15 Best Things to Do in Izmir, Pearl Of The Aegean
One of my friends spent about a year in Izmir. I often heard a lot of praise from him about Izmir, and from time to time he seemed to miss the city. Plus, I was always curious about why people call it the pearl of the Agean, and why the city is so popular. My new destination is Izmir, Turkey. Let's visit and find the answers.
The outlines of my visit
I knew Izmir was famous for its seafront, which is known as "Kordon", and because of that, I booked a hotel as near to Kordon as possible. There were a few hotels right on Kordon or very close, but their prices were a bit high. On the other hand, the one that I booked was only about a 10-minute walk to the seafront and had a much better rate.
After I checked in to the hotel, I decided to walk around by myself. I walked to the seafront, and once I arrived, I was amazed by the atmosphere. Right before the seafront, there was a big open area covered with grass. People sitting on the grass of all ages. People were having a picnic, playing guitar, drinking something, chatting, walking their dogs, jogging, having a pleasant walk, and some of them were just sitting on the benches watching the sun go down and meet the beautiful sea of Izmir. Everybody seemed to be having a good time. I felt so joyful in this beautiful, green, and vibrant area.
I spent some time in Kordon, and when my excitement calmed down a bit, I noticed that there were many cafes, bars, and restaurants on the other side of the green area. I decided to have a drink in one of those. As I had my drink while watching the lights of a town across the bay, I remembered my friend's words; "Kordon is an amazing place to spend time with your friends," and definitely, he was right.
I have visited so many destinations in the city and tasted so many delicious local dishes. However, so many other destinations are still waiting to be seen and I highly recommend you plan more than 3 days’ holiday if you are going to Izmir because mine was 3 days. So here is my experience and pieces of advice and lists...
#1 : A symbol of the city: Historical Elevator Izmir
The next morning, it was time for the city tour. Because my time is limited, I prefer to discover the city with a guide. The guide came on time, and we were a group of only 4 people. We started our tour by visiting the Historical Elevator in Izmir. It is almost 100 years old and has a wonderful story. I am not going to mention it here. Let's not give spoilers, not miss the excitement. You can listen to it when you visit the Historical Elevator on your Izmir visit. We took the free lift up to the terrace, and a gorgeous view of Izmir Bay and Izmir City saluted us. We have "çay" (tea in Turkish) and enjoy the view.
#2: Izmir Agora Open Air Museum or Smyrna Agora
The second stop was "Agora,". Izmir Agora Open Air Museum is actually where we will learn the history of the city. We reach there after a short drive. Our guide explained to us that life in Izmir dated back to 5000 years ago, and where we were was only a small part of the big Smyrna City (3rd century BC), which was a Hellenistic city first and then Roman. To be honest, the ruins are not as sumptuous as Ephesus. The excavations and restorations are continuing, so some parts are not open for visiting. It is, however, still a really interesting site. After taking nice photos and learning about the history of Izmir, we go on to the local bazaar, Kemeralti, in five minutes walk.
#3: Kemeralti Bazaar: Historical shopping center!
Kemeralti Bazaar, what an amazing local shopping place!! It seemed to me to be an open-air and a bit of a different version of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. The first street we walked into was a greengrocer's, with tons of fresh fruits and vegetables, so many of them with their shiny colors. Wow. As I was walking in amazement, we just turned around a corner and there was another surprise; fish markets. They were not only selling fish but also had small restaurants in which you could have a quick fish sandwich. We kept on walking, and guess what? Much more to come!! There were shops selling wedding dresses; all kinds of shoes; flowers in pots; praying beads; shisha; traditional backgammon; silver rings and necklaces; hunting equipment (yes, hunting equipment); local clothes; shirts; and more and more. I can’t explain the variety of products here!! After free time for lunch, which I had some a classical dish "Döner", we ended up in Kizlaragasi Inn. You can consider this place like an authentic café in an old caravanserai. Our guide told us that we should try Turkish coffee here, which we did. People were doing fortune telling from a Turkish coffee cup. Our guide did a little demonstration for us. It was fun.
#4: Izmir Konak Square
Konak Square is 10 minutes far from Kemeralti. It is a very vibrant square. These weren’t on my itinerary but you can visit The Izmir Ethnography Museum. The building was built in 1831 as the St. Roch Hospital for the plague. While the building was fabulous itself the collection which is demonstrating the city’s culture, is great. From the square Kemeralti Bazaar, Kizlaragasi Inn, and Clock Tower are only within walking distance. So we move on!
#5: The Izmir Clock Tower
After a short walk of around 20 minutes, we reach Konak Square on the seafront. There was the Clock Tower here, a beautiful piece of art from 1901. There were hundreds of pigeons walking and flying around with the people. Amazing! Then our guide notified us that this structure's architect was Gustave Eifel, the same architect of the Eiffel Tower. Interesting.
Our last stop was Konak Pier, a 10-minute walk from the square. When we entered the building, I was fascinated. It was a combination of old and new. Konak Pier was built in the 19th century as a customs office building, and later it served as a fish market and a small port where naval ships docked before it was converted to a shopping mall. There were cafes, bars, and shops of various kinds, and a movie theater too.
So after the tour, I was back at my hotel around 5 pm. For the next 2 days, I visited the highlights of the city with my guide and listed the sights I saw below. On the first day, the city center was quite nice. I was predicting that the ancient cities of Ephesus and Alacati would be cool too, but what about next? I was a little bit indecisive about it, but here I have a rousing list…
So many things from having a sun bath or kitesurf on one of the wondrous beaches to visiting ancient ruins, tasting gourmet street dishes to museum visits. If you have time visit every town in the city because The city has been created for travel. So here is my list of places you should visit in the city.:
#6: Ephesus Ancient City
Did you know that women warriors Amazons are the legendary founders of Ephesus? According to the legend, Amazons found Smyrna first and then Ephesus, and dedicated them to the Mother Goddess. Arktinos of Miletus states that Achilles killed the Amazon Queen Penthesilea during the Trojan War and how he fell in love with the woman he killed the moment he saw her face under her helmet.
The city is around 9,000 years old and is visited by 2.5 million travelers annually. It was an ancient Greek city; however, formerly it was a political entity in Western Anatolia, Arzawan’s capital around the 2nd millennium BC. The city flourished and became famous in the Classical Greek era because it was one of twelve cities that were members of the Ionian League. Next, in 129 BC, the Roman Republic reigned.
The highlights here are;
a. The Temple of Artemis
One of the seven wonders of the world. Did you know that it has been destroyed 3 times and rebuilt? The earliest version of the temple was attributed to the Amazons, single-breasted warrior women, however, it has been known that this version was damaged by a flood. It was rebuilt by Chersiphron, the Cretan architect, and his son Metagenes, and funded by Croesus of Lydia. In 356 BC, Herostratus destroyed this version in an act of arson, and the Ephesians built the third version. There is little evidence to support this claim, but Cyril of Alexandria credited Archbishop of Constantinople John Chrysostom with destroying the temple. It was described in Antipater of Sidon's list of the world's Seven Wonders.
b. Celsus Library
It was built in the 110s A.D. by a consul, Gaius Julius Aquila, as a funerary monument for his father, and former proconsul of Asia at the same time, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. It was the third-largest library in the Roman world, which means it is the home of twelve thousand scrolls. The statues of female personifications of virtues: Sophia (wisdom), Episteme (knowledge), Ennoia (intelligence), and Arete (excellence), can still be seen at the entrance. Like its shots, it is an iconic place to visit.
c. The House of the Virgin Mary
It is believed that Mary, the mother of Jesus, spent her last years with John. It is about a 15-minute drive from the ancient city to the south. The Virgin Mary statue salutes you on the way, and it is a simple, ostentatious building in the olive and pine trees. It was discovered in the 19th century by following the descriptions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich. You can have a wish by writing personal intentions on paper or fabric and tying them to the wishing wall in the region. It is like millions of people did before. Regular rituals are held in the house, but the most popular one is held on August 15th annually. I did not wait for the ritual but tied a wish to the wall.
#7: Ephesus Museum
It is 10 minutes drive from the ancient city, located downtown in the Selcuk district. Most of the artifacts are from Ephesus Diggs and some from other ruins in the city. The collection consists of the periods of prehistoric ages and
Mycenaean, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk, and Ottoman periods. The Artemis of Ephesus fascinated me. Animal figures on both sides of the head and the skirt, garland and zodiacal motifs on the chest, and beehives, the symbol of Ephesus and the deer next to it... The egg-shaped bumps on her lap are symbols of fertility and abundance. magnificent. The Cybele Cult section and the Emperor's Cult Hall were also worth seeing. So do not neglect to visit the museum.
#8: Sirince Village
Sirince is a Greek town that is still protecting its original architectural texture. It has a good reputation for producing local fruit vines at the same time. The roads curve between olive trees and tangerine trees, and after a few moments, the village takes place on the horizon. Ephesus, the ancient city, is about 20 minutes away by car, and almost all tourist groups that visit Ephesus without fail visit the village. In the village, on the old cobblestone streets, locals are selling their locally produced goods, garments, and souvenirs on their stands. Plus, you can taste, learn how to make, and buy local fruit wines from local wine houses. The local wine’s reputation goes beyond borders. I prefer black mulberry wine, which is a sweet one, and quince wine, which is not as strong as white wine and less sugary than other fruity wines. You can buy blackberry, cherry, raspberry, pear, damson, blueberry, melon, peach, and pomegranate wines or classical white and red wines. Okuzgozu, Bogazkere, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay grapes are grown in the region.
The ruins of Pergamon take place in the Bergama district in Izmir and both the district and the ancient ruins should be on your list. It has been a World Heritage Site since 2014, like Ephesus. The ancient city is known for its library, and it has been known that 200.000 volumes of books were stored in rolled papers or codexes. It seems that they liked books because the word "parchment" itself is derived from Pergamon, which is a Pergamonian discovery. The facts state that Marcus Antonius gifted all these books to Cleopatra. That's love! Konak, where I was staying, is exactly between these two ancient cities. If you try to visit Pergamon after Ephesus, it takes about 2 hours. But from Konak, it is a 1 hour and 15-minute drive to the north. The ancient city takes place on a 300-meter hill overlooking the surroundings. The ancient theater here is amazing; it is carved on a steep slope and it is one of the most beautiful architectural works of the Hellenistic period. After visiting the ancient ruins, you can visit the Bergama Museum on the way back, which is about a 10-minute drive from the ruins.
#10: Ilica Beach
It is a white tiny sandy beach where the healing spring waters mix in with the sea. The water is not cold or deep. It is a 1-hour drive from Konak and is located in the Cesme district. The region is roughly a corrugated peninsula, and there are other great beaches like Boyalik, Ayayorgi, Tekka, and Altinkum too. Around the beach, car parking areas and restaurants are available. The beach is blue-flagged and regularly monitored by lifeguards.
Other Izmir Beaches
1. Yeni Foca Beach: It has a blue flag and so many restaurants, sunbeds, and umbrellas services are available.
2. Pissa Cove&Beach: Takes place in the Dikili district. You can Camp here and watch the Lesbos island.
3. Aya Yorgi Cove: you can have fun in beach clubs here. It is a preferred place for yachts too. Takes place in Cesme.
4. Altinkum Beach: the sand is white and the water is glass blue and cold.
Alacati is a town located in Cesme. Protecting its original architectural features yet and between May-October windsurfers are visiting. It is a well-known windsurfing region, you can just visit Alacati or may take windsurf lessons if you wish. The district has all the classical features of a Mediterranean town. Narrow streets, one-story houses in white and blue, cobblestones, traditional stone houses, and more... At night, the streets are full of people, parties, and music. You can find vintage Turkish taverns and modern DJ party bars too. No matter what kind of fun you like, just remember that you will have great food in the restaurants. The restaurants are serving a variety of both traditional and international dishes on the streets.
#12: Izmir Alsancak
Alsancak is a well-known district within the borders of Konak. While you can reach there in 15 minutes by drive, I recommend you walk along Kordon. On the way, you can explore the Levantine-style architecture, squares, daily life, local shopping malls, and more... You can take a break at Izmir Kulturpark, and if you have kids, they will be very happy because there is an amusement park here. In Alsancak, you can visit the railway station, St. John the Evangelist's Anglican Church, Santissimo Rosario Church, Gundogdu Square, the Mask Museum, and the Railway Museum. All of these visiting places are in the center of Alsancak and roughly a 5-minute walking distance from each other. Here you can take a delicious break to taste the best boyoz (a kind of local pastry) and kumru (local sandwich on a bun, with cheese, tomato, and sausage) because the most popular cafes and bakeries are located here. I am more of a breakfast person. I visited a local breakfast café, and the local Boortsog, assorted olives, cheese, jam, and cream were on my table. It was fantastic.
On the third day of my travel, I visited the Seferihisar district. It is around 50 minutes' drive from Konak and, like Alacati, Seferihisar has the unique features of a Mediterranean town. The white one-story houses are intertwined with old stone structures, blue shutters, pink bougainvillea, port, and a fabulous serenity. Here is the small, cute Sigacik Castle, and 20 minutes away, the Teos Ancient City, which is the highlight here. You should see this tiny ancient city’s tiny theatre. It is like it is still waiting for its audiences for the night. According to the legend, the city’s founder is known as Athames, son of Dionysus. The city once accepted the artists who were expelled from the Ionian city, who were accused of being unrest, and became a city where the Artists' Union was established for the first time in history. Today, as seen from brochures and billboards, the region still has a vibrant art life. Concerts and other art events are in actuality. Thanks to the landforms, here you can swim in the coves of Papaz Bogazi, Turkuaz, Azmak, and Tas Ada ve Aktas in the chilly turquoise waters if you have time. It is a region where you can feel the local and native life. With the narrow streets, cobblestones, and two-story white houses with pink bougainvilleas the district is exactly a classical Mediterranean town. It is a Cittaslow at the same time.
#14: Izmir KEY Museum
Before I finished my visit, after I visited all those ancient cities and spent time on the beaches, it was going to be a good experience to visit some modern, industrial places. It is around a 40-minute drive from Konak to the inner section of the city. Sine 2015 is one of the popular museums in Izmir and Turkey's most comprehensive automobile museum. The collection has 76 classic cars and 40 motorcycles spread around 7000 m2. Car enthusiasts and children love it here. All those vintage designs, the colors purple, baby blue, yellow, and red, the motorcycles, from hippie ones to classical ones, and even the Batmobile, were like a festival. In addition, the museum has a chess collection consisting of almost 400 theme chess sets such as Star Wars, ancient Egyptian gods, Simsons, Vikings, and more... I'm one hundred percent sure that children will love it.
#15: Izmir Wildlife Park
When it comes to children, there is one more additional destination in the city that your kids will love; Izmir Wildlife Park. It is 30 minutes drive from Konak. It is the house for gigantic mammals like Asian elephants, hippopotamus, giraffes, and brown bears, the house of weeny pygmy goats, meerkats, and naughty ring-tailed lemurs.
With all these ancient ruins and inner city destinations, Izmir has more than 40 beaches you shouldn’t miss. Thanks to the Aegean Sea’s protruding coats, dozens of turquoise-fantastic, postcard beaches are located here. Check this short list:
What to eat in Izmir?
Without a distinctive, multifarious cuisine any travel or destination can’t be good enough. Izmir’s cuisine has the unique features of Turks, Greeks, Levantines, Sephardic, and the islands Crete, Chios, Lesbos (while the population exchange years). Today it has a multicultural cuisine that every traveler dreams of. If you do not taste one of these no body won’t believe you that you visited Izmir.
Boyoz: a kind of patty,
Kumru: a sandwich contains sausages, salami, stager cheese, tomatoes, peppers, Tulum cheese, mayonnaise, and ketchup
Bomb: recently increased in popularity, bringing chocolate and dough together
Izmir Koftesi (Izmir meatballs): minced meat blended with spices and fried in oil
Artichoke with Broad Beans
Remember that thousands of old and new recipes can be found on the streets.
How to go to Izmir from Istanbul?
Izmir is quite close to Istanbul by plane. The flight took only 45 minutes from Istanbul, and I was impressed by the big and modern airport of Izmir.
I took the train from the airport as the last stop of the train was right across from my hotel in Alsancak. If you choose the train too, don’t worry about the city pass (Izmirim Kart) that is required for the train. You can easily buy one from the train station at the airport. You can also get a taxi, but it might be a bit expensive as the downtown is about 30 minutes away (depending on the traffic). Another option is taking a private bus from the airport to central locations. The buses leave every half an hour or so, but still, it seems very practical when the reasonable ticket price and the comfy ride are considered.
I prefer to fly Izmir from Istanbul but from so many European countries you can find direct flights to Izmir and from so many other countries and other Turkish cities there are connecting flights are held. You can check the list here.
As a sunny and fertile city, Izmir was a perpetual settlement throughout its history. Cities were found on or near old ones and left a rich historical legacy behind them. Plus, it was a popular city in the modern ages, and it never stopped developing. Therefore, when it comes to traveling, the city has dozens of destinations.
How is Izmir’s weather throughout the year?
Izmir is a sunny city. Only December, January, and February are chilly months. Thanks to the climate, you can visit the city for 9 months.
Why should I visit Izmir, Turkey?
Various things can be done in Izmir. It was a permanent settlement for thousands of years by Ionians, Lydians, Persians, Hellenes, and later Eastern Romans, Byzantines, and Turks who ruled the city. Therefore, the city has a rich historical legacy worth seeing. It is a vibrant, day-and-night-living city, plus it has both modest and luxury hotels and restaurants, and camping, and backpacking alternatives are available for every interest. Summer lasts almost 9 months, and the art and music events never end. Locals are friendly and welcoming; the cuisine is a fusion of different cultures; and the city is close to other popular tourist destinations such as Kusadasi, Pamukkale, and Bodrum.
What is unique about Izmir Turkey?
Pure beaches, wonders of the world’s ancient ruins, classical Mediterranean cuisine, new friendships, and lots of sun.
As an experience, I can say that Izmir is one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Turkey. However, I think 3 days is not enough to visit all the districts. I couldn’t visit Foca, the castle and the windmills, for instance, the toy museum, Saint Polycarp Church, or Kadifekale Castle. Nevertheless, the places I visited, the beaches and towns I saw, and the dishes were stunning. Add it to your "must-visit" list somewhere near the top.
BY CENK ÇOLPAN
Co-Writer & Editor Çiğdem Hasekioğlu