Are you thinking about traveling to Izmir? This hidden gem in Turkey is a port city along the Aegean Sea, and after being there with my kids this year, I can say, YES
Izmir is worth a visit.
From its authentic markets and historical ruins to budget-friendly travel conditions and unique day trips, Izmir offers a distinctive cultural experience. My guide will explore Izmir’s pros, cons, and interesting places and attractions like ancient monuments, the Kadifekale castle, an old bazaar, and a vibrant nightlife
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A Rough Guide To Izmir City
Izmir is a port city that sits along the Aegean Coast. Despite being the third largest city in the country, it is still amongst the most non-touristy places in Turkey.
The city is known for being quite Westernized and modern, giving it a European air that many of the country’s less-developed cities lack. While the city is perhaps losing some traditions, this means that the social norms are less restrictive, and you can almost always get a beer at a bar!
But don’t be fooled into thinking that there aren’t authentic spots around town. Izmir is home to bustling age-old markets and historical ruins that will delight all your senses and submerge you in the Turkish local culture.
Another thing that attracts travelers to the city of Izmir is that it’s budget-friendly. Turkey as a whole is very affordable, but compared to super busy cities like Istanbul and other tourist hotspots like Cappadocia, there’s a considerable price drop, and you can also get away with booking things last minute.
The versatile landscape surrounding Izmir, which ranges from enchanting beaches to coastal mountains, also means you can go snorkeling in the morning and hiking in the afternoon.
Beyond these cool outdoor activities, the city also has bucketloads of history – there are numerous archaeological sites and countless museums, like the Izmir Archaeological Museum, with discoveries from the Roman period and Ancient Greek artifacts on display, and the Izmir Ethnography Museum, which showcases a range of traditional Turkish artifacts, from instruments to clothing attire.
And did you know that Izmir has seen many big names come through – from Marcus Aurelius to Alexander the Great?
If you’re considering visiting Izmir in Turkey, this travel guide will be your go-to as you plan your holiday and decide what to do while you’re there!
Is Izmir Safe?
Izmir is a pretty safe city, so you can explore without worrying. Of course, you should always follow some general safety rules when you’re traveling, like having all of your valuables in an anti-theft bag under your shirt and leaving anything super important locked up in your hotel or hostel if you can.
I’d also recommend getting a travel card you can use when you’re on the go. That way, you can move small amounts of money from your main account to your travel account via your bank apps as you need it, so if your wallet ever gets stolen, you’re safe.
I’ve got both my Revolut and Wise bank cards that I take with me. I always leave my main credit and debit cards at my accommodation and take just one of my travel cards out. Another perk of having these travel cards is that they automatically convert your currency to local currency, and they give you the best conversion rates on the market!
Beyond that, avoid getting in taxis alone (especially at night) and be mindful of scams. Here is a list of the most common scams in Turkey that we keep up-to-date; save it so you can always have a good idea, as the scams are constantly changing!
Neighborhood-wise, Basmane, and Kemeralti are some of the busiest areas. You’ll definitely end up there at some point, and they’re perfectly safe areas, but because they’re known to be more touristic, you do need to be on the watch out for pickpockets.
I’d also recommend you don’t venture east or south of those two neighborhoods, especially not at night. A handy general rule of thumb to follow in Izmir is to stay north of the railroad tracks, as all the most dangerous areas are to the south.
Lastly, avoid going into areas around Hilal and Halkapinar alone or on foot as they’re not as safe, and be vigilant at night, especially in the bars and clubs in the Alsancak neighborhood (there used to be problems with people getting spiked, but that’s mostly a thing of the past now).
Luckily, petty crime is more of a threat than anything scary, like terrorism in Izmir city. Keep your head screwed on, and you’ll be absolutely fine!
Is Izmir Worth Visiting?
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How Many Days In Izmir Is Enough?
While there’s lots to do in Izmir, you can narrow the list back significantly if you prioritize just the top places to see and the coolest cultural spots. So overall, I’d say that a long weekend in Izmir is enough, though you will need a bit longer if you want to go on a few day trips from the city.
Very short on time? If you have just one day in Izmir, visit the clocktower, go for a short walk along the dock, climb up to the ancient ruins of Agora, and spend a few hours wandering around the market district.
Best Places To Visit In Izmir
Wondering what to do in Izmir? Then you’ve come to the right place! Here’s a curated list of the top landmarks and best things to do!
1. Wander Around The Ancient Agora
This open-air museum is home to an impressive archaeological site. Once a part of the city of Smyrna that was erected where Izmir now lies, the old ruins in the museum date as far back as the 4th century.
Though sadly, most of the ruins from the original city are buried and eroded now, having been destroyed in an earthquake in 178 BC, after which they were rebuilt shortly after by Marcus Aurelius.
One of the best parts about this old archaeological site is that the Roman water channels are still working, so you get a real sense of what the city would have been like when it was bustling with life, and everything was in working order.
Stunning ancient columns rise from the rubble of tumbled structures, and many of the arches that formed the old basilica are still standing. Agora promises a real taste of history!
2. Stroll Along The Dock
Izmir’s dockside is the perfect place to come in the early evening. Walk along the palm-lined promenade and soak in the views out to sea, then stop for a refreshing beer as the sun goes down.
Catch glimpses of locals going about their everyday lives and watch the fishermen reeling in their lines. If you’re lucky, there might even be some stalls on the side of the docks selling freshly caught and grilled fish sandwiches!
3. Visit The Famous Clock Tower
Situated in the middle of the famous Konak Square, visiting the Izmir clock tower is one of the city’s most popular things to do.
The German Emperor Wilhelm II gifted the clock tower to the city. Technically, it was a gift to King Abdulhamit II (Ottoman Empire), but everyone has been able to enjoy it! It was designed by Raymond Charle Pere, a French architect, in 1901, and over time, it’s become a classic tourist landmark.
While in the Konak areas, you will also wander down the Konak pier – where it seems everyone gathers on bright and sunny days.
4. Find The City’s Cutest Blue Mosque
There are blue mosques in every city in Turkey. But one of the cutest is the Fatih Camii, at 36 Birleşmiş Milletler Street.
This quaint mosque is tucked away amongst family homes in a typical Turkish neighborhood, and it’s surrounded by panoramic views over the city, all the way down to the sea. If you come during prayer, you can listen to the call to prayer as it makes its way melodically through the streets of Izmir.
Take a moment to reflect and stop. Even if you aren’t Islamic, it’s a beautiful way to ground yourself and become present.
While you’re in Izmir, I challenge you to find as many blue mosques as you can around the city. There are more in the city center – I wonder how many you can find?
5. Learn About Turkish History At The Ataturk Museum
Dedicated to the founder of the Republic of Turkey, this museum explores the life and political career of one of the most influential and polemic figures in Turkish history – Ataturk.
Did you know he gave women the right to vote? And switched the national alphabet from Arabic to Latin. However, he also made less popular changes, like making Turkey secular.
All of these were a part of what are known as “Ataturk’s Reforms,” a set of political, cultural, social, and religious policy changes implemented to modernize the country.
6. Eat A Kumpir
Kumpirs are a super simple but absolutely delicious Turkish cuisine. They’re the perfect on-the-go lunch, too, so they’re ideal for travelers!
Essentially, it’s just a baked potato filled with creamy butter and as many fillings as you want, but this simple and hearty lunch really hits the spot.
Head to Asistir Cafe for the best kumpir in Izmir!
Izmir Shopping Guide
Now, we head to the market streets of Izmir to pick up Turkish souvenirs and try local food.
1. Kemeralti Market
Landmarks aside, the best place to find culture in Izmir is at the markets dotted across the city. The most famous is the Kemeralti Market, which is called the Kemeralti Bazaar in Turkish.
It has plenty of souvenirs, gorgeous leather and silk products, but also everyday items, from food to household bits and bobs, that the locals come to buy.
From spices to wedding dresses, there’s nothing you can’t find at Kemeralti.
To really make the most of your visit, relax into the chaos. Get lost in the narrow streets sheltered by the colorful cloths stretching between the buildings, making it hard to orient yourself and see where you end up!
Top tip: If you find something you like, buy it when you see it, or if you pass local restaurants you like the fancy of, stop then! Because the chances that you’ll find something again are very slim. Trust me. We spent far too long backtracking at night to find what we had seen during the day.
2. Kizlaragasi Hani Market
This spectacular covered market is technically still in the Bazaar district but distinctly different from the rest.
Built in 1744, it’s popular thanks to the antiques and authentic craftsman products sold on the top floor (the other floors are mostly just the general souvenirs you can get anywhere else).
Amidst the crowds, you can watch the leather artisans and jewelers at work and lose yourself to the aromatic scents of spices, the chatting of locals, and the vibrant colors of the stalls.
Thanks to the more well-known cities like Istanbul attracting most of the crowds, the bazaars in Izmir are not overly touristy, so they still have an authentic feel despite the undeniable rise in products marketed to tourists.
One curious thing about the markets in Izmir is how they are divided up based on products. The winding maze of stalls may seem chaotic and orderless, especially as hagglers argue over prices and merchants come shoving through with merchandise. Still, if you pay attention, you’ll start to notice that each area specializes in something.
Day Trips To The Surrounding Area Of Izmir & A Guide To Beaches In Izmir
There’s enough to do in Izmir itself if you’re just there for a short weekend break, but if you plan on staying longer, then it’s worth checking out these awesome day trips you can go on from Izmir City!
Surrounded by stunning beaches, famous archaeological sites, and quaint villages – there’s something for everyone on the list.
1. Stay Local And Visit Karsiyaka
This little beach just outside Izmir is perfect for a lazy day outside the city. It boasts pristine waters and bright sunsets!
2. Bathe In The Heavenly Hot Springs Of Pamukkale
Second to none, these hot springs look like they are out of a travel brochure. In Turkish, Pamukkale means “cotton castle,” which perfectly describes the effect left behind by the carbonate mineral water that has trickled down the hillside for thousands of years, leaving behind cloud-like, crystal-clear white pools.
It’s pretty far from the city, so I’d recommend going to Pamukkale on an organized tour rather than trying to get there yourself; it’ll save you a lot of time and hassle!
3. Explore Hierapolis And Its Ancient Theater
This archaeological site has both Greek and Roman ruins in one place. It’s about a four-hour drive away from Izmir, but luckily, you can do it on the same day as Pamukkale, so if you combine the two in a tour, it’s totally worth the trip!
The now-crumbled city of Hierapolis was first established in the 2nd century BC by the kings of Pergamon. Later, it fell into Roman hands.
There are countless stunning landmarks to see across the city, and you’ll need to do a fair bit of walking to get from one to the other, but arguably, the most impressive site is the old theater, which is incredibly well-preserved. It has a capacity for no less than 15,000 spectators and was built as far back as the 2nd century AD.
Other ruins you can’t miss are Cleopatra’s Pool in the temple of Apollo (yes, Cleopatra really did bathe there on her visit!), the Gate of Domitian, and the Necropolis.
4. Go To The Quaint Seaside Town Of Urla
Fancy a day of just chilling by the sea? Then, the tranquil beach town of Urla is what you’ve been looking for. Just 1.5 hours away from the city, it’s a popular beach escape amongst locals, but few tourists know about it.
Enjoy quiet beaches, dips in the turquoise blue sea, and the endless rays of golden sun!
5. Visit The Ancient City Of Ephesus
Though inhabited since the Bronze Age, this ancient city really came to life when Ancient Greeks ruled during the 6th century BC.
Most notably, Ephesus is home to the ruins of the famous Temple of Artemis, which reign over the crumbled city and reminds visitors of how glorious this city once was.
After the Greeks, it was ruled by the Persians and later by the Romans once it was conquered by Alexander the Great.
Amongst other prominent ruins, there’s the must-see Coliseum theater that was once filled with crowds of up to 25,000 people who came to see gladiators in battle. You also can’t miss the reconstructed Library of Celsus, which was home to 25,000 ancient scrolls!
The baths and ancient gymnasium are at the top of the list of attractions, too.
History buffs – this is absolutely the day trip for you! After all, who could say no to visiting one of the wonders of the previous ancient world?
The cheapest and the best way to get to Ephesus if you do not have a rental car is to take a bus to Selcuk (the nearest town to the archaeological site) and then switch to one of the local shuttles that bring you the rest of the way.
How To Get From Istanbul to Izmir
There are a few ways to get from Istanbul to Izmir via bus, car, and flight. A cheap direct bus with Flixbus costs 25 euros but takes 7:30 to 8 hours. Fortunately, if you aren’t up for a long bus journey, you can fly for as little as 40 euros.
Note: I wrote the prices in euro as the value of the Turkish Lira keeps decreasing. You can read about the currency in Turkey and the exchange rate here.
The flight takes just over an hour, and there are direct flights with Turkish Airlines several times a day. You can book directly through the company or check out Skyscanner.
Because there are so many flights a day, the prices don’t tend to go up, even if you’re booking at the last minute.
Fancy making a trip out of it? Then rent a car and go on a road trip!
The drive takes just under five hours with no stops, but you could stretch it out into a two-day trip. The best attractions along the way are Bursa (a metropolitan city), Ocakli Kale, Incekum Macerapark, Şile Aqua Beach, and Yoros Castle.
The journey is very doable; however, you choose to get from Istanbul to Izmir!
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Wrap On Deciding If Izmir Is Worth The Trip
If you want to spend your days in city museums or the most chic cafes, you’re better off spending a weekend in Istanbul than in Izmir. Similarly, if you’re only coming to Turkey for the beaches and nightlife, I’d recommend going straight to Antalya.
That said, Izmir is a great destination for anyone who wants to see somewhere totally different and enjoy the freedom of being in a more European city. It’s also the place to be if you want to visit any of the archaeological sites mentioned on the list of day trips!