If Turkey is on your list of holiday destinations for 2012, then Antalya should be too. Our Turkey holidays expert, Lara Dunston, shares her hassle free guide to planning an affordable, low-stress, unforgettable holiday on the Turkish Riviera.
Abundant sunshine, long stretches of sand, and turquoise sea, combined with plenty of direct flights and countless resorts, has made Antalya Turkey’s most popular summer holiday destination. The fact that good beaches are on the doorstep of a lively city boasting one of the country’s most atmospheric old towns – complete with Roman walls, Ottoman-era architecture, traffic-free lanes, and a splendid harbour dotted with seafood restaurants – adds to Antalya’s allure. If that weren’t enough, the city has great shopping and eating, a dramatic mountain backdrop, and day-trips to do if you can drag yourself away from the beach.
When to go
Most Brits visit during the scorching summer from June to August when the beaches get busy, but Antalya is actually a brilliant year-round spot. The spring and autumn shoulder seasons of April-May and September-October are lovely, and (if you shelter from the wind) are warm enough to get a tan. Winter can be pleasant, with sunshine and clear skies even when it’s snowing in the mountains. However, it can also get damp, grey and decidedly chilly. Unlike some Med resorts, because Antalya is a living-breathing city, it’s open all year.
Getting the best deal
Turkey is no longer the bargain destination it was ten years ago, however, it’s still cheaper than Spain, France and Greece. Hotel prices are highest on weekends and high season and you’ll pay more for sea views at swanky resorts. Off-season and mid-week are when you’ll find deals. If you’re not intending to stray far from a sun-bed, choose an all-inclusive package. If you’re keen to explore, opt for bed and breakfast and dine in the city where you’ll find fantastic-value kebab joints. The waterfront seafood restaurants have the views but the best value grub is at backstreet eateries.
You don’t need shots and pharmaceuticals are reasonably priced. Take high-protection sunscreen, which is often marked up at resorts. Buy travel insurance to cover medical, flight cancellations, and theft.
Packing and Baggage
Don’t pack anything special, except perhaps your sun protection which can be pricier. Antalya is a sizeable city with great shopping in the centre and malls, such as Migros. Clothes and shoes are cheaper than in the UK – many European franchises get their stuff manufactured here – so you’ll find almost everything you can in the UK, along with cheap luggage to cart it home. If using a low cost airline with baggage charges, take the bare essentials, buy what you need there, and purchase kilos online for the return trip if needed.
Where can you fly from?
Low-cost and charter flights fly direct to Antalya in season from a handful of UK destinations, including London Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dublin. Turkish Airlines and BA fly year-round from Heathrow to Antalya, but it’s always via Istanbul where passengers have to change planes and in some cases with Turkish Airlines the flight also stops at Ankara as well.
Surviving the airport
Departing from less busy regional UK airports means less stress (easy parking, fewer hassles) even during peak periods when London airports get chaotic and there can be delays. Check your ticket for luggage allowances to avoid security hassles and pop cosmetics, liquids and gels up to 100mls into clear plastic re-sealable bags. Arriving at Antalya’s compact airport is a breeze. Get your tourist visa, valid for up to 90 days, on arrival (£10). Ensure you don’t overstay; you can be fined, detained, deported, and even banned from re-entering Turkey. Brits who want to stay longer are advised by the Turkish authorities and the Foreign Office to apply for a residence visa!
Antalya International Airport (http://www.aytport.com/), Turkey’s busiest, is 14km east of the centre. It’s around 20km/30 minutes drive to Lara Beach east of Antalya and 20-25km/35-40 minutes to Konyaaltı Beach in Antalya’s western suburbs. If you’re intending to spend your holiday on the beach, organize a transfer through your hotel (many offer free shuttles) or take a taxi (from £10-20 depending where you stay; a few £ more between 12-6am). Cheap public buses (less than £1) into the centre leave every 30 minutes. If you’re planning on doing day-trips, book a rental car to collect at the airport.
Once you are there
Fun on the first night
Get yourself into Antalya’s old centre to enjoy an evening by the sea. Take a taxi to the eastern end of leafy Karaalioglu Park and wander westward along the cliff tops to savour the ocean views, buy a chewy Turkish ice-cream, and admire the dramatic Bey Mountains. In between, take in the park action – kids playing, families picnicking, and couples canoodling. Once at the ancient fortress tower, you’ll see the entrance to the old city, Kaleiçi. Amble the traffic-free lanes of atmospheric Kaleiçi with its Ottoman-era palaces (most remodelled into boutique hotels), souvenir shops, art galleries, cafés, and bars, gradually making your way to the Roman harbour.
On your way down enjoy a cold Efes beer at the terrace café-bar on the hillside with sea views. Politely decline the offer of mussels from the kids selling them on the stairs – you don’t know how long they’ve been in the sun. Take your time strolling around the harbour (locals eat late), checking out the private yachts, party boats, and fishing vessels. For dinner, try swish Club Arma on the hillside overlooking the harbour for quality seafood or for a local experience follow Iskele Cadessi up the hill to Atatürk Caddesi and Dönerci Çarşısı (doner sellers market) where a handful of cheap eateries sell delicious döner kebabs, köfte, and midye (mussels) – which you can safely eat from here.
Practical considerations for planning an itinerary
If you’ve checked into one of the many charming boutique hotels in the Ottoman-era buildings that line the lanes of traffic-free Kaleiçi, you can walk everywhere to explore the well-preserved old city within the Roman walls.
Old city sights are few – it’s more about the atmosphere, architecture and harbour – however, do check out the colossal marble Hadrian’s Gate (Hadriyanüs Kapısı), built to honour Roman emperor Hadrian, the Roman-era Clock Tower (Saat Kulesi) and pretty 13th century Yivli Minare, a unique fluted Seljuk-era minaret; adjoining it is Güzel Sanatlar Galerisi, a fine art gallery with changing exhibitions.
Best time to photograph the old city is late afternoon when the light turns the sandstone buildings a golden colour.
A must-do is a steam, scrub-bath and massage (£8-16) at the Seljuk-era Sefa Hammam, a restored 13th century bathhouse at Kocatepe Sokak 32. It’s open 9am-11pm but if you leave it too late you’ll be falling asleep in your kebabs – although a strong Turkish coffee should give you a kick.
Outside the walls, visit the old Bazaar or Çarşısı, north of Atatürk Caddesi, in the morning or late afternoon; not around lunchtime when many shops shut. Don’t miss the medieval-like blacksmiths alley.
If you only visit one museum, make it Antalya Museum, on Cumhuriyet Caddesi, near Konyaaltı Beach. Turkey’s finest archaeological museum, it has a priceless collection of relics, including 2nd and 3rd century statues in the Hall of Emperors. It’s open Tuesday-Sunday, 9am-7.30pm April to October and 8.30am-5pm November to March. Allow 1-2 hours.
If you’re here for the beach, your options are Konyaaltı Beach, in Antalya’s western suburbs, and a 10-minute tram ride away, or Lara Beach 30-45 minutes drive to the west of Antalya. (You can find out more in our Best of the Best of Antalya article.)
The most popular day trip is a cruise along the coast on a traditional Turkish gulet. Choose your boat and buy your tickets from Kaleiçi’s Roman harbour, which is where boats depart each morning. Head here early evening when they’re returning to make your choice; avoid the ones blaring dance music.
Other popular day-trips – by tour bus or self-driving (driving is easy and roads well sign-posted) – include the Roman theatre of Aspendos (50km/1hr), the beaches at Side (75km/90mins), and the charming traditional towns of Kaş (187km/3hrs) and Kalkan (215km/4hrs), accessible by a dramatic drive along the E90 which hugs the coast west of Antalya.
Antalya Hassle Free – the map
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Antalya’s compact airport may see more tourists passing through than Istanbul’s – it’s the country’s busiest – however it’s well organized and rarely seems chaotic. Two hours is plenty of time to check in for international flights, and if you’ve time to spare there’s a bar, bistro, café, and a handful of fast-food places, as well as some 24-hour duty free shops, including a Turkish Bazaar-style shop in case you forgot to buy souvenirs for loved-ones.
Make your holiday last longer by sharing your experiences with family and friends back home. Upload your photos to Facebook for easy sharing with Facebook friends or add them to the Antalya Flickr users groups (http://www.flickr.com/groups/antalya_city/). Online photo developing sites like Photobox also enable you to create fantastic looking photos albums. You can share your Antalya tips on Trip Advisor’s Antalya and Turkish Med forums to help other people planning a holiday.
Official Turkey Tourism Portal: http://www.goturkey.com/
Turkey Travel Planner: http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/
Antalya Airport: http://www.aytport.com/
Antalya Airport Taxi: http://www.antalyaairporttaxi.net/index.php?ln=eng#
British Embassy in Turkey: http://ukinturkey.fco.gov.uk/
Foreign and Commonwealth Office Turkey advice page:
Expat Forum Turkey site: http://www.expatforum.com/expats/turkey-expat-forum-expats-living-turkey/