Van (pronounced vahn, like the English word one) is in Eastern Anatolia, Turkey. It is located on the eastern shore of Lake Van (Van Gölü), a salt lake which is locally known as Van Denizi (“the sea of Van”). Lake Van is the largest lake in Turkey.
Van has been continuously inhabited since the days of the Urartians, an Iron Age people who established a state in the area between the 9th and 6th centuries BC, when it served as the Urartu capital of Tushpa (the very name of "Van" derives from the Urartian Biainili, which was the native word that the Urartians used to describe their country). The Urartians spoke a language that was unrelated to any other, except for the also extinct Hurrian that was spoken in the surrounding area, writing it with cuneiform that they imported from the Assyrians, their southern neighbours in Mesopotamia (ultimately deriving from the Sumerian script, the earliest system of writing).
Buses leave to most destinations in Turkey. A ticket to Diyarbakir costs 20 TL (09:00, 12:00 and 23:00, 6 hours), to Malatya costs 25 TL (08:30, 9 hours) and Trabzon costs 50 TL (07:30 and 12:00, 12 hours). Remember that most departure times are from the Otogar, a few km's out of town. Free shuttle buses run from the main ticket offices in the town centre but remember to be there at least half an hour before the scheduled departure time. As always, check details when buying the ticket.
Minibuses to Doğubeyazıt and Yuksekova for border crossings to Iran.
There are also two buses a day to and from Urmia in Iran costing only 15 Euros.
From Istanbul’s Haydarpaşa station (on the Asian side) there are trains direct to Tatvan, a town on the west side of Lake Van, two times a week, on Mondays and Fridays. This train (Vangölü Express) departs from Haydarpaşa at 10:55PM and calls in a number of cities and towns across Anatolia, including Eskişehir, Ankara, Kayseri, Sivas, and Malatya among others. According to the timetable all the way between Istanbul and Tatvan takes almost 40 hours (arriving in Tatvan at 2:17PM on Wednesdays and Sundays), frequent and probably long delays discluded. This is the longest (both in terms of miles traveled and time spent inside the train) non-international train journey in Turkey and gives a through panorama of almost all regions of inland Turkey. Inter Rail pass is accepted in this train. Once arrived in Tatvan, you can take the ferry which crosses the lake to Van.
International train from Istanbul to Tehran (Trans-Asia Express) calls in Van once per week (on Thursday evening, around 10pm, as of April 2011), see (note that this link is not up-to-date as of April 2011, despite being the official website, the Van-Tabriz train leaves Van on Tuesday evening, not Wednesday)
Apart from Trans-Asia, there is also another international train service once a week (on Tuesday evening as of April 2011) between Van station and Tabriz in NW Iran.
There is an airport (Van Airport) located about 5-10 km away from the city. There are flights from Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara and Antalya. Outside the airport there are taxis to the city costing 20 YTL, but you can also walk for the main road where dolmuses stop and take you to the city only for 1 YTL. A new bus run by the municipality now serves the security entrance to the airport (past the taxis and towards the main road).
To get to the airport from the city centre, dolmuses marked Hava Alani leave nearby Hotel Akdamar (Kazim Karabekir Caddesi). Drive takes about 15 minutes, making weird detour because of the major roadworks.
There is a ferry line in the Lake Van, between Tatvan on the western shoreline and Van on the eastern shoreline. The ferry going to Tatvan leaves three times a day, morning, noon and evening, though departure times are not fixed. 5TL. It takes four hours to cross the lake.
Lake Van Monster
Although there have been claims of witnessing a sea serpent inhabiting the Lake Van almost constantly since the days of the Urartians as well as associated myths throughout the history (and there is even a video allegedly captured the monster taken by a professor from the local university in 1997, leading to highly sensationalized news broadcasts on national TV channels), no one is quite sure whether the Lake Van Monster (Van Gölü Canavarı) exists or not. Some claim the alleged sightings are just those of local buffalos taking a dip in the lake mistaken for something less familiar, while others say it is all a hoax to boost tourism in the relatively underdeveloped and remote area. No matter what, the municipality of the lakeside town of Gevaş decided to honour the legendary serpent by putting up a 4-metre statue of a dinosaur-like creature in the middle of a roundabout.
- The castle, located on a high hill towards the waterfront from the town with great vistas over the town and the lake. Take a Dolmus to Kale; if you walk to and around the first small building you reach on the road you can find a path up behind it, otherwise go through the official entrance further down to road towards the water and pay the fee.
- The ancient Armenian church (Ahtamar or Akdamar) on a small island in Lake Van is beautiful, the church has recently been re-opened after an extensive restoration, making its impressive frescoes possible to see. Price of the boat ride is fixed at 7.50 TL per person for a return (don't have to take the same boat back, just take as long as you want on the island). Private boat costs 100 TL. A dolmus, signed Gevas / Akdamar, from the minibus otogar in the north-east of the city, to the boat dock which lies 50 km west of the city costs 5 TL.
- The old city of Tuşpa a few kilometres west of the city.
- Varagavank Monastery (Yedi Kilise) (10km east of Van in the village of Bakrachli). The once large and impressive Armenian monastery of Varagavank was partially destroyed during WWI, and swallowed up into a Kurdish village with homes built up against it. What remains however is worth a visit, with a nice entrance with a series of unique crosses carved into it, and the interior with a couple of remaining frescoes.
- Arter Monastery (charter boat). On an island a little northwest of Akhtamar Island and Monastery is the island and Armenian monastery of Arter. Originally with two churches, today only the Surp Asdvadzadzin Church remains, and is visible from the lake shore. A boat must be chartered to visit, as there is no regular ferry.
Local people mainly speak Turkish and Kurdish. The national language is Turkish, while the native language, Kurdish, is also very common. People, especially the young generation, understand some basic English.
On a pretty trivial note, if you need to practice your rusty Urartian, one great opportunity to do so is to meet Mehmet Kuşman, the retired security guard of the Urartu-era Sarduruhinili Castle (in the village of Çavuştepe 25 km south of Van), and one of the 38 people in the world who are proficient in the extinct language. He is completely self-taught in the language, and has no academic degree on history or linguistics whatsoever (in fact, he is an elementary school graduate).
- Urartu Halı (handmade carpet), Van edremit yolu 9.km (5 miles after Van airport), ☎ +904322179765. If you would like to see beautiful handmade carpets and kilims, you could stop for this free presentation. If you are going to buy, you need to bargain to get a reasonable price.
The city is famous for its breakfast halls (kahvaltı salonu), in which for about 10 lira, you are served a really filling breakfast including locally produced cheese (different types) and honey among many other stuff. The price usually includes an unlimited amount of tea. Look around.
Plenty of hotels around the northern end of the bazaar.
- Otel Şehrivan, Just off Sihke Caddesi (South of Sihke Caddesi close to Cumhurriyet Cd, opposite of Hazreti Ömer Mosque. Second street to the left coming from Cumhurriyet. Look for the big sign of the Çaldiran Hotel, the Şehrivan is just behind it.), ☎ 0539 729 6838. You can walk pretty much anywhere in 10 min, minibuses to Akdamar and the Kale are even closer. Rooms are small but clean, powerful showers, decent WiFi, no breakfast. Staff doesn't speak English but is rather helpful. Caution: There is a big mosque very close that has even longer and louder calls to prayer than usual in the morning. You may not be able to sleep through them. 40 TL for double room ensuite (September 2013).
- Hotel Emre, PTT Caddesi (One street west of the main drag of Cumhuriyet Caddesi, one block north of Hotel Yakut), ☎ 0544 497 47 46. A simple hotel with trivial hot showers in the morning. A little noisy outside during the day, but night is silent and with decent staff. No breakfast and no English, but the location is near everything and it's by far the best budget option after the earthquake. 30-40 TL per person.
- Hotel Ipek, Cumhuriyet Cad. 1. Sokak No: 3 (Close to the big downtown mosque, around the corner from the old Hotel Aslan, which was destructed during the earthquake), ☎ 0432 216 30 33. Simple basic hotel, a bit noisy but with friendly staff. No breakfast. single without/with shower 25/30 TL.
- Hotel Asur beside the tourist office, offers clean rooms with attached bathroom. Single 60-80 TL, Double 110 TL including breakfast. The staff speak English and are very helpful.
- Otel Bahar, Ordu Caddesi, Carsi Polis Karakolu Ustu (east of Cumhuriyet, near the big green mosque), ☎ 0539 729 6838. Good location, clean rooms, decent WiFi. However, bathroom door didn't close, room was cramped since it had 4 beds (supposed double room), no breakfast and staff was grumpy. No lift. 40 TL for double room ensuite (May 2015).
- Merit Sahmaran Hotel (4 star Hotel), Yeniköy mevkii. Sahil cad.12 KM. No:60 Edremit VAN. Merit Sahmaran Hotel is 4 star hotel near the Van Lake
- Iran is only 100 kilometres away in the east. It is possible to go by road or rail. (Be sure to have your visa before you arrive in Van)
- Doğubeyazıt to north, which is near another border gate to Iran, the stunning İshak Pasha Palace, and the legendary Mount Ararat—the highest mountain of Turkey. Doğubeyazıt has fairly extensive bus connections to other destinations in Eastern Anatolia and is an easily accessible destination from Van. Make sure to take the de-tour to Muradiye Waterfalls, located off the highway leading to Doğubeyazıt from Van.