Last updated on February 22, 2023 by Wandering our World
From the historical hub of Istanbul to the cultural capital of Ankara, Turkey has some fabulous cities to explore. But Antalya and Izmir are two of the most appealing Turkish cities of all – however which one should you choose to visit?
Well, that will all depend on what kind of trip you’re looking for. Both of these cities can offer fabulous food, fascinating cultural experiences, and fun attractions, but they’re quite different places, in more ways than one….
As the crown jewel of the Turkish Riviera, Antalya is a super spot for beautiful beaches and wonderful resorts – and if you’re looking for a beach vacation this is probably going to be the best city for you.
Antalya is also a lovely city that caters better to tourists than Izmir, tends to have better weather, and is well-suited for shopping and relaxation while also being nicely-placed for day trips to some of Turkey’s most famous places.
Izmir, meanwhile, is more of a cultural metropolis. There are thousands of years of history there, with some awe-inspiring landmarks and ruins to visit. It’s a lively, large, dynamic port city, with lots of events and festivals on the calendar. It’s also Turkey’s culinary capital, with extraordinary food just waiting to be devoured.
Of course, we can’t sum up such amazing cities with just a couple of paragraphs, and there’s much more to say about both Antalya and Izmir.
That’s why we use our experience to show you which has the better beaches, activities, nightlife, food, which is better for families, couples and lots more. All so you can make the right decision!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Is Better For Beaches?
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Better For Hiking?
- Which Is Better For Food?
- Which Is Best For A Family Vacation?
- Which Is Best For Couples & Honeymoons?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview: Antalya vs Izmir
Antalya: A Quick Overview
Antalya is a large Turkish city on the country’s southern coast. It’s known as the tourist capital of the country, thanks to its world-class resorts and lovely location near some of Turkey’s best beaches. No wonder that it draws in many visitors each year, especially in the warm summer months.
Home to more than 1.3 million people, with over 2.6 million in the complete metropolitan municipality, Antalya ranks fifth in terms of Turkey’s biggest cities.
The history of this city goes back centuries, and it has been ruled over by various groups throughout the years, including the Romans. In recent years, Antalya has seen a lot of development, helping it grow and develop as a prosperous vacation destination.
From beautiful beaches to traditional Turkish bazaars, there’s plenty for visitors to see and do here, and Antalya is also a great gateway city, ideally-situated for day trips to places like Perge, Aspendos, Phaselis, and the Lycian tombs.
Izmir: A Quick Overview
Izmir is a large city on Turkey’s western Aegean coast. It’s the capital of the Anatolia province and is famed for its extraordinary history, having been founded by the Greeks, controlled by the Romans, and made a part of the Ottoman Empire before finally becoming part of Turkey in 1922.
Approximately 3 million people live in the main urban area of Izmir, with well over 4 million in the full metropolitan municipality, making it Turkey’s third biggest city – it also happens to be the second largest area on the Aegean Sea, with Athens taking the top spot.
With such a rich past, Izmir is a haven for history and culture lovers. There are some amazing ruins and remnants of the past, with some dating all the way back to the days of Alexander the Great.
But Izmir isn’t only a place to reflect on the past; this modern, forward-thinking metropolis offers all sorts of fun activities for every visitor, including everything from vast, colorful markets to live events and some of Turkey’s very best restaurants, too.
Which Is Better For Beaches?
Both Antalya and Izmir are coastal cities, which may make you think that soft sands and warm waters are only a short walk away.
However, the truth is that Izmir doesn’t actually have any beaches of its own, so it’s not the No. 1 choice for anyone hoping to sunbathe and splash around.
If you’re in the mood for some sunbathing or sunset strolls on the sand during your time in Izmir, you’ll need to pack a bag and leave the city behind, visiting neighboring towns and coastal areas like Mordogan or the Cesme Peninsula.
In contrast, thanks to its prime location Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, Antalya is much better-suited to seaside adventures, with some supremely soft sands and mesmerizing coastal scenes both within the city limits and just a short drive away.
Because of this, Antalya clearly stand out as the better option for beach-goers, but Izmir still has enough options to satisfy any seaside urges you might have, as long as you don’t mind spending a couple of hours in a car or bus to get there.
Antalya: The Beaches
Antalya is often cited as one of the best Turkish cities for beach lovers, as many of the nation’s prettiest coastal areas are situated in and around the Antalya Province. Plus, the weather there is pleasant for large parts of the year, with slightly higher temperatures than Izmir and low levels of rainfall.
If you’re looking for a beach close to the city itself, head to Konyaalti. Situated towards the western side of Antalya, this beach runs for around 8km in total. It’s one of the most famous and popular beaches, made up mostly of pebbles and boasting breathtaking views of the Taurus Mountains.
Mermeli Beach is another easily-accessible beach for visitors to Antalya. It’s quite a small and cozy spot, situated a short walk from Hadrian’s Gate. There are some nice eateries nearby, as well as boat tours to take you out onto the water.
If you don’t mind leaving the city behind, there are lots more beaches to uncover just beyond the city limits, like the stunning, family-friendly Tekirova Beach, the golden sands of Kleopatra Beach, and the super swimming conditions of Beldibi.
Cirali Beach is another incredible spot, standing out for its pristine surroundings and peaceful atmosphere, while Belek Beach to the east of Antalya is a glamorous, up-market place with fancy resorts and amazing golf courses nearby.
In short, there are plenty of beautiful, well-maintained beaches here, often with restaurants, hotels, and other amenities nearby.
Izmir: The Beaches
As mentioned earlier on, Izmir doesn’t have any beaches of its own, so you’ll have to head out of the city if you want to feel soft sand beneath your toes or take a dip in the warm waters of the Aegean Sea.
Most travelers will head to the Cesme Peninsula, west of Izmir, to find the best beaches in this part of Turkey. Ilica Beach, for instance, is a little slice of paradise, with shallow, family-friendly waters and great facilities.
You might also like to take a trip out to Pamucak Beach. This long expanse of golden sand backs onto olive trees and attracts large crowds of locals. Locals also love Altinkum Beach for its turquoise waters and white, sugary sands.
The little village of Mordogan is another fine place to visit if you love beaches. It sits on the Karaburun Peninsula, with several small beaches all around, including a nice mixture of tourist-friendly locations with lots of amenities and more rugged, unspoiled stretches of sand and shingles.
From the picturesque scenes of Manal Cove to the off-the-beaten-path charm of Badembuku, there are quite a lot of places to go, but you will need to spend a couple of hours on the road to get to most of them.
This can quickly eat into your itinerary and use up some of your travel budget, too, so you’ll need to think carefully when planning beach activities from Izmir.
Which Is Best For Activities?
Beaches might take up some of your time on a trip to Izmir or Antalya, but there are plenty of other things to do in these great cities.
Overall, there are some similarities between these cities in terms of activities, as they both offer great day trips, fun shopping, and interesting historic sites.
However as you’ll see below, of the two, Antalya is more oriented towards beach fun and jet-set crowds with its up-market boutiques, while Izmir is more of a traditional Turkish city, ideal for those who want to really immerse themselves in the culture of this place.
Below we’ll show you their attractions, activities, landmarks, and other ways to pass the time. All so you can see which city will suit you best….
Antalya: The Activities
Most visitors to Antalya will take a tour of the Old Town neighborhood – Kaleici – to begin with.
A labyrinth of red-roofed homes and cobbled streets, Kaleici is a beautiful place to explore, with a long list of landmarks and hidden gems to find along the way, from an 18th century mosque to an ancient clock tower.
To find out more about the city’s storied past, visitors can visit one or more of the many museums dotted around Antalya.
The Antalya Archaeology Museum is arguably the most impressive of all, boasting a magnificent collection of ancient artifacts and artworks, with some fabulously-preserved Greek and Roman statues.
If shopping is more your thing, there are some charming boutiques and souvenir shops to be found around Old Town, along with more up-market stores elsewhere around the city.
Antalya also has traditional Turkish markets and a couple of good malls, like TerraCity, which has approximately 180 stores in total.
Landmarks like Hadrian’s Gate and the Roman Fortress in Karaalioglu Park are definitely worth visiting during your stay here, and the Roman Harbor is another must-see location. Take a seat at a local café there to enjoy amazing sunset views in the evening, or, for something more adventurous, book a boat tour and head out onto the Mediterranean waters yourself.
There are also plenty of day trips to do from Antalya. You could head west along the Turquoise Coast to visit resort towns like Kas and Fethiye, for example, or take trips into natural spaces like Altinbesik Cave National Park or Koprulu Canyon National Park for activities like hiking and river rafting.
Izmir: The Activities
Since Izmir is such a historic city, most visitors will want to check out some of the famous ancient landmarks here.
The Agora Open Air Museum is one of the most impressive sites of all – situated right in the center of the city, this ancient marketplace dates back over 2,000 years.
The Hisar Mosque, built in the late 1500s, is another impressive and unmissable landmark, whilst you can find the city’s iconic Izmir Clock Tower over in Konak Square.
This square is a fine place to simply sit and watch the world go by, savoring Izmir’s uniquely laid-back atmosphere. Or, you can continue your journey onwards into the nearby Kemeralti Bazaar.
Kemeralti is known far and wide as one of the best bazaars in all of Turkey. It’s similar to the famous Egyptian Bazaar of Istanbul, but less crowded, and you can pick up all sorts of unique Turkish trinkets and treats there.
Beyond the market, you’ll find other good shopping areas in Izmir, with budget-friendly buys in Synagogue Street and luxury items at the Istinye Park Mall.
With so many options, Izmir is arguably a better spot for shopping than Antalya, as well as having a more authentic Turkish vibe.
And, depending on the time of year you visit, you might like to check out the local events calendar; Izmir hosts many interesting festivals based on everything from music and dance to puppets, theater, and flowers.
Like Antalya, Izmir also has some excellent day trip potential. You can head out to the hot springs of Pamukkale for a luxurious, indulgent experience, or take a trip to legendary historic sites, such as Ephesus.
Other day trip destinations include the picturesque towns of Cesme and Alacati, or you can stick around in Izmir for activities like food tours and museums.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
How about if you’re looking for some evening entertainment in the form of bars, clubs, and more? Well, for those who like to stay out late, both Izmir and Antalya have several options and designated nightlife neighborhoods.
In Antalya, you can find some of the best nightlife spots in the Old Town, or Kaleici area. The harbor is also a good spot for bars, and there’s a nice mixture of options, from British-style pubs and Turkish taverns to bars with live pop and rock music.
Antalya also has its own array of clubs. Club Ceilo, down by the marina, is a great place for pool parties and live music, while other spots, like Inferno or Gaga Club Lara, offer pumping music and popular Turkish DJs.
The city of Izmir has quite a big student population, so it’s got more clubs and nightlife spots that cater to a young crowd. You’ll find some great music venues here, like Ooze and Bios Bar. There are also some lively pubs and bars spread out around areas like Bornova and Karsiyaka.
Overall, neither of these cities are exactly famous for their nightlife, but both have more than enough bars and clubs to keep most travelers happy.
However Izmir’s nightlife is a little more youth-oriented, while Antalya has a more diverse range of evening hotspots.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: Adalya Port Hotel overlooks Antalya’s Old Harbour, and is set on an old cobbled street, so you’ll get a real taste of Turkey when staying here, but still with modern amenities. The panoramic rooftop bar and restaurant with stunning views is, of course, the real highlight. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Lara Barut Collection-Ultra is one of the most luxurious resorts in Turkey, but it’s still not one of the most expensive. The resort sits right on the beach, has gorgeous outdoor pools, 6 restaurants and even a Turkish spa. It’s the ultimate Turkish Rivera experience. See photos and rates!
Budget: L’Agora Old Town Hotel & Bazaar is set in a gorgeous old building with very authentic Turkish vibes. It has a stunning garden area (reminiscent of an old street cafe), a restaurant and bar, and is photogenic at every turn. Considering all of that, and it’s fantastic city location, we think it’s an unbelievable budget stay. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Sometimes on holiday all you want is to feel like celebrity, that’s what you’ll get at the five-star Izmir Marriott Hotel which also boasts stunning sea views and an outdoor swimming pool – a rarity in the city. See photos and rates here!
Which Is Better For Hiking?
Both Izmir and Antalya have busy, bustling streets with plenty of shops and man-made attractions to keep you entertained. But what if you want to leave the city behind and explore nature with hikes, treks, and wilderness walks?
Well, Antalya is conveniently located near some of Turkey’s longest and most scenic trails. The Likya Yolu, or Lycian Way, for example, runs for more than 300 miles, passing by various ruined cities and charming coastal towns.
You can also explore part of the very long St. Paul Trail from Antalya, or head out into the Taurus Mountains for mountain walks and climbing experiences. Places like Koprulu Canyon are also located just a short drive away, offering even more fun for hiking enthusiasts.
Izmir also has a famous hiking route of its own: the Ephesus-Mimas route. In recent years, authorities have added signs and established a few smaller trail sections to make it easier for people to hike parts of this historic path.
There are several trails to try, each with its own theme. The Olive Route, for example, travels by various olive groves, while the Vineyard Route links some of the great wineries of the Izmir Province.
Izmir has some lakes and waterfalls to hike around, too, but you will need to travel quite a distance to reach some of these locations. In contrast, many of Antalya’s best hiking trails are more conveniently located close to the city which may make it the better option for those who want to incorporate a little hiking into their vacation.
Which Is Better For Food?
No matter which Turkish city you choose to visit, your tastebuds are in for a treat!
Turkish cuisine has a rich and deep history; influenced by various peoples and cultures, it’s a veritable melting pot of Mediterranean, Arabic, Persian, and Kurdish flavors, and both Izmir and Antalya have got some great tastes to offer.
But which city is best for foodies? Well, Izmir is generally regarded as the culinary capital of Turkey. This is partly thanks to the city’s past, with so many different people and trade routes passing right through the heart of Izmir over the years, bringing different flavors, ingredients, and influences over time.
You’ll find a really diverse culinary scene there, with Turkish, Greek, Levantine, and Mediterranean dishes in abundance.
With so many options, there really is something for everyone, but Izmir definitely remains one of the best places to try traditional Turkish foods, like boyok pastries, sogus cold cuts, or kokoretsi – a popular street food made of spiced lamb intestines.
Izmir also has some world-class restaurants, offering everything from top-notch Turkish cuisine to American-style burgers, Italian pizzas, Greek classics, and freshly-caught seafood, straight from the Aegean.
Visitors to Izmir should also sample some locally-made Turkish delight – head to Kemaraltı to grab some of these colorful treats at decent prices.
Antalya is a fine place for food lovers, too. It has some of Turkey’s finest seafood restaurants, as well as a good selection of family-friendly eateries serving up some classic Turkish dishes for all to enjoy.
But the food selection isn’t quite as diverse and deep in Antalya as it is in Izmir, although there’s still a lot of quality to be found in the various restaurants and taverns of the Old Town.
Which Is Best For A Family Vacation?
If you’re planning a Turkish vacation for the whole family, you’ll need to consider which city has more to offer to keep your kids entertained.
And when it comes to family attractions, Antalya quite simply has a longer list of options than Izmir.
You find amusement parks in and around Antalya, like The Land of Legends, as well as water parks. There’s also a Toy Museum, and Antalya is also home to Sandland, a world-famous sand sculpture park with some of the most incredible sandcastles and sculptures on the planet – Sandland has a new theme every year, so you can go back and see fresh creations each time.
Since Antalya is such a tourist hotspot, it’s also quite a family-friendly place. In general; many of the hotels here have been designed with families in mind, with helpful amenities and friendly staff. The beaches, too, are well-developed and safe, often featuring lifeguards and safe swimming zones.
Izmir, meanwhile, isn’t quite as family-focused. There are some fun attractions there that are suitable for children, like the Izmir Wildlife Park and various museums.
Kids of a certain age may also enjoy Izmir’s amazing historic locations, like the Agora, but younger children may get bored by the absence of beaches and typical family attractions.
Which Is Best For Couples & Honeymoons?
Antalya might be best for families, but when it comes to a couple’s trip, the choice is a little tricker.
Both Antalya and Izmir can appeal to couples of all ages, and the best option for you will depend mostly on what sorts of activities and experiences you and your partner are looking for.
Antalya is great for R & R. It has fancy coastal resorts, stunning beaches, and great boutique shopping.
It’s the sort of place where you can go to leave the stress of regular life behind and indulge in all of your favorite things, sunbathing on the beach and treating yourself to a few fancy souvenirs. It also has some great coastal bars and restaurants for romantic evenings.
Izmir is more-suited to active couples who want to get out and explore each and every day.
It has a longer list of landmarks and interesting sites to visit, with lots of day trip opportunities and authentic Turkish experiences around every corner.
Izmir is less romantic and glamorous than Antalya, but could be more rewarding from a cultural point of view.
Which Is Cheaper?
Cost is another big factor to consider when weighing up the pros and cons of Izmir vs Antalya. So, which city is cheaper?
Well, average costs between Antalya and Izmir are quite similar to one another, but you may notice some slight differences for food and accommodation.
In general, daily meals and nightly hotel rates are lower in Izmir, so you can eat well and find a nice place to stay without spending quite as much money. Plus, since Izmir is a little less tourist orientated, it’s possible to enjoy various activities and tours for less here.
Antalya is slightly more expensive, but it’s cheaper to get to, and if you plan your trip carefully and book your accommodation in advance, it’s still more than possible to have a budget-friendly stay in this fabulous coastal city.
Which Is Easier To Get To?
Both Antalya and Izmir have their own international airports, and both of these airports are situated conveniently close to the cities, so you won’t have to worry about long drives when you arrive, but which one is easier to access?
Well, while both Izmir and Antalya are directly connected to many cities around Europe, including places in the UK, France, Germany, and Scandinavia, Antalya is the busier airport of the two and has many more connections with places like Eastern Europe, North Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
Most travelers coming from Europe or the US will have similar experiences getting to either Izmir or Antalya, but you may find that Antalya is a little easier and potentially cheaper to get to, thanks to the wider range of flights.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
Both Antalya and Izmir offer a few different ways to get around. They both have dolmus buses, which simply drive along set routes and can drop you off or pick you up almost anywhere along the way, as well as other, more traditional buses with set stops. Izmir also has a metro line, while Antalya has a tram.
The Izmir metro is really handy for getting from the airport into the city, and it’ll also take you quickly and conveniently to most of the main landmarks and locations for a very cheap price.
Similarly, the Antalya tram system is great for accessing the various landmarks, like Hadrian’s Gate and Antalya Museum.
You can take taxis in both of these cities, too, and many of the main downtown areas are very walkable and easy to navigate.
In short, you shouldn’t have much of a problem in either city, but Antalya is probably a little easier to navigate, due to its more tourist-friendly culture.
Antalya vs Izmir: Which Is The Better Choice?
Overall, choosing between Antalya and Izmir isn’t easy. Both of these cities are exciting places to explore, with interesting landmarks, fascinating museums, impressive food, and other shared advantages.
Neither city is truly better than the other from an objective standpoint, but one might be better for you, depending on your preferences.
For example, Antalya definitely has more appeal to those who want a traditional coastal vacation, with great hotels and fabulous beaches to go along with its shopping and cultural scene.
Izmir, on the other hand, is less of a touristy city. On the plus side, this means that you can experience a more authentic Turkish vacation here, but at the same time, Izmir can be a little trickier to navigate and doesn’t have much in terms of beaches or family attractions, so it lacks the universal appeal of Antalya.
Overall, Antalya just about has the edge in this comparison, thanks to its strong touristic development. It’s got lots for families, couples, and solo travelers, while also being more accessible and boasting a more diverse range of hiking and nature-based activities, too.
With that said, Izmir is still a fantastic city, and if you feel that Antalya doesn’t quite have the cultural depth you’re looking for, Izmir could be the perfect place to submerge yourself in the true Turkish lifestyle.