Tatvan is a town in Eastern Anatolia, located on the western shore of Lake Van.
The town of Tatvan stands on the western shore of Lake Van (Van Gölü), a soda-salt lake also known locally as Van Denizi (“the sea of Van”). This lake, the largest in Turkey, lies 1640 metres above sea level and is ringed by high mountains, so the area has a harsh continental climate. The ridge behind the town was a lava flow from nearby Mount Nemrut 250,000 years ago, blocking the valley outflow and creating the lake. The area remains seismically active; the last major earthquake was in 2011.
The region is historically important as the centre of the Urartu and Armenian kingdoms. It later came under the rule of Byzantines, Seljuks and then the Ottomans - see main Wikipedia entry for history.
Tatvan's main importance to travelers is as a transport hub. It's the eastern terminus of the railway from Ankara, with onward connections by road.
A direct train, the Vangölü Ekspresi, runs twice a week from Ankara to Tatvan. The journey is scheduled to take 24 hours but is often long delayed. There are couchettes and a sleeping car but no buffet. The main stops along the way are Kayseri, Sivas, Malatya and Elazig, see Turkish Railways (TCDD) for online timetables and ticketing. The train connects (in theory) with the ferry across the lake to Van, for the train to Tabriz and Teheran, though this service has often been suspended. There is no railway between Tatvan and Van, nor plans to build one, so this is a strategic gap in the Eurasian rail network.
The Vangölü Ekspresi is scheduled to arrive before midday, but it's often mid-afternoon. However you should still be able to reach Van the same evening – walk 1 km south to town centre to pick up a dolmuş. The train back to Ankara departs about 07:00 so that will mean staying in Tatvan the night before.
In 2019 / 20 the railway to Tatvan was re-routed when the Murat river gorge below Muş was flooded by a dam. This hasn't affected the timetable but perhaps it will improve timekeeping.
1 Tatvan railway station, 1 km north of town centre, has a ticket hall but no other facilities; it may be shown on timetables as "Tatvan Gar". Trains continuing to the ferry port then reverse and slalom their way down the slope to 2 Tatvan İskelesi, another 2 km north of the centre.
A ferry crosses the lake between Tatvan and Van, three per day at irregular times. The crossing takes four hours and the fare for pedestrians is 5 TL.
Highway D300 is of a good standard, mostly dual-carriageway, and connects westward to Bitlis (20 km) and eastwards to Van (100 km).
Buses run several times a day to Ankara (17 hours), Istanbul (23 hours) and all major cities in Turkey, some involving a change to a connecting bus: see Kamil Koc website for times and prices. Buses run from the 3 Otogar, 2 km north of town centre. They also stop in the centre, and ticket offices are found here.
Frequent dolmuşes run from town centre to Van (100 km, 2 hrs) via the south lake shore, Highway D300. There are no direct services around the north shore. For transport to Doğubeyazıt and into Iran, go via Van.
- Ahlat tombs in the Seljuk cemetery just west of the small town of Ahlat, on the northwest lake shore. Frequent dolmuses from Tatvan, 45 minutes, but ask to be set down at the museum as the town is 3 km further on.
- Mount Nemrut (Nemrut Dağı). This 3050 m mountain broods over the town and lake. It's a dormant volcano, which erupted 250,000 years ago to block the valley outflow and create Lake Van; the last eruption was in 1692. Within its caldera are several small lakes, one of which is always warm enough to swim in, thanks to geothermal hot springs. But no giant heads here! - don't confuse it with the better known mountain of the same name near Adiyaman, 300 km to the west. You can drive up the tarmac road into the caldera, or look to join a tour from Tatvan - enquire at bus offices.
- Akdamar island - 90 minutes by dolmus from Tatvan towards Van, get off at the marina just before Gevas. But Van is the better base for this trip, see that page.
- Van itself is an easy day trip from Tatvan.
- Lake Van tours. You can join boat tours on Lake Van departing daily from the waterfront. 4 TL/person.
- Drink Tea with the locals. Take a stroll down the main street on an evening and it's more than likely you will be asked to join some friendly locals for Cay (Turkish Tea). A great way to meet local Kurdish people.
Remember to stock up on food the night before if you're taking the train towards Ankara, as it departs early and has no catering. Lots of bakeries and groceries along main street, plus a big shopping mall in town centre with a Carrefour supermarket inside.
Eat & drink
You're probably destined to eat Turkish again; this region doesn't have the cosmopolitan offerings found in Europe. Innumerable small cafes and eateries along main street but for a clean enjoyable meal with lake views, try the fast food court on the second floor of the shopping mall.
A handful of hotels are located in the town centre along, or just off, the main street near the post office, with single rooms mostly in the range 40-90 TL. Most hotels are clearly signed; the following directions assume you are walking south on the main street (lake to your left) having arrived by bus or train. By car from the west you'll enter town the same way, along highway D300. Google Street View is of limited help here as there's a Jandarma base in town centre so the view has been redacted.
Camping by the lakes on Mt Nemrut is free, but consider the altitude, the logistics and the weather outlook, and the amount of litter can be off-putting.
- Gayda Otel (On the main street, 150 m past the Carrefour, just after the mosque and footbridge, on your right.), ☏ . This is the only truly budget option in town. Shared bathrooms, semi-dirty toilets, no breakfast, small clean rooms, comfortable clean beds, very nice staff, no English, wifi, safe atmosphere. There is another Gayda Otel that is more modern (50 TL single). If you ask to see it, one of the staff will take you. 25 TL single.
- Ustun Otel, Belhic Celik Sokak (When you see the Crater Hotel, look down the side street, and the sign is visible 50 m away.). Small and comfortable hotel, rooms at the rear of the building have a lake view. Comfortable warm lobby to relax in and drink tea. Clean, friendly staff, free WiFi, rooms have attached bathroom with plenty of hot water, good heating in the room, basic breakfast included in the price. Good value all round. They do have some rooms with shared bathroom which may be cheaper. 30 TL single. Doubles available.
- 1 The Crater Hotel, 181 Cumhuriyet Cd, ☏ . Good clean budget-to-midrange option, spacious rooms, good rooftop breakfast buffet with lake views
There are numerous internet cafes along main street costing 1.50 or 2 TL/hour. There is one just upstairs from the office of Van Gölü Seyahat bus company in town centre, open till late at night and very convenient if you're looking into spending your time until your departure.
As of Dec 2020 there is 4G in Tatvan from Turkcell and Vodafone, with variable coverage of the surrounding highways, but Türk Telekom has a poor signal. 5G has not yet reached this area.
- Erzurum to the north; Malatya to the west; Diyarbakir, Hasankeyf, and Southeastern Anatolia to the southwest.
- Van, and see that page for transport to Doğubeyazıt and into Iran.