The Turkish city of Antalya and its surrounding province are often passed off as a package-holiday destination – but that’s a mistake. Sure, you’ll find your fair share of ritzy resorts and family-focused attractions along Antalya’s coastline, but there’s plenty to occupy the independent traveller too.
From a tangle of ancient sites in the city’s historic district to natural wonders a hop and a skip from the centre, we reveal the top things to do in Antalya.
1. Wander the streets of Kaleiçi, Antalya’s historic district
A great place to kick off any trip to Antalya is in Kaleiçi, the city’s historic district. You could spend an entire day roaming this area’s knotted backstreets, poring over market stalls and pausing for drinks at sun-dappled terraces or cafés spilling onto sidewalks.
History buffs will appreciate some of Kaleiçi’s top landmarks too. The district is crammed with impressive architectural feats from Ottoman-style houses to vestiges of the Roman era. Hadrian’s Gate, with its grand arches and columns, is one of the most striking structures left behind by the Romans – built for Emperor Hadrian in 130 AD, it stands proud at the entrance to the city. Also look out for the domes and minarets of Tekeli Mehmet Paşa Camii, a significant Ottoman mosque.
A sundowner at the city’s Roman harbour is the best ways to cap off a day’s exploring.
Image by hanatour04
2. Bask on Antalya’s sun-drenched beaches
Beach lovers will be spoilt for choice in Antalya. Oodles of sandy stretches are within easy reach of the city, and they range from umbrella-peppered strands to quieter spots beloved by locals.
A great all-rounder is Konyaaltı Beach, a favourite with Antalyans and backpackers alike. One of the region’s most picturesque strands, it’s framed by mountains and mostly made up of fine shingle. Plenty of cafés line the shore and the beach’s sheer size saves it from becoming overcrowded.
Lara Beach is Konyaaltı’s showier sister and is often tipped as Antalya’s answer to Las Vegas. Located east of the city proper, Lara is a pretty sweep of honey-coloured sand close to many of the region’s top resorts. Expect fine restaurants, even finer hotels and lots of people.
If you’re craving some solitude, head a little further out to Cirali Beach, a quiet, tree-hemmed swathe of pebbles and sand. Here, you’ll also be close the famed chimaera: eternal flames that burn in the surrounding mountains.
Image by sulox32
3. Drink in the Düden Waterfalls
No trip to Antalya would be complete without taking in one of the region’s top natural wonders. The Düden Waterfalls are a pair of equally impressive cascades – the Upper Düden Waterfall and the Lower Düden Waterfall.
The Upper falls are clad in greenery and are best seen from the cave that sits behind the curtain of water – the area is also a popular picnic spot.
Meanwhile, the Lower falls crash some 40 metres directly into the Mediterranean Sea and you’ll get a stunning view if you plump for a boat ride.
Image by yusuf kazancı
4. Pore over exhibits at the Antalya Museum
This fascinating museum – one of the most celebrated in the country – will give you a thorough grounding in Turkish history. An afternoon spent here is a great way to add some context to your adventures.
It’s brimming with archaeological treasures, from artefacts belonging to the Early Bronze Age (think intricate idols and earthenware pots) to sculptures from the Roman era. The museum is carved up into 13 separate halls, so you can dip into your preferred exhibits if you’re short on time. The Hall of Gods, filled with ornamental statues of deities, is one not to miss.
5. Picnic at Karaalioglu Park
If you’re searching for some shade and a favoured local hangout, head to Karaalioglu Park. It’s dominated by Hidirlik, a brooding Roman tower, and grants visitors sweeping views of the city and harbour below.
Whether you come in the afternoon armed with a picnic, or in the evening to catch the sunset, this green oasis offers respite from the thrumming city.
6. Get lost in the region’s ancient cities
Ancient sites stud the areas surrounding the city and exploring the ruins of historic civilisations remains one of the top things to do in Antalya.
There are plenty of atmospheric sites to choose from, but the ancient city of Aspendos, situated east of Antalya, remains a crowd-pleaser. It’s thought that the city had its heyday during the 5th century BC and a Roman theatre dating to around 170 AD remains the highlight. The city’s crumbling aqueducts and basilica love the camera too.
Also within easy reach of the city is Perge, an ancient capital of the former Pamphylia region, best known for its stadium and pillared agora. The ruins of ancient Olympos are another archaeological hotspot, while modern Olympos is a backpacker haven known for its quirky tree-house hostels.
7. Experience the national parks on Antalya’s doorstep
If you’ve had your fill of ancient ruins, Antalya has natural wonders aplenty too. The city is a stone’s throw from several national parks, each with their own particular attractions.
Köprülü Canyon National Park is made up of dense pine and cedar forests and rugged cliffs, with the Köprüçay River beating a path through the landscape. It’s also one of the country’s top spots for white-water rafting, so thrill-seekers can make a splash while soaking up the scenery.
Meanwhile, Mount Güllük-Termessos National Park is a must-visit for wildlife lovers with mountain goats and deer calling the preserve home. Its forested expanse also boasts yet more ancient ruins: the wonderfully preserved city of Termessos.
8. Kick off the day with a traditional Turkish breakfast
There are few finer starts to the day than a traditional Turkish breakfast and Antalya has a great selection of places to sample one. A top spot is The Big Man bistro, with locations in both the Lara and Konyaaltı areas – their belly-busting breakfast platter comes complete with Turkish cheeses, olives, fresh bread and dried fruits.
If you’re hankering after a sweet treat later on, also look out for Antalya’s traditional burnt goat’s cheese ice-cream in parlours around the city and province.
Things to do in Antalya at night
9. Go bar-hopping in Antalya’s historic district
Kaleiçi, Antalya’s historic district, comes to life at night, with buzzing bars filled with both tourists and locals, plus spots to dance and listen to live music. Head to Up Shot Bar with its exposed brick walls and pumping DJ sets, or the Filika (Lifeboat) Café-Bar for live music, a down-to-earth vibe and a great outdoor space.
If you’re planning a big night, set your sights on the Lara area and Club Arma (formerly Club 29). This mammoth seaside nightclub serves colourful cocktails and throbs until the wee hours.
10. Catch a show at the Antalya Cultural Centre
If you’re hoping for a quieter evening, check out what’s on at the Antalya Cultural Centre. The best place for culture vultures to pass the night, this modern arts complex hosts exhibitions, dance performances, music shows and more. Music and movie buffs will also be pleased to know it hosts the annual film festival and the Antalya International Piano Festival each autumn too.
About the author:
Jacqui is a freelance travel writer and editor. When she’s not on the road, you’ll find her eating her way around north London or stalking dogs on Hampstead Heath. Follow her adventures in the USA, Europe and beyond on Instagram and Twitter