Christmas is not celebrated on a large scale in Turkey, as it is a Muslim country. However, you can see traces of it with snowmen and even Santa Clause making an appearance here and there.
New Year’s is a big celebration in Turkey so Izmir is decorated with lights in December in preparation, giving it a Christmassy feel.
Although Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey with 3 million people, it still manages to feel relaxed, especially compared to the bustling city of Istanbul. It is probably the most westernised city in Turkey, so it’s where you will find the most traces of Christmas.
Even in winter when it is cooler, Izmir makes a great city to visit.
Since Christmas is not a public holiday, everyone goes about their day as normal.
11 things not to miss in Izmir at Christmas time
1. Take in the city skyline from the Historical Elevator Tower
You can enjoy Izmir’s twinkling skyline from the Historical Elevator Tower, where you can sit down to a meal or some drinks at the café on the terrace.
2. Try roasted chestnuts and corn on the cob at Kordon Alsancak Promenade
The waterfront at Kordon is dotted with chestnut and roasted corn sellers in winter. The path is 1.3 kilometres long.
If the weather is too cold to enjoy a stroll, you can take the small yellow bus that looks like a tram. It covers the length of the promenade.
While you’re there, you’ll see roasted chestnuts and corn on the cob sold by vendors with bright red karts. They also sell salep, a sweet milky drink that is popular in winter and is sure to warm you up.
3. Shop at Kemeralti Bazaar
Kemeralti Bazaar is a maze of narrow streets packed with both modern and traditional shops. There are different sections where you can buy clothes, spices, olive oil and soap.
There are also numerous streets lined with cafes and bakeries where you can get out of the cold and sample pastries. While you’re there be sure to try a bomba, a cookie filled with chocolate that originated in Izmir.
4. Try Izmir’s famous fresh seafood
Izmir is known for its seafood. Apart from fresh grilled fish, you can also try ‘Kalamar Tava’, calamari rings that are deep fried, grilled octopus and ‘Midye Dolma’, stuffed mussels.
5. Relax in the hot springs at Balçova
Balçova is one of the districts of Izmir and only a 25-minute drive from the city centre. Previously known as Agamemnon Thermal Springs, these natural hot springs can accommodate up to 3,000 people per day.
The thermal complex has hot pools and baths and a patient therapy area, as the water is said to have a healing effect. You can access the thermal facilities at Balçova Termal Otel where they also have an aquapark.
6. Go skiing at Bozdağ
You won’t see much snow in Izmir at Christmas time, but only 90 minutes away is the town of Bozdağ where you can go skiing and snowboarding.
The ski season in Turkey runs from December to March and the average snow fall depth in Bozdağ is between 80-120 centimetres. Bozdağ Ski Centre is very popular on weekends, being so close to Izmir, so you might find visiting on a weekday less crowded.
7. Visit an ancient city
In winter, you can enjoy historical sights without long lines or crowds. Izmir is home to one of the most famous ruins in Turkey, the ancient city of Ephesus.
Ephesus (or ‘Efes’ as it is known by locals) is just an hour away from Izmir, nearby the town of Selcuk. After lots of excavation it is now one of the most complete ancient cities in all of Europe.
There is lots to see at Ephesus, but our favourite structures at the ruins are the Library of Celsus and the Great Theatre, which are both among the largest libraries and theatres in the ancient world.
We went to Ephesus in off peak time (just after winter) and we were glad to avoid the crowds. The cooler weather was perfect for exploring the ruins and doing lot of walking. All the white stone was a little blinding, and in summer we imagine it would be worse. It also meant we were able to take photos without too many people in the way.
You can visit ancient ruins without even leaving Izmir. The Agora Ancient Air Museum (otherwise known as Smyrna) used to be the centre of Izmir and today you can see the remains of the marketplace, council chambers and baths.
And just a short walk from ancient Smyrna is the Konak Clock Tower, Izmir’s famous clock tower where you will see tourists queuing for photos.
8. Stay overnight at Sirince – a traditional Turkish village
Nearby ancient Ephesus is Sirince, a traditional Turkish village famous for its Greek architecture and fruit wines. This tiny village is surrounded by olive and tangerine trees.
It’s located just a few minutes away from Ephesus near the town of Selcuk. You can sample wine and homemade goods in the main street.
Many of the quaint houses there operate as Airbnbs, some with fireplaces, so perfect for sipping homemade wine in comfort. The Sirince market is known for its olive oil, soap, jam and colourful souvenirs sold by the villagers and a place for a winter weekend away.
9. Visit a Christmas bazaar
Marche de Noel Bazaar
Every year the French Cultural Institute host a Christmas Bazaar in Izmir with market stalls, mulled wine and homemade goodies.
Known as Marche de Noel, this weekend bazaar generally runs in mid-December in the garden at the French Cultural Institute in Konak.
Entrance is free and kids can expect a visit from Santa.
Eats and Beats Christmas Bazaar
The Easts and Beats Christmas Bazaar runs for 5 days from 20-24 December and is hosted at the Hilltown Karşıyaka AVM. You can listen to popular Turkish artists while you sip wine and roast marshmallows.
10. Listen to Christmas carols at an ancient church
Several churches in Izmir hold Christmas services where they have Christmas carols.
St John the Evangelist and St Mary Magdalene located in Alsancak and Bornova are 2 beautiful churches in Izmir that host Christmas carols.
11. Relax with a hammam session
Karataş Hoşgör Hamamı is a historical structure in Konak, where they offer traditional Turkish bath facilities plus a steam room jacuzzi and a sauna.
If you want to relax at Christmas, you could treat yourself to a session in this historic hammam in Izmir.
Where can you find Christmas Decorations in Izmir?
IKEA in Izmir has pretty much everything you need to get ready for Christmas, including Christmas trees and decorations. If you want a real tree, there are some stores that stock New Year’s trees which you may be able to buy early in time for Christmas.
Make Christmas dinner at home
If you are making a DIY Christmas dinner in Izmir, you will be happy to know that you can buy turkeys at most big grocery shops, as they are stocked in preparation for New Year’s.
We hope you have a Mutlu Noeller in Izmir (Merry Christmas)!
I’m a teacher and writer living abroad. I love languages, drinking lots of çay (tea) with friends, experiencing different cultures and going on adventures with my family.