While the main attraction near Van is the Armenian island church of Akdamar, nearby St Thomas and the splendidly isolated church on the island of Çarpanak are almost equally worthwhile. The ancient Urartian settlements at Çavuştepe to the south and Ayanis to the north also make excellent day-trips from Van. The rocky foothills to the east hold more church remains, at Yedi Kilise, while the landscape south of Van is the most physically impressive in Turkey, featuring rugged mountains dotted with isolated settlements such as Bahçesaray. The imposing castle at Hoşap lies en route for the wild mountain town of Hakkari.
Although it’s possible to visit some of these sights by public transport, to really make the most of one of Turkey’s most fascinating regions, it’s worth considering renting a car for a couple of days.