Note: This article was originally guest-posted for Yabangee.
Izmir offers plenty of local sites within the city of four million people, but it is also known for its access to easy day trips nearby. If you have time, plan a few excursions outside Izmir. A longer trip inland to Ankara, Cappadocia, or the Black Sea can be tempting but don’t miss the coastal towns along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts.
Here are some of the best day trips you can take from Izmir:
Şirince Little exceeds a well-prepared Turkish breakfast. Şirince, once a Greek village of a mere 600 inhabitants situated north of Ephesus, is famous for its mesmerizing white houses and red-orange clay rooftops. If you are not there in time for breakfast, visit shops known for local fruit wine. Entry is free and you are treated to many free glasses of wine.
Ephesus (a.k.a. Efes) Ephesus boasts of its 3000-year-old Greek city ruins. Most famous is one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, the Temple of Artemis. The area seduces history lovers with its flavorful tales. Entry is 40 Lira (and an extra 15 lira for the newly excavated covered hillside homes) but if you are interested in history, Ephesus is a must see. If you have time, trek out to the home of Mary, mother of Jesus, renown and highly visited by Catholic tourists.
Go North to Eski Foça Northwest of Izmir along the Aegean coastline, Eski Foça is named for the now endangered Mediterranean monk seals which also are the town’s mascot. Several local companies offer boat tours that will take passengers closer to the island of the seals for approximately 50 TL which includes lunch. Otherwise, enjoy a meal by the seaside lined with renovated historical, yet charming, Ottoman-Greek houses. While all Turkish food is delicious, the meze, or appetizers, and fish are the best options to get in Foça.
Visit a Greek Island Lesvos, Chios, and Samos, the closest Greek islands from Izmir, ascend from the sea disrupting the majestic view of Aegean Sea from Turkey. With the right visa, start early for a day trip (or stay overnight) by catching a bus to the ferry port and hopping over to the island of your choice. Chios is the most popular among travelers and is easy to access via a visit to Çeşme. Alongside its rich history, including adventures with Saracen pirates, and the Turks during the Greek Revolution, Chios also claims to be the birthplace of the poet Homer. Enjoy local wine, explore the ruined Byzantine village of Anavatos, and relax in the shade of a cafe or park. (Rhodes is a little out of the way, but well worth a visit!)
Cool off at the Beach! While it’s not possible to swim in the bay in Izmir, beaches line the coast both north and south of the city center. Çeşme comes in an easy first with its pure white sand and crystal clear water, but it also draws a crowd to the much-enjoyed shopping district and nightlight. Take one of the many private buses from your neighborhood or a dolmuş to Çeşme center from the Izmir Otogar.
I would love to hear from you! Comment below or on the video answering one of the following questions:
Have you visited Izmir?
Did you take any day trip? If so, where did you go?
For a less touristy feel, Lesvos, or Mytilini, is your best choice to experience real Greece. This lush, green island has been virtually unaffected by the mass tourism. For the do-it-all traveler who likes to stay busy, Lesvos is the perfect destination with fantastic food, beautiful beaches, pine and hardwood forests, and rivers and over a million olive trees.
From Ayvalik, take the 1 hour and 15-minute ferry ride to the port city of Mytilini. Similarly to Chios, visitors can find enough to do in Mytilini by touring the massive castle and several museums, breaking for lunch, coffee, and ice cream.
However, our road-trip took us in one large loop Northwest across the island over (VERY FULL) two days with a rental car. Here is your 2 Day Itinerary for Lesvos, Greece:
The incredible Chios Mastic Museum pressed us to see other PIOP museums such as the Olive Oil Museum on Lesvos. After renting your car near the harbor, an hour drive west from the port city of Mytilini will take you to the Olive Oil Museum situated in the middle of the island. While it does explain olive oil production, this museum is more about the exemplary restored communal olive press of Aghia Paraskevi, which you can see in action daily at noon except on Tuesdays. The exhibits share the history of the community property and the effect it had on the region’s social fabric and economic structures.
Fifteen minutes from the Olive Oil Museum, the bay city of Skala Kallonis won’t make it on anyone’s tourist list, but stopping here is our favorite memory. Sitting at the shaded beachfront restaurant of Dionysos Fish and Meat Restaurant, we took our time eating our weight in Greek salad, fried cheese balls, and grilled meat plate, while our friend’s kid played in the sand and water.
The next stops on our journey took us to 2 seaside towns on the north side of the island, Petra and Molyvos (also: Mithymna).
Petra’s cliff-top church can be seen from miles away. Stop here for ice cream and stretch your legs from the 35-minute drive with the 114 stairs climb to look at the Orthodox church and panoramic view of the red, clay top roofs lining the north shore.
Molyvos Castle sits on the top of a weaving hillside town and claims first place for city’s attractions. For families, this venture requires steep uphill walks that are not kid stroller friendly. Although it was built by the Byzantines, apparently there are stones here from a previous castle during the Trojan War. From the Venetians to the Catalans, to the Genovese and the Ottoman Turks, this castle has seen it all.
A close second is the winding, narrow walking streets of the town. Springtime means all the hundred-year-old vines draping over the passageways were blooming fragrant, purple wisteria, providing shade for the owners and visitors.
From our morning tour Molyvos, we started our 1.5-hour drive back to Mytilini. Sundays on the Greek islands usually mean many shops and businesses close, but near the still active Moni Agios Taxiarchis Monastery, a small separate cafe sets outs around 100 tables and chairs under the shade of trees. You must order their specialty of fried doughnut-like sweets, called lukumas, dipped in a simple syrup, similar to the lokma you can find on the streets of Izmir. For a little extra flavor, ask for a drizzle of white or plain chocolate with nuts sprinkles.
On days other than Sunday, the port of Mytilini is a thriving city to visit. The castle of Mytilene, one of the biggest in the Mediterranean is located on the top of a hill in the northern part of the town. Visitors can walk around the castle and visit, the cistern, the Ottoman baths, the Crypts and the Queen’s Tower among others. The view of Mytilini town from the castle is magnificent.
From the castle, head towards the main shopping street, Ermou. Start from the Yeni Tzami, a 19th-century Turkish Mosque and walk down Ermou towards the Agios Therapon Church. Take your time window shopping along Ermou street lined with lovely buildings, shops selling souvenirs and traditional products of the island. If time, take some time to learn about the island’s history at the Archeological Museum.
Sundays put a general damper on most of the city for tourists. Outside of the seaside cafes and restaurants, most shops close. However, we made the most of our day by walking and enjoying sweets from multiple little pastry shops we found along the way.
Where to stay:
Our group of six (four adults and two kids) opted for an apartment style rental in Mylos via booking.com. Apartment style rentals are prevalent in this area for more extended vacation stays by the beach.
What to buy:
Near the Moni Agios Taxiarchis Monastery is a small handicrafts town, Mantamados is known for its pottery. Even though its popularity, the handmade ceramics workshop, Stelios Stamatis, remains a small shop packed from floor to ceiling with pottery. Bright flower designs or olive branches adorn all types of dishes to plant holders. All reasonable prices, you need to bring cash as credit cards are not accepted. While photos are allowed of the shop, ask before taking pictures of the ceramic painters.
Olive oil products. The island not only offers olive oil, but also olive oil products such as natural soaps, lotions, bowls and other items made from olive oil wood, and souvenirs with hand-painted olive branches.
I hope you found my 2 Day Itinerary for Lesvos, Greece helpful! We will definitely return for another weekend and explore other parts of the islands! There is so much more to see!
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Chios is the first choice for both expats and Turks in the Izmir area when considering which Greek island to visit first. A quick 20-minute catamaran ferry ride in the morning and returning in the evening makes Chios the most popular choice from the beach town of Çeşme.
Located in the Aegean Sea, the island went through many names such as Pitioussa for its pines, Makris for its long shape, Aethalea for its volcano and Ofioussa for the many snakes. However, the name of Chios comes from the daughter of Inopion, Chiona rooted from the word hioni meaning too much snow fell on the island.
Chios’s Turkish name, Sakiz or Mastic, hails from the local island tree that produces a sappy, natural gum. Mastic is the leading local product. Gums, liqueurs, varieties of sweets, natural soaps and candles are just a few mastic products solely on the island.
While most people make Chios a day trip, a 3-day getaway was the perfect amount of time to explore most of the island while having time to relax. In the morning and evening, we enjoyed the beach near our apartment rental. During the day, we travel via rental car to see other parts of the island.
Enjoy our 3 Day Itinerary for Chios, Greece:
Arriving by the AM ferry, the 10-minute walk from the ferry to the car rental is easy and quick. Our pre-made reservation at Hatzelenis Tours (ran by our Airbnb owner’s son) ensured us easy and seamless pick-up and we were on our way!
By making one big loop by car, you can see most of what South Chios has to offer.
From the Chios city center, head west to the 11th century Nea Moni Monastery and explore the renovated church and the now overgrown former quarter of monks. The 1881 earthquake had devastating effects on Chios, and almost every village has some remnants. The monastery closes at 1 PM for the day, so make sure to visit it first.
From the Monastery, head another 20 minutes west to explore the deserted hilltop of Avantas. There is not much there besides a couple of cafes, an art studio and lots of old homes. After working up an appetite from exploring, we enjoyed a late lunch, ordering the traditional Mosak, at the restaurant and guesthouse which boast panoramic views of the opposite side of the island.
Because Chios’s Turkish name, Sakiz (Mastic), you cannot go to Chios without making it to the Mastic Museum, a 30-minute drive south of the Nea Moni Monastery located in Mastichochoria region (literally meaning mastic villages).
The Piraeus Bank Group Cultural Foundation (PIOP) created the Mastic Museum as part of 9 cultural heritage museums throughout Greece, affordable to all for only 3 euros a person. The museum is an architectural beauty with its tall glass walls mixed with natural wood and concrete features. The story of traditional mastic cultivations and the economic value throughout history is creatively explained through multimedia applications, excellent video documentaries, models, and original machinery in functioning order.
Spend a day at the beach. Our favorite beach was the Volcanic Rock Beach, Emporio. The secluded little cove is famous for its black round lava stones and is perfect for enjoying the water and sun without the hassle of sand. Pack a lunch or enjoy lunch at Porto Emporios in the little town nearby.
If time, the medieval sister cities of Mesta, Olympi, and Pyrgi all have their claim to fame. Go inside Mesta’s castle walls to the center to explore the small streets. The main square has cafes, coffee or ice cream. Olympi has nothing too spectacular except in season (April 1 to October 1) when the caves tours provide an escape from the summer heat. Prygri’s homes are all engraved with the black and white motifs. The cities of Mesta and Olympi have a 1-hour long, well-marked walking trail, 1 of 8 on the island.
Spend this day in Chios town before departing back to Ceşme, Turkey. Our return was on Sunday AND Greek Independence day and quite a few places were closed (Check out our 8 Tips for Traveling to Greek Islands from Turkey for this information). However, you can always walk through the unimpressive Chios Castle and all the museums: the Chios Archeological Museum, Maritime Museum, and Byzantine Museum.
If you are like us, we prefer to eat our way through a city. Below I referenced some places we enjoyed eating at in Chios City!
For pork lovers, the 3 Little Pigs in Chios city makes your favorite Turkish ‘et döner’ but replaced with pork meat. At 2 Euros a sandwich, the price is just as favorable. For an afternoon coffee or cocktail, you must check out No. 44 where a crowd enjoys iced coffees. Make sure to ask for the complimentary chocolate covered donut that comes with your drink order. For ice-cream lovers, Kronos is sure to please with it’s white, diner-like appeal and creamy, gelato flavors.
Where to stay:
Kafas is a smaller beach town that is just a 15-minute drive south of Chios city center. Our Airbnb rental was right on the beach (sign up via our referral code for $20 credit!). If we wanted, we could have skipped the rental car and stayed in this self-sufficient little town which is complete with a market and a few restaurants and cafes.
What to buy:
Mastic products! Whatever you desire, you can most likely find a product made with mastic. The natural, mastic gum is a tourist favorite choice. The natural gum has an irregular shape because it is unprocessed! Lotions, soaps, food flavorings, and even liquors are all available as well. The Mastihashop is a favorite shop to purchase quality mastic items.
I hope you found my 3 Day Itinerary for Chios, Greece helpful! We will definitely return for another weekend! There is so much more to see!
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Just slightly smaller than Lesvos and 4th largest of all Greek islands, Rhodes is a hub for cruise ships pouring 1,000s of travelers into the city for short land-side excursions. Fortunately for us, our travels did not overlap with the hordes of cruises.
Only 20 mi/30 km from the Turkish coast, Rhodes Island is popular for its lively nightlife, excellent beaches, flowers, hills and historical sites. The island has a fairly active artists’ colony, and it’s not uncommon to come across a painter at work.
Rhodes island offers its visitors a history that goes back in time thousands of years, to the ages of mythology.
The beautiful myth of Rhodes says that after Zeus’s victory against the Giants, he decided to divide the earth among the Olympian gods; The only god who received nothing was Helios, the god of the Sun.
He, according to the myth, was absent and “No one remembered to include him in the draw”! When he came back he demanded his share, but Zeus told him that he was not able to make the cast again because the rest of the gods would not agree. Helios was disappointed but asked Zeus and the other gods to promise that the land that was to rise out of the sea could be his.
As he spoke, a beautiful island slowly emerged from the bottom of the blue sea, Rhodes. Helios bathed Rhodes with his own radiance and made it the most beautiful island in the Aegean Sea.
The visitor can find monuments and evidence of Rhode’s long history and myth to explore scattered all over the island. Some of the most important historical sights and monuments on the island are:
In Rodos City:
The Acropolis of Rhodes
The Archaeological Museum of Rhodes
The Medieval City of Rhodes and the Palace of the Grand Masters
Outside of Rodos City:
The Acropolis of Lindos
The castle of Monolithos
The castle of Kritinia
The castle of Feraklos in Haraki
Here is my 2 Day Itinerary to Rodes, Greece:
Spend Day 1 in Old Town
Much of its flavor and architecture arrived with the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, who occupied it 1310-1522. In the capital, Rodos, see the medieval quarter of Old Town.
Old Town is surrounded by the most impressive, well-maintained pair of medieval walls which easily could take hours to see all the towers and former moats. A UNESCO site since 1988, the parallel walls are separated by a dry moat and is in outstanding condition. The 3.2 mi/5 km long and 12 meters wide walls distinguish Old Town from the rest of the city.
Inside the walls, each street and turn compelled us further into the maze of streets taking time to meander through the Greek, Turkish and Jewish neighborhood. Along the way, we stopped for lunch and shopping at little pockets of shops. (see below for a list of our favorite restaurants)
Your tour must include time at the 14th century Grand Master’s Palace, the most prominent historical and architectural landmark and once the residence of the Grand Master of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller. The Palace holds two permanent archaeological exhibitions: “Ancient Rhodes – 2400 years” celebrating 2400 years since the founding of the city of Rhodes (408/7 BC) and “Rhodes from the Early Christian period to the Turkish conquest (1522)” covers the city from the 4th century AD until the beginning of the Ottoman period.
For €10, a 3-day ticket includes entrances into the Grand Masters’ Palace, Archaeological Museum, the church of Our Lady of the Castle and the Decorative Arts Collection.
Spend Day 2 in New Town and outside the city.
New Town is north of Old Town. Mandilara Street is home to some of the best restaurants and shopping in New Town. The long-standing Koykos Restaurant serves traditional Rhodian recipes such as Koulouria, a hand-made local pasta topped with fresh crumbly cheese and spices is beloved by both locals and tourist.
The Agios Nikolas Tower (at the harbor entrance), marks where one of the legendary 7 Wonders of World, Colossus of Rhodes, once stood. The Colossus of Rhodes was a statue of the Greek titan-god of the sun Helios, and once straddled the harbor which boats had to enter through. Now, unimpressive columns are set in place of the feet as a remembrance and are considered an island ‘must’ see.
How to get there: From the Old town’s East wall, you walk the jetty with the three, well-preserved Wiatraki Rhodes Windmills toward the Fort of St. Nicolas. The jetty makes a turn to close in the harbor, and at the end is the ancient Colossus. Now you can take the best picture of the two Colossus with Rodos in the background.
As you walk the outskirts of new town along the coast, take a quick look at the painted walls of the Eklisia Church to see the walls that are covered from floor to ceiling in paintings of scenes from the Bible and of the saints.
Lastly, even if you don’t get in the water, spend an hour resting your feet from the walking and enjoy another view of the Mediterranean Sea at the beaches before heading back to Turkey.
Most travelers are only staying in Rhodes 1 day. I would suggest spending most of the time in the Old Town, but make sure to walk along the outside of the Old Town by the water so you enjoy the sea as well!
During the high season, between April-October, a double-decker sightseeing bus waits for travelers and cruise passengers at the port. While the bus could use some work on the sound system, the 12 Euro day pass gives you access to 2 buses making an hour-long loop around the city of Rodes; a quick way to get your bearing of where you may want to spend your day.
The route also passes by the unimpressive Acropolis of Rhodes to see a theater, stadium and two temples. The buses pass by every hour which gives you chances to stop and look through the ruins before catching the next bus. If time permits in your busy schedule and the buses aren’t in season, you can hike or take a taxi.
How to travel from Turkey to Rhodes:
The 1-hour fast ferry takes passengers from the Marmaris port in Turkey to the entrance of the Old Town, Rodos of Greece. Rodos splits into ‘new town’ and ‘old town.’ If you have two days, spend one day exploring each. See my articles 8 Tips for Traveling to the Greek Islands from Turkeyto explain the one-way and round-trip tickets from Turkey.
Where to eat:
In New Town, the long-standing Koykos Restaurant served traditional Rhodian recipes. “Koulouria” with fresh local pasta and crumbly cheese and spices is beloved by both locals and tourist. In Old Town, the Odyssey Restaurantoffers up delicious traditional Greek dishes at a reasonable price for the touristy part of town. I suggest the mixed meze plate for 2 and a mug of the local Alpha beer.
For budget travelers, we recommend the Lydia Hotel in New Town (50 Euros per night) or the Medieval Rose Inn guesthouse in Old Town (25-30 Euros per night). In New Town, the fore-mentioned Koykos Restaurant is also a beloved 8-room guesthouse. If you like a little luxury, Rhodes Park, and Suites Hotel near Old Town (180 Euros per night). This island is so small that it would be easy to stay in the central city and take day trips to other areas of the island.
What to buy:
When your sandals break in Greece, buy another pair! I heard Chios was the place for leather shopping, but Rodos has way more options. Real soft leather sandals in the latest fashion cost around 35 to 45 Euros.
I hope you found my 2 Day Itinerary for Rodos, Greece helpful! We will definitely return for another weekend and explore other parts of the islands! There is so much more to see!
Watch our video about our travels to Rhodes Greek Island HERE.
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When you look at a map, the islands just off the Aegean coastline look like they belong to Turkey. But they are actually part of the Greek islands. Travelers in Turkey can access the EU with a quick ferry ride.
Once belonging to the same ancient empires and rulers, the Greek islands have a messy mix of overlapping Greek and Turkish history. While you could say that the citizens living in either country are entirely native, you will find that most Greeks and Turks in the southwest of Turkey have a jumbled heritage of Greek and Turkish ancestors.
Today, the Greek laid-back Islanders and relaxed warm Turkish people of Izmir have a comfortable relationship that politicians could learn a thing or two about.
Alongside the history, travelers like to visit the Greek Islands for the ease of island life. Big cities like Rome and London also come with traffic and crowds of people. While we saw a few people from the ferry, tourist lines were never a problem on the Greek Islands.
When traveling to the gorgeously sunny areas of the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, the Greek Islands of Chios (click here to listen to our podcast about Chios), Lesvos, and Rhodos, are the perfect international day trips from the Turkish coast.
But before you go, here are 8 tips for traveling to the Greek Islands from Turkey:
Check your visa requirements! Rules still apply for entering the EU. Some islands have daily visa pass, but make sure your nationality can purchase them.
Traveling to the island is best in the summer: May to September. The island comes to life with other travelers, and all the shops are ready to greet you. But if you are like us and want a more relaxed, getaway, consider coming in the off-months: October- April.
Chios and Lesvos are relatively protected from the masses of cruise lines and craziness that comes with the hordes of tourists being dumped onto the island all at once. Rhodos, however, is another story. For a more enjoyable experience, consider checking out this island during the off-season or the edges of the summer season.
Booking your ferry tickets online is easy. From the several websites I have used, I suggest www.marmarisferry.com provided the most diverse selection of routes and online payment.
Chios’ daily departures in both on and off-season. Tickets are a flat one-way fee of 20 Euros (40 Euros round trip).
Lesvos’ schedule is irregular in the off-season but picks up around the summer months. Tickets are a flat one-way fee of 25 Euros (50 Euros round trip).
Rhodos charges 30 Euro extra per roundtrip (40 Euros for same day round trip) if you arrive and depart on different days.
Rental cars are easy and cheap to rent for your desired amount of time. Even if you have a car, you will find that renting a car for a day or 2 will be cheaper than paying for your car ferry fee and the extra required international insurance on the island. Only if you plan to stay for longer than four days should you consider taking your vehicle.
While I thought it was just a Spanish tradition, Greeks also honor a similar afternoon siesta from 1-3 PM. Most shops besides restaurants and cafes will take a break mid-day for lunch and rest. At 3 PM the shops reopen for shoppers until 6 PM or if in a shopping district, 8-9 PM. Also, if you want to travel around the island, make sure to see the big city when you first arrive.
On Sundays, most non-food shops close, and the shopping areas become a ghost town. Thankfully, most shops near the water stay open for locals and the random tourists waiting for their ferry boats back to Turkey. If you are looking to grab some European products to take back to Turkey, Lidl and other supermarkets have a large, affordable selection of goods. However, they close on Sundays.
While the refugee crisis has potentially affected some of the Greek Islands, we never saw any disruptive events or services during our visits. Besides the occasional beggar near the port areas, which is common in most cities, we saw none in the other regions of Greece.
I hope you enjoyed these 8 tips for traveling to the Greek Islands from Turkey. Have you traveled to the island? What tips do you have from your travels to the islands?
Now to you:
What Greek Islands have you traveled too?
What did you love about your travels there?
What are your tips for traveling to the Greek Islands?
Read more information about other islands we have visited: (coming soon!)