The nearby River Manavgat means the area is lush, green and fertile. Highlights of Side (which means pomegranate in Ancient Anatolian and is pronounced “sea-day”) include the pretty seafront and harbour area, long sweeping beaches and Greek and Roman ruins, around which modern-day Side has been built.
Stroll through Side, which sits on a 1,000-metre by 400-metre peninsula, and it becomes immediately obvious why the resort is one of Turkey’s most famous classical sites, often compared to an open-air museum. Valued for its strategic coastal position as a trading hub for more than two millennia, the resort was settled by the Ancient Greeks when Alexander the Great arrived there in 333BC, only to be occupied by pirates, who traded in slaves, a few centuries later and then fall under Roman rule around 50BC.
As a result, ancient ruins are in abundance and include: a Roman amphitheatre – where gladiator fights were once held and which is used today for performances, an aqueduct, Apollo’s temple and the Hellenistic city walls and main gate, all of which intermingle with unimposing low-rise developments.
The town’s museum is a good place to discover more about Side’s history. It’s housed in the restored Roman baths and the majority of exhibits are ruins discovered during excavations done between 1947 and 1967. They include inscriptions, embossed weapons from Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods and Roman sculptures.
Especially popular with British, Scandinavian and German homeowners, Side is often said to be an idyllic family friendly destination, ticking all the right boxes for a safe, charming beach resort without being too large and noisy.
It has a backdrop of the Taurus mountains, lovely beaches, an ancient harbour, cosy waterfront restaurants, cobbled streets lined with interesting shops, bundles of history, golf down the road at Belek and, to top it all off, it’s only a short 45-minute transfer from Antalya Airport, accessible via a bus service.
In the past decade, thanks to a forward-thinking mayor, the resort has benefited from some major infrastructure upgrades, including a new promenade that has significantly improved the appeal of the beach areas and shortened walking times between villages along the coast.
In the early days of tourism, particularly when the resort’s popularity began to grow in the 1980s, a number of buildings were constructed along its seafront, both poorly and illegally – the mayor has tidied this up and had them replaced, largely with smart new restaurants. At the same time, the green light has been given for more five-star hotels.
However, no new-builds can be over four storeys, so Side will never lose its welcoming, village-y appeal. As a guide, typical property available includes apartments and villas on small developments, either a short distance from the centre of the resort or in one of the villages on the edge of Side, such as Ilica (see below).
Side has two main beaches either side of the peninsula – one to the west, the other to the east, as well as a small sandy cove in the centre of the resort. The sandy west beach is fringed by hotel resorts, some of which have their own section of beach, and is more developed than the east. You will find most opportunities to take part in water sports, such as boat rental and tours, diving and para-sailing on the west beach.
By contrast, the east beach is not only stonier but is comparatively less busy, thanks to much of it being protected on account of the archaeological ruins that lie beneath the dunes there. Preferred by locals, the east beach is still open to the public – reachable by passing between Roman ruins – just without as many amenities as the west beach. There are also fine beaches at Sorgun, Kumkoy and Colakli, just a walk or short taxi ride away.
As well as the beach based activities Side has to offer, families shouldn’t miss a visit to the exciting aquapark in Okurcalar, a few minutes east towards Alanya – there are shuttle buses there.
Golf is another popular activity for residents or visitors in Side. Half an hour west is Turkey’s golfing hub Belek, home to a selection of PGA championship courses – it’s not unusual for families to stay in Side for the facilities, but visit Belek during a stay for a round or two of golf.
That said, there is a golf course even closer to Side – namely the Lykia Links club at Gundogdu, which combines an 18-hole course with a nine-hole academy course. Golfing in southern in Turkey is favoured not only for the exciting courses and affordability but also thanks to the balmy climate.
More adventurous people could consider going trekking or mountain-biking in the nearby Taurus mountains, rafting down the River Manavgat in the stunning Koprulu Canyon National Park, also home to the ancient city of Selge, or going horse-riding in the nearby Sorgun Forest. It’s even possible to ski in the nearby mountain resorts of Davraz and Saklikent – it is said you can ski in the morning and be sunbathing on the beach in Side in the afternoon at certain times of year!
Or, for something more relaxing, head 10-15 minutes inland to Manavgat where you can take a boat trip to the waterfalls, stopping for a lunch of fresh, local trout, or visit the ancient city of Seleukia, 23 kilometres north-east of Side, where you can see fantastic Roman ruins (mosaics excavated from the city are currently on display at the Antalya Museum). Meanwhile, those interested in culture should visit in September, when Side hosts an annual arts and culture festival, while for serious shopping whatever the month, Antalya is your best option.
As expected, the old centre of Side has a good selection of beach and tourist shops, complementing its restaurants. In terms of groceries, there are mini-markets in the resort but for a more substantial store, head to the Migros supermarket in Manavgat. Migros offers everything from fresh fruit and veg to meat and fish, to all kinds of household products. Side has a local market every Saturday opposite the mosque, while Manavgat’s larger market is every Monday and Thursday.
Getting around Side and to other nearby towns is easy with public transport, primarily comprising the cheap ‘dolmus’ buses or taxis.
Ilica, Kumkoy, Colakli, Evrenseki, Manavgat
A number of neighbouring villages with easy access to Side make appealing alternatives to being in the centre of the resort.
Five to ten minutes’ drive west from Side is the friendly village of Ilica and adjoining pedestrianised beachfront area of Kumkoy, together forming an area that is becoming increasingly popular with second homeowners and for holiday lets. In recent years, Kumkoy was the site of a lavish regeneration project, which included a new shopping centre, bars and restaurant. As well as these new amenities and the beach at Kumkoy, which is shallow and especially suitable for families, Ilica has a local park with children’s play area, bars and restaurants, mini-markets and a large farmers’ market every Wednesday. Buses run frequently to the centre of Side.
A little further west of Ilica is the village of Colakli, with its own beach and amenities. There is a large holiday park there, where communal facilities include a swimming pool, gym and restaurant and bar. Next to Colakli is Evrenseki, with more property options and a beautiful beach complemented by a range of amenities including restaurants, water sports and a small marina, ideal for fishing or catching a boat trip.
A bonus that comes with homes in any of these villages are the stunning uninterrupted views of the Taurus mountains that form a backdrop to this stretch of Turkey’s coastline.
For a more local lifestyle just off the coast, there are also new developments on offer on the edge of Manavgat.