Antalya, Turkey: Ancient Ruins, Mediterranean Beaches & Luxurious Hotels
Not only is Antalya one of Turkey's biggest cities, it is also a perfect holiday destination, offering plenty of ways to occupy your time, whether you stay for a few days or weeks.
Over the millennia, emperors, kings, and saints have passed through the area, so it's little wonder that Antalya is full of historic sites to explore, while more recent development has brought world-class luxury hotels and resorts to this stretch of the Turkish Riviera. In addition, there is a wealth of visitor attractions, and some lovely Mediterranean beaches with views of the oft-snow-capped Bey Mountains, plus it's sunny for 300 days of the year.
Here are some of our favourite things to see and do in Antalya.
Antalya is a popular scuba-diving centre, but you don’t have to be a diver to see some amazing undersea life. Antalya Aquarium has more than 40 themed exhibits, plus a main tank that you can walk through via a 131-metre glass tunnel. Swimming around you are sharks, rays, and colourful fish, plus the sunken wreck of an aeroplane. You can even watch the staff descend in diving gear to feed the sea life. There is also an area with snakes, crocodiles, frogs, and many other tropical creatures.
Antalya has some world-class theme parks. They include Land of Legends Adventure Land, which is packed full of rollercoasters and other adrenaline-pumping rides. Land of Legends also has its own waterpark across town. Aqua Land has some thrilling slides, a wave pool, a wild river, a surf simulator, and many other attractions.
Antalya has a rich history, and an ideal place to get an overview of this is at Antalya Museum. The museum puts on display more than 5000 items from its vast collection, which spans Neolithic, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman times, as well as pieces related to the natural history of the region. Exhibits include coins, clothing, statues, household items, and sarcophagi.
Antalya Old Town
Much of Antalya has the feel of a modern Mediterranean city, with wide streets lined with apartment blocks, yet closer to the sea it takes on a quite different personality. Antalya's Old Town, Kaleiçi, is surrounded by city walls, which you can pass through via Hadrian's Gate, built in honour of the Roman emperor, who paid a visit in AD130. Kaleiçi is full of charming narrow streets where minarets rise above the rooftops, and the old port is full of yachts and tour boats. It is a great part of the city to stay, with plenty of cafés, bars, and boutique hotels to choose from.
Situated in the west of the city, close to the aquarium, is Konyaalti Beach, one of the best beaches in Antalya. This public beach is made of shingle and coarse sand, and offers lovely views of the mountains. It is lined by a promenade, a park, and a scattering of cafés and beach clubs.
Düden Stream, a waterway running along the edge of Antalya, cascades over two sets of waterfalls close to the city. The pretty upper Düden Falls, just to the north of Antalya, are within a rocky valley accessible along a stone pathway. However, the most spectacular and unusual of the two waterfalls is the lower falls, which plunge 40 metres straight over cliffs into the Mediterranean, just to the east of Antalya. There is a park surrounding the falls, so you can get some good views of them, while you can also see them from coastal cruises that depart from Antalya's old harbour.
Day trips from Antalya
About an hour's drive east along the coast, Side is an attractive seaside town set on a peninsula that is surrounded by sandy beaches. There's plenty to see in Side; the centre of town is full of historic sites including the city walls, the Hellenistic theatre, and the Temple of Apollo. You can also browse ancient artefacts at Side Museum. The resort also has plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants.
The ancient city of Aspendos, just east of Antalya, has a stunningly preserved Roman theatre — which is still used for performances — plus the remains of aqueducts, a gymnasium, public baths, and an agora.
Situated about 15 kilometres from the centre of Antalya, Perge is a stunning ancient city that has changed hands between Pamphylian, Athenian, and Persian civilisations, and was conquered by Alexander the Great and the Romans. The remains of a bath house, city walls, a necropolis, a theatre, and a stadium are preserved at this extensive site.
The stretch of coast west of Antalya has a wealth of fascinating places to visit. Olympos has some fine Roman ruins, as well as a beautiful beach. There's also Yanartaş, where natural gas formed underground seeps up through vents in the rock and burns as small fires on the surface. Further west is the harbour town of Kaş, which is a great base for adventure sports including trekking, canyoning, paragliding, scuba diving, and horse riding.
Luxury hotels in Antalya
Antalya has an impressive collection of luxury hotels. Here are some of our favourites:
Set in a prominent position on cliffs, the 5-star Akra Hotel offers coastal views from many of its rooms and suites. You can dine out on the terrace in one of the restaurants, or grab a drink and stare out across the gulf to the mountains from the Urban Chic Lounge. Leisure facilities include tennis courts, tenpin bowling, and several swimming pools.
Rixos Downtown Antalya
Set just above Konyaalti Beach, Rixos Downtown Antalya offers views of the sea and mountains. It has a busy programme of entertainment, including concerts and DJ sets, while there are also swimming pools, tennis courts, and a fitness centre. The hotel has a private beach area with food and drink, sun beds, umbrellas, changing cabins, and private toilets.
Ramada Plaza by Wyndham Antalya
Only a 20-minute walk from Kaleiçi’s old harbour, this high-rise 5-star hotel is built on the top of a low cliff, and has terraces that reach all the way down to the sea where you can sunbathe and go for a dip. You can also watch the sun set behind the mountains from the outdoor pool, and be pampered in the spa centre.
Asteria Kremlin Palace
You'd be forgiven for thinking you were in Moscow's Red Square on arriving at this 5-star seaside hotel, just east of Antalya. That is because it was built to resemble the Kremlin (there is even a replica of St Basil's Cathedral). Behind the ostentatious façade is an impressive interior that contains several bars and restaurants, a spa, and plenty of leisure facilities. Unlike the real Red Square, there is a huge outdoor swimming pool in the middle of this complex, so you’re unlikely to be disturbed by a parade of tanks, troops, and missiles while you are relaxing in the water.
Before travelling, be sure to check out our travel guide to Turkey.
Then read about what to do in Istanbul
Indulge in Turkey's best foods
Study up on customs and safety in Turkey
Be sure you know when to visit Turkey
Dream about what to expect on a Turkish gulet cruise
Find out what to take in along the Turquiose coast
And plan what to see in Marmaris
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Nick Elvin contributed to this post.