Izmir to Antalya Road Trip – The Perfect Guide to Driving the Turkish Riviera
Updated on December 22nd, 2019
Are you planning a trip to Turkey and looking for the best way to see the country? Driving the Izmir to Antalya road trip was easily one of the highlights for me in this country and I would love to go back and do it again. The Turkish Riviera is famous for dramatic clifftops, beaches with pine forest backdrops, hidden coves and long open stretches of beach. Now mix in a rich fascinating history; delicious places to eat and drink; neighbouring mountains; adventure sports and phenomenal weather and you’re bound for a memorable holiday.
The Turkish coastline stretches over 8000km as part of the Aegean Sea in the Mediterranean. The Turkish Riviera is made up of the towns between Izmir and Antalya. With so many options on where to visit it can be hard to know which places to choose. In this post, I have compiled a list of my favourite 10 places along Turkey’s Riviera to help you decide.
While I recommend driving the entire distance of around 850km, you could also visit just a few of these places along the route. We did the entire trip over 2 weeks and found that was the perfect amount of time for relaxation and activities.
Disclaimer: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through them, I receive a small commission. This will never cost you extra and in most cases, you receive a special discount.
Driving stops between Izmir and Antalya
Arrive in Izmir
This was the very beginning of our 12 month trip to Europe. We had flown from Australia to Istanbul and then took an hour-long domestic flight from Istanbul to Izmir. You can fly from Istanbul to Izmir with Pegasus and Turkish Airlines for less than $35 USD. We spent 3 nights in Izmir, but you could spend just 2 here and see all the main sites.
Izmir has a multitude of inbound flight’s daily making it the ideal starting place for a road trip along the Turkish coastline. Being Turkey’s 3rd largest city it’s worth spending a couple of days here. With all the modern delights of a city found elsewhere in the world you can experience shopping, trendy cafes and bars spread throughout. On top of this Izmir boasts a history dating back to 700 BC! Which means you will be able to explore ancient ruin sites and a strong culture that hasn’t given way to contemporary city life.
Things to do in Izmir
Izmir is the perfect city for budget travellers with lots of free or cheap things to do. Some of my highlights were exploring the Kemeralti Bazaar. This bazaar was the most authentic one I visited while in Turkey. Unlike the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, I didn’t hear another person speaking English and watched as the locals did their everyday shopping here.
Other fun activities include cycling along the waterfront, visiting the Agora Open Air Museum, snapping some pics at Konak Square and the Izmir clock tower and exploring the shops and cafes in the Alsancak neighbourhood.
How to get to Ephesus
Follow highway E87 south of Izmir for 1 hour and you will reach the town of Selcuk. Along the way, you will notice green signs for Efes (Ephesus) and it is quite easy to follow these the entire way. Soon after leaving the Izmir (10 minutes) the road divides between the D550 and the E87. The E87 is the faster tollway or the D550 is the slower, but free old highway. The slower route will add an extra 10-15 minutes to your journey or you can pay the 2TL (.34 c US) to use the newer highway.
Once you enter the town of Selcuk, after 1km there is a traffic signal. Turn right at the sign indicating Efes (Ephesus). Not too far down this road, you will find the Ancient City of Ephesus on the left.
Note: Tolls in Turkey cannot be paid with cash, so ensure your rental car is equipped with a high-speed toll system or that you understand fees charged by the rental company.
Ephesus is an ancient port city south of Izmir. A trip to the Turkish Riviera wouldn’t be complete without visiting the most complete ancient ruin site in the country. Whether you know little about ancient history like myself or you’re a huge history buff it’s impossible not to be impressed by what has been excavated and restored here.
If ancient ruins and history is your thing, consider spending a night here in Selcuk and spending the day exploring Ephesus. Otherwise, a few hours should be enough to see the main points of interest.
Ephesus entrance fee
The main entrance fee to Ephesus is 72TL ($12 USD). Other sites within the city have an additional entry price such as the Terrace Houses (36 TL / 6 USD).
How to get to Pamukkale
How to get to Pamukkale from Izmir and Ephesus is really easy. The total drive time for the day, if you chose to do Ephesus en route is 3 hours and 40 minutes. Once you have seen enough in the ancient city of Ephesus, head back out through Selcuk to highway E87. Follow this east for 189km. Prior to reaching Denizli, you need to turn left on to Pamukkale Blvd and this will take you right into the town.
Pammukale is a small town with a dramatic cliff-like backdrop. The cliffs stand almost 200m above the town and are formed by limestone deposits. These deposits have created pools which are full of thermal water.
Unfortunately, over the past couple of decades, an overexposure of tourism, including multiple hotels situated on top of the travertines caused the water to dry up and the limestone to turn brown. In more recent times Pamukkale has been world heritage listed and the previous damage is starting to be reversed. There are no longer hotels on top of the travertines and the white has returned to them.
As we had read plenty of the travertines being a disappointment to many visitors, I was well prepared and didn’t expect them to look like the pristine photos you can find online. I personally think Pamukkale is worth a visit but it is worth lowering your expectations before going.
Things to do in Pamukkale
In addition to the travertines, entry includes access to the ancient city of Hierapolis complete with over 1200 tombs. The town of Pamukkale has some cute little restaurants and is nice to wander around for an hour or so.
How long to spend in Pamukkale
I recommend staying at least overnight here in Pamukkale so that you can enter as the park opens in the morning. I visited early November and less than an hour after opening, there were already many tour buses arriving for the day.
Getting to Akyaka from Pamukkale
It’s another easy but slightly boring drive from Pamukkale to reach Akyaka. Exit along Pamukkale Blvd until you reach the E87. Follow the E87 south until you reach the turnoff for D330. After around 2 hours from Pamukkale, you will need to exit left off the D330 and head towards the D550. Another 20 minutes on and this is where you will want to pull over and take a photo of the incredible ocean views before descending towards Akyaka. Once at the base of the hill, take the first exit into Akyaka.
There’s something truly special to be said about Akyaka. This quiet town is commonly overlooked for its bigger neighbours Bodrum and Marmaris. Although if you are after a relaxing stop on your Izmir to Antalya road trip then stopping in Ayaka is a must.
Akyaka joined the ranks of the Cittaslow ‘slow’ towns in 2011. This means the town has vowed to identify what is important and to slow down to improve quality of life. When you visit this becomes very apparent in the way the locals live. The feeling rubs off once you drive in and start to breathe the fresh ocean and pine air and instant relaxation takes over.
Things to do in Akyaka
Akyaka’s unique architecture is worth marvelling at and hidden rocky beach coves for the sun lovers surrounded by pine forests. There are a few scenic drives you can do around the area. Although the best things to do in Akyaka is to soak in the way of life and spend a couple of days doing very little.
How long to spend in Akyaka
Akyaka is a wonderful destination for anyone looking to recharge for a few days. During our drive, we dedicated 3 nights to exploring this area and taking the time to read our books and enjoy nice food.
How to get to Dalyan
Head east on the D400. After 44km turn right at the exit to Dalyan. You should get here in under an hour.
Dalyan is a small Turkish Riviera river town located an hour east of Akyaka. Here the Dalyan River connects to the ocean via curving grassy riverbanks. What makes Dalyan worth a visit are the impressive tombs that can be seen carved into rock faces on the western side of the river.
Things to do in Dalyan
Park anywhere in the small town and go for a wander along the riverbank. You can best see the tombs from one of the cafes on the eastern bank or jump aboard one of the many riverboat cruises on offer. Other activities to do in Dalyan include visiting Izutuzu Beach, jumping in Lake Köyceğiz and the hot springs or exploring the ancient city of Kaunos.
How long to spend in Dalyan
Depending on what you would like to do here a few hours should be plenty. Many of the nearby towns (Marmaris, Fethiye and Oludeniz) offer tours here if you would rather make a base somewhere and join a guided tour. Take a look at the tours below.
How to get to Kayakoy
Head back to the D400 and continue east for 50 minutes. Pass through Fethiye along the coastal route towards Oludeniz. You will then head inland via small rural roads until you get to Kayakoy.
Kayakoy is an abandoned ‘ghost’ town, 1.5 hours from Dalyan. The deserted ruins of Kayaköy once housed 20,000 Greek Orthodox Christians and Muslim Turks living freely together. After World War I there was a particular animosity towards the Greeks and they, in turn, were forced to flee. The Greek’s who did not flee were forcibly marched to the justice centre in Denizli (over 160km away), many did not survive. Read more about the history of Kayakoy.
Things to do in Kayakoy
For a small entrance fee (5 TL) you can wander through the 350 deserted buildings. Climb to the top of the hill for a great view of the town. A couple of hours should be sufficient here.
Less than 10 minutes on from Dalyan is Ölüdeniz. A destination for thrill-seekers and in the summer months party-goers. Known for Paragliding, Babadağ Mountain is 1969m high and one of the highest tandem drop sites in the world!
Try Reaction Paragliding for a fun, reputable company. I went with these guys and had such a great time.
Visit here in the quieter shoulder season to see Oludeniz as a peaceful beach town. Or join the ranks of the British partygoers during the summer months for longer wilder nights.
Things to do in Oludeniz
While most tourists visit Oludeniz for paragliding or partying there are plenty of other things to do here. The long stretch of sand of Oludeniz Beach will keep beach lovers happy for hours. Hikers will be more than challenged and rewarded with incredible views over Butterfly Valley. Finally, watersports fanatics have all the equipment imaginable for hire along the shore.
Saklıkent National Park
How to get to Saklikent National Park
There are a couple of ways of getting to Saklikent National Park from Oludeniz. You can head back towards Fethiye and take the major roadways or head over the more mountainous pass to the east. Although not backtracking the mountain pass will add an extra 15 minutes to your drive, but also makes for more interesting scenery. Total drive time for the mountain route is 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Saklikent National Park is famous for its gorge which sits at 300m deep and 18km long. The gorge makes for another excellent detour from the coast and a great hiking adventure for those not faint at heart. This near canyoning experience gets you crossing rushing rivers and wading through chest-deep water. The further into the canyon you go the deeper the water becomes.
How to bets see Saklikent National Park
Get here early to beat the rush of tourists during peak season and leave any non-waterproof items in the car. You will be testing your canyoning abilities by hiking through the gorge until your nerves get the better of you. The cost to enter is 7TL and there are helmets if you wish to grab one on the way in.
The water is cold at first, but you quickly become used to it. We definitely doubted the difficulty of the canyon hike and turned around after an hour when the water was reaching our chests. If you wish you can hire a guide for 70 TL ($12 USD). You may feel more comfortable heading further in with someone who knows the canyon.
How to get to Kas
Continue south along the only road from Saklikent National Park. You will soon rejoin the D400. Follow this along the coastline until you reach Kas. This is another especially beautiful part of the road trip and you will want to pull over to take some photos.
The charming town of Kaş was one of my favourites on my drive to Antalya. Cute cobblestoned alleyways are home to numerous cafes and clothing stores lined with bougainvillaea. Here a plentitude of alfresco dining options with delicious fresh food surrounds the main square in town.
Things to do in Kas
The activities around Kaş will keep you more than busy if you want them to. You can section hike the Lycian Way, take a ferry to a nearby Greek island or get some rays at Kaputas Beach. Kaputas Beach is one of the few beaches in Turkey which has white sand. In addition to this, it’s at the base of a large cliff and has crystal clear waters. Making this an ideal, picturesque spot for the day.
I loved wandering through the town and if you are there on Friday, make sure to check out the Friday markets.
How long to spend in Kas
How long do you have is really the question? Kas has wonderful dining options as well as plenty to do in and near town. We spent 3 nights here but easily could have spent a few more.
How to get to Antalya
Follow the D400 along the coast all the way until you reach your final destination of Antalya. This drive is just over 3 hours.
Antalya is the city which combines nature and history. This is the only city I have visited where you will find not one, but two waterfalls within the city centre! Antalya is a large city of close to 2.4 million and very spread out.
Things to do in Antalya
Stoll the streets of the old town, wander through Hadrian’s gate and see the Düden River spill powerfully into the ocean from a 40m cliff. There are multiple boat cruises offering waterfront vantage points of the waterfalls.
Driving in Turkey
Driving in Turkey can be a bit intimidating. Drivers pass on blind bends and seem to have very little regard for road rules. However, it is also a brilliant way to see the country and well worth doing. Just keep an eye on other drivers and know where you are going. Download Google maps before going offline or grab a local SIM card.
Use Skyscanner to search for rental cars. When renting a car ask about the HGS sticker for toll roads and double-check what your insurance offers. The price of petrol in Turkey is under 7 TL/L ($1.20/L USD).
I’m excited to share this Izmir to Antalya road trip post with you. This was one of the highlights of my 12 months in Europe and I hope it inspires you to take a similar trip.
Once you have seen the Turkish Riviera why not continue as I did and fly to the magical region of Cappadocia?