Travel

Add This Artistic Turkish City to Your Dream List

Don't venture across Turkey without this much-needed culture stop.

John Elk III/The Image Bank/Getty Images
John Elk III/The Image Bank/Getty Images
John Elk III/The Image Bank/Getty Images

As the capital of Turkey, Ankara doesn’t usually get as much touristy love as Istanbul or Cappadocia. In fact, many people probably think of Ankara, in relation to international politics and business, hosting serious professionals who have journeyed to the Anatolian region for a specific purpose.

But Ankara has so much more to offer than conference rooms and government buildings. And the space in between those other well-traversed Turkish cities is scattered with cherished gems. Ankara is not only the country’s capital, it’s also a cultural capital, full of art, music, and ancient history.

From contemporary art from young Turkish people to artifacts of some of Earth’s most ancient civilizations, here’s everything you need to experience in Ankara for those plotting their journey through Turkey.

Erimtan Archaeology and Arts Museum
Erimtan Archaeology and Arts Museum
Erimtan Archaeology and Arts Museum

See how the Ottomans lived-as well as the Byzantines, Hittites, etc.

Thanks to so many preserved ancient trinkets and records, Turkey’s history feels particularly old. You can see tapestries, swords, jewellery, and more from the last era of the Ottoman Empire all the way to present day at the Ankara Ethnography Museum and the Ankara Painting and Sculpture Museum. Both are chock full of Turkish art, including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, clothing, and centuries-old religious texts. Both museums are situated on a hill overlooking nearly all of Ankara, with stunning views in every direction. The buildings where the art is housed are stately, exciting examples of Turkish architecture designed by Arif Hikmet Koyunoğlu.

The Erimtan Archaeology and Arts Museum is home to works from the Roman, Urartu, Hittite, and Byzantine ages. Some of the art dates back to as far as 3,000 B.C., and walking through the space feels as close to time travelling as we might ever get. For an entry fee of just over $2, or 40 Turkish Lira, it’s a small price to pay to see some of humanity’s oldest rings, perfume bottles, crowns, and more.

If you’ve always been fascinated by archaeology, the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations is another must-visit museum. The space is home to an extensive collection, including the first ever minted money on record, pieces from an Apollo temple, virtual tours, and animated scenes. The museum is organized in chronological order starting with the Paleolithic era, and continuing through the Neolithic, Early Bronze, Assyrian trading colonies, Hittite, Phrygian, Urartian, Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuks and Ottoman periods. It’s located on the south side of the Ankara Castle, and is therefore an easy walk.

logosstock/E+/Getty Images
logosstock/E+/Getty Images
logosstock/E+/Getty Images

Relax how the Romans did… in Turkey

When you travel to Turkiye, the first thing you’re probably looking to do is to head to the Hammam, the Turkish bath houses that were adapted from Ancient Rome and date back to roughly the 7th century. These baths, which contain multiple rooms for treating the body to exfoliation, detoxification, and luxury, are plentiful in Ankara.

While soaking under a heap of bubbles is an easy activity to find, more unique to the capital city are the Roman bathhouse ruins that are at least 2,000 years old. Like their modern counterparts, these no-longer-functioning baths contained multiple rooms, some for steam and some for soaking. A tour of the site includes up close looks at the ruins themselves, as well as sculptures and gravestones of the Roman empire. The best part? Entry to this open air museum will cost you less than $5.

CerModern
CerModern
CerModern

Find out what the current artists are up to

While the ancient world is pretty darn cool in our humble opinion, the city’s modern offers shouldn’t be overlooked. One of the most enjoyable experiences in Ankara can be found at CerModern, an indoor/outdoor space displaying pieces from today’s artists. Constructed in 2010, the building was created from an old railway factory. In addition to the contemporary art, the site also features spaces for a crafts market, outdoor screening space, a cafe, and community art classes.

On a weekend, the museum is filled with families and young people, and is as much of a space to hang out as it is one to ponder shapes and colours. Entry to the exhibits costs about $2. The programming also includes performances, yoga and wellness classes, and even has an artists in residence program.

CSO Ada Ankara
CSO Ada Ankara
CSO Ada Ankara

Set your trip to music and watch the notes come alive IRL

If you’re looking to have a night dressed to the nines or want to hear some excellent music, look no further than the CSO Ada Ankara. The venue has a vineyard-style main concert hall and is home to the Presidential Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra is one of the world’s oldest and the venue regularly hosts concerts. There are also touring artists and guest performers from all over the world, so it’s ideal for taking in not only Turkish music, but sounds from across the globe.

At the Ankara State Opera, you can see classics performed from Puccini and Chavoski, as well as music you might not find elsewhere. One such performance is Göbeklitepe, named after one of the oldest and most mysterious temples to ever be discovered on Earth. With lovely stage settings, performances, and costumery, the production is worth it for the stage magic alone. Tickets for shows can vary by price, but it will cost you far less than a similar experience in Europe or the US.

GocherImagery/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
GocherImagery/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
GocherImagery/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Amble through historic neighbourhoods

In the Hamamönü neighbourhood and Historical Ankara, there are dozens of old buildings now filled with restaurants, shops, and artisans, where you’ll be able to pick up some of the more traditional Turkish gifts. The area is also home to mosques and a few other historic buildings. Though you’ll find more tourists in this area than other parts of the city, it’s a beautiful part of town worth a visit to get a sense of what “old” Ankara was like.

Westend61/Getty Images
Westend61/Getty Images
Westend61/Getty Images

Visit the Ankara Castle

High up on the list of places to visit in the city is the Ankara Castle, which has been used by multiple civilizations throughout history. The walls of the structure were built with stone from every era. It’s believed that the original castle was built by the Hittites, and later was used by Roman, Byzantine, and Seljuk civilizations. You can see this history in the castle’s very walls, which were often repaired with the rubble of buildings from the occupying people.

If you climb the castle towers, you can see 360-degree views of Ankara. The surrounding area is full of beautiful winding trails, restaurants, museums, and other historic buildings.

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Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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