Istanbul vs Antalya: The Honest Comparison To Help You Choose!

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Last updated on September 12, 2023 by Wandering our World

Turkey is one of the most fascinating vacation destinations of them all. A true treasure trove of delights, from spicy bazaars to mind-blowing mosques, awe-inspiring natural wonders, and world-class beaches. 

In short, there’s an awful lot to love about this country, with Istanbul and Antalya standing out as two of its top cities. Indeed, a large percentage of travellers heading to Turkey choose to base themselves in one of these locations, and it’s easy to see why. 

Istanbul is the nation’s biggest city, overflowing with cultural activities, while Antalya sits at the heart of the country’s scenic Turquoise Coast, where some of its prettiest beaches can be found.

Both cities have a lot to offer, but they also have some major differences in terms of size, vibe, activities, and more. They can offer completely contrasting experiences, with Istanbul ideal for action-packed, big city adventures and Antalya much more suited to relaxing, romantic seaside escapes.

Which one is right for you? Well, that’s what this guide is here to help with. Below, we’ll take a side-by-side look at how Istanbul and Antalya compare. 

We’ll look at every aspect of these cities, from their main attractions and activities to their nightlife scenes, restaurants, beaches, and more. By the end, you should have all the info you need to make the right choice.

Contents

  • Istanbul: A Quick Overview
  • Antalya: A Quick Overview
  • Which Is Best For Activities?
  • Which Is Better For Beaches? 
  • Which Is Better For Nightlife? 
  • Which Is Better For Food?
  • Which Is Better For Shopping?  
  • Which Is Better For Families?
  • Which Is Better For Couples? 
  • Which Is Better For Backpackers? 
  • Which Is Cheaper?  
  • Where To Stay According To Your Budget?
  • Istanbul vs Antalya: Which Is Better?
A quick comparison: Istanbul vs Antalya

A Quick Overview Of Istanbul vs Antalya

Aerial drone view of the Suleymaniye Mosque, huge Ottoman imperial mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul: A Quick Overview

Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, is the biggest city in all of Turkey. It sits on the boundary between Asia and Europe, and it’s the only city on Earth to be spread out across two separate continents. It’s also one of the world’s most populous cities, with a colossal population in excess of 15 million people.

There’s a lot of history in Istanbul. It was founded under the name Byzantium back in the 7th century BC, later coming under the control of the Roman Empire and being renamed to Constantinople. It passed under the control of several empires across the ages, before eventually obtaining its current name, Istanbul, in 1930.

Istanbul has always been a significant, powerful, and influential city, and it continues to play a huge role in the Turkish economy. It’s the country’s primary cultural, historic, and business hub, the home of many major companies, and one of the world’s most-visited touristic locations, drawing in millions of visitors from across the globe each and every year.

It’s no wonder so many people flock to this city. Dynamic, vibrant, and full of life and excitement, Istanbul is utterly unlike anywhere else on Earth. It’s a one-of-a-kind destination with such a lot to offer. Whether you’re exploring the city’s diverse neighborhoods, marveling at its stunning sights, or enjoying its exquisite cuisine, you’re guaranteed a magical, memorable experience.

Harbor in Antalya old town or Kaleici in Turkey. High quality photo

Antalya: A Quick Overview

Antalya is Turkey’s fifth-biggest city. It sits on the nation’s south coast and is part of the Turkish Riviera, or Turquoise Coast. Over 1.3 million people live here, making it the biggest coastal resort in the country. It’s certainly a busy and lively place, but has a much more laid-back, relaxing vibe when compared to the chaotic hustle and bustle of Istanbul. 

Like Istanbul, Antalya’s history goes back many years. It was founded around 150 BC and originally known as Attaleia, named after the ancient king, Attalus II. The city later fell under the control of the Roman Empire, before becoming a big part of the Byzantine Empire, with many historic sites from the past still standing today for visitors to enjoy and admire.

These days, Antalya is best-known as one of Turkey’s top tourism hotspots. Plenty of people head here to relax, enjoying the area’s beautiful beaches and calming vibes, with gorgeous scenery all around, combined with family attractions, top-notch hotels, and lots of fun things to see and do.

Luxury, romance, and elegance define Antalya. It’s certainly very different to Istanbul, and can’t quite compete with that city in terms of museums and cultural landmarks, but still has many merits of its own and lots of reasons to visit. Those seeking a soothing seaside escape will find a lot to love about this place.

Which Has The Best Weather?

Istanbul and Antalya are at opposite sides of the country, with Istanbul in the north and Antalya to the south. Thanks to this, the two cities have quite different weather conditions, and it’s Antalya that enjoys the warmer weather all-year long.

No matter whether you visit in winter, summer, fall, or spring, you’ll typically have hotter and sunnier days in Antalya. In fact, in the middle of summer, Antalya has much higher peak temperatures than Istanbul, with 94°F (35°C) in Antalya, compared to 85°F (29°C) in Istanbul. 

So, if heat and sunshine are what you seek, Antalya is a great place to be. But, even though it’s a little cooler, Istanbul is still very warm and pleasant for summer trips.

Which Is Best For Activities?

You’ll certainly find very different activities and attractions in Istanbul and Antalya. The former is a vast urban hub, filled up with museums, cultural landmarks, historic sites, and fascinating neighborhoods to explore. The latter is a coastal resort, perfect for sunbathing, swimming, watersports, and more. Let’s take a closer look at some of the best activities in each city.

Istanbul: The Activities

As one of the world’s biggest cities, Istanbul has an almost never-ending list of activities and attractions to enjoy. You could easily spend several weeks here and still have so much of the city left to see. Of course, many travelers won’t have that much time and will want to visit the most famous landmarks first of all.

Constructed in the 6th Century was the Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

The iconic Hagia Sophia Mosque is a fine place to get started. Easily one of the most breathtaking religious buildings in the world, it’s a truly jaw-dropping sight. The Blue Mosque is similarly beautiful, and Istanbul’s exquisite palaces, like Topkapi and Dolmabahce, are equally worth checking out – this city is a veritable treasure trove of awe-inspiring architecture.

Entrance to Dolmabahche Palace, Istanbul, Turkey.

Istanbul is also perfect for those who want to learn all about Turkish culture and history, with a multitude of museums. The Istanbul Archaeology Museums, for instance, offer a deep dive into the ancient civilizations that shaped this city, while the Rahmi M Koc Museum houses an array of interactive exhibits, and the Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts is amazing for art lovers.

Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. It is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops

Visitors to Istanbul also won’t want to miss out on a trip to the legendary Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest markets, or an underground adventure in the Basilica Cistern. Then, there are all the beaches, parks, ferry rides across the Bosporus Strait, and dozens of diverse and fascinating neighborhoods to explore. In short, Istanbul has something for everyone.

Antalya: The Activities

Happy woman with open arms stands on the viewpoint and enjoys the panorama of Kas resort town of the Mediterranean sea in Turkey

Antalya offers totally different experiences to Istanbul. Many people come to this city to enjoy its scenic beaches, with dozens of spectacular sandy expanses to enjoy. Whether you’re interested in soaking up the sun, splashing in the sea, enjoying some thrilling water sports, or even hiking along coastal trails, Antalya is a super place to make it all happen.

But Antalya is much more than just a beach resort. It also has centuries of history, and lots of fascinating sights to see dotted across its gorgeous Old City area. Visitors can walk the cobblestone streets, feeling the stories of the city all around them while stopping off at landmarks like the 2nd century Hadrian’s Gate or 18th century Tekeli Mehmet Pasa Mosque.

The Old Harbor is another terrific place to spend some time in Antalya. And, just like Istanbul, this city has some super museums to enjoy. Antalya Museum, for instance, has a wonderful collection of ancient artifacts and artworks, while little ones will surely appreciate the charming Antalya Toy Museum.

A 2 hour drive from Antalya sits the Tomb of Amyntas in Fethiye and The Lycian Rock Tombs

Antalya is also a prime shopping destination, with everything from souvenir stores to major malls and fancy fashion boutiques, as well as being more of an outdoorsy place than Istanbul. There are lots of great places to hike nearby, like the Lycian Way and Koprulu Canyon, as well as exciting day trip destinations, like the legendary Lycian Rock Tombs.

Overall, Istanbul clearly has more activities and attractions. It’s a much larger place with a wider range of things to do, and it’s the better option for history buffs and cultural experiences. However, the crowded nature of this city might be too much for some visitors. Antalya is more relaxing and beach-oriented, with plenty of pleasant ways to spend time outside in the sun.

Which Is Better For Beaches? 

As well as all the many activities listed in the previous section, Antalya and Istanbul both have plenty of beaches for sunbathing, swimming, and sunset strolls, thanks to their handy coastal locations. But which one is best? 

Well, it’s not too much of a contest. Antalya is definitely the better choice for sea and sand. With its convenient spot on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, it has a veritable bounty of beautiful beaches right nearby.

Aerial view of scenic and popular Konyaalti beach in Antalya, Turkey

Konyaalti and Lara Beach are prime examples of the picturesque sandy expanses that make Antalya and the surrounding area so desirable. They’re vast, scenic, and spectacular, with plenty of space to swim, sunbathe, or enjoy unique activities, like the annual Sandland sand sculpture festival, which is held on Lara Beach.

From small sandy secrets like Mermeli Beach to family-friendly beaches like Evrenseki and rocky spots with nearby ruins, like Phaselis, Antalya’s beaches are diverse and surprising. There’s something for everyone here, making this the ideal place for families, couples, and solo adventurers seeking fun in the sun.

Istanbul has an impressive array of beaches, too. You’ll have to travel a little way out of the city to reach many of the best ones, but places like the Princes Islands are definitely worth the trip, with secluded sandy stretches to help you feel a million miles from the noise and crowds of the city, like Burgaz Adasi, Buyuk Ada, and Heybeli Adi.

Istanbul Prices Islands, Turkey.

Overall, Antalya is the winner when it comes to beaches. It has a wider range of sandy spots and better beach conditions, thanks to its warmer weather.

Which Is Better For Nightlife? 

As you might expect of a city straddling two continents and housing over 15 million people, Istanbul is very lively. This truly is a city that never sleeps, with one of the wildest nightlife scenes of all. So, if you like to stay out late, stop off at local bars and clubs, and party hard until the early hours, Istanbul is an amazing place to be.

Nostalgic Red Tram in Taksim Istiklal Street at evening. Taksim Istiklal Street is a popular destination in Istanbul.

Shisha bars, rooftop lounges, thumping dance clubs, and more can all be discovered and enjoyed across this sprawling city. Whether you want to chill out somewhere cozy and mature or dance the night away with local students and travelers from far and wide, you can do it all in districts like Kadikoy, Besiktas, and Taksim.

Antalya can’t compete with Istanbul in terms of size, nor does it have the same quantity of nightlife clubs. However, it’s still got a very exciting scene, with lots of live music venues, sea-view bars, and buzzing nightclubs to check out. Travelers can make their way along the aptly-named Bar Street in the evenings or book a spot on a Turquoise Coast party boat.

Overall, Istanbul is the top spot for nightlife entertainment, but Antalya isn’t too far behind. If you like dancing, drinking, and partying, both cities are sure to please you.

Traditional Turkish Coffee enjoying the view of Hagia Sophia

Which Is Better For Food? 

One of the best things about Turkey is its cuisine. A true melting pot of influences, the culinary scene here is a wonderful mix of Middle Eastern traditions, Central Asian spices, and Mediterranean cooking methods. And, no matter where you go in Turkey, you’re sure to find some fantastic food, from classic kebabs to hearty stews and a lot of sweet treats, too.

Naturally, as the country’s largest city, Istanbul is an awesome place to experience the very best in Turkish cuisine. There’s a super street food scene in the city, perfect for those who like to snack on meaty skewers or sweet baklava while roaming around. Many of the nation’s best chefs also work in Istanbul, with some truly world-class restaurants to choose from.

Down on the coast in Antalya, you’ll also find all of the great Turkish staples, like kebabs, meze, and more, along with a pretty impressive seafood scene. A lot of restaurants here source ingredients straight from the Mediterranean, so it’s a super spot if you love mussels, octopus, fish, and so on.

Overall, Istanbul takes the win once again, as it simply has a bigger, broader, and more diverse range of eateries compared to Antalya. However, Antalya is still a fine place to dine, especially for seafood fans.

Which Is Best For Shopping? 

Shopping is another fabulous way to spend some time during your stay in either Istanbul or Antalya. And both of these cities have plenty of stores and markets to make shopaholics smile.

In Istanbul, you’ll find the world-famous Grand Bazaar. Dating back centuries, this is the biggest and oldest covered market on the planet! It draws in huge numbers of shoppers each day, but you don’t even need to buy anything to have a great time – simply walking around, smelling spices on the air and listening to the buzz of the crowd is an experience you’ll never forget.

Shopping inside the Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi) one of the largest bazaars in the city. Located in the Eminonu quarter of the Fatih district.

Istanbul’s Spice Market is also a joy to explore, but if you’re looking for a more traditional shopping experience, you can find plenty of big brand boutiques along the fancy Bagdat Caddesi shopping avenue, or in major malls like Istinye Park.

Antalya is also a special place to shop, and many people come to this city purely for its stores, malls, and markets. The Kaleici, or Old Town, is a super place to start, with lots of artisanal craft shops, souvenir stores, and indie boutiques. Antalya also has multiple fresh produce markets, in addition to vast malls lik MarkAntalya AVM.

Overall, both cities are stellar shopping destinations. You’ll find a bigger selection of stores and malls in Istanbul, but Antalya certainly has more than enough to satisfy cravings for fashion, accessories, gifts, and more.

Which Is Best For Families? 

If you’re heading to Turkey on a family vacation, it can be tricky to choose between Istanbul and Antalya. Ultimately, the right city for your family may depend on the age and tastes of your children.

Naturally, given its many beautiful beaches and relatively laid-back vibes, a lot of families are drawn to Antalya. It also has a great range of kid-friendly attractions beyond the beaches, like the aforementioned Toy Museum, Sandland sculptures, water parks, and even a fun amusement park called The Land of Legends.

But Istanbul is also a fine family hotspot, boasting its own theme park – Vialand – with wild rides and rollercoasters, along with a super Sea Life aquarium and even a Legoland Discover Center for young ones. Plus, there are all the museums and cultural landmarks, sure to entertain and amaze kids of any age.

Overall, it’s very tough to call a winner here. Antalya is ideal for chilled-out family breaks at the beach, but Istanbul is the better choice for a more action-packed vacation. If you have very young children, head to Antalya. With older ones, opt for Istanbul.

Dining over looking the Bosphorus Straight and 15 July Martyrs Bridge

Which Is Best For Couples? 

Couples can also find lots to love about Istanbul and Antalya. And, once again, it all depends on what kind of experience you and your partner are looking for.

Seeking relaxation, romance, and luxury? If so, choose Antalya. The premier Turkish coastal resort, this city is awash with romantic streets, restaurants, and opportunities. It has lots of luxury hotels where you and your partner can feel right at home, along with long, beautiful beaches to stroll hand-in-hand along the sand.

Meanwhile, if you and your partner prefer hustle, bustle, and adventure, Istanbul is the place to be. There are very few cities on earth as lively and dynamic as this one, and the list of attractions is almost never-ending, so you and your partner can spend day after day enjoying museums, galleries, historic sites, parks, and inner-city exploration.

Overall, Istanbul is arguably the better option for most couples, purely due to its wider range of activities and superior culinary scene. But, if you want the romantic setting of scenic beaches and fancy hotels, Antalya is a fine destination to choose.

Which Is Best For Backpackers? 

Backpackers can have all sorts of exciting adventures in Turkey, with Istanbul and Antalya both ranking among the best cities to visit. They both have plenty of hostels and efficient public transport networks to help you get around, but which is best?

Well, Istanbul is often cited as one of the finest backpacking destinations of all. It’s one of the cities that every backpacker needs to see, with such a lot of fascinating landmarks and enriching cultural activities. The street food scene is also phenomenal in Istanbul, and it’s a slightly cheaper city to visit than Antalya.

Antalya, meanwhile, is a nice place to base yourself for backpacking excursions along the coast. You can easily arrange day trips from this city to other coastal resorts or to unique landmarks like the Lycian Rock Tombs. However, food and hotels will cost a little more, and there’s less to do overall, so it’s not quite as backpacker-friendly as Istanbul.

Which Is Cheaper? 

Of course, we also need to think about the cost of these two cities. Both are relatively cheap, especially when compared to cities around Europe, so you shouldn’t have to worry too much about high rates for accommodation, food, and activities. However, one city is a little more affordable than the other.

In general, it’s Istanbul that is the cheaper option. It has a wider selection of hotels and restaurants, so it’s usually easier to find cheap places to sleep and eat in this city. Public transport is also very affordable, and there are lots of free things to do in Istanbul, like roaming around Gulhane Park or exploring the Egyptian Bazaar.

Trips to Antalya typically cost a little more, mainly due to the fancier hotels and smaller range of eateries. But the price difference isn’t very big, and it’s perfectly possible to have an affordable stay in either of these Turkish cities.

Where To Stay According To Your Budget?

Istanbul: Something nice yet affordable? We love Henna Hotel, a charming boutique class modern hotel that places you in the epic center of the cultural district in Istanbul. But if you are wanting something a bit more luxurious then check out Hotel Nena a highly reviewed hotel which shows off its Turkish and Byzantine architecture and is conveniently located in downtown Sultanahmet. Hotel Nena is within walking distance of Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Grand Bazaar.

Antalya: Something nice yet affordable? Boasting over 4.5k reviews whilst maintaining a 8.9 star rating is Akra Hotel. This accomodation choice is positioned both in the city centre and on the sea front so is in close proximity of key points of interest. Another option in a similar range is Sealife Family Resort, directly facing blue-flagged Konyaalti Beach, Sealife is an extensive resort with facilities and activities for the whole family. It features pools with slides, a spa with body treatments, diving and snorkeling equipment.

Aerial drone view of the Suleymaniye Mosque, huge Ottoman imperial mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul vs Antalya: Which Is Better?

Overall, it’s clear to see that Istanbul and Antalya are very different places. The former is a colossal, diverse metropolis, with history, culture, and architectural delights around every corner. The latter is a picturesque seaside resort, with magical beaches and stunning natural scenery. So, which is best?

Well, since they’re so different, it’s almost impossible to say that one is simply better than the other. However, most travelers will probably find more to love in Istanbul. With its mosques, museums, galleries, food, shops, markets, and one-of-a-kind blend of European and Asian influences, it’s a special city, sure to leave its mark on visitors of all ages.

Antalya can’t boast the same broad array of attractions, deep cultural activities, or wild nightlife, but it’s still a super destination to consider. And, if Istanbul feels like it might be a bit too overwhelming, or if you’re seeking something more romantic and relaxing, with lots of sand, sea, and sunshine, Antalya is the place to go.

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  • Wandering our World

    Hi and welcome to Wandering our World! This article was written by one of the Wandering our World team - a team of travel enthusiasts who live around the globe.