When people ask me what is your favorite city in Turkey, I’ve always found it hard to give an immediate answer. Istanbul was the first city I visited and I will always have a soft spot for this city, BUT for me home will always be Izmir. It’s Mustafa’s home city, and so naturally over the years of living, visiting and eating my way through the city, it has become my home too.
As Turkey’s third largest city, it has a lot going for it within the city proper and even more outside the city limits. There’s nothing better than heading to a nearby beach town in Cesme or Foca on a hot summer day and after a day of swimming indulging in an ice cold Efes and a basket of fried calamari by the sea.
But first things first, there are the best things to do in Izmir, divided by neighborhoods.
First a few logistics…
Izmir is located in southwestern Turkey, about an hour from Istanbul by plane. Greater Izmir is very extensive, and includes the city of Izmir, as well as beach towns like Cesme, Dikili, and Foca. As a big city, the usual precautions are recommended for Izmir, and it’s advised to stay away from areas like Kadifekale and the Basmane train station, especially at night.
Weather-wise Izmir has a Mediterranean climate with mild winters, and hot dry summers. The summers can reach triple digits, and the best time to visit is during September and October when it cools down a bit, but the weather is still warm enough to take a dip in the ocean.
Izmir is a pretty liberal city in terms of religious beliefs and it’s not necessary to cover up for either men or women with long sleeves, pants or floor length dresses/skirts. It’s quite common to see women wearing tank tops and shorts, and men wearing t-shirts and shorts.
Izmir has an extensive transportation system, which includes a wide-reaching bus network, metro (that recently expanded to Bostanli), and ferries that are an easy and scenic way to get across the city. There are also dolmuş (shared vans) that are a cheap and common way to travel. The metro goes all the way to the airport and costs a flat rate no matter where you go.
This downtown area is filled with outdoor cafes (try Reyhan Pastanesi for tea and cake), restaurants (try Deniz for fresh seafood) and the kordon, a walking path that goes right along the water. For nightlife this is the spot to be, where streets like Gazi Kadinlar Sokagi come to life with numerous sidewalk bars and dance clubs that go into well into the early morning. The main street Kibris Sehitleri is filled with sit-down restaurants, shops, kebab cafes and tons of English language schools (including the one I use to teach at!).
Where to stay: Ibis Izmir Alsancak
Next door to Alsancak, this neighborhood is one of my favorite places to wander around. Living in Karsiyaka, I would often take the ferry over on the weekends and drink coffee at Kahve Dunyasi, walk along Konak Pier, or around the Konak Square where the famous clock tower is located. There are also the historical ruins of the Agora nearby, and Kemeralti Bazaar if you want to see where the local go shopping for clothes and dried goods within a maze of alleys and side streets.
Where to stay: Movenpick Hotel Izmir
With Ege University nearby, this area has a lively feel with the bars, cafes and restaurants within Kucuk Park. There is also Forum Bornova, one of my favorite outdoor malls to walk around and people-watch and grab tea at Sir Winston Tea House or dessert at Waffle’ci Akin.
My home neighborhood and where I spent many hours searching for my wedding dress in the dress shops of Karsiyaka Carsi. If you’re in this area there are plenty places to grab freshly baked borek at one of the many take-out windows, eat breakfast at Agora Caycisi or get pide from Kırçiçeği. It’s fun to just wander around and take in daily life unfolding around you. Karsiyaka is easily reachable from Konak and Alsancak by a short ferry ride.
Where to stay: Best Western Premier Karsiyaka
This neighborhood was my preferred place to go out at night since it was closer to my home than Alsancak, and had the same seaside feel in the outdoor restaurants like Köfteci Remzi and bars like La Puerta. There is also plenty of places to sit by the water and watch the sun slowly sink into the Aegean with a few beers.
A newer part of town that has the massive MaviBahce Shopping Center, an outdoor mall that has a cinema, four levels of shops and plenty of restaurants and cafes including my favorite dessert café Ozsut.
Karatas (Old Jewish Quarter)
A sizable Jewish population used to live in Izmir, and there are a number of restored synagogues like Bet Israel, which you can tour. The Asansor, a historical elevator in this neighborhood is worth visiting for the stunning panoramic view of the city from the top.
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