If you are in the planning stages of a holiday to Ankara and are looking for an authentic experience then enjoy our local guide to the city. The best way when travelling to a new destination and experiencing new cultures is to use input from those were born and raised there.
We asked local, Kale Kayhan Alpar (42, International Trade Consultant) for his favorite spots and city hangouts:
What is your favorite area in Ankara?
My favorite areas in Ankara are Tunalı Hilmi Avenue and the surrounding streets, just 15 minutes from the downtown. This area has always been a lively and hip place for locals who love to hang out, shop and drink coffee or beer. There is a nice park at the end of the street, where you can rest and feed the swans and ducks. My favorite walking route starts at the bookstores and passages around Yüksel Street and Karanfil Street. Along the way, it passes shops, records stores, cafés and Karum Shopping Mall.
What is your regular coffee spot?
Coffee has always played an important role in Turkish culture since the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the longest reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Modern Turkish coffee houses continue their role in society as a meeting place. Yüksel Street and Karanfil Street are home to numerous colorful cafés. There are also many offering water pipes (narghile) and board games, like backgammon, around 7th Street in Bahçeli District.
My top coffee spot is in Kavaklıdere District. Cafemiz is the first known café in the city, a popular venue for breakfast and lunch, especially at the weekends. Mado is one of the most widely known chains but the one that I love is located on Tunalı Street. It is a perfect spot for people watching and chilling. In summertime, just sit outside and taste the best traditional Turkish deserts, such as baklava and kadayıf, with tea or coffee on the side. On cold winter days, warm up with a cup of sahlep, a flour made from an orchid plant, mixed together with hot milk and served with cinnamon. This has been a known health remedy since ancient times.
…and lunch venue?
Ankara is best known for kebabs. If you are in Kızılay, you can taste the best döner kebab at Hosta on Sakarya Street. There are many fish sellers, restaurants and beer houses here too. Do not expect very luxurious service, but you can eat delicious food and local tapas (mezes) at reasonable prices.
What are the best shopping areas?
With 38 shopping malls, Ankara is a haven for shoppers. For international and domestic fashion brands, I tend to go to Armada, Kentpark and Cepa because they are very close to each other. The main downtown shopping avenues are Kızılay Street, Tunalı Hilmi Street and Arjantin Street.
Which local markets are the best to check out?
For handcrafted items such as jewelry, copper, ceramics, carpets, gift items, textiles, decorations, antiques and leather, the old center of Ankara, Ulus, is the place to visit. It also offers traditional shops selling spices and dry fruits as well as the city’s oldest food market, Ulus Hali. I would definitely recommend Çıkrıkçılar Yokuşu and Bakırcılar Pazarı if you want to visit a more traditional Turkish market.
Where are the best places to dine out in the evening?
Although Ankara is hundreds of miles away from the sea, you can find many cozy Mediterranean fish restaurants serving delicious seafood and hundreds of different types of tasty meze tapas. Trilye, Sandal, Akdeniz Akdeniz, Marmaris Balıkçısı are among the best restaurants that I can recommend.
If you want to experience a nice dinner, accompanied by live traditional "fasıl" music, visit the restaurants in the Old City. Here, many old wooden Ottoman houses have been transformed into charming dining spots. Kınacızade and Zenger Paşa Konağı are the best places to get a feel for the mysterious atmosphere of old combined with new. Local dishes are served with Raki, a Turkish aniseed spirit, and a selection of local wines.
If you are at the end of a night out and find yourself hungry in the early hours of the morning, head to Beykoz İşkembecisi on Hoşdere Street. Open 24 hours, you can watch your meal being prepared in the open kitchen. Tribe soup, sheep's head, foot soup, and brain salad are my favorites, but I have to admit that it’s not to everyone’s taste! This restaurant has also a vast selection of Ottoman inspired dishes.
…and the best nightspots?
With a huge student population from the city’s 18 universities, Ankara has a very colorful nightlife scene with many bars and clubs open until 4 am. A good central place to start the evening is on Bestekar Street, which has a great atmosphere. Tunali Street provides many nice places side-by-side to eat and drink, such as Hayyami Wine House. I prefer meeting with friends and drinking Turkey's famous beer "Efes" in Kıtır. It is one of Ankara's oldest beer houses, which also offers snacks, such as grilled sheep intestines and stuffed mussels.
If you prefer live music, there are three popular venues for rock, blues and jazz music: Siyah Beyaz, If Performance Hall and Overall. Manhattan Rock Bar is also an Ankara classic and is open daily, and the surrounding pubs are also worth a trip: November, Newcastle and The Lord Kinross. For stylish bars, Salata and North Shield in Mesa are worth the taxi journey out of the central area.
We hope that these insiders’ tips inspire your next holiday to Turkey. The Radisson Blu Hotel, Ankara is an urban oasis near the downtown area and old city, perfect for exploring both the historic and contemporary styles that blend together so well here.