Izmir: one of the most underrated cities in Turkey?

Izmir, Turkey… This captivating city, with over 3.000 years of documented urban history, has a name from classical antiquity that speaks to the imagination: Smyrna. Admit it, the name alone evokes pictures of a glorious past in a city with myrrh-scented streets founded by the Trojans, which is the birthplace of Homer (no, not the one from the Simpsons). French poet Victor Hugo was intrigued by Smyrna as well, as he mentioned the city in his poem ‘La Captive’, from his ‘Les Orientales’ series without ever having visited the place. Click here for an English version of the poem.

Today, Izmir is Turkey’s third-largest city, a wonderful melting-pot of historical heritage and a 21st-century metropolis with a young population, a lively art scene, and a very European Mediterranean feel. Izmir is often the port of call for many Ephesus visitors who – unfortunately – failing to see its potential, do not visit it. Take it from us, not visiting Izmir when in Turkey, is a mistake. You’ll soon see why when you take a look at the article below, and you realize what the city has to offer. Yes, Izmir is, without a doubt, one of the most underrated cities in Turkey.

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Cocktail Time In Alsancak

Cocktail Time In Alsancak

Izmir’s rich history in a nutshell

We said it in our introduction, the recorded history of Smyrna goes back more than 3.000 years. Still, the area was inhabited since the Neolithic Period, meaning that humans settled here up to 8.500 years ago. Unsurprisingly, thanks to its strategic location, Smyrna has been one of the leading trading cities on the Mediterranean throughout its existence, with its name used up until around 1930 when Izmir started to take the upper hand.

The Iconic Asansör And The View That Comes With It

The Iconic Asansör And The View That Comes With It

Smyrna: old & new – The Agora

What remains of Smyrna today are the ruins visible on Kadifekale, overlooking the city, and the ancient site of the Agora below, in the heart of Izmir. Still, there is such a thing as Old Smyrna, a settlement located a little further inland on the slopes of Mount Yamanlar. The city further expanded and became an urban center around the 7th century, and one of the twelve Ionian cities. Throughout history, Smyrna became subsequently under Lydian rule and later Persian rule, which led to the destruction of Old Smyrna in 545 BC.

Climbing Up The Old Fortress Walls At Kadifekale

Climbing Up The Old Fortress Walls At Kadifekale

Kadifekale And A Glimpse Of Izmir Below

Kadifekale And A Glimpse Of Izmir Below

Along came Alexander the Great, who re-founded Smyrna on the slopes of Kadifekale, then Mount Pagos. After the death of Eumenes III, the last king of Pergamum, Smyrna was included in the Roman Empire. The city flourished under Roman rule when the Roman emperors, including Hadrian, happily visited. Smyrna, by that time also mentioned as one of the Seven Churches of Revelation, remained a renowned religious center in the early Byzantine period, but never fully recovered from the devastating 178 AD earthquake. While the original Agora dates back to the Hellenistic Period, what you see today was rebuilt after the earthquake, with the support of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

The Beautiful Stoa At Smyrna

The Beautiful Stoa At Smyrna

During the Medieval Period, the Seljuks captured Smyrna, which was later recovered by the Byzantine camp, occupied by the Knights of St John, only to be reclaimed by the Nicaean Empire shortly after. Still, in the early 14th century, the Turks regained control but had to allow a 60-year cohabitation with the forces behind Pope Clement VI from 1344 onwards.

Exploring Smyrna

Exploring Smyrna

After that followed a period of Ottoman rule, then the Timurid Empire, which destroyed Smyrna, and massacred the vast majority of its mostly Christian population. But, in 1415, the Ottomans regained control and remained in place until 1919, apart from a short Venetian raid in 1475. From the late 16th century onwards, Smyrna started to grow remarkably, a growth that hasn’t ceased ever since. The city became home to traders of different nationalities and backgrounds, including a large Jewish population from Spain, along with Dutch, English, French and Venetian traders.

The Stoa In Smyrna

The Stoa In Smyrna

After another, but this time short, Greek presence between 1919 and 1922, Smyrna’s expansion continued in today’s Turkey, and not too long after that; its name shifted to Izmir. Still, its cosmopolitan and eclectic vibe prevailed, which is why Izmir is a beautiful and vibrant city that deserves to be on your Turkey travel list.

Checking Out The Stoa From Afar

Checking Out The Stoa From Afar

Izmir’s quarters each have their unique vibe

With a population of over 4 million people, one could quickly think that Izmir is a soulless, noisy metropolis. But – despite its rapid growth – this place has character and feels friendly and approachable. As if you’re experiencing a small-town welcome in an urbane setting. Izmir is like a big mansion with a cozy cottage feel, a place where you go from one room to the next, forgetting that it is humongous in the process. Except, in the case of Izmir, the rooms are entire neighborhoods, and the cozy cottage features a few modern loft-style spaces and antiquities as well. And the best part is, every area is easily accessible using public transport.

Our favorite was the Konak Tramvay, the tram line that takes you along the coastline between Fahrettin Altay and Halkapınar. You can use it to reach almost every destination featured in this article, except for the castle on Kadifekale, and of course, Bostanlı on the other side of the bay, just a pleasant ferry trip away. But more about using public transportation is Izmir later in this article.

Pasaport Pier

Pasaport Pier

Listing all neighborhoods in Izmir would take us too far, but we will happily take you for a city tour to inspire you to visit Izmir next time you’re in the area. No matter where you go, past and present are intertwined, and the multicultural historical background gives Izmir its unique atmosphere. This is a great city trip destination, one that will appeal to shoppers, art lovers, foodies, and history buffs alike. Izmir has a lot of faces and an equal dose of character. The city is as sophisticated as it is bohemian, as modern as it is immersed in history, as pleasant by day as it is intriguing by night. Check it out in this post.

Gotta Love Alsancak!

Gotta Love Alsancak!

The buzz and historical setting of Kemeraltı

Located between the Agora and Konak Square, Kemeraltı is Izmir’s historic market district. This maze of narrow streets is home to countless shops, coffee houses, restaurants, and historical buildings, including the magnificent Kızlarağası Han and many mosques and synagogues. This is the heart of Izmir, where you can buy anything from fresh produce to perfect souvenirs. It is fair to assume that no matter what it is that you are looking for, you’ll be able to buy it in the shops of Kemeraltı.

Fresh Fish In One A The Countless Kemeraltı Shops

Fresh Fish In One A The Countless Kemeraltı Shops

Live Performance In Kemeraltı

Live Performance In Kemeraltı

In ancient times, Kızlarağası Han was located directly at Smyrna’s old harbor. Over time, the area silted up, and where there was the sea, there are now more shopping streets.

Kızlarağası Han In Izmir, What A Beauty!

Kızlarağası Han In Izmir, What A Beauty!

The Colors Of Kemeraltı In Izmir

The Colors Of Kemeraltı In Izmir

The entire area covers over 270 hectares of shopping and gourmet pleasure and is one of the largest open-air bazaars in Turkey. In short, you cannot afford to visit Izmir without wandering the streets of Kemeraltı. Try Turkish coffee in the dedicated Kahveler Sokağı, taste delicious Turkish street food, or take a seat for some ‘ev yemekleri’ to experience what a home-cooked meal tastes like. Shop for copper, silver, silk, spices, and herbs or anything else you can think of. This is what Kemeraltı is all about.

Ev Yemekleri, The Way To Go In Izmir! Check Out Abbas'ın Yeri

Ev Yemekleri, The Way To Go In Izmir! Check Out Abbas’ın Yeri

Lot's Of Antique And Vintage Shops At The Top Floor Of Kızlarağası Han

Lot’s Of Antique And Vintage Shops At The Top Floor Of Kızlarağası Han

Konak square & the famous Clock Tower

Admittedly, the Clock Tower is one of the images that keep popping up when looking at pictures of Izmir; it has become the symbol of Izmir. Izmir’s Clock Tower was built in 1901 as a tribute to the 25th anniversary of the succession of the throne of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. You’ll find it on Konak Square, amidst flocks of doves who add a bit of dynamic to your selfies.

The Clock Tower In Izmir

The Clock Tower In Izmir

Clocktower In Izmir By Night

Clocktower In Izmir By Night

Now that you’re here take the time to visit the small but magnificent Konak Mosque, located in the same square.

Konak Camii Standing Strong

Konak Camii Standing Strong

Konak Pier

Located near Konak Square, Konak Pier is said to be designed in 1890 by Gustave Eiffel, quite famous from the Eiffel Tower that carries his name. Originally customs building, and later a fish market it is now an upmarket shopping center. You’ll also find a cinema here and lots of water-side wining and dining options ranging from burger joints and Starbucks to elegant à la carte restaurants. Even if you dislike shopping malls, Konak Pier is worth a stop, as the architecture of this building is quite striking.

Konak Pier, The New Place To Be

Konak Pier, The New Place To Be

Stylish Konak Pier

Stylish Konak Pier

Bostanlı, a short ferry trip to the sunset viewpoint

If you like to watch the sunset, consider taking the ferry from Konak to Bostanlı. While we admit that any excuse for a boat trip is a valid one, the dedicated wooden terrace built to watch the sunset in Bostanlı is a nice piece of urban architecture. And, judging by its popularity, the Izmirites appreciate it. If you make the crossing early enough, pop in at the nearby Open Air Museum of Archaeology.

Enjoying The Sunset At Bostanlı

Enjoying The Sunset At Bostanlı

Izmir’s harbor district: trendy Alsancak

What’s not to like about Alsancak? This quarter of Izmir features a long promenade, od-era houses, quaint little alleys with quirky bars and restaurants, and an abundant choice of shops, vintage, museums, and other venues. You can easily fill up an entire day in Alsancak, especially if you prefer not to rush things, and you like to soak up the atmosphere.

Typical Alsancak Street

Typical Alsancak Street

Münire In Hip Alsancak

Münire In Hip Alsancak

This part of Izmir seems to come to life even more after sunset when many bars provide worldly entertainment in stylish settings. Still, this place is very much an all-ages area, even after dark. Alsancak seems to have found the perfect balance between hip and trendy and family-oriented.

Simit, Or Gevrek In Izmir

Simit, Or Gevrek In Izmir

We Love A Damn Good Coffee!

We Love A Damn Good Coffee!

Alsancak is also home to the green Kültürpark, the Saint Polycarp Church, and the Arkas Sanat Merkezi, located in the historic French Honorary Consulate Building and home to some of Izmir’s best art expositions. More museums and cultural venues in Alsancak include Zübeyde Hanım Eğitim Gemisi, the Karikatür Müzesi, for a dose of humor, and, of course, the Tarihi Havagazı Fabrikası Kültür Merkezi, an old factory site now reclaimed as a concert venue.

Tarihi Havagazı Fabrikası Kültür Merkezi

Tarihi Havagazı Fabrikası Kültür Merkezi

Kültürpark In Izmir, An Oasis Of Green

Kültürpark In Izmir, An Oasis Of Green

More reclaimed buildings

Izmir’s rich history is reflected throughout the city, and, with time, buildings get a new destination, creating a delightful mix between old and new. The old factory site in Alsancak is one example, but Saint Vukolos Church is also a beautiful case of repurposing a structure. The former Orthodox Church in the Kapılar area is now a venue for cultural events and performances. The Izmir Press Museum found a home in its outbuilding.

Church Of St Vukolus, Now A Cultural Venue

Church Of St Vukolus, Now A Cultural Venue

Saint Vukolos, Expertly Restored

Saint Vukolos, Expertly Restored

The Asansör, another Izmir icon

No visit to Izmir is complete without admiring the city from one of its iconic landmarks, the Asansör. This elevator dating back to 1907, lies in the Karataş area of Izmir. Built by a rich Jewish banker, it makes accessing the steep cliff on which the houses are built a lot easier. The narrow street below the elevator is almost as picturesque as the elevator itself. It is named after Dario Moreno, a singer who used to love there, and it is lined with quirky cafés and eateries. If you’re like dining with a view, there’s a fine-dining restaurant at the top of Izmir’s Asansör.

The Iconic Asansör In Izmir

The Iconic Asansör In Izmir

Using public transport in Izmir & other practicalities

Unless you’re planning on walking yourself to death, using Izmir’s excellent public transportation network is the most convenient way to explore the city. If you want to combine convenience with saving money, get yourself an Izmirim Kart. Much like the Istanbul Kart, the Izmirim Kart is the perfect way to hop from one bus or tram onto the next. You can even use it on the ferries and the cable car if you’re planning on visiting that part of the city. Their website is currently only available in Turkish, but with a little help from Google Chrome, it’s very straightforward.

Where can you buy an Izmirim Kart? There are plenty of sales points all over the city. The easiest thing to do is to head to one of the larger terminals, for example, the one at Konak Square, where you can buy one from the vending machines or at the counter. Make sure to load some extra TL on it right away, so that it is ready to use immediately. After that, just swipe the card before boarding a ferry or any other form of public transport, and you’re good to go. The Izmirim Kart is also valid for the dedicated open tourist bus that takes you for a tour around the city.

Please note that the tram lines in Izmir use a different website, but you can still use your Izmirim Kart!

Click here to access the convenient search function that allows you to find which line takes you to each POI

The Promenade Seen From Konak Pier

The Promenade Seen From Konak Pier

Of course, the tour of Izmir we took you on in this article only scratched the surface of what Izmir has to offer as a destination. Consider it an appetizer. You’ll find more places of interest on this touristic map of Izmir (scroll down for English). We would suggest adding the Archaeology Museum to your list, as well as the ethnography Museum, and the Museum of Art & History at the Kültür Park, just to name a few.

✔️ Have you been to Izmir? Then please head over to our Turkey Trip Planner to leave a review. Alternatively, if you plan on visiting, you can add the city to your bucket list.
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Izmir One Of The Most Underrated Cities In Turkey
Izmir One Of The Most Underrated Cities In Turkey
Izmir One Of The Most Underrated Cities In Turkey
Izmir One Of The Most Underrated Cities In Turkey
Izmir One Of The Most Underrated Cities In Turkey

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Never wonder about the weather in Turkey again. The Turkish climate is as diverse as the country with significant differences between the regions.

This page contains the current weather and weather statistics for all regions in Turkey.

Prepare your trip

How to order a tourist visa for Turkey?

What about public transport?
Can you skip the line at Istanbul Airports?

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Get direct access to your target audience with a proven interest in Turkey. People call us their Turkey Bible!

Contact us for a feature on our map, a destination guide, a photo shoot, or any form of professional Turkey-related content.

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Izmir: one of the most underrated cities in Turkey?