Kars is a city in Eastern Anatolia. It is most frequently visited as a jumping off point for travelers going to Ani, but it is a viable destination in its own right for its 19th century Russian imperial buildings, and, of course, its role as the setting for Orhan Pamuk's famous novel Snow.
Kars is one of the highest cities in Turkey, situated at an altitude of about 2000 metres over the sea level. Complemented with the distance to the sea, this makes the climate of this area the harshest in Turkey with winter temperatures regularly below -30 C at nights (and no warmer than -15 C during the day). There is not a real summer season in Kars, only a short spring in July and August (this is also the wettest season) and a long, bitterly cold, and heavily snowy winter during the rest of the year. Keep in mind that nighttime temperatures can fall below zero degree (Celsius) in any time of the year (even in August).
The setting of Orhan Pamuk's novel Snow is Kars.
By bus - most companies serve Kars - though you might need to change bus at either Erzurum or Iğdır, depending on where you come from. Be sure to check whether there are services available.
By train - Direct trains (the Doğu Express) run daily from Ankara to Kars, departing at 6 pm and arriving 24 hours later. The return train leaves Kars around 8 am. There are couchettes, a sleeping car and a buffet. The main stops along the route are Kayseri, Sivas, Erzincan and Erzurum: for details see Turkish railways website at tcdd.gov.tr. Note that Ankara railway station is partially closed for rebuilding until early 2018, with bus replacements to Irmak 60 km east of the city, and altered timings.
A new railway line is under construction from Kars to Tbilisi, thus connecting to Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. This project has been delayed but may open in 2017. A new high-speed line is also under construction from Ankara eastwards, with completion perhaps in 2023.
By plane - AnadoluJet offers regular flights from Ankara to Kars airport. There are direct flights from Istanbul - Sabiha Gökçen airport (Pegasus, AnadoluJet) and Istanbul - Atatürk airport (Turkish airlines) to Kars airport. Prices start from 59TL including all fees.
There are a few taxis serving the city centre. It's a pretty small place so it's quite possible to cover it by foot.
Most important reason for the tourist to visit Kars is Ani Öckbashi ruins, see the Get Around Section.
Kars Castle - situated on the side of the hill facing the city, Kars Castle is one of the few sights to see within Kars. It's a short climb from the city centre, and is worth climbing for the view of the city. The castle was built in 1153 A.D. later destroyed by Mongol invaders and rebuilt in 1579. WARNING! In October 2013, a fat little kid (12-13 years old) was telling foreigners they had to pay him to visit the castle and threatened to call the police if they didn't pay. Do NOT give him (them?) any money. Admission is free!
Russian/Armenian architecture along the grid of old town's streets, realized during the Russian occupation of the city in 1878–1918, singles out the city in Turkey. Fethiye Mosque (Fethiye Camii) in the city centre, originally built by Russians in the occupation period as a church, is the only mosque in Turkey having that distinctive architectural style.7
Kars Museum of Archeology. Hard To Find, but very good exhibitioning, open until 5pms.
The Armenian Church of Apostles just below the castle, now known as Kethuda Mosque (Kethuda Camii), is also well worth a look. The building was originally an Armenian church built in 10th century, and upon capturing the city, Ottomans converted it to a mosque in 1579. Later, when Russians came over, it became a church again, this time serving Russian Orthodox believers. After the Turks took back the city, it served for non-religious purposes for a time (such as a warehouse), and in 1998 consecrated as a mosque again. The monument is often closed in Winter, and apparent only open for Friday Müslim prayer - make sure to check times before to go.
" Armenian Kilise church of Surb Astuacacin" in ruins, at the foot base of the castle hill, opposite the river to ruined hamam, just walk up hills direction, left of the footpath to castle, where old houses use to be. You will see building ruin with multi-colored stones, like in old photo of that kilise here http://img.xooimage.com/files99/e/5/6/1920-y-l-na-kadar...yem-x500-3de9aa0.jpg
Home of famous Armenias poet "Yeghushe Charents" situated next to the old bridge.
Ancient Armenian graveyard full of thousands of Khachkars which is located on the left side of the Castle on the hill. The entire hill is covered with broken Khachkars.
Cuma Hammam by the river - you can see it from the castle. Completely derelict but worth a look inside if you don't mind pigeons and a lot of broken glass.
Local Honey & Gravier cheese are the speciality of Kars. You can enjoy having some from the shops near to castle and in the downtown. You can try the Soldier Souvenirs Passage on the main street with a lion statue sells stuff for rare collector's items.
A local speciality is goose (kaz), usually made into a stew.
Ani - A visit to Eastern Anatolia is not complete without a visit to the Ancient Ermenian ruins of Ani, capital of medieval Ermenia, big churches some with wallpainting, with also the oldest Türkic Mosque there, build after a conquest by a Seljuk in 11th century with minaret. which is situated some 45km away from Kars, with good road connection. There is much more informations about Ani on Ermenian website here http://virtualani.org/
It is best to charter a taxi (80TL+) or get a guide. Most hotels can help you get in contact with Celil, a friendly local with great English who will arrange for you and any other tourists he can find to share a taxi ride (or dolmuş if there are enough people). If you are alone, expect to pay around 100TL. For more people, the price is significantly steeper but being split between two or more people, you will probably only pay something between 30 and 80 each. Bargain hard and expect other travelers showing up on the same bus.
There is a local bus which departs from next to Antik Cafe at 9am sharp (corner of Faikbey cd & Gazi Ahmet Pasa cd.), it's 14tl return, leaves Ani to return to town at 1150 so you have about 2 hours to explore the ruins. Most hotels will tell you the bus doesn't run but they will also happen to know a guy who is able to take you there for a premium ;) If more people take the bus there is a better chance it will keep running. (June 2017)
Kizil Kilise 10 kilometer North-East from Ani, just follow easy to driving village dirt road, in small village of Yağkesen / Yagikesken. Very well-preserved Ermenian Kilise (churche) from century the 13th, much decoration and carving. Rotunda still intact, building not collapses, you can go inside, is no fee, free in yard of farmer. Tourist rarely visited.
Oğuzlu Kilise 5 kilometer North-East from Ani, in big farming village of Oğuzlu. Ruin of Ermenian Kilise (churche) from century the 9th, some carvings, but much ruin. Is no fee, free. Tourist rarely visited, but is so easy from Ani old city Öckbashi.
'Kümbet Kilise 10 Kilometer south Kars,right beside the motorway to Erzurum, just 500 meter from road. Old Ermenian church, from 11th century with big decoration, but rotunda is collapsed. Is no fee, free. It is possibles to hitch-hike, because many car drive motorway to Erzurum direction from Kars.
'Karmirvank Kilise One hour to walk north from Ani old city Öckbashi, along river, behind restaurant path, but check if Türkish army allow access with local guide or shop owner. Can vary.
'Şeytan Kalesi 60 Kilometer North East from Kars just off the 1 km east of the motorway at Yıldırımtepe village, north of Çıldır city - Most unconquerables Kalesi (castle) in World, very beautifulest sceneristics. Building by Uratu medieval people on rocky outpost on top deepest of valley. Also has ruin of Ermenian (?) church on Kalesi (castle) land, foundations only remain. Well maintained path lead to castle, but bring torcheslight for climb up stair in Kalesi (castle) house.
'Doğruyol Kilise & Çıldır Lake On highway towards Çıldır / Şeytan Kalesi, in village of Doğruyol (50 kilometer North East from Kars) right beside the motorway. Old Ermenian church from 9th century, converted to Camii (mosque) in medieval time, with medieval minaret. Often locked, but worth try and find key in village. Now villagemens use newer Camii (mosque) right next door. Doğruyol right next to one of cleanlinest, bigest mountain lake in Türkiye - Çıldır Lake very big, with fishings.
'Gülyüzü Köyü Kilise On Motorway towards Çıldır / Şeytan Kalesi, at the begining of Çıldır Lake when drive from Kars. Very ruined, Ermenian Kilise church from 10th century. Local sign sayed church is from Uratu also, but not clearest. To get there turning Off motorway at Gönülalan junction in the direction to the left on to the Village road to Gülyüzü (when you driveing from Kars). Gülyüzü is the second village along the village road:
'Taşköprü Urartu Royal Inscription On Motorway towards Çıldır / Şeytan Kalesi, at the begining of Çıldır Lake when drive from Kars. Most importantest old Uratu Royal Great King named Sarduri cunieformed Inscription from Century the 8th Before Isa (BC), right in the Taşköprü village. To get there turning off at Gönülalan junction in the direction to the left on to the Village road to Gülyüzü (when you driveing from Kars). Taşköprü is the first village along the village road.
'Közluca Kilise 8km South West of Ani old city Öckbashi ruins. Old Ermenian monastery Öckbashi ruins from century the 10th, with many decorative and carving. Just turn of motorway to the direction right at the sign for Közluca (when you driveing from Kars). If you are taking Taxi or guided to Ani, you can sometime negotiate extra visit to Közluca Kilise for no extra money charge, because is so close to road. But some Türkish nationalist driver they not drive Közluca because village now has some Kürdish peoples. Make sure to ask about Közluca Kürdish village drive to at the start of your voyage, otherwise driver just sometimes used later excuse to not go, but take money for trip.
Georgia - Dolmus to Ardahan at 8am 15TL, once in Ardahan tell the driver you want to go to Georgia and they should drop you off as a bus station, the ticket office on the right hand side "Ozlem Ardahan" should be able to sort you transport to Georgia, paid 60TL to get to Tbilisi. (June 2017)