Turkey’s third-largest city, Izmir, offers a gateway to the country’s picture-perfect North Aegean coastline. The city’s modern architecture rubs shoulders with ancient ruins, built up around the impossibly blue Bay of Izmir. Sailing boats bob in the harbour, and the vibrant waterfront is lined with bustling seaside cafes, bars and restaurants. Take a stroll along the promenade to breathe in the sea breeze and admire the sunset, before venturing out to get a taste of the lively nightlife scene. The city’s bazaars and shopping malls rival those of larger Istanbul, yet there’s a warm, welcoming atmosphere here that feels more like a small town.
Sun-dappled beaches and historic museums dot this ancient city, which has stood as a strategic port for thousands of years. Once part of ancient Greece and known as Smyrna, Izmir’s heritage reflects the multiple cultures who have called it home over the years. Izmir holidays in 2019 provide the perfect base for exploring nearby attractions like the ancient city of Ephesus, as well as the white sandy Aegean beaches up and down the coast.
At a glance
- Time Zone: GMT +
- Average flight time: 3h 55m
When to go
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From Turkish baths to ancient architecture, there’s something for everyone in Izmir. This cosmopolitan city is known for its iconic Clock Tower, the Saat Kulesi. This Ottoman Empire landmark was gifted to the city by the German Emperor Wilhelm II and today sits at the centre of a bustling square. Shopping is a particular pleasure of holidays to Izmir. The Kemeralti bazaar district has served as the centre of city life for centuries and features stalls brimming with spices, embroidery and jewellery.
Don’t miss the chance to take a day trip to the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, one of the world’s best-preserved examples of this culture. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is only an hour’s journey from Izmir and features impressive stone columns and temples that draw visitors from around the globe. A number of idyllic beaches are also within easy reach, although you can enjoy waterfront life with a stroll along Izmir’s colourful promenade and marina.
With its coastal location, it’s no surprise that one of the biggest delights of any Izmir holidays is the region’s delectably fresh seafood. Restaurants serve octopus and sardines as a standard component of any local meze spread, grilled to perfection and served with lashings of olive oil. Taste the catch of the day when you head to the city’s waterfront and marina area, lined with eateries that spill out onto sunny terraces overlooking the bay. The region’s well-known for its wine, including richly hued Pinot Noirs and light, fruity Semillons. You can learn more about the local wine-making by taking a tour of an Izmir winery.
Cuisine in Izmir is a melting pot with influences spanning the centuries. Arabic, Greek, Turkish, and Persian influences all make their way into the fragrant dishes on local menus. Local produce is also a major influence, so you’ll find that menus vary according to what’s in season whether it’s vine-ripened tomatoes or juicy aubergines.
From tranquil beaches to 3D cinemas, there’s no shortage of attractions to keep the youngest visitors to Izmir happy. Spend a day at the seaside or visit Izmir Wildlife Park, which sits on 425,000 square metres of landscaped enclosures. See Asian elephants, monkeys and more at this popular family attraction. Cool down in the bright Izmir sun with a visit to Aqua City. This waterpark offers over 22 water slides and attractions, including water chutes, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a wave pool. Parents can relax on the sun terraces or take a dip in the park’s thermal Jacuzzi, while kids participate in mini clubs and organised water sports.
Although many families will want to spend their Izmir holidays in the great outdoors, there are also indoor destinations, such as Park Bornova, which houses a bowling alley, play area and cinemas for all ages. Forum Bornova Shopping Mall is another fun day out, offering a roof garden food court and landscaped interior as well as a large ice skating rink.
Action & Adventure
Izmir’s sweeping bay beckons visitors with its favourable wind conditions and sparkling waters. You can easily spend the better part of your Izmir holidays in and around the water, taking advantage of the city’s location to enjoy windsurfing, sailing and even surfing. Head to Ilica beach to find the Altin Yunus Marina and Holiday Complex, which offers all the gear you need to take to the water for diving, windsurfing and more. You’ll be able to hire your own sailboat and wind your way up and down the Aegean coastline, stopping off at the secluded coves that look most relaxing.
There’s also no shortage of inland attractions to tempt you, as this landscape is studded with olive groves and open countryside. If you’re in the mood to stretch your legs on a long hike, visit the lush pine forests of Yamanlar Camligi. This is an ideal location for walking and cycling in the woodland. Lake Caragol is a good stopping point in the forest, offering picturesque scenery, restaurants and a swimming pool.
The Northern Aegean region of Turkey offers plenty of beaches known for their bleached white or golden sands. These sit within easy reach of central Izmir, which is positioned along the Bay of Izmir. One of the most popular beaches for Izmir residents is Ilica, famed for its natural hot springs that warm up the sea water for comfortable year-round bathing. Its golden beach is well-tended with a number of water sports facilities on offer. The area’s wind conditions make it a prime destination for sailing and windsurfing.
Another option within Izmir province is Cesmealti, about a half hour’s drive away from the city centre. It features long, sprawling beaches that heave with visitors during the summertime. But the beach is large enough that you can find a stretch of soft sand to call your very own. Relax in the nearby swimming pools for a refreshing dip, or try your hand at surfing, snorkelling or boating in these clean, warm waters.
Being part of a thriving and modern city, Izmir’s nightlife offers everything from sophisticated jazz bars to unpretentious dance clubs. The Kordon waterfront area is the go-to destination for friendly, inviting pubs and cafes. These are particularly attractive in nice weather, when residents gather with friends well into the evening. Alsancak is another prime area to experience the Izmir nightlife. This area’s corridors feature a dense concentration of bars and pubs, many of which feature seating so that you can people watch.
Live music is also common in Alsancak, with rock, blues and authentic Turkish tunes on offer. Punta Bar is one premier venue, with live music and a lengthy drinks list available on weekends. Another option is Nektar, which is a friendly bar showcasing live Turkish music and classic ballads. Part of the fun of Izmir’s nightlife is its spontaneity, so take a wander through Alsancak after dark and you’re sure to find a welcoming spot to spend the better part of an evening.
Romantic holidays in Izmir offer plenty to see and do for couples, whether you prefer to relax on golden sandy beaches or trek through ancient ruins. Venture into Izmir’s upper town to enjoy panoramic sunset views of the cityscape below, winding out to the Aegean Sea. Relax on a terrace with a cool drink and explore local bazaars hand-in-hand. You can unwind in a spa visit with traditional Turkish baths, or indulge in a couples’ massage. Book a stay at one of the area’s all-inclusive resorts and you’ll be spoiled with room service and sea views.
There are plenty of day trip options for couples interested in exploring this rustic Turkish region. Take a winery tour in the picturesque countryside surrounding Selcuk, or visit the village of Sirince. Surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and charming stone cottages, it’s known for its wine and olive oil production.
It’s believed that Izmir’s heritage dates back for thousands of years, making this a prime location to learn more about the cradle of Mediterranean civilization. In addition to ancient cities like Ephesus and Agora, you’ll find no shortage of museums within the city. The Museum of History and Art is a must-see for its carefully curated exhibitions, while the Archaeology Museum first opened in 1927 to showcase important artefacts found in the region.
In addition to museums, you can spend your Izmir holidays visiting the city’s modern art galleries and classical theatres. There’s a full calendar of buzz-worthy events hosted in Izmir each year, including vibrant music festivals and arts celebrations. The Izmir International Festival takes place each June, hosting globally-famous artists like Elton John at venues spread across the city. Another prime musical event is the Izmir European Jazz Festival, while the Tree of Life Festival features musical performances, arts stalls and unique workshops.