Urfa

Urfa (also Şanlıurfa, formerly Edessa) is a city in Southeastern Anatolia, and the provincial capital of Şanlıurfa Province. The modern city of Urfa is situated about eighty kilometers east of the Euphrates River. It has a rapidly growing population.

Urfa has many excellent old buildings and plenty of connections with the Old Testament and Islamic tradition. The general atmosphere and feel of the city is absolutely Middle Eastern, with all those traditional yellow stone, arched architecture, people (ladies and gentlemen alike) in Middle-East dresses, and so on... When coming from West, you'll certainly feel like you are entering the Eastern world right in this place. People are extremely friendly, and the bazaar is great.

Understand

Skyline of Urfa

Since 1984, Urfa is officially renamed as Şanlıurfa (i.e. "Glorious Urfa"), which is how it is shown on maps and highway signs. Şanlıurfa is usually abbreviated to Ş.Urfa on non-official signs, such as those on buses or restaurants. However, colloquially and locally, the city is still almost always referred to Urfa.

Get in

By bus

Buses connect to most big and regional cities, such as Gaziantep to west and Mardin to east (both routes take around 4 hours, and cost 25 TL). Free transfers to and from the bus station provide by some accommodation choices. The bus station (otogar) is outside of the city center. There is a bus running from the main bus station in the center to the otogar, which takes about 30 minutes exit the otogar and take any bus running to the left that goes to "belediye" (1TL). From here either take bus R1 (0.50TL) to the Bazaar, or walk down Ataturk Blvd to the Bazaar. A taxi costs about 20 TL.

By plane

Three flights a day into and out of Sanliurfa's new airport: two Istanbul and one Ankara flight. Reasonably priced transfers from and to the airport with the Havas bus service. Some accommodation choices also provide free airport transfers since the airport is out of town. Flights available from Turkish Airlines: www.thy.com

Get around

The city has a network of minibus lines, although all sights are located in the easily walkable compact old town.

See

The pond of holy fish (Balıklıgöl) in the old city of Urfa

Legend also names it as the birthplace of Job.

Do

As it can get scorchingly hot during summer (40 degrees C or above), you'll be hard pressed to do anything during the afternoon. In the park around which the mosques are you can wait for the midday heat to subside while enjoying ice tea or other cold drinks (there are also a few bars on Sarayonu st.) before exploring the old town , the bazaar or the mosques. That's also the extent of what you can do in the evening. Sit down, have a cold non-alcoholic drink and play backgammon or just have a chat.

Join the locals and make a wish while feeding the holy fishes at the pond. According to the local belief, if you happen to feed one of the obviously rare white fishes, your wish will come true in a short time. Feeds, which are available from numerous vendors around the pond, are regulated by the local environmental association—it's highly discouraged to use anything other than the designated feed—and the standard fare of a small box of feed is 0.50 TL—don't pay anything more if the vendor tries to rip you off.

Have a Narghile (hookah) at the lake in the park near the mosques.

Buy

As Urfa is both a conservative and hot place, headscarves are popular with both the city's men and women. Particular to Urfa, is a shade of lavender with white embroidered or sequined patterns. The story goes that the Prime Minister of Turkey from 1993-1996 wore a scarf in that style when she visited Urfa, and now all the women wear them. They are worn by both men and women. They can be found in the bazaar. Pay no more than 10TL per scarf.

Likewise, the patterned Pos(h)i scarves are both popular and politically-charged purchases. They come in all manner of meaningless colours, however the Kurdish men wear those of black and white check, and the Arab men the red and white ones.

Eat

Be careful with food hygiene as very many people suffer stomach trouble in Urfa. Suspects include the water, the ice cream and the kebabs. This only refers to summer visits.

Famous are the çiğ köfte or raw kebabs. In Winter they are made with raw mince meat; in Summer they are made with fried egg. Definitely one of the most delicious dishes of the area.

Have a breakfast at the wonderful Zahter Kahvalti in Köprübasi Caddesi opposite the entrance of "Hotel Ipek Palace".

Urfa is famous for local pistachio desserts. You can find different versions in every bakery in the city center.

Drink

As Urfa is a city of pilgrimage, beer or any other alcoholic beverage is near impossible to get. Apart from that you're able to find any of the soft-drink brands sold in the rest of Turkey or stick to Turkish or Arabian tea (which is sweeter or minted).

The section of Urfa just over the Karakoyun River houses a few small, simple bars and the local Turkish beer Efes can be purchased to take away from a very few small shops in that area. The few small bars are humble affairs, frequented by men and playing local Kurdish and Turkish music.

Drink "murra" in the Gümrük Han - this is a very strong 1/2 teaspoon-sized cup of coffee. It is not overly pleasant, but it is a local experience.

More welcoming to the palate is Menengic (menen-gich) coffee - this is made from a paste of coffee and Menengic beans, and gives the cup a sweet, nutty flavour.

Sleep

Homestay

Budget

The cushions in dorms are full of dust as well as the carpets. People staying in a dorm share only one bathroom which can be a problem in busy times. The school which is across the street is really noisy and you can be sure it will wake you up every morning around 7. But on the other hand you can see into the school courtyard from one of the dorm rooms and watch the kids running around. The owner might try to overcharge you (for example, asking for 25 TL for a dorm bed, saying the prices have changed, whereas it's normally 20 TL). Even if this place is recommended in some guide books, it might be nicer to try something on your own.

The owner offers tours to Mt. Nemrut, Harran and Göbekli Tepe. In case of Göbekli Tepe he may sell himself as a guide, which is really not worth the money. A four person tour may cost 120 TL. He has been known to initially ask for more than 200TL. Try getting a taxi or a better tour. From 20 TL (€10; terrace dorms) to €37.

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Urfa seems to be a very safe city. There is a police sentry box in the Balıklıgöl/Pond area where you can report any problems.

However, according to the local youngsters, there is a possibly dangerous substance abuse going on around the gate of the citadel on the hill after night falls, so better avoid hanging around the stairs leading there at night.

Go next

Beehive houses of Harran


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