The historic city of Ankara is the second largest in Turkey after Istanbul, and is the country’s capital and administrative centre, as well as a popular visitor destination. Apart from its fascinating Ulus Old Town, built around a hilltop citadel and holding many sights, mosques and heritage buildings, the rest of the city is divided into purpose-built, fairly recent developments and a few shanty towns thrown up by incomers from rural Turkey over the last 50 years or so. The downtown area is set around Kizilay Square, with nearby Ulus and Sihhiye Squares the second most central districts. Ankara city centre hotels are connected with all the tourist districts by metro, bus and local suburban rail as well as taxis.
To many westerners, Turkish cuisine begins and ends with doner kebabs. However, although there are countless kebab houses all over the city there’s great deal more to this country’s food. Every region and almost every city in Turkey has its own distinctive cuisine and, due to the large number of economic migrants from the countryside, most of the individual dishes are available here from restaurants catering to indigenous tastes. In addition, Ankara is the best place in Turkey for delicious, fresh fish all year round, with fish restaurant taking full advantage of their supply networks. Cheap it isn’t – amazingly good it is, and best in eateries around Cancaya and along Tunali and Olgunlar streets.
Ankara’s own traditional dish is the ‘iskendar kebab’, sliced, rotary-cooked fresh lamb with tomatoes, yoghurt and lashings of butter. For doner fans, there’s plenty of choice, with following locals to their favourite place the best idea. Remember that authentic doner rounds should actually be rectangular, and the meat slices themselves should be flat. A full Turkish meal will start with a selection of mezes, tiny dishes of grilled vegetables and other titbits, followed by a fish or meat main course and a typical sweet dessert such as Turkish delight or lokma, fried sweet dough served with syrup). The grainy sweet, strong Turkish coffee is served in tiny cups. Ulus Old Town gives the best culinary experiences, topped up with the location of many of its eateries in ancient Ottoman houses – atmospheric in the extreme.
Everything from street stalls to upscale luxury restaurants is here for the taking, with a holiday in Ankara an adventure in eating out. Most street food is safe to eat, with the same rule applying – choose to eat where the locals eat. If you’re in a hurry, and one street stall is deserted while others have queues, don’t risk it! For upmarket gourmet treats, Cankaya, Kavaklidere and Gaziosmnpassa districts have a good choice, with Sakaraya Street also known for its fresh fish eateries in addition to its fast food outlets and its reasonable prices. Raki is the tipple of choice, but varies a lot in quality and need to be approached warily by the inexperienced.
Shopping here is as varied as dining, with a fine selection of modern malls, streets crowded with high street-style shops, individually owned fashion and other outlets and many local bazaars and markets. Department stores offer reliability in gift and souvenir shopping but are somewhat bland in their choices of merchandise. For more character at less money, the markets are the places to head for, with haggling as standard and people watching a joy. Karum iz Merkezi is the most popular mall, located near the Hilton Hotel. The Castle area is the most interesting, a centuries-old trading centre with local stores offering Turkish rugs, leather goods and antiques. The buying of antiques should be approached with care and a little knowledge, but can result in a perfect, genuine souvenir of your visit.