In this complete travel guide to Rize, Turkey, you will not only find resources for things to do in Rize, but also resources for understanding the local culture including geography, music, language, fashion and cuisine. The Black Sea is a land of its own and there is so much to learn and see about this beautiful green getaway in Northern Turkey!
Rize is a city on the northeastern coast of Turkey, bordering the majestic Black Sea. However, Rize has much more to offer than just sea views. It is rich in culture, mountainous landscape, rivers, waterfalls, tea fields, plateaus, old bridges, and so much more. It is unique to the rest of the country and is one of the cleanest cities I have ever visited in Turkey.
Complete Travel Guide to Rize
Black Sea Culture in Rize, Turkey
The Black Sea spans the entire coast of northern Turkey. It also touches the shores of countries such as Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. Black Sea in Turkish means “Karadeniz” and people in this region refer to themselves as “Laz.” Laz is an actual people group that is indigenous to the region and they still try to preserve their culture and language today, although they are officially Turkish citizens.
Rize comes from the Greek Riza, which means “mountain slopes.” This is a very appropriate name, considering Rize is full of tall, lush green mountains covered in fields of tea leaves. Rize is probably the greenest province in all of Turkey, and it remains green year-round due to continuous rainfall.
Women’s Fashion in Rize, Turkey
Local women have their own style of conservative dress and cover their hair differently than women in other parts of the country. While all of the women cover their hair with one thin scarf, they add a thick headband over the scarf, with colorful or gold coin-like tassles hanging down from it. As a souvenir I bought a few myself and one for a friend who loves head bands.
Rize Fun Fact: The president of Turkey, Recep Tayıp Erdoğan (pronounced ‘air-doe-on’ for those who are unfamiliar with the silent g in Turkish. Its purpose is to elongate the vowels), is from Rize. I noticed immediately when we entered the city center that his picture was literally everywhere. There is even a university in Rize named after him. In other words, this is not the place you want to enter any political debates.
Karadeniz Türkü (Karadeniz Folk Music)
A complete travel guide has to include information about culture, and what better way to learn a culture than listen to its music? Turks from Rize and the Black Sea region have their own music, which is referred to as “Karadeniz Türkü.” I hadn’t really listened to much of it before going, but it is kind of impossible to miss it while you are there. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it! Turks are great at the melodramatic, so there are some pretty intense songs about love and loss. I am listening to it as I write this article to get inspired.
Even if you don’t understand the words, I highly recommend searching “Karadeniz Türkü” or “Karadeniz Şarkıları” on Spotify to get a feel for the local music. Listening to local music can help you feel more connected to the locals in the region you visit. One of my favorite new artists that I’ve discovered is Şevval Sam. I love her voice, it is so unique. I recommend her “Karadeniz” album.
One of the essential instruments that sets this music apart is something called a “kemençe,” which is very similar to a violin, but has metal strings, making it sound a little rougher. Along with the kemençe, bagpipes are also used to liven up the Karadeniz Turku.
Like all good Turkish folk music, there is a folk dance to accompany it. This is called the Horon, which is special to the Black Sea region. Dancers form a circle, stand close in ranks to one another, and in a synchronized manner perform fast-paced foot and hand movements. These dances are meant to pass down culture from generation to generation. These dances originated as sacred rituals of pagan worship but are now a way for locals to share in their heritage.
The Black Sea Accent: A Lesson in Turkish language
There is a specific way that vowels are pronounced in the Turkish language. Turkish language follows the rules of vowel harmony, which means that the vowels in the root of a word dictate which vowels will be used in the remaining suffixes, which are added to create meaning to the word. Turkish is an agglutinative language, meaning suffixes are added to convey meaning rather than using several words to create meaning.
Here are the vowel harmony groups: e, i, ö, ü and a, ı, o, u
When the root has an e, the following vowels must be from the first group. When the base has an a, the following vowels must be from the second group. However, the locals in Karadeniz like to mix up their vowels.
Proper Turkish: Benim (me, mine) vs. Karadeniz Turkish: Benum
Proper Turkish: Sevdiğim (the one I love) vs. Karadeniz Turkish: sevduğum
Proper Turkish: ağladım (I cried) vs. Karadeniz Turkish: ağladum
You get the idea. For this reason, a lot of Turks think of the Black Sea region Turks as “hillbillies,” since they live in the mountains and don’t follow the conventional rules of Turkish grammar. However, Rize is the cleanest city in Turkey I’ve seen so… the rest of Turkey could take some notes from these “hilbillies.” We literally saw an elderly woman sweeping the street that was not in front of her house or store. That is like seeing pigs fly in Turkey!
Similar to other cities in the Black Sea, such as Trabzon, Rize gets a LOT of rainfall, especially during autumn (October-December). It gets snowfall in the wintertime but clears up by March and is lovely to visit in the Spring and Summer months. The ideal time to go would likely be between May-June and August-September when it is not overcrowded, humid or snowing.
Complete Travel Guide to Rize
Transportation to Rize, Turkey
Since we were in Trabzon before we were in Rize, we flew in and out of the Trabzon Airport. We had rented our car from the airport and really enjoyed the road-trip. We were able to book our tickets from Izmir to Trabzon and the tickets were super affordable (under 50$). This will of course change depending on the season and where you are coming from. We came in October and from the city Izmir. It could be more expensive in the Spring, or if you are coming from Istanbul.
The other options would be to drive from another city in Turkey or use the bus lines. We felt that the convenience of flying along with the affordable tickets made flying a no brainer! If you are coming from abroad, you will almost definitely have a layover in Istanbul.
Where to Stay in Rize, Turkey
The quintessential Black Sea town of Çamlıhemşin is, in my opinion, the best place to stay in Rize. You don’t want to stay in the city center, or else you will miss so much of what the area has to offer. After you drive down the D010 for a while, continue on slightly past Pazar. The D010 runs parallel to the sea, so it is a lovely drive. Once you pass Pazar, but before reaching Ardeşen, you will turn right/southbound on the “Ardeşen-Çamlıhemşin Yolu.”
This is where the drive really starts to get good! As if coastal views weren’t beautiful enough, you will now start to see more of the mountains, rivers and waterfalls. You are getting away from the city center, so it is less populated, which translates to less high-rise apartments and more greenery! After about 15 kilometers you will arrive to Çamlıhemşin. There are undoubtedly some great places to stay in the central part of Çamlıhemşin, but we decided to stay in a hotel located deeper into the mountains.
Seyri-Cennet Dağ Evleri
Our hotel was about 1-2 kilometers up a beaten path off the main Ardesen- Çamlıhemşin Yolu roadway. There are very helpful signs to get you there, but your google maps should do just fine. We were immediately impressed by how remote and secluded the location was. We love to get away from the hustle and bustle, especially since we are coming from a city of 5 million people.
The “otopark” or parking lot is a bit further up the hill than the entrance, so it may be good to drop off your bags at the entrance before parking in case you don’t want to carry them down the hill. We were greeted by the owner, who is the kindest young man in Turkey I have ever met. Even my husband agreed he was very polite for a Turk. The service was unparalleled, most likely because the owner really cares about his guests having an excellent stay. He immediately served us roasted and salted hazelnuts, along with a special helva (Turkish dessert) made with tahini sauce and hazelnuts. It was amazing and unlike anything I had ever tasted!
The dining hall has 24-hour tea and coffee ikramlar, or free goodies, available. I have never had access to free tea and coffee at all hours at any other hotel I’ve stayed at in Turkey. Our room cost 400 TL per night (roughly $67) and was a small bungalow that actually fits four people. There was one double bed and two twin beds. This means four people could share the price for 100 TL per person (roughly $17). The view from the balcony connected to our room was like a dream. I was actually excited to wake up in the morning! Everywhere we looked was just green mountains.
Muhlama (kuymak) for Breakfast
Breakfast was included at our hotel, which is always a plus! Turkish breakfast puts breakfast in other countries to shame with its variety of cheeses, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, jams, butter, clotted cream and honey toppings. It is sweet and savory. Our hotel stepped it up to another level by offering fried scrambled eggs with sausage AND muhlama. Muhlama is a food that comes from the Black Sea region and is made of butter, cheese and cornflour. In this region, muhlama is also called kuymak. It is very thick and stretches as you scoop it onto your spoon. Since it is a little heavy, I decided to spread it on my slice of bread and eat it that way. This is an absolute must-try when you are in Rize.
We also decided to eat dinner at our hotel both nights that we stayed, because we just enjoyed the atmosphere, service and food so much! There were twinkle lights surrounding the terrace and a fireplace in the dining hall. It was a quaint and romantic place to eat together.
Where to Eat in Rize, Turkey
Before checking into our hotel, we ate lunch at Osmanli Restaurant. It was a random choice, but we really enjoyed it! It is on the Ardeşen-Çamlıhemşin Yolu road. We enjoyed some chicken skewers and salad while listening to traditional Karadeniz music. One of the employees did an impromptu show playing his bagpipes and a tour group of locals got up and started to do the Horon dance. It was a nice show to watch. On our other side out the window was a view of a beautiful, 400-year-old bridge. We also noticed people ziplining! This is a good place to stop for a bite to eat. The food was good, it has a great view and a fun environment.
For more information on foods to try in the Black Sea region, you can check out this post that I really enjoyed!
Rize fun fact: tea leaves and hazelnuts are two of the provinces specialties and are found everywhere. While driving down the road not only will you see many tea fields on the mountainside, you will see small factories for the various tea producers. In the summer season, some of these factories even offer tours.
Complete Travel Guide to Rize
Things to Do in Rize, Turkey
Another thing any complete travel guide must have is a list of must-do activities!
Zipling & River Rafting
All along the river that runs parallel to the Ardeşen-Çamlıhemşin Yolu (road), you will see signs for ziplining and river rafting. We saw people ziplining over the river from where we ate lunch on our first day. It looked like so much fun! We planned on ziplining but did not end up having enough time. In October, nobody was river rafting but I imagine it is a popular sport in the summer months.
One of the most popular historical bridges is the Şenyuva Köprüsü (bridge), which is right upon Storm River. It was buit in 1696, and is about 40 meters long and 20 meters high. There is a great view of the river from the bridge, and the bridge itself is very beautiful. There is another similar bridge that is 400 years old that is right next to Osmanli Restaurant. People were ziplining both next to and under the bridge.
Turkish Coffee at Cinciva Restaurant
This restaurant is located right next to the Senyuva bridge and is a quaint spot to stop for some Turkish coffee or a bite to eat. It also has some cute corners to take photos in.
In Turkey, tea is harvested using large clippers (which is not the preferred method by tea connoisseurs, but oh well) which are connected to a sack in which the teal falls into. The mountains are covered in tea fields! This is another activity we sacrificed being able to do so we could see the plateaus, which took our whole day. However, I will certainly harvest some of the tea on another trip in the future!
Visiting the “Yaylas” (plateaus)
Yayla is the Turkish word for plateau, which is a small flat area of land at the peak of a mountain. We had heard all about the fuss and decided we had to see for ourselves. There are three plateaus we visited, one of which can hardly be considered a plateau, but wasn’t a total waste of time.
Ayder Plateau (Yaylasi)
This is the most popular plateau, which means it has the most tourists. It is also the easiest one to get to, about a 15 minute drive outside of Çamlıhemşin. We arrived and it was full of tourists, restaurants and hotels. It honestly just kind of looked like a grassy knoll and I was a bit disappointed we had set aside the later chunk of our day for this activity. However, it was not a total loss because a bit up the hill, there is a gorgeous waterfall. We did not stay here longer than a half hour before we decided to head back. We did enjoy the drive through the national park though and stopped at a few places to take pictures.
The following day we signed up to go with a small tour to visit the plateaus. I don’t ever prefer guided tours (I would also not call it “guided tour,” but more of a paid chauffeur) but everyone insisted that we do not drive up the mountain ourselves, especially in our small rental car.
They were not totally wrong. The drive up the mountain alone is 14 kilometers. The road was winding, narrow and very bumpy. I am afraid of heights and it certainly tested my fear of heights more than the hot air balloon ride I took in Cappadocia this summer did. I felt like we could go tumbling down the mountain at any moment!
We enjoyed lots of “Karadeniz Turku,” or traditional black sea music on the entire way up the mountain. Our driver was a local and played all the best songs. We started out very excited, got more nervous as we made our way up the hill, eventually calmed down and believed we wouldn’t fall down the mountain, and then got excited again as we approached the plateau.
Sal Plateau is one of two at the top of the mountain. There were small cabin-like homes on the plateaus for the locals who live their during the spring and summer to take care of the animals (cows, sheep, and chickens). It is the most epic village life I have ever seen, and it doesn’t get much more exclusive than this. We enjoyed some tea at Pilunç Çay Evi and took in the views.
Our “tour guide” then insisted we move on to the next plateau, which was the plateau of plateau’s: Pokut.
This was much larger than Sal Plateau and did not resemble Ayder plateau in the slightest. It was expansive with rolling hills. There were small cabinlike homes and a few restaurants here, too. We enjoyed some Turkish meatballs and bulgur for lunch at a small restaurant. We had an impromptu show as the owner sat playing his saz (another folk instrument of Turkey), singing the Black Sea region songs with a group of about 20 high school or college age students.
Like I said, you cannot escape the Karadeniz Turku. We got in a bit of trouble from our tour guide for being “late,” although he never told us what time to be back. We wandered around the plateau slowly for a while, taking pictures and trying to take in the incredible views.
It was another hour and a half making our way down the mountain. This took a majority of the day, but our tour was not quite over yet. There’s still the castle!
This old castle has, in my opinion, been really well preserved. It is beautiful from both afar and up close. It is like a parkour runner’s dream, with winding steps and stairs all over. The views from the castle are amazing as well, as it overlooks rivers and the Kaçkar mountains as far as one can see. We hung out here for only about 20 minutes, because our tour guide had “other plans,” but we would have liked to stay a while longer to really take it in.
At this point, we were pretty exhausted from the day and decided to go back to our hotel for a restful evening and just take in the mountain views from there. It was already 4:30 and it got pretty dark before 6:00. We enjoyed the full day of visiting plateaus and the castle very much but felt like there was plenty more to do. We would have loved to stay an additional 1-2 days to do the ziplining, tea harvesting and hiking in the area. If it were summertime, I would also have wanted to do the river rafting.
Rize is the most beautiful part of Turkey I have been to yet, and it will be really hard for any other location to top it! I love the beach, but it is the mountains that make my soul sing. I cannot wait to return to this place, and hopefully next time with some more friends and family!
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