The vast range of things to do in Izmir extends across the board to accommodate all niches of holidaymakers, and welcome them in style. From historical sites to water sports, to culinary journeys, and scenic landscapes, everyone will find a place or activity that will surprise and delight them at the same time. We will list our favourite attractions in this article, but before we start first-time visitors will benefit from knowing a bit of fun geography and some useful facts.
Izmir sits on the Aegean coast of Turkey, also known as the western side. As Turkey’s third-largest city, this hub of everything and anything excels in business, education, tourism, food, culture, and art. Throughout Turkey, its reputation as a leader of western trends, stands tall, having been a cosmopolitan destination for many decades. It is also the gateway to Greece, because of the Aegean Sea, and 18 smaller islands separating the two countries.
The name Izmir refers to the main city centre but also the larger peninsula, which includes surrounding areas like Foca, Cesme, Alacati and Seferhisar. The city centre breaks down into several districts like high profile Bornova, Balcova, and Guzelbahce. The Konak district is also the centre and home to the old part of Izmir, and that is the best part to start your exploration.
Fun Things to Do in Izmir
1: See Konak Square
An unwritten rule says all visitors should have their photograph took beside Konak clock tower. Standing at 25 metres high, the 19th-century structure is Izmir’s main mascot and often features on postcards and in major travel publications. With a beautiful view over Izmir bay, people watch, shop, and taste the local cuisine from Konak square, in which it stands. The square is also home to the small 18th century Yali mosque, another major landmark noted for its single dome and minaret. Art lovers should visit the Modern Art Museum and remember if you want to explore, the central bus station is nearby. When you have finished, a great place for dinner, is Asanor ten minutes’ drive away. This old lift contains a rooftop restaurant with marvellous views over the city.
2: Do Shopping in Kemeralti Bazaar
Originally covering one long street, the 17th century Kemeralti Bazaar now sprawls across a vast area and is a local community, social hub and ideal place to shop for souvenirs. As home to a church and eight synagogues, just wondering to soak up the ambience evokes recognition of its importance to locals. It is like Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar but on a smaller scale. Shop for antiques, or jewellery taste local Turkish coffee and tea and seek the old craftsman from days gone by. Two hours is enough to see the cultural importance of Kemeralti Bazaar to locals.
3: Izmir Castle – Kadifekale
The name translates into Velvet castle, and visitors these days, might struggle to see the resemblance but is still worth visiting Kadifekale if you want the best view over Izmir Bay. Standing on a tall hill, in the city centre, the walk uphill is quite a struggle in summer, so we suggest venturing up in a taxi. Receiving a lot of renovation work over the years, the castle was the martyrdom place of Saint Polycarp, a 2nd century bishop who lived here when it was known as Smyrna. Sites to see are the cisterns, gate, watchtower, and the castle walls, but let’s not forget the stunning panoramic view that commands the most respect.
4: Marvel at the Agora Ruins
Not to be confused with the shopping centre of the same name, the 4th century Izmir agora, owes much of its fame to Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor. In ancient times, the agora was a market place where vendors could sell their wares, and with a little imagination, visitors can image those days and how the current structure reflects them. Photographers, as well as history lovers, would enjoy the agora thanks to its ancient architecture and positioning of the sun.
5: Fun for Everyone at Izmir Wildlife Park
The last time we visited, getting to Izmir Wildlife Park involved quite a few bus journeys, so we jumped into a taxi instead. The cost was worth it. This massive collection of animal species from around the world aims to educate youngsters through fun, interactive moments, yet adults enjoy the experience as well. With an emphasis on animals’ wellbeing, and preserving their natural habitats, visitors tour the park to see lions, giraffes, monkeys, snakes, birds and much more. After relax and enjoy refreshments and lunch in the on-site park.
6: Pergamon UNESCO Site
Sitting in a district called Bergama, the ancient city of Pergamon stands tall and proud despite lying in ruins. As the Attalid Dynasty’s ruling capital, parchment paper was invented here resulting in a highly successful trade, and the ancient world’s second-largest library. Citizens also built the world’s first psychiatric hospital, and in politics, it led the way and shined as an influencer and trendsetter. However, its most notable fame, as one of the Seven Churches of Revelations mentioned in the Bible’s new testament was as the seat of Satan, a reference to its three temples, of which one contained a seat called the throne. Its background history makes it a marvellous place to explore. There are many ancient buildings to see but the best is by far, the steep theatre nestled into the side of a hill.
7: Ephesus City and a Forgotten Way of Life
Sitting on the outskirts of the Izmir peninsula before the land heads into the Aydin region, the UNESCO World Heritage Ephesus city is one of Turkey’s top visited attractions. Luring visitors from all around the world, it was another church of revelation and overtook Pergamon as the city of importance in Asia Minor. Its seaport location made it a thriving trading hub and had life continued; it would have outranked Rome. Locals abandoned the city because the sea was edging away, and for many centuries, it lay in ruin until excavations started. These days, visitors explore marvellous buildings like the theatre, Roman houses, and Celsius library. Many tour shops in Izmir sell day trips to Ephesus which should be on everyone’s bucket list.
8: Ascend in Izmir Cable Car
Continuing a theme, we mentioned before of amazing views, Balcova cable car, open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. is a must. Called Teleferik in Turkish, this means of local transportation is also a pastime pleasure. Cheap tickets get you entrance into an eight-person cable car, that ascends before arriving at the base where you can enjoy refreshments and food. The cable car is not a newfound gimmick because it has served locals for over 30 years.
9: Explore Alsancak and Kordon
The city centre Alsancak district loved by locals and tourists alike sits close to Konak and Kemeralti Bazaar. For locals, it is a hangout place, and the spot to relax, meet up with friends, and people watch, while many tourists book their hotel here. As a foodie hub, local restaurants serve a multitude of menus, and it is the starting point for the famous Kordon, a promenade with seafood restaurants serving up a delight of fresh catches. For those who dislike walking, hire a bike to cycle the promenade and enjoy hanging out with locals.
10: Head to Cesme and Alacati
These two coastal resorts sitting side by side have long been a firm favourite with Turks as a summer getaway. Many buy property in Alacati, as either a holiday home or retirement destination. In recent years, Alacati’s quaint blue and white stone cottages attracted international tourists, eager to discover Izmir’s hidden corner. Both resorts also rank as Turkey’s top windsurfing destinations, and anyone eager to try the sport can sign up with local schools for lessons. Aside from that, give your taste buds a culinary journey by tasting the various menus of restaurants in Alacati. Famed for their local cuisine as well as fresh fish and seafood, outside dining in summer is a wonderful experience that makes memories.
11: Go Greek in Chios
Last on our list of things to do in Izmir, a 40-minute minute ferry ride from Cesme, across the Aegean Sea brings you to Chios, the fifth largest Greek island. Visit the 11th century Nea Moni monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and other small quaint, old villages that highlight its glorious history. Many other places of interest await, and for avid explorers, it is worth booking an overnight hotel, to return by ferry the next day. While there, be sure to taste the local cuisine including Kordelia pasta, malathropita fennel pie, and souma, a traditional drink made from figs.
Related Reading of Interest
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Beautiful Places in Turkey: If you aim to explore this country from East to West, this list gives some great ideas to put on your bucket list. From places like the Calcium pools of Pamukkale to the stunning Kackar Mountains green plateaus, they highlight Turkey’s extraordinary diversity, its culture, and people.
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