Things to do in Ankara, Turkey
Many first time visitors to Turkey make the mistake of assuming that Istanbul is the country’s capital city, when in fact it’s actually Ankara. I was also guilty of this oversight.
Did you know that Ankara is larger than most cities in the United States except New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago? What’s more impressive is that Ankara has almost doubled in size since 1990.
That kind of growth and development, combined with an incredibly diverse history spanning thousands of years, creates an interesting melting pot of tradition and modernization.
Let’s get real – Ankara rarely makes the list of top travel destinations. Heck, it rarely makes the list of top places to visit in Turkey, let alone the world. While it may not be blessed with the stunning landscapes of Cappadocia or the historical ruins in Izmir, Ankara has a lot to offer its guests.
Here are a few things to do in Ankara, Turkey.
1. Anıtkabir – Mausoleum of Atatürk
The magnitude of Atatürk’s legacy is undeniable when you first witness his lavish memorial. It’s hard to not be impressed by its sheer size and grandeur – it’s simple, yet powerful. It reminded me of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam and sends a similar message to its visitors.
This extravagant tomb and memorial is particularly important to the city of Ankara because it was Atatürk, the revolutionary founder and first president of the new Republic of Turkey, who designated Ankara as the country’s new capital city.
On the 69th anniversary of his death, over 550,000 people visited the mausoleum to pay respect to the Father of Modern Turkey. Think about that for a moment!
Read more – When I die, I want one of these!
Kizilay is the epicenter of Ankara’s business and social scene, with endless designer retail shops, department stores, outdoor markets, stylish restaurants and dizzying nightclubs and bars.
It’s the “downtown” area of Ankara, a busy transportation hub and magnet for Ankara’s youth.
Kizilay Square is also home to many important monuments and memorials that are worth checking out. After a lengthy outdoor patio session you can burn off lunch by exploring nearby Ataturk Meydani, Güven Park and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, to name a few.
3. Explore Ankara Citadel
For fantastic city views of Ankara, head to the Ankara Citadel, situated in the Ulus Bentderesi District in the Old Quarters. Ankara has many interesting archaeological sites scattered throughout the city, however only a few structures surrounding the citadel have survived its appetite for development and modernization.
The citadel surrounds Old Ankara and is free to enter and explore. But be forewarned, there are no barriers or handrails to protect clumsy walkers or those with a paralyzing fear of heights – and it’s a long way down.
Watch our video – Panoramic views from the Ankara Citadel
4. Wander the streets of the Old Quarter
Combine your visit to the Ankara Citadel with a walking tour of the historical Old Quarters. Tight single-lane cobblestone roads twist and turn, revealing old red-roofed Ottoman houses, thick fortified walls and cluttered merchant shops selling everything from jewelry to water pipes to textiles.
It’s a fairly touristy area, at least for Ankara standards (but it’s far less busy than the Old Quarters in Istanbul), meaning there’s lots of overpriced restaurants and street touts selling cheap souvenirs and trinkets. The merchants here like to bargain hard, so if you’re up for some spirited bargaining than you’ll surely enjoy this part of town.
More photos – Ankara’s Citadel and Old Quarters
5. Admire the elegance of Kocatepe Mosque
Stunning, glorious, powerful, seductive, magnificent, brilliant.
Whatever adjective you choose, it still won’t come close to accurately capturing the style and grace of Ankara’s largest and most impressive place of worship. A visit to Kocatepe Mosque is a must for anyone visiting Ankara.
Related – Marvel at Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara
6. Panoramic views from Atakule Tower
Located in the trendy and modern shopping district of Cankaya, Atakule Tower offers visitors the highest viewpoint in Ankara. Without question, the panoramic views from Atakule are the best in the city, as the photo above illustrates.
It’s quite interesting to see the lay of the land from a bird’s perspective, knowing that the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman civilizations made this land home once upon a time.
If you look closely, you can see Kocatepe Mosque in the above photo – it’s located on the far left.
7. The Museum of Anatolian Civilization
Arguably the most important museum in central Anatolia, the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations contains priceless artifacts from the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras, as well as the Hatti, Hittite, Phrygian, Urartu and Roman civilizations. Some people travel to Ankara just to visit this museum and witness its fine collection.
The museum is located within two beautifully restored Ottoman buildings on the south side of Ankara Castle, so visitors can easily check out the Ankara Citadel, Ankara Castle, Old Quarters and Museum of Anatolian Civilizations all in one visit.
If you’re a history buff, this museum has your name written all over it.
8. Eat some delicious Street Meat!
Turkish food is quite diverse, fusing Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Balkan cuisine. It offers something for every palate. That said, vegetarians consider yourself forewarned -Turkish food is all about the meat.
To validate this statement, look no further than the above photo. Now that is one HUGE rotating skewer of meat! This local Dönerci near the bus station (Otogar) in Kizilay serves up its famous “döner kebap”, a mouth-watering dish that Ankara has become widely known for.
Ankara is home to the world record-breaking doner kebab, weighing in at whopping 1,198 kilograms!
Read more – The Foodies Guide to Turkish Food
What have we learned?
Ankara may not be the most attractive city in the world and it won’t show up on Lonely Planet’s top destination list any time soon, but it does offer visitors a different side of modern Turkey.
If you find yourself traveling to Turkey, plan to spend a couple days in Ankara and soak up its progressive vibe. Most international flights to Turkey arrive and depart from Istanbul, but many of Europe’s central hubs have direct flights to Ankara Esenboğa International Airport (we flew direct from Munich to Ankara on Lufthansa Airlines).
Because Ankara is centrally located, it’s an ideal stopover for overland travelers passing through central Turkey. It’s also the center of the Turkish rail network and can be reached from most cities in Turkey.
Have you visited Ankara? What did we miss?
Share your tips and recommendations in the comments section below, we’d love to read about it!