12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Safranbolu
If you're heading into the vast central Anatolia region of Turkey, put Safranbolu on your sightseeing list. Though big-hitter attractions and things to do are not as plentiful as other towns, this is just the place to slow down your travels and spend some time meandering down lanes, where time seems to have stood still.
This once important trade route town is a daydream of the grand Ottoman days, and many perfectly preserved mansions from the era still grace the streets of the Old Town district. There is shopping galore here, with the workshops of traditional artisans snuggled into the alleyways, while foodie tourists could spend their entire time gorging in the many sweet shops, where tempting displays of Turkish delicacies lure all but those with the most willpower. For ideas on things to do, see our list of the top attractions in Safranbolu.
Safranbolu's Old Town district of Çarsi is a UNESCO-protected site, where narrow cobblestone alleyways wind up the hillside, lined by squeezed-together Ottoman timber-framed mansions. Safranbolu became a rich city of traders and merchants in the 17th century, and its character has been thoroughly preserved.
Many of the old houses are now gorgeously restored boutique hotels and restaurants. A couple have been converted into interesting museums, where you can experience a slice of wealthy Ottoman life. The Kaymakamlar Evi and Kileciler Evi both have exhibits on Ottoman daily life, including typical costumes and furniture.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Safranbolu
2. Cinci Hammam
This famed bathhouse (hammam) has been wonderfully restored, so that you can soak up the full scrub-and-steam treatment, just like in the Ottoman days. Turkish bathhouses were an important community element during the Ottoman era before running water in houses became commonplace.
A trip to the hammam wasn't just about hygiene, though. This was the place where you came to catch up on all the gossip and even do business deals. Today, the rejuvenating effects of the traditional scrub, leaving you squeaky clean and rosy pink, are a good enough reason to indulge.
Address: Kazdagliogulu Meydani
3. Köprülü Mehmet Pasa Mosque
There are several good examples of mosque architecture in Safranbolu, but this one is regarded as the most interesting. Built in 1661, this squat mosque, with its helmet-roof, has a rather beautiful interior, which is well worth popping your head in as you walk past. In the courtyard, you'll see a metal sundial, which was added in the 19th century.
The alleyways around the mosque are lined with great little boutiques that beg to be browsed, as well as sweet shops, where vendors hand out samples of lokum (Turkish delight).
Address: Manifaturacilar Sokak
4. Kent Museum
Huff your way up the hill to visit this old yellow government building, which has been turned into a city museum. The small collection here traces the history of Safranbolu and the culture of the town. There are some excellent exhibits, with displays of typical household objects, jewelry, costumes, and textiles of the Ottoman era, as well as an ethnographic section downstairs with a mock-up of traditional craft workshops.
Just outside in the courtyard (with fantastic views over the Old Town) is a clock tower built in the 18th century by Grand Vizier Izzet Mehmet Pasa.
Address: Çesme Mahallesi Hükümet Sokak
5. Cinci Hani
Safranbolu's Cinci Hani (caravanserai) is a reminder of the town's importance as a stop on the trade route to and from the Black Sea. Built in the 17th century, the han would have been used by merchants as their hotel while in town.
The main reason to come here is for the incredible views across Safranbolu from the rooftop, but there's also a café in the interior courtyard downstairs if you're in need of a tea or cold drink. You can even experience a little merchant life yourself by staying in one of the han's rooms, which are now a hotel.
6. Safranbolu Bazaars
The great days of trade may have ended, but Safranbolu's bazaars are still jam-packed with wonderful locally made craft work. The Yemeniciler Arastasi (Arasta Arkasi Sokak) has traditional leather and felt workshops, as well as stalls selling textiles and traditional lace work.
If you're more of a foodie and have a sweet-tooth, Safranbolu is also crammed full of sweet treats. The local halva (tahini sweet) is a particular specialty of the region, but there are mountains of Turkish delight piled up in sweet shops all over town, too.
7. Bulak Caves
About 10 kilometers north of Safranbolu, this cave system runs for six kilometers into the Gürleyik Hills, though you can only explore 500 meters of it. Stalactites and stalagmites are all along the way, and a trip here is an interesting diversion from looking at Ottoman architecture. The caves can get very busy with local school groups from May to September. If you're traveling during this period, try to get here early in the day, as the first coach loads don't tend to arrive until after 10.30am.
8. Incekaya Aqueduct
This Byzantine aqueduct, about seven kilometers north of Safranbolu, sits high above the Tokatli Gorge. Unfortunately, due to safety considerations, you're no longer allowed to walk across the aqueduct itself, but you can get great photos of it from the entry point into the gorge. When you've finished with your snaps, take the walkway down into the gorge for an easy two-kilometer walk amid the lush canyon scenery.
For more panoramic vistas, head to the newly built Crystal Terrace, a glass balcony suspended over the gorge. There's a good café along the terrace as well.
9. Yörük Köyü
Yörük Köyü (Nomad Village), 14 kilometers east of Safranbolu, is a tumbledown village packed full of character. Like Safranbolu, it is home to row upon row of gorgeous Ottoman mansion remnants, though many of them are falling into a severe state of dilapidation.
The village was created when the government forced nomads to settle here (hence the name) and once settled, the new village became a prosperous center. Today, it's a quiet backwater, with cobblestone alleyways overrun with chickens. It's a charming, higgledy-piggledy kind of place that allows you to get a sense of rural life.
If you want to experience a slice of Turkish provincial life, head to the city of Kastamonu, 109 kilometers east of Safranbolu. Well off the tourist trail, Kastamonu has a bustling center with a vibrant traditional bazaar area. Just off the main street are lanes lined with crumbling Ottoman mansions in various states of disrepair. The museum is rather brilliant, with a small but beautifully laid-out collection of finds from local excavations, while the Byzantine castle, up on the ridge above town, has sweeping views of the city below.
11. Küre Mountains (Küre Daglari)
For hiking and outdoor enthusiasts, the Küre Mountains, near Pinarbasi, are one of Turkey's untouched wilderness areas, far off the tourism trail. The densely forested hills hide waterfalls, lakes, and thermal springs and have bags of potential for trekking and hiking. It is quite undeveloped, and although there is a network of hiking trails, regular maintenance is lacking, so this is not the place for beginner hikers. If you're an experienced outdoors person though, this spot could be right up your alley.
The most famous sight in the Küre Mountains area is the Horma Canyon, which leads to the Ilica waterfall. Here, a wooden walkway leading above the river has recently been built to aid access into the area though construction of the path is ongoing.
12. Kasaba Mosque
The tiny hamlet of Kasaba, 17 kilometers northwest of Kastamonu, is home to one of Turkey's best examples of wooden mosques. The Mahmud Bey Camii has a finely restored wooden interior, which has been richly decorated with floral motifs. To get a better look at the painted designs on the ceiling rafters, you can climb up the creaky stairs to the gallery above. The trip out here, with both sides of the road lined with agricultural fields and rolling hills beyond, is a slice of Turkish rural life. Kasaba is best accessed from Kastamonu.
Where to Stay in Safranbolu for Sightseeing
The place to stay in Safranbolu is the Çarsi where many of the old Ottoman mansions have been converted into boutique hotels and guest houses. Most accommodation options are in the mid-range bracket with a scattering of budget pensions as well.
- Gulevi Safranbolu Hotel is within a set of finely restored Ottoman houses, where guest rooms brim with traditional details. There is an expansive garden area, spacious family suites, and a good included breakfast.
- Cesmeli Konak Hotel is centrally located, just a short hop from the Çarsi's central square; good if you don't fancy tackling Safranbolu's hilly alleyways. Rooms are modern but have plenty of Ottoman wood detailing, and the staff are super friendly. Breakfast is included.
- Dadibra Konak sits up the hill from the center of town in a beautiful timber-framed mansion, which has stunning views across the Çarsi. Rooms are simply decorated with colorful flourishes provided by traditional textiles, and plenty of original wood features, and there's a good included breakfast.
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More Historic Towns: Istanbul is Turkey's ultimate historic town with its wonderful mix of Byzantine and Ottoman heritage buildings, mosques, and churches. For more Ottoman mansions like Safranbolu's, head to Antalya, which is a beautifully preserved Old Town district.
Heading Further Inland: From Safranbolu, it's an easy drive to Turkey's capital, Ankara, where you can visit the Atatürk Mausoleum, which commemorates the founder of modern Turkey. Head south from Ankara to visit Konya, home to the famous whirling dervishes. Then drive east to Cappadocia, with its bizarre landscape of rock valleys sculpted by wind and rain and Byzantine era cave churches carved out of the rock.