Port of Izmir
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Little of the storied path of ancient Smyrna (Izmir's original name) is visible. Today, Izmir is one of Turkey's most populated (3.7 million) and most thoroughly modern cities, with the second biggest port after Istanbul. The container ships, cranes and concrete high-rises that populate the harbor are a drab sight, and, predictably, most cruise travelers bypass the city. Like Kusadasi to the south, Izmir's main virtue is its proximity to Ephesus, an incredibly well-preserved Roman city that lives up to its lofty reputation. Likewise, the ruins of Pergamum and Asclepion, an ancient Greek center of culture and health, are easily accessible and are included excursion options on all ships docking in Izmir.
The city itself is not without merit, and passengers looking to explore the sprawling cityscape in the relatively short time allotted ashore will have options. The sociable Konak Square, with its emblematic Ottoman Clock Tower, is Izmir's main gathering point for young Turks. The square leads into a long, winding Bazaar, a common site throughout Turkey (if you want to buy something, be prepared to haggle). The bayside cafes that line Birinci Kordon, a long main boulevard running parallel to the waterfront, offer the opportunity to relax, sip wine, enjoy appetizers (mezes) of local seafood and watch people wander by. The Agora, an enormous 2,000-year-old marketplace where Roman farmers and merchants once hawked cotton, olive oil and fruit, is one of the few places that has been spared from urbanization, and is a fascinating site.
Though Izmir's modern vibe may initially be off-putting, it's notable that building projects, such as the subway and high-rises buildings, have often yielded fantastic archeological finds such as roman statues and pottery, a reminder of how much history remains just below the surface.
Top Izmir Itineraries
Where You're Docked
You'll end up at Alcansak, a rather industrial-looking pier area, which is a five-minute walk from the shops and restaurants in the neighborhood of the same name and 20 minutes along the waterfront to Konak Square in the center of town. Shore excursion buses are a short walk away, but if you're lucky, the port authority may let buses in to pick you up right at the ship when there's only one ship in port.
Duty-free shops, cafes, a post box, stamps for sale and other facilities are located inside the cruise terminal, and the chamber of commerce provides free maps of the city and surrounding area. An Internet cafe is close to the terminal on the way into town. The terminal is pretty dreary, but future passengers can expect to see big changes because of plans to redevelop the port, with new berths and infrastructure (no starting or completion date has been confirmed). When the upgrades are complete, the port will have the capacity to handle two million passengers per year.
Good to Know
In Kemeralti Bazaar prepare for a large number of "salesmen." This is certainly not as bad as some places (like Cairo), but you'll face an incessant wave of requests to buy jeans and designer knockoffs. It also gets quite crowded, so be aware of your wallet.
On Foot: While initial impressions are not exactly picturesque, and Izmir is not a compact and walkable city like Odessa, Ukraine, passengers can stroll to some of the main tourist areas such as Konak Square, which is also the main entry spot into the Kemeralti Bazaar.
By Taxi: Most cruise travelers will be taking full-day tours to either Ephesus or Pergamum. Those wishing to get around on their own, either to the bazaar or other city monuments like the Agora ancient marketplace, will find yellow metered taxis outside the cruise terminal. A word of advice: Taxi drivers will repeatedly offer tours during the short drive en route to your intended destination. Firmly stating "no" a few times should do the trick. If you do decide to embark on a sightseeing tour by taxi, the cost should be clearly negotiated before setting off. Few drivers will speak fluent English and will be unable to provide a commentary.
By Public Transport: Buses are of limited use to non-Turkish speaking visitors. However, local buses run from the port exit to the bus terminal at Konak. A better bet for cruise passengers is the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus tour, which leaves from the port and takes in 17 stops around the city including Konak, the Agora and Archaeology and Ethnography Museums. The full tour takes one hour, with a headphone commentary in five languages. The open-top buses run from the port every half hour from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the Turkish Lira and ATM's abound. For current currency-conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. Some shops and restaurants will also accept euros and U.S. dollars, and all major credit cards are accepted.
Turkish, but you'll have little trouble with basic English communication.
Food and Drink
If you're heading off on an excursion, as most cruise travelers will be, a lunch or snack will be part of the experience. If not, there are lots of appealing options, particularly seafood restaurants, lining Birinci Kordon, the main waterfront boulevard. Look for one that's busy, and be seated. The Kibris Sehitleri Caddesi traffic-free shopping street in Alsancak is another good place to find restaurants, and the food court on Konak Pier is another place for lunch or a snack.
For a traditional experience, visit a lokanta, a simple type of restaurant where customers select from cooked dishes on display. Meals are cheap and helpings are invariably large. Kebapci serve lamb kebabs while a pideci serves the Turkish equivalent of pizza, usually topped with minced lamb. If you prefer to stand for a full meal, you're covered. During summer months there are numerous street vendors selling mussels, an Izmiri specialty.
Mutton, lamb, beef, chicken and fish dishes are featured on menus, but pork is not served in a Muslim restaurant. Meze, a selection of dishes on small plates, is a great way to sample the local cuisine if you're not sure what to order and a fun way to share a meal with a few people. It's particularly popular at lunchtime and will include dishes such as the chickpea dip hummus, stuffed vine leaves, sardines, cheese, salad, vegetables and pickles. Make sure you leave room for lokma, Izmir's celebrated sweet pastry.
Sisim, down by Pasaport (the ferry pier) and just north of Cumhuriyet Meydani, is great for people watching and gazing out at a teeming harbor. It's also very affordable. You can grab a meal of fish and meat pie plus a drink for around $15. (Ataturk Caddesi 174A) Farther along the waterfront is one of the most popular establishments with both locals and tourists alike. Run by the same family for 30 years, Deniz serves up locally caught seafood specialities like bream and red mullet, cooked to perfection. (Ataturk Caddesi 188B)
Pick up some pottery or, for a larger souvenir, a local handmade carpet. Milas, near Izmir, is one of the main carpet-weaving areas in western Turkey.