The westerly region of Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline is especially popular and sandy beaches around Antalya and the Konyaalti Bay are in abundance. With a particularly diverse landscape, it is actually quite feasible to enjoy a morning swim, and then head to the Taurus Mountains for a spot of skiing in the afternoon at the neighbouring resort of Davras.
Antalya’s historical Old Town area known as the Kaleici offers beautiful harbour views and is surrounded by medieval fortified walls, which date back before both the Roman and Byzantine periods and have been restored many times. Currently the fasted-growing city in Turkey, Antalya enjoys an idyllic climate for a good deal of the year and much tourism. In the city centre, Taksim Square leads to the elegant street of Cumhuriyet Caddesi, where the tourist information office is located, along with plenty of hotels and shops, while the Republic Squares gardens are close by.
ANTALYA: TOURISTS’ TOP SIGHTS
Old Town Antalya is where tourists will find many of the city’s oldest attractions, with numerous mosques adding much Turkish character. The city’s beaches offer something quite different and are always very busy during the summer, when holiday makers often choose to head to some of the nearby beaches just outside of the city’s environs. Antalya’s newly opened Beach Park offers fun for all the family, with its Aqualand featuring countless water slides, and the adjoining Dolphinland is home to a collection of dolphins, sea lions and white whales.
For a little more about history in the region, be sure to check out the ancient sites in the following list:
1. Old Town (Kaleiçi)
The maze-like Kaleiçi neighborhood was made for strolling. Perfectly restored whitewashed and red-roofed Ottoman mansions line the cobblestone streets, now home to a plethora of boutique hotels, souvenir shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Although it’s more a place to simply breathe in the old-world ambience, there are also plenty of small tourist attractions for those who want to sightsee.
The main square (Kale Kapisi) has a fortress gate and stone-clad clock tower, while the 18th-century Tekeli Mehmet Pasa Mosque is worth a look just for its stunning interior tile work. Along Hesapçi Sokak, you’ll find the graceful Kesik Minare (truncated minaret). Destroyed by fire in the 19th century, this is all that is left of a building that started its life as a Roman temple, was converted into a Byzantine church, and finally became a mosque.
2. Old Harbor
Nestled into a recess in the cliffs, Antalya’s old harbor is a picturesque huddle of boutiques, pretty cafés, bazaars, and gently bobbing yachts that look out over the shimmering Mediterranean. With its peaceful pleasure-boat atmosphere now, it’s difficult to imagine this place was once Antalya’s major economic hub, but from the 2nd century up until the mid-20th century, this was the main port, bringing trade and prosperity to the city and surrounding region.
These days, you come here to shop and then watch the sun set over the sea while you sip a coffee, or you can head out onto the Mediterranean on one of the many excursion boats to swim, sightsee, and spread out your towel on an empty beach.
3. Antalya Museum
If you’re at all interested in Turkish history, don’t miss this excellent museum. The dazzling exhibits here showcase all the best finds from excavation sites across the Turkish coast. Even better, the collection is displayed in exemplary fashion, making Turkey’s rich (and rather complicated) history easy to understand. The large archaeological section offers displays from the Bronze Age to Byzantium, with a particular emphasis on ruins in the nearby area.
If you’re short on time, make a beeline for the galleries containing the mosaics from Seleukeia, silver hoard display from Aspendos, and divinity statues from Perge.
Official site: www.antalya-ws.com/english/museum
4. Yivli Minare
Antalya’s most distinctive landmark is the Yivli Minare (fluted minaret), built by the Seljuk sultan Alaeddin Keykubad (1219-36). The minaret is a typical example of Seljuk architecture, with a square base surmounted by an octagonal drum bearing the fluted shaft, with its corbelled gallery around the top. The attached 14th-century mosque is still in use today. The minaret is right beside the Kale entrance gate into the old city.
Opposite the minaret is Antalya’s Ottoman-era clock tower, while nearby are some tombs dating from the 14th century.
5. Hadrian’s Gate
Hadrian’s Gate is one of the main (and the most dramatic) entrance gates into the Kaleiçi district. Considerable stretches of the Hellenistic and Roman town walls on the eastern side of the old town have been preserved, and Hadrian’s Gate is the most notable of these sections. Erected in honor of the AD 130 visit by Emperor Hadrian himself, this imposing three-arched marble gateway, flanked by imposing towers, is decorated with rich sculptural decorations. As you walk through the arches, look up at the ceiling to view the best preserved carvings.
6. Roman Fortress (Hidirlik Kalesi)
Built in the 2nd century, this squat 14-meter-high cylindrical tower watches over the old harbor from high above on the edge of Karaalioglu Park. No one is quite sure what its main function was, but most agree it acted as a watchtower or lighthouse over the busy port below. Now it’s a fantastic spot to watch the sunset or get that all-important panoramic view over the old harbor area.
The park itself is prime picnicking territory and a tranquil, flower-filled spot to escape the city streets. Do as the locals do and come here at dusk to promenade. Excellent cafés are also nearby if you need to recuperate after sightseeing.
The main reason history buffs visit Antalya is to make the day trip to Aspendos, about 47 kilometers east. This archaeological site is home to a Roman theater commonly thought to be the best preserved in the world and one of the top tourist attractions in Turkey. The glory days of this dazzling, ancient town were during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, when most of the ruins that can be seen today were built.
Apart from the theater, which has been fully restored and can seat 15,000 people, much of the rest of the site still lies in ruins and is probably only interesting to the most enthusiastic sightseer. If you’re short of time but keen to pack in as many highlights of the Antalya region as you can, the Aspendos, Perge and Manavgat Waterfalls tour allows you to cover three of the most popular attractions all in one day. It includes tours of the Roman ruins of Aspendos and Perge, entrance to Aspendos and the waterfalls (which are near Side), lunch, and pickup and drop-off from your Antalya hotel.
Wear sturdy shoes and take plenty of water if you want to fully explore this site. The colonnaded street and upper agora are particularly impressive but don’t miss the theater, where the vistas across the peaks of the Taurus Mountains are astounding.
10. Olympos and the Chimaera
The near-twin villages of Olympos and Çirali, about 84 kilometers southwest of Antalya, sit on a piece of lovely coastline near the overgrown ruins of the ancient Lycian city of Olympos. As well as the ruins, the famed attraction here is the chimaera, a naturally occurring eternal flame that flickers out of the rocky cliff above. Olympos is popular with young backpackers and has a reputation for being lively at night, while Çirali is more laid-back and all about chilling out on the beach. Both are perfect for anyone seeking a beach holiday well away from Turkey’s purposely built-up tourist resorts.
11. Konyaalti Beach
East of Antalya’s town center, Konyaalti Beach is one of Antalya’s two prime sweeps of sand, with a picturesque backing of mountains rolling down to the coastline beyond. During summer, this strip (which is more pebbly than sandy) is hugely popular with both local and foreign visitors, and lazy beach days are made simple with plenty of facilities provided. Sun loungers with umbrellas can be rented, there are good toilet and shower facilities, and the palm tree lined promenade behind the beach is rimmed with snack shops, cafés, and restaurants for when you get peckish.
12. Karst Springs
The limestone countryside around Antalya is rich in karst springs, sinkholes, and waterfalls. The lime deposits from these springs have built up over a period of 1.5 to two million years into vast travertine terraces similar to the famed terraces at Pamukkale. Kirkgöz and Pinarbasi (just to the northwest of Antalya) have springs and sinkholes to see, while at Düdenbasi, a cascade of waterfalls tumbles down a narrow gorge. There are both upper falls (Düdenbasi Selalesi) and lower falls (Düden Çayi) to admire, and a trip here makes a nice nature break from Antalya’s glut of historic attractions.
13. Lara Beach
To the south of Antalya’s center, Lara beach is popular for its soft white sand and good family-friendly facilities, backed by cafés and restaurants and with plenty of activities, from jet-ski rentals to stand up paddleboards for those who want to hit the water. Sun loungers and umbrellas can be easily rented for those who want to do nothing more strenuous than soak up the sun. This area is where the vast amount of Antalya’s beach resorts are located so do be aware that during the peak summer months, this beach can get crammed.
14. Karain Cave (Karain Magarasi)
The Karain Cave, about 27 kilometers northwest of Antalya, near Dösemalti, was inhabited by prehistoric man and has yielded finds from both the Lower and Middle Paleolithic eras. Excavated finds here include bones and teeth belonging to Neolithic man. Some of the finds are on show in the small but remarkably comprehensive museum on-site. The wide, arching caverns here are a good opportunity for some easy caving and are very popular with local families having a break from the city.
The old Lycian port of Phaselis, about 60 kilometers southwest of Antalya, is where Alexander the Great set up his winter quarters in 334 BC. There are remains of a theater, aqueduct, temples, a colonnaded street, and a Hadrian’s Arch Gate erected in AD 114. The seaside location of the ruins is very pretty, and a museum on-site displays excavated finds.
If you have time, a couple of kilometers before Phaselis is the Olympos Teleferik (cable car), which journeys up the side of Tahtali Mountain to the summit at 2,275 meters for panoramic vistas over the coast.
16. Kocain Magarasi
About 45 kilometers north of Antalya, the Kocain Magarasi lies hidden deep within the karst mountains of the region. The 600-meter-long cave was first investigated by K. Kökten, whose finds here prove that it was inhabited in prehistoric times. At the entrance is a huge Roman cistern and also traces of a very early settlement. The cavern here is colossal and boasts some mammoth stalagmites, which have formed into weird and wacky shapes. Bring along a torch and wear sturdy shoes if you want to explore the cave’s interior as it can get slippery underfoot.
17. Köprülü Canyon National Park
If you are looking for things to do around Antalya, the Köprülü Canyon National Park (also easily accessible from Side), with the green-blue water of the Köprülü River snaking through dramatic and craggy high cliffs, is one of Turkey’s most popular white water rafting destinations. If you feel like balancing out all the historic ruins of the region with an adrenaline rush, plenty of half-day rafting tours are offered from Antalya.
MORE ANTALYA INFORMATION / FAST FACTS AND ORIENTATION
- Country: Turkey (south-west / Mediterranean coastline)
- Location: Antalya Province / south-west Anatolia
- Status: city / provincial capital
- Area: approximately 546 square miles / 1,415 square kilometres
- Population: approximately 780,000
- Language: Turkish
- Currency: New Turkish Lira (TRY)
- Time zone: UTC + 2, summer UTC + 3
- Country dialling code: +90
- Telephone area code: 0242
- Average daily Antalya January temperature: 15°C / 59°F
- Average daily Antalya July temperature: 33°C / 91°F