Find cultural experiences and historical treasures in one of Turkey’s largest cities, an under-appreciated gem along the blue Aegean Sea.
The port city of Izmir has been important to ocean trade for thousands of years. Known as Smyrna under Greek rule, the city has retained bits of its varied heritage. Walk through Izmir and watch for signage and listen for sounds of Jews, Levantines, Greeks, Armenians and modern Turks communicating in this multicultural town. Ethnic restaurants feature unique flavorful cuisines.
One of Izmir’s highlights is the Kemeralti Market, a 17th-century maze of restaurants, coffee shops, stores, artist workshops, mosques and synagogues. Take a culinary tour of favorite eating spots along its twisting streets or discover quiet courtyards and ancient caravan inns. Saat Kulesi clock tower is a handy nearby landmark.
Walk around the more modern, open Kültürpark area, a large green space with several museums and the kids’ attraction, Lunapark. The Museum of History and Art contains artifacts from city excavations while the Museum of Arts and Sculpture has varied works from Turkish and other artists. Ahmet Piriştina Kent Arşivi ve Müzesi nearby covers history of the city since 3000 B.C. South of central Izmir is the Smyrna Agora Antik Kenti, an open-air space with tall columns rising over an active archaeological excavation site. Find other museums focused on railroads, cars and toys.
Stroll along the Kodronboyu, a grassy promenade stretching 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) along the Aegean Sea. Near the north end is Alsancak, a lively spot for dining and nightlife.
About a 30-minute drive northwest, visit the Izmir Wildlife Park, a large zoo with elephants, lemurs and lorikeets. Travel southwest of the city center to the Izmir Teleferik. Ride on this cable car to look over a green forest, the stone buildings of the sprawling city and the Aegean Sea. Walk around the park and stalls at the cable car’s top station.
Izmir’s international airport is about a 25-minute drive south of the city center. Plan a side trip to the ancient Greek and Roman settlement of Ephesus, about a 45-minute drive south of the airport.