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Arriving in Izmir is an impressive spectacle in itself. As we descended along the highway into the city, a sprawling urban landscape spread out in the gulf below us, with Izmir stretching out along its banks. But the real highlight are the Izmir sights.

Izmir tips and sights

Modern Izmir is one of Turkey’s major economic and cultural centers. For many, Izmir remains an unknown city, even though everyone knows Istanbul. Yet Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, has much to offer. Above all, it has a very eventful history.

View of Izmir and the promenade

But so as not to jump the gun, I would like to give you a brief overview of this city that spreads out so impressively along the Gulf of Izmir.

Welcome to Smyrna

Smyrna? Never heard of it? Or maybe a vague memory from history class? Quite simply, Smyrna is the old name of the city. Today, you will probably only rarely come across it in Izmir. This has to do with the city’s history, which was a particularly multicultural city since antiquity and especially during the times of the Ottoman Empire – that is between 1800 and 1900 – and which benefited from the flourishing trade relations of its population. Along with the Turks, many Greeks but also an increasing number of Armenians and Europeans had been living there for a long time. They were busy trading with materials from the East and shipping them all over Europe. But the politicians of the Ottoman Empire put increasing pressure on the Greeks in particular and many of them were forced to leave.

After the First World War, when the city was reconquered by Greeks, a large part of the Muslim population became victims of the atrocities committed by the Greek occupiers. The hatred against the Greeks that is stirred up in Turkey today is often associated with this episode. And that is why today you hardly ever come across the name Smyrna in Izmir.

On top of that, when the Turks recaptured the city in 1922, a huge fire broke out in the Greek and Armenian quarters of the city, which after all made up almost half of Smyrna’s population.

The destruction of large parts of the historic city has left a lasting imprint. Modern Izmir is a city of mostly new buildings. A huge cultural park and an exhibition center have been built on the sites of the burnt districts. Only the old town in the Muslim quarter, with its small alleys and bazaars, has been preserved and restored over the years.

But enough about history! Now I’d like to show you a few great things you can discover in a day in Izmir.

1. The Kordon Promenade

The Kordon Promenade is a great place to get a first impression of the big city. From here the ferries cross the Gulf of Izmir, this is where young and old meet to drink coffee or sit together in one of the many parks along the promenade. It’s a wonderful place to soak up the city’s waterfront atmosphere. One of my favorite things was to settle down with a coffee in one of the cafés and watch the hustle and bustle of the ferry dock.

The Kordon Promenade in Izmir, Turkey
The Kordon Promenade is a popular meeting place in Izmir

It’s also a great location from which you can reach other places in the city. Either by ferry to other parts of the city or on foot to places like the Culture Park or Kemeralti Bazaar (see below).

2. Saat Kulesi

The Clock Tower (or Saat Kulesi in Turkish) on Konak Square is one of Izmir’s landmarks and dates back to 1901. You can see it on many postcards and pictures of Izmir and it was once featured on the 500 lira banknotes. The Ottoman architecture of the tower is the work of the Levantine-French architect Raymond Charles Péré, but the clock itself was a gift from Kaiser Wilhelm II to mark the tower’s construction, the 25th anniversary of Sultan Abdülhamid II’s accession to the throne.

The Clock Tower (Saat Kulesi) on Konak Square in Izmir, Turkey
The Clock Tower on Konak Square

The tower was damaged twice by strong earthquakes and was completely renovated in 2019. The picture of the clock tower surrounded by countless pigeons is an obligatory picture for every visitor.

3. Kemeralti Basar

One of my favorite places in Izmir is definitely the bazaar in the Konak district. You’ll love wandering through the maze of small alleyways and all the different shops. There’s something to discover everywhere and chances are you’ll get your hands on a nice souvenir or two.

Narrow alleys and cafes in Kemeralti bazaar in Izmir, Turkey
A typical alley of the Kemeralti Bazaar with street cafés

Rumor has it that there are 15,000 shops here (a number that is difficult to verify), including many cafés and Turkish restaurants that invite you to stay a while. You can also find marble fountains and mosques here. Also well worth a visit is the old caravanserai Kizlaragasi Han in the heart of the district. In short, this is a place where you can quickly spend an entire afternoon without noticing how quickly time has passed.

4. Turkish coffee

Besides the obligatory Çay, the black tea that Turks love to drink at any time of the day or night and at any occasion, there is of course also the unmistakable Turkish coffee. You won’t be offered this at every turn, but it’s so much nicer to sit down in one of the small cafes and enjoy it there in all comfort.

A few things can also be said about coffee drinking itself. Did you know, for instance, that coffee was once banned in the Ottoman Empire because of its reputation as a troublemaker? The Ottoman state believed that coffee incited people to political discussions and thus to potential unrest. This is why coffee houses and drinking it were banned for a long time.

Turkish coffee and Turkish sweets in Izmir
The best Turkish coffee has a thick layer of foam

Turkish coffee is either drunk sweetened or unsweetened and usually in the following order: first a sip of cold water, then a sip of coffee and then something sweet afterwards if you like.

5. Historical Elevator (Asansör)

Another exciting landmark in Izmir is the lift in the Karataş district. Since the district is practically separated into two parts by a cliff, the Jewish merchant Nesim Levi Bayraklıoğlu donated this lift to the citizens of Izmir in 1907. He wanted it to make it easier for residents to move between the lower and upper parts of the district and also to transport goods. From the top, there is a fantastic view of the district and the Bay of Izmir.

The historic elevator in Izmir, called Asansör in Turkish
The elevator in Izmir, called Asansör in Turkish

6. Culture Park (Kültür Park)

As I mentioned earlier, a large part of the old town fell victim to a big fire in 1922. Afterwards, it was turned into Kültür Park, which is Izmir’s green lung today. Here you can relax after an exciting day in the bustling city. Take a walk or cycle along the many paths, playgrounds, a lake with pedal boats and even a small amusement park for children.

The Kültür Park in Izmir in Turkey
The Kültür Park invites you to take long walks

7. A trip with the ferry

Another highlight of the day’s programme is a passage on the ferry. Personally, I find this the most relaxing part of the sightseeing tour. You can simply enjoy the view on the water and the city on its shores and relax.

View of Izmir skyline from the ferry
Enjoy an impressive view of the city from the waterside

For the crossing, just like for all other public transport (except for the minibusses), you need an Izmir card, which you can buy at any terminal from machines or counters.

As you can see, there are many beautiful things to do in Izmir in a day. Even though the city is typically flooded with visitors in summer, you can travel to Izmir all year round. That’s because the Mediterranean climate guarantees plenty of sunshine and mild temperatures even in winter.

Not only does the city itself offer many places worth seeing, but also its surroundings. For example, from Izmir you can take a day trip to Ephesus or visit one of the many beaches in the area. You can also book a tour to the limestone terraces of Pamukkale. That’s what makes Izmir such a great destination.

Have you been to Izmir? What other Izmir sights do you know? Write us a comment below with more tips about Izmir.

Photos: Photo 1 (Izmir Promenade): Seda Yalova/shutterstock.com – Photo 6 (Asansör): Yavuz68/shutterstock.com


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