Things to Do in Fethiye
Despite its enormous popularity, however, Fethiye has managed to maintain much of its village charm. Particularly popular with British travelers, Fethiye (along with Ölüdeniz) was chosen as the best tourism center in the world by The Times and The Guardian newspapers in 2007. It’s easy to see why: the marina is excellent, living is inexpensive and there is a bustling nightlife scene during the summer. Scuba diving, paragliding off mountain peaks and hiking ancient trails are just a few of the activities possible in and around Fethiye.
In Fethiye’s town center you’ll find an antique theater that dates to Roman times, as well as a two-story sarcophagus. A ruined Crusader tower, constructed by the Knights of St. John, stands on a hillside east of the city, while on the cliffs above town there are a number of rock-cut tombs, some dating as far back as the 4th century BC.
Beyond the attraction of the town itself, Fethiye has a number of great options for day trips to the surrounding region. Not only does Fethiye mark the beginning of the Lycian Way, a gorgeous 500-km hiking trail that runs along the Mediterranean coast all the way to Antalya, but it is also the starting point for popular cruises during the summer. These consist of three to six days of utter relaxation and sparkling blue waters aboard a Turkish gület, which will take passengers from Fethiye to Olympos and back, or around to a number of the area’s nearby islands. There's also a day-long 12-island yacht cruise of the bay, with stops at such sites as Gemiler Island, which is full of Byzantine ruins.
Also nearby is Ölüdeniz, also known as the ""Blue Lagoon,"" one of the nicest beaches in Turkey and a center for extreme sports such as paragliding. Butterfly Valley and Kabak are also relatively close; both are isolated canyons bordering the sea to the south of Fethiye, and both feature waterfalls and secluded beachfront campsites.
Butterfly Valley (Kelebekler Vadisi) makes a dramatic first impression with its narrow gorge, steep cliffs, and white sand. Reachable only by boat, the secluded cove gets its name from the many species of butterflies and moths that breed in the valley.
Though Saklikent translates from Turkish as Hidden City, urban life is the last thing that comes to mind in Saklikent National Park (Saklikent Milli Parki). Encompassing a dramatic gorge that cuts through the mountains, the national park is a playground of river rapids, streams, waterfalls, and cliffs.
Known in English as St Nicholas Island, Gemiler Island (Gemiler Adası) lies along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, south from Fethiye and west of the sandy beach at Ölüdeniz. Separated from the mainland by a narrow sea channel, it is a tiny speck of an islet, just 400 meters (1,312 feet) wide and 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) long but is renowned for its wealth of Byzantine ruins, which date back more than 1,500 years.
Gemiler Island was once one of Christendom’s most popular pilgrimage points with devotees heading for Jerusalem in the Middle Ages. They came to honor the tomb of St. Nicholas – the original Father Christmas, who was Bishop of Myra on the Turkish coast opposite. Even though his remains were moved to the mainland in 650 AD, the island is still occasionally known as St. Nicholas Island. Also around this time, the little Byzantine settlement on Gemiler came under threat from pirates and was abandoned as the residents moved to the mainland for protection.
Today a chaotic jumble of ruins covers much of the island, comprising the scattered remains of four churches, evidence of Byzantine houses, a port, waterways, tombs and graveyards. Stores once stood along the shoreline, where traders would sell olive oil and grain to passing ships. The fragments of St Nicholas’s tomb that still stand today reveal faint vestiges of frescoes depicting scenes from his life; these are open to the elements and are slowly deteriorating in the sun.
Gemiler has plenty of rocky bays providing safe mooring for yachts and provides excellent snorkeling along its coastline; tumbledown ruins can occasionally be spotted just below the surface of the sea.
Named the “dead sea” in Turkish due to its calmness, Ölüdeniz is one of Turkey’s most popular – and overwhelmingly most frequently photographed – beaches, thanks to its spectacular setting along a gorgeous blue lagoon.
Beachgoers flock to two separate areas here: a long, wide strip of open beach facing the Mediterranean, known as Belcekız; and the more sheltered shoreline of the Blue Lagoon, which is inside the boundaries of a protected natural park (entrance fee) and has a dramatic backdrop of mountain scenery behind it – Babadağ, one of Turkey’s top destinations for paragliding.
Both Oludeniz Beach and the Blue Lagoon are extremely popular. Be prepared for large crowds on the beaches, particularly on weekends in the height of summer – this isn’t a place for those seeking peace and quiet – and for the inevitable slew of generic restaurants and tacky souvenir shops along the waterfront.
As if Oludeniz Blue Lagoon weren’t entrancing enough, there are also daylong boat trips that leave from here for scenic coves and beaches nearby, as well as to points of interest including Butterfly Valley. In addition, Ölüdeniz is the starting point for the Lycian Way, a 510-km (315-mile) hiking trail that runs from Fethiye to Antalya along the coast.
Dotted with a dozen islands interspersed with secluded bays and inlets, and set against a backdrop of forested hills that slope dramatically up from the shore, the Gulf of Fethiye (Fethiye Körfezi) offers one of Turkey’s prettiest stretches of coastline and is deservedly popular as a boating destination.
One of the most enjoyable ways to see the area is on a daylong “12-island cruise” that takes passengers around the gulf. Most cruises make stops at about five or six of the islands (all of one of which are uninhabited), allowing time for swimming, snorkeling and other activities.
Highlights might include exploring the remains of a Byzantine church and Roman shipyard on Tersane; swimming off the long, sandy beaches of the Yassıca Adalar (“Flat Islands”); or taking a dip amidst the half-submerged Roman ruins known as “Cleopatra’s Baths.”
For travelers with more time, three- or four-day cruises, in which you sleep onboard the boat between daily excursions, allow you to experience the delights of the Gulf of Fethiye at a more leisurely pace.
Warm springs bubble around and under Lake Koycegiz, making mud baths a signature of the waterfront town of Dalyan. Minerals give the mud a sulfur smell, but can, locals say, work miracles on aging skin. Just lounge in the shallow pools, coat yourself in glop, then rinse off in the river, lake, showers, or spring-fed pool.
Sitting above a Lycian hilltop, Tlos is an ancient settlement now in ruins that is considered to be one of the most important religious sites in the area. Its foundation is estimated to date back to 2000 BC. Today an entire citadel remains, including a fortress and acropolis, city walls, ancient baths, a Roman amphitheater, and the remains of an Ottoman castle. Set against the Akdağlar mountain range, sweeping views of the Xanthos Valley and the river Esen can be seen from atop the ruins.
Equally fascinating are the Lycian rock tombs carved into mountainsides. The Tomb of Bellerophon resembles a rock temple — with four columns, an unfinished facade, and a relief of the hero Bellerophon on a Pegasus horse. Historical evidence suggests that Tlos may have been the most powerful of six Lycian cities in the Roman era. Tlos was only recently discovered in 1838, and archeological discoveries are still being made there.
Carved into the cliffside above town is a group of ancient Lycian tombs that have become some of Fethiye’s most famous landmarks: the Fethiye Lycian Rock Tombs (Tomb of Amyntas). Set higher than the rest, the most important of the tombs was built in 350 B.C. for “Amyntas, son of Hermagios” (according to a Greek inscription on the wall of the tomb). He is thought to have been a local Lycian ruler or nobleman.
The entrance to the Amyntas Tomb was carved out of the rock so as to look like a temple portico, with two Ionic-style columns topped by a triangular pediment. Grave robbers appear to have broken into the tomb a long time ago, as is clear from the missing panel in the bottom-right-hand side of the doorway.
About 500 meters down and to the right (east) is a cluster of several smaller Lycian rock tombs carved into the cliff face; very little is known about the identities of those buried here.
In addition to seeing the Fethiye rock tombs themselves, visitors who make the hike up will be rewarded with fabulous views of the town and the surrounding coastline. The best time to visit (and consequently the busiest) is at sunset.
The ghost town of Kayaköy – a cluster of about a thousand centuries-old stone houses scattered across a hillside – has a poignant history. Formerly inhabited by Greek citizens of the Ottoman Empire and known by the Greek name of Levissi or Livissi, it was abandoned in 1923 after the Greek-Turkish population exchange that took place after the founding of the Turkish Republic.
The story of the village (renamed “Eskibahçe”) and its inhabitants has been fictionalized by Louis de Bernières in Birds Without Wings, a sweeping novel that takes place during the late Ottoman Empire and WWI.
Walking among Kayaköy's crumbling, empty houses and through the narrow lanes can be rather eerie, but the deserted village has a surreal beauty to it. There are a couple of churches and chapels, of which the most significant is the Panayia Pyrgiotissa (built in 1888), where a few fragments of frescoes and mosaics can still be seen.
Several cafes and restaurants are housed in atmospheric old buildings on the edges of the village.
Just outside the ancient Lycian city of Patara, Patara Beach (Patara Plajı) is known as one of the most beautiful on the coast of the Turkish Riviera. At 11 miles long, it is one of the longest beaches in the area. Its soft, white sand and calm blue waters make it a particularly welcoming Mediterranean beach, in an area known for beaches of pebbles and stones.
As it is part of a national park, seasonal wildlife is protected by the Turkish government and can be spotted seasonally. There are many native birds and sea turtles, who come to nest in the sands. At Patara Beach’s easternmost point, there is a scenic rocky cove worth seeking out.
History exists here as the half-buried remains of an ancient Roman amphitheater partially covered by sand. Because of its nearby historic ruins and national park status, the beach area cannot be developed and sees very few tourists. Many archaeological sites can be viewed along the road to the beach.
More Things to Do in Fethiye
Just inland from the main port area and east of the ancient amphitheater is Fethiye’s old town, known as Paspatur. The narrow streets here are filled with shops and street stalls selling everything from Turkish carpets, jewelry and antiques to edible goodies like spices and Turkish delight; there are also touristic knick-knacks aplenty.
Even if you’re not planning on buying anything, Paspatur is a great place for wandering around and people-watching, or for getting a bite to eat at one of the many cafés and eateries. Thanks to a canopy of vines above, its shaded streets are pleasant even during the height of summer.
Nearby is Fethiye’s main fish market, where you’ll see local residents shopping and where you can even purchase your own fish and have it cooked up for you to eat at one of the nearby restaurants.
While you’re in the area, you may also want to stop by the Eski Cami, Fethiye’s oldest mosque, or the Eski Hamam, a Turkish bath dating back to the Ottoman period, for a traditional scrubdown.
Scattered around the town of Fethiye are a number of stone sarcophagi left by the Lycians. While in ancient Greek culture the dead were usually buried outside of inhabited areas, the Lycians preferred to bury their dead amidst the living; hence the presence of these sarcophagi so close to other ancient monuments. The Fethiye Lycian stone sarcophagi have been left in their original locations, and the modern town was simply built up around them – one sarcophagus has even become a traffic island, and you’ll see vehicles speeding past it on either side.
Like the monumental tombs in the cliffside above town, Fethiye's Lycian sarcophagi are thought to date to approximately the 4th century BC. They were carved out of local limestone and decorated with carved reliefs, and some are two or three stories high.
The most impressive and best-preserved Lycian sarcophagus is located in the garden of the town hall. Built to look like a two-story wooden house, it features intricate carvings on both sides and on the crest of the vaulted lid that depict soldiers carrying shields in battle.
Overlooking the main road that runs along the Fethiye harbor is Fethiye Roman Theater (also known as Telmessos Theatre, from the city's name in classical times). Built into a hillside, the semicircular theater, occasionally described as an amphitheater, was constructed in the Hellenistic (Greek) style and could once hold some 5,000 to 6,000 spectators. During the Roman period, in approximately the 2nd century AD, a stage building was added, and Fethiye's theater remained in use until about the 7th century.
Unfortunately, after an earthquake struck the town in 1957, many pieces of masonry were removed from the theater by local residents for use in rebuilding, and even after excavation by archaeologists in the 1990s the site remained in a poor state of preservation. Fethiye theater is currently undergoing an ambitious restoration, after which it is expected to host open-air performances again – just as in ancient times.
Fethiye Museum (Fethiye Müzesi) is a small but interesting archaeological museum that displays a variety of findings from Telmessos (the ancient Lycian city over whose remains Fethiye was founded) and several nearby sites, including Tlos and Kaunos. There are statues and stone fragments, a fairly well-preserved mosaic from Letoön (an ancient Lycian religious center about 65 km south of Fethiye), and artifacts including ceramics, jewelry and grave stelae.
The most significant piece in the Fethiye Museum's collection is a trilingual stele from Letoön that is inscribed in Lycian, Greek and Aramaic and was a key finding for archaeologists in deciphering the Lycian language.
An important new addition to the museum is a group of five statues – including those of the Roman emperors Hadrian and Antonius Pius and the goddess Isis – that were unearthed in just 2011 in excavations at Tlos.
The garden of the museum is dotted with an assortment of ancient statuary, architectural fragments and amphorae from the Lycian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods.
Çalış Beach (Çalış Plajı) is conveniently located a short ways up the coast from Fethiye and offers a laid-back vibe, a variety of watersports and some of the most spectacular sunsets to be seen in the area.
Stretching for about 2 km of coarse sand and gravel, the beach is lined with hotels, restaurants, shops and other trappings of mass tourism, meaning that you’ll never need to leave – but if it’s solitude you’re after, this isn’t really the place to come. Just a stone’s throw from the beach, Sultans’ Aqua City water park is a good activity option for families with kids.
A 20-minute walk further up the coast is Koca Çalış, a relatively more secluded beach with far fewer commercial enterprises and more of an atmosphere of natural beauty, thanks also to the beautiful mountain scenery behind it. The formerly sleepy beach has become more famous in recent years after a scene in the James Bond movie Skyfall was filmed here.
Because of often high winds that can make for choppy waters, Çalış and Koca Çalış are not the most ideal destinations for swimming but are excellent for windsurfing and kite surfing. Several outfitters provide rental equipment and offer instruction for people of all experience levels.