But once I stowed my bag and hiked to the foot of Trabzon’s hill up the steep winding streets to the middle of town, I changed my mind. Trabzon was a pleasant place, even in the rain.”-Travel Wrıter Paul Theroux
Many travelers know about Turkey’s beautiful beaches, historic Roman ruins and bustling bazaars. But did you know a completely different part of Turkey exists, far from the normal tourist path? The northeast Black Sea coast, and more specifically the Trabzon region, is definitely worth a visit. Having lived in Trabzon the past five years, this post provides insider tips for a three-day visit.
- Gazing at the surrealistic Sumela Monastery as misty fog drifts in
- Sampling unique Black Sea breakfast cuisine
- Enjoying the greenery and scenery around Uzungöl lake
- Discovering copper and silver crafts along downtown walking streets
- Sippıng tea atop Boztepe hill as the sun sets over the mountains
Day 1: Downtown Walking Tour and Ayasofya
- Start your day with a large Turkish breakfast, either at your hotel or in the town center (“Meydan” in Turkish). Make sure to try the kuymak, a cheesy fondue-like food for your bread. Trabzon bread, butter and cheese are especially good, as is the crisp, clear water you can drink straight from the tap!
- After breakfast, take a walk around the compact town center to get a feel for the city’s rhythm. Stroll down pedestrian-friendly Uzun Sokak (long street), check out the Trabzon Museum (housed in an old mansion) and swing by tiny St. Anna’s church (Ayvasıl Kilisesi). Finish at Zagnos Valley Park for a quiet break from the busy streets.
- Catch a dolmush (shared taxi van) from nearby Kahmaranmaraş Street to the Fatih area to visit the Ayasofya. Originally a church, this symbol of the city has been used for various purposes and is now a mosque. Some nice frescoes remain, which can be seen from the western foyer and inside visitors’ area.
- Check out the copper and silver crafts made in the bazaar area known as “Bedestan.” Trabzon silver jewelry (bracelets and necklaces) make nice lightweight gifts.
- For dinner, enjoy an outstanding Turkish-style pizza at Merkez Pide or a fresh fish dinner at Cemil Usta (I highly recommend the fish soup!).
Day 2: Visit the Sumela Monastery, Hamsiköy and Zigana Pass
- These three nearby sites are easily visited in a day trip, either by rental car or on a tour. Tours are reasonably priced, though not always with an English-speaking guide. However, a tour is much easier than taking public transport. Some tours also visit the underground cave called “Karaca Mağarası” south of Zigana Pass.
- Sumela is the “must see” attraction of the region. A Byzantine-era monastery, it clings impossibly to a cliffside in a beautiful green valley about 45 minutes outside Trabzon. The approach road is special as it winds along a rushing mountain stream through a national park. Keep an eye out for old humpback-arch stone bridges.
- Take in the view from below as you arrive at the parking area, then either walk or ride up to get a closer look. Note that the inside of the monastery has been under extensive renovation since 2016, both structural and cosmetic, but you should be able to view the interior from the foyer terrace. The surrounding scenery is breathtaking.
- Tip: The best viewpoint is about halfway up the narrow road beyond the main parking area. The steep one-lane road passes a waterfall and climbs through the forest before turning right and leveling out. There is a nice open lookout across the entire valley. The best photo spot for the monastery itself is from behind the small chapel located just before the monastery entrance.
- Next, return back to the town of Machka and follow the main road south, climbing to the top of Zigana Pass. This is a historic Silk Road route that brought traders from the East across the Pontic mountains to the nearest seaport of Trabzon. A huge tunnel project beneath the mountain is under construction, but the surface road will remain open to access the small ski area and scenery along the climb.
- Return from the top of the pass to the hamlet of Hamsiköy, famous for its unique sweet rice dish known as “sütlaç”. Enjoy tea while you sample this local specialty. The area was once five smaller villages (“hamse” means five in Arabic). You can certainly try the sütlaç in Trabzon, but this dramatic mountainside setting makes a more memorable experience.
- After a long day of exploring, return to your hotel or guesthouse and relax.
Day 3: Visit Uzungöl (Long Lake)
- Once a quaint mountain lake beside a beautiful mosque, a tourism boom has sprung up in recent years. However, it is worth a visit, especially in the autumn or winter when the scenery is wonderful and crowds are minimal.
- If you have chosen to rent a car, consider hiring it for two days to explore the region around Sumela and perhaps overnight in Uzungol to escape the crowd of day visitors. On the way, spot the tea growing on mountainside terraces. A stroll around the lake makes an easy enjoyable walk.
- It is also possible to make a day trip to Uzungol using public transport from Trabzon, but get help understanding the bus timetables to make sure you don’t miss the last bus.
- Tip: Avoid visiting Uzungol on summer weekends when crowds and traffic can overwhelm the small lakeside spot.
- After returning, take a dolmush, taxi or your rental car up to the top of Boztepe hill to the Picnic Site (“Piknik Alanı”) for the best sunset view. The nearby Bordo Mavi Balık fish restaurant is a great place to wrap up your Trabzon visit.
Foods to Try:
Trabzon is blessed with abundant high mountain pastures and crisp clear water which yield especially tasty bread and dairy products. Bread from nearby Vakfıkebir along with cheese and butter from Tonya are especially good.
- Kuymak – a warm, cheesy fondue-like dish for your bread
- Kaygana – a breakfast dish made from eggs, flour and milk cooked thin like a crepe
- Hamsi – small fried fish served up in a skillet and eaten like chips!
- Akçaabat köfte – grilled Turkish meatballs, Black Sea style!
- Fındık ezmesi – a sweet hazelnut paste (80% of the world’s hazelnuts are grown here)
- Sütlaç – a sweet rice-based dessert often topped with local chopped hazelnuts
- Laz böreği – an unusually sweet börek pastry enjoyed with locally grown black tea
Essential Trabzon Travel Hacks:
- Trabzon airport is conveniently located near the city center. Daily flights on Turkish Airlines and Pegasus link Trabzon to Istanbul. There are also regular flights to Ankara, Izmir and Antalya. The Ordu-Giresun airport plus a new airport under construction east of Rize may provide other air connection options.
- Tip: Try to get seats on the right side of the aircraft for the best views of the mountains and town as you arrive (flights usually land to the east with the sea on the left).
- There is no train to Trabzon, but Turkey’s excellent highways and bus network provide convenient day and night bus connections.
- English is not widely spoken, but getting around is not hard if you know the name of your destination. All the shared taxis (dolmuş) begin and end at the town square (meydan) but at different points.
- A fun overland option is to travel by train to Erzincan on the East Express (Doğu Expresi) train and then a take half-day bus ride over the Zigana Pass through the mountains to Trabzon. Taking this trip in reverse, a morning bus to connect with the afternoon westbound train in Erzincan, is another way to visit or return to Ankara, Istanbul or western Turkey.
- Another option for those coming from İstanbul is to travel by bus to Samsun and then continue along the beautiful Black Sea coastal road to Trabzon.
- Tip: Break your journey in seaside Ordu, one of our very favorite places in Turkey.
- Trabzon makes a great stopover for those making longer overland trips to nearby Georgia and beyond. There are bus connections to Batumi and Tbilisi in Georgia. A new train station in Batumi links that city with Tbilisi. Tip: Don’t take your rental car across the border!
- There is no longer a ferry service from Istanbul to Trabzon (though you still may see the old Black Sea route marked on tourist maps). More recently a ferry service has run between Trabzon and Sochi, Russia, but check for up-to-date timetable and visa information before attempting this route.
- Want more? Check out this beautiful 7-minute video highlighting the sights and sounds of Trabzon!
Some think Trabzon is nothing more than a place to change buses. Exploring beyond the bus terminal will show this is not true. Yes, it rains a lot, but that makes the surrounding countryside green, lush and filled with rushing waters. Whatever you choose, I believe the memories and tastes of this incredibly scenic region will linger long after your visit.