Golden beaches, budget prices: Turkey's most beautiful seaside destinations to visit in 2022

·12 min read
best turkey seaside destinations 2022 beaches holiday - Getty
best turkey seaside destinations 2022 beaches holiday - Getty

Think of Turkey as one gigantic peninsula and you won’t be surprised to learn that this continent-straddling country boasts a whopping 4,500 miles of coastline. The ancient Greeks, a seafaring people par excellence, were certainly cognisant of this fact, and planted hundreds of colonies along its Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Sea coastlines some 3,000 years ago.

The nomadic pastoralist Turks, who entered the region around 1,000 years ago from landlocked Central Asia, soon fell for the seas surrounding them too, and the Ottoman Turkish navy dominated the entire Mediterranean for a couple of centuries under admirals such as the fearsome Barbarossa. Today’s Turks are every bit as comfortable with the sea as their Ottoman forebears, whether cruising the shores in a traditional wooden gulet or obsessing over the best fish restaurant in town.

Turkey is a predominantly mountainous country, which explains the often dramatic nature of its coastline, with limestone peaks tumbling straight into the sea, rocky coves and rugged headlands predominating on the southwest Turquoise Coast, while long bony peninsulas interspersed with sandy bays are a prominent feature of the Aegean coast.

Such a long coastline bordering three (four if one includes the compact Sea of Marmara) different seas is tricky to neatly subdivide, but we’ve come up with five quite distinct regions to choose from for your next holiday. In each, we’ve picked out two outstanding towns along with an unmissable attraction, suggestions for food and drink, and hotel recommendations.

Note that Turkey remains very affordable for British travellers. One pound currently buys around 18 Turkish lira – up from 5 at the start of 2018.

The North Aegean – between the Dardanelles and Izmir

Despite the beauty of this often green, mountainous region, steeped in antiquity, its relative inaccessibility and slightly cooler temperatures mean it is less visited than much of Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coastline. To the ancient Greeks this was Aeolia, and the remains of their cities dot the coast. Troy, immortalised in Homer’s Iliad, makes for a fascinating visit, as do crag-top ancient Pergamon and the picturesque ruins at Assos, opposite the Greek island of Lesbos.

EasyJet (easyjet.com), Pegasus (flypgs.com), Jet2 (www.jet2.com) and Tui (www.tui.co.uk) fly into the southern gateway airport of Izmir, or fly to Çanakkale in the north with Turkish Airlines (turkishairlines.com) via Istanbul.

Turkey boasts a whopping 4,500 miles of coastline - Getty
Turkey boasts a whopping 4,500 miles of coastline - Getty

Go visit

Assos

Located opposite Sappho’s Lesbos, idyllic Assos is three places in one. Ancient Assos, dominated by the impossibly romantic hill-top ruins of the temple of Athena, has sublime sunset views. Beneath the temple is the quaint old stone-built village of Behramkale, where head-scarved ladies sell hand-made olive oil soap and posies of dried herbs. Last up is the pretty harbour of Assos Liman, from where St Paul once set sail.

Ayvalık

Until the population exchanges of the early 1920s, Ayvalık was a prosperous harbour town with an entirely Greek Orthodox community. Many of the fine neoclassical homes of its former residents remain, along with a number of substantial 19th-century churches (now mosques). It’s the heart of a major olive growing region and still has a small fishing industry. Just offshore is the attractive islet of Cunda.

The best beach

Four miles south of Ayvalık and linked to it by regular minibuses, popular Sarımsaklı shelves gently into clear Aegean waters and is backed by cafes and simple hotels.

Head inland

Around 50 minutes’ drive southeast of Ayvalık is ancient Pergamon, spectacularly situated on a craggy outcrop. A cable car whisks visitors to the top to explore the extensive remains. The massive theatre is vertigo-inducingly steep, the Temple of Trajan monumental, the views incredible. Nearby Asklepion was an early ‘wellness’ centre, where Galen helped lay the foundations for modern medicine.

Ancient Pergamon - Getty
Ancient Pergamon - Getty

Eat up

Cunda Deniz (cundadeniz.com) is an unpretentious fish restaurant housed in an old Greek building on the seafront of Cunda, off Ayvalık. A tantalising array of hot and cold meze, grilled fish mains and rakı (aniseed spirit) are the order of the day here.

Drink deep

Also in Cunda is Taş Kahve (taskahve.com.tr), a cavernous place pierced by gothic windows, dates back a couple of hundred years. Drink Turkish coffee, çay, beer or rakı, depending on the time of day or mood.

Where to stay

The Assos Behram (assosbehramhotel.com; doubles from around £25 including breakfast), in tiny Assos Liman, has thick stone walls to temper the summer heat, compact but comfortable rooms and a lovely waterfront restaurant.

The Central Aegean – from Izmir to Marmaris

Blessed with a mild climate, fertile valleys and superb natural harbours, this region flourished in ancient times. The remains of ancient Ionia and Caria, most famously Ephesus, are a major draw today, especially as they are set against the impossibly blue waters of the Aegean, pine-forested hillsides, olive groves and vineyards. Inland lie the gleaming white travertine basins of Pamukkale, chic Bodrum is the queen of Aegean resorts, while its southernmost extent is marked by the beautiful Datça peninsula. It even has a waymarked long-distance walking route, the Carian Trail (cultureroutesinturkey).

Fly into Izmir (see above) or Bodrum’s Milas airport, the latter served direct from the UK by easyJet (easyjet.com) and Turkish Airlines (turkishairlines.com).

Go visit

Alaçatı

This formerly Greek village of attractive stone-built houses on the breeze-laden Çeşme peninsula west of Izmir is one of the most stylish little resorts in Turkey. Appealing to well-heeled and discerning Istanbulites, its narrow lanes are lined with cafes, bars, art galleries, upmarket souvenir shops and boutique hotels. It’s also Turkey’s leading windsurfing and kitesurfing destination.

Bodrum

Attractive low-rise, white painted buildings, facing onto a smart marina and presided over by the picture-book medieval castle of St Peter, help give Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassus) its charm. Many affluent urban Turks have holiday homes here and the eponymous peninsula west of town is home to a raft of very exclusive hotel complexes.

Bodrum - Getty
Bodrum - Getty

The best beach

Altınkum, or ‘Golden Sands’, west of Alaçatı, a series of small beaches with soft yellow sand and incredibly clear waters, are the best Aegean Turkey has to offer.

Head inland

For a picturesque taste of antiquity head some 40 miles northeast to the small but beautifully preserved Corinthian-style Temple of Zeus at Euromos.

The Temple of Zeus at Euromos - Getty
The Temple of Zeus at Euromos - Getty

Eat up

Holidaying Turks demand the very best seafood – Orfoz (orfoz.net) in central Bodrum dishes it up in style. The unusual selection of starters single it out from the crowd.

Where to stay

The Bodrum Edition, with doubles from around £280 including breakfast.

The Turquoise Coast – from Dalyan to Antalya

‘Turquoise Coast’ may be bit of modern branding, but it aptly describes the most beautiful stretch of shore in the entire Mediterranean. In ancient times this region was Lycia, named after its then inhabitants, and the ruins of their unique civilisation form a distinctive part of the breathtaking landscape of towering peaks, deep valleys, pine forests, plunging cliffs and secluded bays. Gulet cruises are one way to experience the Turquoise Coast, as is walking the fantastic Lycian Way (cultureroutesofturkey.com).

Antalya to the east of the region, and Dalaman to the west, are both served by several airlines from the UK, including easyJet (easyjet.com), Tui (www.tui.co.uk) and Wizz Air (wizzair.com).

Go visit

Dalyan

Low-key Dalyan has developed along the banks of a reed-fringed, meandering river right opposite the dramatic rock-cut tombs of ancient Kaunos. People come here to lounge by (and swim in) the river, explore the ruins of Kaunos, take selfies in the nearby mud baths and catch one of the myriad boats puttering downriver to one of Turkey’s very best beaches, turtle-nesting Iztuzu.

Hatchling turtles at Iztuzu - Getty
Hatchling turtles at Iztuzu - Getty

Kalkan

Cascading in tiers down the natural amphitheatre of a rocky bay, fronted by a smart marina and backed by towering limestone peaks, the former Greek fishing village of Kalkan is justifiably popular with holidaying Brits. Good restaurants, cosy bars and lovely sea views are the staples in Kalkan, though the clear seas mean the town is also geared up for scuba diving.

The best beach

Unspoilt, nine-mile Patara is beautiful – head for the southern end, where the extensive ruins of ancient Patara merge with the dunes and there’s a simple café and sunbeds for hire.

Patara - Getty
Patara - Getty

Head inland

Life goes on unchanged in the mountains behind Kalkan. Visit Bezirgan, 12 miles away, for the traditional village experience. Walk back to Kalkan in three hours on the waymarked Lycian Way.

Eat up

Salonika 1881 (+90 242 844 2422) is an atmospheric meyhane (tavern) located in an old Greek fisherman’s house in Kalkan, with a tempting selection of meze and mains.

Drink deep

Botanik in Kalkan is essentially a walled garden complete with olive and banana trees and a wooden bar – a mellow place to enjoy a beer, cocktail or glass of wine.

Where to stay

The Courtyard Hotel in Kalkan (courtyardkalkan.com; doubles from around £110).

Villa Mahal in Kalakan (villamahal.com; villas from around £2,000 per week, rooms from £200 per night).

Rock tombs near Dalyan - Getty
Rock tombs near Dalyan - Getty

The Mediterranean – Antalya and eastward

Tourism on Turkey’s long Mediterranean coast is compressed into the short stretch of shore between the bustling gateway city of Antalya and the major resort of Alanya. Both places are attractive in their own right; the space between them virtually filled with all-inclusive resorts – including several hotels specialising in golfing holidays. Superb sights include the well-preserved classical cities of Perge, Aspendos (the Roman theatre here still hosts major musical events), Side and mountain-top Termessos – and the ever-present Taurus mountains make for a dramatic backdrop.

Low-cost carriers fly direct to Antalya from various UK airports, including easyJet (easyjet.com), Pegasus (flypgs.com) and Tui (www.tui.co.uk).

Go visit

Antalya

Although ringed by ranks of apartment blocks, the historic core of Antalya, Kaleiçi, is a picturesque jumble of half-timbered Ottoman houses peering down over cobbled lanes running down to a pretty harbour. There are long beaches at both ends of the city, plus a plethora of eating places, bars and shopping opportunities. Turkey’s premier film festival, the Golden Orange, takes place in October.

Antalya Old Town - Getty
Antalya Old Town - Getty

Alanya

Dominated by a spectacular promontory crowned with a medieval fortress, dotted with Selçuk Turkish period buildings, riddled with caves and verdant with sub-tropical vegetation, Alanya is bustling town wholly devoted to the not so subtle art of tourism. A devotion made easier by the fact that long sandy beaches stretch away for miles either side of town.

The best beach

Damlataş, just north of that promontory, is busy in season but has golden sand, is close to town and has a spectacular setting.

Head inland

Half an hour’s drive northwest of Antalya, ancient Termessos sits on a mountaintop in a beautiful, pine-forested national park. Most dramatic is the cliff-edge theatre; look out for pine marten and Persian squirrels.

Termessos - Getty
Termessos - Getty

Eat up

Antalya’s long-established Hasanağa (+90 242 247 1313; ££), located in an old Ottoman house and backed by a walled garden with candle-lit tables, specialises in traditional Turkish dishes.

Drink deep

On the edge of a cliff next to a Roman watch tower, Antalya’s Castle Cafe (+90 242 248 6594) is perfect for a cool beer and watching the sun set over the Gulf of Antalya and distant mountains.

Where to stay

Hotel Villa Turka in Alanya (hotelvillaturka.com; doubles from around £39)

Kempinski Hotel The Dome in Belek, 45 mins from Antalya (kempinski.com/belek; doubles from around £110).

The Black Sea

Despite being 1,000 miles long, the Black Sea coast is invariably overlooked by foreign visitors. It wasn’t always thus. In 400 BC, Xenophon’s Greek army, trying to find their way home from Mesopotamia following a battle against the Persians, shouted “the sea, the sea” with delighted relief on their first sighting of the Black Sea after months of marching. There are castles, churches, mosques, fishing ports, tea plantations, alpine mountains and much more to admire on an adventurous journey along Turkey’s little-known shore.

Go visit

Amasra

The most tourism focused town on the Black Sea, it’s full of holidaying Turks in July and August. Attractively tiered, and linked by bridge to a wave-lapped island crowned by Byzantine fortifications, Amasra is more Cornwall than Mediterranean, though the myriad guesthouses are a fraction of the price of those in southwest England.

Amasra - Getty
Amasra - Getty

Trabzon

Squeezed onto steep slopes at the feet of the green and beautiful Pontic Alps, Trabzon was once fabled Trebizond, the last outpost of the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453. The Aya Sofya (Church of Hagia Sophia) is the chief attraction, though the locals would point you to their famous football team, Trabzonspor, hamsi (crisp fried anchovies are de rigeur here) and corn bread.

The best beach

Çakraz, a few miles west of Amasra, is attractively set between wooded spurs and backed by a few cafes.

Head inland

Sumela Monastery, a 45-minute scenic drive from Trabzon and re-opened in 2019 after a major face-lift, clings to a sheer cliff face above a forested valley. It’s more reminiscent of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery than the Greek Orthodox establishment its beautiful frescoes tell you it once was.

Sumela Monastery - Getty
Sumela Monastery - Getty

Eat up

Amasra Sahil Balik (+90 378 315 23 48) is one of several excellent fish restaurants in town – holidaymakers from the capital Ankara won’t accept any less – with a superb range of meze, hot seafood starters and grilled fish mains.

Where to stay

On a budget

Amasra’s quirky Frau Guler (frauguler.com; doubles from around £30) is a friendly guesthouse, the six rooms are neat, tidy and tick all the necessary boxes, and the sea and castle views from the two at the front are stunning.

In style

The five-star Zorlu Grand (zorlugrand.com; doubles from around £95), right in the centre of Trabzon, is built around a pleasant atrium and is very professionally run – not always a given in eastern Turkey.

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