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12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Ankara

Written by Jess Lee
Jun 15, 2020

Ankara sometimes gets left off people's travel itineraries, which is a shame because Turkey's capital has more to offer than most visitors realize. If one of your prime travel reasons is to discover the vast breadth of Turkey's history, Ankara is a great place to visit. Both the country's top museum and Atatürk's mausoleum are found here, plus Ankara's citadel district offers a glimpse of the city's past, before it was promoted to capital status.

Ankara view from the citadel district

With its central location, Ankara is also an excellent base from which to jump off on further forays into the Anatolian heartland. While you're in town, planning whether to head east to Cappadocia, south to Konya, or west to Safranbolu, here is a list of things to do in Ankara.

1. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations

Carved orthostat from Carchemish in the Stone Hall

This museum is reason enough to include Ankara on your Turkey itinerary. It's the only place in the country where you can grasp the full scope of Anatolia's preclassical-era human history.

The most important finds from the Neolithic village site of Çatalhöyük, near Konya, including the wall painting thought by some archaeologists to be the world's first town map and the famed fertility goddess statue, are displayed here in the first hall.

Farther on, halls are devoted to the Hittite Empire of the Bronze Age that had their capital at Hattusa (200 kilometers to the east) and the Phrygian and Urartian Empires, which thrived on the Anatolian steppe during the Iron Age.

The central Stone Hall exhibits the most important stone reliefs and statuary from across the eras. Here, you'll find numerous finely detailed orthostat reliefs from the Hittite site of Carchemish (70 kilometers southwest of Gaziantep), renowned, long before its actual discovery, as the site of the Battle of Carchemish between Egypt and Babylonia relayed in the Old Testament.

Address: 2 Gözcü Sokak, Ulus, Ankara

2. Anitkabir (Atatürk Mausoleum)

Anitkabir

Ankara's most visited attraction is also Turkey's most important modern pilgrimage site. Sitting on a hilltop, just to the west of the city center, is the mausoleum of Atatürk (Mustafa Kemal), the founder of the state of Turkey.

As well as the actual mausoleum, with its lavish use of marble, the site, centered round a vast plaza, contains a large museum complex. It contains both exhibits on the War of Independence, led by Atatürk, which resulted in the birth of Turkey as a modern nation, and displays focused on Atatürk's life. Outside, there are excellent views across Ankara from the arcade that edges the plaza.

The mausoleum itself is decorated with gilded inscriptions of Atatürk's speeches. Inside, a cenotaph stands above the placement of Atatürk's tomb. Visitors entering the mausoleum should respect the atmosphere of somber reverence inside as Turks pay their respect to the founder and first president of their modern nation.

Address: Yücetepe, 31 Akdeniz Caddesi, Çankaya, Ankara

3. Walk the Citadel Neighborhood

Ankara's citadel (kale) district

A wander through this neighborhood is one of the most atmospheric things to do in Ankara. The citadel (Kale) area dates from the Byzantine era and is ringed by, still immense in places, fortifications raised in the 9th century. Inside, narrow cobblestone alleyways are rimmed by creaky Ottoman-era houses, some of which have been painstakingly restored in recent years, though others are slowly slipping into various levels of dilapidation.

The main attraction inside the inner walls is the Eastern Tower (Sark Kulesi), which offers vistas that span across modern Ankara from its crenellated ramparts. Heading downhill from the inner citadel area's main gate, known as Parmak Kapisi, the winding lanes are crammed with traditional craft workshops, antique stores, and cafés. This is a great place to hunt for souvenirs.

While here, make sure to stop in and see the Aslanhane Cami, one of Ankara's most interesting mosques. The interior of the mosque, with its prayer hall lined with wooden pillars topped by Roman stone capitals and its ornate ceramic tile mihrab (wall niche), is well worth a visit.

Address: Gözcü Sokak, Kale, Altindag, Ankara

4. Erimtan Archaeology & Art Museum

The Erimtan Museum's collection mostly focuses on the Classical era, so it works as an excellent addition to the city's main Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. As they both sit on the road leading up to the citadel neighborhood, they're easily viewed together in one morning or afternoon.

Eschewing traditional museum curation, the Erimtan's contemporary storytelling displays bring the exhibits of this private collection to life, allowing you to understand more about daily life during the Greek and Roman periods.

As well as the permanent collection, the Erimtan also hosts regular temporary exhibitions in its lower hall, which often focus on specific archaeological sites or Turkish culture. The museum grounds also host a periodic program of evening classical music concerts.

Address: 10 Gözcü Sokak, Kale, Altindag, Ankara

5. Discover Ulus' Roman Remnants

Ankara's Roman bath ruins

Ankara is often thought of as a modern city - the nation's planned new capital after the modern state of Turkey was formed. There has been a settlement on this spot, though, since the Bronze Age. In the Roman period, this settlement gained prominence when it became known as Ankyra, and Emperor Augustus made it capital of the Roman province of Galatia.

The remaining Roman ruins of this era are all in the downtown district of Ulus. To understand the importance of ancient Ankyra, pay a quick visit to the sparse remnants of the Temple of Augustus and Rome on Haci Bayram Veli Caddesi. Just some partial ruins of the temple's once impressive walls remain, next door to the Haci Bayram i-Veli Cami.

The most extensive set of ruins left over from Ancient Ankyra are the Roman Baths on Çankiri Caddesi. The foundations, along with plenty of stone reliefs and some remaining intact arched ruins, of this sprawling imperial baths complex can be easily viewed, though you'll have to stomp through the weeds to see them.

If you're walking from Ulus up Hisarparki Caddesi to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations and the citadel neighborhood, peer over the northern side of the road to take in the ruins of the Roman Theater. It's currently under restoration, so you can only view the remains of this theater, which once accommodated between 3,000 and 4,000 spectators, from above.

6. Haci Bayram i-Veli Cami

Restored houses around Haci Bayram plaza

Built in honor of the Muslim holy man and Bayramiye dervish founder, Haci Bayram Veli, this 15th-century mosque is a major pilgrimage center. For non-pilgrim visitors, a stop here is more interesting for the surrounding area than for the mosque's interior.

The area around the mosque, with its gardens and restored Ottoman-era mansions, has been prettily landscaped and is a popular spot for local families in the early evening. It includes a plaza with a pond, fountains, and shops selling religious paraphernalia for pilgrims, as well as the remaining walls of the Temple of Augustus and Rome, which rub up against the mosque (and were once used to house the mosque's madrassa).

There are also brilliant views up to the citadel neighborhood from here.

Address: Haci Bayram Veli Caddesi, Ulus, Ankara

7. Explore the Galleries

Ankara Painting & Sculpture Museum

Ankara may not have the modern art scene of Istanbul, but there are two galleries, both in the central city, that are well worth a visit. The most important is the Ankara Painting & Sculpture Museum (Türkocagi Sokak, Hacettepe), which has a large permanent collection of Turkish art from the 19th and 20th centuries. All the major names of the Turkish art scene have works on display here.

For completely contemporary art, the Cer Modern (3 Altinsoy Caddesi, Sihhiye) is Ankara's best site. This gallery, based in a disused train depot building, near Ankara's train station, hosts a regular program of temporary exhibitions focused on both local and international artists.

8. Check Out the Cultural Scene at Ankara State Opera House

Performance at the Ankara State Opera House | Basak Senova / photo modified

If you want to add a bit of evening culture to your trip, the Ankara State Opera House is the top venue in town. This theater is the central hub for catching performances of the Turkish State Opera, Turkish State Ballet, or Turkish State Theater companies. The site hosts a regular and varied program of concerts and events from September to June, ranging from contemporary theater productions to classical ballet.

As well as being home base for all the national theater and arts companies, the theater is also used to host big name international classical music performances and is a major venue for local festivals.

Address: 20 Atatürk Bulvari, Ankara

9. Day Trip to Gordion

Midas Tumulus

Ankara is the best base for a day trip to the Iron Age Phrygian capital of Gordion. This was the site once home to the legendary King Midas and the location where Alexander the Great cut the Gordion knot. Today, the remnants of this Phrygian city sit amid the fields of the sleepy farming hamlet of Yassihöyük (96 kilometers southwest of Ankara).

There are two main sites in the village. The most famous is the Midas Tumulus - an artificial earthen mound over 50 meters high that contains the tomb of a Phrygian king. Despite its name, there is no evidence that the king buried here was actually the Midas of legend.

You can walk through a tunnel in the tumulus up to the tomb, though the burial goods found here are in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, not on-site. There's a small museum across the road from the tumulus, which holds some finds unearthed from the archaeological work here as well.

At the other end of the village is the citadel mound, which is home to ruins from a range of eras. Although the ruin layout of various walls, arches, and foundations is rather confusing to non-experts, there are plentiful information panels on the citadel mound, which explain both the site and Gordion's history.

Address: Yassihöyük, Polatli

10. Gençlik Park

Gençlik Park

This is Ankara's most central green space. Hugely popular with local families for evening strolls and weekend picnics, Gençlik Park is a good spot to take a breather from the capital's hustle.

The park has a large lake and various promenades lined by fountains and manicured gardens. The southeast corner of the park is home to Ankara's Luna Park, which holds a number of amusement park rides, including a Ferris wheel, two roller coasters, and plenty of gentler rides such as carousels and bumper-cars suitable for younger children. If you're traveling with tots, it's a good place to keep the kids distracted for an hour or two.

Address: 50 Atatürk Bulvari

11. Shop for Local Crafts in the Hamamönü Neighborhood

Street in the Hamamönü neighborhood

This small area of traditional, wooden-beamed Ottoman period mansions has been fully restored and has become a popular weekend destination for café life and arts and crafts. Hamamönü is one of the few areas in the central city that has managed to preserve its architecture, so a stroll here is a taster of what the city looked like before the modern era.

It's a good place to browse for traditional Turkish crafts, with market stalls set up just off the cobblestone alleys. For foodies, many of the cafés and restaurants set within the old houses here specialize in local Anatolian cooking.

Address: Talatpasa Bulvari 126, Hacettepe, Ankara

12. Eymir Lake

Eymir Lake

Eymir Lake (17 kilometers south of the central city) and its surrounding pine tree forest is one of Ankara's most popular spots for a nature break from the big city bustle. On sunny weekends, the lakeside area can get packed with locals out for a picnic, but on weekdays, it's much more peaceful.

For a long stroll, run, or cycle, the road that loops for 10.5 kilometers around the lake is Ankara's nearest outdoor destination. For cyclists, bicycles can be rented on-site while keen walkers wanting to head further into nature can tackle the various walking trails that head into the forest. The southern side of the lake has plenty of restaurants and cafés, which are hugely popular with locals for long and lazy breakfast feasts on weekends.

Address: Oran-Eymir Yolu, Oran, Ankara

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