Exploring Antalya: Where to sunbathe, hike, and sightsee

There is little more enticing than a Mediterranean beach and that beckoning turquoise sea but it would be a crying shame, if you're in Antalya, not to explore the old town, the ancient ruins and the mountains. This is quite simply one of the most exciting, stunningly beautiful and most historically interesting areas in the world. Turkey also offers incredible value for money, and thanks to Thomas Cook Airlines, you can fly direct from airports across the UK in just over four hours. One holiday here is not enough.

Exploring Antalya - where to sunbathe, hike, shop and sightsee, Turkey © Nikolai Sorokin - Fotolia.com
Exploring Antalya - where to sunbathe, hike, shop and sightsee, Turkey © Nikolai Sorokin - Fotolia.com

A spot of sunbathing

While there are places to stay in the old town, most of the hotels spread out to the east, along the clifftops in Lara. There is a fine beach here but not always attached to the hotels and much of it under the management of private beach clubs where you pay a small fee for a sunbed, umbrella and towels, and have access to drinks and toilets for the day. To the west, the city sprawls around the broad shallow Konyaalti Bay, lined with some of its finest hotels, a promenade and the unregulated city beach.

The best possible option is to combine beach and sightseeing by taking a day-long boat trip to Phaselis, an enchanting ancient Greek site set around three sandy horseshoe-shaped harbours. Tourist boats anchor in the bay and you can swim, sunbathe, rest under the pine trees and explore the ruins at your leisure. Lunch is provided on board and there's often the opportunity to do some snorkelling as well.

A little exercise

If you feel the need for some sporting action, the purpose-built tourist town of Belek, near Antalya airport, is best-known as the home of golf in Turkey with a staggering sixteen courses (most championship standard), not to mention numerous spas and stunning beaches.

Hiking towards Mount Tahtali near Antalya © Natalia Maroz - Fotolia.com
Hiking towards Mount Tahtali near Antalya © Natalia Maroz - Fotolia.com

To really blow away the cobwebs, however, lace up your hiking boots and head out along a section of the 509-km long waymarked Lycian Way. This runs through the wild Taurus Mountains, to the north and west of the city, much of it in the Beydaglari Olympos National Park. You can do as much or as little as you want.

Along the way, Göynuk Canyon, near Kemer (also reachable by car) is an oasis of pine forests, waterfalls and mountain rivers, where you can either revel in the cool shade or go canyoning or whitewater rafting. Köprülü Kanyon, near Aspendos to the east of Antalya, has much the same mix of adventure activities and freshly caught trout for lunch.

On the summit of Mount Tahtali © Castenoid - Fotolia.com
On the summit of Mount Tahtali © Castenoid - Fotolia.com

Back in the west, just near the Phaselis turn-off, the 4350m Tahtali Teleferik offers a spectacular cable-car ride (the longest in Europe) up to the summit of Mt Tahtali at 2365m (7759 ft). At dusk, head down to the sea past the village of Olympos and take the winding bumpy track that leads to the Chimaera, first documented in the 4th century BC, and named after a mythical fire-breathing monster which was said to have the head of a lion, the torso of a goat and the tail of a serpent.

Today, of course, a more prosaic scientific explanation talks of burning gas escaping from below ground, but the flickering effect of the eternal flame dancing across the blackened bare rocks in the half-light is truly the stuff of myth.

A trip back in time

Phaselis might have the beach as an added draw, but it's only one of half a dozen extraordinary ancient Graeco-Roman cities within a few miles of Antalya, some of which are amongst the best preserved in the world. Near the airport, at Aspendos, the highlight is the Roman theatre, built at the end of the 2nd century AD by the architect Zeno. It still seats 20,000 and is used for a Ballet and Opera Festival every June.

The magnificent Roman theatre at Aspendos © Saffron Blaze - Wikimedia Commons
The magnificent Roman theatre at Aspendos © Saffron Blaze - Wikimedia Commons

Meantime, you can take the opportunity to try your voice and the perfect acoustics centre-stage. Nearby Perge was already thriving as a trading centre by 1300 BC, and continued to be a rich port until it eventually silted up in the Byzantine era. There is a real feeling of what life was like here as you enter through the giant red-brick gates, stroll the colonnaded streets, lounge on the steps of the marble bath houses and gather to chat in the forum.

At Side (pronounced seeday), further along the coast, the modern town has wound its way through the ancient remains and there is little finer than sitting on the seafront with a cold glass of wine to watch the sun set over the Temple of Apollo. For those prepared to make the dizzying climb, Termessos (the 'Eagle's Nest') is another ancient city, perched so precipitously high in the Taurus Mountains north of Antalya that even Alexander the Great balked at trying to capture it.

The beautiful temple of Apollo at Side, Turkey © Saffron Blaze - Wikimedia Commons
The beautiful temple of Apollo at Side, Turkey © Saffron Blaze - Wikimedia Commons

Back in the city, don't forget to call in at the Antalya Archaeological Museum in Konyaalti, a treasure trove of statues, mosaics, jewellery, ceramics, glass and other small finds from all the sites in the surrounding area.

Strolling and shopping

Of course, it's important not to forget Antalya itself. The steep winding streets of the old town, Kaleiçi, are a delight to stroll while window-shopping. Allow yourself to be enticed in for endless small glasses of super sweet tea and flirtatious chatter that accompany all transactions in Turkey, perching on stools in cool dark stores as eager sales assistants fling heaps of rugs in jewel colours at your feet. Enjoy the experience, harden your heart and buy only what you can.

Open-air shop in the old town, Antalya, Turkey © Harald Brendel - Flickr Creative Commons
Open-air shop in the old town, Antalya, Turkey © Harald Brendel - Flickr Creative Commons

Shopping in Turkey is an art, a sport, a game. Between the lopsided Ottoman houses are Roman columns, ancient Seljuk mosques and minarets, old tea houses and restaurants. As you come to the bottom, there is the ancient harbour, crammed with gaudy fishing and tourist boats. On the hill above still stands the Roman lighthouse.

If you're after more, to the east of the city, near the airport, there are vast warehouse emporia of carpets and jewels, which offer you the chance to watch carpets being made, see diamonds being polished and have your own jewellery designed. It's a shopper's paradise with prices to match - as long as you play the game.

Do you like the sound of exploring Antalya? Now is a great time to go with so many fabulous offers on accommodation, flights and more. Thomas Cook Airlines has countless great value fares to Antalya from airports across the UK this summer that could get you there for less than you might expect. Check out the weather in Antalya and see when we think is the best time to go for ideal conditions.

Melissa Shales

Melissa Shales
Posted on Thursday 9th March 2017 in: Culture Middle East Nature

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