According to mythology, Izmir was first named Smyrna, an ancient Greek word derived from the name of an Amazonian queen. Today it is known as Izmir, which is simply an alteration of the name Smyrna. The city where the Ionians lived in ancient times was established on the Kadifekale borders, and was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1426, which eventually formed it into what it is today.
Throughout my childhood until college, I traveled back and forth between Izmir and Manisa, so this city has a special place in my heart. In this post, I will try to summarize the places to see in Izmir from a tourist perspective.
Konak and its surroundings
The symbol of Izmir, the Clock Tower is located in Konak district, right in the middle of Konak Square. The tower dates back to 1901, the Abdul Hamid II era. The clock was a gift from the German Emperor, and it is said to have stopped only once since those times.
A little further away from the Clock Tower stands Hasan Tahsin’s statue. Tahsin was a journalist from Izmir, and was the first to open fire in the battle to end Greek occupation during the Turkish War of Independence. Right behind this statute stands the Government Office built in 1872, and the Konak Mosque, which was built in the 18th century.
This district has been used as a market since the 1600s; and it can be said that there is nothing you cannot find there. You must definitely see the Kizlaragasi Han Bazaar in Kemeralti. The Han Bazzar was built in 1744 by Haci Besir Aga, and served as the shopping center of its time just like Grand Bazaar. Today, this historical place is home to authentic shops and jewelry shops. As is the custom, have some Turkish coffee at one of the local coffee shops in Kizlaragasi Han Bazaar.
The historical mosque, the synagogue, and the churches located around Kemeralti signify the fact that Izmir has long been home to many different religions. The Hisar Mosque, built in the 16th century, and located in Hisaronu district, has a historical importance. Known as the Jewish Neighborhood since the 15th century, Havra Street has nine synagogues in the surrounding area. This is the place where the Jews first settled in Izmir.
While taking a walk from Konak to Alsancak, you can get to Konak Pier by walking along an elegant bridge from Konak Square. This historical structure was designed by the French architect Gustov Eiffel, who also designed the prominent Eiffel Tower in Paris. The construction was completed between the years 1875 and 1890, and used to serve as a tax office. Now it is home to a movie theater, an exhibition center, shops, and cafés; all in all, a modern shopping mall.
Being one of the entertainment spots and a district dominated by rather rich families, this is a highly popular place, often mentioned in poems and novels. The places to see in this district are Kordon, Kibris Sehitleri Street, Gazi Kadinlar Street, Alsancak Stadium, Alsancak Terminal, Gundogdu Square, and the historical churches.
Even those who have never been to Izmir know about Kordon, thanks to old Turkish soap operas. The palm trees and cafés along the road make it a nice place to take a walk. Afterwards, you can pass some time facing the sea at one of the cafés at the end of Pasaport district. The sunset is just lovely at Kordon. Closed to traffic, Kibris Sehitleri Street has so many cafés, restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues. The popular bakery Sevinc is also located on this European-style street. As a popular place among the younger people of Izmir, Gazi Kadinlar Street is a lively spot with its dining and drinking establishments. Alsancak Stadium hosts sports events as well as concerts. The second oldest train station in Turkey, the historical Alsancak Terminal has been in service since 1858, and really is a place to see. Gundogdu Square is the center for all national celebrations, concerts, and shows.
Izmir International Fair (Kulturpark)
It can be said that this place is the biggest fair center of Turkey. In addition to commercial fairs, cultural and artistic events also take place here; hence the name “Kulturpark” (Culture Park). The fair was established in 1936, fulfilling Ataturk’s wish to form an economic connection between Turkey and other countries, on a 420,000 m2 space. It is a huge complex with exhibition rooms, conference rooms, an open air theater, an art center, a portrait and statue museum, a registry office, a gym, an amusement park, a zoo, a parachute tower, a running track, a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a soccer field. The well-known Gol Tavern, where significant artists such as Zeki Muren, Emel Sayin, Muazzez Abaci once performed, is also located here. The number of trees within the park exceeds 8,000, and all of them are tagged and insured.
Built in 1907 by Nesim Levi Bayraklioglu, the Elevator is Izmir’s one of the most important touristic structures. It connects the two streets Mithat Pasa and Halil Rifat Pasa, which run parallel to one another. The elevator tower contains two functioning elevators, and is 28 meters tall.
You can get there from Dario Moreno Street. This street is also as special as the elevator itself; it makes you feel as if you’re in a movie with its historical stone houses and gentle music. While you’re there, you definitely should take the elevator and climb up top to enjoy the breathtaking view of Izmir. I recommend taking a coffee break at one of the cafés on the terrace.
Located in Basmane district, the historical railroad terminal was designed in 1866 by the French architect, Eiffel, and is still in use. It has a connection to the subway station as well.
Balcova is famous for its cable cars and thermal hotel facilities. You get to the facilities located on top of a hill by taking the cable car, another great way to enjoy the view of Izmir. This is also a good picnic spot. You can have a nice dinner at one of the restaurants around, or have a picnic in the open air.
This district is affiliated with the Balcova borough. It used to be full of fig trees and swamps, after which the district is named. This is an ideal place to have a nice walk with its view facing the Aegean Sea, its trees, and clean air.
You can find many cafés and seafood restaurants here. Also in this area, the Inciralti Sea Museum has a naval vessel and a submarine inside.
This district is called Karsiyaka (the opposite shore) since it is situated on the opposite shore of the city. Karsiyaka is a great place with its coastline full of palm trees, neat apartments, Levantine Mansions, energetic locals who work out every morning, and the bakery 06 Pastanesi.
The mansion, which belonged to Ataturk’s wife, Latife Hanim’s family the Ussakizades, is also located here. The mansion has been restored and now serves under the name Latife Hanim Memorial House. The great leader Ataturk’s mother Zubeyde Hanim passed away in this mansion. Other places to visit in Karsiyaka are the pier, the market, Sevgi Yolu Street, the Girne Boulevard (which is also on the coast), and the Bostanli neighborhood.
The people of Karsiyaka define themselves as locals of Karsiyaka, rather than locals of Izmir. As a joke, their license plate number is referred to as “35 and a half” (Izmir’s license plate number is 35), and almost all of them are fanatics of Karsiyaka Sports Club. On the day of a match between Karsiyaka Sports Club and Goztepe (their biggest rivals), life in the area pretty much stops. 🙂 The reason for seeing themselves differently from the rest of the population of Izmir is that Karsiyaka is a well-known district where decent families who are patrons of art and culture, and who are intellectually developed live.
Today known as Izmir, Smyrna was built on this hill called Kadife Mountain in 4th century BC. It is believed that the warrior Amazonian women once lived here. As you can guess, this is a highly historical region. It is full of ruins from the Hellenic period, the Roman period, the Byzantine period, and the Ottoman period. The castle located on the hill was built during the era of Alexander the Great. Sadly, only the ruins remain. This is a fine spot to enjoy Izmir from a bird’s-eye view.
Agora archaeological site
Agora is located in the Namazgah district of Izmir, and dates back to the 2nd century Roman period. Agora means the “market place.” This is the biggest and the best preserved among the Ionian agoras. A large number of monuments and statutes were discovered in this ancient district, which was once a commercial center and the city center of the period. It is said that Zeus’ Temple was once located here. The artifacts excavated from Agora are displayed in the Izmir Archaeological Museum.
the magnificent 42-meter Ataturk silhouette located on the way to Buca, is the biggest in Turkey and the tenth biggest relief statue in the world.
After all the touristic information, I want to express what Izmir means to me. I have so many great memories of the city: the lokma desserts prepared in front of the apartments, and then the bicycle tours from Karsiyaka to Bostanli me and my sibling took, the kumru place located on the Montro exit of the fair, the Kordon full of palm trees at Alsancak, the unforgettable Fil Pizza, the weekend meeting point Sevinc Bakery, Kemeralti bazaar where me and my mom shopped on every corner, Konak Bakery (which makes the most amazing fig candies, the Clock Tower around which I had fun throwing bread crumbs to the pigeons, the joy of riding the ferry from Alsancak to Karsiyaka, surroundings of Bornova Park and Mobydick where I spent my undergraduate years, Loft Jean store which was once highly popular and where people formed queues, the Old Foca where we spent every summer and the weekends, the foamy ayran drink we had in Menemen and boyoz to go with it, our family trips to Ephesus, historical stone houses, the pretty Sirince village, the chop shish we had on the way to Selcuk, and many more.
Izmir is a beautiful and truly special city which cannot be explained enough, and which is so typically Aegean with its locals, sea, figs, and olives.