One of the best preserved examples of antiquity history lies in the lands of the ancient city of Aspendos in Turkey.
Nestled in the picturesque Turkish Mediterranean region, just a short journey outside of Antalya, Aspendos beckons history buffs to explore its remarkable ruins, including the awe-inspiring amphitheater.
Beyond the amphitheater, Aspendos offers a myriad of ruins waiting to be explored. From towering aqueducts to the imposing remains of the basilica, each step inside Aspendos uncovers fragments of a time once lost.
But if you’re not sure how to get to Aspendos, what there is to see there, or want to learn more about its history, then you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we share everything you need to know about visiting Aspendos, so you can experience this marvel with ease.
We offer our personal experience, share our mistakes, and provide our essential tips for visiting, based on our own trip to Aspendos.
Planning a trip to Antalya last-minute?
Make sure you book your tours, places to stay, and airport transfers ahead of time to ensure availability!
Here is our recommended airport transfer in Antalya:
- Airport Shuttle From Antalya Airport To City Center (Best way to get into town!)
Here are our recommended tours in Antalya:
- City Tour w/ Cable Car, Boat Trip and Waterfall (A must-do In Antalya!)
- Suluada Island Boat Trip (Secluded island for swimming and snorkeling)
- Traditional Turkish Bath with Massages
- Taurus Mountains Full-Day Jeep Safari (Great for exploring off the beaten path)
Here are our recommended places to stay in Antalya:
History of Aspendos
Aspendos is a city that dates back to the antiquity period when Antalya was known as Pamphylia and was a prosperous region.
At the time, Pamphylia was a stopping point for migrating people from Anatolia, and so the cities, including Aspendos, received much of their wealth through trade.
The fertile lands around the city also contributed to its successful agriculture. It is believed that the trade of olives, wine, grain, and salt, as well as Aspendian horse breeding, greatly impacted the city’s wealth.
Aspendos is divided into two areas; the Upper City and Lower City.
The Lower City received much of the river traffic and contained mostly trade, shipping, and commercial buildings, as well as residential areas. Very little remains of the Lower City.
The Upper City, also known as The Acropolis, is located on top of a hill, elevated 60 meters above. It extended for about 20 hectares and was surrounded by city walls, with three main gates.
This is the area that can be seen today.
Over the years, Aspendos was involved in many battles and was occupied by many tribes and settlers over the years, including Alexander the Great in 333 BC.
It was said that Alexander the Great once imposed a horse tax on the city, stating that it must give 4,000 horses per year.
The city reached its prime in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, which is when the monumental buildings such as the Basilica, the fountains, and aqueducts, as well as the iconic Roman theater.
It was believed that during this prime stage of Aspendos, 20,000 people lived and worked in the city.
When the Roman Empire fell, the city was largely damaged by an earthquake. It also saw frequent pillaging and marauding from pirates, as well as experiencing disease and famine.
By the 7th century, the city was practically abandoned.
How to Get to Aspendos
The best way to visit Aspendos is on a day tour from Antalya. There are several tour companies, but they all offer the same itinerary, which will take you to Aspendos as well as the Ancient City of Perge, to the historic town of Side to see the remains of the Apollon Temple, and to Manavgat Waterfall, which is located inside the city of Antalya.
Since Aspendos is small, remote, and only takes an hour or so to visit, this is the best way to see this attraction as it allows you to make the most of your day and visit all the main historic landmarks in the Antalya region.
However, if you only want to visit Aspendos, then here is how to get to Aspendos independently.
Hire a car
If you don’t want to visit by tour, your best option is to hire a car and drive yourself. You can hire a car either from Antalya, or from Side or Alanya if you plan on staying in these destinations instead.
From Antalya, it’s 46.7km from the city center of Antalya to Aspendos and takes approximately 45 minutes. The route is easy to follow since you drive along the D400 highway until you reach the turn-off signposted “Aspendos Yolu”, which comes just after the town of Serik.
Once you turn off the highway, follow the Aspendos Yolu road straight until you reach Aspendos. The road passes through a couple of small villages before you’ll see the theatre appear before you on the left.
The parking lot is just after the sharp right turn on the left side of the road, but it’s a huge parking lot so you won’t miss it.
If you are driving from Side or Alanya, you will also need to drive along the D400 highway until you come to the “Aspendos Yolu” exit.
By bus (don’t do it!)
You may hear people say you can get a bus to Aspendos, and following the advice we read online, this was how we decided to visit Aspendos. Based on our personal experience, we do not recommend this method.
The reason for this is the bus doesn’t take you to Aspendos, it drops you off on the side of the D400 highway. Not only is it quite dangerous to get off the bus and walk along a busy highway, but there are no taxis or buses that can take you the rest of the way – your only option is to walk.
The walk takes approximately one hour, and while it’s not a challenging walk since you simply follow the road if you’re visiting in the summer it will be uncomfortable. Much of this road is exposed to the sun and has little shade. Needless to say, it’s not fun.
Another reason not to take the bus is that the buses will not be able to take you back. Your only option to get the bus back to Antalya, Side or Alanya, is to flag one down from the side of the D400 highway, or walk to Serik which is 10km away. Buses do not stop on the highways, and we saw several buses pass us when we tried to flag one down.
Your only option to get back is to hitchhike. We were lucky that we were picked up by a friendly truck driver who didn’t speak any English but had a fondness for 80s disco. If it wasn’t for the kindness or generosity of the Turkish people, we would have been stuck there.
If this sounds like a fun adventure for you, then you can take the bus SA19 from Antalya to the town of Serik, and from there get a taxi to Aspendos. I highly advise that you negotiate with the taxi driver to come back and collect you, otherwise, you may need to hitchhike like we did. There were no taxis waiting in the car park at Aspendos, and there is no way to order and Uber either.
Things to See at The Ancient City of Aspendos
When visiting Aspendos, make sure you see the following landmarks…
The biggest attraction to Aspendos is the Aspendos Theatre, which is the best-preserved Roman theatre of the ancient world.
According to inscriptions above the Southern main entrance, the theater was built during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD).
It was designed by architect Zenon, who was local to the area. It was funded by two local brothers, Crispinus and Auspicatus Curtius, who dedicated it to the imperial family and city gods.
You can see the dedication inscription outside the entrance of the theatre today.
The reason the theatre is so well preserved is largely thanks to Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat, who restored the theatre in the 13th century and added elegant cobalt blue ceramic tilework to the structure. It was believed he used Aspendos as his summer residence.
The theater was well known for its acoustics throughout the centuries and is still used for performances to this day, including operas, concerts, and plays of folklore.
Aside from the theatre, much of the city has been left in a state of disrepair. There are many ruins and rocks around the complex, some said to be temples, market halls, and streets, but it’s quite hard to make out what these objects are.
One that has still stood the test of time is the Monumental Nymphaeum, which used to be a lavish fountain that stood outside the market hall. Today, you can still see the walls and arches where the Nymphaeum would have sat.
Across from the Nymphaeum is the Basilica, which still has all four walls standing (although lacking a roof). You can see the arches, naves, and windows, and if you use your imagination, it’s not impossible to think what it might have looked like.
Many people miss the aqueducts because they are not inside the ticketed complex of Aspendos, but don’t skip past them. The aqueducts are some of the best-preserved ruins after the theater and are a testament to Roman engineering.
You can either drive to the aqueducts and see them from the bottom (we don’t recommend walking as we saw some wild dogs along that road), or better yet, you can see incredible views of the aqueducts from above.
To see them from above, follow the path next to the ruins opposite the basilica around to the south side of the hill. You will also find signs directing you to the aqueduct along the main street.
Historic Aspendos Bridge
Located outside of the Aspendos complex, near the D400 Highway, is the historic Aspendos bridge, which crosses over the Köprüçay River.
The bridge has been lovingly restored to match its original style in the antiquity period. Although there isn’t much around the bridge, it’s a great place to sit and enjoy the serenity of the river and take in the scenic views of the river bank.
Aspendos Opening Hours & Entrance Fee
Aspendos is open all year round, but times vary depending on whether you are visiting in the summer or winter.
The summer opening hours for Aspendos are 8.00am – 8.00pm, with the ticket office closing at 7.30pm. In the winter, Aspendos is open from 8.30am – 5.30pm, with the ticket office closing at 5.15pm.
As of August 2023, the entrance fee for Aspendos is 350 Turkish Lira ($12.64 USD), or just 60 Turkish Lira ($2.17 USD) if you have the Antalya Museum Pass.
You can buy your entrance ticket for Aspendos from the ticket booth, located by the car park, next to the theater. You can also buy the Antalya Museum Pass from this ticket booth if you plan on visiting other museums in Antalya. The museum pass, as of August 2023, is 2200 Turkish Lira ($79.42 USD) for seven days, or 3500 Turkish Lira for 15 days ($126.36 USD).
Tips For Visiting Aspendos
Before you go, be sure to follow these words of advice to ensure your trip runs smoothly.
- Wear comfortable shoes. Although the theatre is close to the car park and has a flat, marble floor, the rest of the complex is less well maintained. The ground around Aspendos is rugged with lose rocks, plus you need to walk uphill a little way to see the rest of the ruins. Trainers will be better than sandals when visiting Aspendos.
- Carry plenty of water. It can get hot at Aspendos, especially when visiting in the summer. There is a shop selling ice creams, refreshments, and snacks, but it’s quite pricey, so we recommend bringing everything you need with you.
- Get your photo taken in gladiator clothes. This is a fun activity you can do at Aspendos. Head to the cafe behind the ticket office and you’ll find a photographer who has gladiator clothing. You can pay a fee and book a photo shoot in these period costumes. What a fun souvenir to take home!
- Visit later in the day. If you’re not booking a tour and you prefer to drive yourself, then visit later in the day to avoid the crowds. Since it opens until 8.00pm in the summer, you can easily visit at 5.00pm or 6.00pm to see it all.
FAQs About Visiting Aspendos
Before you visit Aspendos, here are some frequently asked questions that may help you plan your visit…
Is Aspendos worth a visit?
Aspendos is most famous for its theatre, which is so well preserved that it’s still used for performances to this day. It’s one of the most complete examples of Roman antiquity architecture, and for that reason, Aspendos is worth a visit.
How long do you need at Aspendos?
The amount of time you spend at Aspendos largely depends on how interested you are in exploring it all. It will take approximately 1-1.5 hours to see the theatre and the ruins on the top of the hill.
Which is better Aspendos or Perge?
In our personal opinion, we think Perge is better than Aspendos, simply because Perge is bigger, better preserved, and has more to see.
Steeped in centuries of rich history, Aspendos promises to be an unforgettable experience for those who dare to venture off the beaten path.
Once regarded as the crown jewel of Pamphylia, Aspendos boasts a captivating blend of Roman and Greek influences, and its well-preserved amphitheater is considered one of the finest examples of ancient architecture.
We hope this guide helped you plan your trip to Aspendos and gave you some insight into this remarkable historic landmark that should not be missed off any Antalya itinerary.