Seated on the Turkish Riviera, by the shimmering blue-green of the Mediterranean, Antalya is both a city and a coastal resort, with ancient foundations and its own brand of modernity. Holidays to Turkey are often characterised by a mix of beach-lounging and historic touring, but in Antalya, its walled old town and ancient mosques directly contrast with the sandy stretch of Lara Beach and the modern cluster of hotels and bars along the clifftops. A city of two personalities, read on to find out which side of Antalya is for you…
Dating all the way back to the second century BC, Antalya has benefitted from a huge number of influences over the years, including Roman, Byzantine and Seljuk tribes from the Turkish region. As a result, you’ll find an astonishing architectural and artistic legacy around the streets, while its ancient Bey Mountains backdrop and surrounding cliffs remain unaffected by tourism.
Kaleici, Antalya’s historic old town, is where you should begin any exploration of the city’s past, where wooden Ottoman buildings and the sharp, fluted tower of the Yivli Minare Mosque rise up against the sky. Walk through the Corinthian-style Hadrian’s Gate to feel the presence of the ancient Roman Empire.
Around ten minutes drive outside the old town, the Antalya Archaeological museum is worth a visit. Evocatively-titled galleries like ‘Gallery of the Gods’ and ‘Hall of prehistory’ take you through some of the amazing finds that have hailed from the Antalya region, from rough-hewn flint tools to beautiful ceramics.
Of course, Antalya’s not just a city but encompasses lots more in the wider province. If you have a few days set aside for trips, check out the town of Side, with its crumbling city walls, Roman temples with beautiful friezes and a vast open-air amphitheatre from the days of ‘Pamphylia’ (the old name for Side).
The beaches just outside the city centre are a major draw for those looking for modern Antalya attractions. 10km-long Lara Beach is the star of the show to the east of Antalya, with its own amusements, refreshments and the added bonus of the Lower Düden waterfalls towards the city end. If you don’t mind pebbles, Konyaalti Beach is a quieter alternative.
The city’s harbour itself may have ancient trading connections but it’s now home to many of Antalya’s hippest eateries and bars. Sip a cocktail on a patio while yachts bob in the water or try a plate of charcoal-grilled chicken or international varieties in some of the swish garden restaurants here.
To cap off the upscale experience, you can cruise the waves with a yacht trip from the marina, some of which make stops further along the coast in Kemer and also tour the islands out in the Gulf of Antalya.
For the little – and big – kids in the party, there are a couple of good Aqua parks at Dedeman Hotel on Lara Beach and Aqua Land on Konyaalti Beach, complete with twisting, high-speed slides and lots of pools to swim and splash about in.
Plenty of watersports are available in the wider region, with scuba diving schools at Side, Kemer and Alanya – famous for its caverns, coral gardens and stomach-melting drop-offs beneath the surface. If you’re into golf, Belek is the place to be, with six pristine courses that welcome thousands of visitors every year.
Tours can easily be arranged with your hotel in Antalya for any of these activities and sight-seeing excursions, with pick-ups in main resort hubs like Lara beach and the Old Town. So whether you want a historic cultural centre or a modern diving and drinking spot, it’s easy to find your perfect Antalya.