The Pearl of the Aegean Sea; this name is justified. If you have heard it before, you must know, dear reader, that I am talking about Izmir.
Izmir is a metropolitan city far west of Anatolia, the district’s capital with the same name. It comes after Istanbul and Ankara in terms of population. If we talk about civilisation, it comes after Athens as the second hugest urban area on the Aegean Sea.
Nicknamed the Pearl of the Aegean Sea, Izmir has more than 3 thousand years of recorded urban history.
In earlier times, it was known as “Smyrna.” That name continued to be used in English and most other languages. However, in 1930, the government succeeded in replacing the origin of the Greek word with its Turkish equivalent, “Izmir.”
It is located in a privileged position at the head of a bay that slopes into a deep gulf halfway along the western Anatolian coast. This advantaged location allowed it to become one of the major trading cities of the Mediterranean.
The city is the first export port and the centre for selling the products of the Aegean valleys, which are rich in crops. There is also an important market for the distribution of imported manufactured products.
Dear reader, after I have provided you with this brief yet intriguing information about the vibrant city, we will unravel together the 10 best things to do in Izmir.
1. Visit the Historic Agora in the City Centre
Agora means a “gathering place,” and it was especially used by the ancient Greek to refer to a a marketplace.
The city has witnessed many cultures and empires. It was a place for political discussions, commercial affairs, and religious topics. In other words, it was an open meeting area.
Agora was built during the period of the Greeks at the end of the 4th century BC. Unfortunately, the city was ruined by an earthquake in 178 AD. After that, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius ordered to rebuild of the place and opened it for use. It was discovered due to excavations occurring at intervals since 1932 and is waiting for its guests.
This place has attractive spots that can surely pique your interest to know more about them. One of them is an underground street covered with massive stone arches.
The underground street looks like a labyrinth of massive columns and arches. In the middle of this labyrinth is a working fountain, and the water goes into narrow channels all around.
Agora was included in the UNESCO Tentative List of World Heritage in 2020. This place of Izmir is a critical area for the city’s history. It’s a symbol of ancient history. If you want to see a historical place while walking around the centre of Izmir, you should pay it a visit.
2. Join the İzmir International Fair at Kültürpark
Kültürpark is one of the most famous parks in Izmir. It was established in 1936. Located in the Konak district, this park hosts İzmir’s best-known fair.
It includes many activities and is situated in an area of 420 thousand square metres. The park has more than 8 thousand trees and around 200 plant species.
There are different activities you can explore when you go to Kültürpark. You can participate in the “Re-Cinematheque” activity in the Izmir Art Building free of charge! In addition, artistic activities are held at certain times of the year.
Do not miss the concerts and plays at the Atatürk Open Air Theatre. If you wish, you can sit on the grass and enjoy the green and peace. When you go to İzmir, you should explore that wonderful area.
3. Take Photos and Feed the Pigeons at the Clock Tower
There is an iconic place where the Clock Tower is located in Konak Square in the downtown area. There, you will find the beautiful Clock Tower, a gift from German Emperor Wilhelm II to Ottoman King Abdul Hamid II and a symbol of the city.
This is also the entrance to the old bazaar with connections to buses, a tram system, and urban ferries. Konak Square is also a popular hangout and great for people-watching.
Another feature of the Clock Tower is the pigeons in front of it. Your little ones will especially love these pigeons. You can also take unique pictures while feeding the pigeons there.
4. Visit the Ancient City of Ephesus
The Ancient City of Ephesus is located within the boundaries of Izmir’s Selçuklu District and entered the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List in 2015. The foundation of the ancient city dates back to 6000 BC. The Ancient City of Ephesus has the unique advantage of being one of the most famous historical places in the country and worldwide. It is one of the significant archaeological sites in Turkey, as well as a popular tourist destination. Its location has been an active settlement for centuries, including the Roman and Byzantine periods.
It said that the city was founded by female warriors known as the Amazons, and its name comes from a city in the kingdom of Arzawa (the mother goddess). The Ancient City of Ephesus, which began with the Prince of Athens Androclus and reached its zenith when Atollus, King of Pergamon, left the region for the Romans, became a religious centre over time.
Ephesus was also an important centre of Christianity, as St Paul preached there during his third missionary journey. It is also claimed that the city is where St John wrote his Gospel and stayed with the Virgin Mary.
After this date, the ancient city was constantly changing and passed into the hands of the Turks. You will feel that it holds historical relics from every period and witness it firsthand.
The Temple of Artemis was built there. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the World and one of the largest buildings in antiquity. Its remains are still found today. This magnificent historical spot attracts thousands of visitors and tourists, and it is one that should not be missed!
5. Take a Walk on Cyprus Martyrs Street (Kıbrıs Şehitleri Caddesi)
Cyprus Martyrs Street is one of Izmir’s famous streets. It is one of the city’s busiest and most crucial meeting points for the people of Izmir. We can say that it is almost like İstiklal Street (İstiklal Caddesi) in Istanbul, with street artists playing musical instruments and singing in the evening.
You can shop from the stores on every corner of the street. In addition, you can sit and eat and drink in restaurants and cafes, each with a different concept. Many like Cyprus Martyrs Street because it is closed to traffic. You can easily walk in it and wander around as you wish.
Don’t miss going to Alsancak Dostlar Bakery, located on Cyprus Martyrs Street and the most famous Boyoz restaurant in Izmir.
We also recommend going to Alsancak Sevinç Patisserie, a historic pastry shop, to sample everything from delicious cakes to pastries! Of course, as much as you can eat.
6. Take a Stroll and Shopping in Kemeraltı Bazaar
Kemeraltı Bazaar has a magnificent historical past. The bazaar has been considered an important trade centre since its establishment. It quickly became the symbol of Izmir and the heart of shopping sprees.
It is located between Mezarlıkbaşı District and Konak Square. The bazaar is considered one of the oldest bazaars in the world. It welcomes thousands of tourists almost every day.
The bazaar, which spreads over a wide area, serves 15 thousand workplaces. The bazaar is home to inns, baths, mosques, fountains, and historical shops reflecting 16th-century architecture.
There are several shops in the bazaar, from historical coffee shops and restaurants to jewellery shops, wedding dress shops, spice shops, and many more. There are also 19 inns and 13 mosques in the bazaar. It gets jam-packed during holidays, special days, and weekends.
Get lost in the streets of Kemeraltı in Izmir. Eat at historical restaurants. Drink Turkish coffee on embers in coffee shops. Visit souvenir shops and get your loved ones something to remember. Pay a visit to the Hisar Mosque, one of the most beautiful examples of Ottoman architecture!
7. Bird Watching in Izmir Bird Paradise
İzmir Bird Paradise is located in Çamaltı Tuzlası of the Çiğli district. It is the ideal place for nature lovers and photography enthusiasts. The attraction is located in a vast area. More than 50 thousand birds visit this area, which is among the birds’ migration routes yearly.
In addition, it hosts 205 birds and 314 plant species. The place has observation towers, binoculars, and bicycle paths for you.
You can come across many bird species, such as crested pelicans, silver gulls, little tern, pink-winged flamingos, grey and black storks, little owls, kingfishers, herons, and red hawks.
The state protects Izmir Bird Paradise as an archaeological site. It is also known for hosting the Çamaltı Tuzlası, which meets a significant part of Turkey’s salt needs.
8. Cable Car Ride in Balçova
The Balchova Cable Car facilities are located in Balchova, Izmir. It is the perfect opportunity to have a panoramic view of Izmir. The tours these rides provide are special for adventure and discovery lovers. The area has many restaurants and cafes, a recreation area with observation decks, a walking path, and a playground.
The Balchova cable car —with a height of 316 meters— can carry 1,200 passengers per hour. The ride lasts from two to three minutes. This will give you a completely different, perhaps the best, experience you will remember forever.
9. Aqua Fantasy Park
The Aqua is located in the Pamukcak district between Selçuklu and Kuşadası. It is one of the largest aqua parks in Turkey. Chosen as the best Aqua Park Hotel in the world in the 2009-2010 season, the Aqua can host 5 thousand people daily.
Inside it, you can find playgrounds, water slides, a wave pool, a children’s pool, an adult pool, a sauna, a Turkish bath, and a massage parlour. In this Aqua Park, you can choose between two options: stay in the park’s hotel for an extended vacation or spend a day-use. You can meet your food and beverage needs with the different restaurants and cafes there. You can also participate in the shows and activities —suitable for all age groups— throughout the day.
Take advantage of enjoying Aqua Fantasy Park when you visit Izmir; you will explore another taste of entertainment.
10. Stop by the Path of Love (Sevgi Yolu) Bookstores
This is the perfect place for intellectuals, bookworms, and literature lovers. If you are one of them or just someone curious about books, literature, and poetry, you should visit the Path of Love. It will be an unforgettable memory for you.
This place is known as the place of literature and its followers. You can find many bookstores and have literary conversations with the shops’ owners. The place is a pedestrian area where book lovers meet.
The bookstores in Path of Love, which draw attention with its central location and other nearby attractions, usually stay open until 8 pm. You can find both new and second-hand books in the many shops there.
Be sure to watch an independent movie at the Karaca Cinema, just 10 metres away. End the day with a short stroll on the Alsancak Path of Love. The place is one of the most precious corners of İzmir. You will indeed find an exciting activity to do during your trip there. You can reach the Path of Love by İzmir Metro and Tram.
Here, dear reader, we have reached our last station in Izmir, a city of colours, history, and nature. Of course, these are not all the places you can experience in Izmir. The city still hides many of its secrets for you, so do not hesitate to visit and explore it yourself.
There are many, many places and stations that we are still discovering together in Izmir or other cities. So, I hope you will follow us in more articles for more discoveries and adventures. I hope I have covered all the places worth experiencing in Izmir for you. I wish you a happy journey for you between the article’s lines until we meet in the next adventure.