Antalya area holidays don’t discriminate between sand and sightseeing aficionados. You’ll see historic sites go tit-for-tat with beaches.
The natural look
With the Taurus Mountains for a backdrop and the Mediterranean Sea front and centre, the Antalya area’s lucked out in the scenery stakes. The Karain Cave – once believed to be home to Neanderthal dwellers – dates back up to 200,000 years. Capping it all off is the Manavgat Waterfall – this natural wonder’s such a crowd-pleaser that it was once pictured on Turkish banknotes.
Best for beaches
White sands are part and parcel for Antalya and its neighbours. Lara Beach is one of the most popular picks for visitors, with hotels behind it that need to be seen to be believed. One mimics a giant cruise liner, and there are others designed to look like Concorde and the Kremlin. A huge sandcastle competition dominates parts of the beach every year, too. Head either way along the coastline, and you’ll find quieter sunbathing spots like Belek and Kemer.
Ask to see this area’s culture credentials, and you’ll be bowled over by the response. Alanya’s old quarter, Kaleici, is brimming with ageing architecture. There’s an Ottoman-era clock tower, the ancient ruins of a Roman place of worship, and triple-arched Hadrian’s Gate. Trace your finger along the coastline to Side, and things map out in a similar fashion. The seafront’s dragged back through the centuries by the Temple of Apollo, and the countryside in the background’s home to a near-intact open-air amphitheatre.
Things to See and Do in Antalya area
When it comes to beaches, Antalya boasts a winning hand. This region in Turkey’s deep south has a coastline crammed with stretches of sand and shingle. In places like Lara Beach and Belek, the beaches come lively, while smaller resorts like Alanya, Kemer and Manavgat turn the pace down a good few notches.
The big beach
In the summer months, most holidaymakers hotfoot it to Lara Beach. Set in the resort of the same name, it’s a long stretch of gingerbread-coloured sand and pebbles. The waters here are pretty calm, so it’s a great spot for little ones to splash about. Take a packed lunch with you – there’s a lovely park backing the sand with a picnic and barbecue area.
The secret beach
If peace and quiet is more your thing, head to the tiny village of Cirali, about half an hour's drive from Kemer. The beach here is a three-kilometre sweep of sand, flanked by dramatic mountains. It’s a protected spot – loggerhead turtles nest here – so you won’t find row upon row of loungers and parasols. Instead, you get empty sands and inviting waters. And when lunchtime rolls around, the village has a handful of simple restaurants serving up fresh fish and tasty Turkish dishes.
The place to be in Antalya on a Saturday morning is its weekly bazaar. It’s across the road from the Laura Market, which is actually a shopping centre. And in its winding streets, you’ll find everything from fake D&G bags and Prada shoes to leather belts and silver jewellery. You’ll find the same sort of stuff in Manavgat’s Monday market, too. It’s in the town centre and runs from 8am ‘til around 5pm.
Smaller centres like Kemer and Belek aren’t the places for die-hard shoppers – places like Antalya and Lara have far more options. What you will find in Kemer and Belek, though, are shops selling local stuff like olive oil and hand-embroidered tablecloths. If you’re in Kemer, don’t miss its Sunday Folks Bazaar opposite the bus terminal. It’s the place to buy handmade jewellery.
For a serious shopping expedition, head to Lara’s shopping centres. Here, in places like Deepo Outlet Centre – where there are more than 80 shops – and the Laura Market, you’ll find everything from designer clobber to expensive gold and silver jewellery. Plus, they’ve also got restaurants if a meal is in order.
The nightlife in Lara and Belek is all about traditional music and bellydancing shows, both of which take to the stage in hotels around the resorts. Antalya’s old town, meanwhile, is the place for old-fashioned lantern-lit restaurants. You’ll find them within the old castle walls. For fish restaurants, though, your best bet is the strip along the harbour.
Get your evening off to a good start with a textbook Turkish meal and shisha pipe in Side’s old town, before heading to the cocktail bars around the Temple of Apollo. If you fancy hitting the clubs, you’ll find some down by the harbour. Alanya has plenty of party places by its harbour, too. And in Antalya, you’ll find a good mix of late-night offerings down by the marina.
You’ll never settle for a traditional kebab again after giving this version a try. The testi kebab is a mix of lamb, peppers and tomatoes that are mixed together and sealed in a clay jar. The whole lot is cooked over a coal fire and, when it’s time to eat, the jar is carefully smashed open.
Forget pizzas. börek is the way forward when it comes to takeaway food here. You’ll find street sellers whipping up these savoury pancakes on hot griddles everywhere. Fillings-wise, we’re talking spinach, cheese, potato, courgette or lamb. The whole lot is then finished off with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Never heard of okum? You have – it’s just another name for Turkish delight. You’ll find this soft sweet everywhere in Antalya. If you can, bypass the boxed stuff from the souvenir stores and try the ones in coffee shops instead. They’re sweet, come in loads of flavours and are worryingly more-ish.
A salty yoghurt drink? It’s not as strange as it sounds. Ayran is made with a mix of yoghurt and water, plus a dash of salt. It's drunk cold, and you’ll find it on restaurant menus to be served with kebabs and rice dishes. Plus, it’s highly recommended for people with headaches, fevers and dehydration.
This firewater has the nickname 'lion’s milk', and it certainly packs serious punch. Taste-wise, it’s similar to ouzo and sambuca, and it’s served with meze and seafood dishes. And – despite its reputation with party animals – it’s supposed to be served with water, and sipped rather than slammed.
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Belek is a relatively new kid on the block. About 30 years ago, this small spot on the Turkish Riviera got the builders in, and now what you’ve got is a custom-made resort chock-full of luxury hotels and golf courses. You’ll find that it’s mainly All Inclusive territory here, though there are a few traditional eating places dotted around.
You’ll need to pick up your jaw after laying eyes on the landscape that surrounds Kemer. The lofty Olympos Mountains rear up in the background, with cable cars bobbing up and down in front of them. The silhouetted Taurus Mountains come into focus at the seafront, and big portions of the Olympos National Park fan out around the buzzy town centre.
Lara Beach is like one big movie set. Situated on Turkey’s south coast, the resort is a showy line-up of luxury hotels designed to look like famous landmarks. So don’t be surprised to see the Kremlin sitting next to the Titanic. The real star here, though, is the beach – all eight kilometres of it.
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