Add This Artistic Turkish City to Your Dream List
Don’t venture across Turkey without this much-needed culture stop.
As the capital of Turkey, Ankara doesn't usually get as much touristy love as Istanbul or Cappadocia. In fact, many people probably think of Ankara in relation to international politics and business, hosting serious professionals who have journeyed to the Anatolian region for a specific purpose.
But Ankara has so much more to offer than conference rooms and government buildings. And the space in between those other well-traversed Turkish cities is scattered with cherished gems. Ankara is not only the country’s capital, it’s also a cultural capital, full of art, music, and ancient history.
From contemporary art from young Turkish people to artifacts of some of Earth’s most ancient civilizations, here’s everything you need to experience in Ankara for those plotting their journey through Turkey.
See how the Ottomans lived—as well as the Byzantines, Hittites, etc.
Thanks to so many preserved ancient trinkets and records, Turkey’s history feels particularly old. You can see tapestries, swords, jewelry, and more from the last era of the Ottoman Empire all the way to present day at the Ankara Ethnography Museum and the Ankara Painting and Sculpture Museum. Both are chock full of Turkish art, including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, clothing, and centuries-old religious texts. Both museums are situated on a hill overlooking nearly all of Ankara, with stunning views in every direction. The buildings where the art is housed are stately, exciting examples of Turkish architecture designed by Arif Hikmet Koyunoğlu.
The Erimtan Archaeology and Arts Museum is home to works from the Roman, Urartu, Hittite, and Byzantine ages. Some of the art dates back to as far as 3,000 B.C., and walking through the space feels as close to time traveling as we might ever get. For an entry fee of just over $2, or 40 Turkish Lira, it's a small price to pay to see some of humanity’s oldest rings, perfume bottles, crowns, and more.
If you’ve always been fascinated by archaeology, the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations is another must-visit museum. The space is home to an extensive collection, including the first ever minted money on record, pieces from an Apollo temple, virtual tours, and animated scenes. The museum is organized in chronological order starting with the Paleolithic era, and continuing through the Neolithic, Early Bronze, Assyrian trading colonies, Hittite, Phrygian, Urartian, Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuks and Ottoman periods. It's located on the south side of the Ankara Castle, and is therefore an easy walk.
Relax how the Romans did… in Turkey
When you travel to Turkiye, the first thing you’re probably looking to do is to head to the Hammam, the Turkish bath houses that were adapted from Ancient Rome and date back to roughly the 7th century. These baths, which contain multiple rooms for treating the body to exfoliation, detoxification, and luxury, are plentiful in Ankara.
While soaking under a heap of bubbles is an easy activity to find, more unique to the capital city are the Roman bathhouse ruins that are at least 2,000 years old. Like their modern counterparts, these no-longer-functioning baths contained multiple rooms, some for steam and some for soaking. A tour of the site includes up close looks at the ruins themselves, as well as sculptures and gravestones of the Roman empire. The best part? Entry to this open air museum will cost you less than $5.
Find out what the current artists are up to
While the ancient world is pretty darn cool in our humble opinion, the city’s modern offers shouldn’t be overlooked. One of the most enjoyable experiences in Ankara can be found at CerModern, an indoor/outdoor space displaying pieces from today’s artists. Constructed in 2010, the building was created from an old railway factory. In addition to the contemporary art, the site also features spaces for a crafts market, outdoor screening space, a cafe, and community art classes.
On a weekend, the museum is filled with families and young people, and is as much of a space to hang out as it is one to ponder shapes and colors. Entry to the exhibits costs about $2. The programming also includes performances, yoga and wellness classes, and even has an artists in residence program.
Set your trip to music and watch the notes come alive IRL
If you’re looking to have a night dressed to the nines or want to hear some excellent music, look no further than the CSO Ada Ankara. The venue has a vineyard-style main concert hall and is home to the Presidential Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra is one of the world’s oldest and the venue regularly hosts concerts. There are also touring artists and guest performers from all over the world, so it’s ideal for taking in not only Turkish music, but sounds from across the globe.
At the Ankara State Opera, you can see classics performed from Puccini and Chavoski, as well as music you might not find elsewhere. One such performance is Göbeklitepe, named after one of the oldest and most mysterious temples to ever be discovered on Earth. With lovely stage settings, performances, and costumery, the production is worth it for the stage magic alone. Tickets for shows can vary by price, but it will cost you far less than a similar experience in Europe or the US.
Amble through historic neighborhoods
In the Hamamönü neighborhood and Historical Ankara, there are dozens of old buildings now filled with restaurants, shops, and artisans, where you’ll be able to pick up some of the more traditional Turkish gifts. The area is also home to mosques and a few other historic buildings. Though you’ll find more tourists in this area than other parts of the city, it’s a beautiful part of town worth a visit to get a sense of what “old” Ankara was like.
Visit the Ankara Castle
High up on the list of places to visit in the city is the Ankara Castle, which has been used by multiple civilizations throughout history. The walls of the structure were built with stone from every era. It's believed that the original castle was built by the Hittites, and later was used by Roman, Byzantine, and Seljuk civilizations. You can see this history in the castle’s very walls, which were often repaired with the rubble of buildings from the occupying people.
If you climb the castle towers, you can see 360-degree views of Ankara. The surrounding area is full of beautiful winding trails, restaurants, museums, and other historic buildings.