Welcome to Antalya – Turkey’s beautiful Mediterranean resort town! It’s a welcoming gateway to the Turkish Riviera, also called “Turquoise Coast” because of its lovely blue waters. Antalya has a population of one million but when it comes to tourists, over 10 times that number visit the city each year!
However, Antalya is so much more than just a typical beach town. In fact, on my visit there, I never even saw the main beaches. Happily, we spent all our time exploring Antalya’s charming old town – which is surrounded by ancient stone walls & filled with pedestrian-friendly cobblestone streets, beautiful Ottoman-era houses, old mosques with tall elegant minarets, and the incredibly picturesque old Roman harbor (above).
I was excited to finally explore Turkey via an excellent 2-week cultural tour with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) in 2015. It is a fascinating country, indeed! After touring Istanbul & the Cappadocia region, we worked our way down to the southern Mediterranean coast for two delightful days in Antalya. (see map). And, as you will see, you can easily spend much more time here!
In deciding how best to share with you why Antalya is so special, we all know photos can tell the story much better than words. So, I created this Antalya “Photo Essay” blog post with my favorite sights and experiences – mostly from the historic old town area. I hope you will be inspired to add Antalya to your own travel dream list!
Like most visitors, you will undoubtedly be captivated by Antalya’s Old Harbor (above) which is dripping with picturesque charm! The harbor is lined by remnants of ancient Roman walls from the days when Antalya was a major Roman port. Today, the busy harbor teems with colorful boats and yachts.
The Old Harbor is a great place for leisurely exploration – including watching the boats coming and going while soaking up beautiful seaside views. You can pretty much walk all around the harbor, including on the breakwater (above) where my friend Carol posed for a photo. The harbor is to the left & the swim beach is behind on the middle right (closeup next photo).
This is beautiful Mermerli Beach with its protected cove, where you can sunbathe and swim in warm, clear waters. Perched above – atop ancient Roman walls – is the Mermerli restaurant. It’s a great place to watch the sunset & feast on freshly caught fish. Yes, we did just that one evening!
At Mermerli Beach, you can relax on a “sunbed” – a lounge chair sitting on a wooden platform above the water. While I was enjoying my Turkish bath, two of my friends came here for a nice long swim. The entry fee is around $5 USD which includes the sunbed, umbrella, and a changing room with showers. So wonderfully Mediterranean, isn’t it!
Antalya’s Old Harbor is filled with a wide variety of colorful boats – a real mix of old & new. There are also many wooden galleons – old square-rigged sailing ships – berthed here.
The Old Harbor has many tour boats, vying for the attention of passing tourists. They are often creatively decorated & themed, like this “Pirates of the Caribbean” boat. Sadly, we didn’t have time to take a boat tour. But, apparently, they offer a variety of trips, including along the coastline and out to some waterfalls and caves.
Southeast of the Old Harbor, you’ll find this wide plaza with grand views of the sea & the Western Taurus Mountains which hug the Mediterranean coastline. From here, you can walk along a pretty seaside promenade to a couple more plazas and a tree-filled city park. Get your camera ready!
I was intrigued by this cool statue as we strolled along Antalya’s seaside promenade. The stone statue had no description plaque so it’s a bit of a mystery. Do you think this was meant to be Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha?
Antalya’s old town is called Kaleiçi (KAH-leh-ee-chee) in Turkish. It was first a Roman town, then Byzantine, then Seljuk Turkish, and finally part of the Ottoman empire. However, most of Antalya’s historic architecture dates to the medieval Ottoman period (starting from 1391). That is what gives Antalya’s charming old city its Turkish-Islamic character – including the tall stone minarets you can see in this photo.
You can’t miss the red-bricked “Fluted Minaret” – one of Antalya’s best-known landmarks. This 8-fluted minaret is part of the historical Yivli Minare Mosque, which was first built in 1230 by a Seljuk sultan. The minaret is 38 meters (125 ft.) tall, with 90 steps to the top. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to climb it. But hopefully, you will. I am sure there will be some amazing views from the top!
The beautiful old stone Clock Tower is another of Antalya’s classic landmarks. Standing at the entrance to Old Town, the tall tower is very helpful for orienting us visitors – and letting us know the local time. The Clock Tower is the last survivor of the ancient citadel’s 80 towers that once surrounded the city. Note the red Turkish flag flying on the top.
Adjacent to Antalya’s old town, this popular square in the more modern Kale Kapisi district is a great place to dip your toes on a hot day. It’s also perfect for your photo opps – thanks to the scenic backdrop of the Clock Tower & the Pasa Mosque’s many domes and tall minaret.
Built in the 18th century, the Tekeli Mehmet Pasa Mosque is one of the most important Ottoman mosques in Antalya. It consists of one main central dome, a few smaller domes & semi-domes, and a beautiful tall, slender minaret. Apparently, it is simply decorated and very peaceful inside – and it’s open to visitors.
Massive stone walls were built as fortification in the 2nd century AD to guard Antalya’s harbor and the ancient city surrounding the harbor. Some remains of the city walls still stand today, including the Clock Tower and this tower.
This narrow cobblestone street leads from the Clock Tower area into the Old City & down the hill to the Marina (Old Harbor). Many of the streets are filled with shops and vendor stalls selling items of interest to the tourists. Aren’t these old stone walls atmospheric?
Do you love to wander the back streets of a city, like I do – exploring the “real life” of its residents? I caught this local man refilling his water jug from an ancient fountain in Antalya’s old town (Kaleici).
These steps lead up to the “Feza Bar” – which sits atop Antalya’s historic city walls. The small bar offers great views of the Old Harbor below. It’s part of the Tutav CH Hotel, which has incorporated the old walls and some tunnels into its modern upscale hotel. The Tutav CH is certainly worth a visit & possibly a drink at the Feza Bar or a meal out on the lovely patio of the Terrace Bar (where these steps begin).
Hadrian’s Gate is another “must see” Antalya sight, and it can be done quickly! This triumphal arch was built to commemorate the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s visit to Antalya in AD 130. It is the only remaining entrance gate in the walls that surround the city and harbor.
Hadrian’s gate was restored in 1959, and the pavement was stripped away to reveal the original Roman era walkway. This can be viewed through plexiglass flooring under the center arch. Looking down, you can see deep grooves where the pavement was worn away by countless carts & chariots passing in and out of the city.
This view of Hadrian’s Gate is from the other side. Stone towers stand on either side of the gate. This Northern tower dates back to Seljuk times. The Southern tower (partially visible in the first photo) belongs to the Roman era.
Here is a typical street in Antalya’s well-restored old city – narrow, cobblestoned, and lined with colorful and historic wooden & stone Ottoman-era houses. Many of the streets have cute shops, restaurants & cafes. You can spend hours wandering the streets of Antalya’s old town, exploring & soaking in the charming ambiance.
However, Antalya’s charm isn’t limited just to its historic sights and beautiful architecture. On an equal par is the warmth & friendliness of the local Turkish people. I met these four older gentlemen while walking the same street shared in the prior photo. In fact, they invited me to join them for coffee! It was such fun that I wrote a whole blog post about the experience entitled: Meet the Locals: My Delightful Turkish Coffee Date in Antalya.
We may talk about “women who do lunch.” What about “men who do coffee”? Ah, yes, it’s Turkey where drinking a good strong cup of Turkish coffee (or tea) & socializing with friends is the national pastime!
I came across this bride & groom walking through Antalya’s old town streets. They were on a mission with their photographer searching for good wedding photo locations. I love the sweet smile on this young bride’s face & her practical shoes for the cobblestone streets (top pic)!
While in Turkey, I fell in love with their traditional “simit” – a tasty circular bread that looks like the offspring of a bagel & a pretzel to me! Near our hotel in old town, we met this friendly simit street vendor who was carrying a full load of simits atop a tray on his head.
He told us the tray weighed around 25 pounds when full. He graciously posed for members of our group & then rewarded each of us with a fresh simit. It might be a close call, but I love the incredibly warm & fun-spirited Turkish people even more than the simits!
Another thing I find irresistible about Turkey is their ice cream – and the always playful ice cream vendors! Traditional Turkish ice cream is very chewy & thick with an elastic texture so it’s resistant to melting on hot summer days. Yum!
The ice cream vendors love to dress up – often a bit outrageously – to attract sweet-craving customers. Once they’ve reeled you in, watch out! These guys love to do some type of “ice cream performance art” with fun teasing before finally handing over your cone or cup.
Speaking again of simits, I stopped for a quick lunch at this bakery/café while cruising Antalya’s pedestrian shopping street in the modern city. As you can see, they had simits for sale. I enjoyed chatting with the café’s two very delightful staff – who were gracious to also pose for my camera.
Then there’s the traditional Turkish kebab – called döner kebab – made of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. The seasoned meat is turned slowly on the rotisserie, next to a vertical cooking element. I learned that doner kebab, which originated in Turkey, was first created by the Ottomans in the 18th century. Add this one to your “trivia question” repertoire!
Turkey is a country of exotic spices & delicious sounding teas. Even their shop displays are colorful & exotic! While in Turkey, I drank a lot of apple tea – or is that Apfel Tee?
We passed these beautiful, colorful wooden & stone homes on our walk through a different part of Old Town – en route to the City Park and coastline promenade. It appears some of the homes have been turned into boutique hotels, with a team of people needed to maintain the lush landscaping.
The Antalya Archeological Museum (Muzesi) is considered one of Turkey’s best! I’m not really a museum person, but it’s definitely worth a short visit. The museum is packed with items from many different periods – including Neolithic, Pre-Classical, Hellenic, and Roman. What makes it especially “personal” is that many items have come from nearby excavations, like Perge, in the surrounding Mediterranean / Pamphylia region.
This beautiful dark & light marble statue is aptly named “The Dancer.” The dancing woman came from Perge, and dates from 2nd Century AD. Perge (or Perga) was an ancient Anatolian city, beginning around 1000 BC. It was once the capital of Pamphylia Secunda. Today, Perge is the large site of ancient ruins, located just a short 15 km (9 miles) east of Antalya.
Sometimes I enjoy the “aesthetics” of a museum as much as the cool artifacts housed in them. Case in point: the Sarcophagus Hall in the Antalya Museum. Don’t you love the look of this room with its rich red walls, polished black floors, and white marble statues & sarcophagi from ancient Roman times? The mood-lighting also helps!
This close-up of one of the Sarcophagi shows you the ornate marble carvings. It’s titled “The Dionysus Sarcophagus of the Attic Type” and the plaque says it came from Perge, 3rd C. AD. Dionysus was god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine – also known as Bacchus (by the Romans). You can see some grape leaves in the carvings & what looks like a lot of cavorting!
We have reached the end of the Photo Essay. On a closing note: After a long day of touring Antalya, you might be looking for a way to rejuvenate and reenergize. You can always do as the local Turks do and visit a traditional Turkish Bath (photo above). I did exactly that and it was a great experience that I highly recommend! Check out my blog post to learn all about it: Visiting an Authentic Turkish Bath (Hamam) in Antalya.
COMMENTS: Have you been inspired to visit Antalya one day? What sights most excite you? Did anything surprise you?