Few international visitors make it to Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey (Türkiye). It’s a shame, as it is an exciting and friendly city to explore. Incredible museums, food, architecture and welcoming locals await the lucky ones to visit Gaziantep. There are so many interesting things to see and do in Gaziantep, making it one of Turkey’s hidden gems.

Gaziantep (Antep) is an ancient city that has flourished along the Euphrates River since the beginning of time. The first traces of the city go back to the Neolithic period, while it later became the Hellenistic city of Antiochia ad Taurum, mentioned in the bible.

Today, Gaziantep is a city of about 2 million and a top destination to visit in southeast Turkey. The city has a lot going for it: it’s a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy and the culinary capital of Turkey, in addition to the historical attractions.

Between gorging on baklava and kebaps, you can admire some of the best Roman mosaics in the Zeugma Museum, explore the old city’s Seljuk and Ottoman architecture, and shop for local specialities in the bazaars. One of the highlights when visiting Gaziantep is the friendly people, giving you an authentic glimpse into local culture.

But there’s much more to Gaziantep. After spending four days in Gaziantep, here is my take on the best things to do in Gaziantep.

*Some people still refer to Gaziantep as Antep. See the history of the city below.

things to do in Gaziantep
things to do in Gaziantep
things to do in Gaziantep

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Quick Guide to Gaziantep

Visited: July
Suggested Time: 3-5 days
Where to Stay: Ali Bey Konagi
Famous for: Baklava, kebaps, Zeugma mosaics

Transportation: Turkish Airlines and Pegasus fly directly from Istanbul to Gaziantep daily in just over 1.5 hours. A taxi from the airport to the old city is 150 lira. Gaziantep is very walkable, and I walked everywhere mentioned in this guide. Metred, yellow taxis are easily available.

Top Tip: Get the Turkey Museum Pass, as most museums don’t accept cash, or you must use a contactless card. All three of my cards didn’t work, so I couldn’t enter some museums.

Unique Experience: A good scrub at a hamam

UPDATE: A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Gaziantep province on 6 February 2023, causing extensive damage to Gaziantep. Thousands of casualties and severe damage to the Gaziantep Castle have been reported.

A Crash Course on Gaziantep History

Minaret in Gaziantep, Turkey
Two men talking in a bazaar in Gaziantep, Turkey

Gaziantep sits between Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean at the crossroads of countries and cultures. It has held a strategic location on both the Silk and Spice Routes for millennia. Archaeological excavations date the origins of the city to the fourth millennium BC.

During the Middle Ages, the city was known as Hantab and was a stronghold guarding the Syrian routes before being captured by the Turks in 1183. 

After that, the city changed hands between Arab, Mongol and Timurid invaders and finally became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. 

During the Ottoman period, the city was known as Antep, meaning Good Spring. 

Antep was first occupied by the British in 1919 and then by the French until 1921. Antep became the centre of nationalist resistance against European occupation. The Turks finally sent the French running after a standoff lasting ten months and nine days in the Antep War. 

Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, later awarded Antep the title of Ghazi (Champion of Islam), honouring the brave war veterans for expelling the French. 

So in 1922, Antep became Gaziantep, but you’ll hear both names being used interchangeably. 

Stay in a Traditional Konak

Ali Bey Konagi is the best place to stay in Gaziantep
Bedroom with colourful windows and white bedding at Ali Bey Konagi in Gaziantep
Turkish breakfast at Ali Bey Konagi, a traditional  Turkish mansion turned into a hotel
Ali Bey Konagi

A konak is a traditional residence in Turkey or the Ottoman Empire. Konaks are usually surrounded by a wall with a courtyard, similar to riads in Morocco.

Ali Bey Konagi is a beautiful Turkish house in the centre of Gaziantep’s historic centre, right next to the castle. Location-wise, it’s the best place to stay in Gaziantep with all the attractions, restaurants and things to do within walking distance.

The mansion is over a hundred years old and is a national monument. Ali Bey Konagi, with the courtyard and comfy rooms oozing character, is just the place to relax and recharge between seeing the sights of Gaziantep.

Besides the spacious room, atmosphere, friendly staff and excellent location, the traditional Turkish breakfast at this konak is FANTASTIC.

I cannot recommend this konak highly enough.

Book your stay at this splendid konak now!

Things to do in Gaziantep

Thanks to the city’s ancient and modern history, it’s a fascinating city to discover. Besides the conventional tourist attractions, exploring the complex social demographics and sublime food scene are sure to be unplanned highlights of visiting Gaziantep.

So, enough with the dilly-dally, let’s get going with the best things to do in Gaziantep.

Admire the Roman Mosaics in the Zeugma Mosaic Museum

The Gypsy girl is the most famous attraction in Gaziantep, Turkey
Zeugma mosaic museum
Zeugma mosaic museum

The top tourist attraction in Gaziantep is the outstanding Zeugma Mosaic Museum. It’s the world’s largest mosaic museum and houses some of the best Roman mosaics of the ancient world.

Zeugma was an ancient city located about 50 kilometres from Gaziantep. It was a wealthy Roman city with the same status as ancient Alexandria in Egypt. The wealthy folk of Zeugma lived lavish lives and spent their money building mansions and bathhouses decorated with exquisite mosaics.

When the Birecik Dam was built in 2000, the rising Euphrates River would submerge the entire city of Zeugma together with its mosaics. In an emergency excavation, archaeologists moved the splendid mosaics from Zeugma to the purposely built museum in Gaziantep.

The collection of mosaics is magnificent. Large floor mosaics depicting myths and gods bordered by intricate geometric patterns can be seen on the ground floor, while wall panels and more floor mosaics are upstairs. 

The most famous mosaic in the Zeugma museum, The Gypsy Girl, has an entire room just for herself on the second floor. Due to her intense gaze and eyes that seem to follow you wherever you go in the room, the Gypsy Girl is known as the Mona Lisa of Zeugma.

A separate annexe is dedicated to church mosaics from Gaziantep belonging to the Eastern Roman period.

Find out more about visiting the Zeugma Mosaic Museum in our post.

Get a Bird’s Eye View from the Gaziantep Kale

The Gaziantep castle lit up after sunset
View over Gaziantep from the top of the castle
The defenders of Antep
The Defenders of Antep

The Gaziantep kale, or castle, towering above the old city, is a good landmark to orientate yourself with. Sitting on top of a hill called Tel Halaf, the castle also grants a bird’s eye view of the historic centre and the neighbourhoods beyond it. 

The castle is a Seljuk-era citadel built on top of an earlier Byzantine fortress. The fortress might be a little underwhelming once you reach the top, but the views make up for it. 

Views aside, the Gaziantep Castle played a vital role in the fight for freedom from the French, which took place here. Inside the fortress, the Gaziantep Defense and Heroism Panoramic Museum has dioramas and displays paying tribute to the citizens of Antep who bravely defended the city in Atatürk’s War of Independence.

The Panorama Museum will be of little interest to the casual foreign tourist, so don’t feel guilty for rushing past to enjoy the view from the top instead. 

Browse in the Atmospheric Coppersmith Bazaar

Coppersmith Bazaar in Gaziantep
Coppersmith Bazaar in Gaziantep
Men drinking tea at the Coppersmith Bazaar in Gaziantep
Olive oil soap for sale in the Coppersmith Bazaar in Gazientep
Olive oil soap

Gaziantep is a city rooted in tradition, as you’ll see when you visit the Coppersmith Bazaar, or Gaziantep Bakircilar çarsisi. Even if you’re not in the market for a copper pan, tea set or serving plate, you’ll still love browsing around this atmospheric bazaar.

On the side streets around the bazaar, you’ll see men still practising the age-old trade as they hammer and shape and solder utensils and souvenirs from the red metal, while others sit and chat and smoke in teashops.

You can browse and shop to your heart’s content inside the bazaar. Besides copper, you can also shop for leather goods, olive oil soap, spices and other Gaziantep souvenirs. 

The Coppersmith bazaar, like the other markets in Gaziantep, is a far cry from the busy bazaars in Istanbul. No one hassles you, and you can shop and browse in peace.

In Gaziantep, the marketplaces are intimate, and between browsing, you’re likely to meet a Syrian vendor or two or get an invite for çay.   

Shop for Souvenirs in the Bedesten Zincirli 

Things to do in Gaziantep: shopping
Things to do in Gaziantep: shopping

This beautiful indoor bazaar with its vaulted ceiling is another famous historic market in Gaziantep. The bedesten (warehouse) is also known as the Meat Hall, as it used to be a butcher’s market in the past.

This small indoor bazaar is home to about 70 shops selling locally produced souvenirs such as metalware, jewellery, spices, soap and fabrics.

For a unique souvenir, seek out Mohammed at store number 31. 

Mohammed, with his piercing blue eyes, sells beautiful, handmade silk scarves from Bursa in Turkey and Syria. Before he became a scarf vendor at the Bidistan Zingirli in Gaziantep, he used to lecture at the University of Allepo. 

His silk scarves are magnificent and cost a fraction of what you’ll pay at home. They take up almost no space in your luggage and make good presents. My mom loves hers and tells all her friends the story of her Allepo scarf her son bought for her in a bazaar in Gaziantep.

Overdose on Baklava & Kebap

Things to do in Gaziantep: eat baklava
Gaziantep food

Gaziantep is the food capital of Turkey, and foodies and normal people alike should put the city on their bucket lists.

Gaziantep’s food culture is so unique and impressive that the city is recognised as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy. Believe me; the food is sublime!

Sweet tooths, sugar whores and normal people like you and I will dive straight into the baklava. Gaziantep is the birthplace of the sticky, sweet pistachio-filled pastry.

There are hundreds of bakeries scattered around town baking nothing but golden, sticky-sweet baklava. For the best baklava in Gaziantep, don’t miss Koçak Baklava or the beautiful coffee and baklava house Tahmis Kahvesi.

For breakfast, you must try katmer, a local breakfast delicacy of crushed pistachios and clotted cream baked in crisp pastry dough. Another popular (and very tasty) breakfast dish is beyran, a spicy lamb soup. 

Meatlovers will have a great time in Gaziantep. The city is home to over 30 types of kebaps! You can find phenomenal food throughout the day, but before sunset, the air in Gaziantep hangs thick with smoke from barbecue fires and kebap grills. It’s one of the best times to be out on the streets of Gaziantep.

Find out where and what to eat with our Food Lover’s Guide to Gaziantep.

Marvel at the Mesopotamian Art in the Gaziantep Museum of Archaeology

Mesopotamian Art in the Gaziantep Museum of Archaeology
Mesopotamian Art in the Gaziantep Museum of Archaeology
Hellenistic Greek Statues in the Gaziantep Museum of Archaeology

It’s a short walk, 15 minutes or so, from the castle to the Gaziantep Museum of Archaeology (Gaziantep Arkeoloji Müzesi). The museum housed the Zeugma mosaics temporarily until the Zeugma Mosaic Museum was completed. 

With the famous mosaics gone, the Gaziantep Museum of Archaeology is now home to an impressive collection of artefacts from the Stone Age through to the Roman period.  

The most impressive section is on the Hittites, a significant civilisation from the late Bronze Age. Artworks from the Hittite and Assyrian cultures include basalt stele and slabs depicting winged sphinxes, Mesopotamian hieroglyphic script and the storm god Teshub. 

Another museum highlight is the handsome collection of statues from the Hellenistic and Roman eras (330-30 BC) and the coin collection from the Islamic and Ottoman periods. 

The Museum of Archaeology is a worthwhile addition to your Gaziantep itinerary. It allows you to see rare artworks from the Hittites and Assyrians without going to Iraq. 

While the Zeugma Mosaic Museum might get all the limelight in Gaziantep, do not miss the gem of an Archaeology Museum.

If you have a Hittite fetish like me, you should definitely put the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara on your to-do list.

Take a Peek into Gaziantep’s Mosques

Man entering a mosque in Gaziantep
mosque in Gaziantep
mosque in Gaziantep
mosque minaret  in Gaziantep

Gaziantep is a city of mosques; you’ll pass many of them as you walk around the city. Like all mosques, visitors from any religion are welcome to look around. 

Please remember to remove your shoes before entering the mosques and be respectful, as these are still places of worship. Women should cover their heads and no shorts or bare arms. 

Those interested in mosque architecture or Islam will find more than enough mosques to peek into when strolling around Gaziantep. Below are two of my favourite mosques.

mosque with stripes, a dome and a minaret in Gaziantep

The Liberation, or Kurtuluş, Mosque in the Tepebaşı district is one of the most beautiful mosques in Gaziantep. This enormous mosque started off as an Armenian Church, the St Mary’s Church Cathedral. 

During the Armenian Genocide in 1915, all Armenians were deported to Syria, and the church stood empty afterwards. The church was finally converted into a mosque after the city’s liberation in the Franco-Turkish War, hence the mosque’s name.

Madrassa at the Boyaci Mosque
Madrassa in session

The Boyaci Mosque is one of the oldest buildings in Gaziantep. Construction began in the 13th century but took its final shape in 1575 when the government of Allepo renovated the mosque. 

The mosque is home to a famous minbar (preaching pulpit) made from walnut wood with exquisitely carved geometric and rosette motives. It is also the only minbar on wheels, allowing it to be neatly put away into a niche in the wall when not in use.

The friendly imam welcomed me to the mosque and cut his madrassa class (mosque school) short to wheel out his minbar and show it off to me. 

Wander the Alleys of Şahinbey

Alleys of Şahinbey
Turkey Street photography

Head into the alleys in Gaziantep to see the city away from the usual tourist attractions. You’ll get a glimpse of what life is like for the people living here while making accidental discoveries.

Şahinbey, the area surrounding the castle, is just the place to wander around aimlessly.

The part of town behind Ali Bey Konagi leading up the hill is particularly photogenic, especially in the late afternoon when the shadows get long.

Head uphill to the Kanalici Cami mosque (location) with the enormous Turkish flag on top of the hill. A park next to the mosque has great views over the neighbourhoods below.

Taking any of the alleys downhill from the mosque should get you back to the area around the Boyaci Mosque – unless you get REALLY lost!

Cafe Hop on Noter Sok

Traditional Turkish tea served in a tulip shaped glass in a leafy courtyard at a Papirus cafe in Gaziantep
Papirüs cafe, Gaziantep
Papirüs cafe
Best instagram spot in Papirüs cafe, Gaziantep
The old mansion at Papirüs cafe

Noter Sok, an alley off Atatürk Boulevard (location), is lined with many cafes and tea gardens in old mansions. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a break under the leafy vines with a çay. It is also very photogenic, perfect for taking lovely photos. 

I visited only two of them, Papirüs and Bağdat cafes. If you’re a cafe slut or an Instagram whore you can spend an entire day in this peaceful alley doing your thing. 

Papirüs cafe is set in a beautiful shady yard under the vines. On both sides of the yard is a lovely old mansion. The owner explained that the one mansion is over 200 years old and told me to take the stairs up to go check it out.

Upstairs, a gorgeous old interior awaited. With painted eaves, columns and ceilings in different hues of green and blue between the vines, this might just be the best Instagram spot in Gaziantep. I was travelling alone, so I had to be satisfied with a creative mirror selfie.

Bağdat Cafe
Bağdat Cafe
Bağdat Cafe
Bağdat Cafe

Next door, the equally beautiful and laid-back Bağdat Cafe is another place where you can spend some time. It has even more vines than Papirüs, with retro black and white posters of movie stars. 

Bağdat also has an old mansion where you can look around, without the Instagram appeal of next door.

These are just two of many cafes on this alley. Poke your head through the doorways until you spot a cafe you like, or try to drink a çay or coffee at each.

Get Good & Clean & Fresh in the Naib Hamam

Hamam in Gaziantep, under the castle that's lit up at night

For the ultimate cultural experience in Turkey, you shouldn’t miss a hamam, or Turkish bath visit.

The Naib Hamam, right under the castle and just across the street from my konak, is the perfect place to end a long day exploring the sights of Gaziantep.

I have always wanted to visit a hamam on previous trips to Turkey but never did, perhaps because I thought it would be naked bathing like I did in Korea.

Fear not; you don’t get butt-naked when going to a hamam. Bathing times are gender segregated, with the bathhouse open to men and women during different hours. 

After paying and handing in your valuables and belongings at the cashier, an attendant will show you where to take off your shoes and put on slippers. The attendants are of the same sex as the bathers. 

So how do you hamam?

After putting on your slippers, the attendant leads you to the changing room and gives you a hamam towel called a peştamal. You can choose to go in your undies, swimwear or birthday suit, but you must wrap the peştamal around your waist.

With your slippers on and peştamal wrapped around you, head into the bathhouse proper to the steam room. Lined along the sides of the steam room are several individual marble sinks (kurna).

Find an open kurna, sit down and start washing. Use the provided bowels to pour the hot and cold water from the taps over your head and body.

Don’t rush; it’s a cleansing ritual and just the start of, what should be, a very relaxing experience. 

In the middle of the steam room will be a raised marble platform called göbek taşı. When clean and relaxed, go to the göbek taşı to lie down. The göbek taşı is heated, so lie down on your back, sides, and stomach, whichever way you like and sweat it out. 

You can easily spend an hour or more sweating it out on the göbek taşı. When it feels like you’re overheating, splash some cold water over you at the kurna and head back to the göbek taşı

When ready, go to the section where the attendants do the scrubbing, or kese, named after the abrasive scrubbing cloth. Lying on a marble slab, an attendant will kese the dirt off you for 20 minutes or so, leaving your skin feeling tingly fresh and clean.

After the kese you’ll be lathered in a ball of foam followed by a rigorous massage. 

When you’re done, either head back to the göbek taşı for more relaxation or head out to the changing rooms. 

The Naib Hamam in Gaziantep

Going to a Turkish hamam is by far the most interesting and rewarding cultural thing I have ever done in Turkey. I was a little nervous, but the guys quickly spotted the foreigner and helped me out by telling me what to do and where to go.

The Naib Hamam is an authentic experience, with the attendant just showing you to the changing room. After that, you’re on your own to figure things out. When in doubt, look at what the others are doing or ask.

I expected a solemn retreat-like experience, but that is not what a real hamam is. A real hamam experience is hanging out with the guys/girls, sharing jokes while relaxing and getting clean at the same time.

Hours at Naib Hamam:
Men: 05:00-09:00 & 16:30-24:00
Woman 09:30-16:oo
Price: 60 Lira for the steam room only, 120 Lira including the kese.

Find the Perfect Pair of Yemeni Shoes

Yemeni Shoes for sale in Gaziantep

You’ll spot Yemeni shoes for sale all along the street running between the Coppersmith Bazaar and Bidistan Zingirli. The leather loafers are handmade from genuine leather and are cool in summer and warm in winter.

Those who remember the Hollywood blockbuster Troy with Brad Pit will be interested to know that 600 pairs of Yemeni shoes were made for the movie in Gaziantep.

The comfortable leather shoes come in various colours, and at about 200 lira (a mere $ 10!), a pair makes fantastic souvenirs for yourself or as presents.

Be Beautiful

Man getting a Shave at a Turkish barber
Man drinking tea while getting a face mask at a Turkish barber in Gaziantep

The Turks are good at many things. Giving a damn good haircut and straight-razor shave are on that list. 

I visited a barber in Kas during our first trip to Turkey, and now some good ol’ barber time is something I must do every time I’m in Turkey.

While having katmer for breakfast down the road, I asked the owner to recommend a good barber. He walked me down the street to Salon Ibrahim (location) and introduced me to his barber. 

After getting a proper haircut, I got a face massage and lathered up in soap for my shave. Ibrahim gave a tight shave leaving my face smooth like the proverbial baby’s butt. 

But why stop there? Ibrahim gave me a face mask and a cup of çay to complete the beautification process. 

Guess how much this cost? No, really, take a wild guess.
Sixty Lira. 
Six Zero…
That’s $3,29!

Is Gaziantep Worth Visiting?

Absolutely!
Gaziantep is a fascinating city to explore. Fantastic food, museums, shopping, friendly people and affordability are the city’s big draws.

Most visitors stick to the Istanbul – Cappadocia – Pamukkale – beach combo when they plan their trip to Turkey. Do yourself a favour and throw Gaziantep into that mix, and you’ll have the ultimate Turkey itinerary.

With regular and cheap flights from Istanbul, you can easily add Gaziantep at the beginning or end of your trip. Or you could get a bus from Cappadocia to Gaziantep and then fly to Istanbul.

Whatever you do, don’t dismiss Gaziantep.

Gaziantep is a wonderful city with many things to see and do. This hidden gem of Turkey is, without a doubt, worth visiting.

Is Gaziantep Safe to Visit?

Men standing on street with dried vegetables and pistachio nuts for sale behind them

Like most other visitors to Gaziantep, I was a little worried about safety. The city is near the Syrian border, just over 100km from Aleppo. 

During the Syrian War, an estimated 400 000 Syrian refugees fled to Gaziantep province, most now living in the city. 

Some countries advise against travel within 10 km of the Syrian border region. This warning doesn’t include Gaziantep, and the city is considered safe. 

I felt entirely safe during my visit to Gaziantep. I walked everywhere I wanted to during the day and after dark. The people around were extremely friendly and welcoming. It felt like being in any other city in Turkey.

The “refugees” make Gaziantep very multicultural, with Turks, Syrians, Kurds and Arabs calling the city home. Hopefully, the Syrians can return to their homes one day soon, or stay on in Gaziantep if they choose to. 

Like anywhere you go, use your common sense and don’t do what you wouldn’t do at home. Be aware of the risks, and make sure about travel insurance when visiting a place on the Foreign Travel Advisory. 

The only danger you could face in Gaziantep is overeating on baklava or having sleepless nights from drinking too much çay.

2 Comments

  1. I appreciate your thoughtful review of Gaziantep and enjoyed looking at your photos. As you mentioned, there is not a lot of info out there for the tourist and I am looking forward to visiting a few places that are off the beaten tourist path. I will be visiting next month, only 4 days and you have provided me with a few ‘to do’s’. Thank you

    1. Hi Denise,
      We’re glad you found it inspiring. Gaziantep is a great place to get off the beaten path in Turkey. Enjoy your trip and wear stretchy pants – Gaziantep food is amazing.

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