Antalya is one of the most visited places in all of Turkey. With cheap Antalya flights from the UK and other European countries, it makes a great first port of call for a week or two away in sunny Turkey, but it’s also a great pit stop for long-term travellers going across the southern coast, particularly those trekking the 509km Lycian Way.

Antalya History

Like most of Turkey, Antalya is a melting pot of cultures. Originally named Attaleia, it was founded around 150 BC by Attalos II, King of Pergamon. At the time, Pergamon was a rich and powerful Greek city in Mysia.

However, excavations have found evidence of a city at least a few hundred years before Attalos II arrived, with some remains even dating back to around 800 BC. This means that like most ancient sites around the world, Antalya was built on top of an even older city that is somewhat lost to history. Most likely it was a small city within the Persian empire as this area of modern-day Turkey only became part of Hellenistic Greece during the reign of Alexander the Great (what didn’t?).

Attalos’s successor, Attalos III, handed the city over to the Romans. Emperor Hadrian visited in 130 AD and Hadrian’s Gate was built to commemorate his visit. You can still see this epic arch today. Where Alexander the Great is famous for conquering vast swathes of land, Hadrian is more famous for his ability to construct big arches in every city he ever walked through. He should be called Hadrian the Gate.

Ok, I’ll see myself out.

After the fall of Rome, the city fell into the control of the Byzantine Empire, a sort of sub-branch of Romans that had Constantinople as their capital. It became an important embarkation point in the Middle Ages for soldiers departing for Palestine during the Crusades.

Antalya was eventually absorbed into the Ottoman Empire. In the aftermath of World War 1, Italy occupied Antalya and the neighbouring region for three years. Turkish nationalists eventually drove them out of the country and it’s remained part of Turkey ever since.

18 Things To Do In Antalya That You’ll Never Forget

1. Get Lost in the Old Town (and meet little friends)

Yelena cuddling a puppy she found wandering through the old town.

You can’t go to Antalya without getting lost in the labyrinthian ancient city. Antalya’s old town will take you back in time as you stroll down cobbled streets full of local vendors selling authentic Turkish sweets like baklava and Turkish delights, locally made textiles, and other Turkish novelties. You’ll find plenty of little hidey-holes away from the crowds, but you’ll also find the hotspots with tour agencies, Turkish spas, and crowded bars and restaurants.

The neighbourhood, known as Kaleiçi, is a great place to stay in Antalya’s old town. It’s full of red-roofed Ottoman-style buildings that have now become boutique hotels, little art galleries, and restaurants.

You can also walk to the Kesik Minare, the broken minaret, a mosque that was damaged by a fire in the 19th century. The stonework was originally the basis for a Roman temple, and then a Byzantine church. In 2019, the top cone and rooftop were finally restored, and in 2021, Kesik Minare welcomed worshippers for the first time in nearly 125 years.

Don’t be surprised if you meet 101 cats along the way, or the odd puppy or two. Street animals are everywhere in Antalya, but they’re surprisingly well looked after with feeding places in most parks.

2. Go For a Dip at Konyaalti Beach

The view over Konyaalti Beach never gets old.

This striking beach is a decent walk from Kaleiçi, or you can hop on a tram for close to nothing (you’ll need a tram card first). While the old town has a nice harbour and a tiny private beach, this long strip of sand stretches far into the distance. You can find everything by Konyaalti Beach: clubs, bars, restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops, shopping malls. You name it, Konyaalti Beach has it nearby.

If you’re heading to Antalya as part of a package holiday, chances are you’ll be somewhere by the beach. The all-inclusive resorts can be found scattered along this beach, but you can also find some pretty nice AirBnBs nearby.

While it looks sandy from above, a lot of this beach is pebbly. They are small pebbles so it’s not the annoying kind, but it’s something to bear in mind. The water is amazing, even in winter.

If you want, you can rent sun loungers and umbrellas, and there are plenty of facilities nearby like toilets and showers. If you’re feeling a little peckish then you can head just off the beach to the promenade and find everything you need. Snack shops, cafes, and restaurants galore.

3. Be Awed by Düden Falls

Duden falls is one of the most impressive things to see in Antalya.

On the opposite side of town, Düden waterfalls crash off a cliff into the sea. This phenomenal waterfall is still in central Antalya and can easily be accessed by taxi. There are public transport options from the centre, but you may have to change buses or trams. A one-way taxi is just a few quid.

I spent two months in Antalya, and about two weeks of it were in an AirBnB near Düden Falls. I would come every morning to sit in the park and watch the local fruit sellers set up shop. While it was nice and quiet most of the time, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend staying in this part of town as it’s directly underneath the flight path to Antalya airport. It means you can catch some pretty cool shots of planes going over Düden waterfalls, but it’s not so great when they make your apartment rumble every five minutes.

You should also know that there are technically two Düden waterfalls. The one referred to here is where it crashes into the sea. This is the most impressive in my opinion, and it’s considered the lower falls. Its actual name is Karpuzkaldiran Waterfall, but that’s quite a mouthful and everyone will know what you mean if you say Düden waterfalls.

4. Spend a Morning in the Antalya Archaeological Museum

Antalya Archaeological Museum, the Greek and Roman statues.

If there’s any history buffs reading this, then the Antalya Archaeological Museum is a must-see. Due to its long and multi-faceted history (as briefly covered above), Antalya has tons to show for itself.

The Antalya Museum has 13 halls open to visitors with more than 5,000 artefacts on display at any given time. It’s one of the best museums in the country and covers every period from prehistory to Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman times.

With a huge collection of statues, coins, sarcophagi, jewellery and pottery, you’re sure to feel immersed in the complex history of Antalya. If you’re a Greek mythology nerd like me then you’ll feel right at home. There’s an impressive 2nd-century marble sarcophagus with reliefs depicting the Twelve Labours of Hercules that shouldn’t be missed. Other exhibits are littered with statues of Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite and the like.

If you like history, you can’t not go to the Antalya Archaeological Museum when visiting Antalya. It’s open every day from 08:30 to 17:30 (last admission at 17:00) and it costs 90 TL.

5. Explore the Ancient Ruins of Perge (Perga)

Cheesy high-5 outside Perge ruins.

Located just 15km from the Antalya city centre, Perge is a fascinating ancient city that deserves a day trip. It’s one of the best things to do in Antalya, or at least from Antalya.

While you can book a tour, or get a taxi, Perge is fairly easy to reach via public transport. Hop on the AC03 bus to Aksu and walk from there. Alternatively, if you have a tram card, you can get the tram to Aksu (it’s just past the airport) and then walk from there. The walk is around 20-30 minutes and is in a safe and quiet neighbourhood. We picked up our first ever Turkish pide from a local place on the way back and fell in love.

Our first time trying Pide!

Perge itself is an ancient city dating back to around 1200 BC. Like Antalya, Perge changed hands frequently throughout history, from the Persians to the Greeks to the Romans and so on.

Once home to Apollonius, the great astronomer and gemoeter of the 2nd century, he’s the man responsible for geometric terms like “parabola,” “hyperbola,” and “ellipse.”

While there are constant excavations at the site, there’s also a lot to see that’s already been unearthed. A roman theatre, Greek mosaics, as well as astonishing bas-reliefs, Roman baths, and a necropolis.

Exploring Perge, Antalya, together.

You can combine Perge with a tour to Aspendos if you want to save time. You’ll also get a good chunk of info about both sites, but we prefer to take our time and get away from the crowds in these big archaeological sites.

6. Wander Through the Old Harbour

The old harbour of Antalya.

Wedged in between the cliffs, a natural and strategic location, Antalya’s old town harbour is a great place for a sunset stroll. You’ll get offered mussels by street vendors, or you can find a few restaurants serving fresh fish too.

You can pop here to ask about a boat trip into the Mediterranean Sea, or simply find a place to sit and people watch. It’s one of the best sunset spots in town and you’ll often find it quite crowded on an evening.

Work with a view over Antalya old harbour.
Work with a view.

Definitely a lazy place to chill out and relax. If you’re strolling around the old town, you can walk straight through the harbour and out the other side. On several of the times we went, there were fortune-telling bunnies on the stairs leading back to the old town. One of my biggest Antalya regrets was that I never got a bunny to tell my fortune.

7. Walk Under Hadrian’s Gate

Hadrian's Gate, Antalya.

As mentioned earlier, Hadrian’s Gate was erected to commemorate the Roman emperor’s visit. It’s now the gateway between the old town and the busier downtown area. The old town has a lot less cars as it’s all narrow cobblestone streets, but as soon as you pass through Hadrian’s Gate, you’re in modern Antalya and it feels like a completely different city.

There are some well-preserved carvings on the ceiling of the arch if you take a peek up as you stroll through, but just be warned that if it’s been raining, the stone floor will be super slippy. Even when it hasn’t rained, it can be slippery to go through.

The Roman town walls extend out a bit from here and they’re worth seeing too. In fact, these Roman town walls are some of the best preserved in the world.

8. Soak Up the Sun on Lara Beach

Lara beach, Antalya.

Another long beach in Antalya, this is the best place to escape the bustle of city life and soak up the sun. When most people are researching where to stay in Antalya, they’ll find accommodation around Lara Beach, especially if they’re looking for all-inclusive holidays. While this is great if you just want to sit on the beach all day, you should know that Lara Beach is not anywhere near central Antalya. Going back and forth to the city centre can eat away at your time and money.

Having said that, if you’re looking to escape the city, Lara Beach is a great place to do it. I walked there once when I was staying near Düden waterfalls, but I only visited the very end of the beach. Further up the coast, it’s supposed to get a lot sandier.

9. Take a Trip to Aspendos

The ancient site of Aspendos.

Aspendos is probably one of the best things to do in Antalya that I never actually did in my two months there. Don’t ask me why.

Located around 47 km east of Antalya, Aspendos is a huge draw for history buffs because of how well preserved it is. In fact, this Roman theatre is thought to be the best-preserved Roman theatre in the world.

It was built throughout the 2nd and 3rd centuries and has been restored so that it looks entirely intact. This is an impressive feat if you’ve seen any of the theatres in Italy, Greece, or throughout the rest of Turkey. Usually they’re half-rubble. The theatre of Halicarnassus in Bodrum is a prime example.

This theatre can seat 15,000 people but the rest of the archaeological site is mostly just ancient ruins. Unless you’re super into exploring ancient cities (like me!) then you’ll probably just come for the theatre and then leave.

10. Admire the Yivli Minare Mosque

The Yivli Minare mosque towering over the old town.

Arguably one of the most distinctive landmarks in Antalya, the Yivli Minare towers above the old town so you can see it from many different viewpoints in the city. It’s one of the most treasured historic monuments in all of Antalya.

In Turkish, the Yivli Minare means “fluted minaret”. It was built by the Seljuk sultan Alaeddin Keykubad in the 12th century. The mosque that’s attached to it was actually built around 200 years later, and it’s still used today. Not far away, you’ll also find an Ottoman clock tower that’s worth checking out.

11. Marvel at the Marine Life in Antalya Aquarium

Marine life at the Antalya aquarium.

The Antalya Aquarium is widely considered one of the best things to do in Antalya, primarily for its 131 metre-long glass tunnel, the longest in the world. There, you’ll see sharks, rays and tropical fish swimming overhead. At midday, the aquarium staff gear up in scuba outfits to feed the marine life by hand.

There is also Snow World, an ice museum within the aquarium that has a constant temperature of -5°C. Here, you can have snowball fights, make snow angels, or even go sledging. There are igloos and ice sculptures and everything you could want from a snowy holiday, but when you leave you’re in sunny Antalya.

There’s also WildPark, a tropical space with venomous snakes, crocodiles, frogs and a variety of lizards. Also in the Antalya Aquarium is the XD cinema where you can watch an underwater show.

For adults, the entry price to one of the largest aquarium complexes in the world is around £40 minimum, and can reach more than £100 depending on the different activities you’d like to do there.

12. Get Off the Beaten Track at Termessos

Termessos, Antalya.

34 kilometres northwest of Antalya, lies Termessos with the jaw-dropping backdrop of the Taurus mountains. Deep in the pine forests of Mount Güllük-Termessos National Park, Termessos is a well-preserved ancient site that’s well worth a visit during your trip to Antalya, Turkey.

Neither Greek nor Roman, Termessos was a settlement occupied by the untamable Pisidians. They refused to submit to the much larger civilisations and defended their territory from attack without many problems due to their strategic mountainous terrain.

You’ll get some good views over the surrounding countryside from this ancient city. Just make sure you have some good walking shoes and plenty of water. A snack or two wouldn’t cause any harm either.

13. Soak in the Ambience of Karaalioglu Park

Yelena and I in Karaalioglu Park, Antalya.

This park, located on the outskirts of the old town, has stunning views over the bay of Antalya and all the way to the Taurus mountains beyond. There are plenty of benches, cafes, and even a children’s playground. A short walk away you’ll find a bunch of locally-made sculptures too.

You’ll also find a small Roman fortress in the northwest corner. Built in the 2nd century, this small castle would have watched over the old Roman harbour. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a guy selling Turkish simits here. Don’t hesitate to get one.

The Roman Fortress in Karaalioglu Park, Antalya.

Like the harbour, it’s a great spot to watch the sunset, and lots of locals flock there to do just that. You’ll often find fruit sellers and street musicians that give the place a really nice vibe.

14. Go White Water Rafting in Köprülü Canyon National Park

Köprülü Canyon National Park.

For all the adrenaline seekers out there, Köprülü Canyon National Park is 90 km northeast of Antalya and it’s one of the ultimate day trip destinations from the city centre.

The Köprülü River winds through the craggy cliffs and is recognised as one of the best white water rafting spots in the entire country. While most people come here for a half-day trip to go rafting, there’s plenty more to see if you want to extend your stay.

Whether you’re into hiking, ancient sites from the Hellenistic and Roman eras, or just absorbing the natural beauty, Köprülü Canyon National Park is a great place to visit to get away from the city life.

15. Get Even Further Off the Beaten Track at Trabenna

The view of Antalya from Trabenna.

Another ancient city buried in the Taurus mountains, Trabenna isn’t as impressive as some of the other sites on this list. However, it is a lot more rugged. There are no signs that point you in the right direction. You just stumble across the ruins in the middle of the forest and explore them as you like.

Like with Termessos, you’ll want to pack lots of water as there are no shops anywhere nearby. Good walking shoes would also come in handy, especially if you plan to walk back to Antalya as I did. It’s around 16 km in total from Geyikbayırı to western Antalya, where I was staying at the time. I got a taxi there for a few pounds.

Chlling in Trabenna, an ancient site all to myself.
The walk from Trabenna to Antalya.
Amazing Turkish food.

After you explore Trabenna, you’ll head through the pristine forest until you get to the road where Akdamlar meets Hacısekililer. Here, there are plenty of local restaurants and cafes. I had some authentic Turkish food that I’d never seen anywhere else. It was a huge thing, like two pizzas merged together into a big pie.

The views from the top and the bottom are both amazing.

16. Spend a Day or Two Down the Coast and See Phaselis

Yelena at Phaselis, Turkey.

Around 50km south of Antalya, down the coast line, you’ll find a few small towns with a much more laid back vibe. Kemer is the biggest, but Tekirova and Çamyuva are pretty cool too. If you enjoy swimming, hiking, and ancient sites, you should definitely base yourself in this region for a couple of days. Be wary though that during the winter these villages mostly close down and become ghost towns.

Climbing trees for the good shots.

There are dozens of hikes to do nearby, including to Phaselis, another ancient archaeological site that gets much less visitors than those closer to Antalya. The site itself is one of many along this coastline, and it’s a fun place to walk around. There’s plenty of chances to get off the beaten track and explore some of the hiking trails or craggy beaches in the area. You’ll also find a few caves with great views over the sea.

Hiking near Tekirova was one of our favourite things to do in Antalya.
The rope swing on a secluded beach near Tekirova.
Yelena and I on a hike near Tekirova.

Explore an abandoned theme park

I’m not sure if this place is still abandoned, but when I was there (in November 2021), there was an entire theme park that was completely abandoned in between Çamyuva and Phaselis. From empty bowling alleys, to abandoned roller coasters, there was even an entire hotel inside the theme park that was completely abandoned.

Broken windows inside the abandoned hotel.
Abandoned hotel views.
Looking down the abandoned spiral staircase in the empty theme park I found.

There were no fences or anything to prevent people walking in. It was completely open and there were some locals actually playing music and chilling where the pool used to be. You can even get up on the rooftop, or underground in what used to be a cave-like club.

It reminded me of Benitses, Corfu, where Yelena and I found an abandoned hotel on the side of the road and decided to explore.

17. Head Further Down the Coast to Olympos and Chimaera

The view over the beach from Olympos.

While it might be a bit of a rush to do it on a day trip from Antalya, it is possible. Olympos and Çirali, the two villages in question, are around 84 km southeast of Antalya. Here, you’ll find the mind-boggling mountainous ruins of Olympos. It has some crazy views.

Not just a great place to visit in the Antalya region, Olympos and Chimaera are top destinations in the entire country. Chimaera is the mountain behind the villages that has an eternal flame erupting from the mountain floor. If you head up to the top, you can even cook an egg there.

Like Tekirova and Çamyuva, Olympos and Çirali are great places to stay if you want the sun, sand, and history without the built-up tourist resorts that you’ll find along the best beaches in Antalya.

If you’re travelling through Turkey as part of a longer trip, you could stop off here on your way to Demre, another city full of well-preserved ancient ruins.

18. Try Authentic Turkish Cuisine at Can Can

If you want cheap and authentic Turkish food, you can’t miss out on Can Can. It’s a local restaurant a short walk from Hadrian’s Gate that fills up fast. There’s limited outdoor seats, but the place has an upstairs too where you should be able to get a table.

The people don’t speak great English and the menu is all in Turkish but you can see a lot of the food already prepared as if in a buffet. You can point or you can ask for a mix of everything which is what we recommend. We got enormous portions and tried a little bit of everything. It was more than we were expecting and it was probably 50% cheaper than any other place we visited.

Needless to say I went back a few more times.

General Tips and Advice for Visiting Antalya

Walking to Antalya from Trabenna!
  • Get an AntalyaKart. This is a card that you can use on all buses and trams in Antalya. The price of public transport is ridiculously low – to get to the airport from the city centre is less than £1. The Antalyakart does have a one-time fee when you first get the card. It’s around 25 TL, which at current prices is just over £1. You can get them from kiosks in the airport or at most of the tram stations, and top them up in the same place.
  • Try Turkish cuisine! Turkish food is amazing. While Gaziantep is the main food hub, you can still get plenty of authentic Turkish food in Antalya and the other towns mentioned in this list. Also, don’t leave without trying traditional Turkish delight. It’s probably not what you think if you’ve only tried mass-produced Turkish delights from Tesco or something. They also do amazing hummus and/or baba ganoush. We’ve added the recipes here so you can try them at home before or after your trip! 😉
  • Base yourself based on your preferences. If you’re a culture fan, you’ll want a hotel in Antalya old town. If you’re a beach-lover, you’ll be looking for a place near Lara Beach or Konyaalti Beach or even some of the other towns down the Turkish riviera. Of course, you can always fit both in, but it’s a good idea to base yourself depending on the things to do in Antalya that are top of your list.

Enjoy Your Trip to Antalya

A beautiful secluded beach near Phaselis.

Antalya has everything you could ever need. Steeped in history and with archaeological sites dotting the region like raindrops, it’s sure to be a great time for history buffs. Not to mention it has some of the best museums in the country. There’s also great nightlife in Antalya for any party people out there.

Antalya hotels tend to be pretty fairly priced for such a touristy town and flights to Antalya can be found for less than £70 return from London, depending on dates of course.

All in all, it’s a great seaside town with ruins, waterfalls, hikes, adventure activities, water activities, beaches, amazing food and nightlife. You really can’t go wrong.

If you aren’t going to Turkey any time soon, but want to taste authentic cuisine, you can cook it yourself with our Turkish recipes.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: