Turkey has no shortage of tourist hotspots and local highlights. In fact, if you wanted to see them all, it would take a considerable amount of time. Yet despite that, people tend to stick to the same destinations, such as Istanbul (as amazing as it is) and the south coast’s sun-drenched resorts. But Turkey is so much more than that; in fact, one of its largest cities is making renewed waves in the tourism world.
8 Reasons This Turkish City Was Voted Best in Travel for 2024
I am of course talking about Izmir. A hip, happening, and vibrant city that was recently added to Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel” list, and you can’t get more reputable than that. Izmir is one of my favorite places, and as Turkey’s third-largest city, it’s got more than enough to keep even the fidgetiest traveler busy for more than a few days.
1. Seaside Location with a City Vibe
Izmir is lapped by the warm waters of the Aegean, and even when you’re in the city center, you don’t have to venture too far to see the expansive blue. While many cities in Turkey (hello, Istanbul) tend to have a frenetic and sometimes stressful vibe, Izmir doesn’t.
Whenever I’m in Izmir, I never feel rushed, and the pace of life is relaxed and slow. You can’t say that about many cities. Yet, despite that, it’s large and as a key university city, has a large population of over 3 million as of 2023.
Packed with history, beaches, food, nightlife, and shopping, it offers everything you could possibly want, and of course, the photo opportunities with the Aegean in the background are pretty epic.
2. A Blend of Old and New
For me, the great thing about Izmir is its blend of modern and ancient. This part of Turkey is packed with old ruins that date back to the earliest Greek rule, yet it sits alongside huge modern buildings, skyscrapers, and the latest fashion. You can easily explore a museum or a set of ruins and then go shopping in a huge mall or visit a cocktail bar in the evening.
If you’re traveling to Izmir with children, the area is also full of activities to keep little ones amused, such as Lunapark and Alsancak‘s long promenade (Kordon) with plenty of green space for kids to run.
3. Lots of History to Explore
As I mentioned, this whole area is basically an open-air museum and the stunning ruins of Ephesus are a must-visit. These are located around an hour away from Izmir city center but they’re more than worth the effort to see. Alternatively, you could take a guided tour of Ephesus to help you learn more.
4. Outdoor Activities Aplenty
Once you arrive in Izmir you’ll notice that it has a real outdoorsy vibe, and that’s down to its seaside location and young vibe. Most people sit outdoors no matter the weather, and during the summer, you’ll notice the waterfront promenade is packed with people simply walking or just sitting and soaking up the fresh air. There are so many things to do in Izmir.
Inciraltı Kent Ormanı is a beautiful place to head to during sunny days, where you can enjoy the beach, have a BBQ, picnic, or simply walk along the hiking paths. However, the main waterside promenade which stretches from Alsancak all the way down to Kemeraltı is the main highlight, but you will need comfortable shoes!
5. A Vibrant Gastronomy and Nightlife Scene
Izmir’s youthful vibe means there’s plenty of nightlife to choose from, with a level that’s suitable for all. If you want to party in nightclubs, head to Alsancak or Bornova, but if you’re after a more cocktail-chilled-out vibe, Konak is a great spot. The waterside restaurants between these two areas are packed with seafood eateries serving the freshest catch and are ideal for enjoying a glass or two of raki with friends.
If you’re into local cuisine, Izmir köfte and kumru are two local delights that fall into the street food category. Kemeraltı is one of the best areas for traditional kebabs, and you’ll find that staff are more than happy to help you choose.
6. Easy Access to Beautiful Beaches
While the city center itself doesn’t have a full beach, there are some beautiful options very close by. Inciraltı Kent Ormanı has a small, rocky beach, but the stunning resorts of Çesme and Alaçatı are just an hour away. This gives you the choice to dip in and out of full-on city life as you see fit.
Izmir also has fantastic beach weather, with July its hottest month. During this time, you can expect an average high of around 32°C/90°F with very little chance of rain—perfect for chilling on the beach. January is the coldest month in Izmir, with a high of around 11°C/52°F, however, there are still four solid hours of sunshine every day on average.
7. An Upcoming Wine Scene
The area around Izmir features several high-quality wineries, and the city has grown into quite a wine hotspot over recent years. İsabey Bağları & Bağevi is a famous winery in the area, which dates back to 1942. It’s very close to the city itself, and you can take wine tours and try their delicious products for yourself.
Alternatively, drive around 45 minutes to Manisa and visit Nif Bağları which is a sprawling winery with a fantastic restaurant on site. You’ll notice that most high-quality restaurants in Izmir city itself offer a large wine list featuring many locally sourced brands. It’s a great excuse to give them a try!
8. Fantastic Shopping
Izmir is a shopper’s dream, and whether you want to walk around a huge, modern mall or haggle in a bazaar, this city has you covered. Kemeraltı Bazaar is a famous shopping spot in the middle of the city, and you can grab many bargains by attempting to knock down the price a little. This is a particularly good spot for textiles, spices, souvenirs, and handmade jewelry.
Alternatively, if you want to hit the mall, Optimum Mall Izmir is the place to go, along with Forum Bornova, and Mavibahce. These spots all have bars, restaurants, cinemas, and play areas, along with more shops than you’ll ever be able to get around. You’ll need comfortable shoes as you’re sure to rack up the steps.
Turkey has many fantastic cities to visit, and Izmir should certainly be on your must-see list. With a wonderful blend of ancient and modern, this is a city that offers a little bit of everything. It’s also a vibrant space that’s a lot more Westernized than some of the cities further east and in the center of the country.
It’s no surprise that Izmir is grabbing more attention these days, and with so much to see and do, perhaps it’s time you planned a visit.