Earth : Europe : Turkey : Eastern Anatolia : Van
Van (pronounced vahn, like the English word one) is in Turkey.
The city of Van stands near the eastern shore of Lake Van (Van Gölü), a soda-salt lake also known locally as Van Denizi (“the sea of Van”). This lake, the largest in Turkey, lies 1640 metres above sea level and is ringed by high mountains, so the area has a harsh continental climate.
The region is historically important as the centre of the Urartu and Armenian kingdoms. It later came under the rule of Byzantines, Seljuks and then the Ottomans. The old city, near the lake shore and standing on the Silk Road, was devastated in the wars and massacres of 1915 – 1920. The present-day city has been built some 5 km further east inland. It was further damaged by the earthquake of 2011.
Buses run several times a day to Ankara (19 hours), Istanbul (25 hours) and all major cities in Turkey, some involving a change to a connecting bus: see Kamil Koc website for times and prices. Buses run from the Otogar, 3 km NW of town centre. Free shuttle buses run from the main ticket offices in the town centre but allow at least 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time.
Frequent dolmuses run from town centre to Tatvan (100 km, 2 hrs) via the south lake shore, Highway D300. There are no direct services around the north shore. Dolmuses also run north to Doğubeyazıt (185 km, 2½ hrs).
The border crossing to Iran, 100 km away at Kapikoy / Razi, is open for light vehicles, but (as of 2016) no buses or dolmuses cross by this route. Indeed with the suspension of the rail service (see below), this means no public transport across the border by the direct route from Van. It may be possible to make a private arrangement with taxis, but the simplest option is to travel to Dogubeyazit for transport into Iran via Bazargan.
Direct trains (the Vangölü Express) run twice a week from Ankara to Tatvan, on the western shore of Lake Van. The journey is scheduled to take 26-27 hours but is often delayed. There are couchettes and a sleeping car but no buffet. The main stops along the route are Kayseri, Sivas, Malatya and Elazig. For details see Turkish railways website at tcdd.gov.tr, but beware that the timetable and the online booking system give different days of running for this service. Note also 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.
The Vangölü Express usually arrives in Tatvan mid-afternoon, so you should be able to reach Van the same evening – walk 1 km south to town centre to pick up a dolmus. The train back to Ankara departs about 7 am so that will mean staying in Tatvan the night before: there are plenty of hotels and other facilities.
Until July 2015 there was also a weekly international train from Ankara (the Trans-Asia Express) which continued from Tatvan to Iran, via a ferry across Lake Van, then from Van overnight to Tabriz and Tehran. Another train also ran between Van and Tabriz. These cross-border services have all been suspended for reasons variously cited as security and track improvements.
A high-speed line is under construction from Ankara eastwards, with completion perhaps in 2023. It is also intended eventually to build a railway around the lake between Van and Tatvan. This would actually create an unbroken rail link between Europe and the Indian subcontinent; but this project remains an aspiration, with no firm plans.
Van (Ferit Melen) airport is 5-10 km south of the city, off Highway D300 towards Tatvan. There are regular flights to Istanbul Ataturk, Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen, Ankara, Adana, Izmir and Antalya.
Transport between airport and town centre:
• From just outside the terminal, taxis to the city cost 20 YTL
• From the road opposite the terminal, a town bus (prominently marked “Van”) runs twice an hour
• Or walk 300 metres to the main road and flag down a dolmus, 1 YTL
The ride to town takes about 15 minutes. In town, dolmuses for the airport leave from near Hotel Akdamar on Kazim Karabekir Caddesi.
The ferry runs three times a day, at variable times, between Tatvan and Van. The lake crossing takes 4 hours. A new ferry was installed in December 2015.
The city is famous for its breakfast salons (kahvaltı salonu), in which for about 10 lira, you are served a really filling breakfast including locally produced cheese (different types, including "otlu peynir") and honey, tahini, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, kaymak (similar to clotted cream), and still-warm bread. The price usually includes an unlimited amount of tea. Locals tend to avoid "Breakfast Street", and favor businesses that are just off the main roads. Egg dishes are also prepared upon request, including menemen.
There are quite a few bars within the Çarsi (downtown area), but travelers--especially women--should be wary of visiting a pub/restaurant hybrid, as it's typically known as a place to find 'companionship'.
Niçe is just off of Maras Street, and offers opera on television, and various western music. Small, loud, and smoky, Niçe has a great 'dive bar' aesthetic. Workers are accustomed to the seeing the occasional foreigner, and do their best to accommodate. In Winter, they serve mulled wine.
The Lop Bar is between Cumhuriet and Sanat Street, on a second floor walk-up. There's live music most weekends, a staff that's helpful, large operable windows, and affordable prices. Be sure to get a 'şişe' (bottle). Decent cocktails are available.
The North Shield is tucked away in the back of Tamara Otel (just between Sanat and Maraş Streets). Upon entering the hotel, head left through a sliding door, down a hall, and up the stairs. While slightly more expensive than other bars, football matches are generally shown in a British pub reproduction and the air has adequate ventilation.
Plenty of hotels around the northern end of the bazaar.