Located on the Mediterranean Coast off Turkey, you’ll find the country’s largest international sea resort, Antalya. While you can experience the beauty of the Turkish Riviera, the city also has a rich history dating back to around 150 BC when it was founded as “Attaleia” by Attalos II, King of Pergamon.
This ancient heritage is showcased today alongside more luxurious and modern offerings, as historic mosques, neighborhoods and fluted minarets blend with opulent resorts, beaches and shopping centers. To help you plan a well-balanced trip, here is a guide to the diverse offerings of Antalya.
1. Take In The Old Quarter
Antalya’s Old Quarter is fascinating, with points of interest dating back to the Hellenistic era. Also known as Kaleiçi, it’s easy to lose yourself in the Ottoman architecture, cobbled streets, traditional restaurants, mosques and markets, truly feeling the old world soul of the city. Some highlights include Tivli Minare, a 13th-century 28-meter fluted minaret and mosque; Saat Kulesi, an historic clock tower and mosque; Kesik Minare where you can see the ruins of a 2nd-century Roman temple; and the three-arched Hadrian’s Gate, created in honor of Roman emperor Hadrian and flanked by beautiful towers constructed at different times.
One lesser-known Old Quarter experience is heading to the C&H Restaurant and sliding into the “Secret Walls” from which Roman soldiers once fired at enemy intruders. Bring your camera, as the views from here include a mixture of sea caves, coastline and historical architecture. To relax, head to Balik Pazari Hamami, a 700-year-old hammam offering a traditional, non-touristy Turkish bath experience.
2. Hit The Beach
Along with history, Antalya is home to some of Europe’s most beautiful beaches. Lara Beach is one of the most popular with the golden sands, crystal waters and outdoor recreation opportunities that make an idyllic hangout. It’s a Blue Flag Beach, awarded based on high quality water, sustainability and cleanliness. Locals and tourists alike enjoy coming here for the lively atmosphere, amenities like beach chairs, umbrellas and showers, and accessibility to the city’s shops and restaurants. After soaking up the sun and waves, head to the Ramada Lara Resort for a Turkish bath. Another great beach experience is Konyaaltı Beach, which offers views of the Beydağları mountains.
3. Antalya Archaeological Museum
Also known as the Antalya Museum (http://www.antalyamuzesi.gov.tr/en), the Antalya Archaeological Museum was opened in 1922 to educate the public on Turkey’s rich history through artifacts collected through excavations. Throughout 13 exhibition galleries, 12,000 objects like religious statues, icons, mosaics, coins and pottery from ancient cities like Perge, Aspendos and Olympos are displayed chronologically, with some rooms including the “Gallery of the Gods,” “Gallery of the Emperors,” “Burial Customs Hall” and “Perge and its Sculptures.” View Hellenistic vases, bronze cauldrons found at burial sites, ivory plaque coffin decorations, Ottoman tiles, flintstone scrapers, extinct Paleolithic animal bones and much more. Afterward, head outside to take a stroll through their sculpture garden.
4. Outdoor Beauty
Contrasting with the city’s historic and modern architecture is its natural attractions. Head to Karaalioglu Park for a colorful floral stroll, views of the Gulf of Antalya and nearby cliffs, a game of frisbee on the green, bird-watching or to let the kids enjoy the playground. There’s also the Duden Waterfalls — featuring an Upper and Lower Falls — where you can watch the gushing water from a cave behind the falls or from a number of different viewpoint tracks. At the entrance to the waterfalls you’ll find beautiful botanical gardens, boardwalks and restaurants. You can also visit the Kursunlu Waterfalls, which, although less impressive than the Duden Waterfalls, provide a less touristy experience. And of course, no trip to Antalya would be complete without sitting near the marina nibbling on simit and watching the passing boats.
5. Historic Ruin Day Trips
Antalya makes a great homebase for discovering Turkey’s historic ruins. Less than an hour away is the Pisidian city of Termessos, built in isolation up in the Taurus Mountains at 1,050 meters high (Tip: Wear sturdy shoes!). The city was so resilient even Alexander the Great failed to conquer it in 333 BC. It’s considered one of Turkey’s most well-preserved ancient cities, and today visitors can view major landmarks like the City Gate, a Roman Theatre, Upper Agora, Underground Cisterns, the Gymnasium, the Southwest Necropolis and the Artemis-Hadrian’s Temple, one of six temples discovered at the site. Today Termessos sits protected within the Güllük Dağı National Park. You’ll often be able to hire a guide at the entrance to the site if you wish. Other worthwhile ruins day trips include Aspendos, Perge, Phaselis, Side and Olympos.
6. Golf And Spa
After taking in historic culture, outdoor beauty and the city’s ambient seaside culture, indulge in a round of golf or spa visit. Belek specifically is touted as a golfing mecca, located about 45 outside of the city within the Antalya Province. Here you’ll find the Antalya Golf Club with its highly rated PGA Sultan and Pasha Courses. There’s also the Zeynep Golf Resort, home to a challenging 18-hole par 72 course set amidst beautiful eucalyptus and pine trees. And at Antalya’s Lykia World Golf Club one can play on immaculate fairways against the backdrop of the Taurus Mountains.
Antalya’s spa culture is also rich, especially if you want to visit a traditional hammam, an intense washing experience that begins with a steamy sauna and ends with rough massage and fervent scrubbing. Along with the historic Balik Pazari Hamami the Old Quarter also houses Onay Hamami opened in 1972 to offer an authentic hammam experience. For something more modern, the Port Bello Hotel Resort & Spa features a Turkish hammam, sauna, indoor pool and plethora of massage and body treatment options.
Have you visited Antalya? What was your favorite historical, cultural or luxury experience?