Formerly known as Smyrna, Izmir has been standing on the Turkish Aegean shore for centuries. Turkey’s third largest city, it has been a commercial centre since old times and has evolved into one of modern Turkey’s most liberal cities.
Combining ancient sites with oriental bazaars and a lively waterfront, it has been established as one of the major gateways for the western part of the country.
Building up a thriving art scene, Izmir hosts the annual International Arts Festival every June. Also check out if there is a temporary exhibition on at the former building of the city’s Gas Factory, which has now been turned into a modern art house.
Metro lines are limited but cover several points of interest, running between 6.30 am and 11.30 pm. City-bus routes can be a bit confusing for visitors, but if you ask a local for the name of the stop, where you need to get off, you can manage just fine. Taxis are plenty on the streets and outside large hotels.
Things to see and do in Izmir
Kordon is the waterfront of Izmir and it is one of the liveliest parts of the city. Sit at one of its many restaurants and cafes for a nice lunch over sea views, or take a stroll before dusk to join the locals who come here to enjoy the beautiful sunset. Nearby Konak Square features the Tower Clock and Konak Camii, an 18th-century mosque with impressive tile-works.
For an authentic oriental taste, take a couple of hours to wander around the maze of Kemeralti Bazaar. Traditional coffee houses are hidden among dozens of jewellery, flower, kitchenware and bead stores around the market’s alleys. For souvenir shopping try Kizlaragasi Han, a covered touristic market housed under a former caravanserai.
On a sunny day walk up Kadifekale Hill to see the Velvet Fort and enjoy some marvellous views of Izmir. First erected by Lysimachos in 3rd century BC, the defensive fortification had been captured by many conquers during the centuries, including the Aydinids, the Genoese and Tamerlane. Each invader destroyed some of the facilities, but also added new parts to the fort. Today the visitor can see parts of the defensive walls, gates, a castle and the remains of a watch tower. Avoid the area after dusk as attacks against tourists have been reported during night hours.
The archaeological site of ancient Agora features the remains of a Roman market built by emperor Marcus Aurelius. The Roman Agora was built on the ruins of a former Hellenistic Agora. Walking around the site you will see marble columns in Corinthian style, a few marble arches and the foundations of domed chambers. Old tombstones are scattered around the site, as it was once occupied by an Ottoman cemetery.
Izmir’s Museum of History and Art houses an interesting collection of ancient statues and pottery from Neolithic era to Roman times. Divided into three sections, the exhibits are focusing on sculpture, ceramics and precious artefacts. If interested in traditional arts and crafts, visit the Ethnography Museum, where you can learn about local customs through interactive displays and admire some fascinating pieces of Izmir’s folk arts.
Dating back to late 16th century, Hisar Camii is Izmir’s largest and most impressive mosque. The light blue ceiling and surrounding walls are ornamented with beautiful golden decorations, while the stone staircase features delicate engraved motifs. For a close-up look at traditional Izmir tile-work, visit Fatih Camii, which also houses a small tea garden and some nice views.