Izmir is the third biggest city in Turkey, after Istanbul and Ankara, with the population of nearly 3 million people. But when you are in the central area, you don’t get the impression that the city is so big. That’s because it’s spreads over a big area and in any case you are only really interested in its central part.
The city has a very busy airport that serves the nearby summer resorts. But, I suspect that not many tourists visit Izmir. I was in Izmir for three days and I saw very few foreigners. That could be for two reasons:
First of all, Izmir doesn’t have a beach. Despite the fact that it’s on the coast, it’s not a summer resort. For the beach, you have to go to the nearby resorts, either Çeşme or Kuşadası.
The second point has a historical background and it’s the reason why Izmir looks the way it looks today. In short, following the retreat of the Greek Army in September 1922, at the end of the Greco-Turkish war right after the First World War, Izmir was burned to the ground.
Or more precisely, Greek and Armenian quarters of the city, which occupied the central area of the modern day Izmir, were completely destroyed. Without going into discussion with regard to who was responsible for the fire that destroyed Izmir, the outcome is clearly visible today.
Almost everything that you can see in Izmir is new, especially the seafront buildings. At the same time, being a Turkish city, it also looks the same as all other cities in Turkey. I don’t really want to be too harsh, but the element of aesthetics was clearly missing when the city was rebuilt. It makes you think how the city would look like now, had all old buildings remained. But, there is no point to dwell on history and what could’ve been, because that’s in the past now.
The seafront is probably the most attractive part of Izmir, but only because you have the sea in front of you. It’s the same in every other coastal city.
The seafront is long and you can go for a walk there, also there are some restaurants and coffee shops where you can have something to eat or you can just have a drink.
Additionally, certain parts of the seafront are a small park, so if you prefer, you can sit there. In fact, the best thing that you can do, and what I did every evening during my stay in Izmir, is to sit in a park by the sea and watch a sunset.
There are several interesting squares and monuments along the seafront. One of them is Gündoğdu Meydani that you can see in the photo below.
The Atatürk Monument is in the centre of this square.
Immediately next to the seafront is Alsancak, the shopping area of Izmir. The focal point is Kıbrıs Şehitleri pedestrian street. There, you will find various shops, mainly Turkish chains, but also some restaurants and coffee shops.
MY HOTEL IN IZMIR
I stayed in a nice three star Hotel Marina. The same as in Bursa, but also in other places in Turkey that I visited for the first time, I booked it through booking.com. It’s always very difficult to choose a hotel in places that we don’t know, because we can’t be sure that it’s going to be in a good location. It turned out that the hotel was in a perfect location.
Otherwise, it’s a comfortable hotel, with good breakfast. If I ever go back to Izmir, I would stay in the same hotel, it was excellent value for money.
One other interesting point about this hotel is that it’s Iranian owned. You can see both the Turkish and Iranian flags in the photo below.
The hotel is in a pedestrian shopping area that specialises in electronic products. In other words, the most numerous are shops that sell that type of products, but there is a bit of everything too.
What I also particularly liked was that, as there was no traffic in any of the streets surrounding the hotel, it was very quiet in the night. Otherwise, it’s an interesting area where you can easily spend half a day, browsing through the stuff on offer.
You will also find some very good restaurants in this area. One of them is the Ezo Restaurant, where I had a delicious lunch. It’s approximately 5 minute walk from the Marina Hotel, in 1367 Street.
While Izmir’s seafront may be its most attractive area, the historic Bazaar Quarter is in my opinion the most interesting area that you can see in the city. This part of Izmir did not disappear in the great fire of 1922, which destroyed Greek and Armenian areas, along with the seafront. The Bazaar Quarter retained its original character and you feel it as soon as you enter.
Similar to bazaars in Istanbul, it’s an endless maze of streets, littered with shops selling everything that you can imagine. That’s also where you can find coffee shops, restaurants and other places where you can eat.
This was my favourite part of Izmir. I spent many hours wandering around and frequently stopped for a coffee or lemonade, in one of the colourful coffee shops.
If you enter the Bazaar Quarter on the side where my hotel is and you walk all the way through, you will arrive to Konak Meydani, on the other side. There are several interesting historic structures in this square.
One of them is the small 18th century Konak Mosque. It was a prayer time when I arrived to the mosque, so I couldn’t visit it.
Another Ottoman monument in Konak Square is the elaborate Izmir Clock Tower. Unfortunately, this was also one of many sites under restoration when I was in Turkey.
In the photo below, you can see the upper part of the clock. It’s not an old monument, although that’s relative, because it depends on what you compare it with. The clock tower was built in 1901 and was gifted by the German Emperor Wilhelm II, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Sultan Abdülhamid II’s reign.
DARIO MORENO STREET AND ASANSÖR
One more attraction that you see in Izmir is Dario Moreno Street. Dario Moreno was a famous Turkish-Jewish singer.
It’s an interesting street, with coffee shops and some restaurants. But, this street is not in the centre and it took me approximately 20 minutes to get there walking.
At the end of Dario Moreno street, you arrive to Asansör. A wealthy Jewish banker, Nesim Levi Bayraklıoğlu, built it in 1907 to connect the coastline area with the part of the city up on the hill. Today, the lift is both a tourist attraction and a useful feature for residents in that part of Izmir.
One more nice thing that you can do in Izmir is to visit Karşıyaka. It’s a part of Izmir on the other side of the bay, opposite the central Konak area. There are two ways to get there. One is by tram, that goes around the bay and it takes a long time. However, a much better way to get to Karşıyaka is by boat, which is in fact public transport and it runs continuously during the day.
All you need to do is to go to the Konak station, which you can easily find on the seafront, and buy a ticket. Then, in approximately 15 minutes, you will arrive to the other side of the bay.
Once you have arrived to Karşıyaka, you can go for a walk along the main pedestrian street. It’s very similar to what you can see in the Konak area of Izmir and it’s a nice way to spend several hours. Plus, you get to travel by boat, which gives you a possibility to see the city from a different perspective.
Apart from numerous shops, there are also coffee shops and restaurants along the Karşıyaka seafront, where you can stop to eat or have a drink.
SUNSETS IN IZMIR
One of the best things that I did every evening was to watch spectacular sunsets. Izmir, and all other places in that part of the Turkish coast, are west facing and that’s why you can watch a sunset every evening. Buildings that you can see in the photo below are in Karşıyaka, that I have just mentioned.
At the same time, the seafront area lights up in preparation for the night. I was in Izmir in July, evenings were warm and pleasant, especially after the oppressive heat during mid summer days.
AGORA OF SMYRNA
You can also visit the Agora of Smyrna. I went there because it was very close to my hotel. Otherwise, although I love visiting historic sites, I don’t like places where there is almost nothing to see.
This site is one of them. I understand and appreciate the historic value of such places, after all, we are talking about 2000 years old constructions. That’s why I didn’t go to Troy, although it wasn’t that far from either Bursa or Izmir. It’s just that there is really nothing to see.
Anyway, that’s how I feel about such places. The Agora in Izmir is on open air museum.
Originally built in the Hellenistic era and destroyed in the earthquake in 178 AD, it was restored by the Romans in the 2nd century AD, during the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Anyway, it’s a nice way to spend an hour or two, while you try to comprehend that what you are looking at is over 2000 years old. But, it’s a pity that original structures are not preserved, although it’s unlikely that people cherished and looked after such historic places in the past the way we do now.
SHOULD YOU VISIT IZMIR?
I am glad that I went to Izmir. It made sense in the context of my travel in Turkey earlier this year. I was there with a good friend of mine and he showed me around Izmir. It’s always much easier when you have someone to take you around, you get to see what you normally wouldn’t see, either because it’s not mentioned in tourist guides or because it’s something obscure and only the local people known about it.
If you are visiting that part of Turkey and if you have time, perhaps one or maximum two days in Izmir are sufficient. It’s not like Istanbul or Bursa, where you can find a lot of history. But neither Istanbul nor Bursa burnt the way Izmir did in the great fire in 1922.
If nothing else, you can enjoy the excellent Turkish cuisine or you can stroll along the seafront and watch magnificent sunsets.