A Brief Guide to Antalya, Turkey’s Most Famous Resort City

Turkey’s most famous resort city located on the Mediterranean Turkish Riviera is Antalya. It is Turkey’s number one destination for sun, sea and natural beauty!

It is the fifth most populous city, coming behind Bursa, Izmir, Ankara and of course, Istanbul, respectively. Bordered by the iconic Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean sea, Antalya’s location makes it a popular destination all year long!

Antalya is Turkey’s most prominent and popular international sea resort. Millions of tourists, both domestic and international, visit its beaches and take in the ancient ruins and sights in the region each year. It’s an amazing city for beach-goers, history lovers and nature lovers too. The city is known for its waterfalls, mountainous hiking routes and is connected by a great transportation system.

Taurus Mountains, Turkey, Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

In the old town of the city called Kaleiçi, you can take a glimpse of traditional houses. Roam the ancient ruins of Aspendos, Side and Perge where you can learn a thing or two about its rich past and visit the museums attached to these sights. Since the 1970s, the tourism industry supported by government funding and development has made its coastal region home to 5-star hotels and resorts.

In fact, the entire Mediterranean coast is popular. Hotels and resorts stretch from Antalya all the way to Alanya in the region. Some popular ones are Rixos, the Land of Legends Theme Park and the Titanic Delux. These and many more for all budgets are available for the millions of vacationers and holiday-makers that make Antalya their destination every year!

Attractions & Sights

Antalya is the city on the Turkish Riviera nestled between the Western and Eastern Mediterranean regions of Turkey’s south.

Antalya Kaleiçi and its Harbour, Photo by Bhumil Chheda on Unsplash

The city centre. where the old town was with its fortifications, is called Kaleiçi which translates to ‘inside the castle.’ It has a Hadrian’s Gate, a Clock Tower, a lively harbour and a tiny waterfall falling into the Mediterranean. Nearby there are some popular ancient ruins such as in Side, Aspendos and Perge. 

Furthermore, the city has even a miniature park and a beautiful aquarium that’s great for families with children. Start or end the day by taking  a dip in the city’s iconic and famous beachfront at Konyaaltı Plajı. Nearby towns such as Belek, Alanya, Side and Kaş among others are full of resort hotels, even all-inclusive ones.

Kaleiçi (Old Town) Antalya and Harbour, Image by Oğuzhan Çoban from Pexels

When it comes to natural beauty, Antalya is lots of it. There are at least two famous waterfalls, a number of beaches and beautiful mountains in the distance. Moreover, one of the symbols of Antalya is the orange. Even though it originated in China, it is an important agricultural products of the province. Around 23 percent of Turkey’s production of oranges is done in Antalya. A particular kind of orange species called Finike is famous for its flavour as well as an award-winning organe called the Penitage orange. Every year, the city holds its “Golden Orange Film Festival” with orange as its logo/emblem and has done so for almost 50 years!

History & Historical Sights

Like many cities and towns in Turkey, Antalya has a long history starting around the year 150 – 200 BC. The city’s history perhaps even go back to the 3rd century according to recent excavations. The city changed hands numerous times due to conquering empires and states including Hellenistic empire, the Roman empire, the Byzantine empire. Then came the Arabs, Seljuk Turks, Mongols and the Ottomans.

The city is believed to have been founded by the Kingdom of Pergamon, based in the capital city of Pergamon (near present-day Izmir), under King Attalus II. Hence, the name of the city was named after him i.e. ‘Attalea,’ now with a similar sounding name – ‘Antalya.‘ 

In general, Antalya and the surrounding region has been a host to  many civilizations over the years. As such, the region is brimming with archaeological ruins and excavations.The list is long but some of the most popular places are Perge, Side, Demre, Patara, Phaselis, Myra, Termessos, Alanya and Olympos. 

Hadrian’s Gate in Antalya, Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Under the ancient Romans, Attalea was part of Pamphylia. They built new monuments that still stand in the city such as Hadrian’s Gate and in other nearby places – in Demre, Perge, Side and Aspendos. For instance, Hadrian’s Gate in the old town was built in honour of Roman Emperor Hadrian’s visit to Antalya in 130 AD.

However, there were other rulers in the region too. These include the ancient Greeks who came to Pamphylia in the 12th century BC, it is believed after the fall of Troy (in Western Anatolia). Then followed the Lydians, the Persians under Xerxes, Alexander the Great and then eventually the Romans, and later, the Kingdom of Pergamon, and its King Attalus from whom the city takes its name. The city developed as a result strong economic support from Pergamon. Eventually, the Romans took over again from Pergamon.

Aspendos Roman Amphitheatre, Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, under the Byzantine empire, Christianity was already underway and it flourished. This made the region popular with prominent bishops and saints in places such as Side, Perge, Aspendos, Ariassos and of course, Attalea. 

Aspendos is located 46 kilometeres away from Antalya and has a famous but huge two-story theatre and a Roman bridge, an aqueduct, an agora, basilica and the like. In Perge, which was a port city in antiquity, you will see its four monumental fountains, a colonnaded avenue, a 11,500 seat theatre. Appollonius of Perge was an important mathematician who made mathematical conic sections discoveries.

The Apollo Temple Ruins in Side, Antalya, Image by Ruby Ruby from Pexels

On the other hand, Side is a beautiful touristic centre with ruins of an ancient city. You should visit the beautiful seaside with its many cafes and beaches, and the iconic Apollo Temple at sunset!

Antalya under the Seljuks and the Ottomans

From the 7th century onwards, Pamphylia saw a surge in attacks from Arabs and the Seljuks. The Seljuk Sultanate conquered it in the 1200s and in the late 1300s, it came under Ottoman rule. The Seljuk Turks soon expanded their rule and built caravanserais all over their kingdom, with Alanya, a sister city to Antalya today, becoming a favourite. Its name, Alanya or Alaiye came from the name of the Seljuk ruler Alâeddin Keykûbad.

However, the story of Turkish rule doesn’t just end there. The threat of the Mongols in 1242 resulted in the Battle of Köse Dağ where the Seljuks were defeated. It was not until 1423 when Antalya and the surround areas came under the Ottoman State. This wasn’t before the rule of the Karamanids, the Christian Cypriot rule and the Egyptian Mamluks.

In the follow-up to World War I, the city was under the Italians due to the Treaty of Sevres. It was then given back to Turkey after the Turkish War of Independence due to the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. Additionally, the Balkan wars and disintegration of the region into their own countries brought Turkish migrants to the region, who settled in Antalya and the broader region.

Cuisine

The southern coast of Turkey from Marmaris to Antalya has a distinct Mediterranean cuisine. Olive oil, seafood, meat and greens are popular ingredients in the regional cuisine of this area. A rich culinary culture brought over by the Turks from Crete, Yoruks and even Arabs make up a rich Antalya gastronomy.

Antalya Piyaz, Image sourced from Culture Portal Turkey

Antalya is known for its Piyaz or specifically Antalya usulü Piyaz. It’s a bean salad in meze style with tangy tahini. It can be had with crunchy fried fish and Hibeş which is a hummus dip/meze. Moreover, there are also speciality cookies called Bağaça usually made for Ramadan. Next, try a savoury pastry called Serpme with cheese, beef and potato baked in a thin phyllo pastry is a local favourite. Try these pastries at some of the local restaurants such as Börekçi Tevfik, Fıtır Börek, Avcuoğlu Börek and Zamora.

Other interesting dishes include: Enginarli Kebap or artichoke meatballs, a Cretan dish is now a local specialty due to the influx of Cretan Turks in 1924. Then, there’s the Laba Dolması or stuffed rack of lamb, Frigye dolma which is in English translates to Phrygian stuffed peppers. It’s a vegetarian version of the stuffed meat dish içli kofte. Then, there’s the local salad called Toros salatası with red peppers and eggplants babaganoush.

Next, try Domatesli Cive. It’s made with garlic and a grain such as rice or bulgur. Then there’s a blending of tomatoes, onions and green peppers and the consistency is like a porridge/soup-like. Taste this unique taste in Parlak Restaurant in the old part of the city, near the Antalya Clock Tower. Other unique tastes from the region is the Alanya Bohçası and the Leğen kömbesi. Also try some more weird sweets such as burnt ice cream called Yanıksı Dondurma and Merçimek Dondurma or Lentils ice cream!

Natural Wonders

Antalya is a popular destination for all kinds of sports in nature: camping, paragliding and parachuting, hiking, golfing, kayaking, canoeing and trekking.

Waterfalls

Upper Duden Falls in Antalya, Photo by hasan kurt from Pexels

The Duden waterfalls are a series of waterfalls in Antalya – Upper (seen above in the photo) and Lower ones and smaller ones. It is also sometimes called the İskender Şelalesi or the Düdenbaşı Şelalesi. The upper falls is in the Kepez district which is north of the city and is worth the trouble if you want to go see the bigger/upper falls.

On the other hand, the lower Duden falls pours into the Mediterranean in the Lara district and can be seen in the city or out from the water if you’re on a boat. The two are connected by the Duden stream and a beautiful park at the lower end.

Kurşunlu Waterfalls in Antalya, Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Not far from Perge, there’s another waterfall called Kurşunlu Şelalesi. The 33-hectare park where it’s located is rich with flora and fauna and is connected by small waterfalls and small ponds. It is possible to encounter rabbits, squirrels, woodpeckers, turtles and other small animals while walking in the nature park. With its fresh air and fascinating scenery, the nature park attracts many visitors for a day’s rest and picnic. Observation terraces, playgrounds, car parks and other facilities are also available for visitors.

Further away, there’s also the Manavgat Şelalesi which originates in the Manavgat River flowing from the Western Taurus mountains. The falls are only 5 metres high but has a long width. The river itself can be used to experience adventure water sports such as rafting and canoeing.

Beaches & Resorts

Antalya has a 640 km coastline and is Turkey’s most important tourism city! The sea is deep and beaches are plenty. Natural beaches with good possibilities for swimming are in the coasts of Kemer, Tekirova, Kumluca, Finike, Demre and the most popular of them all, the quaint village of Kaş. Konyaaltı, Beldibi beaches, Göynük Beaches are located in the west of Antalya, while on the east, there’s Lara, Karpuzkaldıran, Belek, Kundu and Alanya beaches.

In the city, Konyaaltı Plajı or beach is one of the most popular beaches in Turkey and lies west of the city. The location of the beach which lies in the city gives it a unique advantage.

During the warm and hot months, especially between June-August, it is frequented by millions of people, both domestic and foreign. At the farthest end, you’ll find the Setur Marina. You can walk the entire Konyaaltı street from the old Kaleiçi Yacht harbour in the east. Don’t forget the Antalya Museum, the Aquarium, the Miniature Park and the Amusement park on the way!

The best part is that here, there are many Blue Flag awarded beaches. Almost 557 blue flags designation are in Turkey and Antalya has almost half of these! As a result of environmental protection efforts, the number of Blue Flags in the city increased to 228 in 2021 – 213 beaches, 5 marinas and 10 tourism boats are part of this designation. Warm sandy beaches and bays with beautiful views in Antalya are in full demand during most of the year, from March to November.