The ruins of Antalya Province’s Phaselis can be fully explored in under an hour. But the site is also home to multiple beaches, completely unspoiled by high-rise hotels or restaurants. Today, the seaside location of the Roman and Byzantine ruins gives Phaselis a calming and altogether unique atmosphere.
Once situated on the border between the kingdoms of Pamphylia and Lycia, Phaselis was first founded by colonists from Rhodes in the 7th century BC. According to legend, they bought the peninsula from native inhabitants in exchange for some dried fish!
For much of its history, Phaselis remained an important center of trade between Anatolia, Greece and Egypt.
In the 4th century BC, following Persian rule, it fell under Carian control. And then the king of Limyra took over. But as a merchant city, residents were never bothered much by politics.
According to legend, rather than resist, locals presented Alexander the Great with a golden crown. Later, after brief Ptolemaic control, the city joined the Lycian Federation in the 2nd century BC. And then the Romans arrived in the year 43.
Phaselis was eventually abandoned after the Seljuk Empire made Antalya the region’s primary harbor. This was partly due to the fact that Phaselis had been victim to incessant pirate attacks for centuries.
Visiting Phaselis Ancient City
Approaching the ruins from the ticket gate, you’ll pass by the remains of a temple about which little is known. In pre-Christian times, the patron deity of Phaselis was Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom.
Her temple, located outside the town center, has never been officially discovered. But one wonders if future excavations will prove that this was it. Amazingly, the Athena temple was said to have contained the lance of Achilles himself!
Approaching the town center, you’ll immediately encounter some old stones beside the beach. But as tempting as it might be to drop everything and head for the water, this is just one of a few beaches in the area.
This is the North Harbor, one of the city’s three. You’ll find additional ruins and beaches right by the Central Harbor (just on the other side of the small peninsula) and the South Harbor. The southern area contains the longest stretch of coastline and is most ideal for swimming.
Around the North and Central harbors, you’ll find things like the ruins of a Roman aqueduct, a school, and various unnamed buildings.
As we see them today, the ruins of Phaselis are largely a mix of early Roman structures and Byzantine-era monuments, mostly from around the 8th-century AD.
Though I missed it at the time, walking further north along the North Harbor coastline will bring you to the old necropolis. But it may or may not be accessible for visitors.
From an archaeological perspective, the main highlight of Phaselis is its central avenue and the various ruins on either side of it. Here you’ll find multiple Roman baths, a latrine, the old agora and Phaselis Theater.
A large portion of the city center was dedicated to bathing, as it contains multiple elaborate Roman bathhouses. Interestingly, they’ve provided archaeologists with a clear example of how the Romans heated their water.
Evidently, even people in ancient times felt compelled to bathe after a dip in the sea.
The agora was the main center of commerce for Phaselis, and the area is also home to the ruins of a Byzantine basilica. Given what a major center of trade Phaselis was, the bazaar was surely in a constant state of commotion.
While the main agora was situated across from the theater, there were two additional marketplaces built closer to the water.
Speaking of commerce, Phaselis mostly exported roses, timber and lilium oil. But there was also a plethora of exotic goods coming here from all over the ancient world.
Phaselitians didn’t have the best reputation as businessmen, though, and were known for being shrewd and cunning.
Compared with those of other Greco-Roman cities in Turkey, Phaselis Theater is among the smallest. But the enclosed, cozy atmosphere would’ve made for some intimate performances. The theater also offers great views of the lush forests and mountains in the background.
Given the frequent pirate attacks, the Byzantines later modified the theater for defensive purposes.
The theater was built into the slope of the acropolis, though the hill didn’t seem accessible at the time of my visit.
Approaching the end of the road, you’ll encounter the ruins of what was Hadrian’s Gate. Built in commemoration of the emperor’s arrival, it’s just one of many monuments named after Hadrian (r. 117-138 AD) in Antalya Province alone.
Before heading right for the beach, try walking west along the coast where you’ll encounter many unmarked ruins in the middle of the forest. Judging from the masonry, they appear to be from the Byzantine era.
And you’ll want to head west anyway, as that’s where the changing rooms and toilets are. Having seen the ruins, you can spend the rest of your day soaking up the sun.
The views from the beach are excellent. While it can get fairly crowded during summer, the South Harbor area is long enough that it’s easy to find your own spot on the sand. The water here is very shallow, so you’ll have to walk pretty far out for a proper swim.
While there are no hotels in the area, don’t be surprised to find yachts pumping obnoxiously loud music from the sea! There are no restaurants either, but there is a small kiosk selling snacks and water for a reasonable price.
Finishing up with your swim, you can walk back along the main road and check out anything you may have missed. While I later attempted a walk eastward through the forest, I didn’t end up finding any more ruins.
But considering how prominent a city this was for centuries, there’s surely more out there hidden beneath the overgrowth.
In Antalya Province, there are numerous buses running up and down the coast connecting Antalya with the smaller towns. Phaselis is off the main highway, however, so not just any bus will do.
I visited Phaselis as a day trip from Antalya city. I took a bus from the main otogar (bus terminal) run by the company Kemer Tur, and it was ultimately headed for Tekirova.
While there’s no clear timetable, buses seem to leave hourly. As of 2020, bus tickets cost 14 TL each way, with the ruins themselves costing 45.
A majority of foreign visitors to Phaselis are people staying in the neighboring resort town of Kemer. While Kemer has its own beaches, they lack the ruins and unspoiled nature of Phaselis, so many opt for a trip over.
If you’re staying in Kemer, you can simply find a bus at a bus stop in the center of town. Be sure to confirm with the driver that they’re headed for Phaselis. Most bus drivers around these parts speak decent English.
My journey from Antalya to Phaselis was pretty straightforward, but I was surprised by how long it took. The journey took nearly 2 hours in total, as the driver lingered quite a bit in towns along the way.
Getting back to Antalya (or Kemer) from Phaselis is easy. Simply walk back to the ticket booth area and a direct bus will eventually appear.
It’s also possible to visit Phaselis as a day trip from Olympos. While it’s much closer to Phaselis than Antalya is, Olympos has its own seaside ruins.
Most archaeological ruins along the Turkish Mediterranean and Aegean coasts are situated inland, with no view of the sea. But there are several seaside archaeological sites to choose from within Antalya Province.
Other well-known sites include Olympos and Patara, which can also be combined with relaxing on the beach. If you already have plans to visit Olympos or Patara, you won’t be missing much by skipping Phaselis.
But if you’re on a shorter holiday with Antalya city as your base of operations, Phaselis makes for a worthwhile day trip. Just be sure to visit sites like Termessos and Perge first. While the ride to Phaselis lasts a couple of hours, you can get a direct bus with no need to transfer.
Additionally, if you’re based in one of the closer resort towns of Kemer or Tekirova, Phaselis is an even easier trip.
Given its size and popularity among tourists, Antalya is one of Turkey’s easiest places to reach.
Antalya Airport is serviced by not just most other airports in Turkey, but plenty throughout Europe as well.
You will also easily find direct buses to Antalya from all over the country. Both long-distance coach buses in addition to smaller buses from nearby coastal cities are abundant.
The otogar (bus terminal) is quite a distance from the city center, but you can take a tram back and forth. Antalya has lots of machines situated throughout the city where you can easily charge your transport card.
The most popular place to stay is right within the Kaleiçi, or Old Town district. As mentioned above, this a pleasant district lined with historical buildings and is completely pedestrian friendly. It almost acts as a city within a city.
It does, however, feel very touristy. The restaurants and shops are mostly oriented toward international tourists rather than locals, and the prices reflect that.
I’m a budget traveler who prefers a private room with an attached bathroom. I chose a hotel called Ay Otel 2, located in central Antalya and just outside Kaleiçi. This gave me the best of both worlds. I had easy access to affordable, local-oriented restaurants and shops, while also being able to walk to Kaleiçi in a few minutes.
Best of all, it’s located within short walking distance of the tram stop which connects with the otogar (bus terminal). You can even take the tram all the way to Perge.
If you have more money to spend, there’s no shortage of high-end accommodation throughout the city. Aside from staying in or near Kaleiçi, you might want to consider staying close to the Antalya Museum/Konyaaltı Beach, or perhaps by the Düden Waterfall/Lara Beach.
Another good option would be staying near the otogar. The city of Antalya is a great base for day trips around Antalya Province. But by the end of my several-day stay, I’d grown tired of taking the tram over to the bus terminal and back almost daily. Were I to do it over again on the same budget, I’d choose somewhere within walking distance of the otogar.
While the Turkish government isn’t quite as extreme as China when it comes to online censorship, you’ll probably want a decent VPN before your visit.
I’ve tried out a couple of different companies and have found ExpressVPN to be the most reliable.
Booking.com is currently banned in the country (at least when you search for domestic accommodation). However, there are actually quite a few Turkish hotels listed on there anyway. And many them don’t even appear on Hotels.com, which hasn’t been banned.
Over the course of my trip, I ended up making quite a few reservations with Booking.com and was really glad I had a VPN to do so.
Another major site that’s banned is PayPal. If you want to access your account at all during your travels, a VPN is a must.
While those are the only two major sites that I noticed were banned during my trip, Turkey has even gone as far as banning Wikipedia and Twitter in the past.