Boasting a cuisine based on unique ingredients and award-winning wine, İzmir is the starting point of a journey sprawling from resort towns like Alaçatı to ancient sites such as Ephesus.
By Caner Kocamaz
Known as Smyrna in ancient times, İzmir is a city on the west coast of Anatolia. Its famous clock tower is located in the center of the city which was once a busy port exporting goods arriving from the Silk Road to the west. A former trade hub, the city is an ideal base for curious visitors who want to explore the region, discover the remains of ancient world, and travel further to the booming resort towns of Alaçatı, Çeşme, and Urla.
Although İzmir is the third largest city in Turkey, the lifestyle of the nearly three million residents runs at a slower pace compared to the rest of the country. Therefore, visitors will find it easy to relax and enjoy peaceful surroundings just like the locals.
In recent years, with culinary events like Urla International Artichoke Festival and Alaçatı Herb Festival, the generosity of mother nature in the area has captured the attention of foodies in and out of the country. Covered by the international media, the early variety of sakız enginarı has become an endless source of inspiration for local chefs. Rare wild greens—like şevket-i bostan, or cibes—are widely used in regional cuisine, and best enjoyed locally. The same thing applies to seafood: surrounded by the pristine Aegean waters, the fish is flavorsome, fresh, and abundant.
A popular gathering space for locals, especially youngsters, Kordon (promenade) runs from Konak to Alsancak port. With cycling and walking tracks, as well as waterfront seating areas, this large inviting quarter is where you watch the sunset.
Kültürpark İzmir is an expansive leisure complex containing a vast green space filled with rich flora, where culture events and activities take place. Running tracks, an open-air theater, museums, and an amusement park are all part of the park. Mimar Sinan Mahallesi, Şair Eşref Bulvarı, Alsancak
Before shopping malls arrived to the city, Kemeraltı was the place to go. The historic market built during Byzantine times was an important trade hub of the Silk Road. From spices to textiles and clothing, the present-day market caters to the needs of both locals and visitors with a variety of stores lined side by side. One of the entrances is conveniently located in the city center, walking distance from Konak metro station.
Kızlarağası Hanı is a renovated historical inn from Ottoman times, located inside Kemeraltı. The inn houses small shops selling accessories, decorative objects, souvenirs, and more. Turkish coffee served at the local cafe is cooked in the cup.
Originally built in 1907, Tarihi Asansör (The Historic Elevator) that leads to a terrace and a restaurant, offers a panoramic view of the city and the Gulf of İzmir. Open daily 8:30am-11pm; Şehit Nihatbey Caddesi, Dario Moreno Sokak No.76/A, Konak
Having lived on the street housing the historic elevator, a famous Jewish poet and singer, Dario Moreno, was known for his love of the city. The street named after him is home to a display of Moreno’s poem about İzmir. The songs played on the elevator are by Moreno, too.
Teleferik (cable car) in Balçova offers a bird’s eye view of the city and the bay. There is a picnic area with a restaurant up top. The ride is 9 TL. Open Tues-Sun 10am-10pm. Teleferik Mahallesi, Sakarya Caddesi, Balçova
Sharing the same building with the French consulate, Arkas Sanat Merkezi hosts exhibitions by international artists. 1380 Sokak No:1 Alsancak; T: (0232) 464 66 00; arkassanatmerkezi.com
Key Museum is Turkey’s largest of its kind with a meticulously curated car collection, motorcycles, cyclist accessories, and equipment from old gas station, spread around a 7,000 square meter facility. It’s far from the city center, but if you’re headed to Ephesus or Kuşadası, it’s on your way. Özgörkey Caddesi No. 5, Torbalı; T: (0232) 850 35 35
İzmir Mask Museum exhibits masks of prominent Turkish figures such as Atatürk, Aziz Nesin, İsmet İnönü, Aşık Veysel, and Nazım Hikmet, as well as theater props. Workshops are held on a regular basis. Open Tues-Sun from 10am-7pm. 1448 Sokak, No: 22, Alsancak; www.izmirmaskmuzesi.com
With a separate building dedicated to foreign titles, Doğan Sahaf displays second-hand and new fiction and non-fiction titles. Bookworms spend hours awed by the age of the publications and their variety. Kıbrıs Şehitleri Caddesi, 1440. Sokak 3/F, Alsancak; T: (0232) 422 28 62
Boyoz, a pastry with thin layers of dough kneaded multiple times with a touch of tahini, is the way to start the day. Often eaten with eggs for breakfast, this mouthwatering pastry was brought to the region by Sephardic Jews from Spain. Try this specialty of İzmir at Dostlar Fırını. Kıbrıs Şehitleri Caddesi No.120, Alsancak.
İzmir’s take on fast food, kumru (a sandwich with a special bread resembling a simit filled with sucuk, sausage, and melted cheese) tastes best at Kumrucu Şevki. Conveniently located at the Gündoğdu Square, the venue is an ideal quick lunch stop. Ali Çetinkaya Bulvarı No.2/B, Alsancak; T: (0232) 421 90 65
Where to eat
- Located on the main promenade, Kordon Yengeç Restaurant is a prime example of how wild greens turn into quality mezze, served alongside daily caught fish. Go before sunset and pick a table close to the street to enjoy the scenic landscape with a glass of rakı in hand. Reservations are recommended. Atatürk Caddesi No.314/A, Alsancak; T: (0232) 464 57 57
- Tucked away in downtown Alsancak, Pizza Locale is an ingredient-oriented local Italian pizzeria. With many branches around the city, you will want to visit the original one. 1390 Sokak No.5B, Alsancak; T: (0232) 463 45 60
- Located inside the French Culture Center, La Cigale’s idyllic garden is perfect for a romantic dinner on a summer night. The charcuterie plate goes hand in hand with a bottle of wine. Fransız Kültür Merkezi, Cumhuriyet Bulvarı No.152, Alsancak; T: (0232) 421 47 80
Where to stay
- Swissotel Büyük Efes İzmir is centrally located in the downtown Alsancak neighborhood, therefore guests are in walking vicinity to main attractions. There are restaurants and a bar overlooking the bay. Gazi Osman Paşa Bulvarı No.1, Alsancak; T: (0232) 414 00 00
- Hilton İzmir is one of the city’s earliest high-rise buildings, offering comfort from the worldwide chain. Located on the rooftop of the hotel, 360 İzmir is a romantic option with pristine views of the city. Gazi Osman Paşa Bulvarı No. 7, Alsancak; T: (0232) 497 60 60
- Key Hotel İzmir is a renovated waterfront building, at a walking distance to Kemeraltı and the Clock Tower. Mimar Kemalettin Caddesi No.1, Konak; T: (0232) 482 11 11
- Urla is a coastal town on the western side of İzmir. In addition to its beaches, the town is famous for its vineyards with international and local grape varieties. At the end of summer, festivities are held for grape harvesting season.
- The resort town Çeşme is approximately an hour drive away from İzmir’s center. Featuring popular beach clubs, a vivid nightlife, and great restaurants taking advantage of the rich local produce, Çeşme is an ideal vacation spot. Located on Çeşme peninsula, Alaçatı has attracted international attention with its superb windsurfing conditions.
- Further south, Seferihisar is a small town under the citta slow (slow city) emblem. Since 2009, it’s been focusing on increasing quality of life and embracing a healthier lifestyle and environmental protection. The bio-markets set up here are well worth a visit.
- Famous for its fruit wine production, Şirince is a charming village minutes away from Ephesus. Travelers in the area can stay overnight.
- A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ephesus Ancient City is comprised of Hellenistic and Roman settlement ruins and the library of Celcus. The Christian pilgrimage destination, the House of Virgin Mary, is located nearby.
The healing power of thermal
The name of the Agamemnon thermal spring in Balçova is derived from the Mycenaean king Agamemnon who brought his warriors to be healed there during the Trojan War. The area has a handful of hotels. In addition to thermal pools, and spa facilities, these hotels put the hot springs to good use at their hammams.