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 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!