Planning a Trip
By Plane -- As the primary entry point for visits to the popular destinations of Çesme, Ephesus, and Kusadasi, as well as a major and modern hub for international business travelers, Izmir's very modern Adnan Menderes Airport has effortlessly kept pace. In addition to Turkish Airlines, several international and domestic airlines are now operating direct flights to Izmir. Izmir Airlines (tel. 444-4499; www.izair.com.tr) has direct flights from Istanbul, Ankara, Adana, and Diyarbakir. SunExpress (tel. 0232/444-0797; www.sunexpress.com.tr) flies twice weekly from London's Stansted Airport to Izmir in summer only. British Airways (tel. 0870/850-9850 in the U.K.; www.britishairways.com) flies direct from Gatwick 4 days a week. Other airlines offering service from Istanbul include Atlasjet (tel. 0216/444-3387; www.atlasjet.com.tr) and Pegasus Airlines (tel. 444-0737; www.flypgs.com). Turkish Airlines' Izmir office is located at Halit Ziya Bulv. 65, Çankaya, behind the new Swissôtel Grand Efes (tel. 0232/484-1220; www.thy.com). Onur Air (tel. 444-6687 or 0232/274-1939; www.onurair.com.tr) is represented locally by any number of travel agencies.
The Havas shuttle (national toll-free tel. 0212/444-0487 or local 0232/274-2276) runs daily service from the airport into the center of Izmir with a drop-off point in front of the Grand Efes Hotel on Gaziosmanpasa Bulvari. Bus departure times are coordinated with domestic airlines flight arrivals; expect the ride into the city center to take about an hour. The fare is 10YTL ($8.70/£4; midnight-6am the fare increases 25%). Shuttles from the city center to the airport depart from the same spot in front of the Grand Efes daily and hourly from 3:30am to 11:30 pm.
A taxi to your hotel will cost between 35YTL and 45YTL ($30-$39/£14-£18), depending on traffic, whether or not the meter is running, or the driver's "fixed price." If you're not sure how much to spend, try out your haggling abilities on several consecutive taxis, until you figure out how much the ride should really cost. Remember that prices are more expensive between midnight and 6am.
By Bus -- Bus service is frequent and comprehensive in and out of Izmir. Service from Istanbul takes around 9 1/2 hours; from Ankara, 9 hours; from Kusadasi, 1 1/2 hours; from Bergama, 2 1/2 hours; and from Bursa, about 5 1/2 hours. As with anywhere else in Turkey, prices vary from one bus company to the next by as much as ($10/£5), so shop around before buying your ticket.
Long-distance buses arrive into Izmir's enormous and modern main otogar (bus station), located about 8km (5 miles) outside of town. As part of your fare, the bus companies also provide transfer minibuses into the city center. Alternatively, a taxi will cost around 10YTL ($8.70/£4).
By Train -- Turkish State Railways (www.tcdd.gov.tr) operates three trains from Ankara: The Karesi Ekspresi leaves at 7:10pm for the 15-hour trip. A seat on the train costs 22YTL ($19/£8.80). You have the option of sleeping in a bed on the Mavi Tren departing Ankara at 6:10pm or the 9 Eylül Ekspresi leaving at 8pm. Both trains have couchettes making that 14-hour journey a bit more pleasant. The cost is 70YTL ($61/£28) per person for single passengers, 53YTL ($46/£21) per person for two. A seat on the Mavi Tren costs 25YTL ($22/£10). From Istanbul, you'll need to get a ferry to Bandirma in order to connect to either the 6 Eylül Ekspresi departing Bandirma at 9:45am or the 17 Eylül Ekspresi departing at 3:45pm; the train takes about 6 hours and costs 15YTL ($13/£6). Trains arrive into Izmir's Basmane Gari (tel. 0232/484-8638 or 0232/484-5353 for reservations), about .8km (1/2 mile) northeast of Konak, the town center. From Basmane Gari you will need to take a bus or taxi the short ride to your hotel. Note: Not all trains have daily departures so confirm your itineraries well in advance.
By Ferry -- Those combining a visit to Turkey with a romp through the Greek islands may hop on a ferry in Chios for service to Çesme, an hour-long bus ride from Izmir's otogar. Ferries run daily from July through September 15 with fewer runs off season. For information, contact Ertürk (www.erturk.com.tr), the agent located in Çesme.
Tourist information offices are located in several high-traffic areas: Gaziosmanpasa Bulv. 1/1 in the Swissôtel Grand Efes (tel. 0232/484-2148 or 0232/445-7390); Atatürk Cad. 418, Alsancak (tel. 0232/422-1022); Akdeniz Mah. 1344 Sok. 2 Pasaport (tel. 0232/483-6216); and the Adnan Menderes Airport (tel. 0232/274-2214). There's also an ad-hoc information booth in Konak behind the Clock Tower at the entrance of Anafartalar Caddesi. Free maps are provided at the tourist information offices, at travel agents around town, and often in your hotel room.
Konak, named for the Ottoman government mansion (Hükümet Konagi) located nearby, is the area roughly containing Izmir's central district and center city, which embraces the Gulf of Izmir. A number of neighborhoods and zones are contained within Konak, including Konak Square, with its bustling seafront park, the little Konak Camii, and the Clock Tower (Saat Kulesi), the symbol of Izmir.
Just behind the tourist information booth at Konak Meydani (the main square) is Anafartalar Caddesi; judging by the magnetic stream of people pouring in, this must be the entrance to the shopping district, also known as Kemeralti. Winding through the oldest section of town are the narrow back streets of Izmir, where an unexpected 17th-century mosque, several synagogues, and a bedesten (privately owned marketplace) cohabit an area long overtaken by stores selling inexpensive gold chains.
To the north along the waterfront is Konak Pier, constructed as the Customs Building by Gustave Eiffel between 1875 and 1890 and reopened as a glossy shopping and dining destination. About a 15-minute walk farther up is Cumhuriyet Meydani, punctuated by an equestrian statue of Atatürk, and the grassy waterfront park and promenade of Kordon. This neighborhood around Cumhuriyet Meydani is home to a cluster of four- and five-star hotels, car-rental offices, and travel agencies. It's also part of the residential neighborhood of Alsancak, which boasts some restored homes, and another Atatürk Museum. Pasaport refers to the historic quay halfway between Konak Pier and Cumhuriyet Meydani. At the northernmost tip are the harbor and ferry terminal. South of Konak Square is the neighborhood of Karatas, once a thriving Jewish community where you will find the Asansör and the restored houses of Dario Moreno Sokak.
Up on the hill is Kadifekale, the fortress established by Alexander the Great. The views are great, and the trip is free, but save yourself the hassle and have a drink in the Hilton Hotel's Windows on the Bay instead.
About 15km (9 3/4 miles) to the southwest of Konak along the coastal road is the suburban district of Balcova, blessed by thermal springs most recently utilized by the new and luxurious Crown Plaza.
Much of what might hold a non-local's interest is located in convenient little clusters at various points around the city. Most of your sightseeing and shopping can be done on foot in and around Konak, which includes the museums and main-square attractions, as well as the bazaar, also known as Kemeralti. From Konak, Alsancak is reachable on foot along the scenic waterfront, but for those unable or unwilling to walk, there are municipal buses running regularly from the major bus hub at Konak (just in front of the Atatürk Cultural Center and on the street below the Archaeological Museum). If you're staying in one of the major hotels around Cumhuriyet Meydani, you're about dead center between Konak and Alsancak. The historic Jewish quarter, today called Asansör for the 19th-century elevator that provides access to the cliff-top residential area, is just south of Konak and also reachable by bus. The bus fare is 1.25YTL ($1.10/50p).
At the risk of plowing through millennia of archaeological remains, Izmir has completed the first phase of construction of a brand-new one-line metro. The line currently runs between Bornova, a residential suburb to the northeast of town, with Üçyol just south of Konak. In-between are stops at Konak, Çankaya, Basmane, and a couple more to destinations not mentioned in this guide. The metro runs frequently between 6am and midnight Monday through Friday; service is sparser on weekends. One ride costs 1.25YTL ($1.10/50p).
A more ambitious project is in the works to connect the metro with an extension that goes all the way to Adnan Menderes Airport. Completion of the project is optimistically projected for 2008.
Public ferries crisscross Izmir's bay between Konak and the busy residential shopping area of Karsiyaka, between Pasaport (at Cumhuriyet Meydani) and Karsiyaka, and between Pasaport and Alsancak. Fares on the ferry are about 1.25YTL ($1.10/50p) each way. Purchase your jeton at the ticket window prior to boarding, and double-check the destination of the boat, particularly if you're returning to Alsancak from Karsiyaka; it's a relatively long walk from Konak Square to Alsancak if you get on the wrong boat.
Transport Made Easy with the Kentkart -- Izmir is one of an increasing number of cities to adopt an electronic payment system by way of a magnetic-stripped "city card." Like other prepay fare cards, the Kentkart offers discounts for use, so instead of paying the 1.25YTL ($1.10/50p) full fare, that ride on the bus will cost you only 95Ykr (85¢/40p). But because the Kentkart requires an initial deposit of 5YTL ($4.35/£2), buying one really only makes sense if you're planning on staying in town for the long haul. Kentkarts are available at bus ticket offices and in select shops; just look for the KENTKART logo for sales points.