Ölüdeniz and Other Holiday Destinations on the Turkish Riviera
The Turkish Riviera, also known as the Turquoise Coast, is a holiday destination that satisfies culture vultures, sunseekers, activity enthusiasts, and nature lovers alike. It is also home to the Blue Voyage, the famous gulet cruise route that draws in the many visitors who want to explore this idyllic coastline from aboard a traditional wooden boat.
Spanning the country's southern Aegean and western Mediterranean coasts, the Turkish Riviera offers all the modern trappings of holiday resorts, as well as ancient archaeological sites, sandy beaches, clear seas, and a gorgeous backdrop of tree-covered hills — and all of this gets bathed in sunshine 300 days of the year.
One of the most popular resorts on the riviera is Bodrum, a place that has managed to maintain plenty of charm, with narrow streets and low-rise whitewashed buildings whose walls bloom with flowers in the warmer months. You will find boutique hotels, and a wide variety of nightlife options including chic restaurants, nightclubs, and bars. One of its main sights is its Medieval crusader castle, next to the harbour. It now hosts the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, which displays artefacts retrieved from ancient shipwrecks in the Aegean. Bodrum is also home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. Today, you can visit the ruins of the mausoleum and see a model of how it looked when it opened in the 4th century BC. Bodrum is a popular embarkation point for gulet cruises, while you can also catch ferries from the harbour to the Greek island of Kos — with a journey time of around 30 minutes.
You can also take a ferry across to the Datça peninsula, at the end of which is Knidos, an ancient Greek coastal city dating from the 4th century BC. It is one of the region's most important archaeological sites, and a great place to wander around, especially because of the impressive amphitheatre, whose seats have views of the sea.
Just east of Knidos is Marmaris, a popular package holiday destination that comes complete with waterparks, nightlife centred on a road called Bar Street, a yacht-filled marina, and a castle. Ferries leave Marmaris for Rhodes, which take about one hour — it's a popular day-trip option, but tickets can sell out quickly in summer.
Further along the coast is Fethiye, a hub for gulet cruises and dive trips. The resort has an attractive waterfront promenade, plenty of restaurants, a huge Tuesday market, and a historic Old Town. Fethiye sits in a bay that contains an archipelago of 12 islands; there are many boat trips to take you out to them, allowing you to swim in small coves. Cleopatra's Bath, semi-submerged ruins of ancient thermal baths that were built by Mark Antony as a wedding gift to Cleopatra, is a great spot for snorkelling.
Fethiye also has some fascinating places for sightseeing nearby. Above the town, you can see the impressive façades of tombs cut into the rock faces — these are the only remains of the ancient city of Telmessos. A more poignant excursion is to the ghost town of Kayaköy, just south of Fethiye. In the early 20th century, the Greek population of Turkey, including all Kayaköy’s inhabitants, were forced from their homes, and the town has lay ruined ever since.
Ölüdeniz is arguably the most famous place on Turkey's Turquoise Coast. It's a place of vivid colours: a sandy spit guards the entrance to a blue lagoon, behind which rise forested hills of a national park. Thankfully, the area has not been excessively developed — the nearby Ölüdeniz town is relatively low-key, and among the low-rise buildings there are plenty of bars, restaurants, hotels, and villas, while watersports including scuba diving are available. It can get crowded in peak summer, so make sure you book ahead, or consider going outside of July and August.
Nearby is Butterfly Valley, a scenic spot for swims and lunch breaks. You can also hike up to a waterfall, and if you're lucky you might spot some of the more than 130 species of butterflies that inhabit the area.
The pleasant, relaxed harbour town of Kaş is a great base for adventure sports, with plenty of opportunities for trekking, canyoning, paragliding, scuba diving, and horse riding. There are ancient ruins to explore within the town, including tombs, a temple, and an amphitheatre, plus you can visit some great beaches.
Just outside of Kemer, more ancient ruins await at Olympos. This was a Lycian city, which later became part of the Roman Empire, and today you can see the remains of public baths, a temple, a theatre, and a necropolis. Another fascinating local attraction is Yanartaş (Turkish for flaming stone), where natural gas formed underground seeps up through vents in the rock and has been burning as small fires on the surface for more than 2500 years. There are some great opportunities for hiking in the area, including along the Lycian Way, a 500-kilometre signposted walking route that follows the Turquoise Coast. Olympos also has a beautiful beach that’s surrounded by mountains, and is not heavily developed — there are a few restaurants and cafés serving grilled local fish.
The region's biggest city is Antalya. The newer part of town has the feel of a modern Mediterranean city, with wide streets lined with apartment blocks. It is home to Antalya Aquarium, which has one of the biggest aquarium tunnels in the world, measuring 131x3 metres. The Old Town of Antalya is Kaleiçi. It's surrounded by city walls, which you can pass through via Hadrian's Gate, built in honour of the Roman emperor, who visited in AD130. Kaleiçi is full of charming narrow streets where minarets rise above the rooftops. This is a great part of the city to stay, especially around the old port, where there are plenty of cafés, bars, and boutique hotels.
If staying on a beach is more your kind of thing, Antalya is surrounded by some of the best hotels on the Turkish Riviera, especially when it comes to luxury. Some of them even feature golf courses designed by top golfers, plus state-of-the-art spas, VIP villas, and perfectly manicured sections of beach.
Within a short drive of Antalya, you can visit some splendid ancient ruins, including Aspendos, which is home to a stunning Roman amphitheatre that is still used for performances. Another site is the city of Perge, which was founded around 1200BC, and later captured by Alexander the Great and then the Romans. There's lots to see, including a bath house, a theatre, a necropolis, and a stadium.
Further along the coast from Antalya is Side, an attractive seaside town set on a peninsula surrounded by sandy beaches. Side is like an open-air museum; it's dotted with historic sites including the ancient city walls, the stunning 17,000-seat Hellenistic theatre, the Vespasian Fountain, and the Temple of Apollo, which is especially atmospheric at sunset. Side Museum has many artefacts that were excavated from the ruins on display. The town also has more modern attractions, including plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants, and there's a harbour to stroll around.
Before travelling, be sure to check out our travel guide to Turkey.
Then read about what to do in Istanbul
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Nick Elvin contributed to this post.