When people think of city breaks in Turkey, they most likely gravitate towards good ol’ Istanbul. But there’s another, often-overlooked city packed full of history, diverse culture and delicious food: Izmir. Located on the west coast of Anatolia, it’s off the main tourist trail (despite being the third biggest city in the country), meaning that the epic market, museums and restaurants are filled with laid-back locals.
Izmir Clock Tower (Saat Kulesi)
An Izmir classic, this iconic clock tower set in the middle of busy Konak Square is the symbol of the city and a great place to start exploring. The tower itself was built in 1901 by a French architect Raymond Charles Péré and is a popular meeting spot. You’ll find the entrance to Kemeraltı Bazaar here, along with the Konak Yali Mosque, Government House and the Izmir Metropolitan Municipality Building. This is also the spot for any big events, such as New Year celebrations and Izmir Independence Day on September 9.
The historical elevator (Asansör)
Built in 1907, Asansör’s two lifts have saved many people from hiking up the potentially exhausting 155 steps, which run from Mithatpaşa Street at sea level up to Halil Rifat Pasa Street on the hilltop. Today, it’s not just a useful ascending short-cut, but also an attraction in itself, thanks to the stunning views from the promenade looking over the Gulf of Izmir. The cute street at the bottom with restaurants and cafes is also worth a stroll.
Ready, steady, shop! Dating back to the 16th century, this is one of the oldest bazaars in Turkey and features a labyrinth of streets filled with shops, restaurants, tea gardens, workshops and mosques. Start on the main street, Anafartalar Caddesi, and use the Hisar, Şadırvan and Kestanepazarı Mosques as navigational aids, although be prepared to get totally lost as you wander – that’s part of the fun.
As the name suggests, this is a park packed with cool and cultural stuff. Spread across 420,000 square metres, it’s a huge expanse of greenery and nature, housing over 8,000 trees and around 200 different types of plant, making it ideal for a chilled wander through some nature or even an early morning run. But that’s not all: the park is also home to the Atatürk Open Air Theater, İsmet İnönü Art Center, Celal Atik Sports Hall, Parachute Tower (an eye-catching concrete beacon) and the amazing Izmir History and Art Museum (do check online if it’s open before visiting).
For a cultural day out, Izmir houses enough museums to cover all interests. History buffs should head to Izmir Archaeology Museum which has artifacts from the Bronze Age and Greek and Roman periods, as well as items salvaged from nearby shipwrecks. There’s contemporary art at the lovely Arkas Art Centre and also the non-profit K2 Contemporary Art Center. And everyone should pay a visit to the Izmir Women’s Museum, set in a beautiful, historical building, and celebrating the lives and influence of Anatolian women.
As one of the liveliest neighbourhoods in the city, it’s well worth spending time soaking up the vibes in cosmopolitan Alsancak. Packed with shops, hotels, restaurants, clubs and live music bars – many based in Ottoman-era houses – this is an area popular with young, hip kids and expats. Before settling in for dinner, drinks and possibly dancing, head to Kordon, the vibrant seafront promenade and the perfect spot for a stroll or cycle. Make like the locals and grab a patch on the grass to watch the awe-inspiring sunsets.