As someone who has lived in Türkiye for nearly four years and had the opportunity to explore both Istanbul and Ankara, I can provide a firsthand perspective on the key differences between these two remarkable cities.
Comparing Istanbul and Ankara, both cities have their own allure and attractions that cater to different interests and preferences.
Join me as we delve into the intriguing comparison of “Istanbul vs. Ankara” to understand the contrasting features and highlights of these two remarkable cities in Turkey.
Who knows, by the end of this article, you may be ready to visit both Istanbul and Ankara!
Keep reading below for our in-depth analysis on weighing up Istanbul vs. Ankara
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Ankara Vs. Istanbul
“Istanbul vs. Ankara” is a comparison that highlights the distinctions between Turkey’s two major cities. Istanbul, the country’s largest city, offers a mesmerizing blend of history, culture, and modernity.
Situated on the Bosporus Strait, it spans two continents and boasts iconic landmarks like the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Grand Bazaar. With its vibrant atmosphere, diverse culinary scene, and bustling streets, Istanbul captivates visitors from around the world.
On the other hand, Ankara, the capital city, has a more reserved ambiance, emphasizing political and administrative significance.
It showcases historical sites like the Anıtkabir and the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, as well as a thriving intellectual and educational scene due to its prestigious universities. While Istanbul is known for its economic prominence, Ankara serves as the political hub of the country.
Both cities offer unique experiences, but Istanbul’s rich heritage and cosmopolitan charm, alongside Ankara’s political and cultural significance, make them distinct destinations within Türkiye.
What To See In Istanbul
Istanbul has several must-see attractions that showcase the city’s rich history and vibrant culture.
Hagia Sophia is a stunning architectural marvel that has served as a church, mosque, museum, and now back being a mosque.
Fun fact: The Hagia Sophia you will see is not the original. Actually, the first and subsequent Hagia Sophias burned down. What you will see is the third rendition of the Hagia Sophia, built in 537 A.D. So while it is not the original, it is still quite old. Oh, the stories these walls could tell!
Taksim & Istiklal
If you’re a shopper, you will probably love these areas. They are close to one another and are known among tourists. Neither is a favorite of mine, but there you will find lots of shopping, bars, and Western-style food.
Balat is a vibrant and historic neighborhood located on the European side of Istanbul, known for its colorful streets, charming houses, and rich cultural heritage. This multicultural district is home to various ethnic communities, including Jewish, Greek, and Armenian, resulting in a diverse and welcoming atmosphere. It is a must-visit destination for those seeking an authentic and off-the-beaten-path experience in Istanbul.
You can take a stroll through the historic Sultanahmet Square, where you’ll find the Topkapi Palace, home to Ottoman sultans, and the Basilica Cistern, an underground marvel. If you love buildings, Topkapi Palace is quite an interesting place to see. It is one of 5 Palaces in Istanbul. When we went one thing that stood out to me was the variety of Iznik tiles and patterns used throughout the property. Not to mention the views from the palace are incredible.
Don’t miss the bustling Grand Bazaar, a vibrant maze of shops offering everything from spices and textiles to jewelry and carpets. If you’re actually wanting to shop, however, I would recommend you step outside to the streets of Eminonu and shop where the locals shop. Here you will find the prices drop by nearly half.
I am partial to anything that takes place on the water. You could take a ferry (the cheapest option and no tour included), a group cruise (a cheaper option but going with other people), or you could even take a private tour (the most expensive option but also the nicest). Enjoy!
This palace is located in Beşiktaş District. It served as the Administrative center of the Ottoman Empire after Topkapi Palace and was built in the mid-1800s. In this palace, you will find over 100 kg of gold that was used to decorate the palace.
If you’re looking for a great view of the city, this is the place to visit! I have been up to the top a couple of times now and it still amazes me the views that can be seen from the watchtower. When it was originally constructed it was the highest point in the city.
You can learn all about the history as you make your way to the top of the tower.
Kadıköy, located on the Asian side of Istanbul, is a bustling and lively neighborhood that offers a unique blend of tradition and modernity. Known as the cultural and culinary heart of the Asian side, it boasts a vibrant atmosphere with its bustling markets, trendy boutiques, and an array of cafes and restaurants. The district is a hub for artists, musicians, and creatives, as well as home to numerous cultural venues, including art galleries, theaters, and music venues.
Taste The Food
Lastly, indulge in the local culinary delights, savoring traditional Turkish cuisine and experiencing the lively atmosphere of street food markets. Istanbul offers a blend of ancient history, architectural wonders, and a vibrant atmosphere that will leave you captivated. Make sure you don’t miss the Turkish appetizers, which are at the heart of Turkish cuisine.
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Pros And Cons Of Visiting Istanbul
Visiting Istanbul offers a wide range of unique experiences, but like any travel destination, it also has its pros and cons.
Despite the challenges, Istanbul’s unique blend of history, culture, and charm often leaves visitors with unforgettable memories.
What To See In Ankara
Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, offers several attractions that highlight its historical and cultural significance.
Situated in the Ulus district, the Roman Theatre is a well-preserved ancient theater believed to have been built during the 2nd century AD. It offers a glimpse into Ankara’s Roman past and occasionally hosts cultural events.
Ataturk Forest Farm & Zoo
Also known as Atatürk Orman Çiftliği, this expansive recreational area was originally a farm founded by Atatürk. It features lush greenery, picnic spots, a zoo with various animal species, and recreational activities.
Dating back to the Roman era, the Ankara Citadel is a historic fortress located on a hill in the Ulus district. Within its walls, you can explore narrow streets, Ottoman-era houses, and enjoy panoramic views of the city.
This monumental mausoleum is the final resting place of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. Anıtkabir is a significant symbol of national pride and showcases exhibits related to Atatürk’s life and achievements. This was actually quite interesting. I even got to experience the changing of the guard which was better than I expected.
Situated in the Çankaya district, this preserved house was once the residence of Atatürk during the early years of the Republic. It provides a glimpse into the personal life and lifestyle of Türkiye’s founding father.
Museum Of Anatolian Civilizations
Housed in a restored Ottoman building, this museum displays a vast collection of artifacts from various ancient civilizations that once thrived in Anatolia, including the Hittites, Phrygians, and Romans.
As one of the largest parks in Ankara, Gençlik Parkı offers recreational facilities, green spaces, and a variety of outdoor activities. The park features a Ferris wheel, a skating rink, a mini-golf course, and walking paths. It is the perfect place to take a break and read a book in the shade of the massive trees.
Ahi Şerafeddin Camii
Located in the old town of Ankara, this historic mosque dates back to 1290 AD. It is not only an important religious site it is also one of the oldest buildings in Ankara. Though small, it is still worth a visit.
Located within the Ankara Castle complex, this museum showcases the rich cultural heritage of Anatolia. It exhibits traditional costumes, jewelry, handicrafts, and artifacts representing the diverse regions of Turkey.
This contemporary art center is housed in a renovated railway maintenance depot. It hosts exhibitions, performances, film screenings, and cultural events, making it a hub for modern and contemporary art in Ankara.
Bonus Tip: If you have the chance to try 326 Antakya Durum, you should. I have had my fair share of durum while living in Turkey and this is by far my favorite.
Pros And Cons Of Visiting Ankara
Visiting Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, has its own set of pros and cons. Here are some of the pros and cons of visiting Ankara:
While Ankara might not have the same level of tourism infrastructure as Istanbul, it still offers its own unique experiences, particularly for those interested in politics, history, and a more tranquil atmosphere.
Istanbul Vs. Ankara – A Comparison Of The Two
Istanbul and Ankara, the first and second largest cities in Türkiye have distinct characteristics and differences. When trying to decide which to go to you can also consider the following:
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Final Thoughts On Whether You Should Visit Ankara Or Istanbul
With the YHT (high-speed train system) in place, the good news is that you can travel between these two cities in just a few hours. Embarking on a day trip from Istanbul to Ankara offers a chance to explore Türkiye’s political and administrative capital and experience its distinct atmosphere.
A visit to the magnificent Anıtkabir provides a glimpse into the nation’s founding father and the history of the Republic of Türkiye. Exploring the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations offers an opportunity to delve into the ancient civilizations that thrived in Anatolia, showcasing remarkable artifacts.
Additionally, a visit to the Ankara Citadel allows for panoramic views of the city and a chance to explore its historic streets. While a day trip may not be enough to fully uncover all the city has to offer, it provides a taste of Ankara’s unique character and a deeper understanding of Turkey’s cultural and political heritage.