The Black Sea (karadeniz) Region: A must see area in Turkey
When people think of Turkiye, they usually think of Istanbul, 7 churches of Revelation, or maybe one of the beach towns like Antalya, Fethiye or Bodrum. I think, however, one of the most under-visited is the Black Sea, Turkey, or as know by the locals as Karadeniz (kara = black and deniz = sea).
Each region has it’s own culture and things they are known for but the Black Sea in Turkey is quite unique. Their accents are thick, their food is delicious and they are such a beautiful people.
I got to take a week long road trip with a good Turkish friend of mine. We had such a blast as we explored her beautiful country. We stopped in places that we couldn’t have if we didn’t have a car. We got to truly explore.
If you are thinking of visiting Turkey and wondering where to go, I definitely recommend checking out the Black Sea Region. You won’t be disappointed.
Must See Places
We broke up the long drive from Istanbul to Trabzon with a night in Samsun. While it isn’t a hopping big city, it was the perfect place to grab a bite to eat, rest up and explore a bit before heading on to Trabzon.
We had Iskender Kebap at Hastat Restaurant and it was delicious. She had been given the recommendation from another friend and it didn’t disappoint. After sleeping through the night, we woke up to do some exploring before hitting the road.
But first…always coffee.
We made sure to hit the Gazi Museum. This beautiful building is where Ataturk stayed when he first visited Samsun in May 19, 1919. Later it was gifted to him by the city of Samsun and then after his passing, converted to a museum in his honor.
One thing to note about Turks is they absolutely love Ataturk, their national hero. Just by seeing some of the monuments and museums that celebrate him, you will show great honor to the lovely people of this country.
We also got to check out the epic Ataturk Monument and of course we had to take our pictures with the giant Samsun sign!
Then off to Trabzon. They always say “location, location, location” when it comes to real estate. That never felt more true than when we were in Trabzon.
As we drove to our Air BnB, I was a bit skeptical as the road was a bit tricky and hard to find. But once we got there, it felt like the find of a century.
The flat was large and beautiful but even better yet, right on the Black Sea. Turkey has some incredible views but this was one of my favorites.
We stayed there for three nights and each morning I walked out the back door with my coffee in hand and sat on the porch swing. I rocked while I listened to the music of the water lapping the side and sipping my liquid energy.
Okay so let’s talk about a few places in Trabzon that are worth seeing!
Trabzon was a fun place to explore. But I have a PRO TIP: if you go into downtown, park outside of downtown and take public transportation in or walk in.
After a lovely Turkish breakfast at the Green Corner Cafe & Restaurant, we checked out the Little Hagia Sophia. It was a surprisingly lovely find. I didn’t know it was there before I went.
What’s interesting is that half of it is used a mosque while the other half is a church/museum where you can see all the old frescoes. Random fact: this church was used as a weapon depot during WWI.
You can also check out the Trabzon Castle. It doesn’t have much castle and is pretty much a wall but you will get a great view from said wall. You can just drive by it if you’re short on time.
From there you could drive to Ataturk’s Pavilion, which has been operating as a museum since 1943. It is really interesting to see. It is a house that the city gave to Ataturk as a gift which returned to the people after his death.
While he didn’t live in the house full time, it is a house built at the turn of last century and most of it’s furniture is from before 1940. It is worth seeing life as you step back in time as it is so well preserved.
If you’re into tea, checking out one of Rize’s tea plantations is definitely worth seeing. You can enjoy incredible views and take a tour where you can pretend to cut tea leaves with the locals.
There are also plenty of quiet, quaint mountain villages to visit. A popular one for tourists is Aydar Village. It many of them you will see restaurants, local hand made goods and cute mountain homes. It is like you’re stepping into another culture.
For the outdoorsy peeps out there, you can see beautiful waterfulls like Bulut, Palovit, Agaran and Gelin Tulu waterfalls.
You can also check the Ziraat Botanical Garden in Rize if you want a good view and a light snack. You will be able to see the Black Sea, the city and Rize Castle.
Sumela Monastery, Hamsiköy & Altindere Valley
Sumela Monastery is this incredible monastery that is believed to be built in the 300’s. Because of it’s age, there is often construction happening so make sure that you check to see if it is open the day you want to go.
If it isn’t open but you still want to go up it is still an incredible view and there is a really old church up at the top that you can see and a great look out point for photos. If you get to go in, enjoy it in all its glory.
Legend says that the Virgin Mary appeard to the Athenian priest named Barnabas and Sophronios in a dream. She told them to find her icon that was painted by Saint Luke.
So they set out on a journey, led by Virgin Mary, and when they arrived at the Mela Mountain, they built a monestary around the icon. It was expanded in the 6th, 7th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Within there are 10 chapels of various sizes, a holy spring, a bell tower, a library, a two-storied kitchen, a fountain, administrative areas, dwellings for the monks as well as guest rooms.
One of my favorite parts of being in Trabzon was definitely the sütlaç (rice pudding). There is something about it up there in the mountains and in the small town of Hamsiköy. The flavor is so rich!
When we asked the restaurant owner why it had such an incredible flavor he described how the cows were free to roam and thus had a much richer diet. The result was a delicious rice pudding.
You can get the same type of flavor in Trabzon but there is definitely a nostalgic feeling of eating in this small village overlooking the pastures and villages houses. Where you see the animals roaming freely and cars cramped on a narrow road.
Finally, for the outdoorsy people, you can hike all through the Altindere Valley National Park. There is a lot to see here. People camp, fish, hike and so much more here. It is 11,040 acres big and is gorgeous.
Road Trip down the coast
Not everyone will get to do this but I really enjoyed this part of our trip. If you do take a road trip, I recommend this blog on driving a car in Turkey. It will cover some basics that you really should know to help you make the best of your trip.
The reason I really loved this part of the trip is because it affords you the ability to stop wherever you want, whenever you want. You can stop and see things you wouldn’t normally see if you’re on tours and excursions.
You can see small towns like Fatsa, Ordu, Bafra and more all along the coastline of the Black Sea in Turkey.
I also love seeing how locals live. I love to see what they eat and what is important to them. I love to see the scenery and just a slow day sometimes. This will allow for that.
Especially if you have some basic Turkish, it will take you far. Everyone will love you! Up in the Black Sea Region of Turkey, tourists are more few and far between than other places like Istanbul and Cappadocia.
Enjoy the slower day and get ready for the next.
Sinop is along the northwestern edge of the Turkey and is a small peninsula that pokes its way into the Black Sea. If is definitely worth taking a drive coast all the way around. There are a few locations along the way with exceptional views.
There are two things I want to recommend for food.
- Sinop Mantı – this is my personal favorite version of mantı. Usually mantı is covered in a yogurt sauce or if you’re in Kayseri, it is more soup like. Sinop mantı has a some crushed walnuts and butter. The flavor is so delicious and rich.
- Fish – anything really. We had a couple types of fish and fish soup and it was all so incredibly tasty and fresh. If you’re wanting to try something new with your fish there are two drinks that are typically paired when eating fish.
- Rakı – it has long been the national drink of Turkey. It is a liquor of twice distilled grapes and anise. It is a clear liquor that turns white when water is added.
- Şalgam – this is a pickled carrot juice. It comes in normal and spicy version so make sure you pick the appropriate one. If you like pickles, you may quite enjoy it! It was an acquired taste for me. Definitely worth trying though.
Beyond the yummy food there are a few places to see like the Sinop Ethnography Museum. This was really fun because it was like we stepped back in time. It is an old house that was built in 1890 and then restored in 1996.
It was restored to how it originally looked. There are places where they left the original paint so you can see the comparison. You get to see these scenes from what it would have been like in those days.
There was also the Sinop museum. My favorite thing in there was this replica furnace. They recreated a life size version of what would have been used.
There are tons of fascinating artifacts in there and an interesting peek back in time. They even had these panels of ground work that had been saved. Such amazing craftsmanship.
The Sinop Castle had a great view of the sea and the city. I love being able to climb up to the tops of these places and wonder what it looked like 100, 200 years ago. What would they think of it now?
Black Sea Turkey Itinerary
Black sea region by Road Trip
If you’re wanting to do a road trip I recommend at least 9 days. You can get some thoughts on driving a car in Turkey here. This is similar to how we did our road trip and would recommend breaking it up as follows:
- Istanbul -> Bolu – 250 km / 3 hrs – There are many quaint places to stay that are on the lake. It is such a lovely area. We stayed at an all inclusive and enjoyed the hamam on site, the lovely greenery outside and then got on our way the next morning. 1 Night in Bolu
- Bolu -> Sinop – 425 km / 5 hrs – If you leave after breakfast and make it to Sinop by early afternoon you could take a nice drive around the peninsula. It is lovely to see and there are some incredible view points worth seeing. The second day you can check out the day from above. If you have a little extra time, you could route your trip through Kastamonu and check out the epic old Ottoman houses. 2 Nights in Sinop
- Sinop -> Trabzon – 481 km / 6.75 hrs – This will be a longer more road trippy day but I love this day because you can stop at so many places along the way. While you could stop in Samsun on the way I would recommend saving it for the way back to help break up the day. Obviously you could have a really long day if you preferred. 2-3 Nights in Trabzon – 2 if you don’t go to Rize, 3 if you do.
- Trabzon -> Samsun – 324 km / 4.5 hrs – Samsun as you can see above is a great town for a stop through. You can spend as long as you want but really 1 night is sufficient in my opion. 1 Night in Samsun
- Samsun -> Ankara – 400 km / 5 hrs – While Ankara isn’t technically part of the Black Sea Region, it makes for a nice rounded road trip out there. You will find some great things to see there like Ataturk’s Mausoleum, beautiful parks and the capitol of the country. If you get in the afternoon on the first day, give yourself a full day to check out the city and leave on the third day. 2 Nights in Ankara
- Ankara -> Istanbul – 440 km / 6 hrs – Finally you head back to Istanbul. I would definitely recommend returning the car upon arrival instead of trying to deal with driving while in town. If you got it from SAW airport, you can easily hop on the M4 metro and head back towards Kadikoy or connect with a ferry if you want to go to the other side.
Black Sea region by Flying
The hard part of discovering Turkey via flights is the limited direct flights that can be found. There are some that are available but many of the flights will connect through Istanbul.
Because of this, you will lose a lot of time. While it may be a little more expensive to take a road trip, you will get to be seeing the country instead of waiting on a long layover in Istanbul.
If you really don’t want to drive though, I would recommend:
- Fly to Trabzon – Rent a car to get around Trabzon – 3 Nights in Trabzon
- Fly to Ankara – See above for recommendations – 2 Nights in Ankara
- Fly to Samsun – See above for Samsun but also you could rent a car while in town, especially if you wanted to head over to Sinop for a day trip. 2-3 Nights in Samsun
- Fly to Istanbul – Enjoy at least 3 Nights in Istanbul. You can see my recommendations for what to do in Istanbul here.
Where to Stay
If you have read any of my posts, I am a huge fan of booking.com for reservations. Sometimes AirBnB can be a bit off but I haven’t had any issues with the booking.com places.
The hotel industry is always changing. Smaller, local places open and close regularly so it is near impossible to keep up with them. If you’re looking for a bit more luxury or softer beds, I would recommend the more expensive, western places like Hilton, Holiday Inn, etc.
Also keep in mind this is a different country. What is included and valued is different. Typically beds are quite firm throughout this part of the world. The further east you go, the harder they get.
Washcloths aren’t a thing provided, so bring your own in you use one. Tissues are typically in the hotel rooms but can be quite rough on the nose…I do miss my Puffs Plus from the states whenever I have to blow my nose.
I hope you have enjoyed this walk through the Karadeniz (Black Sea). You will absolutely love it when you get to visit.
Why is it called the black sea (karadenİz)?
There is a bit debate about this. Here are a couple of theories:
– Anatolian Turks had a habit of referring to the South as ‘white’ and the North as ‘black’. Thus it became the Black Sea.
– There is a Hungarian source that dates the naming earlier and further north including Icelandic sagas and other Nordic narratives.
– In the old days it was observed that when objects sunk deeper than 150 meters for a long period of time became covered with a black sludge due to the high concentration of hydrogen sulfide in the sea. Thus coming up with the name.
So the real answer is we don’t actually know but there are a couple of ideas floating around.
Where is the black sea?
The Black Sea is situation at the center of Ukraine (north,) Russia and Georgia (east), Turkey (south), and Bulgaria and Romania (west). It is a unique body of water with fresh water residing on top and salt water below. It is accessed by way of the Bosporus Straight which separates Istanbul into the Asian side and the European side.
Is Black Sea Turkey worth visiting?
The Black Sea Coastline of Turkey is such a unique and culturally rich part of Turkey, much unlike the rest of the country. It’s definitely one of my favorite places to visit in Turkey. The coastline is dotted with cute villages, some right on the water, some peeking above from the cliffs. You will find mountains and natural beauty that you won’t see elsewhere.
Can you visit the Black Sea?
Yes! There are many places that you can actually enter and swim in the Black Sea. For the most part the Black Sea is quite safe to swim in though there are some pretty strong undertows in Şile. Having grown up in Florida and spending a lot of time on the east coast, I know what an undertow feels like but it was so much stronger here. Be careful! If you hear a siren, it means you went out too far.
What part of Turkey is on the Black Sea?
The Northern edge of Turkey borders the Black Sea and it is called the Black Sea Region. It is known for the steep and rocky cliffs that line the coast though at some places you can sit right on the water. It is 141,000 sq km (54,440 sq mi) and roughly 18% of the total area of Turkey.