Ancient & Modern -Side, Antalya, Turkey

We first visited Side in the Antalya region of Turkey over 30 years ago. It was a budget honeymoon choice but we had such a wonderful time we've always wondered about going back. A travel agent warned me a few years ago the town had changed beyond recognition and advised we never return to preserve our happy memories.

Fast forward to recent times and I'll be honest, times have been tough. It's led us to live in the moment and so we decided to book a trip back to Side. 

Temple of Apollo, Side, Turkey

Frankly Turkey is one of the cheapest holidays you can book from the UK right now but browsing hotels we realised that Side has now expanded far beyond the tiny old town where we once stayed a stone's throw from the ocean, Apollo's Temple and the bazaar which had traditional woven carpets slung across between buildings to keep the sun off haggling shoppers.

After a false start via Jet2 who had to change our original choice of hotel we settled on the New Garden Luna aparthotel which offers a mix of hotel rooms and one bedroom apartments which sleep 3. With a free place for my youngest (aged 15) this proved perfect for our party of 6 as some of our adult children had decided to join us. We asked Jet2 to request a low floor due to the lack of lifts and our disabilities and the hotel obliged so we were on the ground floor and the children (all adults now) were on the third floor above us. 

The hotel was quite small and basic but clean and with lovely friendly staff, a nice pool, plenty of sunbeds, a restaurant, bar and small shop (run independently from the hotel). There was also a spa where we enjoyed a wonderful Turkish Hammam experience.

We ate breakfast there every day (my husband loved the Turkish menemen, a mix of eggs, peppers, spices and onions) and had a few lunches and evening meals there too. 

man eating Turkish Menemen

The rooms were cleaned every day. Our apartment had a giant corner sofa which was made up as a single bed, a full sized fridge, kettle and two ring hotplate. This was especially handy for our autistic daughter as I knew if we couldn't find food she could tolerate I could cook noodles brought from the UK. On the whole she did very well with the food and I only cooked two packets of ramen noodles for her during the week.

We paid around £400 a head for the flight, luggage, transfers and hotel (with the young guest going free) so we felt we'd had a bit of a bargain for a week of sunny relaxation. (June 2024, termtime)

You may have heard Turkey is not as cheap as it used to be and I would say it's certainly not amazingly cheap. Thankfully we had a good conversion app to hand as seeing prices in Turkish Lira and Euros everywhere sometimes made working out exactly what something cost quite tricky. It's almost always cheaper to pay in Turkish Lira and no-one seemed to mind us asking them to convert the Euro price.

To give you an idea, a cocktail cost around £8, a full English breakfast around £10, a doner kebab (eat in) around £8, bottled or cans soft drinks like Coca cola between £2-3.50 depending on how touristy the area is and an ice cream served with some panache around £2.50.

frozen cocktails.

Where last time we admired handmade carpets, lace and leather this time everywhere was selling fakes/replicas of bags, sunglasses, trainers, clothes, football shirts, watches etc. There are some very good copies available at prices far below the original branded items. 

The security line through Antalya airport was populated with people dripping in "labels" but if you are debating going on a shopping spree be aware it is actually illegal to import fakes into the UK so you risk a fine and confiscation of your items.

TOP TIP: Take £££ and convert to Turkish Lira - cash is king out here if you want to get the best deals in the shops and markets. We also opened a Chase bank account (NOT SPONSORED!) as our bank charged for using cards and atms in Turkey. Chase worked out much cheaper for us and we got cash back on all purchases. I also felt the physical cards were more secure than our regular bank cards as there are no numbers printed on them and you don't need to have your full name on them either which I felt protected against card fraud if they were lost or stolen. I've read Revolut and Monzo are also good choices for UK citizens visiting Turkey but please do your research before making a decision.

Our hotel was around a 35 minute walk to Side Antiq - the old town where Roman ruins are everywhere. I hoped this area would be the same as it was when we wandered the streets and sat on the harbour wall eating doner kebabs in pillowy bread made by head-scarfed old ladies squatting to cook on hot stones 33 years ago. 

doner kebab

We caught a dolmus - the cheapest way to get around in Turkey- which cost around £4 for six of us. (A taxi in comparison cost around £10). I was initially shocked at the changes. A new bus station now sits on the outskirts of this car-free town, wider streets and buildings which looked similar to the old ones but were definitely replacements. 

A smart new marina has replaced the harbour and there is now no wall to sit on or old ladies selling kebabs. There is however a gorgeous promenade stretching out to the outskirts of the town along the coast. It's perfect for an evening stroll and is lined with yet more shops, restaurants, ice cream stalls and many many cute cats.

We didn't see carpets, lace or leather on sale, mostly instead lots of smart shops selling designer label knock offs. We did however find the shop we bought our carpet from all those years ago- a relic left standing amongst the new buildings and now sadly closed down.

Nomad shop, Side, Turkey

However, my shock turned to admiration as I realised the refurbishment of Side had revealed even more ancient ruins, many now showcased and protected by perspex floors allowing you to walk over and admire what has been uncovered by the demolition teams. I was sad that the town has lost some of its charm and authenticity but like most tourist destinations you cannot blame the Turkish for wanting to make the most of tourist  income.

The larger part of Side outside the old town, almost blending into Manavgat, was more of the same type of shops selling fakes albeit at cheaper prices. We enjoyed wandering around in the evening and despite seeing reports of aggression and fraud online before we left we found the shopkeepers and restauranteurs to be more cheeky than pushy. They soon backed off if you smiled and said:"No thank you." 

Haggling in shops was acceptable and we found was successful if done with a smile and a realistic idea of what discount might be obtained. We had a lovely time chatting with the locals and I was horrified to hear the nasty tone of some Brits demanding discounts/service/attention and was not surprised to hear some had less positive experiences than us.

Even Manavgat Bazaar was less scary than I anticipated. Again, take cash and a smile and you will get a better deal. We only met one unfriendly stall holder who didn't react well when I advised my offspring that an item they were looking at was overpriced in my opinion when you considered the cost converted to sterling. We walked away as he muttered insults.

On the whole we had a much better holiday than I expected, especially considering the cost. It felt like we had not been to the Side of our youth but still to a lovely resort with lots to see and do. We felt safe and welcome and would definitely consider booking a budget break in Turkey in the future.

I'll be posting some more details about trips and top tips for holidaying in Turkey so check back for more information soon.