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Known for its incredible beaches, there’s much more to Antalya than sun, sea and sand (though that’s a very good start). Here we explore its diverse appeal and key sites to seek out when you aren’t tanning…
Flanked by crags, the golden sands and crystalline waters of Kaputaş Beach are a must-experience. From the golden paradise of Lara Beach to the sheltered beauty of Mermerli Beach and the dramatic, craggy surrounds of Kaputaş Beach, Antalya, on the southern coast of Türkiye, is blessed with some of the finest coastline in the Mediterranean.
But this ancient city, nicknamed the Turkish Riviera, is far more than just a resort destination for those in search of sun and sea.
Resist the alluring shimmer of the horizon and head inland towards the city. Here you’ll discover an intriguing maze of steep narrow streets with small carpet shops spilling onto the cobbles and boutique hotels set within restored Ottoman residences.
Sites that tell a story
The historic Hadrian’s Gate in Kaleiçi is a must-visit. In Kaleiçi, Antalya’s historic city centre, explore centuries of stories in the Tekeli Mehmet Paşa Cami. This ornate Ottoman mosque is famous for the coloured tiles above its windows and its colossal central dome, along the base of which are written Arabic inscriptions. If you’d prefer something a little more ancient, the ruins of Hadrian’s Gate on Atatürk Boulevard 10 minutes’ walk away date back to 130 AD and retain much of their delicate floral motif friezes and cornices.
A short jaunt from the ruins and set within a charmingly restored reddish pink Antalya mansion is the Suna & İnan Kıraç Kaleiçi Museum. This small institution displays life-size dioramas depicting culturally significant customs typical of a traditional 19th-century Antalya household. If beautifully painted earthenware is more your thing, head to the former Orthodox Church behind the main house to peruse a delightful collection of 17th-century Çanakkale ceramics. Finally the Antalya museum, one of TÜRKİYE’s largest, hosts exhibits from the Paleolithic Age to Ottoman times and is a must-visit for those interested in the rich archeological history of this region.
At the bottom of the city’s Old Town slope is the city’s restored ancient harbour. Now a marina for yachts and tour boats, the area makes for a lively afternoon’s stroll with bustling restaurants and cafes at every turn. Have a relaxed lunch before hopping on a gulet (traditional wooden sailing boat) for a sun-drenched excursion out to the Gulf of Antalya.
Hike (and bike) through history
The ancient city of Termessos is beautifully preserved. If all this urban exploration has got you craving a connection with nature, simply turn to the nearby Taurus Mountains for some refreshing, revitalising hikes and cycles. Picturesque valleys, waterfalls, lakes and canyons await keen explorers visiting the region, from the foothills of Mount Solymos to the rocky trails of Olympos Valley. If you find yourself following the routes around Mount Chimaera, be sure to keep an eye out for the mysterious Yanartaş; dozens of small fires which burn constantly from vents in the rocks on the side of the mountain.
Combine culture and cardio with a visit to the ancient city of Termessos. This mountaintop city sits 1,000m above sea level and has remained virtually untouched for millennia. As such the challenging climb to the city that Alexander the Great once referred to as The Eagle’s Nest rewards visitors not only with remarkable views over the Pamphylia region, but also the sense that you have somehow hiked back in time.
Indeed, Antalya is famous for its numerous ancient sites which allow an immersive insight into life millennia ago. From the ancient theatre at Aspendos where gladiators once fought, to Kekova’s sunken city, still visible under crystalline waters, the dramatic Temple of Athena and Apollo at Side, or Myra’s rock cut tombs dating back to 4 BCE, these must-see sites are beautifully preserved and breathtaking to experience.
This is a wonderful, sustainable way to scratch the surface of the multi-faceted, richly storied city of Antalya – and is in line with the national programme of activity championed by the Turkish government to promote sustainability within the tourist industry.
So on your next visit to Antalya – or the Turkish Riviera as it has come to be known – take a day to swap the coastline for some culture, the ice cream for some architecture and the ocean for the Old Town. You won’t be disappointed.
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