Turkey’s capital city is a buzzing, cosmopolitan place of contemporary culture and ancient artefacts – where the kebabs are the best in the world, says Imogen Lepere
Why go At the crossroads of the Mediterranean and Asia, Ankara offers a heady mix of medieval architecture, political power and traditional Turkish cuisine. Since it became the capital in the 1920s, the population has soared from 75,000 to over five million and it is now truly cosmopolitan, with a flourishing art and design scene. On 29 October, Republic Day commemorates the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Locals gather at the Anitkabir (the mausoleum of Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk) for a patriotic procession culminating in a fireworks display.
What to do Spend a morning exploring the ancient citadel, a warren of alleyways enclosed by walls towering more than 15m. In the square by the Finger Gate local vendors sell hazelnuts and chickpeas, and you can enjoy panoramic views over the Old Town’s red roofs from S¸ ark Kulesi tower. Nearby in the Atpazari district, the Anatolian Civilisations Museum kultur.gov.tr houses artefacts from all of Turkey’s major archaeological sites. The CerModern cermodern.org is the biggest contemporary arts space in the country. Expect a major exhibition of Henri CartierBresson’s landscape photography as well as yoga and writing workshops. Every day, you’ll stumble across pazars (local markets) in different neighbourhoods. Try simit (crisp circular bread) at the covered bazaar in As¸ag˘i Ayranci on Wednesdays or head to the Ulus Hali permanent market, where farmers from all over Ankara Province hawk their wares. Just off the Kizilay intersection, the Kocatepe Mosque is the largest in the city and can hold more than 24,000 worshippers. Marvel at the intricate patterns inside, before visiting the Beg˘endik department store 00 90 312 236 1717 to rub shoulders with Ankara’s beautiful people. Don’t leave without seeing the Anitkabir anitkabir.org, which bestrides a hill in the memorial park near Tandog˘an. People travel from all over the country to pay their respects to the father of modern Turkey. Where to stay Ankara’s luxury hotels blend a sense of Turkey’s long and storied history with contemporary design, and are often
Clockwise from top left: Kocatepe, Ankara’s largest mosque; decorative lamps bejewel buildings; a vendor introduces authentic spices; shelves heave with pickling jars; simit bread is a streetside staple; a touch of local colour; procession at Anitkabir; bazaar stalls line the streets; dried courgette flowers; sharing sweet tea is a national pastime excellent value. The five-star Divan Çukurhan divan.com.tr is a brick-and-beam building dating back some four centuries. Modern four-posters and views of Ankara Citadel make it one of the best options in the city, and rooms start at just £63. Check Inn Ankara’s rooms checkinnankara.com have a similar pricetag yet manage to create the feel of a Manhattan loft apartment, with exposed brickwork, dark wood furniture and animal-skin details. JW Marriott Hotel marriott.co.uk is Ankara’s take on top-of-the-range luxury. Sip cocktails at the Sky Vue Lounge, immerse yourself in the fragrant steam of the Turkish hammam and soak up views from the floorto-ceiling windows, which allow light to stream into every room. Where to eat Fantastically varied landscapes nurture a range of fresh produce. Much of it is Mediterranean in feel, yet elevated to the exotic by Middle Eastern techniques and a culture of feastlike eating, which trickled down from the royal kitchens to society at large. Ankara’s culinary calling card is tava (tomato casserole with vermicelli and lamb on the bone) – you’ll find a particularly unctuous version at Ankara Tava ankaratava.com, a third-generation restaurant. Using a vertical rotisserie to cook meat can be traced back to the Ottomans, and doner kebabs are practically a religion here. Peçenek Döner pecenekdoner.com on Seçim Sokak may look humble but the excellent meat comes from Kizilcahamam village in the north of the province and locals say it’s the best in town. Mes¸hur Dönerci Dursun Usta 00 90 312 312 74 75 in the Samanpazari district also has a loyal following. Try Trilye Restaurant trilye.com.tr for excellent seafood and traditional desserts such as trileçe (a soft cake made from cow, sheep and buffalo milk).
Time running out? Atakule Tower dominates the city’s skyline with its futuristic dome. You can watch the sun set from the bar, which rotates 125m above ground level. atakule.com.tr
Trip tip Catching up over grainy Turkish coffee or sweet tea is central to locals’ social lives. Join them at Cafémiz, a sophisticated spot in a town house with a sunny garden. cafemiz.com.tr