Antalya, Turkey Travel Guide: Top Things to Do and See in Turkey
Antalya – the jewel of the Turquoise Coast of southern Turkey – is renowned across the country for its beautiful appearance, heritage value, and festive atmosphere. The variety of activities offered in and around the city can be overwhelming at first, as can the confusing layout of the Kaleiçi (Old Town) street network, but after just an hour there you will discover what makes it such a charming and enjoyable destination.
- Simply explore the many streets of the Kaleiçi, enjoying the renovated Ottoman buildings, Seljuk architecture, the Roman ruins, and the alleyways filled with the fragrance of orange blossoms. The most impressive entrance to the Old Town is through Hadrian’s Gate, a monumental triple-archway piercing the fortified city walls built to commemorate a visit to the city by the Roman emperor.
- Make your way to the crescent-shaped marina, where you will witness a bizarre collection of pirate ships berthed (they offer tours around the coast).
- A fascinating historic building is Korkut Mosque and it’s so-called “broken minaret”. Originally a 2nd century Roman temple, this was later transformed into Byzantine church, a Seljuk mosque, a church during the crusades and finally an Ottoman mosque – reflecting the many cultures and religions that have contributed to Antalya’s rich heritage. The Seljuk-period Yivli Minare Mosque is also marvellous, with its colourful tilework.
- Enjoy a picnic amidst the flowerbeds of Karaalioglu Park, which boasts gorgeous views of the sea, the Old Town, and the Taurus Mountains in the background. Nearby is the Hidirlik Tower, an old lighthouse overlooking the marina.
- Other must-see archaeological sites within the city include a 2nd century CE Roman clock tower, a the Nigar Haturn Seljuk mausoleum, and the Ottoman-period Tek Kapili Han (a type of medieval roadside inn found across Anatolia and Central Asia).
- Visit the Archaeological Museum, where you can learn about the Prehistoric, Roman, Seljuk, Crusader, and Ottoman history of Antalya. It is a very relaxing place to go if you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of the Kaleiçi, and if you want to learn more about the people that built the archaeological features around the city.
- Antalya boasts a record number of Blue Flag beaches in the world. With two hundred options, most of which are easily accessible by public transport or taxi, it can be difficult to choose the perfect one. Two of the most popular beaches are the Konyaalti and Lara, though both can get quite crowded. If you want somewhere that’s a little quieter aim for the Kaputas Beach.
WITH A LITTLE MORE TIME
- If you are interested in Anatolia’s ancient history, you should make a trip to the ancient ruined cities of Perge to the northeast of Antalya, Termessos to the northwest, and Aspendos to the east of the city.
- The Duden Waterfalls, to the southeast of Antalya along the coast, are very beautiful and a great place to go for a walk. You can also take boat trips from the marina in the Old Town. Tip: there’s a slightly hidden staircase that brings you down to a secret cave behind the waterfall.
- Families can bring their kids to the Aqua Park, the Zoo, or the Konyaaltı Minicity. The Antalya Toy Museum is also a lot of fun, with a collection of more than three thousand toys. The splendid stalagmites and stalactites of the Karain Caves will make any child go “wow”.
- A fine day trip can be made exploring the Turquoise Coast to the southwest of Antalya. Some of the most famous sites include the archaeological ruins at Phaselis and the flaming mountain at Cirali (said to be the source of the legend of the mythological Chimera). An exciting way to enjoy the natural scenery is to take the Olympos Aerial Tram up to the peak of Mount Olympos. If you are going in the direction of Olympos and you have a car it is worth driving the Panaroma Restaurant in Beycik, where the food and the views are excellent.
- If you are looking for an epic adventure, you could travel along the Lycian Way – an ancient Roman route that connects Antalya with Fethiye. It is considered one of the best walks in the world, but if you are a fit cyclist you can also travel by bike.
Antalya is a fun city for shopping, and a wide variety of stores can be found ranging from massive shopping malls to tiny independent businesses:
- The best shopping is to be done in the Kaleiçi. An exhaustive – and quite exhausting – selection can be found in the covered Old Bazaar (çarşı). Most of the vendors will be quick to make their own recommendations on good gifts to buy, and usually their advice is sound – though they can be quite pressing and rude, so don’t be afraid to say no and walk away. Some interesting gift ideas include jewelry, beautifully worked copper objects, tea, and coffee. Tip: you can get food and drink products considerably cheaper from one of the many grocery stores found along the outer edges of the Old City walls.
- If you are looking for fresh food, or simply a nice photograph, it is worth going to one of the open-air fruit and vegetable markets that take place every day within the Kaleiçi. I recommend buying a few spices while you are here, as they are considerably cheaper compared to buying them back home. The largest market occurs on Saturdays near the SheMall shopping center in Lara, which can be reached by bus.
- The Migros Shopping Center is a cool, air-conditioned mall with a good mix of Turkish and international high-end brands. The largest shopping center in the country is TerraCity in the Lara neighborhood – if you need something modern, like an Apple Store or Marks & Spencer’s – then it can be found here. As an added bonus, you do not need to haggle in the city’s shopping malls, which can be a relief after experiencing the bazaars of the Old Town.
FOOD AND DRINK
Situated as it is between the Mediterranean, the Arab world, and the Turkish heartland, Antalya’s gastronomic scene is a mix of different cultures and time periods. Here are some of my favorite places to eat in and around the city:
- Şiş köfte is the quintessential Turkish street food, and if you like eating it abroad then you will certainly love it from the restaurants in Antalya. Recipes vary in their use of lamb, beef, or mutton, but in Antalya they will be served on the şiş (skewer) with rice, a side salad, or yoghurt. The Barut Lara Hotel to the east of the city has a staggering twelve restaurants, where you can try regional dishes from all over Turkey alongside beverages produced in Antalya.
- One local delicacy is tahinli piyaz, a type of Turkish salad consisting of softly cooked beans, onions, tomatoes, sumac, and eggs served with a special tarator sauce of tahini (sesame paste), garlic, lemon or apple juice, and olive oil. It is very sweet and refreshing, sometimes spicy, and the ideal thing if you feel in need of some vegetables instead of kebab and köfte. If you like the taste of tahini you could also try the hibeş, a dip made of tahini, cumin, spicy pepper flakes, and lemon juice. Try these and many other tasty snacks at the Velespit Café & Bistro, where you can enjoy your meal surrounded by a startling variety of animals.
- An excellent choice for a quick snack or breakfast is şakşuka, a tomato-based dish cooked all over the Mediterranean region, but with innumerable regional variations. In Antalya I have enjoyed it best when cooked with eggplant and crumbled Turkish cheese. Another famous dish found in Antalya is domates civesi, a dish somewhere between a soup and a stew consisting of tomatoes, onions, lots of garlic, mint, and rice. Both of these are best served alongside some freshly baked Turkish bread. You can usually get these dishes at Can Can, and one of the best bakeries is Tarihi Balik Pazari Unlu Mamülleri in the heart of the Old Town.
- Seafood is served everywhere in Antalya, and it is extremely fresh and delicious. If you are looking for cheap and cheerful try Aynali on the southeast side of the marina, or if you want to splurge on something pricier go to Lara Balik (the seafood and seaweed salads here are particularly good).
- Feeling thirsty? Despite the worldwide fame of Turkish coffee (Türk kahvesi), tea (çay) is actually the most consumed beverage in the country. It is served black in small, hourglass-shaped glasses with sugar. One of my favorite places to go for tea or coffee is Cay-Tea's Lunchroom & Decohome, a unique and fun venue full of art and quirky tableware, and often featuring live music. They also have an extensive lunch menu, and are vegan-friendly. Another lovely and modern coffee shop is Coffeetainer – their latte art is very impressive.
- Many delicious wines can be found all over the Old Town, though Turkish beer is more popular amongst the city population. Try the Khoffner Brewery, which serves beers made according to the recipe of its German founder. The most popular liquor is raki, a spirit that tastes of aniseed, served in Antalya with water which makes the drink go cloudy white. A great snack to enjoy over drinks is tirmis, a bowl of salty lupin beans. Go to the Pio Gastro Bar & Bistro for some excellent cocktails and a mix of Latin American and Mediterranean fusion street food.
- Antalya offers world class accommodation, though sometimes for world class prices – especially in the massive spa resorts that are scattered along the coast. If you are looking for luxury in the heart of the city aim for La Paloma Hotel, where you can avail of their swimming pool and beautifully furnished rooms. An attractive and less expensive option is the Citrus Garden Hotel (you can sit in their sunny patio during breakfast, surrounded by the irresistible scent of orange blossom). A fun and funky alternative to the traditional guesthouses is the VosWos Garage Coffee Hotel.
- Antalya has a calendar of festivals that can suit any taste. Some of the biggest events include the International Opera and Ballet Festival (June/July at the ancient Roman ruins of Aspendos), the International Folk Music and Dance Festival (August), the Antalya Festival (September 12th – 29th), and the International Golden Orange Film Festival (late September/early October).
- If you find everything within the Kaleiçi is far too expensive, don’t be afraid to venture out into the wider city, where shopping, accommodation, and food are considerably cheaper. It can be somewhat intimidating to walk around Antalya, mostly because of the confusing layout of streets and alleyways in the Kaleiçi, but locals are usually very happy to provide directions.
- For longer distances there are four options. The public bus network brings you all over the city, as well as out to some of the more distant tourist sites. There is an inexpensive tram system in Antalya, but it is limited to just two lines. You must buy an “A-Kent Card / AntalyaKart” to use the bus or tram, which can be bought and topped up from booths at the main stations or tram stops. The dolmuş is like a cross between a taxi and a bus – these can be very cheap, but they don’t go quite as far from the city (tip: you pay the fare to the driver upon entering the vehicle). The official taxis are easily recognized with their bright yellow color, but be warned that even a short distance can be quite expensive, especially if you are not splitting the fare.
- Whether you fly in to Antalya International Airport or Antalya Gazipasa Airport, you can take the bus (numbers 600 or 800 ) or the sleek and modern tram to the Kaleiçi. A taxi might be a good option if you can split the fare, as the long distance to the Old Town can be pricey. If you arrive by coach from elsewhere in Turkey, you can easily get to the city center from the Antalya Bus terminal by bus or tram. Antalya is also one of the most beautiful cities to arrive at by boat, with five Blue Flag marinas and dozens of harbors accommodating everything from the largest cruise ships to small private yachts.