Spending a day in Ephesus and Selçuk, Turkey

2 Nov

While planning our trip to Turkey, our main aim was to include as many diverse activities and places as we could cover in the limited time we had. There were so many options to choose from that we were spoilt for choice and could not decide what to include in the current trip and what to keep for our next trip. Ultimately, we decided to make Ephesus (the most well preserved Roman ruin in the world) as the starting point of the trip; as we had not been to any Roman ruin yet.

Library of Celsus, Ephesus, Selcuk, Turkey

When we initially added Selçuk to the itinerary it was only as the base city for Ephesus. But once we reached there, we loved this small charming rustic town for the many historical sites all around it, it’s small cafes, colourful shops, cobblestone streets and its super friendly locals. While there are quite a few things to see and do around here, surprisingly it can all be easily covered in one day. Many people rent a car in Izmir (closest airport for Selçuk) and drive all around; but we were not very comfortable with driving on the other side of the road (for us!) and either walked all around or took a dolmus (the local minibus) for Ephesus.

We pretty much covered everything in one day and am sharing it with you –

Temple of Hadrian, Ephesus, Selcuk, Turkey

Started early with the ancient city of Ephesus

Ephesus is about 4kms from Selçuk, so we walked to the bus station and took a dolmus (the minibus). The dolmus stop is near the lower gate and the ticket counter is near the bus stop. Here we bought our combined Ephesus ticket (more details on this ticket in the Tips section below) and rushed to visit the Library of Celsus (before all the tour buses arrived).

Ephesus (Efes in Turkish) was once one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire and at its peak, around 100 AD, was one of the grandest cities of the ancient world. While it was at its peak under the Romans, it has a much longer history with many great civilizations i.e. Greek, Persian, Roman and Christian.

The Grand Theatre, Ephesus, Selcuk, Turkey

As we reached very early, the two of us shared the place with just one another tour group. We walked around the Library of Celsus and then went to the Upper Gate to start our visit with our audio guide. We walked in the footsteps of ancient Romans and re-lived a day in their lives with a walk through the ancient boulevards and a visit to the public baths and toilets, shopping centres, theatres, temples, library and the terraced houses (of the super-rich). All the buildings were architecturally stunning, the carvings exquisite and the mosaic and frescos in the terraced houses beautiful. We also saw the origins of the Nike logo with the Nike frieze.

Notice the terracotta pipe in the wall? that’s ancient plumbing. Ephesus, Selcuk, Turkey

Apart from these buildings, a highlight for me was the sophisticated plumbing system with terra cotta pipes running through the city. Fresh water collected from the surrounding hills was funnelled into the city across four main aqueducts and then into a central reservoir. From here the water flowed through these clay pipes into houses of the rich, the public fountains and also under the public toilets. The remains of these pipes are so similar to the ones we see even today, that I was left amazed at the ancientness yet modernity of these pipes and the design. In some ways this city seemed better planned and laid out than present day Mumbai.

Signages, Ephesus, Selcuk, Turkey

Another highlight were the carvings on stone all around as directional aid and shop signage. There was a statue of Hermes (God of merchants) facing the market, near a pharmacy there was a carving of Asklepios (symbolising medicine) and another of an olive branch to identify a shop selling olive oil.

Terraced Houses, Ephesus, Selcuk, Turkey

There were also so many small design elements all around – there were metal rings on the road to hold lamp poles in the night, street stones were hatched for better grip for sandals on wet streets, separate routes for chariots and pedestrians and many such unique things.

Public Toilets, Ephesus, Selcuk, Turkey

We spent a good 3 hours here and loved every minute of it. Once we were done, we exited through the Lower Gate and took a bus back to Selçuk. 

Time taken to visit Ephesus including the Terraced Houses – 2-3 hours

Hours: 8 am – 19.00 pm (April-October), 8 am – 17.00 pm (November-March)
Cost – 72 TL. There is an additional 36 TL to visit the Terraced Houses but worth it.

Goddess Artemis, Ephesus Archeological Museum, Selcuk, Turkey

Our next stop – the Ephesus Archaeological Museum –

Once back in Selçuk, we went to the Ephesus Archaeological Museum (it is next to the dolmus stop). By now it was super sunny and hot so we were quite happy to get indoors with air-conditioning and meet the famous statue of Goddess Artemis. This museum provides a good overview of Ephesus’s glorious history, the remnants of the Temple of Artemis and finds from Ephesus’s Hellenistic and Roman periods. The highlight is of course the statue of Goddess Artemis but the other items on display such as jewellery, huge Greek statues, household items, etc helped reimagine what life would have been then.

At the entrance to the museum a video was playing that provided a ‘then and now’ reconstruction of how Ephesus and the other ruins around the city would have looked and is totally worth a watch.

Time to visit the museum – 1-1.5 hours

Hours: 8 am – 19.00 pm (April-October), 8 am – 17.00 pm (November-March)
Cost – 18 TL

Temple of Artemis, Selcuk, Turkey

Walked to the remains Temple of Artemis

The Temple of Artemis was a quick walk from the museum so we decided to head there next before heading back to the city centre for lunch. We walked here in the afternoon and were quite disappointed with what remained of what once was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Now, it is just one of the 127 columns and a few sculptural fragments strewn around.

In the museum we had seen a reconstruction of this temple and at that time it must truly have been a sight to behold. So that’s the sight I have chosen to remember this temple by.

Time to visit the museum – 10 minutes

Hours – It’s in an open ground
Cost – Free

Yummy spinach pide for lunch, Ejder Restaurant, Selcuk, Turkey 🙂

Lunch at the Ejder Restaurant

With all the walking, we had developed quite an appetite so we decided to head out to the highly recommended and rated Ejder Restaurant (near the train station) for a nice Turkish lunch. This was our first taste of Turkish cuisine and it was literally love at first bite. Being a vegetarian, its quite a struggle to find good vegetarian food and if you do find it, then most often than not, it’s just 1-2 dishes in an otherwise long menu. Turkish cuisine in that respect was such a pleasant surprise. They have an amazing variety for vegetarians, food is tasty and prices really reasonable. We had the dolma (fragrant rice wrapped in grape leaves) and the spinach pide (bread baked with a topping of cheese and spinach) here and loved it. We had a good lunch surrounded by the sound of backgammon pieces (locals were playing backgammon all around us in tea shops) and followed it up with some Turkish tea.

We spent around 40TL between the two of us on this lunch.

Views of Selcuk, Turkey

Walked up the Ayasuluk Hill

Post lunch we decided to walk up the Ayasuluk Hill to visit our final two destinations of the day – the Isa Bey mosque and the Basilica of St. John. Walking uphill we followed Googlemaps and took several wrong turns though each one of them led us to some good views. With one turn we landed at back door of the Selçuk castle which was locked. We took some pictures here of Selçuk city and started following Googlemaps directions again. Without realising we walked past the Basilica of St. John and this time it led us to the back door of the Isa Bey mosque. So we ditched our trek, walked up to the main road, took some pics of the beautiful views around and then walked up to the front door of the Isa Bey mosque.

Isa Bey Mosque, Selcuk, Turkey

Our next stop – Isa Bey Mosque –

İsa Bey Mosque is regarded as one of the oldest and most impressive surviving examples of Selçuk architecture in Anatolia. The mosque was named after its founder – İsa Bey, a member of the local ruling family. According to the inscription on the building, the construction was completed in 1375 and it was purposefully constructed asymmetrically with its unequal windows and doors. With the decline of the Ottoman empire and damages sustained in an earthquake, the mosque was left in ruins and subsequently converted into a caravanserai. Later it was restored and opened to the public as a mosque.

Today it is well preserved with interiors as any other mosque. But there is a simplicity in its design and colour that somehow blend nicely with its surroundings and small design elements here and there that add a nice surprise. However the best part for me here was the beautiful courtyard and the old gravestones. There were no tour groups around and we enjoyed the tranquil atmosphere of the place.

Time to visit the museum – 20-30 minutes

Hours – Open to all times except prayer times
Cost – Free

Basilica of St. John, Selcuk, Turkey

Our final stop for the day was the Basilica of St. John –

We walked back from Isa Bey mosque and finally found the Basilica of St. John, also believed to be his burial site.

Though in complete ruins with few standing structures, there is a lot left to the imagination. Apart from some areas that are cordoned off for further excavation, there are remains of a treasury, baptistry, many small stone buildings and loads of ancient columns. A path from the basilica leads to the Ayasuluk Inner Castle with further remains of castle walls, the castle bath and cistern and south terrace houses. These ruins are a photographers delight with beautiful views of the surrounding area. I could truly imagine the peace and calm that St. John and his disciples must have felt standing at the top of this hill and surveying the green land of the entire countryside.

This site is mentioned in Atlas Obscura too and you can read more on it here

Time to visit the museum – 1-1.5 hours

Hours: 8 am – 19.00 pm (April-October), 8 am – 17.00 pm (November-March)
Cost – 18 TL

Places we missed in Selçuk

There are two more places that you can visit here but we missed them as they were slightly out of the way and we didn’t have a car – House of Virgin Mary and the Cave of Seven Sleepers.

House of the Virgin Mary or the Meryem Ana Evi is the place where Mary may have lived before Her Assumption. It is believed she came here with Saint John, who spent many years here to spread Christianity. It is now a place of pilgrimage and you can either drive or hire a taxi to take you there. There is a fee of 35TL to visit.

 Cave of the Seven Sleepers – This is a Byzantine necropolis with many rock cut tombs where, according to Christian and Islamic belief, a group of young men sought refuge in a cave to escape religious persecution. They woke up after 300 years once Christianity became the religion of the state.

Rooftops and views of Selcuk, Turkey

Options for day trips from SelçukIn case you have more time, there are a couple of options for a visit / day trips around here –

Enjoy a nice sunset in Şirince – Originally built by the Greeks, Şirince is a well preserved hill town surrounded by orchards and vineyards. You can enjoy the beautiful views of the mountains around, explore the cobble-stoned streets, and have a nice meal.

Relax on a beach in Kuşadası – Kuşadası is a beach resort town, close to Selçuk and famous for its beaches and the vibrant nightlife.

Visit the hot springs in Pamukkale – Pamukkale or Cotton Castle is home to the famous calcium travertines and the ruins of Hierapolis. The travertines were formed when naturally occurring calcite laden hot springs cooled down in open air and deposited calcium deposits on the soil. These deposits adhered to the soil and formed white calcium “cascades” frozen in stone to form terrace-like formations. It’s a remarkable sight and definitely worth a visit.

Quaint train station of Selcuk, Turkey

How to reach Selçuk – There are many ways to reach here, depending on where you are coming from. There are multiple flight options across carriers from both the airports in Istanbul.

We flew into Istanbul Airport and took a Turkish Airways flight from there to the nearest Adnan Menderes airport at Izmir; this saved us one way airport transfers in Istanbul. We had kept a 4 hour buffer between our international and domestic flights but managed to exit the international terminal and reach the domestic terminal within 1 hour of landing. So we approached the Turkish Airways staff and managed to pull our flight forward to the one taking off in the next 50 minutes; having no check-in luggage helped. The supervisor was very helpful and this change in flight helped us gain a couple of more hours in Selçuk.

There is an option of an overnight bus too from Istanbul to Ephesus. But we found flight tickets for the same price and hence decided to fly.

Depending on the time you land at Izmir Airport, you can either take a train, or the Havas bus or arrange for private transfers to Selçuk. The train ticket costs 6TL,  Havas bus ticket costs 35TL and private transfers cost Euro 35. We decided to take the train and you can check the train schedule here

The gar (train station) is conveniently located across the street from the Izmir airport. Once you buy your ticket from the TCDD counter, walk to the extreme end of the station (once the metal grill gets over) to a waiting section. This train ride took one hour and was extremely comfortable. Do note that in Turkey trains tend to get pretty full, sometimes a bit late and you may need to stand for the entire journey in a crowded train. On our way back to Izmir on Sunday, we came back in such a manner. Luckily we had decided to take an earlier train and had a buffer, but the train was late, we barely managed to get in into it and stood for the entire one hour journey in a packed hot compartment.

Our room at Urkmez Hotel, Selcuk, Turkey

Where to stay in Selçuk – Our purpose for this trip was to visit Ephesus, so we decided to stay in Selçuk. It’s centrally located and is the most convenient to explore Ephesus and other places of interest around. The other option is Kusadasi.

 In Selçuk we stayed at the Urkmez Hotel. This is small family run hotel with nice rooms including a small balcony, a good home made breakfast spread (including many vegetarian options) and run by a really friendly, helpful and accommodating staff. It’s location is fantastic – 100m from the train station, 300m from the bus station and an easy walk to all things to see and do here. There are also loads of restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops and convenience stores all around. We loved our stay and totally recommend it.

We spent approx. Euro 31 for a one night stay for 2 people in October 2019.

 How to get around Selçuk – Selçuk is a small town and we went everywhere (except Ephesus) on foot. We used google maps for directions and except the Ayasuluk Hill, it worked well everywhere else. There is also signage everywhere for the main sites. For Ephesus, Kuşadası and Şirince you can take the local minibus. The frequency is good and the ticket price is very reasonable.

Tips for the trip

  1. I can’t emphasis on this one enough. Ephesus opens at 8am and do get there as early as possible to avoid the hordes of tour groups. We reached there around 8.30am and had the place pretty much to ourselves for at least 30 minutes to enjoy it in peace and take pictures without people clicking selfies.
  2. There are audio guides available for rent but we had downloaded the Rick Steves free audio tour on Ancient Ephesus in advance and covered Ephesus with it.
  3. Check with your hotel or Ephesus Travel guide for updated information on ticket prices, offers and opening and closing timings of various sites.
  4. At Ephesus we bought a combination ticket for access to Ephesus, the Terraced Houses, Ephesus Archaeological museum and Basilica of St John for 132TL. Individually this would have costed us 144TL. If you intend to visit all these sites, then do check for this ticket before purchasing any other ticket.
  5. If you are planning to visit many other sites besides Ephesus in Western Turkey then do check out the Museum Pass for Aegean which provides multi visits to many sites at great savings.
  6. For your entire visit and especially for Ephesus,
    1. do keep adequate water, apply sunscreen and use a sun hat. We went in October and by 10am it was always super hot and sunny in the open areas.
    2. wear comfortable shoes with good traction for Ephesus – the walk here is long, at times on uneven surfaces and the stones are slippery in places (especially when wet).
    3. always keep a scarf as you need to cover your head to visit any mosque.

7 Responses to “Spending a day in Ephesus and Selçuk, Turkey”

  1. Marie November 2, 2019 at 22:09 #

    Really enjoyed your post – I was in Ephesus in 1981!! We stayed a few days in Kusadasi – I remember it as mainly a resort for Turkish families at that time. There were very few foreigners around. xxx

    Like

    • getsetandgo November 3, 2019 at 11:29 #

      Hi, thanks for visiting my blog and the kind words.. We missed Kusadasi this time but have it on my list for our next trip to Turkey 🙂

      Like

  2. Sridhar V November 4, 2019 at 10:41 #

    Nice, detailed post! I dont feel the need to visit now. 🙂

    Like

  3. Jane Swanson November 6, 2019 at 19:00 #

    On my list and Patmos

    Liked by 1 person

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