Top 5 Things to do in Ankara — Off the Beaten Path

I have hesitated to write a Top 5 “to do” list of my favorite places in Ankara.  The reason?  I am not a “usual” type of girl. The things I like to see and do will also be enjoyed by most of you, but most are NOT the typical places you will find on a typical list of sightseeing in Ankara.  I find it hard to walk in a straight line on any given day, and therefore, I prefer to walk off of the beaten path.

1- Enjoy Nature – In a city with a population of about 4.5 million people, the last thing one would expect to see is a lot of grass and trees, not to mention lakes.  But it’s always possible!  In Ankara, my absolute favorite place is Eymir Gölü.  In 1956, 45 square kilometers of land, including this lake, was given to Middle East Technical University.  The University immediately started a forestation project, which continues today.

According to Wikipedia, “The length of the lake is approximately 4.2 km, the average width is about 250 m. and the circumferential length is about 9 kilometers. The deepest point is at -5.5 meters (dry season) with an average depth of the lake at 3.80 meters (dry season) and 5.00 meters (wet season).”

The lake and the land are open to the public.  There is no fee to enter.  Free parking lots are available at two entrances and shuttle buses (also free) operate around the lake on weekends.

Eymir is a wonderful place to take in the nature, go for a walk or a run, or meet with friends in one of the restaurants for brunch or tea!

2 – Roam the Streets – I never tire of aimlessly wondering the streets Ankara.  Where else in the world would you find stairs painted in the rainbow colors symbolizing peace and democracy?


After five years, I still walk out of the house with no destination in mind.  I love to find new places and discover old ones.  I stop to talk to the people, take photos of everything – the flowers, the trees, the architecture!  I still try the food as if it was the first time and enjoy a hot glass of tea at a cafe, waiting to make new friends.

3 – Shopping at the Pazar – “The” pazar is not actually one place.  A pazar, or bazaar, is an out door location where one goes to buy fruits and vegetables.  There is usually also at least on nut stands, cheese table, and odds and ends for the home.  Every neighborhood has at least one pazar location, and the vendors come once or twice a week.  The neighborhood of Ayranci is also the host of an organic pazar, every Sunday, and an antique pazar on the first Sunday of each month. (Click here for a list and calendar of the Ankara pazar near you.)

The pazar is more like Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal if it were outdoors, or the Italian Market made famous by Sylvester Stallone’s run in Rocky.

The scents, sounds and colors are just amazing, stimulating each of one’s senses.

4 – Visit Older Neighborhoods – Loving to walk and to shop always leads me to the older Ankara neighborhoods.  Turkish cities have become famous for their huge and modern shopping malls.  But those just aren’t for me!

  • If I want a good fish, electronics, or appliances, I go to Ulus!  Off the main strip of Ataturk Boulevard, Ulus is both eccentric and electric!  Most Turks I know don’t dare to go there.  Perhaps they find it too old-fashioned or even dangerous.  (It is not a place I would go after dark without a companion.)  The fact that it is old is what I love!  I haggle over the price of everything while taking in the architecture, the people and the culture.
  • Kizilay is the true “downtown” area.  Here one can find signs of the old world next door to the new.  A kebab restaurant next to Burger King.  High-end fashion, next to street vendors selling knock-off sports jerseys. Kizilay is also the place to go for music CDs and videos, or notions when I have an inkling to knit or sew.
  • Tunali Caddesi is the main street of Kavaklıdere.  Tunali is one of the family names of the famous Kavaklıdere Winery, and is the location first purchased for its grape vines to establish the winery. Tunali is the “hip” place to be, home to numerous restaurants, cafes and late-night bars.  Like Kizilay, old shops stand side-by-side with the new, holding their own.  I particularly like to venture into the numerous “pasaj” or passages I stumble upon.  A pasaj really looks like nothing more than a door leading to a hallway, but inside one finds fabulous small shops.  I often wonder how anyone knows how to find anything in Ankara – but apparently the Turks know the secret!

5 – Spend a day at Ankara Citadel (Hisar, Ankara Kalesi, Ulus Kalesi) – This is what I would call a normal tourist destination, but it’s one I absolutely love!  It is not off of the beaten path, but during a weekday, it seems like it.

It is the ruins of an old castle, the highest point of Ankara.  Here you can find true works of art, a smith pounding out copper, loads of raw wool, jewelry, light fixtures, antiques, rugs and trinkets.  You name it!  Ulus Kalesi is always first on my list of go-to places for visiting guests and the view from the top is spectacular!

Click here for my blog posts on what to do and see in Turkey.

A special thanks to my friend Çağrı who challenged me on this one!

23 thoughts on “Top 5 Things to do in Ankara — Off the Beaten Path

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  1. This is amazing! Most of which are my favourites too. I have some not so good stories about Ulus though so I tend to avoid but otherwise, it’s always good to just walk around. Would you happen to know how to get to Eymir Golu by public transport?

    1. Thanks for reading the blog! There are public buses and dolmus that will get you close to Eymir. They will drop you on Turan Güneş Bulvarı across from the Panora Mall. There is a long winding road there, next to the TRT building. It is too far to walk though, and all uphill coming back. So from there, I suggest taking a taxi (although many hitchhike). If you go the taxi route, be sure to get a phone number to call for a taxi when you are done. The story behind this is that the mayor insists that Eymir is not open to the public (but it is!), and at the same time, he does not provide public transportation to the entrances. By the way, there are also bike rentals near the parking lots. It’s about 10km to go all the way around the lake.

  2. . . meandering is very much my thing too so I enjoyed the little bit of time it took read through – as for ‘naivety’, beats being an arse – not being judgemental you understand 🙂

  3. ‘Naivety’ refers to your out-of-place awe-stricken remarks of appreciation for a dull and grey city that little has to offer to the ‘wanderer’, the ‘meanderer’ or, to use the worn-out Lonely Planet terminology that you should be well familiar with, the ‘independent traveler’. If the Ulus Castle or Tunalı or all the other places you’ve mentioned are ‘off the beaten path’ gems that only an unconventional adventurer can discover, well, first of all you might have to reconsider the meaning of the expression ‘off the beaten path’; secondly, you’re disseminating false information that will mislead future visitors of the city.

  4. There’s no denying, Alessandro, that a 49 year old woman clearly sees things differently than a 30 year old man. Had you read the article, you would have learned that “most” of these are not typical and that the castle is a “normal” destination. Most visitors only come to Ankara for 2-3 days and the top destinations are the Mausoleum, the castle, the Ethnography Museum and the malls. Visitors who are here for a few days rarely make it to Tunali. The real questions are why would one who studied econometrics be teaching Italian in Ankara – a city he finds so dull and grey? And why would anyone in their right mind NOT be afraid to insult me? Feel free to write your own blog on how horrible Ankara is, or what an “arse” you are. You are done here.

  5. Reblogged this on Mountains And the Sea and commented:
    Ankara isn’t the most tourist-friendly city, and it doesn’t have the endless unexplored possibilities of other cities I’ve lived in (like Guangzhou, Urumqi or Beijing), but there’s still a decent amount you can find poking around (plus I like her upbeat account).

  6. Ulus!! It’s all yours, the place drives me totally nuts, haha. Ankara’s weird habit of clustering a thousand identical shops next to each other is no better represented than by the Ulus maze. It has it’s charm, certainly, and some of the old buildings you can tell are quite attractive under the dirt, smoke, hacked together electricity cables and garish neon signs. I guess it has to be seen. Only once though 😉

    If the local Mayor (or whatever/whoever he/she is) manages to continue the Hamamoglu pretend-old-architecture project the whole area might become quite pretty.

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