Izmir and Bodrum are two beautiful coastal cities on the west side of Turkey bordering the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. With warm temperatures for most of the year, blue waters to bathe in and exceptional food to indulge in, it can be a hard decision to choose Izmir or Bodrum for your holiday, whatever time of year.
As the bridge between Europe and the Middle East, formerly part of the Greek Empire and later becoming the Ottoman Empire, with plenty of groups invading and making their mark on the country, history abounds in Turkey.
In general, choose Izmir if you are after a big-city experience with access to some incredible archaeological sites. On the other hand, choose Bodrum if you want a relaxed beach holiday in a laid-back setting.
So if you’re interested in archaeology, history, culture, music and food, you’re sure to have a great time wherever you choose to visit in Turkey.
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With over 2,000 years of history, having been rebuilt by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE, Izmir has plenty to offer tourists with a keen interest in history.
But alongside its historic marketplace, castles and museum, Izmir is a vibrant modern city, with trendy neighbourhoods filled with excellent restaurants, bars and cultural exhibits.
The third largest metropolis in Turkey, Izmir is a huge city and may feel daunting to navigate when you first arrive, whether by air into Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport, bus from Istanbul, or ferry from a Greek island in the Aegean Sea such as Chios or Lesbos.
However, Izmir has excellent public transportation that allows you to travel all over the city very easily.
An urban railway takes you from the airport to a main transportation station “Hilal” where you can change to the metro and head northeast to Bornova or southwest to Fahrettin Altay, via the central square of Konak.
There’s also a tramway that runs along the coastline from Fahrettin Altay to Halkapınar through the main city centre, and Mavişehir to Alabey on the northern city coastline.
Due to the horseshoe shape of Izmir, driving from one side of the city to the other is not recommended as you’ll easily get stuck in traffic and find it very difficult to find a parking space.
However, if you do intend to stay in Izmir for a week or more, having a car can be useful for visiting the more further afield locations such as the historic site of Ephesus, and you can use the car ferries to move from the north to the south of Izmir in around 45 minutes.
There are several passenger ferry ports in Izmir, but they don’t go to the nearest stop, instead travelling across the port, so foot passengers can easily take the tram or metro for short distances, and take the ferry for longer journeys.
All of the public transport in Izmir is accessible with the Izmir Kart, which you can buy at main transport stations, and top up with cash or card from most stations or in small corner shops.
Due to the instability of the Turkish Lira, Turkey as a whole can be a cheap country to visit from the UK, USA or Europe which is great for budget travellers. However, if you’re not careful, you can fall into tourist traps and end up paying a fortune when you could have a more authentic experience for a much lower cost.
As a large city, there is a huge amount of choice for food and drink in Izmir, which can help you keep the costs down. Traditional Turkish kebabs, pide (known as a Turkish pizza), soups and kofte (like meatballs) are all delicious, very cheap and available all over the city, so well worth trying at least once on your travels in Izmir or Bodrum.
Izmir is known for its incredible seafood and olive oil, so you should also try the traditional meze meals along the coast, with fish and yoghurt-based side dishes of your choice, for a very reasonable price, from €10-20 per person.
When travelling around the city, you’ll spend more money getting around Izmir vs Bodrum as you needn’t use any transport in Bodrum, however, the Izmir Kart is very cheap. With each journey costing less than €1, and your second journey within 90 minutes half the price, you won’t end up spending much money on transport in Izmir, even if you go everywhere by tram or metro.
A lot of Izmir can also be seen on foot, so you don’t need to pay any extra to spend a day wandering around the old marketplace or enjoying a coastal walk. However, you will have to pay to enter museums, although the prices are generally very low.
If you plan on visiting every museum around Ephesus, you may be able to save some money by buying the Museum Pass which grants entry to selected museums in the Aegean region for 7 days. However, unless you want to spend all day every day in a museum, this isn’t usually the most cost-effective option for just a few museums and historic sites.
Whether you stick to the city centre or spend a day exploring the wider region, Izmir has plenty to see, do and taste for visitors of all ages and interests. It is possible to take a city tour if you prefer to explore with a guide.
Konak Square is considered the centre of Izmir and a great meeting point for friends as well as a perfect place to start an Izmir itinerary, thanks to the famous clock tower from 1901 that stands proudly in the centre.
Created as a memorial to the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II and redesigned after the declaration of the Turkish Republic, this monument has come to symbolise the city of Izmir.
From this square, you can see the port of Izmir, with the city stretching around the semi-circular coastline in either direction, as well as look up to the surrounding hills, with the remains of Kadifekale at the top of one mountaintop.
The square contains an ornate 18th-century mosque, behind which you can enter Izmir’s famous ancient marketplace: Kemeralti.
The Kemeralti Bazaar has been a bustling labyrinth of streets since the 17th century, housing many a small shop and market selling everything from gold jewellery to pots and pans and everything in between.
Whether you want to shop for some souvenirs from Turkey or make the most of the country’s cheap textiles and bring home a suit, a carpet or even a wedding dress, you can find plenty of excellent options in Kemeralti.
As you wander around, you’ll come across the entrance to the Ancient City of Agora, now partially destroyed thanks to centuries of earthquakes, but still worth a visit, as well as the 16th-century Hisar Mosque, the largest mosque in Izmir, located in the very centre of the bazaar.
Finally, when you start to develop an appetite, head to the old fish market for some stuffed mussels, eat from one of Izmir’s oldest doner houses, or find the Kızlarağası Han square for a traditional Turkish coffee.
The ancient site of Ephesus was originally built in the 10th century BCE, before landing in the hands of the Romans who built a massive 24,000-seater amphitheatre, which look incredibly impressive today. It was also once home to the Temple of Artemis, which is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
You can wander around the site, discovering masses of pillars and sculptures that have been uncovered by archaeologists, as well as possibly the world’s oldest advert – a 1st-century CE footprint, a heart, a woman and some money engraved into the marble road.
One of the most impressive parts of the site is the beautiful facade of the Library of Celsus which was reconstructed in the 1970s following an earthquake to show off its true magnificence.
If you have time, you can also visit the museums in the area, showcasing more of the artefacts uncovered at Ephesus, with more information and models of how the city may have once stood.
Another great day trip from Izmir that you can’t find elsewhere in the country, and just an hour’s drive by car or bus from the city centre, is the vineyards of Urla.
A cute, artistic town, Urla has several prominent vineyards in the area thanks to the warm weather and wet winters. Although there are plenty to choose from, USÇA is the most well-established vineyard in the area, founded in 2003.
You can enjoy an explanation of the wines produced in the area in English or French by one of the staff while you taste four of their most popular wines alongside a cheese or charcuterie board, making for a very pleasant afternoon out in Izmir.
Where to Stay in Izmir
Zeniva Hotel – Situated in the centre of Izmir, this modern hotel is perfect for mid-range visitors. There are plenty of comfortable rooms on offer and breakfast is served every morning.
Key Hotel – Set in a historic seaside building, this luxe hotel is perfect for visitors looking for a comfortable stay in Izmir. There are 34 lovely rooms to choose from along with a great breakfast and a wonderful restaurant and bar on site.
Lotus Garden Hostel – This cool hostel in Izmir’s centre is perfect for backpackers in Izmir. There are several dorm beds and private rooms to choose from along with good common areas and a great social atmosphere.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Izmir hotels!
Although Bodrum boasts an incredible amount of history (it was once the ancient Greek city of Halicarnassus), not all of it is still standing and the city has taken on a much more modern and tourist-centred atmosphere in recent years, so if weighing up Bodrum vs Izmir for a relaxing break and lively evenings, Bodrum is your best choice.
Although not as easy to reach via public transport as Izmir, you can get a flight to Milas-Bodrum airport, which is just a 35-minute drive from the city centre. Then you can easily get a taxi, organise a transfer or rent a car to start your journey.
Bodrum is also a very small city, so if you’re planning to spend a few days up to a week in the centre, soaking up the sun, wandering around the town and perhaps spending a day perusing the castle and underwater archaeology museum, you won’t need a car or even public transport to get around.
You can walk from one end of the city, by the main cruise and ferry port, along the coastal path through the town to the far side of the marina in just 40 minutes, and encompass most of the sites Bodrum has to offer, so transport is largely unnecessary. But, you can find taxis everywhere to take you from your hotel to the beach and back if so desired.
To travel further afield in Bodrum and explore the wider peninsula, you’re better off having your own car, although parking can be an issue.
So if you don’t mind the expense, you can benefit from booking a taxi to take you around, or if you don’t mind the irregular times, you can use the Bodrum bus to reach other attractions such as Bodrum windmills.
Generally speaking, Bodrum is more expensive than Izmir as the hotels are luxurious, the restaurants are dotted along the coast with incredible views of the castle (which hikes up the price) and as a party town, drink prices are often more than elsewhere in the country.
However, what you may spend on in Izmir, you may save on in Bodrum. The lifestyle in Bodrum is far from the hustle and bustle of Izmir, so you will likely spend a few relaxing days on the beach at no cost, rather than buying museum tickets or a day’s wine tasting in Izmir.
If you stay close to the beachfront, you won’t need to spend any money on transport except for your transfer to and from the airport, so you could also make a saving in Bodrum over Izmir on moving around.
However, even considering these small savings, you’re most likely to spend more in Bodrum than in Izmir due to the expensive accommodation, food and drink, especially if you add in a day trip to Bodrum castle (which is well worth the modest entrance fee) or the Greek island of Kos.
East and West Turkey vary quite dramatically from their culture to their food, and there’s no place in Turkey quite like Bodrum.
Built in the 15th century by the Order of the Knights of Saint John using rubble found from the 4th-century BCE mausoleum of Mausolus after an earthquake centuries prior, Bodrum Castle is an impressive historic site, with plenty to discover.
Each tower of the castle was built by a different nationality within the Order, the size and grandeur of each demonstrating the strict hierarchy. Now, in each tower, you can discover the archaeological finds from three separate shipwrecks from the nearby coast, some artefacts dating back over 4,500 years.
In the castle courtyard, you can find the original church which has been turned into a mosque with the addition of a minaret, as well as see four tombs beneath a glass floor. But perhaps most excitingly, is the room dedicated to the Carian Princess.
A sarcophagus was uncovered during archaeological excavations, which found a woman’s body surrounded by intricate gold jewellery, causing historians to believe she was Empress Ada I, ruler of Caria during the 4th century BCE.
You can also enjoy stunning and unparalleled views of the Bodrum coastline from the castle walls to gain a new perspective on the city as you discover its significant history.
The turquoise water of the Mediterranean is something which has to be enjoyed while staying in Bodrum, and the best way to make the most of it is by taking a boat trip out for the day.
Whether you rent a small private boat or join a larger ship that offers you a tour of the coastline as well as lunch on board, diving into the blue sea and discovering the small coves and colourful fish is a must.
While Bodrum has plenty to offer over a few days, if you’re spending a week in the city, you can enjoy a day trip out to the Greek island of Kos.
Another significant historical location, Hippocrates lived in Kos and left his mark with the impressive ancient medical centre built in his honour as well as the famous 2,500-year-old plane tree that he would sit under – both of which still stand today.
Along with the marina and castle overlooking the sea back to Bodrum, there’s plenty to discover in Kos for a day, and it’s easy to reach thanks to the regular ferries.
Where to Stay in Bodrum
Hotel Centro Bodrum – This tranquil hotel is a great base in Bodrum. There are plenty of lovely rooms, a delightful swimming pool, a staff that can organise tours or hire cars and a buffet breakfast daily.
Casa Nonna Bodrum – This is a lovely seafront, adults-only hotel perfect for those looking for a luxury stay in Bodrum. There are countless gorgeous rooms along with a private beach area and a spa on site.
La Luna Hostel – A small family-run hostel, this is a great option for solo travellers or backpackers looking to save some cash in Bodrum. It’s well located, there are good common areas and there are plenty of different rooms to choose from.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Bodrum!
If you’re trying to choose Bodrum and Izmir for your trip abroad, the answer shouldn’t be too difficult if you know what kind of holiday you’re after. While Izmir and Bodrum have plenty in common, the size and atmosphere can change your perception and enjoyment of either city, depending on what kind of break you need.
Izmir is perfect for a city break; ride the tram or metro to get around the city, visit the museums, eat incredible food and take a day trip to Ephesus for a complete long weekend.
But if you crave relaxation, sun, sea and cocktails, Bodrum is the best choice for you as that’s what the city is known for. Over a week in Bodrum, you can get your share of sun and sea, while spending a day or two exploring the nearby historic sites to delve into a bit of local history.
As it’s further south, you’ll get much more sunshine in Bodrum than in Izmir. Plus, during the summer months, walking through the city streets can be challenging due to the urban heat island, while having the beautiful Bodrum beaches to bathe in at your will is a perfect antidote in the boiling weather.
Bodrum does get decidedly quieter as the weather gets colder, however, so you won’t find the lively street parties you might have in mind if you visit the city outside of spring or summer (although summer generally lasts until late September).
If you want to travel outside of the normal summer holidays, then you’ll still find plenty of urban life, busy restaurants and bars in Izmir’s Alsancak area.
There really isn’t a bad choice between these two Turkish coastal getaways as they both have lots to offer visitors!
Are you after a coastal trip to Turkey? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!