The Turkish capital, Ankara, is attracting ever more visitors nowadays as it becomes a sophisticated dining and shopping venue in its own right as well as the commercial and administrative centre of the country. Already known for its incredible age as a settlement on the ancient trade routes between Asia and Europe, it’s a fascinating mix of cultures stretching back as far as the pre-Greek and Roman eras with a strong dose of Ottoman and Arab cultures thrown in. Archaeological sites and ruins outside the city combine with the old quarter in displaying aspects of its long history as a trading town.
The modern city is split into three sectors, the most charming of which is the historic old quarter set on a hill below the citadel with its winding streets full to the brim with Ottoman buildings, many of which are now restaurants and shops catering to visitors as well as to locals. Most of the remaining districts were purpose-built to serve government and administrative purposes during the last 50 years, apart from the shanty towns on the outskirts which house the large number of economic migrant workers from poorer regions of the country. Tourist activities tend to concentrate in the modern city centre and the old quarter.
As befits a 21st century city, US-style malls in vast modern buildings give a huge choice of fashion outlets with familiar names offering well-known brands. The plus point is that prices are lower here than in almost all Mediterranean destinations, although top international designer gear is somewhat thin on the ground. Department stores are another reliable fashion destination, although the lines tend to lack flair. For more character, try the stalls and tiny stores along Cikrikcilar Yokusu, (Weavers’ Road). The Karum iz Merkezi is the favourite mall for fashions, with many famous names and, for a more quirky look, Tunali Hilmi Caddesi Street just by the mall is well worth a visit for its individual boutiques, as is Atakule Tower.
For souvenir shopping, Ankara’s Castle district in the old quarter has been a centre for trade for hundreds of years and still offers traditional crafts including hand-woven rugs, carpets, and leather goods including shoes and bags and a range of antiques. Another fascinating destination is the Coppersmiths’ Market with its huge selection of hand-beaten copper goods for the home, jewellery and yet more carpets and rugs. Along the outskirts of the city are more malls, including the Galleria, Ankamall and Armada, recently ranked in a consumer survey as the ‘Best Mall in Europe’.
Food in Ankara presents a culinary adventure, as familiar options such as European and Asian cuisines simply don’t exist, although the ubiquitous US-style fast food outlets can be found, especially in the malls. Turkish cuisine is exceptionally varied, with every region and its many towns having their own versions of traditional recipes. Due to the large number of migrants to the city, many of these signature dishes can be found on street stalls and in local eateries. Street food here won’t cause any health problems, although bottled water is best, and choosing a vendor already popular with a queue of locals ensures a taste thrill at a very cheap price.
More formal dining up to gourmet level is easy to locate with the help of the front desk at your Ankara city centre hotel , which may even have a gourmet restaurant on site. Again, the old quarter is the place to head for, with many establishments set in traditional old Ottoman buildings giving a charming and exotic boost to the atmosphere with their romantic décor and traditional Arab music.
Lek Boonlert is an editor and content reviewer at DirectRooms and is responsible for all Ankara City Centre Hotels content.