A day in Ephesus — Everything you need to know about visiting
Alexander the Great was here, so was Marcus Antonius and St. John too. Cleopatra and the Virgin Mary once walked its streets.
So should you.
Why you might ask.
Name-dropping you might say.
Why travel to Ephesus
Ephesus (also spelled Efes, Ephesos or Ephessos) was the capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor and second only to Rome in the empire in magnitude, affluence and decadence, with an estimated population of 250,000.
An archeological site the likes of Pompeii, this ageless region was once one of the greatest commercial seaports of the ancient world.
Founded in 10th century BC and selected as a world heritage site in 2015, the ancient city of Ephesus is a remarkable, multifaceted and well-reconstructed site.
Today, this ancient metropolis is the best-preserved Roman city in the Mediterranean region, and one of Turkey’s top travel sights.
If you want to visit a place where you can really get a feel for what life was like during the glory-days of Greece and Rome, Ephesus is the place.
It’s fascinating to learn about the history of the city as you wander amongst the different landmarks and learn how the sparse 2000 years old ruins were part of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
It is an amazing experience to walk the streets of this site of ancient Greek and Roman civilization in one of the great outdoor museums of the world, alongside thousands of years of history and the numerous cats that pleasantly invade this space.
You can easily spend a good half-day here.
So what is there to see?
The best-preserved classical city in the Eastern Mediterranean, containing one of the largest collection of Roman relics in the world; Ephesus’ appeal lies in the fact that much remains intact and so little imagination is needed to see what the ancient city would have looked like.
Astonishingly, only an estimated 15 to 20 per cent has been unearthed by archaeologists and you might notice a couple of ongoing university sponsored excavations taking place. The ruins that are visible give an idea of the city’s original grandeur.
The extensive ruins include The Temple of Hadrian, Varius Bath Complex, The Odeon, State Agora, The Temples of Dea Roma, Prytaneion, Domitian Square, Hercules Gate, The Fountain of Trajan, The Baths of Scholastica, Celsius Library, The Gymnasium, Great Theatre, Marble way, Harbor street (arcadian way), Curetes way, amongst others.
This complex also encompasses the ancient Ephesus Library, Tetragonos Agora commercial market and the Great Theater.
The Temple of Hadrian with its intricate carvings and The Celsius Library is one of the most recognisable pieces of Roman architecture.
The ancient theatre is biggest in the entire ancient world, with a 24 000 seating capacity.
The Terrace House, also called “the houses of rich”, comprises 7 houses owned by the richest Ephesians, dating back to the 1st century AD. Here you will find the best examples of mosaics and excellent fresco wall paintings.
Logistics and getting there
The Archaeological city of Ephesus is a favourite international and local tourist attraction, partly due to its easy access from Adnan Menderes Airport and via the port of Kusadasi.
It lies 3 kilometers southwest of the town of Selçuk, in the Selçuk district of İzmir Province, Turkey.
It is not necessary to book a tour to visit the ruins, unless you really want to. It’s easy enough (and cheaper) to do this on your own.
You can either do a day trip from:
- Izmir (fly from Istanbul to Izmir’s Adnan Menderes airport)
- Kusadasi; or
- The nearby Selçuk town
- How to get from Izmir –> Selçuk (about an hour):
- Hire a car and drive
- Train (simplest and cheapest)
- Free bus transfer
Some airlines offer this as part of the flight. Be sure to check with your airline.
From Izmir Otogar (bus station) you take a dolmus to Selçuk, which will stop at the Selçuk Otogar. From there take another dolmus to Ephesus/Pamuncak beach.
Ask the driver to stop near the bottom gate (local word for Ephesus is “Efes”).
You then return to Izmir the same way or you have the option to stay overnight in Selçuk.
- Kusadasi –> Selçuk
Should you find yourself in the port of Kuşadası, independently or as part of a cruise ship stop, a day trip to Ephesus is a good idea.
Just have the option of renting a car or taking a taxi to Ephesus. There are usually many taxis and shuttles parked waiting for the passengers of the cruise ships.
You also have the option of a local minibus, which go right past the Ephesus entrance gate.
- Once in Selçuk
You can either walk to the ruins, call a taxi or catch a dolmus ride for a reasonable cost and quicker alternative.
The walk is a (very flat) 3 km to the bottom gate, along the tree-shaded Dr Sabri Yayla Boulevard which would take around 30 to 40 minutes.
The mini bus will drop you off at the Ephesus entrance bottom gate.
Note, there is no public transport to the top gate.
All that’s left to do is purchase your ticket and enter the ruins.
At the site there are lots of guides offering their services. There is also an audio guide available to purchase, along with dual language (Turkish and English) information boards as you wander through the primeval city.
Additional nearby sights
There are a couple of things to see in Selçuk:
- Ephesus museum; housing all the finds of the excavation
- Basilica of St. John
- Mosque of Isa Bey
- The Temple of Artemis
- Cave of the 7 sleepers
- Mereyemana (House of the Virgin Mary)
Artemision, or the Temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Built for the goddess of fertility and hunters, Artemis, the magnificence of this colossal structure once exceeded that of the Parthenon.
Today, only a single column and scattered ruins remain; which means that walking around here is a kind of a non-event, possibly making you wonder why you bothered going.
Both Isa Bey Mosque and St.Johns basilica are in Selçuk centre, overlooking the Artemis temple site. From this vantage point, you have a good view of the site and a better perspective of its once previous glory.
Şirince village is within easy reach by dolmuş too.
I would recommend getting there early!
It does get extremely busy and very hot. Arriving early allows you to avoid both to an extent and you get to explore the place pretty much to yourself, avoiding the tour groups that show up a little later.
Speaking of the heat, bear in mind that you’ll have to walk under the sun for the most part as there is very little shade, so be sure to bring water, a hat and sunscreen along. There’s no place to buy water within.
You can buy your tickets at the site. It’s the most convenient.
There is a lot of walking involved. Some parts are steep; others are slippery marble, so take note of your choice in footwear.
Try to have some ID on you, in the case of being stopped at a security checkpoint on route. The threat level from terrorism is high and these checkpoints are a result.
Do keep your valuables close.
Bathrooms are located at the north entrance alongside the shops. The toilets are at the entry gate only, which is far if you’re in the middle of the ancient city. But, at the opposite side, near the Gate of Hercules, there is another gate/entry point to the ruins. You can agree with the security on duty to allow you to leave the site to get to the toilet across the road and for easy access back in.
The majority of visitors start at the top gate and walk down this hill to the bottom gate.
I would recommend starting at the bottom gate. This means you see the best stuff first avoiding the crowd that are starting at the top while it’s still cool and you get to move against the flow as you walk uphill.
There is a lack of written information so human guides, guidebooks and audio tours are available at both entrances.
For the audio tours, you pay TL20 (and a TL100 refundable deposit) for a paper map and the rental of the audio device. Depending on your route, you can rent the audio device at once entrance and arrange to return it, including the retrieval of your ID, at the other entrance.
If you go:
Updated prices October 2018:
60 TL entrance fee
30 TL separate admission fee, for entry into the Terrace Houses.
Closing times differ between Winter and Summer:
April – October: 08:00 – 19:00
November – March: 08:00 – 17:00
Additional contact information:
+90 232 892 60 10
Containing some of the best preserved Greek and Roman ruins, Ephesus in Turkey is something that should be a must for anyone interested in ancient culture, history, tradition, architecture and being well travelled.
What are some of your favourite ancient cities? Have you heard about Ephesus before and have you planned on visiting at some point? Let me know in the comments below.
Lets go everywhere,