Many a visitor from overseas gets his or her first taste of a European destination via a cruise ship stop. Kusadasi, located on Turkey’s Aegean west coast is just such popular cruise ship stop and hardly a day goes by where you can’t admire at least one of those majestic liners lording it over the fishing boats and private yachts in the pretty harbour.
Whether you are visiting the town for a few hours or plan to make it your base (there’s a good selection of hotels in Kusadasi for all budgets) you’ll find plenty of things to do in Kusadasi.
For me, it represents everything one associates with Turkey in a condensed and very manageable form, i.e.: a bazaar, mosques, a castle, carpet weavers, gold smith and, last but not least, a great choice of Turkish cuisine, from sit down restaurants to holes in the wall.
The town center is more or less a pedestrian zone, which makes it easy to enjoy what there is to see.
Up the hill and following the signs, you reach the bazaar where you can watch the carpet weavers, mostly women and girls with incredibly nimble fingers. Many carpets are woven from silk and huge tubs with silk worms and cocoons are standing nearby, so you can learn about the entire process. You can, of course, buy the rugs too.
Down by the harbour is one of my favourite places: the caravanserai. Built in 1618 by Vizir Okuz Mehmet Pasa the caravanserai served the sea trade of the region as a resting and meeting place for merchants and traders. Two arched entrances lead into a square courtyard with two story buildings on every side and a fountain in the middle.
You can just imagine the hustle and bustle of trade in the times of the Ottomans. Since 1965 the caravanserai is an authentic and very romantic hotel. On several nights a week shows are put on in the courtyard or you can enjoy a coffee or tea at any time.
Walking along the broad and well kept sea promenade, you can reach a castle perched on an outcrop at the end of the harbour. It’s rather small but you can climb up and enjoy the view over the Aegean Sea.
Several beaches, most famously the Ladies Beach, surround Kusadasi and you can get there by dolmus as the local mini buses are called.
Remarkable as another fine example of Ottoman architecture is the Fortress mosque in the middle of town. Built in the 17h century, don’t forget to look at the wooden entrance door with shows the best of Ottoman wood carving art.
Walking along the main road which leads to the port you will find jewellers shop upon jewellery shop, many of them offering intricate traditional Turkish gold jewellery. Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to buy some, it’s lovely to look at.
When hunger strikes, there is no shortage of places to eat. I always tend to look for places where I can spot locals and that is the case with my favourite restaurant ‘Toro’, down by the port close to the entrance to the duty free port zone.
It’s not fancy, wooden benches and tables shared by all customers, but it has a hot and cold buffet where the dishes are prepared before your eyes and you just point and choose. Their specialty are lamb shanks, so tender, the meat falls off the bone and simmered in a secret spicy sauce I have never tasted anywhere else.
Water is free and so is a fruit platter of whatever is in season at the end of your meal.
It must be mentioned that Kusadasi is also another starting point for excursions the Ephesus Museum, but you can happily spend an entire day roaming the town from one end to the other. If you stay longer, you may consider a further day trip to the Greek island of Samos by ferry which runs from Kusadasi.