Compared to many other cities of Turkey, Ankara, might not be a popular destination for many tourists. Pretty much everyone flocks to Istanbul, which I understand completely. It’s one of my favorite cities I have traveled to. However, the capital is very different from the bustling Istanbul, with its architecture, people, and sites. So without further ado, here are the top things to do in Ankara for three days.
Is Ankara worth visiting?
Ankara is a very old city; here you’ll find examples of Roman, Byzantine, Hellenistic, and Ottoman architectural and archeological sites. The historical center laid out on the rocky hill is one of the best representations of Ottoman architecture and incorporates the remains of the Roman period, including the Temple of Augustus and Rome, dating back to the 20th century BC, and Roman Baths.
Therefore, for history buffs, Ankara is definitely a place to be. City explorers will love wandering not only in the historic part but in the central district of the capital, Kizilay. While museum lovers will find quite interesting venues to check out. So basically, there is something for any kind of traveler.
How to get to Ankara?
Ankara has one airport called Ankara Esenboga Airport, located around 30 km from the city center. Depending on where you are traveling from, finding a flight to Ankara should not be a problem. Both local and international airline companies fly to Ankara.
If you are traveling from any city of Turkey, the cheapest and a bit comfortable air carrier is Pegasus, which also flies internationally to dozens of countries, including in Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia. You can also find flights to Ankara from many parts of the world operated by Turkish Airlines, Ukrainian Airlines, Lufthansa, and LOT to name just a few.
Getting around Ankara
Ankara is quite a big city with a very good public transportation system, with buses, metros, railway, and ‘dolums’ (minibusses). There’s a special airport to the city center bus, operated by company Havas. Cost per ride costs 11 Lira. Every airport in Turkey has those buses.
As some attractions are far from each other, and you are not keen on walking, buy Ankara Card instead of single-use tickets. The card is valid for buses and metro, and you get a discounted price for the second ride within 75 minutes.
You can purchase Ankara Card in metro stations. The price of the card is 6 Lira, and one ride costs 2.50 Lira. You can deposit as much money on the card as you want. It should be noted that unlike similar cards you can find in Europe, this particular one is not limited to hours or days of your stay.
19 Awesome Things to do in Ankara
Visit the mausoleum of Ataturk
Anitkabir, translated as a memorial tomb, is the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey and its first President. Visiting the venue is one of the first things to do in Ankara.
The mausoleum is huge, nothing I have ever visited elsewhere. It includes four parts: the Ceremonial Plaza, the Road of Lions, the Hall of Honor, and Peace Park.
The Road of Lions is a pedestrian-only walkway lined with twelve pairs of lions on both sides. They represent 24 Oghuz Turkik Tribes. The lions are seated to symbolized both peace and power.
Ceremonial Plaza is the central area that can accommodate around 15,000 people. The floor is quite beautiful, designed in 373 kilim (Turkish carpet) and rug patterns.
Ataturk’s tomb is in the Hall of Honor, in a symbolic 40-ton sarcophagus. The real body is buried right below the sarcophagus, seven meters down, surrounded by the soil of every region of Turkey, as well as Northern Cyprus and Azerbaijan. Besides, Ataturk, the second president of the country, Ismet Inonu is also buried here.
Peace Park surrounds the whole complex. The name comes from Ataturk’s famous phrase: Peace at home, peace in the world.
There’s a museum within the complex, showcasing his memorabilia starting from his birth certificate, personal items, clothing, books, gifts from various countries, and a Lincoln car of 1935 to name just a few. Trust me, these are just drops in the ocean! There’s even a piece of stone from the house in Macedonia where Ataturk was born!
What I liked most about visiting the mausoleum is its layout. Every period of Ataturk’s life is perfectly displayed, with special corners dedicated to the reform he did to create one of the powerful countries in the 20th century. Apart from this, there are three panoramas dedicated to the Independence War of Turkey with a simulation of the war. When walking in the rooms, you hear sounds of gunfire, people screaming, and the sounds of water splashes.
We really enjoyed the visit here. And make sure to spend around 2 hours to see everything.
- Opening hours: 1 February – 14 May: 9 am – 4:30 pm; 15 May – 31 October: 9 am – 5 pm; 1 November – 31 January: 9 am – 4 pm.
- Entrance Fee: Free
Wander through the old town
The main historical area in Ankara is the Hamamönü district full of old architectural buildings, shops, and cafes. The history of the area goes back to the time when Ankara became the capital of Turkey, but scholars believe that the base of it is even older.
In 2011, the district underwent major renovation works, making it a popular spot and one of the important things to do in Ankara. The area is one of the best examples of late Ottoman-era house dwellings and neighborhoods. Those charming white houses incorporate patterns of Ottoman civic architecture, serving as a time machine to travel to old Ankara.
Besides cafes and residential houses, the neighborhood is home to Karacabey Hamami, the bathhouse dating back to the 15th century, Taceddin Sultan Mosque, Haci Musa Mosque, and a clock tower.
Enjoy the view of Ankara Castle and old town
The road to Ankara Citadel follows through a cobblestone steep street, where various shops, be it a souvenir, towels, textiles, spices, or stones, adorn both sides of it. Moreover, this part of Ankara also features Ottoman-era-like white houses, made either from wood or stone.
The castle itself dates back to the late antique, early medieval era, and offers a panoramic view of the capital. Originally built as military defense, today, it serves a popular destination for tourists. You can climb its walls and enjoy views of Altindag district boasting with red-tiled rooftop houses of Ottoman-era, while on the horizon, there’s modern Ankara.
See the development of technology of our era
Hands down, Rahmi M. Koc Museum Ankara is probably my the most favorite museum of all the museums I have ever visited! It’s a museum of technology, past, present, and future! I can’t recommend it enough, so make sure you put this on your list of things to do in Ankara.
Here, you witness the evolution of any kind of machinery, be it computers, typewriters, radios, television, calculators, scientific tools, military equipment, cars, boats, bicycles, motorbikes, steam engines, you name it! You’ll find something that you either have never seen, heard of, or didn’t think it existed. It’s a mindblowing exhibition.
The museum is a private collection of a Turkish businessman, Rahmi Mustafa Koç. Forbes, in 2016, ranked him as the 906th richest man in the world with a fortune worth $2.6 billion. It should be noted that he not only donated all those items he collected throughout the years but also took part in the process of making the museum, especially in its layout and thematic rooms.
Situated in a historical building built during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificant, Cengelhan building is one of the few constructions of that time which remains in its original form. The building was home to the shop of Rahmi’s father, Vehbi Koc, where he started his business career and became the richest man in Turkey.
During the making of the museum, the Koc family made sure that the building remained in its original state. The museum also encompasses another historical building called Safranhan, built in 1511. It used to be a typical Anatolian caravanserai. You can even see the layout of those Anatolian shops within the museum.
Apart from being absolutely stunned by the items here, we loved the fact that some of them are still operating and you can see them working by pushing the button at some displays. Make sure you have at least (!) two hours to spend in the museum.
- Opening Hours: Tue-Fri: 10 am – 5 pm. Weekends: 10 am – 6 pm from October to March, and during April – September from 10 am – 7 pm.
- Entrance Fee: Adults – 10 Lira
Admire the beauty of Kocatepe Mosque
This is the largest mosque in Ankara, built between 1967 and 1987. The mosque has a modern and innovative design, in particular, it carries a neo-classical Ottoman architectural style. The design was influenced by Sultan Ahmet (Blue Mosque) of Istanbul and the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne.
Relax in various parks of Ankara
The capital city is home to many parks scattered across the city. Genclik Park, located in the center, spans on 27.5 ha of land. Nearby, there’s Ulus Square, the Ankara Opera House, Ankara Central Station, and a stadium.
There’s an Amusement Park inside, with various attractions and a Ferris Wheel to keep you entertained. During our visit, as the tourist season was still low, it was opened only on weekends, so we only managed to stroll down the main park.
Kuğulu Park, which translates as Swan Park, is another great alternative to enjoy peace and nature in the Çankaya neighborhood. As the name already suggests, the park is home to swans, as well as geese, and ducks. The park is quite big, covering around 1ha of land, making it a perfect spot to enjoy a sunny day in Ankara and admire the everyday life of the locals.
Visit the Roman Baths of Ankara
This open-air museum showcases the remains of the Roman bath of the ancient city of Ancyra, the predecessor of modern Ankara. During the Roman Era on the territory of today’s Turkey, the strategic location of Ancyra made it the capital city of the Galatia province.
These baths built in the 3rd century by Emperor Caracalla, in honor of the God of Medicine, Asclepios. The complex consists of three main rooms: hot, warm, and cold baths. Upon entering the site, you find yourself at the old wrestling court which used to be enclosed by a portico and 128 marble columns. The area was used until the 8th century. It was destroyed by fire and left only the remains of the first floor and the basement.
- Opening Hours: Everyday: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
- Entrance Fee: 6 Lira
Have fun at Upside Down House
If you are looking for a bit different things to do in Ankara, you might want to check out the Upside Down House or Tepetaklak EV in Turkish, located on the outskirts of the capital. This two-floor house has three rooms on the upper floor and one on its ground floor. It looks like an ordinary apartment, however, every item is upside down. Kids will have a blast here, but so did I :)
The place is part of an entertainment park and apart from the Upside Down House, there’s a Museum of Illusions, cafes, train for kids, and domesticated ducks and geese. I guess the place is much busier in spring and summer when the weather is warmer, but during our visit at the beginning of March, the place was quite empty.
How to get there: If you are renting a car in Ankara, getting to the Upside Down House is easy peasy. It’s a bit challenging when using public transportation, but it’s doable. You need to get in at any stop of red metro line M1-2-3 and get off it at Koru station. Exit the metro towards Ankaralilar Cd. and walk to the bus station.
You need bus number 589, or any other that goes to Eski Kapi bus stop. Note that the bus stop is on the highway and the bus will be driving from the opposite side of the Upside Down House. Don’t get off of the bus, it goes to a small neighborhood and drives towards the right side of your destination – Eski Kapi. You need to get off near the Petrol Office petrol station. The Upside Down House is located behind cafes and shops.
The way back to Ankara is the same. Just wait for the bus in front of the petrol station.
- Opening Hours: Everyday 10 am – 7 pm
- Entrance Fee: Upside Down House and Museum of Illusions 15 Lira each
This is a true gem of Ankara that no one knows about. Even I stumbled upon it by accident, through browsing Google Trips app when planning the trip. Its Turkish name is Altın Köşk, situated in Bilkent neighborhood. The house, built in 1996, belongs to Ali Riza Bozkurt, a Turkish businessman who owns several international companies and resides in the United States.
What makes this residence so special and unique? It’s one of its kind in whole Ankara as it features replicas from different palaces and mansions all around Turkey. Even though the dominant color of the house is golden, both the interior and exterior are done in style. Luxurious furniture adorns massive rooms, while painted patterns on its walls and ceilings, along with enormous chandeliers do attract the eye.
How to get here: Take any stop of red metro line M1-2-3 and get off at Bilkent station. Exit the metro towards Bilkent Blv. and walk towards Beytepe Koyu Yolu street in order to find Bilkent bus stop. You’ll need bus number 111. Get off from the bus at Şafak Sitesi bus stop. The museum is right in front of the street, so you’ll be able to see it when approaching the bus stop. Take the same route to go to the center of Ankara.
- Opening Hours: Closed on Mondays. Tue-Sun: 9 am – 5 pm
- Entrance Fee: Free but donations are appreciated
Enjoy panoramic views of Ankara
Atakule Tower is a shopping mall with an observation tower of 125 meters high to enjoy a panoramic view of Turkey’s capital. There’s even a restaurant called Sevilla, which rotates 360 degrees in one hour. On top of this restaurant, there’s another one called Dome, but it’s not revolving, while a cafe is located under the viewing terrace.
Unfortunately, there are ongoing renovations of the tower and we couldn’t go up. However, according to the personal, it should be open in summer. So instead, we walked around, sipped a coffee at its indoor restaurants and popped in at some of the shops.
Ankara attractions we missed
Due to the fact that Ankara is quite big and some of the venues we wanted to visit are far from the city center or even outside of it, we messed up with timing and didn’t realize we would have needed more than an hour by public transport to get to those locations. Therefore, we had to prioritize. Some of those venues listed below were out of our interests but still decided to include them to show you that there are plenty of things to do in Ankara.
Museum of Anatolian Civilizations
History lovers will enjoy their time in Anadolu Medeniyetleri or the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, where visitors can see a large collection of Anatolian items in well-arranged rooms from the Paleolithic era to the present day. The museum serves as an introduction to early Turkey and its capital.
- Opening Hours: Open every day. Hours vary according to the season.
- Entrance Fee: 30 Lira
Ethnography Museum of Ankara
If you like learning about civilizations, then visiting the Ethnography Museum should be on your list. The museum showcases the cultures of Turkic civilizations through various artifacts like manuscripts, jewelry, glass and tile items, hand-woven and hand-embroidered goods, and metalwork to name a few.
- Opening Hours: Open every day, except religious holidays. Hours vary according to season
- Entrance Fee: 12 Lira
War of Independence Museum
This is another great museum for those who are interested in learning the history of Turkey in detail. The museum displays important photos, documents, and furniture of the war. Explore the corridor with oil paintings showcasing the events of 1918-23 and the Presidential Room features original items including the presidential seal. Moreover, you can see Ataturk’s personal items in the administration room.
- Opening Hours: Open every day. Hours vary according to season
- Entrance Fee: 10 Lira
Aqua Vega Aquarium
Located in one of the largest shopping malls of Turkey, the Aqua Vega Aquarium has a long walk-in tunnel from where you can see the life and natural habitat of underwater creatures. There are different rooms with various themes to watch freshwater and salt life. It is a fantastic place for both kids and adults. Apart from the aquarium, you can also visit a reptile house, touch pools, a souvenir shop, and a cafe.
Ulucanlar Prison Museum
One of the weird and interesting things to do in Ankara is to visit Ulucanlar Prison Museum, a former state prison converted into a museum after the renovations carried out by Altındağ Municipality. Being one of its kind in Turkey.
Visiting the museum is quite emotional, as it takes you through a very past via dark and cold corridor. You will learn about those famous people who were imprisoned here due to various reasons and see the photos and documents showcasing the 81 years history of the venue.
- Opening Hours: Closed on Mondays. Tue-Fri: 10 am – 4 pm; Weekends: 10 am – 5 pm
Opened in 2010, CerModern is a place for art lovers. Housed in an old railway workshop, the gallery showcases fascinating modern art. The exhibitions always vary, with no permanent displays in the venue. Apart from visiting its exhibition halls, you can take part in various workshops or events hosted by the gallery.
- Opening Hours: Closed on Mondays. Tue-Sun: 10 am – 8 pm
- Entrance Fee: Adults: 20 Lira; Students: 10 Lira
Ankara Air Force Museum
If you are interested in military airplanes, visiting this museum should be on your list of things to do in Ankara. Note that there are two museums in the city dedicated to the air force. This one is in the city, located in Altindag district, while another, Ankara Aviation Museum, is in the Etimesgut district.
With more than 700 artifacts, photographs, and documents, the Ankara Air Force Museum does a great job to show its visitors the history of Turkish aviation. The museum also displays certificates, uniforms, and medals of the pilots. The garden of the museum is home to original aircraft and their models. There’s a parachute tower for those adrenaline junkies who’d love to jump from it and have a somewhat unique experience.
- Opening Hours: Closed on Mondays. Tue-Sun: 9 am – 4:30 pm
Altinkoy Open Air Museum
If you’d like to see what life used to be in the villages in Turkey, visit this open-air museum. The complex includes examples of houses, mosques, fountains, and everything else that perfectly describe rural life some hundred years ago. There’s a farmer’s market to buy some groceries and a restaurant if you get hungry.
- Opening Hours: Closed on Mondays. Tue-Sun: 9 am – 7 pm
- Entrance Fee: Adults: 5 Lira; Students: 2 Lira
Prepare for the trip
To ease your travel planning, check out all the posts about Turkey travel. Additionally, here are some of the websites and services I use when preparing for my next adventure anywhere in the world.
– Book affordable flights on Kiwi.com, a platform that shows the best routes and flight deals to your destination. There’s a money-back guarantee if you miss the flight!
– Check iVisa to see if you need a tourist visa to visit Turkey, how to apply online if applicable, or where’s the nearest embassy or consulate
– Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance, SafetyWing, to cover all sorts of health problems on the road
– Book in advance some of the best city walks, cultural experiences, and day tours to maximize your stay and experience here