TURKEY: Top 5 sites in Ankara, Turkey
Jason and I have talked about doing a Black Sea Road trip throughout the North East area of Turkey ever since we moved to Turkey, but it has never happened in the last 4 years of living here. On HIS birthday, Jason surprised me by setting aside some dates, finding tickets, renting a car, and making a ‘let’s go’ plan! So in less than 10 days before leaving, we finalized our itinerary and booked all our lodging for 12 nights. It was a little stressful but we made it happen!
***Spoiler: It turned out to be an amazing time, to say the least.
COVID-19 has not made 2020 fun for anyone, even us living the expat life in Turkey, and traveling in the midst of the virus meant we had to be extra careful and mindful of our exposure. You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan this past summer.
While Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, Ankara is the country’s capital! This city has a population of 4.5 million in the city centre and over 5.6 million in the province. Just like any capital, it’s a center for the nation’s museums and the performing arts.
When the establishment of the new Turkish Republic happened on 29 October 1923, so did Ankara too became the official capital, replacing the consistently chosen Istanbul by former empires. Its more central location makes it an important commercial and industrial city and the hub of Turkey’s road and railway networks.
Even though Ankara is the ‘new’ capital it is not a new city. The region dates back to the Bronze Age and the Hatti Civilization back in the 2nd millennium BC – crazy LONG time ago. From there follows the normal progressing of rulers: Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Persians, Galatians (who were the first to make Ankara their capital), Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, and finally to the Ottomans until the First World War.
Unlike the big city vibes of Istanbul, the country’s second largest city has a more family and residential feel to it. Parliament, embassies, and companies’ headquarters bring lots of foreigners to this city, but it tends to be all work.
Read on to know what you should see and do in Ankara, Turkey:
1. Anıtkabir – Atatürk’s Mausoleum
- If you have very little time in Ankara, this should be your first stop. The most historic monument for the Turkish Republic, the Anitkabir, sits on an enormous hilltop and holds the mausoleum of Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s first president. There are four parts: Ceremonial Plaza, the Road of Lions, the Hall of Honor, and Peace Park. The plaza along, being able to hold 15,000 people will impress upon you its size. Admission is free and there is so much to learn about Turkey here!
- I could write a post just on this site alone (maybe I will?). But until this here are a few things you don’t want to miss along the way:
- The Road of lions is a pedestrian-only lined with lion statues symbolizing peace and power.
- General Ismet Inönü, Kemal Atatürk’s friend, comrade in arms, General, chief of staff, diplomat, prime minister and second president of the Turkish Republic is honored in a cenotaph beneath the western opposing colonnade.
- As you climb the monumental staircase to enter the Hall of Honor, excerpts from Atatürk‘s speech given on the 10th anniversary (1932) of the republic’s proclamation are inscribed in gold on either side.
- In the large pavilion – the Hall of Honor, continually guarded by military men, the huge marble cenotaph weighting 40 tons is cut from a single block of stone. Atatürk‘s actual tomb is beneath it. If you happen to be there around noon you witness the changing of the guards!
- Make sure not to miss the 3,000 meters of War of Independence museum located under the Hall of Honor.
NOTE TO ANYONE VISITING TURKEY (NOT JUST IN THE ANITKABIR): Atatürk’s memory and legacy are revered and protected by law. Do not be disrespectful or joke about their national hero.
2. Ankara Castle
- The views of the sprawling city from the top of the castle spread out before you and invite you to snap a few pictures. The build date isn’t know but historian say it postdates the capture and destruction of Ankara by the Persians in probably 622. Just like the city, the castle has fallen through many hands such as the Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk, and Ottoman empires.
- This area is well equipped with great local restaurants, fantastic souvenir shopping where lots of locally made products are available at a very fair price. You do not want to bargain here because merchants are very fair and will feel insulted if you bargain. If you are buying multiple items, they usually give a discount. My purchases here were fairly priced and much more affordable than other tourist areas like Cappadocia.
- The castle isn’t accessible by car and you will have to walk for a bit before you get to the stairs to climb up. It is a challenge with the steps so if you are in poor health or aged I might just look around the many shops that spread out at the base of the castle. They are worth browsing as well. It is definitely not baby stroller friendly nor handicap accessible.
3. Hamamönü Area:
- This small neighborhood boast of it’s restored 1920-1930 houses now filled with cafes, restaurants, and artist shops. For tourist who want to get a sense of what old town, they can step back into time here. Take a break and enjoy a Turkish coffee made over a sand fire from one of the many cafes.
- When you go to Hamamönü, you must visit the house of Mehmet Akif Ersoy and the tomb of Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu at Tacettin Dergah. Unfortunately it is difficult to find information in English about this historic significance as you are walking around. .
- You can go to Hamamönü by bus or the city bus. If you go with your own car like we did, you can park on the side of the main road or find a little parking lot.
4. Gençlik Park
- Opened in 1943 on former marshlands, this 68 acres park is almost at the center of the city. The garden and play areas for kids invite you to relax and get away from noise and stress of the nearby city. The park has several nice outdoor cafes and seating areas where one can relax. The outer sidewalk lining the park makes for a nice long walking loop.
- Unfortunately when we visited the pond/fountain was not functional. As well, the fair attractions, including the ferris wheel, were also not operational on the day of our visit (we did go at 8 a.m. or it could have been COVID related).
- The Republic Museum and War of Independence Museum are walking distance from one entrance/exit to park.
5. All the Museums:
- Unfortunately, we did not have time to make it to any museums (2 year old, work, and nap times…) but I left a list of ones you don’t want to miss! (Like I have mentioned before, not all museums have English translations or cater to foreign speakers…)
- The Republic Museum
- War of Independence Museum
- Ethnographic Museum
- Museum of Anatolian Civilizations
- Mehmet Akif Ersoy Old House & Museum (Poet who wrote Turkey’s National Anthem)
- Roman Bath
- Natural History Museum
- Aviation Museum
- Rahmi M. Koc Muzesi – MUST!
- TCDD open-air Locomotive Museum
- Museum of Toys
- Ulucanlar Prison Museum
- Kocatepe Mosque – not a museum but still worth a visit!
- List of more here
Few things we missed:
If you have time, here are a few other sites that would be fun to consider:
- Altın Köşk (Definitely on my list for next time)
- Roman Baths
- Upside Down House (Ters Ev)
- Kuğulu Park
Our other tips for this area:
- For our road trip, we flew from Izmir to Ankara on Pegasus Airlines and drove a rental car from Ankara to Rize- stopping in Amasya, Samsun, Ordu, and Trabzon along the way.
- Pegasus Airlines and Turkish Airlines have daily flights from both Istanbul and Izmir to Ankara.
- Anka City Hotel: We would absolutely stay in this hotel again! With 1 and 2 bedroom apartment style options, it’s small but perfect for a family visit to Ankara. The staff was amazing and breakfast was excellent – complete with your choice of cooked eggs!
- no special Turkish recs but is you are an expat like us, you are always on the lookout for good Mexican food and Sushi…
- QuickChina: May be my favorite Asia restaurant in all of Turkey and they are ONLY IN ANKARA! Great service, tons of options, and everything is delicious.
- Rancheros: This is the most authentic Mexican restaurant vibes and food I have found in Turkey yet.
- If you are looking for a few extra stops, NorthEast-bound Sinop is the highest point along the Black Sea Coastline of Turkey.
- Drive the East bound inland route towards Samsun, stopping the night in Amasya like we did.
Overall, Ankara is the heart of the Turkish Republic. For history lover or Turkish history enthusiast, the capital city must be on your visit list. You can Explore Ankara with us over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our Ankara video!
Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:
- Do you want to travel to Ankara now?
- Have you traveled to Ankara before?
- If so, what did you love? What did we miss?!
Check out our other locations on this road trip! This is just the 1st of our 8 part video and blog post series of our road trip.
- SPOILERS: Instagram highlights
- My top 5 tools video for how we planned our travels – VIDEO
- Part 1: Explore Ankara, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
- Part 2: Explore Amasya, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
- Part 3: Explore Samsun, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
- Part 4: Explore Ordu, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
- Part 5: Explore Trabzon Part 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
- Part 6: Explore Rize ParT 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
- Part 7: Explore Rize PART 2, Turkey – VIDEO
- Part 8: BSRT FINALE! Explore Trabzon Part 2, Turkey – VIDEO