the 7 best things to do in Ankara
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Ankara has been the capitol of Turkey since 1923, when Ataturk moved it from Istanbul. After WWI much of Turkey was occupied by the Allies who planned on sharing these lands among themselves. The center, where Ankara is, was left for the Turks.
Ataturk set up shop with his resistance army and moved the capitol from Constantinople, modern times Istanbul, to Ankara.
Ankara is divided into the new section, Yenisehir (literally meaning new city) and the old section called Ulus. There in Ulus you will see a lot more ancient architecture from a variety of civilizations.
Kizilay is the heart of the Yenisehir and there you will find a much more modern city. Kizilay is loaded with shops and somewhat touristy, hip area.
Let’s jump in a take a look at 9 things you can do when you go to Ankara!
1. Antakya 326
Whether you have had a durum somewhere else in Turkey or not, I highly recommend trying the Antakya Usulü Soslu Tavuk Döner Dürüm.
I have eaten many a durum during my time in Turkey. Sometimes they are too dry. Sometimes they have french fries inside. Sometimes they are amazing and sometimes they are not so great.
But this durum….this one is definitely the best one I have eaten in Turkey thus far. I am pretty convinced the secret is their garlic mayo sauce. It is absolutely heavenly.
If you hit up Antakya 326, let me know what you thought!
2. Atatürk’s Mausoleum
Turks absolutely love Ataturk. He was after all the father of Turkey. Unfortunately, he died at a fairly young age at the Dolmabahçe Palace, on November, 10 1938.
Anitkabir is his mausoleum. But it is also so much more than just his mausoleum. There is also an extensive museum that includes so many pieces from the early 1900s as well as many personal pieces of Ataturk’s.
You will be able to see a couple of his cars, many clothes…it even has his taxidermied dog.
One thing you will make sure you don’t want to miss is the changing of the guard. I have scoured the internet but have not been able to find a schedule. If you do, please let me know.
I happen to get lucky and caught it just as we were leaving the museum around 1:15pm. Best of luck!
Hint: make sure you don’t go on a national holiday to avoid the massive crowds.
3. Ankara Castle
Another staple on your visit is the Ankara Castle. This castle has some epic views of the city for sure.
In the past few years, they have done a lot of restoration to the buildings around the castle as well. They have renewed the roofs and siding and restored the wood. From the top of the castle you will not only be able to see a great view but also you can see where they have done renovations.
Surrounding the Ankara Castle you will also be able to find the biggest selection of touristy stuff to buy. If you’re looking for souvenirs, this is a great place to look.
You will also find a lot of amazing antiques. If you are hunting for antiques, make sure you don’t get anything that’s too old as it will cause many problems. You can read more over here on my post about antiques as gifts.
4. Ulus’ Roman Baths
It is no surprise that the ancient Roman baths are found in the older section of the city. These baths date back to early 200s A.D. This has been confirmed both by coins found at the site as well as inscriptions by Tiberius Julius Justus Julianus.
While they are not extensive and elaborate as say Ephesus, they are definitely worth a gander if you’re in Ankara.
You can get all the up-to-date details here on the official website.
This Ankara exclusive restaurant is definitely a winner. The name means “Allah Sağlık Para Afiyet Versin Amin” (May Allah Give Health, Money and Welfare. Amen)
There are multiple branches though it isn’t a chain. It is somewhat a cross between a franchise and stand alones. Every restaurant has items on their menu specific to them but not all are equated equal. Check reviews for the location you want to go to.
We went to the Meshur Yildirim ASPAVA location.
One of the things that makes ASPAVA stand out above the rest is all the free (ikram) things they include. They will bring multiple small mezes, which are like appetizers, to the table before the meal as well as a dessert and tea after the meal.
I really loved their Pilav ustusu doner – which is essentially doner meat on top of rice with a pepper and tomato. It was quite delicious. If I had known about the dessert at the end, I might not have finished my meal. I was stuffed.
Because of the economy I won’t include prices but for a sit down restaurant it was definitely a reasonably priced, if not cheap, meal considering all the ikram included.
7. Oldest Mosque in Ankara
Regardless of your thoughts on religion, the Ahi Şerafettin (Aslanhane) Camii is worth a visit. This is the oldest mosque in Ankara, built in the early 13th century by the Ahi brothers.
It’s pretty simple from the outside but the inside boasts a pretty epic ceiling. Also Ahi Şerafeddin’s tomb is here.
It is a Seljuk Mosque with a pretty unique architecture. While there are larger and more ornate mosques to see in the area, this one is unique in that it was built in a different era and a different style.
Here is the location for a visit. It is located south of the Ankara Castle.
Unfortunately for me I was wearing shorts and my friend didn’t have a scarf so we couldn’t go in. Hint: when wandering around Turkey, always carry a light scarf and wear pants…then you’ll never miss out on things like this.
7. Gençlik Park
While most of Ankara is quite hilly, Genclik Park was formerly marshlands and is the flattest area in all of Ankara. It boasts great running paths, a beautiful man-made lake and great spots for a picnic throughout.
It was completed in 1943 and as the years have gone on, it has been improved and expanded including but not limited to an outdoor theater, two miniature trains and small amusement park.
After a long day driving or flying, it is a great area to release some pent up energy or enjoy the green in the midst of all the buildings.
A note about transportation in ankara
Public transportation in Ankara isn’t nearly as extensive as it is in Istanbul. You can always take taxis which if you’re thinking in dollar/euros, are quite reasonable.
You can, however, get a card for public transportation just like the IstanbulKart but you will have to get the Ankara specific one.
things to know before going to Ankara
I love the Museum pass! As a Turkish resident I buy one every year. With people coming in for visits or traveling myself, it is worth always having on hand!
The cool thing is there are a couple of options. You can check out the official Museum Pass website for all the details but there are a couple things I will highlight.
- There is one for the whole of Turkey, one for just Istanbul and then a few for regional areas.
- Make sure you check how long they area available. They are activated on your first museum entrance. So if you buy online and then don’t use it until a month later, the clock will start from when you use it.
- Make sure you always pull it out because sometimes a site isn’t covered but it will provide you with a discount! One time I went to Pamukkale with my mom and got 30% off my sandwich!
- If you’re doing a lot of site seeing, they are typically a really great value and more than pay for themselves.
Where to Stay
You find some great places close to where you’re wanting to stay on this map below. I am a huge fan of Booking.com and Hotels.com because people actually rate hotels. Sometimes hotels can be hit or miss here in Turkey.
Take comfort in knowing others have gone before you! One thing to note, however, is don’t wait to the last minute. Good places fill up fast here during tourist season.
Also, Turkey has blocked booking.com so make sure you book your reservation before you come or use a handy dandy VPN like this one! Its the one I used and never have problems.
How to get to Ankara
There are a few ways you can get to Ankara and each has it’s benefits
YHT (high speed train) to Ankara
I really enjoy the YHT for many reasons. I love being able to get up and move around throughout the ride and having a bit more space than I would on a flight. I also love being able to sit by the window and watch the scenery fly by as I journal. It’s one of my favorite things to do.
A few notes to make the ride easier and smoother.
- You should be at the station 30 min before so you can get through security.
- When riding the YHT, the red button on the wall by the door between cabins opens said door.
- You can bring your own food. If you’re in first class, they will likely give you a olive and cheese sandwich, juice and water.
Fly to Ankara
This is probably my least favorite way to get places simply because getting there is such a hassle. That being said, it would take about the same amount of time with transit as the high speed train. Well depending on where you are staying.
You can get there via the new IST airport or the SAW airport. If you’re on the Asian side, SAW is the best way to go and if you’re on the European side, IST is closer.
Domestic flights are fairly inexpensive comparatively. They will also be about the same price as a train ticket. And I’m really digging WayAway as they have some great benefits right now.
Rent a car and drive to ankara
Renting cars is a great way to go if you’re wanting to see more than just Ankara. I have rented a car multiple times in Turkey and it has been a pretty fun experience every time.
I am not a huge fan of driving in Istanbul but as I drove in the Mugla province and along the Black Sea, it was so great to see all the things as we went.
I definitely always get full insurance as it gives such peace of mind! I have used this widget both times I have rented a car and it has made it so easy.
Public Transportation to ankara
There are also buses that throughout the country. FlixBus is a great way to get tickets. They are mere dollars/euros for one way trips. They are the least expensive route but also take the longest amount of time.
If you really love a bus ride or are short on time, they are nice buses and a pretty good ride. I have friends who exclusively use buses.
What to wear
While Turkey doesn’t have specific rules on what you can/can’t wear and while it does have a secular government, it would be good to remember that Turkey is an Islamic country. It will be more conservative than not.
Here is a post on how to dress when visiting Turkey.
I think hold a different opinion than many, and perhaps even than you, so here it is. While you can get away with much more in a touristy area, doesn’t mean you should or that you have to.
While Ankara is a modern city, it is more conservative that Istanbul, Izmir or Antalya. Staying on the conservative side will probably be much more comfortable than not.
If you go into a mosque you will be required to cover up (no shorts, women have to cover head and shoulders) but even as you’re out an about it would be prudent to cover up a little more than perhaps you normally would back home.
While you may not have a problem, you will get a lot of looks and draw attention to yourself. Maybe you don’t care which is fine too. In more rural areas, you won’t see men in shorts and women are often still wearing long skirts or pants and will have their heads covered even in the summer.
While Ankara isn’t as hopping of a place as Istanbul, it is definitely worth visiting. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Ankara and hope to return again some day.
If you’re looking to move, I think it could be a great option because it is still Turkey without all the insanity of Istanbul. The streets were so much quieter and less crowded. It was definitely not nearly as humid. I recommend Ankara.
Have you been to Ankara before? Will you be adding it to your list?
See ya next time!