This May I took my first ever trip to Turkey, where I spent 10 days driving along the country’s ‘Turquoise Coast’, also know as the ‘Turkish Riviera’.
Our route followed alongside the Lycian Way, which is considered one of the world’s greatest long-distance hiking trails. Although I avoided most strenuous activity during my holiday, I did explore a lot of what this amazing region has to offer and my preconceptions were blown out of the (oh so clear blue) water!
Travelling via Istanbul, Justin and I flew into Antalya, which is where we spent our first 24 hours in Turkey. Here we discovered a city overflowing with history, culture, flowers and friendly faces.
Our travel agent, InnTravel, booked us into a wonderful little hotel in the heart of the old city, Kaleici, and so we spent what little time we had in the city exploring it’s most picturesque district.
Kaleici – Antalya’s old city
Kaleici is made up of a warren of quaint cobbled streets, and even though its now mainly home to tourist shops, cafes and boutique hotels, it’s still an absolutely lovely area to wander around. Flowers are growing up walls or flowing out of windows everywhere you look, and all the old houses, cafes and bars have their own unique look. From here you can head down to the port and the city’s tiny beach, or head down to the sea front by the cliffs for amazing views out over the water and the mountains.
Some cafes – especially near the waterfront – were quite expensive, but further in were small cafes with tasty, cheap food. Here is also the spot to buy tourist tat in Antalya – the usual suspects such as Turkish evil eyes, hats, turkish delight, crockery, baklava and teas are all on sale. Although selling stuff, all the shop owners were friendly and respectful, happy to chat with you and always trying to offer a taste of their wares. After some bad experiences of bazaars in Cairo I’d come to Turkey quite cautious of being harassed, so it was lovely to have those concerns put to bed so quickly.
Historical sights not to miss in Antalya
Kaleici is home to many of the city’s main Roman sites, and there are several free walking tours you can take, which I’d definitely recommend.
As we were tight on time this option wasn’t for us though, so instead we grabbed an old town map from our hotel and went out exploring.
Our first stop was Hadrian’s Gate, which was built for his namesake when he visited the city in 130AD. It was pretty inspiring to walk over the same path he took as the original Roman walkway is still there, complete with deep grooves created by the countless carts that must have passed through the city gates.
It was odd for the area not to be protected from visitors – I’m used to historical sites being behind gates but this feel of ‘accessible history’ stayed with me throughout my Turkey trip, as we wandered – and clambered freely around and in ancient Lycian cities. Very few weren’t open to adventurous tourists or the elements.
From Hadrian’s Gate we decided to just wander the streets and take in the sights, eventually meandering down past the Kesik Minaret to the Roman Hidirlik Tower and Karaalioglu Park. This we discovered is where the locals go to take their wedding photos, so sneaking out of their frame, we found a spot by the cliff front and sat in the shade to admire the view.
We did make the effort to venture just outside the old town however, as we went up to the old city walls to check out the Kaleici clock tower and Yivli Minaret. Here I came across a lovely surprise – between the two was a strange little ‘cat sanctuary’, with houses for the cats to shelter from the sun or cold. Here you could donate to a small team who look after the street cats, with signs explaining that your money goes towards inoculations, neutering and vet treatment if needed. Of course I popped in some spare change and as I turned to leave a smiling man ran over to give me a little keyring in thanks.
Across the road from the old town was a totally different vibe – a bustling shopping area with a more modern bazaar selling clothes, shoes and tourist gifts. We took a short stroll around the area, stopping for some tasty ice cream at Gelatte before heading back to our hotel.
Unfortunately we had to leave earlier than we’d have liked in order to go pick up our hire car and hit the road, but for those with the afternoon to spare, many, many locals and travellers we met on our trip recommended visiting the Antalya Museum.
The Antalya Museum
The Antalya Museum is one of the biggest in Turkey, with 13 exhibition halls and an open air gallery. For lovers of history this is a must visit, especially, if like me, you were visiting the region to see some of its many, many ancient ruins.
Here visitors are able to get a much better understanding of the sites they have seen, or are going to see, as many of the exhibits originally come from local Roman ruins such as Perge and Termessos. I’ve been told that you can easily while away half a day here. Many of the signs have English translations and audio guides are available, and as I discovered there’s very little information at the ancient ruins themselves, so this is somewhere I really wish I’d had the chance to visit.
Where to eat and drink in Kaleici
Sadly we did not have enough time in Antalya to visit all the beautiful cafes and restaurants we passed during our short visit, but one I can definitely recommend from experience is Tarihi Eminönü Kahvecisi 1853. We stopped here several times for snacks and drinks, both during the day and evening. I loved the armchairs outside under the massive umbrellas and the vibe was very chilled with a mix of local generations meeting for dinner, whilst groups of younger friends chatted over a shisha.
Where to stay in Antalya
I would most definitely recommend booking a hotel, pension or B&B in the heart of the old town; it’s just the best way to experience the city. Our one night was spent at the Atelya Art Hotel, which was achingly beautiful.
Walk through the old heavy wooden gates into its open courtyard, which is blooming with flowers, and an epic giant cactus! It’s all period features, which includes the second set of giant doors, which were originally the entrance for the horses and camels!
We were taken up creeky wooden steps to our second floor room, which came replete with quirky narrow doorways and a large balcony looking out over the courtyard and an excavation site next door where they were working on uncovering another ancient discovery.
The room was a bit musty smelling – adding to the whole feel of the place! – but the bed was comfy, the shower was powerful and the aircon worked perfectly. We had everything we needed.
In the morning we headed down to the courtyard for breakfast by the pool. This was a traditional spread of cheese, salad and omelettes with Turkish tea and coffee, which set us up perfectly for the day. The manager and owner invited us back for tea a little later in the day and we had a good laugh with the other members of staff we saw during our visit. We also loved meeting the hotel’s pet tortoise who we also shared our breakfast with! They were all a really lovely bunch and the hotel’s a perfect spot for a short break in Antalya.
We only just touched on what the city of Antalya had to offer, but just from our short visit here I would definitely recommend it to others and would love to return. It was the perfect start to our Turkish road trip adventure – stay tuned to discover how the holiday progressed in the next few weeks!