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Gaziantep, Turkey Guide: What to Do, Where to Stay & Is it Safe

Here’s my ultimate Gaziantep, Turkey Guide so you can visit safely and know what to do while you’re there!

Is it Safe to Visit Gaziantep, Turkey?

Just after I finished my MSc in Development Studies at SOAS, The University of London – I was briefly working for an international NGO that specializes in medical aid in conflict zones. To gather more experience, I was sent into the field to work alongside their Syria project – but from the safety of Gaziantep, Turkey. 

Whilst I was based there for almost two months, a perfect storm was created due to polarizing domestic and local crises, which subsequently created a political vacuum during the fall of 2016.

For young women specifically, I would not recommend settling in Gaziantep at the moment since the region is so unstable. It’s such a beautiful city with such amazing history, but give it a few years for the area to stabilize. 

Given the recent earthquake that devastated the area, Gaziantep is not really in any state to host visitors. If you can, donate money to aid work and charities working out there to help get this beautiful city back on its feet. 

That being said, if you’re visiting Turkey in the future, Gaziantep is a largely safe city for tourists by Turkish standards, and if you’re concerned about being so close to Syria, it’s actually around 150 miles to the border, so you’re pretty far away!

the city sign of Gaziantep

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Gaziantep

I would 100% NOT consider staying at any of the major UN/Expat hotels. These are the main targets when it comes to terrorism and with so many sleeper cells in the immediate vicinity, be sure to go to lesser-known or elaborate locations instead.

I would rather not repost the names of specific hotels/restaurants that are known UN/Expat hotspots purely for safety reasons but I WILL recommend that you stay in a hotel that is 3 STARS OR LESS.

Call me paranoid, but this was always a recommendation I got from the various security officers I worked with. Act local, and stay out of harm’s way. 

There are a lot of NGOs around and they’re normally running around in packs, so stay away from these groups as they’re often targeted. Like with any place that’s going through a hard time, a lot of people are just trying to get by so be careful and watch your stuff. 

For safety’s sake, I wouldn’t leave anything valuable in your accommodation room. This is a general rule of thumb I stick to in most places, but considering you’re sticking to three-star or less accommodation, the security is normally pretty lacking.

Cover your back, have it on you, and be mindful of your surroundings. It’s standard, common sense stuff, but it goes double when you’re in traditionally unstable regions.

a street in Gaziantep, Turkey

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The Weather

Coming from dreary London, I WELCOMED Gaziantep’s warm, dry heat… but there were definitely expectations regarding the way I would dress. Even if it’s 35C (95f), I was fully expected to cover up no matter what the temperature.

When I was in a local restaurant, I took off my sweater for a split second – before then putting on a shawl – and my bare shoulders were enough to stop people from eating mid-chew.

Interestingly enough, Turkey used to be a surprisingly open society in terms of sexuality – brothels are legal in Turkey – but recent government policies have turned the region more conservative.

Dressing for the weather in Gaziantep is tricky based on what you’re used to and your own way of expressing yourself. I would stick to linen during the summer and proper winter clothing (as it can be 3-2C) from November till March.

Gaziantep weather

The Culture in Gaziantep

In the fall/winter of 2016, politics were strained in Gaziantep and there was an obvious cultural divide between the newly immigrated Syrian community and the Turkish/Kurdish locals.

Whilst I was in Gaziantep, I observed Syrian businesses, talent, and labor competing heavily with locals for resources and the national government was starting to prosecute Kurdish regional leaders as part of a larger political agenda.

These forces created a hostile environment for foreigners, Syrian or otherwise, which was made worse by local suspicion that the Syrian community was slowly imposing intensely conservative values on otherwise liberal Turks/Kurds.

If you’re traveling to mosques or places of worship make sure you cover your shoulders, hair, and knees as a mark of respect. This goes for pretty much anywhere in the world, and Gaziantep is no different. 

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The Food

Kurdish and Turkish food in Gaziantep changed my life. Historically known for their pistachios, Gaziantep food culture combines flavors and spices from around the world perfectly. You could literally go into any corner shop and have a breathtaking culinary experience.

Take advantage! I would say an average meal would cost you <$6, depending on where you’re dining. Be sure to sample the Pistachio Baklava – as it’s the regional favor.  

Sweet pastry treats are a huge souvenir throughout the city and if you want to bring something back for your friends or loved ones get some authentic Baklava – they’ll love you forever.

turkish sweets
tea and coffee in turkey

What to Do in Gaziantep

As a super historic region, there are so many cool and ancient things to see and do all around Gaziantep. Of course, given the recent earthquake and the unrest in the area, it’s always best to check individual opening times in advance.

Gaziantep Castle

Originally an observation point, the mighty Gaziantep Castle became a castle during the expansive Roman Empire. Sitting atop a large hill just outside the city, the Gaziantep Castle was damaged pretty severely during the recent earthquake, and the extent of the lasting impact and structural integrity isn’t known yet. 

Zeugma Mosaic Museum

As the biggest mosaic museum in the entire world, the Zeugma Mosaic Museum is full of beauty, skill, and artistry. With over 1700 m² of mosaics spanning the centuries, it’s a historic excursion with in-depth audio guides in a range of languages.

This makes it one of the top places to visit in Gaziantep and a must-visit on your next itinerary.

Coppersmith Bazaar

Given that Gaziantep used to be a copper hub of the area, a visit to the Coppersmith Bazaar is a treasure trove of copper-inspired goodies. Copper Turkish coffee sets line the alleyways and make an ideal souvenir to get that super smooth coffee taste when you’re back home.

Gaziantep Metropolitan Municipality Zoo

This combination of a zoo and safari experience takes you around tigers, peacocks, fish, zebra, and so much more. If you want to see extraordinary wildlife up close, this is a great way to spend a day, especially if you’re visiting the area with kids.

Whether you want to walk around the zoo itself or jump on a safari excursion, it’s a cool way to see a ton of new animals. 

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Summary

So, Gaziantep isn’t without its problems. Between civil unrest and devastating earthquakes, the city itself has been through a lot. However, once it’s recovered and bounced back – as it has so many times over the centuries – it’s a beautiful place to visit, full of history and amazing food.

Give Gaziantep some time and you’ll be well rewarded for your patience. Don’t forget to donate to the earthquake recovery efforts if you’re able!