Things to do in Patara, Turkey- nature, history, activities, and tips

Things to do in Patara, Turkey- nature, history, activities, and tips

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“And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara.” (Acts 21:1). This is a part of the Biblical story about the journeys of Paul the Apostle that happened almost 20 centuries ago. There are a lot of geographical names in this story. Patara is just one of them, mentioned only once. But what is behind this name? What is Patara- a beach, a port, a city, or something else? Let’s go there and see! We have been there and we are telling you, this is one of the most amazing hidden gems in Turkey!

Basic facts about Patara

This is not far from the southwestern coast of Minor Asia, a place with diverse terrain- high mountains, complex coastline, valleys, and rivers. Here the climate is Mediterranean subtropical. Olive and pine trees, and other Mediterranean vegetation cover the landscape. Ruins of ancient cities are scattered everywhere. And today, all of this is full of colorful Turkish culture.

One of the rivers flowing here is called Xanthos (yes, it is best known for its Greek name)- Esen Stream in Turkish. It comes from the Taurus Mountains, then through a long plain. Finally, the river reaches the Mediterranean Sea. And its mouth separates a beach…

Patara Beach- the longest beach in Turkey
Patara Beach- the longest beach in Turkey

This beach is called Patara, and it is the longest beach in Turkey. Not only that, but it is also very wide- in fact, it becomes a mini desert, with sand dunes! So, you can see the plain of Xanthos, the beach of Patara, and the hills at its southeastern end, called Eren Tepe.

Here, the ancient Lycians built several cities, and we can see their ruins today. One of these cities is called Patara– just beside the sand dunes of the beach, not far from its southeastern end, at the foot of Eren Tepe. And all of this- the beach, the dunes, and the ancient ruins are the focus of this guide.

Patara Beach

Patara Beach is more than 12 km long (in some sources- 18 km, although you can measure it on the map and you will see that it is shorter). The beach and its dunes are a protected area. But they are relatively young- in ancient times, the sea has been a bit further into the land, and there was the ancient harbor of Patara. Only recently, the sea gradually withdrew from the land, and the beach formed as it is today.

The ancient city of Patara

It is one of the best-preserved ancient cities in Turkey- with an agora, ancient theater, and many other constructions. And it is quite large- its ruins are scattered in about 2 km long and 2 km wide area. There are hills, surrounding the ancient site, and a small plain where its central part is located. Part of its harbor still can be seen, although today a large part of it has sunk into a swamp and sand.

The ancient theater of Patara
The ancient theater of Patara

Anyway, obviously, it has been an important city. But who has built it, how, and why?

History of Patara

According to the archaeological evidence, the city of Patara existed from the time of the Bronze Age, more than 3500 years ago. Greek mythology says that it has been built by Patarus, the son of Apolo. So, the foundation of Patara remains obscure, but one thing we can confirm- the ancient people have been attracted by the good location around the mouth of the Xanthos River. So, they built Patara and a few more cities not far from there. Let’s see what happened later.

Archaic period- from the Bronze Age to 333 BC

This is the time of ancient Lycia- an area that has been an independent kingdom or a part of other kingdoms like the Hittite Empire, Lydia, and Achaemenid Persia. It is mentioned for the first time by the Hittites around 1230 BC.

The city has been known to be inhabited by Lycians and Dorians, and as a confirmation of the myth about Patarus, a large temple of Apolo has been built. In general, it has been one of the largest cities in the area, with the largest harbor, probably the capital of Lycia.

Hellenistic period (333 – 133 BC)

In 333 BC, Patara was conquered by Alexander the Great. Consequently, it has been ruled by the Diadochi, the Ptolemies, and the Seleucids. In 176 BC Patara gained some independence and joined the Lycian League, but was soon conquered by the Rhodians.

Early Roman period (133 BC – 395 AD)

In 133 BC, the large Kingdom of Pergamum officially joined the Roman Republic, and along with it- most of Minor Asia, including Patara, however, Patara still enjoyed a large autonomy, at least until 43 BC, when it became a part of the province of Pamphylia.

And in general, the Roman period was a Golden age for Patara. Its harbor was one of the largest in Minor Asia. Apostle Paul arrived here in 57 AD, as mentioned above, to get a ship to Syria and Judea. Soon after that, the Gospel of Jesus reached the city and the first Christian church was established. One of the best-known saints- Saint Nicholas was born here in 270 AD.

The agora of Patara
The agora of Patara

Byzantine period (395 – 1211)

In 395, the Roman Empire officially divided into Western and Eastern, called Byzantine. Patara was a part of the latter. During this period, the city gradually declined. Its size was reduced, and when the coastline changed, forming the modern Patara Beach which once was only a spit, the harbor was abandoned. And it was the beginning of the end…

Seljuk period (1211 – 1340)

Without its harbor, Patara lost its trading role. And in 1211, when the area was conquered by the Seljuks, it was only a village amidst ruins. The former lagoon with the harbor became what is today- a swamp with sand dunes. The wars additionally worsen the situation, until around 1340, the last inhabitants left Patara or were just killed in the wars.

Ottoman and modern period (1340 until today)

From 1340, Patara was just dead ruins, covered by silence and oblivion, and gradually- by sand, dust, and vegetation. It was until recent times that the archaeologists discovered it again and start excavation works. At the same time, it was a subject of illegal construction of holiday resorts, and agriculture, and also suffered some vandalism. Fortunately, it was turned into a protected area and the government with the archaeologists managed to save a lot of its ruins, and the excavation works still proceed today.

A model of an ancient ship in Patara
A model of an ancient ship in Patara

Our journey to Patara

So, when we heard, read, and saw photos from the beach and the ruins of Patara, we decided to include them in our Western Turkey itinerary. We came here by a car while we were exploring the Lycian Coast between Fethiye and Kaş.

When we approached the ancient city, we had to pay for an entrance card- 250 TL, for two adults and two children, and this card could be used for the next 10 days. They told us that the entrance card is only for the beach and there is another entrance fee for the ruins. However, probably because it was late afternoon, we couldn’t find any gate to the ruins of Patara- we could freely enter the site, and there was nobody to check our tickets.

So, we explored the ruins and enjoyed the beach. We were there for a short time and tried the most important of Patara, but if we had more time, we would try more. So, let’s take a look at what you can do and see in and around this amazing place.

Things to see and do in Patara

You can just visit the ruins and the beach of Patara for a few hours. But the area has much more to reveal. You just have to plan a longer stay there and enjoy exploring the geography and history.

Explore the ruins of Patara

The ancient city of Patara, the beach, and the dunes are located in one protected area. There is a road that leads to this area, passing through the town of Gelemiş. You travel on this road, reach the checkpoint, where you should buy the entrance ticket or card, and proceed further.

You quickly reach a flat area, and the first things you can see here are some scattered ruins of ancient constructions, mainly on the right side of the road. They belong to the ancient city of Patara, so- here you arrive at the site.

The Bouleuterion of Patara
The Bouleuterion of Patara

What to see in the ancient city of Patara

A side dirt road leads to the center of the ancient city. Now, you can start exploring it, walking among its buildings and other constructions, and it is good to know their history and purpose:

  • The ancient theater. This is the largest construction in Patara. It is built after the earthquake in 147 AD by Emperor Antonius Pius.
  • Bouleuterion. This is another spectacular construction, the best-preserved construction in the ancient city. It looks like another, smaller theater, and is built in the first half of the 1st century BC, and was initially used as a government seat and place for meetings. After an earthquake in 143 AD, it was also used as a concert hall, and in the 5th century- as a military bastion.
  • The agora and the main street to the inner harbor. It is located north of the Bouleuterion. Here you can see the agora and a long, well-preserved street. This street leads to the inner harbor, today covered by water. Beside it, you can further see the ruins of two temples.
  • Arch of Medistus. This is a very iconic construction, located right beside the road. It is the triple arch of the north gate of Patara, built in 100 AD in honor of Medistus, the governor of Lycia.
  • Roman baths. There are several baths in the city, built by various emperors, mainly in the 2nd century AD.
  • The Lighthouse. This is one of the best-preserved ancient lighthouses in the world. It is built by Emperor Nero in 60 AD on a square foundation. The lower part of its tower remained until today.
  • Hadrian’s Granary. It is an ancient store for cereal, built by Emperor Hadrian in 131 AD, located not far from the ancient harbor.
  • The aqueduct. It is an ancient water-supplying system, located near the Arch of Medistus. Actually, the main road passes between these two constructions.
  • More constructions. While you visit the places above, you can notice more ruins around. They are mainly remains of residential buildings, churches from Byzantine times, and some tombs.
  • The main harbor. As mentioned above, today it is covered by swamp and sand. Only some stones can be seen here and there.
  • Temple of Apolo. Once it has been the main landmark of Patara, dated from Pre-Hellenistic times. But today its remains are lost, and the excavation works still proceed in search of this construction.
The Arch of Medistus in Patara
The Arch of Medistus in Patara

Relax on Patara Beach

The road from Gelemiş proceeds a bit further, beyond the ruins of Patara and soon ends with a parking lot. From here, you walk on a 250 m wooden trail and reach the beach- a wide, long, and straight beach whose end can’t be seen. This is Patara Beach.

In many articles that you can find on the Internet, you can read that its length is 18 km. Actually, it is only 12,2 km long- if you don’t believe it, you can measure it on Google Earth. It is also not the 11th longest beach in the world- there are many other, much longer beaches. But this is indeed the longest beach in Turkey. And definitely- one of the most beautiful beaches in the country!

Patara Beach is an open type of beach- not in a bay, directly exposed to the open sea. Also, it is relatively shallow- at some points, you can enter almost 200 m in the water and still touch the bottom. Such beaches are great for surfing, and Patara is no exception.

The entrance of the beach is at its southeastern end. So, as you can expect, this is the most crowded area. So, if you want to be alone, you have to walk a bit. There are several other points where small car roads reach the beach- at both sides of the Xanthos River mouth (there are two campsites at this point), and at the northwestern end of the beach (at the mouth of Karadere). But they are still less crowded than the southeastern end.

Happiness in Patara Beach
Happiness in Patara Beach

Wander on the dunes of Patara

This is the main natural attraction in Patara. The beach is not only long, but also wide, and along its width, it turns into sand dunes like those in Sahara. However, they are not naked but partially covered by bush.

You can easily reach the dunes just from the beach. Wherever you find a place to relax, the dunes are right behind you. But the most spectacular part of the dunes is called Patara Kum Tepeleri. This area is located about 3 km northwest of the main entrance. Here is the widest part of the beach with the highest dunes, and the views of the dunes with the sea are breathtaking.

You can also reach this point by a small road from a resort west of Gelemiş.

On the dunes of Patara
On the dunes of Patara

On the Lycian Way- hike Eren Tepe

Patara is one of the destinations, located on the famous Lycian Way- an ancient trade route along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea- from Ölüdeniz to Antalya, more than 700 km long. Today, it is a popular trekking route, and its trails pass not far from the beach and the ancient city of Patara.

In fact, the section of the car road from Gelemiş to the beach is a part of the Lycian Way. And when it reaches the beach, it proceeds following the coast to Kalkan and further. The route goes around Eren Tepe, but some detouring trails lead you to the top.

When you reach the top of Eren Tepe, you can enjoy another fantastic view from there. The top is 523 m above sea level. There is an observation deck, and the views cover the beach of Patara in the distance, the plain of Xanthos, the ridges of the Taurus Mountains, and the endless Mediterranean Sea.

You can reach the top from the parking lot of Patara Beach, in the ancient city. Just follow the trail of the Lycian Way. Before the 2nd km, leave the main route and walk on a side road. It curves about 3 km to the top. The whole route from the parking lot to the top is about 5,5 km- you can take it for about 1 hour and 15 min.

A view from Eren Tepe
A view from Eren Tepe

Visit the resort of Kalkan

It is beyond the hills of Eren Tepe. There is a small bay (Kalkan Bay), and the town resort is located there. You can reach it by hiking on the Lycian Way, or the road from Gelemiş, then on the main road to Kaş and Antalya. The resort is spectacularly established on the slopes of the Taurus Mountains and the views are stunning.

Besides the views, there are only 2-3 mini beaches on the coast of Kalkan Bay. But it doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything else to do here.

You can visit the Turkish Baths in the town “Kalkan Atlantis Wellness” where you can enjoy massages, a sauna, a steam room, and a traditional Turkish bath, everything in local style. Another very attractive spa complex in Kalkan is Pirat Sultan Hamam, which has an even more traditional atmosphere.

Finally, you can go to the Marina of Kalkan and join a boat tour. It will lead you to the nearby jewels of the local Mediterranean coast- to Ölüdeniz on the west and Demre on the east.

Kalkan
Kalkan

Explore the other ancient cities- Letoon, Xanthos, Pinara, and Tlos

If you are more curious about ancient history and want to explore more, there are four other ancient cities in the area:

  • Xanthos. It was one of the main cities in Lycia. The city is located near the modern village of Kınık, not far from the main road to Antalya. It is located only 13 km north of Patara.
  • Letoon. Actually, it was not a city but a religious sanctuary. Its ruins date from the Lycian times, more than 2500 years ago. And it is closely related to Xanthos, just 4 km southwest of the city. Today, both Xanthos and Letoon are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.
  • Pinara. It is another ancient city, located on the eastern slopes of Mount Babadag, about 36 km from Patara. Here you can see some Lycian-style tombs, and they make this city more different than the other cities in the area.
  • Tlos. This is the farthest and northernmost ancient city in the valley of the Xanthos River. It is also the oldest one, dating from before 2000 BC. It is located about 50 km north of Patara.
The ancient city of Xanthos
The ancient city of Xanthos

Enjoy the gorge of Saklıkent

If you go on a round trip to the ancient cities in the area, don’t skip a natural phenomenon in the mountains east of the valley of Xanthos. This is Saklıkent Gorge. It is a slot type of canyon- one of the largest slot canyons in the world.

Saklıkent Gorge is 18 km long and about 300 m deep. A stream flows on its bottom and it floods the gorge during the spring. So, in spring you can walk on it for only 4 km, while in the late summer, you can penetrate much further.

The water in the canyon is cold even in summer. In some places you have to walk in shallow water, so, be prepared for that with proper shoes or sandals. You can see some waterfalls and caves on your route inside the canyon.

Saklıkent Gorge is located 31 km north of Patara. Today, the canyon and the area around it are turned into a national park. There is a small entrance fee- 10 TL.

Saklikent Gorge
Saklıkent Gorge

Useful tips

That’s what Patara and its surroundings look like. But let’s focus on an important question: how to reach Patara!

How to get to Patara

There are three ways to get to Patara- by car, by public transport, and by organized tour.

By car

This is the most convenient way because it gives you independence in your itinerary. The main road D400 connects Fethiye with Antalya, so if you come from one of these cities, you can drive on this road- to the junction of Patara. From this junction, get on the side road to Patara. It passes through the village of Gelemiş before it reaches its destination, and its total length is 5,4 km.

The distance between Fethiye and Patara is 73 km, and between Antalya and Patara is 226 km. Before you reach the final destination- the parking lot at the beach of Patara, you will pass through the checkpoint where you have to buy your entrance ticket. And again, the good thing is that you can easily reach the other points of interest nearby- the other ancient cities, the resort of Kalkan, Saklıkent Gorge, and further.

Find the best rental cars in Turkey!

By public transport

There are regular buses that travel on the road D400 between Fethiye and Antalya. If you reach this part of Turkey by plane, the nearest airport is Dalaman, and you can take a bus from there to Antalya, or only to Fethiye where you can take another bus to Antalya.

Check for flights to Dalaman on 12Go!

These buses stop at the junction of Patara. From here you can get a dolmuş (local minibus) to Patara. However, it only goes to the checkpoint. Then, you have to walk about 25 min to the beach, or 10 min to the ancient city.

Check for buses between Fethiye and Antalya on 12Go!

Playing in Saklikent Gorge
Playing in Saklikent Gorge

By organized tour

For those who find it difficult to arrange a trip to Patara, and at the same time want to try the best of the place and the area around it, an organized tour is probably the best option. Various organized tours usually include not only Patara but also the other places of interest around it.

Here are some of the best:

  • Kaş and Kalkan: Saklıkent, Patara, and Kaputas Jeep Safari. This is a 9-hour long tour. Its starting and ending point is the town of Kaş. The whole tour is by jeep, and the route includes the ethnographic village Uzumlu, Saklıkent Gorge, the ancient city and the beach of Patara, and the picturesque Kaputaş Beach.
  • Day Tour to Xanthos City, Saklıkent Canyon, and Patara Beach. This tour is by bus. It starts and ends from Kalkan. On its route, you will see the ancient city of Xanthos, Saklıkent Gorge, and Patara- the ancient city and the beach. The whole duration is 7 hours.
  • Turkey: Day Tour of Ancient Lycia. This is the same as the second tour described above, but is only 6 hours long (and a bit cheaper). It takes you to the same destinations, including Patara.

Besides these 1-day tours, we can recommend a longer tour. It is 8 days long and includes some adventures:

  • Active Turkey. This tour includes transport by bus and by traditional gullet boat. You can also enjoy some hiking, canoeing in the Xanthos River, and swimming in Patara Beach. It doesn’t follow a route, but you have a “base camp”- the 3-star Club Phellos Hotel in Kaş. From here, they will take you every day different places- to the ancient city of Xanthos, to Patara, Kekova Bay, and Simena Castle, as well as to some points in the Taurus Mountains.

See the Active Turkey tour by Bookmundi!

Where to stay in Patara

If you want to explore Patara and the area around it for more than one day, you have the options to stay at night. There are a lot of hotels, from splurge to budget. They are not located at the beach (it is a protected area and the government keeps it clean from “civilization”) but mainly in Gelemiş and Kalkan. A few hotels can also be found out of these resorts. You can easily make your choice on Booking.

Check for accommodations in Patara on Booking!

An interesting option is an Airbnb property. It is usually a bit cheaper than a hotel and also gives you an opportunity to get closer to the local people. Most of the Airbnb properties can be found in Gelemiş, some in Kalkan (but less than Gelemiş), and there are a few even at the northwestern half of the beach, near the mouth of Xanthos River.

Check for accommodations in Patara on Airbnb!

You can also go camping. There are two campsites at Patara Beach, located a bit far from the main entrance and the ancient city. The first is Super Kamp Yeri, located at the mouth of the Xanthos River, and the second is Lycian Garden Life, located at the northwestern end of the beach. They also offer some bungalows and caravans.

Patara Beach sunset
Patara Beach sunset

Seasons

Like all of the other destinations in this part of Turkey, Patara has a Mediterranean, subtropical climate. The high season is from April to November- this is the season when you can not only explore the points of interest but also swim in the sea.

Summer is hot and humid but generally rainless. Spring and fall (March-May, and October-November) are not so hot, but in spring the sea water is still too cool, usually around or below 20°C.

And winter is the low season. It is mild and pleasant most of the time, but you can’t swim, the water is too cold. Also, winter is the rainiest season due to the passing Mediterranean cyclones. Snowfall at the seacoast is extremely rare.

This is Patara- an amazing combination of fantastic nature and ancient history. We left it, heading to more splendid gems on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, and further into the interior of Minor Asia. And Patara remained in our hearts as one of the unforgettable impressions from this part of the Earth.

Take a look at this video for more impressions from Patara:

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This is a guide to Patara beach and ancient city, with basic information, things to see and do, and some useful tips. This is a guide to Patara beach and ancient city, with basic information, things to see and do, and some useful tips.

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