Izmir, Turkey: A LOT of Cigarette Smoke Prevents Us From Loving It

Yes, I know that’s a pretty sharp headline. The original headline was “Izmir: Turkey’s Ashtray,” so I did tone it down a little.

We just got back from a six day trip to Izmir, Türkiye. We wanted to love it. We first got turned onto Izmir when we saw how much Stephanie and Gillian of Our Freedom Years loved Izmir. So, we decided that when we were in Istanbul, we wanted to check out Izmir as well to see if we wanted to add it to the list of places that we’d want to return to for longer.

We stayed in the Konak area of Izmir, since it was near the Kemeralti Market and the clock tower that is a pretty central focal point of the city. We were just south of the Kulturpark, which is a huge, cute park. The park was hosting the annual fair while we were there, so it was very reminiscent of a state fair.

We started off our trip by doing a free GuruWalk (#aff) that started at the Clock Tower, went to the Dario Moreno street, and up the elevator. The elevator was built by the city to help the inhabitants up the hill (which, later, we walked around, and it is truly up a great, big hill) to go down the hill and get to work without having to go up and down very long and steep sets of stairs. It was somewhat reminiscent of Comuna 13 in Medellín, Colombia, where they have escalators to help the higher up, lower income communities get down to the main city.

The tour then went to the Kemeralti Market, where we stopped for a coffee. Our guide was great and told us where to go for all sorts of different foods. We then wound up hanging out with the people who were on our tour with us for most of the rest of the day and whom we hope to meet up with on our future travels.

Given that we were there during the holiday of Bayram, as it is known in Turkey, or Eid Al-Adha, as it is known in most of the rest of the Muslim world, Izmir was surprisingly empty and uncrowded. For the rest of our time there, a lot of shops and stores were closed for the holiday, and we later learned that some store owners and shopkeepers took the entire week off to go into the countryside to see their families. As a result, it was difficult to get a true sense of how crowded Izmir usually is, given that we know that Istanbul, especially the European side, is very crowded.

Even despite the relative lack of crowds, we started to notice one trend that we’ve seen in eastern Europe, but was very prevalent in Izmir despite the lack of crowds.

Have you ever walked into one of the older Las Vegas casinos?

Immediately upon entering, you’re hit by a wall of cigarette smoke.

Even if there aren’t any people smoking near you when you walk in, it’s pervasive. It’s everywhere. Las Vegas, by and large, is a city that seems to be a magnet for cigarette smokers.

I despise smoking.

That was what it was like almost everywhere we went in Izmir. People were smoking cigarettes everywhere. Open air park? Smokers. Cute cafe? All of the exterior seats were filled by smokers, so the inside seats got plenty of second hand smoke. Malls? Smokers. Markets? Smokers.

Even though Turkey issued a ban on indoor smoking in restaurants, bars, and other indoor places, that ban seems to be in name only.

So, even if you thought that you were sitting in an indoor, smoke-free area, you weren’t.

It’s surprising, because, according to our guide, Izmir was one of the most highly educated cities in all of Turkey. We also noticed that it was a lot more liberal and laid back than Istanbul (particularly the European side) or Ankara were. It felt like a European city, even though it’s in Asia.

There was a lot to potentially like about Izmir.

The food was excellent!

There were great cafes

and bars (and, yes, I expect bars to be smoky).

Additionally, in Izmir, you are surrounded by a ton of history. We went to the ancient Smyrna agora one morning and spent a couple of hours walking around the grounds.

The area around Izmir has a lot of history. Although we did not go to Pergammon, between that city, Smyrna, and Ephesus (more below), there was a huge set of Greek settlements in the 300-200s BC.

We also, one day, took a tour of Ephesus. We had a guided tour, because Ephesus itself is huge. Once upon a time, Ephesus covered 48 square miles and had a citizen population of 300,000. Given that slaves were estimated to be twice as populus as citizens (and were not counted as humans), some historians estimate that the population of the city approached 1 million people. There was no way that we were going to do that on our own, so we used a guided tour and had an excellent guide.

Ephesus was interesting because it is an overlay of multiple civilizations and cultures in the same place. First, there was an ancient city, supposedly in the 8000s BC, which was founded by the Amazons. Then, there were the Greeks. Mary Magadelene and John the Baptist were there for a few years, although the physical imprint of Christianity on Ephesus is very small (even though the Book of Ephesians came from there). Then, the Ottomans took over, and finally, the Turks in Selçuk, the modern day city.

Fortunately, Izmir has a great Metro system, so it’s very easy to get to Ephesus. While you will have to change trains twice once you are on the Metro line to Selçuk, you do not have to pay for each leg of the trip. It took us about an hour and a half to get from Basmane station to Selçuk. Since we were there during Bayram, we also were able to travel for free, as the city did not charge for the Metro or the trains during the holiday. Score!

Words do not do the immensity and impressiveness of Ephesus justice, so I’m not even going to try.

Theater of Ephesus

Library of Celsus
We paid $42.33 per person from GetYourGuide to do the guided tour. That was a very cheap price.

What they didn’t tell you, and I wish they would, because we were fine with the concept, is that it appears that how they can offer such a good price for a full-day tour (including lunch) with a VERY knowledgeable guide is that, at the end of the day, you go to a leather factory.

(watch until the end!)
After the fashion show, you get HARD sold on buying leather jackets, purses, and whatever else you can stretch a sheep’s skin into. They must be getting a kickback from the leather producer to bring tourists there to watch the fashion show (which was fun) and then get hounded by their sales reps. Just say hayır. They should just be upfront about how they’re doing the day’s program so that you’re aware. I’m sure the jackets were great quality and a good deal, but on a 95 degree Fahrenheit day, a leather jacket was the last thing I wanted to think about. Furthermore, since we’re currently living out of two bags each, we didn’t have room for anything else, a concept that the guy who followed us like a dog following a human dragging behind a piece of steak couldn’t really grasp.

We also checked out the neighborhood of Bostanlı after reading a very detailed comment from Stephanie and Gillian’s YouTube video about Izmir.

If we were to go back, that is the neighborhood where we would stay. Our guide from the GuruWalk tour said it was one of her favorite neighborhoods, and it was one of ours as well. There were a bunch of cute cafes. There was a huge pedestrian area. There was plenty of seaside walking and plenty of views. There was a mall if you needed to escape the weather (and we did). It was easy to reach the other sections either via the Metro or the ferry. It was the least smoky area.

One note: if you’re going to watch a movie, make sure the movie isn’t dubbed in the local language!

If you go to Izmir, you absolutely must try the bomba at Çelebi Unlu Mamuller in Alsancak. It is a dessert that is almost like nothing that you have ever tasted. It’s named bomba for the Spanish word for bomb, and you will have a bomb of flavor exploding in your mouth. Also, try the baklava (and other desserts) at Ağam. The one I linked to is also in Alsancak, but I think it is a chain, as we saw a couple of other locations in our wandering.

Here’s how much we spent on our trip to Izmir:

Category Amount
Flight from Istanbul to Izmir $201
Lodging $298
Ephesus Tour $85
Remaining Spending $413
Total spending $996

To extrapolate the costs out to a month, I made some adjustments. You probably wouldn’t take a huge tour every week (though you could), so I assumed one large tour every trip. Also, we stayed in a hotel, whereas next time, we would stay in an AirBnB, so I took the price from one of the ones on our wish list.
Category Amount Daily
Lodging $1,620 $53.26
Tour $85 $2.78
Remaining spending $2,092 $68.79
Total spending $3,797 $124.84

For us, while we wanted to love Izmir, the smoking was just too much to handle. If Turkey either a) decreases its average percentage of the population that smokes (currently, approximately 30% of the Turkish population, which I think may be an underestimate), or b) does a better job of enforcing its smoking ban, then we’d love to come back to Izmir.

If you’re the type who is not bothered by the cigarette smoke in a Las Vegas casino, then you wouldn’t be as bothered by the smoke as we were in Izmir, and it would be a great place to go.

One other thing that I will note. We went there in July. It was blazing hot. Temperatures were in the low to mid 90s, and if you walk around a lot, like we do, then that becomes debilitating quite quickly. I know there are people who love the heat, and, for them, Izmir in the summer would be great. For us, we’d likely go in the spring or in the late fall if we go again, because, as we’re discovering in this trip, temperatures matter to us quite a bit.

What do you think? Have you been to Izmir? Did we just overreact to the cigarette smoke? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

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Jason Hull was the co-founder of Broadtree Partners, a firm that acquires $1-5MM EBITDA companies. He also was the co-founder of open source search consultancy OpenSource Connections, a premier Solr and ElasticSearch firm. He and his wife FIREd (financial independence retire early) at 46 and 45, respectively. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a MBA from the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business. He held a CFP certification from 2015 - 2021. You can read more about him in the About Page. If you live in Johnson County, Texas or the surrounding areas, he and his wife are cash buyers of Johnson County, Texas houses.

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