Contrary to popular belief, Istanbul is NOT the capital of Turkey. The capital city of Turkey is actually Ankara.
Although it may not be as widely recognized as other cities in the country, Ankara is Turkey’s second largest city, boasting a population of over 5 million people.
Unfortunately, Ankara is often overlooked by foreign tourists. However, if you’re a history enthusiast, a food lover, an adventurer, or someone intrigued by Turkish politics, visiting Ankara is an absolute must.
Ankara is home to several museums, art galleries, and cultural/government institutions that offer a glimpse into the rich history and traditions of Turkey. There are also some pretty great outdoor activities and historical sights to see.
Here’s our summary of the top things to do when visiting Ankara.
Top things to do in Ankara
1. Visit the iconic Atatürk’s Mausoleum
Anitkabir, also known as the Mausoleum of Ataturk, is the final resting place of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder and first president of the Turkish Republic. The mausoleum is located on a hill and offers a stunning view of Ankara. The Anitkabir complex also includes a museum that displays Ataturk’s personal belongings and memorabilia.
2. Explore the Ancient Roman Temple of Augustus
The Temple of Augustus is an ancient Roman temple located in the Ulus district of Ankara. Originally built in the 2nd century BC, the temple was dedicated to the Roman Emperor, Augustus. Today, it is known for the ‘Monument Ancyranum’, the copy of the deeds of Augustus, inscribed on the inner walls of the temple.
3. Discover the Haci Bayram Mosque
One of the most significant mosques in Ankara, the Haci Bayram Mosque, was built in the early 15th century. Located next to the Temple of Augustus, the mosque symbolizes the confluence of the city’s Roman and Ottoman heritage.
4. Wander around the Ankara Citadel
Overlooking the city, the Ankara Citadel, or Ankara Kalesi, is an impressive structure that harks back to the city’s ancient past. Inside, you’ll find old houses, some of which have been converted into restaurants and shops.
5. Visit the Roman Baths of Ankara
The Roman Baths, located in the city center, are a fantastic example of Roman architecture. Although now in ruins, the baths were once a social center, with cold, warm, and hot sections.
6. See the Column of Julian
The Column of Julian, also known as Julianus Sutunu, is a landmark that dates back to the Roman era. This Corinthian-style column once stood in the center of the Roman town of Ancyra. Today, it stands alone, offering a glimpse into the city’s ancient past.
9. Check out a museum
Museum of Anatolian Civilizations
The Museum of Anatolian Civilizations is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in the ancient history of Turkey.
The museum is located in the historic Ankara Castle and houses a vast collection of artifacts and exhibits from the Paleolithic era to the Ottoman period. You can see everything from ancient pottery and sculptures to intricate jewelry and weapons. The museum also offers guided tours and audio guides to help you make the most of your visit.
State Art and Sculpture Museum
The State Art and Sculpture Museum is another must-visit destination for art lovers in Ankara. The museum is located in a beautiful building that was once a railway station and houses an impressive collection of Turkish art from the 19th and 20th centuries.
You can see everything from paintings and sculptures to ceramics and calligraphy. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and cultural events throughout the year.
11. Enjoy an opera or ballet
If you’re looking for a more contemporary cultural experience, head to the Ankara Opera and Ballet House. The venue hosts a range of performances throughout the year, including opera, ballet, and theater.
You can see everything from classic Turkish operas to international productions. The building itself is also worth a visit, with its modern architecture and stunning views of the city.
12. Visit one of the many parks
Genclik Park (Youth park) is a popular destination for locals and tourists. It is located in the heart of Ankara and offers a wide range of activities for all ages. The park features a large lake where you can rent paddle boats or take a relaxing stroll around the perimeter. There are also several walking trails, playgrounds, and picnic areas throughout the park.
Ataturk Forest Farm and Zoo
Ataturk Forest Farm and Zoo is a must-visit destination for animal lovers. The zoo is home to a variety of animals including lions, tigers, bears, and monkeys. The farm also features a botanical garden, a trout farm, and several hiking trails. Visitors can take a guided tour of the farm and learn about the history of the area. A great place to spend the day with family and friends.
Segmenler Park is another popular park in Ankara that is perfect for outdoor activities. The park is home to a variety of wildlife including ducks, geese, and swans. Visitors can enjoy a picnic on the grassy areas or take a leisurely walk around the lake.
12. Do some shopping
Bakircilar Carsisi, also known as the Copper Bazaar, is a historic market located in the heart of Ankara’s old town. Here, you can find a wide range of copper and brass items, including pots, pans, and decorative objects. The bazaar also sells handmade jewelry, textiles, and traditional Turkish ceramics. It is a great place to explore if you are interested in traditional Turkish crafts.
Armada Shopping and Trade Centre
Armada Shopping and Trade Centre is a modern shopping mall located in the city center. It has over 200 stores, including international brands such as Zara, Mango, and H&M. The mall also has a cinema, a food court, and a play area for children. Armada is a great place to shop if you are looking for a wide range of options in one place.
Karum Shopping Mall
Karum Shopping Mall is another modern mall located in the city center. It has over 100 stores, including local and international brands such as Adidas, Nike, and Levi’s. The mall also has a supermarket, a cinema, and a variety of restaurants. Karum is a great place to shop if you are looking for a mix of local and international brands.
13. Try out the local Cuisine
Ankara is known for its delicious local cuisine, which is a blend of traditional Turkish and Middle Eastern flavors. Here are some highly recommended restaurants in Ankara that offer that authentic local cuisine:
If you’re looking for a place to try some of the best kebabs in Ankara, Uludag Kebabcisi is the perfect spot. This restaurant has been serving delicious kebabs for over 50 years and is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. The meat is cooked to perfection, and the spices and herbs used in the marinade give it a unique and flavorful taste. Make sure to try their famous Adana kebab, which is made with minced lamb meat and spices.
If you’re in the mood for seafood, Trilye Fish Restaurant is a great option. This restaurant specializes in fresh seafood dishes, and the menu changes daily depending on what’s available. Some of the must-try dishes include grilled sea bass, octopus salad, and shrimp casserole. The restaurant has a cozy and welcoming atmosphere, and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable.
Kugulupark Restaurant & Cafe
Kugulupark Restaurant & Cafe is nestled in a peaceful park setting with a pond, walking paths & a playground. Popular with locals, they have heaps of different coffee choices, delicious pastries and traditional Turkish foods. The outdoor seating is a big plus – great for escaping the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoying a tasty meal.
Cezzar Steakhouse is a popular spot for meat lovers, and it’s easy to see why. The restaurant serves high-quality meat dishes, including lamb chops, beef fillet, and chicken skewers. The restaurant also offers a variety of meze dishes, which are small plates of appetizers that are perfect for sharing. Don’t forget to try their baklava for dessert!
14. Enjoy a night out in Ankara
When it comes to nightlife in Ankara, there are plenty of options to choose from. Whether you’re looking for a lively bar or a club with great music, you’ll find it all in this city. Here are a few places to check out:
If you’re looking for a place to grab a drink and enjoy some live music, Manhattan is a great choice. This bar is known for its cozy atmosphere and friendly staff. They have a wide selection of drinks, including some unique cocktails that you won’t find anywhere else. The live music varies from night to night, but it’s always top-notch.
Route is a popular nightclub in Ankara, and for good reason. This club has a great atmosphere and plays a mix of electronic and pop music. The dance floor is always packed, so be prepared to dance the night away. They also have a VIP area if you’re looking for a more exclusive experience.
IF Performance Hall
IF Performance Hall is a great choice if you’re looking for a more upscale experience. This venue hosts a variety of events, including concerts and DJ sets. The space is modern and stylish, with plenty of seating options. They also have a bar area where you can grab a drink before the show.
Whether you are a history buff or just looking for a special Turkish cultural experience, Ankara is worth a visit. It’s a lively city with heaps to do plus it’s the Capital of Turkiye so you should definitely check it out.
I’m a writer and graphic designer currently living in Turkey with my family. I enjoy learning language, great food (chicken kebab is a favourite at the moment) and experiencing places less-traveled.