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.
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.
The Armenian Church of Apostles just below the castle, now known as Kümbet or Kethuda Mosque (Kümbet/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.
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.
Gravier cheese is delicious! You can enjoy having some from the shops near to castle. 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 ruins of the City of Ani, which is situated some 45km away from Kars. 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.