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Home » Destinations » Europe » Turkey » Explore Winter in Turkey
A wealth of historical sites, spanning the ancient Greeks, Alexander the Great, the Byzantine period and, of course, the Romans, are home to modern-day southern Turkey, or Ancient Anatolia. Explore the best of these famous sights and hidden gems on this 13-day trip, as well as some of Turkey’s rural, traditional villages. Combined with the chance of scenic snow in the mountains, the temperate climate on the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts makes it a great winter destination.
Ephesus – Walk the marble streets where Saint Paul preached, and see the famous Celsus Library
Sagalassos – Discover this mountain-top gem, with one of the most impressive amphitheatre views in Turkey
Turquoise Coast – Get some winter sun on the coast at laid back Kas and historic Antalya
*Please note that itineraries on certain dates may differ
DAY 1 – Join trip in Antalya
Arrive in Antalya, Turkey’s gateway to the Mediterranean. This lively city on the Turquoise Coast is temperate even during the winter months, making it a great place to begin your journey.
Due to the number of flights arriving late into Antalya, the welcome meeting is planned for tomorrow morning. However, if you do arrive earlier in the day then our Tour Leader plans to meet us in the hotel reception at 7pm, and there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Antalya at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you’ll need to arrive into Antalya Airport (AYT), which is around a 30 minute drive away from the hotel.
For those arriving earlier in the day, you may wish to visit the atmospheric old town, or ‘Kaleici’, district. Narrow streets of restored Ottoman-era houses open out onto pretty courtyards, and historic architecture abounds. Visit the columned Hadrian’s Gate, a fantastically preserved Roman archway that marks the entrance into Kaleici. Some of the city’s best restaurants and bars are found in this area, perfect for your first night relaxing in the Mediterranean.
DAY 2 – Discover the ancient city of Perge and the Roman amphitheatre of Aspendos
In additional to Antalya’s long golden coastline and picturesque old town, its surrounding area offers a wealth of ancient sites. Just 45 kilometres east of the city centre is one of its most impressive; the ancient city of Aspendos. The jewel in this site’s crown is certainly the enormous Roman theatre, built in the reign of Marcus Aurelius in the 2nd century AD. Spectacularly well-preserved, the intact theatre holds approximately 15,000 spectators, who would once have crammed onto the stone seating for gladiator and animal shows, the highlights of the Aspendos social calendar. The surrounding mountains add a sense of majesty to the setting, which seems fitting for its modern use as the venue for the annual Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival.
After some time spent here, we drive to the ancient city of Perge, a sprawling site of mainly Roman ruins, with some fascinating features including Roman baths, a stadium, theatre and impressive colonnaded streets that give an idea of what city life may have been like. Many of the finds at this site, including an array of Roman statues and sarcophagi in excellent condition, can now be found at the Antalya Archeological Museum. After some lunch in the small town of Aksu, we’ll drive back to Antalya. For those who wish, we will take the local tram to the museum – one of Turkey’s largest, it contains an impressive collection of pieces that track ancient Anatolia’s history from the Stone Age through the Romans, the Byzantine era and the Ottoman Empire. Alternatively you may choose to relax and visit one of the nearby Turkish baths.
DAY 3 – Drive to Burdur via the impressive mountaintop site of Sagalassos and the Insuyu Caves
Leaving the coast this morning, there is a strong possibility of snow as we drive north into the mountains, towards the city of Burdur. Around two hours into the climb, we will stop at one of Turkey’s hidden gems; the ancient city of Sagalassos. Visiting ancient sites will become a theme of this trip, as we explore Turkey’s fascinating and varied history from Alexander the Great to the Ottomans. However, there is something truly special about a site with a view, and Sagalassos tops the list. Perched on a steep mountain slope, overlooking an endless chain of peaks stretching out into the distance, we’ll find Roman columns stretching up into the sky, the remains of finely carved walls and sculptures tumbling down the mountainside, and a theatre with one of the best views in Turkey. Special mention should be made of the ‘Nymphaeum’ – an elaborately decorated fountain, constructed in the late 100s AD. It was recently restored to full working order and is the site’s stunning centrepiece. After exploring, we’ll drive on to the neighbouring small town of Aglasun for lunch. Here there are some small lokantas (a ‘grillroom’ or cafe) serving excellent soups, stews, and pide – the traditional Turkish pizza. Just before our arrival into Burdur, we’ll make a final stop at the Insuyu Caves, an underground network with millions of stalagmites and stalactites that formed thousands of years ago.
DAY 4 – Drive to Pamukkale; visit Hierapolis and the Pamukkale cascades
Burdur is known as the City of Lakes, and as we set off this morning we’ll make a stop at Lake Salda, an hour outside the city. In summer, this lake is known as the ‘Turkish Maldives’, for the bright turquoise blue of the lake and the surrounding white sandy beach. In winter it is no less beautiful, instead being flanked by pine trees that host skiiers on the snowy mountains between December-February.
Driving on to Pamukkale and arriving in the early afternoon, we’ll set out to explore one of Turkey’s most amazing natural wonders. Known as the ‘cotton castle,’ Pamukkale’s terraced thermal pools are toothpaste-blue, with white calcareous deposits that give a cloud-like cotton wool effect.
Modern-day tourists are not the only people to be attracted by these thermal wonders. Above the pools is the ancient Roman spa town of Hierapolis, where we will find ruins dating back to 2nd century BC. Earthquakes have rocked the area throughout history and the site was finally abandoned in 1334 following a particularly strong quake, but as recently as the mid-20th century, hotels were being constructed on top of its priceless ruins. Luckily, UNESCO World Heritage status has saved it from further damage. We will visit the theatre, Temple of Apollo, Frontinus Gate and see a number of sarcophagi, and you may have the chance to go into the Archaeology Museum housed in the former Roman baths.
There is the option to swim in the incredible travertine pools of Pamukkale’s ‘Frozen Waterfall’ or in the deeper waters of Cleopatra’s Pool. Pamukkale’s weather is relatively temperate year-round, but with warm steam visible through the crisp air, bathing in the hot springs in winter can be magical.
DAY 5 – Visit the Greco-Roman site of Aphrodisias; drive to the vineyard accommodation near Camlik
Today we visit the impressive Greco-Roman site of Aphrodisias, where the goddess of love, Aphrodite, once bestowed sensual favours on her willing devotees. Its tetrapylon (16-columned gateway) is one of the most famous images of the site, and a wonderfully ornate feature that would have once welcomed visitors into the main street leading to the Temple of Aphrodite. The site’s extraordinary collection of reliefs and sculpture are also notable; thanks to plentiful marble quarries just a few kilometres from the site, Aphrodisias was home to a school of sculpture that trained students to the highest standards. Graduates of the school spread the art form across the ancient world for hundreds of years, and examples of Aphrodisian statuary have shown up as far away as the Atlantic coast of Portugal. Reliefs are carved throughout the site, including on the Sebasteion, with images depicting Aphrodite and her worshippers.
Later, a three hour drive takes us to Camlik, and our beautiful vineyard accommodation. The whitewashed stone, excellent restaurant with its own winery and remote setting make this a peaceful haven to spend the next two nights. Within walking distance is the Camlik Railway Museum, an interesting spot for this afternoon for those who are interested, which houses one of Europe’s largest steam train collections.
DAY 6 – Explore the ancient city of Ephesus; walk from the rural village of Sirince to Ikiz Cesmesi
Today we visit the great Greco-Roman city of Ephesus, one of Turkey’s most famous historical sites. Given its prime location on Turkey’s beautiful Aegean coast, as well as its immaculate collection of Roman ruins, the site can be quite hectic in the summer months. During winter however, we should be lucky enough not to share it with many other visitors.
Once visited by Marc Anthony and Cleopatra, and also by St. Paul, this Asia Minor seaport reached its zenith in the 2nd century AD. Ephesus was one of the main cultural and economic centres of the ancient world, boasting a gymnasia and an enormous stadium with seating for 70,000 spectators, until the city went into decline after the 7th century. Other highlights include the Baths of Constantine, the brothel, the Temple of Hadrian with its beautiful facade, the giant theatre and the Marble Avenue featuring the two-storey Library of Celsus, which is one of the most photographed Greco-Roman buildings in the world.
Driving on a short distance, we will visit the famous Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, before continuing to the small town of Sirince for a taste of rural Turkish life. Here, cobbled roads wind between pretty white-washed houses, and we’ll take a short 45 minute walk, downhill, making the most of the hillside views. We’ll end at Ikiz Cesmesi, before driving back to Camlik.
DAY 7 – Explore lesser-visited Greek and Roman sites around the Aegean coast; drive to Milas
In the 110 kilometres between Camlik and Milas, there are a whole host of ancient sites that testify to the rich Greek, Roman and Byzantine history of ancient Anatolia. We plan to visit many of them today on a scenic journey that will take us down coastal roads, past inland lakes and with a backdrop of craggy mountains.
Our first stop is at Priene, the ancient Greek city with an enormous number of Hellenistic temples, a theatre, ruined columns and buildings all crammed into a relatively small setting that is now beginning to be overgrown. After exploring this site, we continue to Didim, where the ruins of the imposing Greek Temple of Apollo are quite amazing. 120 giant columns frame the gateway to the temple, while in the grassy surroundings lie hundreds of pieces of ruined marble, including several beautiful Greek statues and the cracked, yet still iconic, Head of Medusa.
Continuing on to Lake Bafa, we find the ramshackle village of Kapikiri. This collection of simple houses and the odd local shop is quite unremarkable, yet scattered all around the village are ruins and remnants of the ancient port city, Herakleia. Indeed, what is now an inland lake was once a thriving part of the Aegean coast, and signs of its affluence are visible from the bathhouse and the Temple of Athena to the crumbling ruins of the old agora – the marketplace and civic centre of ancient Herakleia.
Our last visit of the day is at Euromos, where the wonderfully-preserved columns of the Temple of Zeus pop out of the thick olive grove that hides it from sight. It’s another surprisingly hidden gem in a region covered with archaeological riches.
We’ll arrive into Milas in the evening for our overnight stay.
DAY 8 – Walk from Sultaniye to the ruins of ancient Caunos; continue on foot and by rowing boat to Dalyan
This morning we drive approximately two hours to Sultaniye, a small dot of a town on the banks of Lake Koycegiz, well-known for its thermal pools. We’ll drive just a very small way out of the village, before starting our four kilometre hike towards ancient Caunos. The hike is not too strenuous, with just one hill climb, but the terrain is rocky in many places, with some woodland paths and rough underfoot areas.
After four kilometres, Caunos appears. The ancient site is half eaten away by shrub and olive trees, and encroached upon by the Dalyan delta, but hidden in the ruins are some fascinating features that span
many civilisations from the Persians, Alexander the Great’s Hellenistic era, the Byzantine period and through to the Romans. The Byzantine church dates back to the 6th century, and contains some beautifully intact mosaics that can be viewed from surrounding platforms. The Temple of Zeus and the Roman Baths also provide some highly photogenic material, backed as they are by the lush valley. Possibly the most famous feature of this little-visited site are the ‘tombs of the kings’; tombs cut directly out of a rugged, vertical rock face, in the shape of Hellenistic temples. This was the first place in Turkey to originate this type of tomb design, back in the 4th century BC.
After exploring the site, we’ll continue walking downhill for two kilometres, where we meet the river at Candir and cross in a little rowing boat to Dalyan town. In total today, we’ll be walking for 6 kilometres, expected to take us approximately 1-2 hours and with 300 metres of ascent and 200 metres of descent.
Our vehicle will drive from Sultaniye to Dalyan with our bags, so while the walk and the ruins are both highly recommended, there is the option to drive directly to Dalyan and spend the afternoon exploring this laid back, riverside town.
DAY 9 – Drive to Kas via Kayakoy and Xanthos
We’ll meet the gorgeous Turquoise Coast once more today, as we drive south towards Kas. We’ll stop at Kayakoy for a short time, possibly having a picnic (weather permitting) among the ruins of the ghostly Greek town, which was deserted in 1923 after its Greek Orthodox inhabitants were ‘returned’ to Greece in one of the Great Population Exchanges between Greece and Turkey.
From here, we continue to Xanthos, the capital of ancient Lycia and, at one time, the largest centre of commerce and religion in the region. The town has had a turbulent past, falling to both the Persians and the Romans. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the afternoon we’ll drive to Patara Beach and explore the extensive ruins of ancient Patara, the birthplace of Saint Nicholas. Average water temperatures in winter are around 15-19 degrees. For those who wish to brave the water, a thin wetsuit is recommended. We’ll continue to Kas, the laid back fishing village on the Turkish Lycian coast.
DAY 10 – Free day in Kas; chance to hike on the Lycian Way
With its old Greek houses and their picturesque balconies, the tiny seaport of Kas is one of the most beautiful on the Turkish Riviera. Today has been left free for you to relax and soak up the town’s charming atmosphere. After a week of busy sightseeing, Kas is a great place to just chill out. Unlike the more touristy coastal resorts of Bodrum and Marmaris, Kas is still a local town so even in winter there is an active atmosphere on the narrow streets.
If you would prefer to get out of town, Kas is in the heartland of old Lycia, and is therefore a key point on the Lycian Way. You could choose to pick up some picnic supplies and walk the five kilometres to Limanagzi Beach, taking in the views. Limanagzi is a beautiful sheltered bay only accessible on foot. After a chance to relax or swim, you can head back to Kas either on foot or via water taxi.
There are two paths to Limanagzi – we do not recommend the coastal route during the winter months. There is another path, taken by following signs for the Lycian Way, that cuts inland, passing the remains of an old fort, olive groves, and an old olive press. It’s undulating, with a total ascent of 130 metres and descent of 140 metres. Your Tour Leader will give you all the information needed for this walk.
DAY 11 – Drive to the rural Ottoman town of Elmali, stopping for a traditional tea in Gomuce
Today we drive north, heading directly into the Taurus mountains in the direction of Elmali, a rural town that lies at around 1,100 metres above sea level. There may be snow at these altitudes, which will contrast with the temperate coast at Kas.
Today is really an opportunity to see some of life in the Turkish countryside, and we’ll make a stop at tiny Gomuce village for a warming traditional Turkish tea, before continuing on our journey to Elmali, the largest Ottoman town in this area of Turkey. The narrow streets are home to a fascinating array of timber houses that date back to the 17th century, back when the area was a mixture of Ottoman, Turkish, Greek and Armenian inhabitants, and the town has the general air of having remained the same for the last few hundred years. Despite this, and the spectacular mountain setting, very few tourists visit the town, making it a charming and quiet place to stroll around. We’ll visit the large mosque, which dates back to the 16th century, as well as the Elmali museum that houses some rare archaeological finds.
The area is well known in Turkey for its various ways of using sesame, and we should have the opportunity to try a delicious halva – a sweet sesame-based treat – while we’re here.
DAY 12 – Drive to Antalya via the ancient city of Termessos and Gulluk Dagi National Park
Yet another mountain-top city, Termessos was labelled ‘the Eagles Nest’ by Alexander the Great himself, who was never able to conquer the site, and from its 1000 metre perch the site enjoys quite spectacular panoramic views of the Taurus Mountains. Due to its lofty position, visiting the ruins requires some hiking – the walk up from the car park can take around 20 minutes to reach the first site of interest, and continuing to many of the key sites requires some short yet steep hikes.
It’s well worth the effort though. On approach to the ancient city, we’ll see the enormous defence walls rising up out of the undergrowth, giving the impression that the city hasn’t been seen in many thousands of years.
As with many Hellenistic and Roman sites, the amphitheatre is the most spectacular piece of architecture here, guaranteeing breathtaking views over the Taurus Mountains. Exploring the rest of the site is equally fascinating, with six temple remains, the ancient necropolis, an agora and an excellently preserved bouleuterion (council meeting place) being just some of the ruins that can be discovered.
We should be able to have a picnic in the ruins today depending on the weather, and after eating lunch we’ll drive the 30 minutes back down to Antalya on the coast, enjoying some impressive views of the turquoise waters on our entrance to the city. The rest of the afternoon is free to do some last minute souvenir shopping, or just relax and make the most of our last day in Turkey.
DAY 13 – Trip ends in Antalya
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Antalya.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Antalya at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you’ll need to depart from Antalya Airport (AYT), which is about a 30 minute drive away.
During this tour Explore use well-located, generally three-star standard accommodation that provides comfort for your holiday. The hotel in Camlik will no doubt be one of the highlights, being a beautiful winery hotel set among vineyards in a rural, peaceful location.
Concentrating more on ancient history and rural Turkey than Explore’s other trips in the region, this tour is perfect for history lovers, photography enthusiasts and those who like to avoid the tourist crowds. The two easy walks and the chance to walk on the Lycian Way will also appeal to those who like a degree of activity on holiday. The weather is mainly temperate on the coast, with average highs of 13-18 degrees celsius, and the journeys through the mountains may provide some contrasting snow, giving you an alternate perspective on a well-trodden destination.
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