Ask most people what the capital of Turkey is and many would respond by saying Istanbul. Though this is incorrect, they can be forgiven for thinking that because that is where the greatest tourist attractions are. It is also the largest city in Turkey, famously connecting Europe to Asia.
The actual capital of Turkey is the city of Ankara, located in Central Anatolia. I spent six months of my life living there whilst participating on a European Voluntary Scheme and I have to say that it doesn’t surprise me that it is listed as 9th on Trip Advisor’s top Turkish destinations.
Ankara is a bureaucratic fuelled city, full of embassies and governmental buildings. It is not really built for the attraction of tourists, but that does not mean that there are not things to do and see. I found the climate of Ankara incredibly dry, it very rarely rained there but temperatures in the summer and winter differed greatly. A friend of mine told me a story that one winter the mercury in their thermometer’s actually froze. I was warned of the harsh winters when I came there, the winter before had seen temperatures reach as low as -23 C. Luckily the temperature did not plummet to those depths, and throughout the spring, autumn and summer months I was often in t-shirt and shorts.
Ankara is fairly easy to reach by plane as it’s Esenboga airport is a 45 minutes travel from the city centre. If you are travelling from the UK however, it is likely that you will have to fly to Istanbul before getting a connection flight on to Ankara. I tend to look at SkyScanner.net for the cheapest travel options, but make sure you book a few weeks in advance because prices vary greatly. Around £120 is a decent price for a one way flight.
Turkey is without a doubt one of the friendliest places I have ever visited, at almost every turn somebody is there offering to buy you some food, or a cup of tea. This hospitality extends to accommodation as well and seeing as I am a huge fan of experiencing cultures and new countries fully, sofa surfing is a great way to travel cheaply and make the most of the city you’re visiting. I am a member of Couchsurfing and there is no shortage of Turks wanting to host visitors for a few days, acting as a guide to their country and eager to improve their English. I made many friends during my time there, and though I have been gone a year now, I still talk to them quite regularly.
The pound can go a long way in Turkey – who use the Turkish Lira – so prices of most things are relatively cheap in comparison to what we spend over here. The food is wonderful and meal times are a big occasion with everyone sitting down to eat together. Lahmacun and Borek were my personal favourites and these can be found in many of the food outlets across Turkey. Kizilay is the central district for Ankara, and it is where most of the main shopping outlets are, as well as the pubs, clubs and restaurants. During the day it is swamped with people to-ing and fro-ing, going about their daily business and as darkness falls the restaurants, nargile bars and western-style clubs start filling with people. If you are looking for great nights out and lots of clubbing you may want to try Istanbul before Ankara, but having said this I experienced many a good time drinking and socialising in the bars and clubs of Kizilay and Tunali. Efes is the preferred beer, it is the cheapest and waiters offer to top up your glass even before you have finished. I was forced to grow to like this beer as there is a high tax on all alcohol, spirits are expensive and cider non-existent.
I would not advise driving in Ankara as the roads are chaotic at the best of times. Turks seem to have their own rules when behind the wheel and it would take a brave person to attempt to match them at their own game. There is a metro in Ankara which covers a few stations but the large majority of travelling is done over-ground in taxis, cars and buses. Talks of the metro being extended has happened for many years but no real progress has been made. As it is there are a multitude of buses that run throughout the city, they are cheap and frequent. If you are not comfortable with getting the right buses then taxis are always more than willing to pick you up, be careful though as a friend told me, “taxi drivers can smell your money”. As is the case with visiting any foreign country and city, have your wits about and you avoid going to places with a reputation after dark. I never experienced any problems but that does not mean problems do not exist.
As is the case with many Islamic countries, males have the most freedom and their experience of Ankara may differ from a females. When visiting specific sites or regions of the city be mindful of local customs and traditions. Though Ankara is not particularly conservative it is still behind Istanbul and the rest of Europe. Common sites on the streets of Ankara are street dogs and cats, and in Kizilay particularly, an almost constant police presence. Protests and demonstrations are dispersed quickly and, at times, fairly brutally.
The recent generations of Turks seem to be very dedicated to learning and education, as I mentioned previously, the English language is a big area of interest. Though you will undoubtedly meet quite a few fluent, and very good, English speakers within Ankara, do not assume that everyone knows the language. Especially in shops and restaurants who are not so used to catering for tourists. Another word of caution is to avoid certain topics of conversation, unless you are willing to get in to a heated debate, or face a criminal charge. Topics relating to Islam, the founding father of Turkey, Atarturk, and the Armenian genocide should be avoided unless you are amongst good friends.
Outside of the usual shopping, socialising and general sight seeing I would particularly recommend visiting Anitkabir, Ankara Castle and Ulus. Anitkabir is a shrine-like mausoleum where Ataturk’s body is located. An extremely popular destination with all Turks who go there from a young age. There are may national holidays in Turkey and on these days Anitkabir is packed with people celebrating and participating in the festivities. Probably considered the most important site in Ankara, if not the whole of Turkey, if you visit the city you must visit Anitkabir.
Ulus is the historic part of the city, and though I saw clear signs of gentrification when I last went, modern life has not completely taken over just yet. Its uneven pebbled streets and visibly different architecture is in stark contrast to the concrete jungle which is the rest of Ankara. Within Ulus lies Ankara castle, which is over a thousand years old. It is not as impressive as the grand castles of France, Spain and the UK but it is still a fair size. On top of its ramparts you are greeted to a 360 degree view over all of Ankara. At sunset it makes for some spectacular photo opportunities.
After a quick google search I have discovered that the visa system for Turkey is changing this year. Previously you need only to step off the plane at the airport and have your passport stamped, paying £10 for the visa, now it seems things are going online. An electronic visa application system will be implemented making it easier to obtain visas. According to the Turkish Consulate website. Before I travelled to Turkey I visited my local GP and had a few jabs and vaccinations but this may not be necessary if you are only going to the country for a short while. Mine was precautionary really as I was staying for 6 months.
Before you head out to Turkeys capital I would recommend you learn a few phrases in Turkish. Even struggling to speak the basics, locals will be happy to hear you trying. Hello, goodbye, yes, no, please to see you, thank you, etc. Remember, manners cost nothing. Do not drink tap water as this untreated and will probably cause slight sickness. Bottled water is readily available from local shops and markets. I encourage you to make friends, try new things and experience something which is markedly different from the UK. All the best. Gorusuruz.
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