Exploring Izmir Like a Local: 10 Must-Do Activities

By Jasmine Ambarwati | 19, Sep, 2023
Exploring Izmir Like a Local: 10 Must-Do Activities

When people think of Turkey, the first city that comes to mind is usually Istanbul. However, Turkey has so much more to offer, and İzmir is one hidden gem often overlooked by tourists. Located on the Aegean coast of Turkey, İzmir was once called Smyrna and is now the country's third-largest city after Istanbul and Ankara. It is a popular vacation spot for locals and foreigners, attracting over four million tourists annually with its stunning beaches, delicious cuisine, and friendly locals. Moreover, İzmir is known for being the most Western-oriented Turkish city, making it an ideal destination for those who want to uniquely experience Turkey's culture and history.

When visiting İzmir, it's crucial to immerse yourself in the city's local culture. From delving into its rich history to unwinding on the sandy shores, there's something for everyone to enjoy. But fret not; we've compiled a list of must-see attractions and hidden treasures to help you make the most of your time in İzmir like a local. Read on to discover the top ten things to do in this vibrant city!

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1. Watch İzmir’s Breathtaking View from İzmir Historical Elevator Building (İzmir Tarihi Asansör Binası)

The İzmir Historical Elevator Building, also known as Asansör, is a remarkable structure erected in 1907 to link Mithatpasa Street to Halil Rifat Pasa Street. In the past, people had to walk a long distance and climb 155 steps to traverse the street. However, today, Asansör serves as an elevator and provides a convenient way to travel from one side of İzmir to another and offers breathtaking views of the bay from the top. As you ascend, you'll be treated to unparalleled cityscape views, making it the perfect spot for a romantic evening or a leisurely afternoon. The best part? Asansör is free of charge, so it's one of the most significant free things to do in İzmir! Don't miss out on the opportunity to ride this historical elevator and experience the stunning vistas it provides.


2. Stroll around Alsancak NeighborhoodAlsancak Neighborhood

Image Credit: Hakan Tahmaz on Pexels

If you want a more relaxed atmosphere, head to Alsancak district. The Alsancak District is located in İzmir’s downtown area. The bustling area is popular among locals and absolutely less known to tourists. As many people visiting the city are just in the town for the day, they don’t get that much into the city. You can stroll in Alsancak and discover what looks like life in İzmir. This area is full of charming cafes, boutiques, and art galleries. The shopping in this area is excellent if you prefer to avoid large malls. For those looking for a more active holiday, you can rent a bike or scooter and explore the area. You can spend the evening in this area and enjoy the vibrant nightlife as it is well-known for its lively nightlife scene.


3. Spend A Day Trip to Alaçatıtrip to alacati

Image Credit: Rento Transfer on Unsplash

If you're looking for something outside of İzmir's city center, Alaçatı is worth checking out. This hidden gem on the Aegean coast of Turkey boasts stunning beaches, picturesque streets, and delicious cuisine. You'll find narrow streets of cobblestone adorned with renovated single- or two-story stone traditional Greek houses, charming sidewalk cafés, restaurants, and boutiques. The historical architecture makes Alaçatı the best-preserved town in Aegean, Turkey. There's plenty to do in Alaçatı, including exploring the historic village, admiring traditional stone houses, and visiting colorful markets and boutiques. For a bit of adventure, try windsurfing on its beautiful beaches or visit Çeşme Castle for stunning views. You can also end your day with some delicious Turkish cuisine or attend a festival celebrating its culinary heritage.


4. Enjoy İzmir’s Specialties

You simply can't leave İzmir without indulging in its mouth-watering specialties, such as the famous İzmir Bomb Kurabiye, İzmir kofteci, and Kumru. The İzmir Bomb Kurabiye, also known as Praline Stuffed Cookies, is a well-known Turkish dessert comprising a crispy pastry shell filled with a delectable chocolate spread. Moreover, İzmir kofteci, which are grilled meatballs made with ground beef or lamb, are served with yogurt or tomato sauce. And, of course, Kumru is a must-try street food from Çesme, an idyllic Aegean beach town in İzmir. To enjoy these delicacies like a local, head to an İzmir Lokantası (eatery) or Pastanesi (bakery). It's best to avoid touristy restaurants, as they tend to be more expensive than their İzmir counterparts. This way, you can truly appreciate the local cuisine while also incorporating it into your touristy activities. It's a unique combination that only locals can understand.


5. Explore İzmir Culture Park (Kültürpark)

Come and explore Kültürpark, located in the heart of İzmir's Konak district. This urban oasis is a popular spot for both locals and travelers. As the sun sets, the park comes to life with vibrant concerts, festivals, and celebrations at the renowned İzmir International Fair. The park's natural beauty thrives with over 8,000 trees and 200 plant species. This park also features indoor exhibition halls, open-air theaters, and artistic centers catering to all interests. Adventure seekers can reach the top of the parachute tower, while history enthusiasts can delve into the museum.


6. Shop at Kızlarağası Hanı Bazaar (Old Bazaar)

A visit to Kızlarağası Hanı Bazaar is a must when exploring Kemeraltı, the historic shopping district of İzmir. This ancient market is a fine example of Ottoman architecture, with its entire structure made of stone. Although it may not be as large as the main bazaar, the colorful display of glass objects, traditional clothes, carpets, and other trinkets gives it a splendid look. You can relax in the spacious courtyard or upstairs while sipping on some strong Turkish coffee or tea and enjoy friendly conversations among locals and tourists. While you're here, take the opportunity to shop for some local souvenirs, jewelry, clothing, accessories, and handicrafts at reasonable prices. The best part about Kızlarağası Hanı Bazaar is that it's a peaceful and low-pressure shopping experience, with no high-pressure touts leaping out from every nook and cranny trying to sell you something.


7. Explore and pray at the historical mosque, Hisar Mosquehisar mosque

Image Credit: Visit Izmir

If you're interested in history, culture, and art, be sure to add the Hisar Mosque to your list of must-visit attractions in İzmir. This stunning architectural masterpiece, located in the bustling Kemeraltı Market, is a sight to behold. Constructed between 1592 and 1598, the Hisar Mosque is the largest in the city and is surrounded by famous coffeehouses. Step inside and marvel at the mesmerizing blue-and-gold domed ceiling that's reflective of the İzmiri style, which is simpler and less Oriental than traditional Ottoman designs. The women's gallery is adorned with beautiful carvings of roses and grapes, adding to the mosque's charm. Whether you're looking to explore the mosque's rich history or simply want to offer a prayer, the Hisar Mosque is a must-see destination in İzmir.


8. Visit one of the museums - Agora Museum

If you're interested in archaeology, the Agora Museum is a must-see. It's an open-air museum that showcases the remains of the ancient city of Smyrna. The agora, dating back to the 4th century BC, was rebuilt by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius after an earthquake destroyed it in 178 BC. It was the hub of public life in ancient times in İzmir, where people gathered to socialize, learn, and debate and where goods were bought and sold. Today, you can explore the ruins of the great city, with the water channels built by the Romans still in operation. The museum houses statues and other well-preserved structures, and you can freely walk around the ruins to immerse yourself in the history of this beautiful place at your own pace. However, please note that a large part of the site is closed to the public due to ongoing restoration and excavation.


9. Hop on Balçova Cable Car (İzmi̇r Balçova Teleferi̇k)

The Balçova Cable Car, also known as Balçova Teleferi̇k, Balcova Gondola, or Balcova Cable Car, was established in 1974 in the Balçova district, located next to the İzmir University of Economics on Sakarya Street. This aerial lift runs between Yeşiloğlu Hill and the summit of Dede Mountain. If you take the Balçova Teleferik, you can enjoy a stunning view of İzmir during the ride. Once you reach the top, you can relax and enjoy refreshments, have a picnic at one of the tables, or explore the terraces, binoculars, and promenade area built for both city residents and tourists.


10. Find Serenity at Inciralti City Forest (İnciraltı Kent Ormanı)Inciraltı Kent Ormanı

Image Credit: Michael ksk, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Suppose you're looking for a place to unwind and reconnect with nature. In that case, Inciralti City Forest is the perfect destination for you. This nature park offers various activities, from barbecuing to walking and even parking your caravan. It's located on the outskirts of İzmir, and its sprawling forest provides a sense of peace and biodiversity that's rare to find in urban areas. Once you're there, you'll find plenty of resting areas, bridges, and walking and cycling paths that allow you to explore the forest at your own pace. You can take a leisurely stroll, bike ride, or watch the birds, including migratory flamingos, during spring or autumn. The area covers a whopping 620 thousand square meters in İzmir, making it a top destination for both tourists and locals alike. And if you're looking for a quiet spot to enjoy the view, you can always sit on the beach and soak up the stunning scenery, which is sure to bring you psychological comfort and relaxation.

As we conclude this journey through İzmir's hidden treasures, we hope you've been inspired to experience this vibrant city like a local. From the breathtaking views atop the historical Asansor to the charm of Alsancak's streets, from the coastal beauty of Alaçatı to savoring İzmir's mouthwatering specialties, your adventure in İzmir promises memories that will last a lifetime. Don't forget to explore the cultural richness of Kültürpark, shop at the historic Kızlarağası Han Bazaar, and immerse yourself in the city's history and art at places like the Hisar Mosque and the Agora Museum. For panoramic views, hop on the Balçova Cable Car, and to reconnect with nature, find serenity at Inciralti City Forest. Whether you're a culture enthusiast, a history buff, a foodie, or simply seeking stunning landscapes, İzmir offers something for every traveler.


Share your own experiences or ask questions in the comments below, and don't hesitate to reach out to us through our website. Keep exploring, keep discovering, and make İzmir your next unforgettable adventure!


Cover Image Credit: Hakan Tahmaz on Pexels

An introvert who enjoys food, cooking, traveling, and photography.

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