Watching the slow amble of the muted amber sun slide down the sky, I had a feeling of total contentment. A chilled glass of wine in hand, the heat of the day just starting to ease off, and this amazing sunset. Did life get any better? We were nearing the end of our first visit to Turkey, and raising a glass to a beautiful holiday. Looking out over the tiny harbour of Side Town, I knew I would always remember this exact moment. Nik and the boys, this gorgeous sunset, and a new found love of this beautiful country. Let me share with you some things to do in Side Turkey, and why I vowed to never have preconceived ideas again!
Our First Holiday to Turkey
I have no idea why it took us so long to visit Turkey. It was overlooked every year on the annual trawl of family holiday destinations. Places like Cape Verde or Porto Santo being chosen instead. I think the intense heat that I had been warned about was one of the things putting us off. I also had the idea in my head that it was a tourist trap of craziness!
I admit, the heat is intense in August when we went. I can not lie. It took a few days to adjust to the stillness and lack of breeze. It was glorious in the day when you could jump in the pool. No complaints when I have a cocktail in hand, drifting round on my lilo. But the evenings did stay hot. Sometimes as high as 40 degrees, even at 9 o clock at night. We are used to British weather. We don’t recognise that heat…. But once you adjusted, it was fine. It is pretty safe to say though, my long hair stayed tied up. My hair, plus humidity, is a recipe for Leo Sayer-esq disaster…No one needs to see that!
Worth noting - temperatures in Turkey can easily exceed 30 degrees C in August. I would recommend booking a hotel with air con in your rooms.
Holidays to Side Turkey
Trying to avoid the main tourist parts of Turkey, we tried to do our research. It seems holidays to Side, Turkey answered what we were looking for. We had chosen Side (pronounced see-day), for our initiation into Turkey. Set on the Southern Mediterranean coast, it is a resort famed for its long beaches and fairly laid back vibe. With a backdrop of the Taurus mountains, the whole Antalya region of Turkey is very picturesque.
Side has now found its place as a relaxed fishing town, but was once an important ancient trading city. Because of this history, over the years, the area has seen lots of archaeological investigations. This has resulted in many amazing finds. It is so interesting to imagine that large Roman towns flourished here. It appeals to my inner history nerd! This period of time, and Side’s part in it, is still apparent. Side is home to many ancient ruins, some that are wonderfully preserved. The area has a beautiful, rich history to delight any history lover. If you are looking at visiting Turkey for a resort based holiday, I would recommend considering Side as it has something for everyone.
Things that make Side fabulous
- Side is just 45 mins from Antalya airport (public transport is regular and reliable)
- It is very family friendly with a laid back feel
- Beautiful beaches
- Unusually lush and green landscape thanks to the nearby River Manavgat
- Greek and Roman ruins to visit
A little of the history of Side Turkey
Side has a great coastal position in Turkey, making it an ideal trading port. Alexander the Great arrived there in 333BC, and the ancient greeks settled there for many years. The resort stayed fairly settled until the arrival of pirates a few centuries later. These pirates brought with them the unsavoury trade of slaves! It remained the most infamous slave trade port in the Mediterranean for many years. In fact, Side’s trade in Slaves to Greece and Rome, meant that it became very wealthy! It was around 50BC, Side fell under Roman rule.
Throughout Side you will see greek and Roman ruins. The Gladiator shows were in full swing in Side! There have been so many significant archaeological finds, that I feel this is where I need to start with recommendations for things to do in Side Turkey. I am going to take you a little out of town too. If you are in Turkey for a week or longer, there are a couple of things I would really recommend considering a trip to. Side has lots to offer, but the surrounding areas do to! It was hard narrowing my list down to just these 8.
Things to do in Side Turkey
Temple of Apollo
Although there are the remains of 5 temples in Side, Temple of Apollo is the most famous. Set in the Old Town, very close to the harbour, you can walk to it very easily once in town. It is beautiful, and really gives you an idea of how huge the temple was. The temple is set right on the tip of the peninsula, so the views out to sea are beautiful.
Temple of Apollo is the best preserved ruin, but the temples of Athena and Men are situated close by. You can see all the same day. There is also the remains of the Byzantine Basilica behind the remains of the Athena and Apollo temples. There is no entrance charge to see the ruins.
Top tip - The Temple of Apollo is absolutely stunning at sunset. It does get crowded, but it is beautiful to see.
This theatre, in its heyday, could accommodate up to 15,000 people! Imagine that! All there to watch the Gladiators and the wild animal shows (glad I was not around then)!! Built in the 2nd century AD, it’s well preserved remains are testament to the building skills of the Romans. It must have been a huge place as it still looks big now. The amphitheatre is situated in Side old Town, right next to the museum.
The details - You can go into the theatre, and it is open daily from 9am until 7pm. The entrance cost is around 30 Turkish Lira, (around £4).
The Side Museum
If you are interested in knowing more about the rich history of Side, I would recommend a visit to the museum. The museum is housed in the building of the old, 5th century roman baths. It is packed full of artefacts from the Greek and Roman periods. Located on Harbour street in the old town, a visit to the museum can be done on the same day as the ruins. In fact, I would recommend seeing the ruins first, so that you can get some context to add to what you see and learn in the museum. There are so many fascinating things here and you should definately add a visit to your things to do in Side Turkey list.
Opening hours - The museum is open 9am - 7pm daily. It costs around 15 Turkish Lira to enter (around £2)
The Manavgat Waterfalls
Time for something more relaxing and chilled out now. Around 15 minutes from Side town, is the village of Manavgat. You can get a bus from Side to Manavgat, and it is fairly inexpensive. From here, you can take a boat to the Manavgat waterfalls. The waterfalls are part of where the Manavgat river runs down form the Tauras mountains, out to the Med. We are not talking waterfalls of Niagra Falls spectacular-ness here, but they are very pretty.
Top tip - You could do one of the day tours to the waterfalls. These usually include a scenic boat trip, lunch on board the boat and a trip to the vibrant and huge Manavgat bazaar. I like the look of this all inclusive waterfalls trip.
Head to the Mountains
The mountains that for the backdrop to this area are stunning. The Taurus mountains, run along the edge of the coast for about 560 km. Formed when the African and European plates collided, the limestone has eroded parts over hundreds of years. This has resulted in underground rivers, waterfalls and some of the largest Caves in Asia. There are many jeep tours or fishing days available that will take you into the beauty of the mountains. You might even find a hidden ancient village or two!
Take the trip to Salda Lake
So first off, I need to tell you the journey out to this beautiful lake is a long one. It is about 3.5 hours. However, the beauty of the lake is worth it. Salda Lake is known as the “Turkish Maldives”, and for great reason. The powdery, soft white sand that stretches along the edge of the clear waters, could make you think you were island living! To cool off from the heat of the Turkish sun, you can have a dip in the turquoise waters. Make sure you take your swimmers!
Top tip - People often combine a trip to the Lake, with a trip to Pamukkale thermal pools. This stunning place is about another hours drive from Lake Salda.
Pamukkale Thermal Pools
Pamukkale has been names as a UNESCO Heritage Site. It is slightly surreal! A natural site, formed by the limestone deposits left by the mineral rich waters running through. It is also where the ruins of the Roman city of Hierapolis stand. The city of Hierapolis was originally built around a natural hot spring, forming a roman bath. You can still swim in the warm water pool today.
The beautiful azure blue waters, running down the white travertine terraces are an absolutely stunning place to visit. It is an entire day out from your holiday in Side, but worth it! There are many combined trips to the Salda Lake and Pamukkale from Side, so it is worth looking into them. I found this combined one, which I think is one of the most comprehensive and value for money.
Top tip - If you have the time, staying in Pamukkale village the night before a visit would be so worth it. The crowds do not turn up until late morning as they are making the long drive in from the coast.
Entrance price – Prices vary depending on what you want to do. If you plan on swimming in the pools, allow around 60 TL per person (around £9)
Side has two main beaches, plus a little sandy cove nestled in between. The East and West beaches are the main ones. The West beach is the soft white sand beach. The east has more stones and a few sand dunes. East tends to be popular with the locals, as many of the resorts hotels are situated on the West. The East beach also has some roman ruins, so is a little more protected. Both beaches are beautiful, and even in high season, you can find some space.
Go and haggle in Side Town
In high season, Side town is busy! Its narrowed cobbled streets come alive. Shop keepers are calling you to investigate their wares. Tourists are bustling through the heat of the day in search of a cold drink. The heady mix of herbs and spices scent the streets, enticing you in to eat. I loved the town. It was very hot in August, but we never struggled to track down cold drinks. In fact, it was where we had the evening that I described to you in the opening paragraph of this post. Greeted like an old friend by the owner of the Orfoz restaurant , he ushered over to the best seat in the house to watch the sunset. Obviously taking great pride in his food and cooking, he cooked us one of the best meals we have ever had. Simple, fresh and delicious!
My boys loved haggling with the shop owners. Their joy at getting a Lira off whatever they were buying lighting up their faces. The shop owners seemed to enjoy the haggling with the kids, and we did not see any of the aggression that I had envisaged. It was not like my preconceptions at all. Yes, they were keen for you to come into the shops, but we never felt uncomfortable when we gave our firm no. I do understand how it could feel a little intimidating to the less confident tourists, but I personally did not feel it.
I hope I have shown you at least some of the wide range of things you can do in the Antalya region. Turkey is one of those places that you could return to again and again, and have a different experience. It has so much culture and history! No two trips would ever be the same if you headed off to different places each visit. It is just a wonderful place. I am so cross with myself for not visiting it sooner. My preconceived ideas gave me a totally false impression. Lesson learnt!
If you are not restricted by the school holidays, I would recommend going out of season. Side in particular, transforms back into a chilled out, traditional Turkish town after the crowds are gone. The bustle of the town goes down a few notches, and it has a wonderful, warm and welcoming feel to it.
What about you. Have you ever had a preconceived idea about a destination? Have you been put off going somewhere because of how you imagined it? I would love to hear your experiences. Also, anywhere else you can recommend to visit in Turkey. I have a love of the beautiful country now!
I have taken part in the Faraway Files travel link up with this post. You can see the link up on Suitcases and Sandcastles