|Kuşadası (pronounced "koo-shá-dah-suh", Turkish for Bird Island) is a sleepy little Aegean seaside town which wakes up during the tourist season when the population can swell to up to half a million. Apart from the tourists, mostly from Turkey, northern Europe and the Balkans, there is also a small army of seasonal workers.
The town itself has a number of hotels and pensions, but the bulk of tourists stay in the hotels, hotel complexes and holiday apartments dotted all along the Aegean coast. Since many of these have their own swimming pools, beaches, restaurants and shops, many package tourists only come into town for sightseeing, shopping and the lively nightlife. All the same, since there are so many visitors staying in the area, as well as day-trippers from the Greek island of Samos and visiting cruise ships, the place can be fairly bulging throughout the summer, and the local beaches, restaurants and bars are constantly busy.
It's fairly pleasant to walk around, particularly the narrow streets of the old centre around the main harbour and fishing harbour, with its 19th century houses, a couple of handsome mosques - Kaleiçi Camii (built 1618) and Hanim Camii, a hamam (Turkish bath), as well as the caravanserai built by Öküz Mehmed Pasha in 1618 (now the hotel "Club Caravansérail"). There are cafés, snack bars, restaurants, a bazaar and shops selling carpets, jewellery, leather goods and other tourist must-haves.
Some shopkeepers may try their charming best to entice passers-by into their Aladdin's caves full of wonders, but the mood is very friendly and casual. The only time they may be tempted to hard-sell you is right at the beginning of the season (April-May) when some of them are hungry to earn some cash after the lean winter. Like a lot of the information above this applies to many resorts in the Mediterranean.
For more practical needs, the tourist information, banks and ATMs, post office, town hall, hospital, police, harbour police and customs office are all within short distance of each other around the harbour area.
From the harbour, the coast road Attatürk Bulvari leads to the modern yacht marina at the northern end of Kuşadası's J-shaped bay, while to the west Güvercinada Caddesi, as its name suggests, takes you the short way to to Güvercin Ada (Dove Island or Pigeon Island) with its 13th century Genoese fortress. The small island is actually more of a headland as it is joined to the shore by a substantial causeway, along which fishing boats are moored and local anglers while away the time. This is also the departure point for local boat excursions to the more secluded beaches. Boat trips cost around 30 Turkish Lira, leave at 9am and return at 4pm.
It is not surpring that Kuşadası has become one the most popular holiday destinations in western Anatolia. The town, its surroundings and beaches are very appealing. The most famous beach is Ladies' Beach, just south of Pigeon Island. The accommodation, cuisine and local atmosphere are generally excellent.
It's easy to take day trips to a number of fascinating historical sites, for example Ephesus, Priene, Miletus and Dydima (see Ionian spring, a 3-part photo essay about Ionia at The Cheshire Cat Blog), areas of outstanding natural beauty such as Pamukkale, Dilek Peninsula - Büyük Menderes Delta National Park (Dilek Yarımadası Milli Parkı, known locally as Milli Parkı), or enjoy the charm of local villages and towns. If you want, you can also mess about on boats, either just for the fun of cruising around the Aegean or to get to an island such as nearby Samos.
Travel agencies sell excursions to various destinations, and the tourist information bureau or your hotel can give you more information. You can also rent a car or bargain with a taxi or dolmuş (minibus) driver, or take one of the frequent cheap local buses (see How to get to and around Kuşadası on page 4).