Ankara is the capital city of Turkey and the second largest city in the country after Istanbul. It is located at the heart of both Turkey and Central Anatolia. The population is around 4.5 million.
Ankara is the administrative centre of Turkey and a huge university town, so it has a large population of government workers and university students. As the national capital, Ankara is home to a large population of foreign diplomats and embassy staff, so it offers goods and services that might be more difficult to find in other Turkish cities.
Ankara is a sprawling, modern city which can appear as little more than a dull, concrete jungle at first glance. As a result, many tourists tend to use it merely as a transit point for getting to places like Konya or Cappadocia. However, Ankara does have a lot to offer for those prepared to look a bit deeper.
Ankara has a symbolic significance for the secular Turks. It is the place where a new era for the Turkish people started. It is a symbol for independence, development, and Western values.
Ankara was a small town of few thousand people, mostly living around Ankara Castle, in the beginning of the 20th century. The fate of the city has changed, when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his friends made Ankara the centre of their resistance movement against the Allies in 1920, and established a parliament representing the people of Turkey, against the Allies’ controlled Ottoman Government in the occupied Istanbul of post-World War I. Upon the success of the Turkish War of Independence, the government in Istanbul and the empire is abolished by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara in 1923, and the Republic of Turkey is established. When you look at the modern Ankara of 5 million people today, almost all you see is built afterwards.
This does not mean that Ankara does not have history. Located in the centre of Anatolia, Ankara’s history goes back to the second millennium BC. Footsteps of Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Persians, Greeks, Galatians, Romans, Byzantines, and the Turks are still present.
The name Ankara is originated from the Celtic word of Ancyra, meaning Anchor. The original reason of the use of the name anchor in an inland city is not certainly known, but there are several different myths. King Midas, whose touch has turned everything into gold in the mythology, is buried in the ancient site of Gordian, in suburban Ankara.
If you are traveling through Ankara’s Esenboga Airport, look to the wide fields around. This is where Timur the Lane defeated Ottoman sultan Bayezid I in 1402, on the great Battle of Ankara. The district of Esenboga keeps its name since then, as one of Timur’s famous generals and the commander of his famous elephant fleet “Isin Boga” has set his base here.
Ankara is recaptured by the Ottomans in 1403 and remained under Turkish control since then.
Apart from the old town in and around the citadel near Ulus and unplanned shantytown neighbourhoods inhabited by people from rural areas in the last five decades, most of Ankara, which was a provincial town of 20,000 people in the early days of the Republic, is a purpose-built capital due to its strategic location at the heart of the country. The history of settlement in the area is millennia old.
The biggest claim to fame of the town used to be the long-haired local breed of goats named after former name of the city (Angora), out of which high quality mohair textiles were produced, today the only place where you can spot them in city is the lawns on the side of a clover-leaf interchange on the highway west—in the form of cute sculptures.
Ankara being a young and modern city makes her face an identity problem. The increase of population from couple thousand to several million in less than a century means that almost everyone came here from somewhere else. Finding a native "Ankarali" is challenging, as a result. The population and culture of Ankara, therefore, is a mixture of everything Turkey offers, with people of origins from all cities of Turkey.
Ankara is quite a large city, with different towns and neighbourhoods of their own characters. In a very simplified manner, most attractions of the city run through the long Ataturk Boulevard, running and diving the city north to south. Starting from Ulus Square, going towards south in Ataturk Boulevard, you will reach Kizilay, Kavaklidere and then Çankaya. As you pass through these districts one by one, the standards visibly increase.
Ulus is the historic centre of Ankara, with most museums, early republican buildings, and the ancient Ankara Castle. Being the most elegant centre of the republic in the beginning of the 20th century, now the area has left its charm, and is a messy, crowded neighbourhood. Unless you are looking for the real cheap, (rather than some specific selections) not recommended for dining, accommodations, or nightlife. In case you are interested to get a feeling of how life was once in Ankara, find Hamamonu District, the newly restored neighbourhood with old Ankara houses. A famous spot for the conservative Ankarans, walk through the narrow traditional streets, and sip your Turkish coffee in an historic wooden house, especially at the night. Do not expect to find alcohol at Hamamonu.
ext. Kizilay is the working-class centre of Ankara. The famous Kizilay Square, named after the now-demolished "Red Crescent" headquarters building, is Ankara's political centre. Throughout the decades, lots of protests and rallies have taken place in the square, and even today, this is the centre of the political protests. Many roads and streets around Kizilay are better discovered on foot, and there are lots of budget restaurants, cafes, bars, and clubs of different taste. Sakarya Caddesi (Sakarya Road) is a messy pedestrian area with fisheries, street sellers and restaurants. Pass over the southern side of Ziya Gokalp Caddesi, the parallel vehicle road, and you will reach the district around Yuksel Caddesi (Yuksel Road). This pedestrian neighbourhood is a left oriented area, with several culture centres, cafes, pubs, restaurants, and bookstores. Many locals looking for quality avoids Ulus and Kizilay.
Continuing southern, the area after Kizilay and up to Kugulu Part (Swan Park) is Kavaklidere, also simply known Tunali district (Tunali Hilmi Caddesi/Road runs parallel to Ataturk Blvd, and locals simply name it and around as Tunali.) The area is more cosmopolitan, open minded, and popular among the young. The back streets are full of cafes, restaurants, pubs to rock venues.
Walking up from Kugulu Park (Swan Park), pass to Arjantin Street and in the end, turn left to Filistin Street. These two are where the top end cafes and restaurants are found, full of Ankara's chick and elegant going there to see and be seen. Further south, you reach Atakule Tower at Çankaya, the diplomatic center of Ankara, with the Presidential Palace and most embassies. From Kugulu Park to up, Ankara's nicest parks are aligned, namely Segmenler Park and Botanical Garden, in addition to small but cure Kugulu Park.
Rather than this alignment on Ataturk Blvd., check Bahçelievler District, west of Kizilay. 7th Road (7. Cadde) and around is a student oriented and family friendly region with shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Further west, through Eskisehir Road, you will pass through the once suburban neighbourhoods of Bilkent, Umitkoy and Cayyolu, which are new modern towns, less of an interest to tourists, but offers good dining and nightlife. Visit Park Caddesi, the areas newly created nightlife centre.
In order to follow the events and performances in Ankara, online ticket sites of Biletix and Mybilet are good places to check, and both are available in English. Most local newspapers and event websites are in Turkish and give a wider information about the daily events. Ankara has annual festivals, including Ankara International Music Festival, Ankara International Jazz Festival, Ankara International Cinema Festival and lot's more, and it is always good to check what's going on in the city.
Ankara Modern Arts Center (Çağdaş Sanatlar Merkezi), opposite the American Embassy in Kavaklıdere, at Atatürk Boulevard has free exhibitions and performances, mostly of local and infamous artists, but sometimes of more impressive ones. Local and national groups play in Ankara bars and venues, especially on the weekends.
Sunny days get crowds fill Tunali Hilmi Road in Kavaklidere, and 7. Cadde in Bahçelievler.
Ankara offers a good selection of cinemas both in Kızılay and Bahçelievler, as well as all shopping malls. There are several concert halls for classical music and opera. Many universities promote concerts and spring festivals, but these are sometimes open to their students only. Folk and traditional music is very alive, from small bars and restaurants to big concert halls where you can find local stars.
Depending on your interests, you can find trekking in local parks and in the surroundings, visiting the museums or hunting for the Ottoman or Selçuk remains in the ancient castle. Upscale shopping centers like Armada along the Eskisehir road also offer cinemas and quality restaurants.
Ankara is best known with its "döner kebap". To pick a good döner restaurant (there are many) you should look at the döner round. it should be rectangular, and the cuts must be flat and separated.
Like many other capitals, Ankara is where you can eat the best and the freshest fish of the country all around the year (not the cheapest, though). Around Sakarya str., there are various types of fish restaurants, from fast food to stylish ones and it can be a good opportunity to also try rakı, which is known as a companion of fish. But fish restaurants abound in the city; in Cankaya there are at least three excellent ones, Kolyoz Restaurant (www.kolyozbalik.com), "Akdeniz Akdeniz" and "Lazoli" featuring the first Mediterranean and the second Black Sea cuisine. "Ege", located close to Tunali street, is another excellent choice for fish and raki. The restaurant has also a variety of wines. If you want to listen good Turkish Classical Music while you eat and drink raki, then "Sudem" should be seen. It is located on Olgunlar Street.
Besides many classic iskender kebabs restaurants, there are also many restaurants featuring the traditional cuisine of a specific city, catering to the community of more affluent immigrants: from the spicy Urfa to the variety of vegetables coming with Adana kebab. Uludag Kebabcisi on Denizciler Caddesi in Ulus has been around for about sixty years and is a top of the line restorant mainly serving Iskender kebap.
"Papsi" is a good choice to take a cold beer in a friendly atmosphere for years. It is located on Tunali Street. "Kitir" and newer "Random" are two other most popular bars, adjacent to Kugulu Park, also in Tunali. Corvus is on Bestekar Street offering Rock Music. There are many bars and places to drink on that street which is parallel to Bestekar. The Edge, Twister, Hayyami (wine bar) are nice places. Sakal on Kennedy Street is a unique place with electronic, reggae or retro (offering different kinds of music). On the same street Mono is pleasant place to drink. Tunus Street, parallel to Bestekar is another street where you may find many pubs like Retrox, Flat, James Cook and Zodiac. If Performance Hall, Manhattan, Overall and Siyah-Beyaz are places where you can drink and dance till 4 am with live rock music. There normally are rock cover bands and a huge crowd, especially on Friday and Saturday nights in these places.
"Sakarya" is full of the cheapest solutions. Among the best places in Sakarya, one should note "Net", which is a good choice not only take a glass of beer or raki, but also to eat. "Buyuk Ekspres" is also a nice old bar of the town. Also, Eski-Yeni, Pasaj and Telwe are nice bars where you may find rock or alternative live music styles with cheaper drink prices compared to Tunali, Cankaya region.
"Park Avenue" -in Konutkent district- is the new street for classy bars, cafes and night clubs. You may also find second branch of Kitir, Random & Crossroads in "Park Avenue". Istanbul's fashionable night club Sortie has also opened in this avenue and is a nice place to drink any kind of drinks and listen to latest club mixes. Narquilla is a great place to have your hookah while drinking beer and enjoying nice food. Also, there are meyhanes (tavern) in which fixed menus are served with drinks and classic Turkish music played. There are bars and restaurants also in the historic core of Ankara, close to citadel. You definitely have to go and return by taxi though.
Do not expect a lively gay life of Istanbul in Ankara. No-one comes to Ankara for its amazing gay life; however, you can still enjoy your time while you are here. It has only one gay bar-club (Sixties) and this is open only on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. It gets crowded after 00:00 and plays Turkish and Western pop music. In addition to that, though it is not a gay bar, Eski-Yeni Bar in Sakarya Caddesi (street) seems to attract a gay-lesbian crowd especially in its bottom floor. Kaos GL and Pembe Hayat, the leading queer organizations in Ankara, hold activities throughout the year.
Turkish is a Ural-Altaic language, closely related to Azeri, Turkmen, Uzbek, Tatar, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uighur, and many other languages of the Turkic language family. The grammar is different from most European language (rather than Hungarian, Estonian and Finnish, with have related structures), making it complicated to understand at the beginning.
Learning Turkish can open new doors, as well as the hearths of the Turks. One of the most reputable institutions for serious language learners is Ankara University’s TOMER. TOMER has its main language schools in Ankara and has branches in multiple cities throughout Turkey.
There are other private courses offering Turkish also. The most economical way for longer staying expats is to find a Turkish friend, willing to exchange teaching Turkish to learning / practicing English or other languages.