Things to see, do and eat in Bodrum, where laid-back luxury awaits in Turkey

A rustic museum on shipwrecks, yacht-filled marinas, medieval squares and a ferry to Greece are some of the many highlights

Bodrum Castle offers exceptional photo opportunities. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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Flydubai launched the first direct route from Dubai to Bodrum this summer. Under five hours away, the hilly coastal Turkish city looms above the tranquil waters of the Aegean Sea and offers haunts for all manner of holidaymakers: from water lovers and party animals, to foodies, fashionistas and history buffs.

Here are five ways to spend your time in beautiful Bodrum.

Visit Bodrum Castle and a museum on shipwrecks

Located on the fringes of Bodrum Marina, the storied Bodrum Castle is an unmissable site. Originally named the Castle of St Peter, construction began in the early 1400s by a medieval Catholic order called the Order of the Knights of Saint John, as a line of defence against the Seljuk Turks.

The castle was lauded at the time for the protection it offered from its harbour-facing vantage point — now one of the city’s most selfie-friendly spots — as well as the state-of-the-art cisterns built for rainwater collection. Of the several hundred carved reliefs and painted coats of arms, nearly 250 remain in place, as do dozens of Byzantine mosaics, sphinx sculptures and anchors of every shape and size.

Just a few decades after its completion in the late 15th century, the castle was taken over by the Ottomans. Its chapel became a mosque complete with a minaret. Over the centuries, the fortification has also served as a base for the Turkish army during the Greek Revolt in 1824, a military post for the Italians after the First World War, a public hammam and a prison.

Contained within the castle’s premises from the 1960s is the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, which makes good on humankind’s fascination with shipwrecks and precious goods lost (and then found) at sea. From intricate amphoras and glassware to coins and jewels, the museum is the largest of its kind.

The Museum of Underwater Archaeology is a trove of treasures unearthed from shipwrecks. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Bodrum Castle is open from 9am to 4.30pm on all days except Mondays; tickets start from 20 Turkish lira ($1.10) and an audio guide is available for an additional $0.85.

Shop at Yalikavak Marina

Yalikavak, fondly dubbed by locals as “Bodrum’s Dubai Mall”, is the city’s most upscale marina (in contrast, Bodrum Marina is dotted with boutique shops and local cafes, while the waters around Turkbuku bay are dotted with cafes and lounges that come to life after sunset).

At Yalikavak you’ll find outposts of popular fine-dining restaurants including Zuma, Bagatelle and Nusr-Et Steakhouse, as well as a nook with high-end shops including Bulgari, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Prada and Valentino — akin to the luxury end of Fashion Avenue at The Dubai Mall.

Yalikavak Marina houses high-end and high street shops. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The rest of the expansive marina is filled with high street shops, Turkish and Italian restaurants as well as plenty of superyachts. Several of the restaurants have an upper level, which serves as an observation deck in the day and a dance floor by night.

Eat a meal at Isola Manzara

Perched on a hill above Haremtan Cove, fine-dining Italian restaurant Isola boasts some of the best views in the city. Choose a spot on its patio and you’ll have Bodrum right under your nose, glittering in the sun or twinkling by moonlight. Bodrum Castle, which is illuminated come nightfall, is visible in the distance, as are the yachts moored at Bodrum Marina.

Although it’s part of the Mett Hotel & Beach Resort, Isola is located outside the hotel’s premises and is kept open until January as the restaurant is a popular spot for Christmas and New Year’s Eve revellers, even though the resort shuts in September post the peak summer season. The sprawling patio is divided between a dining and lounge section, with the latter offering DJs and a dance floor.

Italian food with a view at Isola. Photo: Mett Bodrum / Sunset Hospitality Group

Spectacular views and stylish patrons aside, Isola offers up a menu of Italian classics, with a focus on top-notch ingredients that, Calabrian chef Francesco Bagnato says, “respect the seasons” and are cooked in “simple Mediterranean style”.

Simple was not the first thing that came to mind upon a taste of the beef carpaccio and arancini ($14 each). The first comes with a porcini mushroom mayonnaise, while the cheesiness of the arancini balls is offset with a delicious green pea paste. Chef-recommended mains include spaghetti alle vongole ($20) and Milanese lamb chops ($28). Both dishes are oozing with flavour; the Parmesan-clad clams go down a treat, while the lamb is at once tender and meaty.

“Seafood and meat lovers could also opt for the fresh Catalana lobster or malloreddus pasta with porcini and ragu. For vegetarians, I would suggest the Parmigiana di melanzane,” says Bagnato.

While the chef recommends the “very nice tiramisu”, the lemon-orange creme brulee ($10) comes with a crust that has been caramelised to perfection and is large enough to share between two or even three people.

Visit Gumbet come nightfall

Pasha in Gumbet, Bodrum's Street of Bars, is a popular tourist haunt. Photo: Facebook

A stone’s throw away from Isola is Bodrum’s “Street of Bars”. Gumbet is a must-visit even if you’re not a teenybopper or night owl. The sheer assault to the senses is worth experiencing, if only during a quick walk-through.

The bright white tube lights from souvenir shops clash with the dancing fluorescence emitting from enormous disco balls, while Rihanna songs blare from the speaker of The Temple Bar, even as neighbouring Pasha (one of Bodrum’s oldest, most opulent nightclubs) ramps up the volume on Farsi trap music tracks.

Interspersed between the bars, clubs and shops, are local restaurants serving up excellent Turkish food and shisha. Snag a spot at any of these to enjoy the people-watching and tune-turning even as you dig into some of the best doner kebaps and, bizarrely, margherita pizzas in the city. Or simply make pit stops at one of the many vendors selling mussels, cooked in their shells with citrusy rice, for less than a dirham a pop. But be warned: no one can eat just one.

Plan a day trip to Kos

The Greek island Kos is a short ferry ride away from Bodrum Marina. Photo: By Hayan / Flickr

As day trip destinations go, you can’t go wrong with the Greek island of Kos, which is a 30-minute ferry from Bodrum Marina.

Once you disembark at Kos Marina, make the 20-minute walk to Eleftherias in the old town. The open-air “freedom” square houses Defterdar Mosque; Kos Market Hall, which sells local produce; and the mosaic-filled Archaeological Museum.

History buffs should also plan a visit to the Roman Odeon and Casa Romana, both a short walk from the marina, or make the 15-minute drive to the Asklepion temple ruins, where Hippocrates practised medicine. The Ancient Greek physician is also said to have taught pupils under trees in town squares, one of which — the majestic Plane Tree of Hippocrates — is located a few minutes away from the square.

Families with children can head to Aquatica or Lido water parks, or visit Plaka Forest, a picnic spot with free-roaming animals and birds — all about 40 minutes from the marina.

The first ferry starts at 8.45am from Bodrum and the last ferry departs from Kos at 6pm, with four time slots available through the day.

If you can’t spend a whole day away (or require a Schengen visa to enter Grecian waters), sailing is one of Bodrum's big draws, so charter a sailboat or yacht and explore the city’s famed coastline and boat-friendly beach clubs instead.

Getting there

Flydubai operates seasonal non-stop flights from Dubai to Milas-Bodrum Airport. Services depart from the UAE on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Fares start from Dh1,820, and flights will operate until September 17 this season.

Updated: August 25, 2022, 8:42 AM