The Top Things to See and Do in Ankara

Statue at Anitkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey
Statue at Anitkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey | © SKG / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Carrie Chan
28 April 2021

Though Ankara wasn’t pronounced the Turkish capital 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…

Ankara Castle (Kalesi)

Historical Landmark
Map View
Ankara Kalesi Castle, Ankara, Central Anatolia Region, Anatolia, Turkey
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Unlike the fairytale castles you see in storybooks, Ankara’s 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 its 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.

Anıtkabir

Historical Landmark, Museum
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Ataturk Mausoleum, Anitkabir, Ankara, Central Anatolia Region, Anatolia, Turkey
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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 center) are a worthwhile investment.

Museum of Anatolian Civilizations

Museum
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Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. Turkey
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In the Atpazarı district, not far from the castle, the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations inhabits two impressive Ottoman-era buildings. A huge collection of Anatolian archaeology arranged chronologically in exhibits spanning from the Paleolithic era to the present day, the museum acts as an introduction to the ancient history of Turkey and Ankara. You will see a selection of tools made of bone and stone, Neolithic mother-goddess sculptures, earthenware receptacles and stamps, not to mention dozens of artefacts shimmering in gold.

Atakule

Historical Landmark
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Turkey ankara capital city "atakule" skyscraper. skyscrapers have become a symbol of Turkey's capital
© oktay sonmez / Alamy Stock Photo
Atakule, opened in 1989, is a communications and observation tower rising 410 feet. ‘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

Museum, Park
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Old clocks Rahmi M. Koc Museum, Ankara
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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 collectibles. 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.

Gençlik Park

Amusement Park, Park, Swimming Pool, Theater
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Genclik parki waterpark Ulus district Ankara central Anatolia Turkey Asia
© worldpix / Alamy Stock Photo
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 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.

Ankara Festivals

Building, Architectural Landmark, Cinema
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Chansu Folk Dance Group folk ensemble from Ankara, Turkey, performing at 26th Folkart International CIOFF Folklore Festival
© Sasa Huzjak / Alamy Stock Photo
Try to time your Ankara trip to coincide with one of the city’s fantastic festivals. The Ankara International Film Festival runs yearly from April to May, with around a dozen events a day over the month. Then there is 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 film making. 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.

Kuyumcular Çarşısı in Beypazarı

Market
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Beypazari, Ankara / Turkey - July 24 2020: Beypazari district center and traditional houses
© Mehmet Kalkan / Alamy Stock Photo
Beypazarı is a town 100km (62mi) beyond the capital in Ankara province that’s rich in history. Best known for its silverwork, like many visitors you’ll be drawn to the town jewelry 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 ambiance here.

Haci Bayram Mosque

Mosque
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Haci Bayram Mosque in Ankara City, Turkey
© EVREN KALINBACAK / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

Roman Bath

Ruins
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The ruins of the Tepidarium (warm room) at the ancient Roman Bath ruins at Ankara in Turkey.
© Thomas Wyness / Alamy Stock Photo
Built in the third century by Caracalla, who ruled as Roman Emperor from AD 198 to 217, 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.

CerModern

Architectural Landmark
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Phosphoric tank figure at the Cer Modern Art Gallery
© NECDET GURSOY / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

Wonderland Eurasia

Amusement Park
Map View
Ankara, Turkey. 20th Mar, 2019. A general view on the opening day of Wonderland Eurasia, which is dubbed as Europe's largest theme park. Credit: Altan Gocher | usage worldwide/dpa/Alamy Live News
© dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo
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 its 130-hectare sprawl. There’s also a huge multi-dimensional theatre, an enormous ‘Dinosaur Jungle’ featuring a beast measuring 70m in length – the largest of its kind in the world – and fountains spraying water more than 120m (394ft) into the air.

Kuğulu Park

Park
Map View
Kugulu swan park Kavaklidere shopping fashionable district Ankara Turkey
© Peter Horree / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

These recommendations were updated on April 28, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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