Gaziantep is a bit off the tourist-beaten track in Turkey, isn’t it? It’s far from other more popular places like Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Antalya.
Southeastern Turkey doesn’t get a lot of press and it’s not that well-known as a tourist destination.
When it does get in the news, it’s for a bad thing – for example the devastating earthquake that decimated the region in February 2023.
So is Gaziantep worth visiting? I say yes! It’s the culinary powerhouse of Turkey, a country already famous for its delicious food. Gaziantep is charming, ancient, and delicious! Let’s take a closer look.
The story of the name: Why not just Antep?
Let’s learn something about the city even before stepping foot in it!
A hundred years ago the city was just Antep. But today it’s Gaziantep. Why?
The prefix “Gazi”, is a title that the great Turkish hero Mustafa Kemal also has. Gazi means something along the lines of “veteran” in Turkish.
The Veteran Antep. Why though?
The prefix was given to the city by the Grand National Assembly of the nascent Turkish Republic after the retreat of the French occupying forces in 1921. This was a war of great importance for Turkey and its people and the brave resistance of multiple cities guaranteed the victory.
Two other cities also earned recognition through prefixes. Urfa became Şanlıurfa and Maraş became Kahramanmaraş.
What is Gaziantep famous for?
Gaziantep is frequently dubbed Turkey’s kitchen. It has many of Turkey’s favorite foods and some unique ones to top it all off. Thus, many of the things Gaziantep is famous for have to do with food!
Turkey is the homeland of the pistachio nut! But did you know that pistachios in Turkey are called “Antep Fıstık”, named after the town of Antep because together with Sanliurfa they produce well over 80% of Turkey’s entire pistachio output?
The pistachio is so famous in Gaziantep! You can see it on top of the desserts baklava, kunefe, and katmer, inside Turkish delight, packaged roasted or raw, sweet or savory. There’s even a whole statue of a pistachio nut in Gaziantep!
I hinted at that in the previous paragraph with pistachio being a common topping for all things sugar in Gaziantep.
Consider this: Gaziantep’s baklava is probably the best in Turkey, the katmer is soft and creamy, the kunefe in Gaziantep is heavily influenced by nearby Syria (and the Arabs make better kunefe than the Turks) and the burmali kadayif is unlike any other in all of Turkey!
To buy some of the baklava or kadaif or any of the other desserts that use pistachio, head to Gaziler Street where you will find a vast array of small dessert shops.
I myself am a huge fan of katmer, so I sat down at one of the still open street shops (note that most shops in the Çarşı, aka the market, close at sunset) and had an absolutely mouthwatering one.
Gaziantep is a World Gastronomy City – a recognition by UNESCO for cities with a vibrant culinary scene.
You literally cannot make a mistake by eating in Gaziantep – there are good restaurants and there are amazing restaurants – no bad ones.
You must try the local kebab variation called Alinazik kebab. It’s your recognizable Turkish kebab over a plateau of mashed smoked eggplant. Simply delicious.
Gaziantep also has particularly outstanding Lahmacun – the Turkish Pizza. Even though you can find this meal anywhere across Turkey, there’s something amazing about the flavor and taste of lahmacun in Gaziantep.
A lot of cities around the world claim to be very hospitable and they probably are. And so is Gaziantep.
People are friendly, welcoming, and always willing to accommodate you on a small chair in front of their store and chat with you. A popular vlogger – Drew Binsky – had a hard time even paying in Gaziantep as the locals gave him everything for free! Here, take a look at his video about the city:
Copper, silver, and gold
Gaziantep has been influenced by many civilizations over the centuries and has been a melting pot of ideas and people.
You can catch a hint of that in the eclectic bazaars that sell anything and everything, but always in typical Turkish style.
What Gaziantep is most known for though is the copper-ware. Copperworking is an art here and you can find works displayed in any bazaar in the city.
The more luxurious gold and silver are not too far behind as the traditional workshops are still operating to this day.
What to visit in Gaziantep?
Gaziantep is not a large city and you can easily walk to most of the attractions. They are packed in the city center. You need 1 day to visit Gaziantep, but you will have things to do even if you stay 2 or 3 days.
After taking a bus from either the airport or the bus station (by the way, you can pay for all buses and museums using your debit card directly) you are greeted by the towering presence of Gaziantep Castle.
It provides a boatload of historical information in its museum. The best part about it is the breathtaking views from above!
There wasn’t much left at the top of the castle except for scant ruins even before the 2023 earthquake, but you will have a 360 view of the city.
During the 7.8 earthquake, Gaziantep Castle was damaged badly and you could see stones, pieces of the wall, and other debris scattered around the castle. See more about the immediate aftermath of the earthquake on Gaziantep Castle here.
Restoration works are in progress and I’m sure that soon, the castle will be back to its former glory. Gaziantep is currently temporarily closed until fully restored and safe.
Panorama Aralik 25 Museum
I strongly recommend the new, detailed, and elaborate Panorama Aralik 25 Museum (Aralik is the Turkish word for December, the date of eventual liberation in 1921) located very near the city center.
It’s exceptionally well organized and only costs 20 TL / 0.75$ as of 2023, which is a big bargain.
In the museum, you will learn everything about the war against the French and British in the years after WW1.
It overlaps the information presented in Gaziantep Castle, so is a good substitute (I’d argue even better) until the castle is restored and reopened.
Zeugma Mosaics Museum
After you get down from the castle, a 15-minute walk away is the Zeugma Mosaics Museum.
The entrance fee there is 65 TL, which is on the expensive site when it comes to museums in Gaziantep.
However, the mosaics are well-preserved and totally worth it if you are into that sort of stuff. It’s the largest mosaics museum in the world after all!
The most renowned mosaic is The Gypsy Girl.
The Hammam Museum was one of my favorite places in Gaziantep.
It’s housed inside an actual hammam built in 1577 and you can learn about the specifics of Ottoman baths all across Anatolia.
For 15 TL (0.55$) it’s well worth the 30-minute visit.
You can’t experience bathing in the museum, but there is a nearby authentic hammam called Tarihi Naip Hamamı that is extremely affordable (unlike most of the tourist traps in Istanbul around Hagia Sophia).
Kapalı Çarşı Gaziantep
The Grand Bazaar is not only in Istanbul! Gaziantep has its own Kapalı Çarşı and to be completely honest, it’s so much better.
It’s much more authentic and the vendors are way less prone to try to rob you with exorbitant prices. It has a more Middle Eastern vibe too – the one in Istanbul has become more and more Westernized and looking a bit like a mall as years have gone by.
Gaziantep’s Kapalı Çarşı is the best place to buy some Turkish souvenirs to bring back home with you!
The Grand Bazaar is not the only market in Gaziantep. On the contrary – Gaziantep, being the city of food and merchants, is famous for its many markets.
Almaci Pazari specializes in dried fruits, herbs, spices, pistachios of course, as well as copperware and fabrics.
Where is Gaziantep and how to get there?
Gaziantep is in Southeastern Turkey. The distance from popular destinations in Turkey are as follows:
- Istanbul (16-hour bus ride or 1-hour flight);
- Izmir (15 hours by bus);
- Antalya (14 hours by bus);
- Cappadocia (8 hours bus from Nevsehir).
As you can see, it takes a while to get there. I suggest pairing it up with other destinations in Southeast Turkey like Sanliurfa (where you can also visit Gobekli Tepe, the world’s oldest temple) Diyarbakir, Mount Nemrut, Mardin, and Midyat.