I wrote this for a online forum a few years ago and thought i’d share it on my blog as it gives a little insight to the city I live in. Although Izmir Turkey’s third largest city, it’s very different to other places in Turkey. It can in no way be compared to Istanbul and it’s also very different to Ankara. Izmir is the pearl of the Aegean and is made up of nine different districts – Balçova, Bornova, Buca, Çiğli, Gaziemir, Güzelbahçe, Karşıyaka, Konak, and Narlıdere, each with its own distinct features.
The city surrounds the bay of Izmir and old style ferries cross regularly to the different areas throughout the day and evening. It’s a very cosmopolitan, lively and modern city and a very liveable place.
With palm-tree lined streets and hip eateries, Alsancak is one of the most popular areas in Izmir with both tourists and Turkish alike. The Kordon, which is a famous street running parallel to the coastline, has lots of lovely cafes where you can sit and watch the world go by and enjoy a drink whilst watching the sunset over the bay.
Alsancak is also where the famous Kültürpark is located, an International Fair, festivals and dozens of exhibitions are held there every year attracting people from all over the world. The International Fair is the oldest tradeshow in Turkey and considered the cradle of Turkey’s fairs and expositions industry. If you are planning to come to Izmir, it’s worth checking out what’s happening when you’re there.
There’s lots of things to keep you entertained in Izmir, spa centers, an Aqua Park, a Wildlife park, shopping centers, ancient sites and there are lots of museums in Izmir.
Museums in Izmir
The Archaeological Museum, near Konak Square, houses a superb collection of antiquities including the statues of Poseidon and Demeter which, in ancient times, stood in the Agora.
The Ethnography Museum, located next to the Archaeology Museum, contains folkloric artifacts, which include a fine collection of Bergama and Gordes carpets, traditional costumes and camel bridles.
The Ataturk Museum is situated on Ataturk Caddesi in an old Izmir house used by the founder of the Turkish Republic. It exhibits photographs of the leader as well as some of his personal effects.
The Fine Arts Museum, located in Konak, displays the works of famous Turkish painters.
The Seljuk Yasar Art Museum is a private museum on Cumhuriyet Bulvari with a collection of 20th-century Turkish art.
The Odemis Archeological Museum is about 60 km east of Izmir and displays regional artifacts.
The Natural History Museum in Bornova attracts as a natural reserve of the Aegean Region landscapes’ historical preservation.
The Warship Museum in Inciralti, makes a pleasant day out with a guided tour round the Turkish TCG EGE Warship (and submarine) which joined the military in 1994. After being used for 11 years was turned into a museum. Open 4 days a week, closed on Monday and Tuesday.
At the foot of the highest hill in Izmir is the restored Agora, the market of ancient Smyrna. Situated on the northern slopes of the Pagos hills, it was the commercial, judicial and political nucleus of the ancient city, its center for artistic activities and for teaching. İzmir Agora Open Air Museum consists of five parts, including the Agora area, the base of the northern basilica gate, the stoa and the ancient shopping center. The Agora of Smyrna was built during the Hellenistic era. After a destructive earthquake in 178 AD, Smyrna was rebuilt in the Roman period (second century AD) under the emperor Marcus Aurelius, according to an urban plan drawn by Hippodamos.
There’s a big castle called Kadifekale (literally meaning “the velvet castle” in Turkish) on top of a hill which you’ll be able to see from most points around Izmir, it was built by Lysimachos, a “successor” (diadochus) of Alexander the Great, later a king (306 BC) in Thrace and Asia Minor. It can be quite a trek up, but you can go by taxi or by bus from Konak. There are a few beggars, old women trying to sell silk and other items up there, and street children which I’ve heard can be annoying.
The Asansör Elevator
Located near Konak is the Asansör Elevator, which is a good place to go for great views of the bay of Izmir. The elevator was built in 1907 as a work of public service by a wealthy Jewish banker and trader of that period, Nesim Levi Bayraklıoğlu. It was built to ease the access between Mithatpaşa and Halilrifatpaşa streets, which happened to be a great problem due to height difference between them. 155 steps had to be climbed to reach Halilrifatpaşa Street, which is 50m high. The two quarters are united with the elevator tower which carries people and goods through the steep cliff between the two parts of the quarter. Nowadays, it’s a good place to watch the sunset over the sea, there’s a restaurant at the top where you can have dinner or a drink and enjoy the view.
Another good place to visit for the day is Balcova Teleferik. It’s a beautifully peaceful area in an otherwise busy city. You take a cable car 1000 meters up a mountain in Balcova. When you get to the top, there’s a long road with many cafes and restaurants and a few shops. At the end you will see a picnic area where you can have your own bbq. You don’t need to bring anything, there’s a small supermarket there where you can buy fresh salads, vegetables and all kinds of different meat for your BBQ. The staff from the supermarket bring a BBQ set to your table. This closed but has since reopened which i’m so happy about as it’s one of the cooler things to do in Izmir.
Kemeralti – Izmir’s historical market
One of the most popular and well known areas of Izmir is Kemeralti. Kemeralti is basically Izmir’s version of the Istanbul Grand Bazaar. You can find the mystical vaulted and domed shops of the past, side by side with the contemporary business centers, shops, theaters, and cafes, with alluring opportunities for all kinds of wonderful shopping. This Bazaar is the right place to find all kinds of handicrafts, souvenirs, carpets, silver, clothing, hubble-bubbles, Turkish instruments, handmade jewelry and leather goods….and you can quite easily spend half a day getting pleasantly lost in the Kemeralti market, as you stroll through the huge area it covers.
Within Kemeralti you’ll find Kizlaragasi Hani – an Ottoman caravanserai. A visit here makes you feel like you are stepping back in time. It has a very unique ambiance, and resembles something out of Aladdin, dark and mysterious with little stalls and shops full of treasures waiting to be found and many shaded corners with tables covered in Turkish carpet where you can sit and sip a cup of Turkish coffee or apple tea. There are hundreds of eateries tucked away all around the historic bazaar, every step you take you will smell the aroma of something delicious being cooked, a tip is to try the kumpir (Turkish jacket potato) in Kemeralti.
Shopping in Izmir
The shopping opportunities in Izmir are endless. There are numerous shopping centers dotted around the different areas of Izmir. The most popular being: The KIPA Center in Cigli, MaviBahce, Point Bornova, Forum Bornova, EGE Park and Agora in Balcova.
Alsancak also has one of the best area for shopping in Izmir with lots of exclusive shops. There are two main areas, one is the main shopping street where they have the high street names such as Ambar, Mavi Jeans, Colin’s and Collezione. The other area located nearby is much more elite, set in a neighbourhood of many streets lined with fashionable cafes – you’ll find shops such as Clarks shoes, United Colors of Benetton, Mango, Lush, Diesel, Zara, Mothercare, Replay, Tommy Hilfiger, Guess and D&G, and you won’t see a genuine fake in sight.
Located 5-10 minutes walk away from Konak’s clock tower, you’ll find Konak Pier – the most prestigious but small shopping centers in Izmir with it’s cinema, shoe shops, a bookshop (English books available), a hairdresser, restaurants, cafes and the famous up market brand shops, such as Tommy Hilfiger. Most things are priced in dollars due to the many cruise ship’s full of Americans that dock in Izmir. The Konak Pier building was designed by the famous Gustave Eiffel in the 1870s and has been used as French Customs, Izmir Customs, fish market and parking lot. The original steel construction structure were renovated with the latest technology and began to be used as a modern shopping center in 1998.
The nightlife in Izmir is very lively with famous DJ’s and Turkish artists regularly performing there. Not only are there lots of big clubs and trendy bars but you’ll also find lots of small bars tucked away that have live Turkish music, blues, jazz, salsa and rock. These are most all located in Alsancak down little side streets with an amazing atmosphere.
Escaping the hustle and bustle of the city
Although Izmir is quite built up, there are lots of wildlife areas scattered around. Just 15 km’s outside of Karsiyaka is where you’ll find Bird Paradise, an area of coastal marshes and salt fields that is preserved as an important bird sanctuary. Aswell as birds, many mammals, fish and reptile species take refuge in the delta and you may even see rabbits, foxes and wild boar on the hills.
The beautiful resort of Cesme is only an hour away and there you’ll find some of the best beaches in the area. Cesme can easily be reached by bus from either of the two bus stations in Izmir and is well worth a visit, stroll around the stunning village of Alacati, splash around in the crystal clear waters of Ilica beach or lounge at one of the many awesome beach clubs in Aya Yorgi with a fancy cocktail…Cesme is a piece of paradise and Izmir’s gem.
Izmir Wildlife Park
At Izmir’s new Wildlife park, you can get a closer and more natural experience through the exploration of animals behaving much as they would in the wild. It’s split into different sections and you can see many animals, including, Lions, tigers, pumas, gazelles, elephants, bears, wolves, hyenas, giraffe, ostriches, zebras, horses, hippopotamus, monkeys, deer, camel, and lots of different birds and birds of pray such as owls and eagles. With an entrance price of 1.50 Turkish lira, it’s well worth a day out.
Aqua City waterpark
Aqua City is located in the Balcova area of Izmir. In an area of 40 square meters there are 22 different slides such as the Black-Hole, Twister and Space Hole, a rafting river, grassy areas and a huge semi Olympic size swimming pool. There are numerous restaurants and fast food places to choose from. It’s open daily from 10:00 until 18:00.
Izmir’s Thermal Spa
Turkey’s strategic location right above a geothermal belt and a seismic fault makes this volcanic country rich with natural hot springs and pure mineral baths. Turkey’s thermal baths are known to have healing properties and therapeutic effects. They have been proven to naturally cure illnesses and and are good for patients suffering from rheumatic, orthopedic and neurological diseases and for skin problems, digestive disorders, circulatory and heart diseases, gynecological diseases, and liver and kidney diseases among many others.
Turkey is one of the only seven countries in the world that have been gifted with vast and abundant natural sources of thermal baths and hot springs. Turkey alone has over one thousand thermal hot springs 3 of which are located around Izmir.
♥ Konak Square, clock tower, fountain and palm trees.
♥ Alsancak, small streets with a lot of nice bars in old Greek houses, where you can have tea or a beer and try nargile.
♥ Kadifekale, an old castle on the hill which it’s named after.
♥ Agora, remains of the Roman Empire.
♥ Izmir’s International Fair.
♥ Asansör Elevator in the Konak area, it has one of the best views of the city.
♥ Visit one of the many museums around Izmir like the Archaeological Museum.
♥ Take a cable car up the Balcova Teleferik, great views of Izmir, and a perfectly Peaceful place to enjoy a picnic
♥ Walk around the very lively Alsancak and have a drink on the Kordon. It has great views over the bay.
♥ Go shopping at Kemeralti: A big bazaar, where you can buy clothes & gifts and stop to sip a Turkish tea.
♥ Kizlaragasi Hani: An old kervansaray where you can shop for carpets and jewelry.
♥ Visit one of the many Thermal Spa’s located in Izmir.
♥ Go shopping at one of the many Shopping Centers.
♥ Take a trip on the ferry to other parts of Izmir, a cheap but great way to see the city.
♥ Visit the beautiful sea side resort town of Cesme, less than one hour’s drive from Izmir.
♥ Take a dolmus to Eski Foça and stroll around the cobbled street and eat fresh fish while the sun sets.
♥ Melons, because Izmir has a warm climate it is fresh to eat melons
♥ Fish (grilled sea bass is my personal favorite)
♥ Kumru, a warm sandwich, made with a special bread with sesame seeds, turkish sausage, grilled cheese and tomatoes
♥ Tulum Peyniri, a kind of cheese specially made in Izmir region
♥ Izmir Kofte
♥ Lokma, a delicious sweet smelling donut
♥ A doner kebab at Konak’s Can restaurant
♥ Ayran, a salty yoghurt drink
♥ Turkish Tea
♥ Turkish apple Tea
♥ Turkish coffee with lokma (Turkish delight)