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An Izmir city guide – bustling bazaars, Aegean cuisine, ancient ruins and a medieval castle

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An Izmir city break is a failsafe way to awaken the senses. From exploring medieval castles to practicing water sports and shopping in bustling bazaars, there’s always something to do in this buzzing and beautiful metropolis, also known as the ‘Pearl of Turkey’. Indulge yourself in exquisite seafood while watching the sun set behind the sea, escape to a secluded peaceful beach or live it up in a nightclub until the early hours. 

Mehmet Gozen

My Destination local expert on

Izmir (Aegean Coast)

Ancient history

 

Steeped in history, Izmir used to be the famed Greek city of Smyrna. The first settlement in the area dates back to 3,000 BC and thus the region is rich in historical sites. The historic Velvet Castle guards the town from Kadifekale Hill, overlooking the city center and the marina. Walk among the colonnades and remnants of once mighty gates at the Agora, a great place for history lovers keen to explore the Roman and Greek heritage of the area. Just a short drive from the city center, you’ll find the magnificent ruins of Ephesus, Pergamum, Sardis and Teos.

 

Where to eat

 

From the humble hole in the wall to the splendor of world-class fancy restaurants, Izmir boasts a varied and exciting dining scene. The finest restaurants stand along the Kordon waterfront, while most of the cheapest eats can be found around the Bazaar. Head to the seaside resorts for Aegean cuisine washed down with a traditional glass of Raki or try the local specialty, trance and cipura – two types of sea bream - at one of the restaurants by the seafront. If you want to taste something different, the city is awash with establishment serving food from all over the world.

 

Nightlife

 

Get your groove on in Izmir. As night falls, the city moves to a different beat and many nightclubs swing until the early hours. An enthusiastic crowd takes to the modern clubs scattered around the city and dance to the beat of pop anthems, jazz, Turkish music and techno, while others rock the night away as they watch live performances. The best place to let your hair down is Alsancak, home to most of the city’s hot spots.

 

Where to shop

 

If you like shopping in outdoor flea markets, Izmir is the place for you. There’s nothing you won’t find in the bustling, colorful, and sometimes chaotic Kemeralti Bazaar, the best place to soak up the local culture and buy traditional handicrafts. From clothes, souvenirs, jewelry and leather goods, there’s something for everyone in this market district, which also offers the best bargains of the city. If you prefer luxury fashion and western brand names, the designer boutiques in the upmarket area of Alsancak have nothing to envy from stores in Paris or Milan.

 

Beaches and sports

 

The city of Izmir might not boast sandy beaches, but if you don’t mind a short journey from the city center, the Aegean coastline is packed with bustling resorts and hidden beaches. There is public transport to most beach resorts, including Foca, Dikili, Urla, and Cesme, where you can laze on paradisiac beaches while sipping on fine local wine. If you are into water sports, a visit to Alacati isn’t an opportunity you should miss; with its sandy beaches and wind conditions, the beach resort is one of the world’s best spots for kite and windsurfing.