Unmissable Things to do in Izmir on a Budget
Updated on January 15th, 2020
Izmir is a city of contrasts. You will discover ancient ruins along streets with trendy cafes. Traditional bazaars within modern shopping zones. Old buildings next to new. All the modern-day comforts you are accustomed to in cities around the world but with a fascinating history evident in the streets. In this guide, I will help you explore the top things to do in Izmir so you can maximise your time and see all of the attractions.
While not on every tourist’s radar, it should be! Izmir is such a great city to explore with Turkey’s most authentic bazaar, a beautiful coastline and great dining options. Izmir was the very first stop for us on our 12-month European vacation and what an introduction it gave us. We flew straight from Australia via a short layover in Istanbul. After spending 3-nights, we hired a car and started the scenic road trip to Antalya.
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Izmir is on the western coastline bordering the Aegean Sea in the Anatolia province. It is the third-largest city in Turkey with 2.83 million inhabitants The origins of Izmir date back some 3000 years BC, making it the ideal location for history buffs.
How to get to Izmir
The easiest way to reach Izmir if you aren’t from Turkey is by flying. The ADB airport serves over 12.8 million passengers annually and has both domestic and international flights.
To drive from Istanbul to Izmir would take just over 5 hours. This would also be a great place to end a road trip of the Turkish Coast coming from the east.
What to do in Izmir
1. Get lost in the Kemeralti
Firstly, this by far was the best accidental find in Izmir. We just so happened to be staying only a block away from one of the entries to the bazaar (market) and ended up visiting six times over three days.
On our first day, we wandered down an alley to get some food. At the end of the alley, it opened up into a network of spiderwebbing streets full of market stalls. Having no idea to the size of this place we weaved through the streets getting more and more wonderfully lost. It seems there is nothing you cannot buy here, the stalls ranged from fabric, clothing, board games, shoes, candies, watches and jewellery to souvenirs, spices, meats and fish.
After you have walked the labyrinth of narrow streets for a few hours, stop at a traditional tea house to sample a Turkish coffee (kahve) or tea (çay) served with Turkish Delight.
The prices are cheap and the goods are of decent quality. If you are looking for an authentic bazaar, look no further. While the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is now aimed at tourists, here you will find the locals doing their shopping. I didn’t hear one person speaking English during the many hours we spent wandering the roads here.
2. Ride along the waterfront
Izmir is built along a large stretch of coastline, paralleled by green parklands and a seaside promenade. Due to the favourable location, the promenade has designated paths built for riding and walking. The city has over 400 bikes for hire at 32 stations. Find any sign reading Bisim and use your credit card to hire a bike. There is a 25₺ deposit and bikes cost 2.60₺/hour (that’s less than 50c an hour US). Once you return the bike, the remaining balance from your deposit will be refunded.
Do you want to explore the area at a slower pace? Luckily you can explore by foot, choose to walk on the water’s edge or through the gardens. Bring a picnic, people watch and enjoy the sun setting over the ocean.
3. Explore Alsancak shops and cafes
From Konak square in the south to the northern end of Alsancak Kordon park, Alsancak is a large region of the city. Although unlikely you will be able to see all the wonderful alleys and streets here it is definitely an area worth putting on the to-do list. You will find many things o do in Alsancak. It is a trendy area full of tree-lined streets and bustling with people. I visited during the Turkish Independence weekend and got to see it at it’s fullest.
My suggestion is to type ‘Love Road Alsancak’ into google maps and start there heading north. From here Love Road is a pedestrian-only street full of vendors selling mostly books and jewellery. When you pop out the end of this street, stop by Baristocrat 3rd Wave Coffee and Roastery. If you are a coffee snob like me you will be able to choose from a variety of beans and coffee styles from pour-over, syphon and the regular espresso drips.
TIP: Look out for any coffee stores in Turkey called 3rd wave as their name for what we call specialty coffee back home.
Keep an eye out for banners over the laneways which read Sokakta Hayat Var meaning, there’s life in the street. These narrow streets are full of eateries and bars. Stop for a glass of wine with some lunch and take some picturesque photos. Stop by during the evening for fairy lights and romance. Although shopping is more designer and expensive than the bazaars food prices remain budget-friendly.
4. Snap some pictures at Konak Square
Konak Square is listed on all the to-do lists for Izmir. While it is pretty you only need to allocate a small time frame for seeing this. If Konak square is a must-do for you I would recommend starting your bike ride here. You can snap a few pics of the iconic Izmir clock tower and the Yali mosque, watch the kiddies feeding the pigeons and then head off on a tour of the waterfront. Konak square has it’s own metro station, so no matter where you are staying it is easy to get to.
My favourite part of this area is between Konak Square and the Agora Open Air Museum. You can walk between the two sites down winding streets full of cheaps shops and food.
5. Visit the Agora Open Air Museum
Next, this one depends on how much of a history buff you are. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed in the Agora, as only half of the grounds were open for tourists. Whether I was there at a bad time or this is always the case I’m not sure.
However, if you’re into ancient history and ruins are your thing then I’m sure they will be worth adding to your list. Walkthrough a large arched street lined with intact columns and view the natural watercourses running through the old city. The Agora is easy to get to, being just east of Konak square. Entry costs 12₺ ($2.20 USD) and if you are as lucky as I was you will be escorted around the property by a cute puppy.
Where to stay in Izmir
Budget Hotel – Izmir is a great city for convenience so it’s easy to stay somewhere where you can walk or catch the metro to most of the sites. I stayed in Oglakcioğlu Park City Hotel. The hotel is budget-friendly at $23 USD/night inclusive of breakfast. While the rooms aren’t anything to write home about they are clean and the hotel is in a good location. It is on the same street as the Kemeralti and over the road is a large park complete with an amusement park. I walked everywhere while in Izmir and felt safe at all times.
Hostel – Towards the northern end of Alsancak is The Rooster Hostel. With private rooms, dorms, a rooftop terrace and great reviews, you will be centrally located in a funky neighbourhood.
How long to stay in Izmir?
I believe 3 nights is a perfect amount of time for seeing the sights and also keeping it leisurely. If you have the time, adding another couple of nights would allow you to do all of the above, plus enjoy some time on the beach and chilling in local cafes.
Make sure you try Turkish ice cream – Dondurma. This ‘no-drip’ ice cream is made with mastic creating a sticky texture. While this sounds a bit strange, I can promise you it is still delicious.
In short, I would highly recommend a visit to Izmir. Also, use Izmir as a starting destination to road trip along the Aegean Coast.
Do you want to visit Ephesus and Pamukkale but don’t feel confident about driving in Turkey? These reputable tours by Get Your Guide are a good place to start.