Though Ankara wasn’t pronounced the capital of Turkey until 1923, the city has long symbolised independence and modernity to the nation’s people. Though often trumped by Istanbul in the tourism stakes, Ankara is packed with history and culture. From Roman remains to Ottoman castles, the Turkish capital is an attraction in and of itself. Here are the top things to see and do in Ankara…
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Unlike the fairytale castles you see in storybooks, this fort is of the large, dense and distinctly military variety. Built during Ottoman times, it has magnificent crenellations atop four huge walls, with 42 pentagonal towers at various stages along the length. Walking uphill to the castle may be something of a workout, but the magnificent view at the top is worth it, as is the busy market with dozens of small stalls selling all types of souvenirs.
The mausoleum of the first and second President of the Republic of Turkey is a beautifully designed museum that attracts tourists, historians and architects. Divided into four parts, this is a sprawling complex. The Road of Lions is a long walkway where Turkish soldiers march on parade days whilst Peace Park, bursting with vegetation, houses a Turkish flag created entirely from flowers. Then there’s the Ceremonial Plaza and the Hall of Honor, home to the tomb of Ataturk. There’s a lot to see, so audio guides (which are available in many languages from the visitor centre) are a worthwhile investment.
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Atakule, which opened in 1989, is a communications and observation tower rising 125m (410ft). ‘Ata‘ means ancestor and ‘kule‘ means tower in Turkish. This is a historical landmark in the administrative area of Çankaya, with an open terrace from which you can look out over the entire city. If you want to eat with a view, visit Sevilla, the in-house restaurant, which rotates a full 360 degrees each hour, revealing panoramic views as you enjoy your meal.
Çengelhan Rahmi M. Koç Museum, next to Ankara Castle, showcases a whole host of industrial exhibits concerning transport, industry and communications. Most of these have been generously donated by the fabulously wealthy Koç family. Adults and children alike will enjoy wandering the rooms, admiring the curios and collectables. These include children’s toys and old technology, as well as full-size ships and aircraft. With many interactive exhibitions and activities, including a free train ride, this museum is a perfect way to spend a day – particularly as there’s a fine place to eat, Divan Café, with outdoor seating for warm weather.
If you take the train to Ankara, one of the first things you’ll see on pulling into the station is the Ferris wheel at Gençlik Park. This is a public space with a difference: as well as almost 28ha (70 acres) of greenery and water features, it has a swimming pool, an amusement park, an open-air theatre and two miniature trains. There are also more than 40 kiosks selling every conceivable treat; make sure you try the dondurma (Turkish ice cream) and fresh corn-on-the-cob. Every evening the main pool hosts a spectacular light show, extremely popular with children.
Try to time your Ankara trip so it coincides with a fantastic festival. The Ankara International Film Festival runs yearly from April to May, with around a dozen events a day over the month. Then there’s the Ankara Music Festival, which sees world-class European and Turkish music arrive each April courtesy of international musical institutions and local cultural organizations. Ankara International Cartoon Festival, also in April, is adored for its huge cartoon competition in which professional cartoonists from all over Turkey submit their work to be judged by a secret committee. Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival takes place each May and celebrates women’s contributions to filmmaking. In December, Ankara International Dance Festival holds various concerts, shows and workshops by internationally renowned dancers and artists in a celebration of the performing arts and fashion industries.
Beypazarı is a town 100km (62mi) beyond the capital in Ankara province that’s rich in history. Best known for silverwork, like many visitors you’ll be drawn to the town jewellery market in search of glittering souvenirs. There are numerous purveyors so you can expect to leave clutching plenty of diverse goods and products. Bring your camera, the old houses and narrow streets make for a special ambience here.
Constructed in the 15th century, The Haci Bayram Mosque is dedicated to the Turkish Sufi and poet Hacı Bayram-ı Veli, and is considered to be one of the most historically significant mosques in Ankara, if not the whole of Turkey. It is also one of the most visited. Make sure you locate the Arabic calligraphy on the walls and the painted engravings that make up the various unique features of this structure. Of course, many people attend for prayer and other religious reasons, but you’re welcome to simply call in to appreciate the architecture and history of this great monument.
Built in the third century by Caracalla, who ruled as Roman Emperor from 198 to 217 CE, these baths were constructed around three principal rooms: the caldarium (hot bath), the tepidarium (warm bath) and the frigidarium (cold bath). The baths were in use up until the eighth century when they were destroyed by fire leaving only the ruins of the basement and first floor. Still, the aura of wonder and mystery that surrounds them is palpable as you idle in the semi-gloom and imagine the pomp of the past.
Inhabiting a former railway workshop close to the city centre, this modern art and photography space is a must-visit not only for what it contains but as a beautiful example of repurposed architecture. Like all outstanding museums, the building itself is a stand-out, with the train garages turned into light-filled, airy exhibition spaces full of contemporary paintings and sculpture, as well as a modern section housing an excellent cafe and bookshop.
About 10 minutes outside the city, this vast theme park is Turkey’s answer to Disney World. In fact, it’s one of the biggest theme parks in Europe, with 26 large rollercoaster experiences as well as thousands of smaller rides and activities spread over the 130ha (321-acre) sprawl. There’s also a huge multi-dimensional theatre, an enormous Dinosaur Jungle featuring a beast measuring 70m (230ft) in length, and fountains spraying water more than 120m (394ft) into the air.
This small, centrally located park is the perfect spot for kids who need to burn off a little energy. With densely planted trees and greenery, it is a bit of an urban oasis, enhanced by a large duck pond (home also to swans) at its centre. Children come to feed the birds and run across the little wooden bridges, whilst there is also a popular playground. In the meantime, parents can relax with a coffee at the outdoor cafe or take up a position on the nearby grassy embankment.
Alex Allen contributed additional reporting to this article.
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