I said ‘no way’. You see, while we were hopping around the Greek Islands, my friends said ‘let's go to Turkey’. I had preconceived ideas that Turkey would be awful. I don't know why. Thankfully I was out-voted because I was about to discover all these beautiful places while travelling along the Turkish Riviera. 

It was fascinating to find that each town along Turkeys’ turquoise coast had its own unique attraction. Its own claim to fame. Something to offer that no other place had. How pleasantly surprised I was to explore all its natural, man-made and historical beauty.  

In this blog I will detail for you what each destination has to offer, as we made our way along the Turkish coastline from west to east. Then you can decide which part of the Turkish Riviera you would like to visit, that suits your travel groove. Or, if you simply can't choose one destination, then you can follow along our Turkish coast road trip.

Kusadasi – for ruins and baths 

overlooking another port town along the Turkish Riviera, called Kusadasi

Getting there:  we took a 1.5-hour ferry ride from the Greek Island of Samos. Or fly into Izmir International Airport and then take a scheduled bus transfer for the 66km (41miles) ride to Kusadasi. 

The touristy town of Kusadasi is a good starting point to begin the coastal tour. A harbour town rich in history with many old buildings to visit. It's known for bargain shopping with lots of Turkish rug shops. Don’t miss the Wednesday markets for clothes, handbags and textiles.  

And it has a lively nightlife, full of cafes and bars. Bar Street is a must if you want to dance until dawn. Or for more choice and character, go to the old part of town called Kaleici. Unfortunately, the beaches are not much to rave about as, when compared what you will see further along the coast. I find it too commercialised lined with large resorts. 

But there are two interesting spots you must visit, which are located out of town. 

Ephesus 

A 20 to 60 minute drive away (depends if you go by car or bus) you’ll find the most well preserved and beautiful ancient ruin in Turkey. Efes (in Turkish) main attraction is strolling down Marble Street to Celsus Library. 

ancient ruins of a two storey library facade

Celsus Library, Ephesus.

It’s amazing how well the intricate details of the façade were kept intact after centuries buried in sand. The rest of the ruins look pale in comparison. 

TG Tip:  Go early in the morning to avoid the heat. And to avoid crowds and tourist buses. I would recommend taking a private transfer early from your hotel. 

Optional:

If you have the time, consider spending the night at the nearby farming village of Selcuk. A couple of suggestions for you:

two storey hotel in natural stone overlooking pool

Tastefully decorated in Turkish style. Comfortable rooms. Located in a quiet area of town with great views. Relaxed atmosphere.

Evening photo looking upwards on a natural stone two storey hotel.

A stylishly decorated boutique hotel with friendly service. And exceptional breakfast is included.

Tours:
sunset over ephesus ruins and  turkish riviera

Click above or the image to check out Viators selection of private and group tours to Ephesus from either Kusadasi or Selcuk.

Pamukkale

Getting there: Fly from Istanbul to Denizli airport and then a 1-hour shuttle bus ride to Pamukkale centre. Or take a 3-hour train from Selcuk (Ephesus) to Denizli, then hop on a 15-minute bus to Pamukkale. Alternatively, from Kusadasi take Pamukkale Coaches, located on the harbour front. Travel time varies as it took our bus 4 hours to Pamukkale and 3 hours to come back. 

While in Turkey, you must have a Turkish bath. We went to one in Kusadasi. First we sweated it all out in a steam room. Then they placed us on a cold stone table for our massage. No gentle massage at this place. Was a shock to be flipped around on concrete but we couldn’t stop laughing. The Turks thought it was funny too. 

Or you can have a natural bath.  A 3-hour scenic drive to Pamukkale (Cotton Palace) brings you to the most unique and extraordinary landscape I’ve ever seen. 

aqua coloured water in white calcium rock pools nestled into the hillside

Pamukkale

Once you arrive at the small village of Pamukkale, you can see the aqua coloured rock pools descending down the mountainside opposite. The series of white terraced basins that encompass these pools are made of white travertine. Formed when calcium carbonate in the natural spring water hits the open air as it flows over the edges. It looks amazing while overlooking the high mountains and lush green plains below. 

I was fortunate to visit in the time we were allowed to walk and soak in these pool. Even put mud packs on our faces. But today its protected to avoid total destruction by ‘human’ pollution. However, you can walk around them with shoes off. Note, lately I have seen some recent blog posts where the traveller was able to take a dip.  

Optional: 

Stay overnight in the village of Pamukkale. So you can have time to wander through the ancient city of Hierapolis, such as Cleopatra Pools and the ancient theatre. Or treat yourself to a thermal spa hotel which are located 5km out of town. 

3 storey white hotel with wooden archway entrance

An exceptional and comfortable budget hotel located in the centre. Super filling Turkish breakfast included.

hotel courtyard with pool, lounge chair, table and cocktail

for something more upmarket without the price tag. Excellent courtyard with outdoor pool.

Tours:
people swimming in a natural looking pool filled with hot spring water

Click above or the image to check out Viator's selection of private and group tours to Pamukkale and the hot springs of Hierapolis.

Bodrum – for the best nightlife 

the port town of Bodrum at night with multi coloured lights reflecting on the water

Getting there:  Frequent buses from Kusadasi or Pamukkale. Or fly directly into Bodrum International Airport. 

Bodrum is a colourful town in more ways than one. Choose between the modern new town or the traditional old town. It has a beautiful harbour lined with wooden yachts. All the beaches are out of town though but serviced regularly by the local dolmus (minibus). The further you go, the nicer the beach. 

The city sights include Bodrum Castle on the peninsula and the delicious fruit markets. Great shopping streets abound too by following the cobbled streets from the water front. 

However, the main attraction seems to be the active and lively nightlife. You have the thumping nightlife of Gumbet Bar Street, west of the harbour. A waterside strip of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Each one competing who can play their music the loudest. Some even have impressive light shows to grab your attention. Or live shows. The choice is yours. 

Then you have Bodrum Bar Street, a nick name for Cumhuriyet Street, that extends east from Bodrum Castle. A line of beachfront bars and cafes, with tables and chairs sitting on sand. And sophisticated shopping streets behind. If noise and crowds are not on your thing, you can always opt to stay at any of the secluded resorts outside of town. 

Best hotels to stay:
white washed hotel with colourful trimmings, cobblestone paving and a pool

Located city centre but far enough away from evening noise. Decorated nicely with a fusion of Greek and Mexican colour styles.

overlooking the turkish riviera from a balcony with a bottle of wine and 2 glasses on a table

Pamper yourself with a bit of luxury with breaking the bank. Dine or have relaxing drinks on the rooftop with fantastic views over the harbour.

Tours:
a bay along the turkish riviera with crystal clear waters and several boats of all sizes.

Click above or the image to check out Viator's selection of day trips from Bodrum, if you do manage to wake up early after dancing the night away!

Dalyan – a base for nature 

Get off the beaten track for a short while with a stopover in Dalyan. A small village a short distance inland but use as a base to visit the following natural attractions: 

  • Kaunos – ancient ruin city with impressive Lycian rock tombs. 
  • Sultaniye – visit this nearby village for a thermal mud bath experience. 
  • Iztuzu Beach (or Turtle Beach) – famous for being the breeding ground for the endangered loggerhead sea turtles. 
  • Koycegiz Lake and town – for nature buffs and to witness the mirror-like waters early in the morning. 

Fethiye – the best turquoise-coloured waters 

overlooking the harbour of Fethiye with its many boats along the turkish riviera

Continuing eastwards, the picturesque natural harbour and village of Fethiye is a definite must on your list. It faces the inviting deep blue waters, surrounded by a huge mountain range as a backdrop. Absolutely stunning. You really do feel like you’re in a tiny bit of paradise. 

A walk along the harbour front is lined with little signs advertising boat tours. You quickly get the idea what the major activity is here. 

“12 Island Cruise”

Spend a relaxing day sailing around a group of islands called ’12 Islands’ on a traditional wooden Turkish boat. Note that you actually sail to six of them on the cruise.  

The boat anchors at shore so you can straight onto the island itself. Or you can jump into the crystal-clear blue water from the back of the boat, as the sea bed drops off quickly in a short distance from shore.  We swam at Flat Island. Lunched at another, which is included in the price. A highlight was Cleopatra’s Bath, an old Turkish bath ruin partly submerged under water. You can either walk over it or snorkel around it. 

Other options include full day boat trips to Dalyan. And for the more adventurous, why not partake in multi day gullet cruises to Olympos and beyond, instead of by road. 

exploring the turkish riviera coast on a traditional wooden boat anchored in turquoise coloured waters

Click above or the image to check out Viator's selection of boat tours to 12 Islands, Blue Lagoon and other options.

Oludeniz Beach: 

Turkish riviera aerial shot of beach and lagoon surrounded by lush mountains

Blue Lagoon centre, Oludeniz Beach on the right.

If cruises are not your thing, you can still capture the beauty from land. Oludeniz Beach is 12km away, about a 30-minute drive on the local Dolmus (minibus). Beautiful crystal clear waters.   

For a small entrance fee, make your way behind the spit to the most stunning Blue Lagoon. A picturesque and amazing lagoon with light turquoise blue waters against the white pebbled beach. The amazing beauty is surrounded by sky scraping mountains. There are beach clubs with sun lounges or you can rent umbrellas. And if you like a total beach getaway, stay in one the local accommodations instead of Fethiye. 

Earth coloured apartments set amongst trees

Location is fabulous with great elevated views. Far enough from noise but still an easy 5 min walking distance to beach. 

white washed 3 storey hotel with deck chairs lined up over cobblestone path

A quiet and cozy property. Friendly service and only a 5 minute walk to the beach.

Saklikent

a narrow gorge with a suspended wooden walkway on the right cliffs

Photo: Viator

Another way to have a water experience is to walk through a gorge. Actually you’ll barely get through the first 4km of the 18km gorge before it becomes unpassable. But its enough to marvel in its beauty. Be warned, you will need walking shoes for water and your swim wear as you’ll be walking in knee deep to chest high water. For those who don’t want to get wet, there is a suspended wooden boardwalk to a café and lounge chairs for temporary relief from the summer heat. 

Other tours

There is so much to do around Fethiye that you could quite easily spend five days here. Other places of interest have a historical element, which are included in some adventurous jeep tours. 

  • Tlos – ancient Lycian village on a hilltop. 
  • Xanthos – ancient capital of Lycia and UNESCO World Heritage-listed. 
  • Kayakoy – a hillside ghost town, once occupied by the Greeks. 
  • Patara – longest beach in Turkey at 18km in length. Birth place of St Nicholas. 
two yellow coloured jeeps driving through a low creek

Click above or the image to check out Viator's selection of jeep safari's to Tlos, Saklikent Gorge and more.

From Fethiye to Olympos 

As you continue east from Fethiye, here are some other tourist stops you may want to consider,

  • Kalkan – a small village harbour untouched by mass tourism. Secluded cliff beaches that look similar to Zakynthos in Greece (Kaputas Beach). 
  • Kas – a village that has kept its greek architecture charm. It’s also one of the leading spots in Turkey for scuba diving with 15 dive centres. Take a 1 hour drive east to Kekova Island to snorkel/dive in an almost fully submerged ancient Lycian city. 
  • Kekova to Finike -  a beautiful rocky coastline which nearly every bay is a small pebbled beach flanked by rocky cliffs. Easy to explore if you rent a car. 

Olympos – natural flames & treehouses 

a long beach surrounded by lush green mountains along the turkish riviera

Olympos beach and entrance to village on left, Cirali beach and village to the right.

Getting there:  Buses from Kas or the other direction of Antalya, ask the driver to stop at either the junction for Olympos or Cirali on the main coastal highway. From there take a dolmus (minibus) for the 10km journey to Olympos or 7km to Cirali. Usually available during the summer months. 

A coastal hippie town that is popular with backpackers, is so isolated that the bus dropped us off on the side of the road, about 7km short of Cirali village. Thankfully a pickup truck happened to drive five minutes later and gave us a ride. Today luckily a surfaced road was completed in 2009, making it accessible for all. 

First option – take the road that leads to the beach village of Cirali. This is a good central spot as Olympos (ruins and treehouse accommodation) a 15 minute walk south and the eternal flames are 30 minutes’ walk north from central part of the beach. And it sits right in front of the crystal clear waters of Olympos Beach where there are nice restaurants. 

Or if you prefer to stay in hippie haven Olympos, then stop at the Olympos junction on the main highway and take a dolmus directly to Olympos, set in the jungle. Saves you carrying your luggage for 15min as there is only a walking path between Cirali and Olympos. Stay at Olympos for treehouse or funky pansiyon accommodation. But note it will be a 15-minute walk to the beach. 

wooden bungalow with wrap around balcony

Bungalow type accommodation right on the beach front of Cirali.

a rustic wooden treehouse constructed high off the ground

The original tree houses in Olympos that started the craze and attracted backpackers worldwide.  

Olympos Ruins 

As you follow the river from the beach, up a valley and before you reach Olympos village, you’ll stumble across the ruins of the ancient Lycian city of Olympos. Hidden amongst overgrown trees and shrubs like a jungle, you would never guess ruins lie within. It's quite a mystical feel. 

Chimera

little flames flowing through cracks in the rocks

But the highlight is the evening walk to Chimera. Best to start walking close to sunset. It’s a 30-minute walk from Cirali to the base of the hill. Or you can cheat and find a local bus service. And then another 15-minute climb uphill before you see flames glowing through the cracks in the rocky ground. This happens naturally as there is an endless supply of gas coming through the rocks. You can create your own flame too by igniting any gas flow you find. Your very own candle that never dies.

Antalya – resort style holiday

overlooking old port town and harbour with apartments in the background

Antalya old town and port. Notice the apartments start on the right.

Getting out:  You can depart from Antalya International Airport.

As we head east one more time, we reach towards the end of the low key Turkish Riviera and arrive at the big city. If exploring ruins and venturing off the beaten track is not your thing, Turkey still has you covered. Antalya is a thriving, booming tourist harbour city. It consists of a lot of apartments. 

The old part of town is charming and worth visiting, with Hadrian's Gate the most iconic spot in the city. Get lost in the narrow cobbled streets. 

But if you want a beach holiday, best to stay at one of the many mega resorts at least 8km from the town centre. For example, Lara Beach is a sandy beach and is less polluted than the closer town beaches. Probably explains why it has attracted glamorous hotel and resorts with non-stop entertainment. Konyaalti Beach is also popular with deck chairs lined on the long beach. To get further away from tourists, another beautiful beach nearby is Kaputas Beach.

Multi-day gulet cruises

If you're looking for something different from travelling by road, you can look at chartering a gulet. These are traditional wooden Turkish boats. Or you can choose the pricier modern yachts. They usually sail for 1-6 days duration, depending up your start/stop points. Ask the skipper to stop at any of the places above, jump in and swim to shore to explore the land. 

You can sail the whole Turkish turquoise coast. Or just small sections.

TG Tip:  Chartering boats in Antalya is more expensive. Better to go to smaller ports out of town, or one of the spots mentioned above in this blog, where you can bargain the price. Check out Boatbookings to get an idea of pricing, or the following tours:

exploring the turkish riviera onboard a yacht with deck chairs and cocktail drinks

Sail the section from Marmaris to Fethiye to experience the stunning Turkish coastline from the sea. Click above or the image for more details.

Turkish riviera map from Fethiye to Olympos

Continue sailing the next section from Fethiye to Olmpos and experience more of the stunning Turkish Riviera. Click above or the image for more details.

 

Your turn to explore the Turkish Riviera 

Of course, you can explore the Turkish Riviera in reverse by flying into Antalya and head west. Either by land or by boat charter. Personally, I liked starting in Kusadasi and finishing up in a big city. From there you can either fly home or jump onto another bus and head inland to magical Cappadocia. Turkey has so many natural and man-made wonders to explore.  

So what choice are you going to make? Head westerly or eastern direction? Travel by road or water? Whatever you choose, a Turkish Riviera holiday will be exciting. 

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About the author

Lisa is a travel gypsy by heart, having already been to over 70 countries and still counting. Founder of Travel Groove, to share travel tips, tricks and knowledge with other travellers.

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