Izmir is, after Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey’s third most important city. Located on the western coast of Anatolia and next to the Aegean Sea, this town is an important tourist destination in the country. Although most tourists who visit it tend to see it as a mere waypoint on their way to Ephesus or the cities along the coast, Izmir offers much more. If you are thinking of visiting this corner of the eastern Mediterranean, you can’t miss this article with the best things to do and attractions to see in Izmir.
Is Izmir worth visiting?
While it is true that Ephesus, Selçuk, or Pammukale, the main tourist attractions in this Turkish region, are impressive, Izmir is a destination worth visiting at least for a day or two.
With more than 4 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area, Izmir offers the amenities of a large city, a dramatic location by the sea, surrounded by mountains, and several iconic tourist and cultural attractions that make it unique.
Overall, the main attractions to see in Izmir speak of the multiple cultures that have influenced its history. Ottoman bazaars, large squares, Greek archaeological sites, and museums share space with the most modern skyscrapers, hotels, and shopping malls.
This is a list of Izmir’s essential activities and must-see attractions, so you won’t miss anything in this Anatolian city.
1. Admire Konak Square & the Clock Tower.
Konak Square is a busy square at the southern end of Atatürk Avenue in Izmir, Türkiye.
This square is considered the heart of the city center, and its name comes from the term Vali Konagi (governor’s mansion). At the center of this square stands the ornate Izmir Saat Kulesi, a historic clock tower designed by French architect Raymond Charles Pere and built in 1901 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Sultan Abdülhamid II’s ascension to the throne. The clock was a gift from the German Emperor Wilhelm II and is 25 meters (82 ft) high.
Nearby is the Konak Mosque. Despite its relatively small size, it is considered one of the symbols of the city for its distinctive octagonal shape and elaborate mosaic work.
In addition to the mosque and clock tower, the square houses the Governorship of Izmir Province, the Izmir Metropolitan Municipality Town Hall, and the city’s Central Bus Station.
2. Stroll Through Kemeralti Bazaar and the Nearby Markets
The Kemeralti is a historic bazaar stretching through the city’s center, from the Mezarlikbasi area to Konak Square. In its early days, the bazaar was partially covered with tiled vaults.
Today, Kemeralti Bazaar is the most important shopping hub in Izmir. Its streets are very lively at any time of the day, and in it, you can find everything from traditional handicrafts, ceramics, porcelain, wood products, carpets, and leather to clothing, jewelry, tea, and spices.
You will quickly notice that most items in the bazaar are not price-marked. This is because Turkish bazaars are places where it is customary to haggle. So, make sure you have your negotiating skills ready!
3. Time Travel in the Ancient Agora of Smyrna
The Smyrna Agora was built by the Greeks in the 4th century BC and then rebuilt by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius after the region was leveled by an earthquake.
It is one of the few agoras in the world that can be seen in the center of a modern city and consists of a three-level structure with basilicas, marble columns, arches, and even ancient graffiti.
Many of the artifacts excavated here are on display at the Izmir Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Art and History.
The Smyrna Agora’s excavation began in 1933. Since then, the archaeological site has been cleaned and restored, and its streets began to take shape. It is very easy to visit the archaeological site on your own. Entrance to the Izmir Agora costs about 50 Turkish lira (4 USD) and is located in the heart of the city, near Konak Square and the main bazaar.
Among its main attractions is an underground street covered with huge stone arches. It looks like a labyrinth of columns and arches. In the center of this maze, you’ll find a small fountain still in operation. This ancient infrastructure feat still carries water throughout the enclosure through channels carved into the stone.
Unlike the ruins of Ephesus, exploring the Agora of Izmir does not take long, the visit can be done in about half an hour.
4. Marvel at the Greco-Roman Works of Art at the Izmir Archaeological Museum
The Izmir Archaeological Museum contains artifacts excavated from the Gulf of Izmir. It is one of the first museum institutions in western Anatolia and displays a collection of interesting art from the Aegean region.
Founded in 1924 and established at its current location in 1984, the museum features exhibits from archaeological sites such as ancient Smyrna, Ephesus, Pergamon, Miletus, Aphrodisias, Clazomenae, Theos and Iasos.
Most artifacts, including busts, statues, statuettes, tools, and various eating and cooking utensils, cover the period from the Bronze Age to the Greek and Roman eras.
Two gardens, one in the front and one in the back, portray the history of western Anatolia.
The Izmir Archaeology Museum is located in the Konak neighborhood, in the central part of the city, within walking distance of Konak Square.
5. Go Up the Historic Elevator and Enjoy the Views of the City.
The Asansör of Izmir is a historic structure in the Karatas neighborhood. It was built in 1907 as a public service work financed by the Jewish banker and merchant Nesim Levi.
This public elevator was constructed to overcome the topographical barrier between Mithatpasa Street (at sea level) and Halil Rifat Pasa Street (at the top of the hill). Before the elevator’s inauguration, residents had to choose between a long and winding slope or a 155-step staircase to go up and down in the area.
Originally, the two-cab elevator had a hydraulic system. This innovative form of transportation facilitated pedestrian traffic and contributed to the progress of the city. It was recently restored and has become one of Izmir’s most visited tourist attractions.
With its upper walkway, the historic elevator is the best vantage point from which to get an unparalleled view of Izmir and its gulf.
6. Stroll along Dario Moreno Street and the Jewish Quarter
At the foot of Izmir’s public elevator, you’ll find a street decorated with Mexican iconography and lined with bars and restaurants.
This is where Turkish singer-songwriter Davi Arugete, more popularly known as Darío Moreno, lived. Born in Aydin, on the outskirts of Izmir, his parents were Sephardic Jews of Spanish origin.
By the time he was twenty, he had already become a well-known singer in Izmir, particularly among the Jewish community. When he started making some money, he moved to the Karatas Jewish Quarter and lived on the street leading to the historical lift. Today, this street is called Darío Moreno.
He became popular in France in the late 1960s thanks to hits such as “Brigitte Bardot.” Dario Moreno died of a heart attack at the age of 47 while traveling in a cab bound for Istanbul airport.
Very close to Dario Moreno Street is the Bet Israel synagogue. Constructed in 1907, it is the largest and oldest synagogue in Izmir.
7. Have a Bite to Eat or a Beer at the Konak Pier
The Konak Pier was built in 1888 and lies 500 meters (0.3 miles) from present-day Konak Atatürk Square.
Originally conceived as a wharf and customs building for the city’s port, it was transformed into a fish market in the 1960s.
The Konak Pear transformed into a hip shopping hub after a major revamp from 1996 to 2002. Nowadays, it’s packed with trendy boutiques for fashion, footwear, and accessories. Plus, there’s a sprawling space dedicated to chic restaurants and bars with terraces with stunning sea views.
8. Visit the Alsancak Neighborhood
Alsancak is a neighborhood located in the center of Izmir, within the boundaries of the metropolitan district of Konak, the city’s historical center.
Two large streets parallel to the waterfront, Birinci Kordon and Ikinci Kordon, constitute the main arterial roads of the neighborhood. The neighborhood is characterized by orthogonal streets, modern apartment blocks and stores;
This area is home to some of the city’s most modern, expensive, and exclusive residences and commercial spaces, as well as office buildings and consulates.
Several international hotels are located at the neighborhood’s southern end, just behind Republic Square (Cumhuriyet Meydani).
The area is home to a multitude of restaurants, bars, cafes, nightclubs, and other entertainment venues.
9. Have a Picnic in Culture Park and Stroll along Sevket Özçelik Street.
Izmir’s Culture Park is the perfect place to enjoy concerts, festivals, and book fairs throughout the year.
The park provides a peaceful escape from the city with various activities. It hosts the Izmir Book Fair in spring, attracting readers and writers. During summer, the park becomes the Izmir International Fair venue, featuring local and international music and arts talents.
The park also houses a history and art museum, an amusement park, and a lake.
Nearby, Sevket Özçelik Sk. offers dozens of kiosks selling books and local handicrafts.
10. Watch the Sunset on the Kordon Promenade
It is hard to imagine life in Izmir without its iconic kordon (sea promenade).
Izmir’s waterfront stretches north from Cumhuriyet Meydani to Alsancak and south from Konak Pier to Konak Meydani. Considered a triumph of urban renewal, these two stretches feature bicycle and pedestrian paths, manicured gardens, and, on its eastern side, bars, cafes, and restaurants.
Locals come here at the end of the day to meet friends, relax on the lawn and watch the sunset.
Several museums and attractions are located on the Kordon, including the Zübeyde Hanim Boat Museum, the Arkas Art Center, and the Atatürk Museum. There are also bicycles for hire and horse-drawn carriages that sometimes offer short tours on weekends.
11. Take a Ferry to Karsiyaka
Karsiyaka is a district that extends twelve kilometers (7.4 mi) along the northern coast of Izmir. Its center is about 6 km (3.7 mi) from Konak Square, on the opposite coast of the bay.
While Karsiyaka is worth traveling to for its excellent restaurant and shopping scene, the best part of visiting this neighborhood is the boat ride, which in itself is a highly recommended experience and one of the best things to do in Izmir.
The area is connected to the Alsancak, Pasaport, and Konak terminals by frequent ferry services that offer spectacular panoramas of the city from the sea.
12. Admire the Skyscrapers in the Bayrakli District
If you like modern architecture and have time to spare in Izmir, you can’t miss the brand-new Bayrakli district.
Located about three kilometers (1.8 mi) north of Alsancak and near the port of Izmir, Bayrakli is a former industrial area that has risen to prominence as the epicenter of Izmir’s modern architecture in recent years.
This peculiar area is home to some of the tallest skyscrapers in the city, such as the Mistral Tower, the twin Folkart Towers, and the Ege Perla, all completed in the last decade and considered the tallest buildings in Turkey outside Istanbul.
13. Explore the Atatürk Museum
The Atatürk Museum in Izmir is a museum in honor of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, field marshal, statesman, revolutionary and first president of Turkey. It displays some of his belongings and exhibits about his visits to the city.
The building that houses it was built as a private residence between 1875 and 1880 by an Armenian carpet merchant but was abandoned and subsequently used by the Turkish army as headquarters.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who came to the city for the Izmir Economic Congress in February 1923, used the building as an office. After the congress, the army headquarters moved, and the government leased the building to serve as a hotel.
In June 1926, Atatürk stayed at the hotel, which would later be nationalized to serve as the president’s residence in Izmir. In 1941, three years after Atatürk’s death, it was inaugurated as a museum.
The building has a neo-classical style and was inspired by Ottoman and Levantine architecture. The rectangular floor plan consists of two levels (plus basement and attic) with a portico at the rear and a courtyard.
14. Marvel at the Fatih Camii or Blue Mosque
This beautiful blue-tinted mosque is located on top of a hill but is nonetheless easily accessible.
This monumental mosque, inaugurated in 1996, is characterized by its blue-tiled exterior and unique 40-meter (130 ft) minaret. It has one large and twelve small domes.
The upper terrace has a large observation area (with benches) overlooking both the city and the sea. On the other side of the upper terrace is the ablution facility.
There is a small staircase at the side of the mosque leading up to the minaret. From this vantage point, you can see the hundreds of tiles that cover the exterior of the mosque.
15. Enjoy the Panoramic Views from the Izmir Cable Car
The Izmir cable car is located in the Balçova district, opposite the University of Economics. It was inaugurated in 1974 and modernized in 2015 to meet European Union safety standards.
Each cabin can carry a maximum of 8 passengers in a trip of about 3 minutes. It has a height of 418 meters and a line length of 810 meters.
The cable car system carried 1,500,000 passengers between 2015 and 2019.
16. Shop Until You Drop at IstinyePark Izmir
While we have already talked about traditional bazaars, shopping streets, and shopping districts in Izmir in this list, this Turkish city also offers an excellent range of modern shopping malls where you can find the best domestic and international brands.
This is the case of IstinyePark Izmir, a shopping mall inaugurated in 2021 in the Balçova district in the southwest corner of the city. With 270 stores, this mall is the most important in Izmir and one of the largest in Turkey.
The complex, easily accessible via the Fahrettin Altay station of the local metro system, also features the Hyatt Regency Izmir IstinyePark luxury 5-star hotel.
17. Have a Cocktail at the Swissôtel Izmir Skybar.
No luxury trip to a city like Izmir would be complete without a visit to its most trendy spot.
The Swissotel Buyuk Efes Izmir, located in Alsacak, is one of the most luxurious hotels in the city. In addition to accommodation, this 5-star establishment offers several restaurants and a Sky Bar with views of the city and the sea.
The Sky Bar is open to the public every night from 17:00 to 02:00 and offers fun cocktails and Japanese food.
18. Marvel at the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus.
If you’re planning a trip to Izmir or southwestern Turkey, chances are you’re planning to visit Ephesus at some point. We’d wager that you landed on this guide to the best things to see in Izmir because you plan to use this city to access the famous ruins.
The ancient ruins of Ephesus are a must-see destination on a Turkey itinerary, and it’s easy to see why. Its ancient ruins attract more than 2 million visitors.
Ancient Ephesus was once a port metropolis on the banks of the Kaystros River. This Greco-Roman city was built around the Temple of Artemis (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) and grew to become the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The ensemble, including the Temple of Artemis, the House of the Virgin Mary, and the ruins of Ephesus, was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2015.
Among the must-see attractions to see Ephesus are the Library of Celsus, Curetes Street, the theater, Hadrian’s Temple, and the Terrace Houses.
Read more about visiting Ephesus from Izmir
19. Visit One of the Cradles of Christianity in Selçuk
The archaeological site of Ephesus is not the only attraction worth visiting around Izmir. The town containing the ruins, Selçuk, is a tourist attraction in itself.
It is advisable to spend a couple of days in Selçuk, not only because of its proximity to the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus but also because this small town is home to the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, the House of the Virgin Mary, the Basilica of St. John (where the tomb of the apostle is located), the Ephesus Archaeological Museum and the Isa Bey Mosque.
20. Bathe in the Ancient White Pools in Pamukkale
Pamukkale is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in the world and one of Turkey’s most popular tourist destinations.
Cascading down the hillsides in Denizli province, Pamukkale is a cluster of white terraces of white travertine bathed in turquoise water. The name translates as “cotton castle,” and it’s easy to see why.
But nature is not the only reason to visit this site. The ruins of the two-millennia-old spa city of Hierapolis are also evidence of the region’s rich history.
21. Enjoy the Sunny Weather in Çesme
Çesme is a favorite weekend destination among Turks, especially Istanbulites looking to get out of the big city. The cobblestone streets of this charming village lead to small boutiques and restaurants, and its beautiful harbor offers seafood restaurants for delicious fresh fish and other incredible food.