*The featured pic: Myra (photo by Saffron Blaze)
With a population of 2.4 million, Antalya is the 5th largest city in Turkey. After Istanbul, it is the 2nd most popular tourist hub in the country. Boasting numerous world-renowned, heavenly beaches, well-preserved ancient cities, and high-end resorts, Antalya is the tourism pearl of Turkey.
Every year, around 15 million tourists visit Antalya, which means that the Mediterranean city hosts around 7 times its population annually. Even when it is off-season, Antalya is flocked to by many people from various parts of the world who are visiting to explore the stunning historical gems of this city.
In this article, let’s take a look into the top 21 must-see sites in Antalya.
Hadrian’s Gate is formed by 3 triumphal arches, located in the central district of Kaleiçi in Antalya. Built in 130 AD to honor the visit of the Roman emperor Hadrian to Antalya, this gate is still in use today. This historical structure leads to the district of Kaleiçi.
The ancient port city of Attaleia, (the ancient Greek name of Antalya), was once surrounded by strong fortifications with several gates. However, only Hadrian’s Gate survived the centuries.
Today, the gate can be visited 24/7. However, the lighting that illuminates the structure at night makes that the perfect time to visit this spot.
Düden Waterfalls are a group of remarkably beautiful waterfalls, located on the coast of downtown Antalya. This picturesque site is the first attraction of the city that welcomes you as your plane descends at Antalya Airport.
Düden Waterfalls include picnic tables, benches, and small gözleme stalls where you can relieve your fatigue and snack upon some delicious Turkish filled crepes.
The waterfalls can be visited every day from 8am to 9.30pm in the summer months and from 8am to 6pm in the winter months. Entrance is 5₺. Note that Museum Pass is not valid here.
This 7-km-long beach is one of the largest beaches in Turkey. Along the Konyaaltı Beach, there are various hotels, restaurants, bars and night clubs.
The ruins of the small ancient port city of Olbia are scattered over the beach. In olden times, this port city was used by the locals of Termessos Ancient City which is located high up at the Güllük Mountain Range.
Konyaaltı Beach is a public beach, so, the showers and changing rooms are free of charge.
Kaleiçi is a touristic historical district in the heart of Antalya. The narrow cobblestone alleys of Kaleiçi carry the marks from the old Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and the Ottoman eras. This district is full of boutique hotels, restaurants, taverns, bars and souvenir shops.
If you are planning to stay in a boutique hotel instead of a resort, then Kaleiçi will be the perfect spot for you with its affordable, quaint family-run hotels, many of which provide modern comforts.
The old houses in Kaleiçi are mostly dated to the 18th and 19th centuries and they allow the visitors to take a peek into the Ottoman and Turkish era architecture.
In addition, Kaleiçi is one of the best spots to experience the Turkish seafood culture. There are many reasonably priced fish restaurants and Turkish style taverns where you’ll find the finest examples of Turkish seafood, traditional mezzahs and alcoholic Turkish drinks. Ayar Meyhanesi is a highly recommended spot to dine due to its amazing dishes, cheerful live music and attentive staff.
If in the area, it is worth stopping by to have a drink at David People, a local bar, where you can sit on a glass floor built over an ancient Roman colonnaded street. Another very fun thing to do in Kaleiçi!
Hıdırlık Tower is ancient structure that was built in the 2nd century AD during the Roman era. Believed to have been built by Emperor Hadrian, this tower was used as a lighthouse and for defense purposes.
The top part of the tower has marks that indicate that it went through restoration multiple times during the Seljuk and Ottoman periods.
The name “Lara” means sand in the ancient Luwian language, which was the native tongue of the Hittites. It is assumed that the name of this natural wonder was given by the Hittites millennia ago.
Lara Beach is one of the longest beaches in Turkey. Known for boasting many high-end resorts, this beach extends for 10km. Some parts of the beach are public, however some parts of it are privately owned by beach clubs and resorts.
The beach is to the southeast coast of Antalya and can be easily accessed by public transportation.
With an area of 7000m2 and a vast collection of more than 30,000 artifacts, 5000 of which are displayed, Antalya Museum is one of the biggest museum complexes in Turkey.
Located right at the starting point of the Konyaaltı beach, this museum exhibits important findings from the Roman, Lycian, ancient Greek, Byzantine eras as well as the pre-historic periods.
The museum can be visited from 8.30am to 18.45pm in the summer period (1 April-1 October) and from 10am to 4pm in the winter period. Entrance is 45₺ and free for Museum Pass owners. Note that the museum is closed on the weekends.
Kurşunlu Waterfall National Park is located on the northern side of the ancient ruins of Perge (Perga). This big park is a perfect spot to take a breath from the busy city life, where you can enjoy the serene nature and the picturesque views.
There are also some stalls where you can find snacks and fresh juices for reasonable prices.
Tazı Canyon is a breath-taking natural wonder that is located within the borders of Köprülü Canyon Natural Park. It stands only 10 kilometers away from the rafting center of Köprülü Canyon Natural Park. The canyon has recently become popular after the smartphone company Huawei promoted it in a commercial. Some locals told us that this canyon hosted very little number of tourists before the Huawei commercial, most of them being foreigners. However, now, with its 300-meter-long walls, Tazı Canyon hosts hundreds of visitors each day.
The site is free to visit and it does not have regulated visiting hours.
Karain Cave is a very important pre-historic site in Turkey. Located in the village of Yağca, 27km north to Antalya, the first residents of this cave were the early humans who settled here around 500,000 years ago.
The most notable findings unearthed in this cave system include the remains of a pre-historic rhinoceros, elephant, hippopotamus, and bones of Neanderthals. Carvings in Greek can be seen today at the entrance of the cave which allude to Karain Cave having been used for ritualistic purposes during the ancient Greek era.
You can visit Karain Cave from 10am to 5pm in summers (1 April-1 October), and from 8.30am to 5.30pm in winters (1 October-1 April). Entrance is 10₺. Karain Cave is closed on the weekends.
Aspendos is the most well-preserved ancient theater not only in Turkey, but in the entire Mediterranean area. Built in the 2nd century AD, this theatre could seat up to 20,000 people.
Apart from the theatre, other notable attractions in the ancient site include the 1km-long aqueducts, baths and temples.
You can visit Aspendos from 8am to 6.45 pm in summers (1 April-1 October), and from 10am to 4pm in winters (1 October-1 April). Entrance is 50₺. Aspendos Ancient Site is closed on the weekends.
Olympos, located 84km away to the south of Antalya, is a tourist paradise on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. This ancient site was founded in the 3rd century BC, and was a prosperous and an influential Lycian city. In subsequent centuries, it was frequently used by pirates and, later, ruled by the Romans, Venetians, Genoese and the Rhodians. The city was abandoned in the 1400s and, ever since, it has been aa ghost town.
Today, the valley where the ruins of Olympos are located has many bungalows, restaurants, budget-friendly lodges, camp sites, bars and handicraft shops. It is a spot where you’ll find yourself away from the crowd in Antalya and the busy 5-star resorts. Olympos is a haven for nature lovers and people aspiring for a calm vacation.
You can visit Olympos from 8am to 6.30 pm in summers (1 April-1 October), and from 10.30am to 4pm in winters (1 October-1 April). Entrance is 30₺. Olympos is closed on the weekends.
Çıralı is a town on the southern coast of Antalya, located a walking distance way from Olympos. It is primarily known for beholding the famous Mount Chimaera which is known for its continuously burning fire vents, Yanartaş.
Reaching the part of the mountain where the fires can be found requires a 1-km-long trek. While it might be slightly challenging, you will find people of all ages making their way up. However, once you reach there, you will be blown away with the uniqueness of the site. To elevate this experience, you can grab a pack of marshmallows from the kiosk at the entrance of the area. It an unwritten custom to toast marshmallows at the fire vents.
Entrance to Yanartaş is 9₺.
Phaselis was an important trade port city in the ancient ages. Founded by the Rhodians in 690 BC. Apart from its historical ruins, the area is also known for its beautiful beaches and rich nature. Phaselis is located on a small peninsula that is nestled between the resort town of Kemer and Olympos National Park.
In the early centuries, Phaselis was a very important center for trade and commerce between Greece, Phoenicia, Asia and Egypt.
Phaselis was ruled by various authorities who had inhabited Anatolia such as the Rhodians, Alexander the Great, Persians, Arabs, pirates, Seljuks and Ottomans.
Today, thanks to the long pine trees, even in a scorching summer day, you can visit the ancient city without the touch of the sun.
Phaselis can be visited from 8am to 6.30 pm in summers (1 April-1 October), and from 10.30am to 4pm in winters (1 October-1 April). Entrance is 45₺. Phaselis is closed on the weekends.
Myra was one of the most influential cities in the Lycian Confederation, which was the first democratic union in history.
Amazingly well-preserved rock-cut tombs and an ancient theatre remaining from the Roman era are two of the most notable ancient attractions to see in Myra.
Today, what makes this spot unique is the fact that St. Nicholas, also known as Santa Claus, lived and died here. He was and still is one of the most sacred characters of the Eastern and Western churches. On St. Nicholas Day, in many countries there is the tradition of giving gifts to children and Saint Nicholas of Myra is seen as Santa Claus.
You can also visit the Church of St. Nicholas, located at the heart of the town of Demre, which was built as a grave and a religious complex dedicated to him. During the Ottoman rule, a group of Italian sailors seized the remains of St. Nicholas and took them to the Italian city of Bari. Although today the grave of St. Nicholas is in the Church of St. Nicholas, his remains are preserved at the Basilica of St. Nicola in Bari, Italy.
Tourists can visit Myra from 8.30am to 6.45 pm in summers (1 April-1 October), and from 10am to 4pm in winters (1 October-1 April). Entrance is 45₺. Myra is closed on the weekends.
The Church of St. Nicholas is open from 8.30am to 6.45 pm in summers (1 April-1 October), and from 10am to 4pm in winters (1 October-1 April). Entrance is 50₺. The church is closed on the weekends.
The Lycian Civilizations Museum is located at the Andriake Harbor which was the port of the ancient city of Myra. This museum was built inside an ancient structure which was used as a food store in the 2nd century AD.
The exhibition consists of the artefacts and findings that were unearthed in various ancient Lycian cities. The halls in the museum carry the name of the ancient cities of Myra, Patara, Xanthos, Tilos (Tlos), Pinara, Olympos, Arykanda and Antiphellos which, at one point in time, constituted the Lycian League.
The open-air section of the museum includes the ruins of the ancient harbor, bathhouse, marketplace,
The Lycian Civilizations Museum is open from 10am to 5pm in summers (1 April-1 October), and from 8am to 5.30pm in winters (1 October-1 April). Entrance is 10₺. The church is closed on the weekends and Mondays. The ticket covers the Andriake Ancient City as well.
Patara is a 12-km-long beach in the province of Antalya. It is considered to be one of the largest ones in Turkey and can get 200-300 meters wide at some points. Known for being one of the rare spots in Turkey where caretta carettas breed, Patara beach boasts a very rich fauna.
The Ancient City of Patara stands a couple of hundred meters behind the beach. Said to have founded by Patarus, one of the sons of the Greco-Roman god, Apollo, Patara was also the birthplace of St. Nicholas, who is known to be Santa Claus. Patara was a very important city in the region and it served as the capital city of the Lycian League.
Also, the historical account suggests that St. Paul embarked on a ship to go to Rome from the port of Patara. Therefore, as you might surmise, besides the Roman and Greek history, Patara is of vital importance for the Christian history as well.
You can visit the beach from 8am to 8pm every day. The ancient city of Patara is open to visitors from 8.30am to 6.30pm during summers (1 April-1 October) and from 10am to 4pm during winters (1 October-1 April). The site is closed on weekends. The fee of visiting the site is 30₺.
Manavgat Falls is one of the most visited natural wonders in Antalya. Located 76km from Antalya’s downtown, these falls are home to dozens of animals. The site is adorned with many fish restaurants where you can taste the trout, carp, gray mullet, and tench that are freshly caught off the falls.
There is free parking right near the falls, entrance to the area is 7₺ per person.
This large town, located 133km to the east of Antalya, is a very touristic spot. Alanya is so popular that is even has its own airport.
Undoubtedly, Alanya Castle is the most known spot in the town. This medieval castle was built by 250 meters above the sea level in the 13th century by the order of the Seljuk sultan, Aladdin Kayqubad I. Today, this open-air site beholds the ruins of Byzantine churches, a marketplace, masjids, dwellings, bathhouses, hundreds of cisterns, and other ancient structures that awaits tourists.
The other sites travel-history enthusiasts should visit in Alanya are the Kızılkule (The Red Tower), Tersane (The Shipyard), Damlataş Cave, Dim Cave, Cleopatra Beach, Atatürk House Museum and Alanya Archeology Museum.
You can visit the Alanya Castle from 8am to 7pm in summers (1 April-1 October) and from 10am to 4pm in winters (1 October-1 April). The site is closed on weekends. The fee of visiting the site is 30₺.
Just like Alanya, Side (pronounced see-day) is one of the larger towns in suburban Antalya. Known for its world-class resorts, well-preserved ruins, paradisical beaches and beach clubs, Side is a perfect spot to explore.
This ancient city, thought to founded in the 7th century BC, was the most important city in the ancient region of Pamphylia.
The site is popular for its beautiful ancient city and its remarkably well-preserved ruins. Besides the ancient city, you should also pay a visit to the Side Archeology Museum.
The ancient city of Side and Side Archeology Museum are open to visitors from 8.30am to 6.45pm in summers (1 April-1 October) and from 10am to 6pm in winters (1 October-1 April). The site is closed on weekends. The entrance is 25₺.
Included in UNESCO’S list of World Heritage Sites, Xantos is one of the most prominent archeological sites in the world. Today, this ancient city is located in the village of Kınık, right on the provincial border of Muğla-Antalya.
The journals of the ancient Greek historians, Heredotus and Appian, give us very valuable insight into the history of Xantos. As historical accounts suggest, during the Persian invasion of the area, the people of Xantos gathered a small army and were outnumbered and defeated by the vast Persian troops. The ones who survived the war retreated back to Xantos and killed their families to save them from the Persian wrath. Subsequently, the surviving group of men were also murdered by the Persians and about the entire population of Xantos was decimated.
Xantos is open to visitors from 10am to 7pm in summers (1 April-1 October) and from 8.30am to 5.30pm in winters (1 October-1 April). The site is closed on weekends. The entrance to the site is 14₺.