Want to visit both Ankara and Istanbul, plus a selection of other incredible destinations? Join Culture Trip’s expertly curated 12-day adventure in Turkey.
The pros of Istanbul
Every corner of Istanbul has a tale to tell and during almost every construction project the remains of some church or mosque come to light. Most tourists head to the grand mosques and Ottoman palaces of the Sultanahmet district, but many neighborhoods have European, Greek Orthodox, Jewish and Armenian architecture to explore.
The gastronomic scene in Istanbul is a mixture of traditional and modern, with restaurants that have been around for decades and newer endeavours from celebrity chefs. The food is downright delicious and there are many options; from the simple kebab to modern interpretations of Anatolian recipes.
Istanbul is split in two by the Bosphorus: one side on the European continent, the other on the Asian. The dividing waterway makes the city the only one in the world that straddles two continents. You can visit both in a day to experience the different architecture and atmospheres. And when you want something completely different, head to the Princes’ Islands, a mostly car-free collection of islands where bike or horse-drawn carriage is the preferred mode of transport. A ferry from either the European or Asian side of Istanbul should take about 40 minutes.
The strait that separates the continents of Europe and Asia is a different colour every day, and is a beautiful sight to behold. Ferry rides to the Asian side, or a long Bosphorus tour, allow you to get an eyeful of this huge city from every angle.
The cons of Istanbul
Traffic in Istanbul is a nightmare. Commutes can stretch for hours in a stop-start situation that will drive the calmest person insane. It means you’ll have to give yourself plenty of time to get from point A to B and pretty much avoid driving a car altogether (because parking is another horror).
Istanbul is extremely crowded and loud – the city soundtrack might as well be honking cars. Public transportation is always full and busy folk might well push through before passengers step out. Nights out are just as bad. You’ll probably need to make reservations in advance because almost every venue is rammed on weekends.
Istanbul residents can be known to throw their rubbish onto the streets. In the summer, the few green areas in the city are overcrowded with people who barbecue outdoors and leave their waste to toss about in the wind.
The pros of Ankara
The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive in Ankara is how green it is compared to Istanbul. Lush trees line the streets, and parks (where you can actually take a quiet walk) do exist. Unlike Istanbul, the focus on real estate is not as drastic and the natural world has been allowed to flourish.
Ankara is a residential and political city, meaning it is quieter and more organised compared to chaotic Istanbul. Even though there’s a bit of traffic during rush hour, you’ll never hear excessive car honking or the noise of the urban shuffle. The streets are not overcrowded and on the weekends it’s possible to go out without having to dodge waves of humans.
Ankara is a haven for shoppers with plenty of modern malls stocking every brand imaginable. The capital also doesn’t fall short on sightseeing, with the Mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Ethnography Museum, and the Ankara Kalesi (and surrounding old city) deemed as favourites.
From the beautifully ornate Ziraat Bank Museum (built in 1929 by Giulio Mongeri) to the more modern office buildings of the 1960s in the Ulus neighbourhood, Ankara has a lot to see for architecture enthusiasts. Even the train station (built in 1937) is a gorgeous example of art deco, while the old clock towers and metal lamps decorate the streets like a true capital city.
The cons of Ankara
The restaurant culture in Ankara is not as varied as in Istanbul, so you won’t find that unique haute-cuisine Turkish restaurant run by a celebrity chef. But from kebabs to fresh fish, variety does exist in Ankara (definitely visit Aspava, a traditional Turkish restaurant with a long list of local classics).
The biggest weakness of the Turkish capital is its lack of cultural life. There are few major events such as art exhibition openings or the latest musicals. The dilapidated condition of the opera house also speaks volumes about the lack of focus on events.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.