It’s a shame that Turkey’s capital, Ankara, is often left off people’s vacation itineraries, as it has more to offer than many people know. Ankara is an excellent starting point for exploring the depth and breadth of Turkey’s history.
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Top 10 Places to Visit in Ankara
In addition to being home to the best museum in Turkey and Atatürk’s mausoleum, the citadel area of Ankara is a great place to get a feel for the city’s history from before it became the capital.
Ankara’s convenient position makes it a great home base for day trips to the rest of Anatolia, where you’ll find a wealth of historical attractions and archaeological sites. Use our guide to the best of what Ankara has to offer while you’re here before venturing off to Cappadocia, Konya, or Safranbolu.
1. Visit the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations
This museum alone justifies a trip to Ankara, Turkey. There is no other spot in Turkey where you may learn so much about the pre-Classical civilization of Anatolia. The first hall displays the most significant artefacts discovered at the Neolithic village site of atalhöyük near Konya.
They include the famous fertility goddess statue and a wall mural that some researchers believe to be the world’s first town map. Further on, you’ll find galleries honouring the Phrygian and Urartian Empires, which flourished on the Anatolian steppe during the Iron Age, and the Hittite Kingdom, whose Bronze Age capital was located at Hattuşa (192 kilometres to the east).
The finest examples of stone reliefs and statues from all time periods are on display in the central Stone Hall.
From the Hittite site of Carchemish (70 kilometres southwest of Gaziantep), which was famous, long before its actual discovery, as the site of the Battle of Carchemish between Egypt and Babylonia as relayed in the Old Testament, a large number of exquisitely detailed orthostat reliefs have been brought here. In Ankara’s Ulus neighbourhood, at No. 2 Gözcü Sokak.
2. Atatürk Mausoleum
The most popular tourist destination in Ankara also happens to be Turkey’s most revered site of modern pilgrimage. The mausoleum of Atatürk (Mustafa Kemal), the founder of the Turkish state, is located on a hilltop to the west of the city centre.
The site features a major museum complex in addition to the lavishly marbled mausoleum itself, which is located in the middle of a massive plaza. There are displays about Atatürk’s life as well as exhibits about the War of Independence that he led that led to the modernization of Turkey.
From the plaza’s outside arcade, you can see all the way across Ankara. Inscriptions of Atatürk’s speeches are gilded and placed around the mausoleum. The tomb of Atatürk is located inside, and it is marked by a cenotaph.
Visitors visiting the mausoleum should be cognizant of the solemn mood of veneration that reigns inside as Turks pay their respects to Turkey’s modern founder and first president. Yücetepe, 31 Akdeniz Caddesi, ankaya, Ankara is the location in question.
One of the most atmospheric things to do in Ankara is to take a stroll in this area. The Byzantine citadel (Kale) is surrounded by massive 9th century defences that have survived to the present day.
Within, Ottoman-era homes, some of which have been lovingly repaired in recent years but are slowly drifting into various states of dilapidation, line the tiny cobblestone lanes. On its crenellated ramparts, the Eastern Tower (Sark Kulesi) inside the inner walls provides breathtaking views of contemporary Ankara.
Winding lanes crowded with traditional artisan studios, antique stores, and cafés can be found descending from the main gate of the inner citadel district, Parmak Kapsi. You can find some wonderful mementos here.
One of the most fascinating mosques in all of Ankara is the Aslanhane Cami, which you should see while you’re here. Beautiful ceramic tile decorates the mihrab (wall niche) inside the mosque, which is surrounded by wooden pillars capped with Roman stone capitals. For anyone interested, it’s located in The Gözcü Sokak, Kale, Altindag, Ankara.
4. Roman Baths
As the new capital city of Turkey that was envisioned when the modern state of Turkey was established, Ankara has become synonymous with modernity. Yet, this location has been home to humans at least as far back as the Bronze Age.
Ankyra rose to prominence during Roman times when Emperor Augustus designated it the capital of the Roman province of Galatia. All the Roman remnants from this time period can be found in the central business centre of Ulus.
Paying a quick visit to the Temple of Augustus and Rome on Haci Bayram Veli Caddesi will give you an idea of ancient Ankyra’s significance. Next to the Haci Bayram i-Veli Cami, only a few fragments of the once-grand temple walls remain.
The Roman baths on ankiri Caddesi are the most extensive relic of ancient Ankyra that has survived to the present day. Although you’ll have to stomp through some weeds to get to them, the foundations, numerous stone reliefs, and some intact arched ruins of this massive imperial baths complex are all easily accessible.
Peer over the northern side of the road as you make your way from Ulus up Hisarparki Caddesi to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations and the citadel area to see the remains of the Roman theatre.
This theatre, which could seat between 3,000 and 4,000 people, is now being restored, so the only way to see its ruins is from above.
5. Haci Bayram Veli Caddesi
While Ankara lacks the abundance of contemporary art found in Istanbul, the city’s central location is home to two excellent galleries.
Ankara Painting & Sculpture Museum (Türkocagi Sokak, Hacettepe) contains the best collection of 19th and 20th century Turkish art in the country. The works of every notable artist in Turkey are included here.
The greatest place in Ankara to view strictly modern artwork is the Cer Modern (3 Altinsoy Caddesi, Sihhiye). This gallery, located in a former railroad depot not far from the Ankara train station, features rotating exhibitions by both Turkish and international artists.
Day trips to Hattuşa can include a stop at Alacahöyük if you leave Ankara early enough. Dating back to the Chalcolithic period, this location rose to prominence during the early Bronze Age as the hub of the Hattian civilisation in Anatolia, which was eventually incorporated into the Hittite Empire.
The royal shaft graves at Alacahöyük are what really set the site on the map, with their glittering hoard of gold ornaments and jewellery. The skeletons and some grave artefacts have been left where they were found, while the rest have been moved to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.
Later Hittite defences at Alacahöyük include a colossal gate entry embellished with reliefs and a corbeled tunnel entrance located in the site’s rear. Located 196 km east of Ankara, Alacahöyük lies 28 km north of Hattuşa.
7. Opera House
An evening at the Ankara State Opera House is a great way to mix business with pleasure during your stay in the city. All performances by the Turkish State Opera, Turkish State Ballet, and Turkish State Theater organisations are held here.
During the months of September and June, the venue plays host to a wide variety of concerts and other events, from cutting-edge theatre to classical ballet.
The theatre serves as the hub for all of the country’s theatre and cultural enterprises, as well as a key venue for the city’s annual festival, which regularly features world-renowned classical musicians. The Ankara location is at 20 Atatürk Bulvari.
The Iron Age Phrygian capital of Gordion is easily accessible from Ankara, making it the ideal day trip destination. It was here that Alexander the Great severed the Gordion knot, and it was here that the fabled King Midas once ruled.
The ruins of this Phrygian city are now located in the peaceful farming community of Yassihöyük (96 kilometres southwest of Ankara). The village centres around two primary locations. The Midas Tumulus, which stands at more than 50 metres in height, is the most well-known of these manmade mud mounds, housing the grave of a Phrygian monarch.
There is no proof that the monarch buried here was the legendary Midas, despite the name. The burial artefacts discovered in this tumulus are on display in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations rather than in the tomb itself.
Across the street from the tumulus is a tiny museum that displays artefacts discovered during excavations. The citadel mound, located at the opposite end of the hamlet, features ancient ruins.
There are numerous panels on the citadel mound that explain the site and Gordion’s history, which is helpful for those unfamiliar with the ruin layout of multiple walls, arches, and foundations. Location: Polatli, Yassihöyük.
Beypazar, located 102 kilometres west of Ankara, is a popular weekend getaway for city dwellers. Its gastronomic reputation and abundance of beautifully restored Ottoman-era structures in its compact historic core contribute to this popularity.
The town is located in the centre of Turkey’s carrot-growing region, so naturally, visitors come to try the region’s famous carrot baklava, Turkish pleasure, and juice.
Although Beypazar’s non-carrot cuisine features numerous regional specialties made specifically in the local area, the town’s cafés and restaurants are typically packed with Turkish foodies throughout the warmer months.
Following lunch, wander the winding alleys of the old town and take in the red-roofed, timber-framed mansions. Stop in one of Beypazar’s small speciality museums, all housed in repurposed Ottoman homes, to learn more about the region’s rich cultural history.
10. Gençlik Park
The green park is located in the heart of Ankara. Gençlik Park is a great area to get away from the hustle and bustle of the capital city and enjoy some fresh air and green space. There is a large lake and several paths through the park that are surrounded by fountains and carefully tended gardens.
Ankara’s Luna Park can be found in the park’s southeastern part, and it is home to a variety of amusement park rides, including a Ferris wheel, two roller coasters, and several milder rides like carousels and bumper cars. It’s a nice place to take the kids for an hour or two if you’re travelling with toddlers. Atatürk Boulevard Number 50.