What to See and Do on Holiday in Marmaris, Turkey
Marmaris is one of the most popular holiday resorts on the Turkish Riviera, offering a heady mix of guaranteed sunshine, beautiful coastal scenery, intense nightlife, and plenty of choice when it comes to activities and excursions.
The town is a busy package destination that fills up in high summer, but it is also within easy reach of delightful places that are hidden away in small coves surrounded by forest-covered mountains, where you can escape from the crowds on boat trips. Marmaris is also one of the main hubs for the gulets — traditional wooden sailing ships — that ply the famous Blue Voyage route along the Turquoise Coast. Away from peak season, it takes on a different persona and is much more chilled out.
Despite being a busy tourist resort, Marmaris is not without its charms. It is home to an Old Town that's crowned by Marmaris Castle, originally built in the 11th century. The castle was enlarged by Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1522, and later had to be partially rebuilt following damage sustained in World War I. There are fine coastal views from the ramparts. The castle is home to Marmaris Archaeology Museum, where there are displays of Roman, Greek, and Byzantine amphoras, plus glassware, coins, and other items discovered in archaeological sites in the region. The ethnography section includes weaving, furniture, rugs, weapons, and ornaments from the Ottoman era.
Towering over the Old Town, the minaret of the Eski Ibrahim Aga Cami dates from the 18th century. The surrounding area is a shopper's paradise, packed with streets where you can buy all sorts: genuine (or not-so-genuine) designer goods, souvenirs, and much more. Retail destinations include the Grand Bazaar, a covered shopping street that is a perfect place to head if you are looking for gifts like Turkish delight, hookah pipes, spices, ornaments, and chess sets.
If you want to take a break from shopping, there are plenty of places to relax — not least Marmaris's main public beach. It's a decent stretch of sand and shingle, and perfect if you are looking for convenience. The views of the surrounding coastline are outstanding. Further west along the beach there are private areas, some belonging to bars and cafés, where you can rent sun beds and umbrellas. There is also an area close to the beach containing several water parks, including Marmaris Aqua Park, Star Aqua Park, Atlantis Water Park, and Aqua Dream Water Park.
There's no shortage of choice when it comes to eating out in Marmaris; with a fine selection of fresh local ingredients that includes sea bass, almonds, pine nuts, olives, and goat's cheese, it is the perfect place to try delicious Turkish cuisine. There are many restaurants with terraces on the harbourfront near the castle.
Nightlife in Marmaris can be as crazy or relaxed as you like. The action centres on Bar Street, a thoroughfare behind the marina that is packed full of bars, open-air clubs, and other venues. Most places stay open at least until the early hours, or all night in summer. You can spend a more culturally focused evening at one of the Turkish Nights in Marmaris. These usually include a live show featuring belly dancing, whirling dervishes, and folk music, as well as dinner and drinks.
Marmaris is a great base for day trips. You can take leisurely excursions to some beautiful beaches and bays in the area. Içmeler is about 15 minutes away by dolmus (mini bus), while a little further round the coast is Turunç. Both are worth visiting as they have good facilities, plus better beaches and water than Marmaris. You can usually also reach these beaches on boat excursions from Marmaris, some of which also call in at Amos, an ancient Greek city whose remains include a theatre and a necropolis. Other destinations include Cennet Koyu, which translates as Paradise Bay — on arrival you will soon appreciate the name.
North of Marmaris is the pretty seaside town of Akyaka, which offers a much slower pace of life. It is another hub for boat trips, including to the beautiful Sedir Island, otherwise known as Cleopatra Island. Legend has it that the Mark Antony ordered sand to be shipped there from Egypt especially for Cleopatra — in fact, the authorities are so protective of the beach that you are not even allowed to bring your own towel in case any sand sticks to it and is removed when you leave.
There are plenty of outdoor activities on offer in the Marmaris area. The town is a centre for scuba diving, with more than 50 locations in the surrounding area, including some dotted around the islands just offshore in the bay. There are sites suitable for divers of all levels, and there are some fantastic underwater features to explore, as well as a wealth of sea life, and the occasional remnant of an ancient shipwreck.
Just outside of town is Marmaris National Park, where you can take walking, mountain biking, and horse-riding excursions among hills covered in pine, sweetgum, and eucalyptus trees, and admire the stunning coastal views. Another popular activity in the area is white-water rafting. One of the best places to do this is on the Dalaman River, which runs through an area of beautiful mountainous scenery about 1.5 hours' drive from Marmaris (excursions usually include hotel pick-up, plus lunch).
Whatever activities you take part in, a perfect way to relax afterwards is to go for a hammam, the traditional Turkish bath experience that includes being scrubbed and massaged with soap — you will feel completely relaxed and refreshed afterwards, and your skin will be cleaner than ever. The best hotels in Marmaris usually offer hammam treatments in their spas, plus there are some public hammams in town, too.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can easily take longer trips from Marmaris. The Greek island of Rhodes is an hour away by ferry; there is so much to see in Rhodes Town, including the Palace of the Grand Master, the Acropolis, the Knights' Quarter, and the site where the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood. It's a popular day-trip option, so ferry tickets can sell out quickly in summer.
The Datça Peninsula, west of Marmaris, is where the Mediterranean and Aegean seas meet. It stretches for 50 kilometres, and its beauty led ancient Greeks to believe it was created personally by Zeus. It is still relatively unspoilt, and full of pretty coves and seaside villages with fish restaurants. At the end of the peninsula is Knidos, an ancient Greek coastal city dating back to the fourth century BC. Its impressive ruins include an amphitheatre whose seats have views of the sea. You can take tours to the peninsula from Marmaris, or hire a car.
Other popular day-trip destinations within a few hours of Marmaris include the ancient city of Ephesus, near Kuşadasi, and the famous white mineral terraces of Pamukkale, where you can swim in a thermal pool, as well as explore the well-preserved ruins of the Greco-Roman settlement of Hierapolis nearby.
Before travelling, be sure to check out our travel guide to Turkey.
Then read about what to do in Istanbul
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 see our tips for the best archaeological sites in Turkey
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Nick Elvin contributed to this post.