Ankara is the administrative center 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 Cappodocia. 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 center 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 doesn’t mean that Ankara does not have history. Located in the center of Anatolia, Ankara’s history goes back to 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 Gordion, 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 millenia 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 neighborhoods 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 center of Ankara, with most museums, early republican buildings, and the ancient Ankara Castle. Being the most elegant center of the republic in the beginning of the 20th century, now the area has left its charm, and is a messy, crowded neighborhood. 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 neighborhood 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.
Next, Kizilay is the working class center of Ankara. The famous Kizilay Square, named after the now-demolished “Red Crescent” headquarters building, is Ankara’s political center. Throughout the decades, lot’s of protests and rallies has taken place in the square, and even today, this is the center of the political protests. Many roads and streets around Kizilay are better discovered on foot, and there are lot’s 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 neighborhood is a left oriented area, with several culture centers, 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 neighborhoods 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 center.
Ankara is well connected by a good public transport network system. Private and public bus operators compete for your patronage and there are the ‘dolmus’ minibus transport providers that offer rapid tranfers and get you to your connection points. The underground subway ‘Metro’ is highly efficient which runs between outer suburbs and the interstate bus terminal ‘ASTI’. Taxis are readily available and are probably the best way to get to your destination, relatively inexpensive for the time poor traveller.
As any other part of the Anatolian highland, Ankara has continental climate. The winters are cold and usually snowy. Temperature is commonly below the freezing point during this season, but it rarely drops below -15°C at nights. Thanks to the low levels of relative humidity, the hot and dry summers are more comfortable than coastal regions of Turkey. Average daily temperatures in midsummer are around 30°C. Daily temperatures can reach 35°C and above, but is not common and usually last no more than a few days. Summer nights are cool, though, so be sure to bring at least a cardigan with you to wear outdoors. Spring and autumn are the wettest seasons, but with an annual rainfall amount of 415 mm (i.e., a semi-arid climate), you are unlikely to get much wet during your trip to Ankara, anyway.