One of the absolute must see sites if you are visiting Turkey is the ancient city of Ephesus. This ancient Greek city used to be a key port for the Ionian area. Now it is a hugely popular tourist attraction and archeological site, with it’s crowning jewel, the Library of Celsus at the heart.
Why go exploring Ephesus, you say, when there are loads of ancient sites across Turkey and this one is usually really busy? Well both my mum and Craig had raved about how good it was for so long that I felt left out! I didn’t want to go so nearby and yet miss the epic UNESCO site.
How to get to Ephesus
As I was insistent that we go to Ephesus, we had to find how to work it into our itinerary. The easiest place to stay if you are wanting to be close by is the town of Selçuk. Alternatively, it is possible to stay nearby in Izmir, which is a much bigger city. As we were just heading there for one night to see Ephesus before heading back to Istanbul for the end of our trip, we just stayed locally in Selçuk. You can read more about the hostel we stayed in, Atilla’s Getaway, in this post on our Turkey travel itinerary here.
From Selçuk bus station, we were able to hop on a very cheap shuttle bus which would take us to Ephesus. I think it was only about 10-15 Turkish Lira. These seemed to be pretty frequent and a few more people joined us after a bit of a wait. We aimed to get there nice and early to explore in the morning before spending our afternoon poolside. So we got there around 10am.
Many companies offer day trips and tours to Ephesus, some of them include other nearby sites such at the Temple of Artemis and House of Virgin Mary – who allegedly stayed in a house in Selçuk. We chose to walk around by ourselves however as Craig had previously been on a tour here and we were on a backpacking budget!
At the site we purchased our 100 Turkish Lira ticket each. If you have the museum pass for Turkey this site is included. Click here for more info and how to buy a museum pass for Turkey. There are lots of stalls at the entrance we came to. Side note – there are two site entrances you can go through, one at the top of the hill and one at the bottom.
Top tip: I would recommend if you don’t have it already you get some water. It is hot and those ruins offer no shade!
Exploring Ephesus Ancient City
According to legend, the city was founded by a Greek prince, who was led to the site that became Ephesus ancient city by a fish and a boar.
We had come in through the entrance at the bottom of the hill, which seemed less popular with the tours, which tend to go to the top so you walk down to the view of the Library of Celsus. Which is a spectacular view. But the local bus dropped us at the bottom so that was that!
There were so many columns and chunks of ancient city leading to the main part of the city that had they been on another site, you probably would have spent hours looking at them. All are slightly unique, with different patterns carved into the stone work, honestly it is fascinating.
We were barely just into the city and already I was imagining myself walking down in a white linen dress to buy food from the market, browsing pottery, basically living the market scene from Hercules! With all the partial excavation, Ephesus is still being excavated, it honestly looks like the worlds most complicated 3D jigsaw. I don’t know how the archaeologists get the patience to do it but I think what they do is just incredible, piecing together history for the rest of us to experience. They probably wouldn’t care for my Hercules comparison though, so sorry if you are a historian of any kind reading this!
We took a really quite slow wander through the agora (market place). The city used to stretch all the way down to the Ionian sea, and gained wealth through its connections as a port.
The road doesn’t go quite that far now, but as you can see from the photos, we really did have it all to ourselves! Which was great as we had plenty of time and space to take photos and film clips for later travel documentary making. But there wasn’t much more to see here, so we headed back through the partially excavated ruins to the amphitheater.
The amphitheatre is vast. Much bigger than the other ones we had seen in Perge and Hieropolis earlier in our Turkey Trip. They are still working on the reconstruction, so it was partially blocked off from access, but you only need to walk around half of it to marvel at the scale of the place. The big blue crane presented a fun photo challenge trying not to get it in shot too…
Ephesus has seen its fair share of conflict, takeovers, destructions and rebuilding of certain parts. I am no history buff so I won’t profess to know much about it. But the buildings which still partially stand like the Temple of Hadrian and Gate of Augustus are really impressive. They have lots of drawings and information signs about what things probably would have looked like and what they were used for.
One of my favourite things which I haven’t seen on the same scale before was how many cats live in the Ephesus ruins. They were absolutely everywhere! Basking in the sun on the slow warming stones of half destroyed buildings or winding in and out of the rubble, there were really quite a lot of them. Some were very friendly and keen for a good head scratch and even followed us a little bit on our journey through Ephesus ancient city. As if the site wasn’t already great enough, you get bonus kitties!
I noticed a lot of them were hanging out by the kiosk where they were selling water and ice creams. This is cleverly located right by the terraced houses which have been quite well excavated, which roughly form the middle of the site, equidistant from each site entrance. So hopefully they were being looked after with a bit of food an water, I wouldn’t imagine they would stick around if they weren’t.
Maybe it was our timing, in the midst of a pandemic, but Selçuk seemed pretty dead to us. The bus station was pretty small, and there were a few restaurants around it, but there didn’t seem to be much there.
We did have a really great lunch at one of the restaurants called Agora. I had the best Pide I had on the whole trip there and it wasn’t particularly pricey which was great. We dined outdoors with some locals and a few other tourists around us, plus the usual cats hoping to grab some scraps.
I would definitely recommend eating here if you spend any time in Selçuk beyond just visiting the ancient sites themselves. Or even if you have popped here for a day trip, the food was incredible!
Temple of Artemis
The nearby Temple of Artemis, mentioned earlier, is also a must see location, as one of the Seven wonders of the Ancient world. Those familiar with these wonders will know that most of them are now in ruin, and the Temple of Artemis is sadly no exception. Only one solitary column stands proud today. But the foundations are visible and chunks of stone remain in homage to what was once a spectacular temple to Artemis.
Artemis is the Greek goddess of the hunt, similar to the Roman depiction of the hunting goddess, Diana. If by any chance like me you are a fan of fantasy novels with female protagonists, you will probably be familiar with her. So I found it pretty awesome to go see the remains of an ancient temple dedicated to something I had read about a bit in various fictional guises at least.
The site is free, and really not very big, you only really need 10-15 minutes to wander around it and take some photos. Sadly there isn’t a huge amount of information at the site, so I would recommend you do your reading before you go so you know what you are looking at!
Top tips for visiting Ephesus ancient city
- Bring water and suncream with you and maybe a hat – there is virtually no shade
- Your 100TL ticket gets you into the site, but there is a bit which costs extra, which is the excavated terraced Roman houses. These cost around 80TL extra so basically doubles your entrance fee. We didn’t go in as we were on a budget but they did look really good. Also the museum pass doesn’t cover this charge, so you have to pay for it on top, like Cleopatra’s pool at Hieropolis
- Get there early. I know this is everyone’s tip but you will enjoy the site more if you have less tour groups to navigate around!
- Bring some hand sanitiser if you want to stroke the cats, some of them are a bit dusty from their frolicking in the ruins
- Get the bus if you are staying in Selçuk, it is way cheaper than a taxi!