The history of İzmir is exceptional. It was founded as Smyrna by ancient Greeks in the 11th century BC, conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, then ruled by the Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans. During the Greco-Turkish War, it was administered by Greece from May 1919 until September 1922, when a terrible fire and massacre occurred. Since then it has been one of the most important cities in Turkey. In 1930, the name was officially changed from Smyrna to İzmir.
I’m as guilty as most people – I’ve passed through the city several times without stopping to see it. As the third largest city in Turkey sitting on a scenic bay, great weather almost daily, enough interesting things to see, a few delicious food specialties, and having a long and significant history, you’d think it would get a few more visitors. It’s greatest flaw is that it’s nearby the much more interesting and frequented site of Ephesus and resort towns of Çeşme. Many international visitors don’t bother to see anything but the airport.
Furthermore, I didn’t get the Turkish hype about İzmir. Turks love İzmir and talk about how amazing and beautiful it is. Yes, it’s beautiful. Amazing? Eh. I enjoyed my two days there and found much of it interesting, but it took time to grow on me. Is it a must-see in Turkey? Not really. If you have extra time to kill, sure, why not! I guess it had been built up so much that by the time I got there, I was somewhat disappointed. If you do decide you want to make İzmir part of your trip to Turkey, a day or two is enough.
First of all, arrival. Most people will arrive via Adnan Menderes Airport. Getting to the city center, you have a few options – airport shuttle, metro, and public bus. The easiest is the direct Havaş airport shuttle bus. For 10TL, you can get dropped off in the very central area of Alsancak. Alternatively, you can take the İZBAN train by buying a “35 Bilet”, giving you two rides for 6.5 TL. The only problem is that the transfers are not free and you might need to transfer at Hilal metro to get to a more central area, such as Basmane or Konak Meydanı. You can also use your 35 Bilet to ride the public bus. I won’t tell you about the public bus because I’ve never taken one to get to the city center (only to the bus station), but I know it’s slow. Out of all the transportation methods, I’d take the Havaş and save the time and trouble. It’s worth it.
If you’re arriving by ferry from Chios, Greece, at Çeşme, it’s a little more difficult. You can take a bus from the Çeşme bus station, get off at Üçkuyular, walk a little bit back from where the bus drops you, and jump on any city bus going to Konak. Again, you can use a 35 Bilet purchased from any small convenience store.
Next, hotels. There is no shortage of hotels in İzmir. You can splurge or stay on the cheap. I did the latter and stayed at the Olimpiyat Oteli in the Basmane area. The hotel is acceptable for 60TL a night. The room was modern and clean with good Internet. The staff was nice, but I had to do all communication in Turkish. Breakfast was a typical Turkish breakfast. The only problem was the location. It was within 15 minutes walk to most attractions and very close to the metro, but it’s in a pretty seedy area, especially at night. I didn’t have a problem but I wouldn’t want to be here as a single female – I don’t think I saw any women out after dark in this area. Also, there weren’t too many good choices for food at night. I ended up eating at a couple of 24 hour restaurants near the train station about a five minute walk away. One was overpriced and terrible while the other was overpriced and excellent.
İzmir is pretty safe, but there are some seedy areas that I didn’t feel too comfortable in. One of them, as I mentioned, was near the Basmane train station at night. The other is the way up to Kadifekale. Don’t do this walk alone. It’s a very poor area and even though I blend in really well, I still attracted a lot of stares.