Izmir exudes over 3000 years of history; from the seafront promenade, which has seen the arrival and departures of civilizations across the millennia, to its hilltop Roman castle, built by Alexander the Great, which looks out over the metropolis of modern-day Izmir. Turkey’s third-largest city after Istanbul and Ankara, Izmir also offers azure shores and breezy beaches where you can kick-back after a day of sightseeing escapades.
Izmir’s bountiful heritage can be traced back to classical antiquity when it was known as Smyrna, a powerful ancient Greek city that rose to prominence due to its strategic location on the Aegean Sea. Today, visitors on a tour of Izmir can walk in the footsteps of classical Smyrnans at the Agora Museum, once the political nucleus of Smyrna. Izmir is known as being a liberal, multicultural city. Here, you can sample flavors from around the Aegean and Mediterranean, represented in Izmir’s thriving food scene.
The heart of the city is Konak Square, where visitors can while away the afternoon people-watching in the shadow of the marble clock tower, or wander through the gardens that surround the square’s Konak Mosque. A holiday to Izmir is incomplete without strolling along the seafront promenade, or Kordon, popular with the locals who flock to the walkway in the evenings to soak up the soul-stirring sunset views.
The beauty of Izmir lies in its fusion of antiquity and modernity. There are countless things to see in Izmir to suit all tastes, although it’s hard to resist the pull of the region’s blue flag beaches, so don’t be surprised if sightseeing takes a back seat to beach lounging! A good place to experience the charms of Izmir’s friendly population is in Kemeralti Market, where you can combine a slice of local culture with souvenir shopping. This welcoming central bazaar is a melting pot stalls selling curious gastronomic delicacies and handmade wares.
The hustle and bustle of market life is infectious, and a world away from the shopping malls found elsewhere in modern Izmir. Don’t go home without tasting at least one sticky square of Turkish Delight, made in the traditional way. The most popular thing to see in Izmir is the Agora Open-Air Museum, located in the city center. Visit these ancient ruins to be transported back to Roman-Greek times, when this site once housed a thriving market place. The Corinthian collonade and vaulted chambers are among the most fascinating parts of the site, whilst relics are constantly being unearthed as archaeological works continue to take place at Agora.
If you travel to Izmir with a thirst for history, the Kadifekale Castle is another of the city’s heritage sites. Perched atop Mount Pagos, this legendary castle is thought to have been built by Alexander the Great, with parts of the existing fortifications dating back to Roman times. The views across the Gulf of Izmir from Kadifekale Castle are worth the visit alone. Izmir is a delightfully multi-cultural city, and consequently, is home to a large number of synagogues.
There are nine synagogues in total, found mostly within the historic Jewish Quarter of Karatas, and a walk through these historic streets, where a strong Jewish community prospered from the 17th-century onwards, is an eye-opening insight into a relatively unknown aspect of Izmir’s past. Full of hidden gems, a trip to Izmir is incomplete without visiting the Izmir Museum of History & Art. This fantastic institution houses artifacts and relics from ancient Smyrna, Miletos, and Pergamon, making it one of the most comprehensive collections in the country. Split across three pavilions, the Sculpture Pavilion is a real highlight.