In this destination guide we visit Kars, Turkey – a city which is known for its cheese, goose and Russian history.
After my lovely half-day trip to Ani – an absolute must-see sight when you find yourself in the area – I had the late afternoon and evening left to explore the city of Kars.
I was dropped off by my taxi in front of my Kars hotel after a 40-minute ride and as it was such a hot summer day I first retreated to my hotel room for a cold shower to freshen up a bit.
As it was lunch time, I couldn’t resist a quick durum kebab from a fast food place next to my hotel to regain full energy levels for the hours ahead.
At around €1 for the kebab and a bottle of water, it certainly was a cheap lunch.
The city of Kars is fairly small and can be easily explored in half a day if you are short on time.
With its tree-lined streets and low-key buildings, Kars is actually a pleasant provincial city to visit in Turkey.
However, what makes a visit to this city so interesting is the modern history of this part of Turkey.
After being fought over in multiple battles between the Ottomans and the Russian Empire, Kars was finally conquered by Russia in 1877.
Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, the city was formally included into the Russian Empire after the warring parties signed the Treaty of San Stefano.
What followed was a minor population exchange as Turkish Muslims fled the city and Russians, Greeks and Armenians moved in.
This was reflected in the demography of the newly established Kars Oblast.
In 1878, Kars was a majority-Muslim city (66.8% Turks, 24.4% Armenians) while in 1897 this changed to a population of which only 3.8% of the people were Turkish while 26.3% were Russian and 49.7% Armenian.
After a brief spell under control of the newly proclaimed Armenian Republic at the end of the First World War, Kars was reoccupied by the Turkish Army in 1920.
On October 23rd 1921, the Treaty of Kars was signed, which officially recognised Kars as being part of Turkey.
Although in the grand scheme of things the Russian control over Kars was only brief, they did however leave a lasting legacy in the city.
This is mostly reflected in the 19th Century Russian-era architecture of the city centre of Kars, which features some beautiful pastel-coloured stone mansions.
One of such buildings in the city centre houses an appealing-looking café (Kılıçoğlu Cafe Patisserie), which is a fine place for some Turkish coffee and baklava.
Mosques and churches
Of all the sights in Kars, the hilltop citadel which overlooks the city clearly stands out.
Just below the hilltop citadel you can find some of the other main sights of Kars such as the Evliya Mosque (Evliya Cami) – the largest in the city – as well as the old Armenian Cathedral.
This 10th Century Armenian Cathedral was converted to a mosque in 1993 and is now part of the same complex as the Evliya Mosque next-doors.
Although I didn’t have time to visit it, another unique reconverted religious building in Kars is the Fethiye Mosque.
This mosque used to be a Russian military cathedral dedicated to Alexander Nevsky and is another fine example of the Tsarist-era architectural legacy in Kars.
Having visited the mosque and old Armenian Cathedral, it was time to climb up towards the citadel.
It’s quite a steep climb to get up to the Kars Citadel and although I am in good shape and like to walk, I could definitely feel it in my legs when I finally reached the top of the hill on this extremely hot summer day.
However, the panoramic views over Kars were well-worth the climb up to the top of the citadel.
The Kars Citadel in itself was however a bit disappointing as there wasn’t a great deal to see besides some bare walls.
Eating goose in Kars
Kars is famous across Turkey for two speciality foods, namely its goose meat and cheese.
On my previous day in Kars, I searched in vain for a restaurant which actually serves goose, as one recommended place was closed and the other one (Kamer Cafe & Restaurant – a great choice if you’re looking for a restaurant in town) temporarily didn’t have it on the menu.
I was therefore extremely happy that with Kars Kazevi Restaurant I finally managed to find a place which had goose on the menu.
Kars Kazevi Restaurant did not only have goose on the menu as house speciality, but it also had some great views over the citadel from its outdoor terrace.
First, I ordered the cold yoghurt soup as starter, which was very refreshing on a hot day like this.
Of course, for my main course I ordered goose, which didn’t disappoint either as this local delicacy was full of flavour.
After the meal, some complimentary tea was offered, which would be highly impolite to decline when travelling across Turkey.
The other famous local delicacy in Kars is its cheese – and there are several cheese shops in the city centre where you can taste and buy some of it.
Having bought some cheese to give to some Turkish friends I would visit later on during the trip, I wandered a bit more through the city centre.
When I encountered a nice-looking café, I also made a brief stop for some nargilah and tea to conclude a great day in town.
Kars is a fantastic destination in Turkey for anyone looking for a city off the beaten path with plenty of interesting sights to see.
Located some 50 kilometres outside of the city, the ruins of the old Armenian capital of Ani are actually the main sight and the biggest reason why you want to come all the way to this distant corner of Turkey.
However, with its pleasant low-key vibe, leafy streets and Russian-era architecture, there are plenty of things to see in the city of Kars as well.
If you find yourself in town, it’s a must to walk up the hilltop citadel for some sweeping views over the city.
With some good restaurants and famous delicacies like goose and cheese which are well-known across Turkey, foodies will certainly love their trip to Kars too.
If planned well, you can see the sights of Kars in full day with an early morning rise to start your half-day trip to visit Ani, which leaves the late afternoon and evening to explore the sights in the city itself.
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘Khachapuri & Kebabs: A Summer Trip to Georgia and Turkey‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Review: Wizz Air Bucharest to Kutaisi (Airbus A320)
2. A Day in Kutaisi, the Charming Capital of Imereti
3. Caves, Churches and Monasteries – A Kutaisi Day Trip
4. Review: My Warm Guest House, Batumi, Georgia
5. Beautiful Batumi – The Pearl of Georgia’s Black Sea Coast
6. From Georgia to Turkey: Batumi to Kars by Bus
7. Review: Kars Konak Hotel, Kars, Turkey
8. A Day Trip From Kars to the Ancient Armenian City of Ani
9. Goose, Cheese and Russian Remnants: A Visit to Kars, Turkey (current chapter)
10. Review: Dogu Express Night Train Kars to Ankara, Turkey
11. Review: AnadoluJet Ankara to Izmir (Boeing 737-800)
12. Review: Ege Palas Business Hotel, Izmir, Turkey
13. Izmir: Turkey’s Most Liberal and Liveable City
14. Ancient Ephesus: An Easy Day Trip From Izmir
15. A Visit to the Hilltop Wine Village of Sirince
16. A Beach Trip From Izmir to Cesme and Ilica
17. Foça: A Beautiful Seaside Town to Visit From Izmir
18. Flying Back Home With Atlasglobal and TAROM