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Ankara is usually touted as Turkey’s political center while Istanbul is the exciting sister city that has much more vitality. Even though these generalizations have some truth, both cities have their positive and negative aspects. We took a look at the pros and cons of Turkey’s capital (Ankara) and center of culture (Istanbul) so that you can decide which is a better fit for your vacation.
Lots of Sightseeing
It’s no secret that almost every corner of Istanbul has a historic tale to tell and during almost every construction project the remains of some church or mosque come to light. Apart from Sultanahmet and its grand mosques and Ottoman palaces, the city’s many neighborhoods all have the remnants of European, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, and Armenian architecture and culture just waiting to be explored.
Istanbul’s gastronomic scene is a mixture of traditional and modern, with restaurants that have been around for decades and the newer endeavors of celebrity chefs. The food is downright delicious and there are many options; from the simple kebab to the modern interpretation of Anatolian recipes.
The famous strait that separates the continents is a different color every day, and is a beautiful sight to behold. Ferry rides to the Asian side or a long Bosphorus tour allow visitors to get an eyeful of the huge city from every angle.
Two Continents (Double the Fun)
The Asian side is quite different from the European side; and just when you thought you’d seen everything, you can always take a ferry ride to Kadıköy to explore a completely different neighborhood. Oh, and there are of course the Princes Islands, let’s not forget those.
Traffic in Istanbul is an absolute nightmare, commutes can stretch out for hours in a stop-and-go situation that can drive the calmest person insane. In Istanbul, 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 yet another horror).
The Endless Crowds
Istanbul is extremely crowded and loud to a point where the city’s soundtrack might as well include car honking. Public transportation is always full to the max and people usually are not very polite, pushing through to get in when they should wait for passengers to step out first. Also, you’ll have to make reservations in advance for everything because on weekends, almost every venue is packed.
The Trash Problem
Istanbul’s residents can be known to throw their trash onto the streets. In the summer, the city’s few green areas are overcrowded with people who barbecue outdoors and afterward abandon all their waste to toss about in the wind.
The Conservative Population
Istanbul is a city of opposites, and for every modern and European neighborhood, there will be a very conservative area where you may feel uncomfortable walking around in something revealing. Many of Istanbul’s conservative men also enjoy leering at women on the streets; so you would have to get used to store proprietors staring at you inappropriately when you have something short on.
Trees and Parks
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 allowed to flourish.
Quiet and Organized
Ankara is a residential and political city, meaning it’s quieter and more organized when compared to the chaos in Istanbul. Even though it has a bit of traffic during rush hour, you’ll never hear excessive car honking or the noise of the urban shuffle. The streets are also not overcrowded and on the weekends it’s possible to go out without getting a headache from the oncoming waves of human bodies.
Shopping & Sightseeing
Ankara is a haven for shoppers with a lot of modern malls that have 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 favorites.
From the beautifully ornate Ziraat Bank Headquarters (built in 1925 by Giulio Mongeri) to the more modern office buildings of the 1960s in the Ulus neighborhood, Ankara has a lot to see for architecture enthusiasts. Even the city’s 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.
Small Restaurant Culture
Ankara’s restaurant culture is not as varied as Istanbul, so you won’t find that unique haute cuisine Turkish restaurant run by a celebrity chef. But from kebab to fresh fish, variety does exist in Ankara (definitely try the Aspava!).
No Cultural Life
Ankara’s biggest weakness has to be its lack of cultural life. There are no major events like art exhibition openings or the latest musical. The dilapidated condition of its opera house also speaks volumes about the focus on events.