours
|About Eastern Turkey|