Are you curious about what is the capital of Turkey? If you’re thinking Ankara then you’re right on target!
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It can be a bit confusing because Istanbul was the capital prior to 1923 and is still the largest city in Istanbul.
It carries a majority of the economic weight even though the business of running a country happens in the capital.
So what is it? Ankara has been the capital of Turkey since 1923 when it was moved from Istanbul.
Since I have lived in Turkey since 2019 and have been to both Ankara and Istanbul I can say, despite being quite different from each other, they are both worth a visit.
If you’re curious about what you should see while you’re there, let me tell you my favorite things to do in Ankara.
Ankara: Turkey’s Capital
A Little History
Ankara is a city with a long and fascinating history. It dates back to the Bronze Age Hatti civilization, which was succeeded in the 2nd millennium BC by the Hittites.
In 278 B.C.E., Ankara was occupied by the Gaulish people of Galatia, who were the first to make Ankara their capital and named it Ancyra, meaning “anchor”.
During its long history, Ankara has been under various empires such as the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires.
Ankara became the capital city of Turkey on October 13, 1923, and is known for its significant historical and cultural significance.
After gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1922, the young Republic of Turkey needed a new capital that would represent the new regime’s modern and secularist ideals.
Istanbul, previously known as Constantinople, was too intertwined with the Ottoman Empire’s Islamic past to serve as a symbol for the new republic.
In contrast, Ankara was a small Anatolian city located in the heart of Turkey that was considered a neutral location.
What about now?
Since then, Ankara has become a central hub for government institutions and the country’s political and economic activities.
The city is located in central Anatolia, and it is home to many government institutions, museums, and cultural landmarks.
The iconic Kocatepe Mosque, built in 1987, is one of the city’s most recognizable structures.
Ankara is also renowned for its excellent cuisine, with many traditional dishes originating from the region.
Visitors can enjoy local delicacies such as lentil soup, lamb kebabs, and stuffed vine leaves.
Additionally, the city has a vibrant nightlife scene with a range of bars, clubs, and music venues.
The city has many archaeological sites from these different eras that are worth exploring.
Today, Ankara is located in the Central Anatolia Region of Turkey and continues to be an important cultural center throughout the region.
One of my favorite things I noticed as I wandered the streets of Ankara was the way different areas looked and felt.
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 Turkey vibe loaded with shops and a somewhat touristy, hip area.
My hope is that you will get to avoid all the research and know what you should absolutely check out on your trip to Ankara.
Let’s jump in a take a look at the best 7 things you should do!
Here are 7 things you should definitely check out while in 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 think!
2. Mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Turks absolutely love Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. 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 many pieces from the early 1900s as well as many personal pieces of Ataturk.
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 happened to get lucky and caught it just as we were leaving the museum around 1:15 pm. Best of luck!
Pro tip: Make sure you don’t go on a national holiday to avoid the massive crowds.
3. Ankara Castle
Another staple on your visit is 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 the 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 of a cross between a franchise and a stand-alone.
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 make 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 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.
6. 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 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 in a different style.
Here is the location for a visit. It is located south of Ankara Castle.
Unfortunately for me, I was wearing shorts and my friend didn’t have a scarf so we couldn’t go in.
Pro tip: 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 a 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 dollars/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 of things I will highlight.
- There is one for the whole of Turkey, one for just Istanbul, and then a few for different regions in Turkey.
- Make sure you check how long they are available. They are activated at 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 sightseeing, 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 want 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 until 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! It’s the one I used and never had 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 an 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 want 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 me 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 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 than 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 and 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 a place as Istanbul, it is definitely worth visiting. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Ankara and hope to return again someday.
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.
What is the old name of Turkey?
Before the Republic of Türkiye was established in 1923, the area currently occupied by Turkey was known as Anatolia. Now Turkey is known as the only metropolis to span both Europe and Asia.
Is Istanbul the biggest city in Europe?
Yes, Istanbul is the largest city in Europe. It is the world’s 15th-largest city and has a population of over 14 million people. Istanbul is located on both sides of the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. The city is known for its rich history, culture, and architecture, with many iconic landmarks such as the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Galata Tower.