The Church of Saint Nicholas is in the city center of Demre, along the Mediterranean in the Antalya province. It’s the perfect stop if you’re driving the coastal roads on your trip to Turkey. The ancient Byzantine church named after St. Nicholas of Myra is now a museum and was added to the Tentative List of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1982. We recommend making a stop in Demre to visit the Church of Saint Nicholas and the ancient city of Myra on your way to Kas with kids.
Know Before You Go
See Musuem of Turkey App
8am - 8pm
BEST TIME TO GO
Demre, Turkey City Center
TIME NEEDED TO VISIT
30 minutes - 1 hour
How to Get to Myra from Antalya
From Antalya, take D400 heading towards Kas. Demre is the halfway point between Antalya and Kas and a great place to stop for a break from the car, especially if you are traveling with kids. Once you pass Finike, you’ll drive 28km to the Demre and head into the city center to visit the Church of St. Nicholas.
History of the Church of Saint Nicholas
The Byzantine church was constructed in 520 AD on top of the original church where St. Nicholas of Myra had served as bishop and was buried. Over time, the weather, earthquakes, floods, and war took their toll on the ancient structure. As a result, the basilica had restoration projects by Constantine IX in 1043 and Tsar Nicholas I in 1862. Also, it was restored several times between the 8th and 9th centuries.
Eventually, repeated flooding filled and buried the church with silt from the Demre River. The church was re-discovered in 1956 in the main square of Demre. Every year, it attracts half a million Catholic and Russian Orthodox Christians to the site.
Also, December 6th, the day of St. Nicholas’s death, is called St. Nicholas Day or Feast of St. Nicholas. The feast day is celebrated by Orthodox Christians around the world.
Who Was Saint Nicholas of Myra?
Saint Nicholas of Myra was born in the nearby town of Patara in the Antalya province during the Roman Empire in 270 AD. His uncle, the city’s bishop, raised him after his parents died in an epidemic.
He was named the Bishop of Myra in 317. In 325, he was one of the many bishops to appear at the First Council of Nicaea. During that time, he was known to be a loyal defender of the Orthodox Christian doctrine.
St. Nicholas of Myra was famously known for giving gifts to the poor, traveling sailors, and children throughout his life. He died on December 6, 343 AD., and was buried in the church bearing his name in Myra. In 1087, it is said that during the Crusades, sailors from Bare raided his tomb and took some of his remains to Venice, where a cathedral was built to honor the saint.
Recently in 2017, a tomb was discovered buried underneath the mosaic floor tiles. It may be the actual tomb of St. Nicholas but has not been excavated yet. To access the tomb, the mosaic tiles must be removed, and it will take time to access.
What to See at Saint Nicholas Church in Myra
The visitors center in Myra for Saint Nicholas Church has information about the saint, and modern-day statues honoring St. Nicholas. While active excavations are happening at the site, most of the church is open to walk through and view the frescoes and mosaics.
The Sarcophagus of Saint Nicholas of Myra
The sarcophagus of Saint Nicholas which was raided by the Sailors from Bari, can be viewed at Saint Nicholas Church. It is decorated with leaves and fish scales. You’ll find visitors coming and dropping small pieces of paper with prayers into the damaged tomb. The remains that were not taken by the sailors from Bari are displayed in the Antalya Museum.
Mosaics & Frescos
The Saint Nicholas Church is made up of 3 small chapels, designed with marble columns, vaulted ceilings and domes, and intricate mosaic designs on the floor. The walls display frescoes with various scenes of St. Nicholas’s life including the First Council of Nicaea.
Furthermore, you can use the Mediterranean Museum Pass to enter the site. If you don’t have the pass, buy your ticket at the front entrance. The Museums of Turkey app has all the latest information on entrance fees and museum hours.
Sites Near Church of Saint Nicholas
The ancient city of Myra is about 2 kilometers from the St. Nicholas Church in Demre along the Mediterranean coast. Myra was the home of St. Nicholas and one of the most important towns of ancient Lycia. Likewise, Myra was known as a political and cultural center and was the capital of the Lycian Federation. Visit the site and view the rock tombs carved into the mountain. Next, walk through the ancient Roman theater, which dates to the 1st century BC.
Secondly, after visiting Myra and the Church of Saint Nicholas, head over to the tiny fishing village of Ucagiz to take a boat trip. The village was known as Theimeussa in ancient times and was a city of sailors. Take a few hours to sail on the Mediterranean, explore the sunken city of Kekova, and hike up to the top of the ancient Simena castle.
In summary, if you’re driving from Antalya to Kas, Demre is a great stop to visit both St. Nicholas Church and the ancient city of Myra. The church has beautiful tiles and frescoes that are worth making a quick stop to see on your way down the Mediterranean coast.