Travelers heading to Turkey often skip through or over the country’s capital city Ankara. The big attractions most people come across when researching are hardly enticing to most – a whitewash of quiet museums that look stale against the live historical backdrop of Turkey itself. What Ankara lacks on the surface it makes up for in depth, and you can dig a little deeper to look into Turkey’s past and beyond.
Modern Turkish history and culture is inseparable from the nation’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Anitkabir is Ataturk’s mausoleum and his symbolic tomb there is impressive, but you’ll learn much more in the unglamorous halls to the right of it. Strolling through the narrow corridors you can read many of his philosophies on a wide range of topics, end up in a collection from his personal library, and see why Ataturk’s image is everywhere in Turkey.
- If you want to go for a walk or jog while staying in Ankara, the several kilometer stone path around Anitkabir is an easy one to follow.
- Almost directly across the the entrance to Anitkabir there is also a free outdoor running track with free weights, workout benches, and pull-up bars.
A smaller memorial to Ataturk can be found in the Ankara’s Ethnographic Museum, where he was buried during the construction of Anitkabir. It’s 3 Turkish lira (TL) to enter but art lovers can go next door to visit the free Ankara Resim Heykel Muzesi (Painting and Sculpture Museum) instead which features art from the Ottoman Empire through the present.
The Best View Of The City For Free – Ankara Citadel
Also known as Ankara Kale or Hisar, the walls of this ancient Hittite castle are free and offer the best 360 degree views of Ankara. It’s over several hundred stairs to the top, and much like the path to top of La Basilica in Quito will test any fear of heights. You’ll also wind your way up through a small town and if you get lost the shopkeepers will give you good directions (don’t ask the kids playing the streets though).
- Unless you’re mortified of heights, don’t stop and go all the way up along the edge of the highest wall. There you’ll be able to see all of Ankara from its highest point. See if you can find Anitkabir and Atakule, two of the most recognizable features on the landscape.
- You can get to the Citadel either by getting off at the Ulus metro stop (a ~1.5 kilometer walk) or by taxi. (Tell the driver “Ankara Kale”.)
Speaking of Atakule, it’s a popular tourist attraction but the restaurants at the top are expensive and the view not nearly as impressive as the Ankara Citadel.
Find The Ancient Romans
Located near Ulus Square, in the same area as the Citadel, you’ll find remnants of Ankara’s Roman past. Within short walking distance of the square you’ll find the Temple Of Augustus And Rome, which is free to visit. Also close by is the Column Of Julian, erected in 362 A.D. in honor of the Roman emperor of that same name.
- The easiest way to find both sites is to take the metro (to Ulus) and use a good tourist map of Ankara.
There is also the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations with a recreation of the neolithic site Catalhoyuk. I find this popular museum to be overrated; for a special historical treat visit Konya, one of 5 Turkish cities to add to your itinerary. From there you can take a local bus or rent a car to visit the actual Catalhoyuk, a treat since hardly anyone visits the best preserved and largest Neolithic site in the world. (It is also on the way to Tasucu, a major port for the ferries heading to the Turkish Republic Of Northern Cyprus.) Guides are available at the site open year round and admission is free (although small donations are encouraged).
Many of these places have varying names in Turkish making a good map and the metro the most straightforward approach to finding them. By taxi however, the best way to situate yourself is to tell the driver to go to the “Belis Minaresi” (local name for the Column of Julian) near the “Ulus Meydani”.
Go Pazar (Bazaar) Hopping And Shopping In Ankara
The pazar (bazaar) is an integral part of Turkish tradition and Ankara has its fair share of them although they are slowly losing their relevance in daily life. The bazaars are finding it difficult to compete with modern supermarkets and malls who can deliver more good often for cheaper prices.
- Cikrikcilar Yokusu (Weaver’s Road) – As the name suggests you can find handmade crafts in this area of Ulus at good deals…if you bargain your way to a good price. Up the street there is more shopping at Bakircilar Carsisi.
- Organik Pazari (Organic Bazaar) – Go grocery shopping for a healthy hostel meal at this market which sells locally grown organic produce in the Ayranci district.
There are also two other bazaars worth stopping by if you love markets, the Maltepe Pazari (near the Maltepe Mosque) and the Bahcelievler Pazar. Keep in mind that Mondays are reserved for fresh produce and food products only. Ankara is also booming with modern shopping malls like Armada (with good movie theaters) and stores in Kizilay. All are easily accessible from the Ankara subway system or by taxi.
Pictures And Pitchers
The Kocatepe Mosque‘s confident exterior and elegant interior design is a photographers dream. It also happens to be free as all the mosques in Ankara are. Just remember you’ll have to take off your shoes when entering and be sure to ask if photography is allowed.
- Of course, after a long day sightseeing in Ankara you can enjoy the vibrant local bar scene. There are plenty of places in Cankaya, Ulus, and Kizilay to grab a pint or drink Raki like a Turk.
- Most people begin their trips to Turkey with a stay in Istanbul. Here’s what you can do with 48 hours in Istanbul.
Ankara often gets lost in the bright lights of Istanbul and the shimmering waters of the best beaches in Turkey, but don’t let them prevent you from uncovering the heart of Anatolia.
[photo by: slolee (pazar shopping)]
Looks beautiful!!! I love bazaars.
Turkey has some great ones but they are not the centers of commerce they once were. See some ‘live’ ones while they’re still running 🙂
Looks like a cool city. We missed it on our travels through Turkey. My mother is actually there right now, so this post was quite timely!
In Ankara? No way, if she has any questions feel free to ask. I know that city in and out. I’ll actually be there in 2 weeks or so for a wedding…
Great tips! I’ll definitely have to check out the running path that you mentioned when I go there 🙂
I’m nuts about running and working out so always on the lookout for these kind of places. Headed there soon?
Not on this trip. I actually gave it up in order to meet some friends in Berlin & Barcelona. But I am dying to go to Turkey, so hopefully it will be soon!
It is funny that many people think that Istanbul is the capital of Turkey rather than Ankara. I guess any country (including Australia) that doesn’t make their biggest city the capital risks that confusion (Canada, South Africa,…)
You can’t imagine the number of times I’ve had arguments with people trying to convince me Istanbul is the capital!
I totally want to go to the Ankara Citadel. It looks awesome. Yet another place to add to our ever growing travel destinations that we have to visit. I have heard amazing things about Turkey and we haven’t made it there yet. I will definitely put Ankara on the list.
It’s fun to wander around there and the nice thing about Ankara is many of these places are ever hardly crowded.
Great tips. I feel like I haven’t visited a country properly if I don’t visit the capital.
I’s much rather look for the less known attractions than beat my way through the tourist hoards – Ankara looks like just the place if you’re seeking that kind of experience
Ankara is a good place to visit to feel like you have a place to yourself.
Great tips Anil, I’ll keep these handy for the next time I visit Turkey – whenever that may be!
That is definitely my kind of destination, something a bit more low-key and less-visited. It shall be on my list when I soon visit Turkey…
Looking forward to it 🙂
One to bookmark for the future 🙂 There’s a lot more to Turkey than just Istanbul, and it deserves a lengthy stay. The views from the castle and the walls themselves remind me of Aleppo’s Citadelle.
On the way up you can just imagine what it would have taken to conquer the Ankara Citadel. Central Anatolia is full of interesting history from the many civilizations that have called the area home.
Sad to hear the bazaar are having a hard time competing with modern super markets. The bazaar culture is what I love about Turkey!
Even the corner markets and stores are having trouble keeping up with their modern counterparts – sad to see something so Turkish not be what it was.
I must admit, I have never thought of visiting Ankara before but you have put the thought there now. Next trip is to Cappadocia and then I was going to do Istanbul, perhaps could squeeze in Ankara between.
It’s on the way and worth seeing even if it’s just a day or two. Any idea when you’ll be passing through the area?
Hi Anil, Hopefully if I save enough money then it will be November as I want to go straight from Cappadocia to Istanbul. If I don’t save enough money then will have to delay it till Feb. Would want to do longer than two days though. I don’t like staying just two days in a place, can not get the feel for it.
Ah ok. Was going to say I’ll be there next week most likely to attend a wedding. Might cross paths somewhere here though, I’ll be based out of Fethiye over the next few months.
Ok, look forward to reading your posts about fethiye, thats another place that I need to write about. Signed up for your newsletter.
Ankara is a much cooler city than Istanbul or Trabzon and a highglight from my time in Turkey. It annoys me the way so many tourists head to the Bul and skip the capital, this is the pumping heart of Turkey right here.