The best things to see and do in Izmir, Turkey range from shopping and day trips to archaeological sites and historic buildings.
When you think about big cities in Turkey, you probably automatically think of Istanbul first and then the capital, Ankara. Of course, those are two fantastic cities to add to your destination list. Still, you’re missing out on something special by simply assuming those are the only options—another excellent place to visit in Turkey in Izmir.
Izmir is a fantastic, young, vibrant, and hip city with history lurking behind every corner. Located on the Aegean coastline, Izmir is also super-pretty and very Instagrammable. How about a snap of you enjoying a horse-drawn carriage ride along the waterfront? It’s possible in Izmir!
Back in the days of antiquity, Izmir was known as Smyrna. Like most of Turkey, it has passed hands between various empires over the years, including the Greeks, the Romans, and the Ottomans.
In Izmir, you’ll find a vast university city with fantastic shopping opportunities. You’ll notice a wonderful blend of old and new here. The nightlife is vibrant and varied, the gastronomy is seriously on point, and there is plenty of history to explore simultaneously.
To narrow things down for you, let’s check out a few things to do in Izmir during your visit to this cosmopolitan and downright beautiful city.
Top Things To Do In Izmir
Below are some of the top Izmir attractions we know you’ll all love, but first, people have asked us, “is Izzmir worth visiting”?
Is Izmir Worth Visiting
Izmir Clock Tower
You cannot go past the clock tower when looking at what to do in Izmir. Dating back to 1901, this clock tower was built to highlight the 25th anniversary of Abdulhamid II’s reign and is located in the Konak area of the city. Its typical Ottoman style means it’s super-elaborate and impressive to look at! You can’t visit Izmir and not have a photo taken with this iconic monument.
There are four fountains around the clock tower, which is so iconic it was printed on the old 500 Lira banknote (that is now no longer in circulation).
Asansor – İzmir Historical Elevator Building (İzmir Tarihi Asansör Binası)
Another highlight of the Konak area of Izmir, Asansor, was built in 1907 and is a historic form of transport. The building itself is pretty unique, but the elevator is where the history is.
The elevator was built to transport goods and people up the steep hill beside it, but you can also see a fantastic panoramic view from the top these days. There’s also an imposing restaurant, which is so popular you’ll have to book ahead of time if you want to get a table.
Izmir Culture Park – Kültürpark
Kültürpark is a public park located in the central district of İzmir, Turkey. With an area of over 35 hectares, it is one of the largest parks in the city. The park was opened to the public in 1971 and has since become a popular recreation spot for locals and visitors alike.
The park features various amenities, including biking, walking tracks, sports courts, a picnic area, and a playground. In addition to these recreational activities, Kültürpark also hosts various cultural events throughout the year, such as concerts and festivals.
The Izmir Book Fair takes place every spring and covers ten whole days, so if you’re a book lover, this one is for you! Check online before you go to see if there are any events taking place at Culture Park, as there are regular concerts and festivals here, and it’s a great spot to enjoy the local area and soak up the green spaces.
If you like shopping for traditional and authentic souvenirs, you must ass Kemeralti Carsisi to your list of what to do in Izmir. One of the top attractions in Izmir, this a fantastic shopping street with market stalls and a covered bazaar.
It’s also a busy spot and is often quite loud and vibrant. You can grab some fantastic souvenirs to take home to your loved ones. Just wandering around the area in itself is quite the experience, too!
Izmir is definitely a city of culture, meaning countless museums to check out. Many are open-air and low in cost to enter. A few notable ones include:
Agora Open Air Museum – Museo all’aperto dell’Agorà
Agora is an open-air museum in İzmir, Turkey. It is one of the area’s largest and most well-preserved ancient sites. Agora was the center of public life in ancient times in Izmir. It was a marketplace where people would buy and sell goods and a place where people would gather to socialize, learn, and debate.
The site is huge, and they have not yet finished excavating it all as yet. There are statues and other structures which have been well-preserved. Agora is a must-see for anyone interested in ancient history or archaeology.
You can walk freely amongst the ruins, allowing you to soak up the history of this beautiful place at your own pace. On a bright summer’s day, the white ruins and the blue sky contrast makes for a fantastic Instagram shot for your feed.
Also – not too far from Izmir, you’ll find Ephesus in Selcuk. This site encompasses the ruins of a marketplace home to the Greeks and the Romans. While this is one of the day trips from Izmir, you don’t necessarily have to travel too far to visit ancient ruins.
Konak is the seaside district of Izmir, and the Konak Pier is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Izmir. It is a long pier that extends into the Aegean Sea and offers stunning views of the cityscape and coastline. Konak Pier is also a great place to people watch, as it is always filled with locals and tourists alike.
The pier is a beautiful spot to walk and grab an ice cream. The views out over the sea are stunning, and there are many local restaurants here where you can try some authentic cuisine, including fresh seafood.
We opted to take sunset drinks along the pier and loved not only the view but the incredible hospitality of the team at North Pier’s, who were wonderfully accommodating to the children – bringing them fresh fruit as we sipped our cocktails.
Alsancak is a vibrant and historic neighborhood in the city of Izmir. Situated on the waterfront, Alsancak is home to various shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars. You can spend the evening in this area and enjoy the vibrant nightlife as the area is well-known for its lively nightlife scene.
Alsancak has a long history dating back to the Ottoman Empire. In fact, many of the buildings in the neighborhood are Ottoman-era structures that have been carefully preserved. This gives Alsancak a unique atmosphere.
If you’re looking for an authentic Turkish experience, Alsancak is the place to be. From its vibrant streets to its historic buildings, there’s plenty to see and do in this fascinating neighborhood. Oh, and the shopping in this area is also excellent if you prefer to avoid large malls.
Balcova Cable Car – İzulaş A.ş. İzmi̇r Balçova Teleferi̇k
Balcova itself is a residential area that is bustling with everyday life. However, it is also home to the famous cable car that takes people to Dede Mountain. You can certainly count on a stunning view, that’s for sure.
Once you arrive at the top, you’ll be able to enjoy refreshments, or you can take a picnic up there and sit at one of the picnic tables to enjoy your food – remember to take all your litter with you.
Mount Kadifekale Fortress
A trip to the top is one of the best things to do in Izmir. In the center of Izmir, if you look up, you’ll see a large mountain named Mount Pagos. You’ll get to see a fantastic view, and it’s a great way to escape the noise of the city center.
A fortress at the top of the hill dates back to when the Greeks claimed the entire area. This spot is drenched in history and is where Alexander the Great discovered Izmir. The castle’s ruins are still in pretty good condition, considering their age, and you can also check out the underground cisterns from Byzantine times.
The views are jaw-dropping, and you can see across the shimmering Aegean Se on a clear day.
Visit One Of The Water Parks
There are several waterparks near Izmir. The top three are:
- Adaland Water Park in Kuşadası
- Aqua Fantasy Water Park in Kuşadası
- Yalı Castle Water Park in Gümüldür
You’re wrong if you think Istanbul has a monopoly on stunning mosques! Izmir is home to the beautiful Hisar Mosque, one of the must-see places to visit in Izmir. The mosque was built between 1592 and 1598. You can’t miss this mosque as it is right in the city center, and it’s literally huge. Inside you’ll find some stunning Islamic artwork, some of the best in the entire region.
When visiting a mosque, remember to adhere to etiquette at all times. This means removing your shoes and being quiet and respectful, women need to cover their heads, and everyone needs to wear appropriate clothing.
Yassica Ada Island
If you’re visiting Izmir for a few days and want to see some of the local Izmir attractions beyond the usual, jump on the ferry over to Yassica Island. The journey will take you around an hour and a half, and you’ll feel like you’re a million miles away from the busy city center.
Located 4 kilometers from the mainland, the island is uninhabited, giving it a chilled-out vibe. The beach is stunning, albeit small, and there is a quaint restaurant during the summer months.
Visit The Local Churches
After your trip to Hisar Mosque, we suggest you take a look at the local churches.
- Alsancak Catholic Church of Holy Rosary
- St. Jean Church
- St. John’s Cathedral
- St. Polycarp Church
- St. Voukolos Church
If you want to enjoy a spot of modern-day shopping and entertainment, the best place to go to is the vast Forum Bornova mall. You’ll find a cinema, a Turkish food court, numerous coffee shops, and countless national and international stores to spend your Lira in.
Where To Eat In Izmir
Restoran Sakız Alsancak
If you’re looking for a delicious meal, be sure to check out Restoran Sakız. This charming restaurant serves up food from the Mediterranean, and the friendly staff will make you feel right at home. The menu features all of your favorite seafood (and steak) dishes, including calamari, fish, octopus, and all kinds of salad and meze options.
The meze fridge is huge and colorful. My kids devoured the freshly-baked bread – it’s mouth-watering! With its tasty food and warm atmosphere, Restoran Sakız is the perfect place to enjoy a meal with family or friends.
Not the cheapest place to eat; we ate here with friends and spent a pretty penny, but we enjoyed both the company and the service here.
As we mentioned, we opted to take sunset drinks along the pier at North Pier’s. Not only were the drinks good, the seafood here is top-notch! I highly recommend the orange and cognac shrimp. The service at North Pier’s is exceptional, and the staff are very friendly.
İnciraltı Kent Ormanı
If you’re itching to get away from the hustle and bustle and enjoy some peace and quiet, you can find oneness with nature in Goztepe Kent Ormani. This is a little far away from Konak and Alsancak, but you can easily take a taxi in around 15 minutes. Just tell the driver you want to go to Kent Ormanı, and you’re good to go.
From here, you can see all along the water’s edge far down to Alsancak and beyond. But the beauty of this spot is that you can sit and have a picnic and even a BBQ. There are designated ‘huts’ which allow people to sit and enjoy their homemade meal with a firepit for cooking. There’s also a beach, a forested area (no BBQs allowed here), and plenty of walking trails.
It’s supremely beautiful and one of the hidden gem things to do in Izmir.
Kültür, 1383. Sk. no:2, 35220 Konak/İzmir
Sorry, but no mention of Izmir is complete without talking about donuts. And these donuts are something special.
This small shop looks like nothing from the outside but when you enter, it’s like a wonderland of sugary goodness! The donuts are beautifully decorated in different colors and tastes, and you’ll be so spoiled for choice. It’s a good job. The owner is quite patient and doesn’t rush you to make a choice!
Donutime is located in Konak, quite close to the Kulturpark, so it’s the ideal excuse to grab a box and sit on the water’s edge, enjoying the sugary magic!
Walk Along Kordon
If there’s one thing people don’t tell you when you visit Izmir, it’s that you need comfortable shoes. Your feet will HURT, but it will be worth the blisters.
A great way to see more is to don those comfortable shoes and walk along Kordon. This is a path that runs from Alsancak all the way as far as the eye can see, past Konak and beyond. Along the way, there are grassed areas to sit and take in the view, and as you get further down there are even stone seats that allow you to sit and dangle your feet over the edge – be careful, though!
During the warm weather, you’ll see people sitting, drinking, talking, laughing, and singing all along this pathway which extends into larger grassed areas in parts. There are snacks sold en route, too, including fresh misir (sweetcorn), nuts, and tea/coffee.
Top Day Trips From Izmir
If city life is getting too busy for you, take a day trip to the countryside and visit Urla. Here you’ll find small cafes and restaurants, a much slower pace of life, wineries, and local food, such as cheese and olives grown on site.
Around one hour away from Izmir, you will find a breathtaking Ephesus. Many ancient city complexes claim to be excellent, and many are, yet Ephesus is something else entirely. It will feel like you are being transported back in time, with whispers of the past in the wind.
Once an important city, Ephesus is famous for the amphitheater, Temple of Artemis, Temple of Hadrian, and much more. Outside the main complex, you can also pay a little extra to see the House of the Virgin Mary, where the Virgin Mary is said to have spent the last days of her life.
This trip will take a full day, but it’s more than worth the effort. You can drive yourself (it takes about 2.5 hours) or take a guided tour. Either way, you’ll get to enjoy the ancient hot springs and tour the ancient ruins of Hierapolis located nearby.
Pamukkale’s travertine pools are blinding white which is a beautiful contrast with the blue of the water. There are 17 hot springs, and some of them are very warm indeed!
Avoid going during the peak summer months if possible, as you’ll have very little space to explore. However, during the spring or autumn, you’ll have plenty of time to wander and explore easily.
Cesme & Alacati
You’ll find vibrant nightlife in both locations if you can stay for the evening. Both sites have winding, cobbled streets and authentic ways of life. Be sure to sample some local cuisine, especially freshly caught fish.
Has Izmir tempted you? What will you be adding to your Izmir must-see list first?