Visiting Ephesus in Selcuk Turkey: Exploring the Ancient Ruins

visiting ephesus

Visiting Ephesus? The ancient ruins of Ephesus are a must-see destination along the perfect Turkey itinerary

Visiting Ephesus can be done in one morning, but the town of Selcuk, just outside of the ancient Ephesus city, has a few things to do, too. I based myself in Selcuk for two nights along my six-week Turkish journey and can say it was well worth it for a chance to visit Ephesus. 

This Turkey Ephesus guide will tell you all the practical information you need to make the most of your trip to the ruins in Ephesus, like where to stay, best tours, top Ephesus sights, and more.

Ancient Ephesus
The Library of Celsus

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Short History of Ephesus

How old is Ephesus? The city of Ephesus has a history dating back to the 11th century BC with the rule of Ephesus originating under the Greeks.  Ancient Ephesus also saw many different ruling parties over its lengthy past but was considered the most important Greek city and trading port in the Mediterranean region for centuries.

The Greeks introduced the worship of Artemis, the god of wild animals, vegetation, chastity and the hunt. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and twin sister to Apollo. 

After the Persians rule fell to Alexander the Great in 546 BC, Ephesus settled into Roman rule for centuries. The majority of ruins in Ephesus we see today are constructed during this prosperous time in Ephesus’s history, under the rule of Caesar Augustus. Christianity became the predominant religion during this time, too, with churches replacing any Artemis worship sites.

The decline of Ephesus city came with the Goths in 262 AD, including the destruction of the Temple of Artemis. In 431 AD, it is said that a council taking place in the Church of St. Mary confirmed the Virgin Mary as the mother of God, which gives the biblical significance of Ephesus.

Over the next centuries, Ephesus declined further under natural disasters and invasions by the Arabs, forcing the people of Ephesus to relocate. 

The Ruins of Ephesus joined the UNESCO world heritage site list in 2015.

Visiting ephesus turkey

Location of Ephesus in Turkey

Where is Ephesus?

The modern-day ruins at Ephesus are located a short 5-minute drive outside of the small town of Selcuk Turkey. Selcuk, situated inland from the southwestern coastline is a great base for visiting Ephesus. 

Kusadasi, located on the shores of the Mediterranean sea is a 20-25 drive to the ruins in Turkey Ephesus and is a common base for cruise travellers and beach lovers.

visiting ephesus in selcuk turkey
visiting ephesus in selcuk turkey

Map of Ephesus

The ancient Ephesus map below depicts where all the main attractions when visiting Ephesus. Whether you start at the south or north gate, most top places are all on the main boulevard leading through the ruins in Turkey Ephesus and are easy to find. 

Hopefully, these Ephesus maps help you visit Ephesus like a pro.

Is Ephesus Worth Visiting?

I visited the ancient city of Ephesus in November of 2021, and we basically had the entire ruins of Ephesus to ourselves. And, believe me, it was a magical experience.

While I realize that visiting Ephesus outside of the pandemic is much different, the sights remain the same. The Library of Celsus was definitely a highlight, with the Great Theatre and Terrace Houses a close second. 

Remember that Ephesus has some major biblical significance that draws Christians from all over the world on pilgrimage, so of course, you will inevitably be greeted with a throng of tourists. But, no matter your beliefs, the ruins at Ephesus are worth visiting.

Visiting Ephesus is easy as a day trip from Izmir, Kusadasi and even the Pamukkale thermal pools, so I recommend making the effort.

Planning a trip to Pamukkale? Check out this Pamukkale Thermal Pools Guide

Best Time to Visit Ephesus

Like most places in Europe, Turkey and specifically Ephesus is best visited in the shoulder months of the year. Plan to visit Ephesus in April-May and October-November

The months of June-September can be scorching (high of 34°C / 93°F) and incredibly busy due to holidaymakers. 

Visiting Ephesus in winter will expose you to low temperatures of 6-12°C / 43-54°F), so bring a jacket and pants.

Visit Ephesus as close to the opening time as you can. Tour groups making the trip from Kusadasi and Izmir will arrive around 9AM and the site will get really busy! I can imagine a stroll through the ruins of Ephesus would be really pretty during golden hour right before sunset, too.

Planning an epic Turkey adventure? Check out this Turkey Itinerary for inspiration

How Long to Spend Visiting Ephesus

One day in Ephesus is a perfect length of time to spend at the ruins. Book yourself a hotel in Selcuk or Kusadasi for one night and visit the ancient city of Ephesus in the early hours of the next morning. The visit to the ruins of Turkey Ephesus will take 2-3 hours total.

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Ephesus Opening Hours

Ephesus opening times during the summer months of April to the end of September are 8AM-6:30PM

During the winter months of October to the end of March, the Ephesus hours are 8:30AM-5:30PM.

Ephesus has Two Entrances

The Ephesus Archaeological Site has two entrances: The North (lower) entrance and the South (upper) entrance. Most visitors and tours enter at the south entrance and end their trip at the north entrance. 

You can either walk from the town of Selcuk, a 40-minute walk, grab a cab or take your rental car. There is parking at the south entrance via a large dirt lot located about a mile from the ticket booth. 

If you decide to park your car in the dirt lot, there will be locals offering rides to the entrance gate via horse or donkey-drawn buggies and the sort. In my opinion, this can’t be the best way for the horse or donkey to live, so I avoid these types of services at all costs. Plus, the walk is easy across flat terrain with the odd slope upwards.

Watch the hot air balloons at sunrise in Love Valley Cappadocia

Ephesus Entrance Fee

The entrance fee for the city of Ephesus ancient ruins is 120TL ($9USD) per person. If you’d like to visit the Terrace Houses, located inside the ruins of Ephesus, an additional ticket price of 45TL ($3.50USD) is charged. You can purchase entrance tickets at the booth right at the gates of Ephesus so no need to purchase early. 

If you are visiting more ancient sites in Turkey, I’d recommend purchasing the Turkish Museum Pass. It costs 600TL ($45USD), and you will get access to 300 museums and attractions in Turkey. The pass is valid for 15 days.

Ruins in Ephesus

Amenities While Visiting Ephesus

You will find bathrooms, a cafe, souvenir shops and most amenities at both the south and north entrances. But, do be aware that there are no bathrooms inside the gates to the ruins of Ephesus! 

You can find one coffee stand near the Library of Celsus for any snacks and drinks while visiting Ephesus.

End the perfect day at Red Valley sunset viewpoint in Cappadocia

What to Wear While Visiting Ephesus

When I visited Ephesus in November, I wore a sweater and lightweight linen pants. It was chilly when I entered the ruins of Ephesus around 9AM. But as the sun crept higher in the sky, the sweater had to come off. Depending on when you are visiting, you may need to layer up! 

If you do decide to visit in the hot months of May-September, a pair of shorts and a sleeveless top is a good idea. Also make sure to bring sunscreen and a hat with you, as there is rarely a respite from the sun. 

Best Tours to Visit Ephesus

If you’re located in Istanbul, Izmir or Kusadasi, don’t have a car available to you or are limited on time, I’d recommend taking a guided Ephesus tour. 

The nice thing about an organized tour is you have unfettered access to a knowledgeable host that can give you a more in-depth look at the history of Ephesus and specific architectural highlights, like the Library of Celsus. 

If you are already staying in Selcuk, or in Kusadasi with access to a car, you won’t necessarily need to arrange a guided tour. The signage at the ruins of Ephesus is quite descriptive, so if you take the time to stop and read the signs, you’re good.

Here are the top reviewed and recommended tours from Istanbul, Izmir and Kusadasi:

Visiting Istanbul? Check out this guide on where to stay in Istanbul

Istanbul to Ephesus Tour

Don’t plan to leave the cultural capital of Turkey? These one-day private and group Ephesus Tours from Istanbul to Ephesus include flights, transport and lunch.

Izmir to Ephesus Tour

Izmir is located an hours drive from Selcuk and the ruins at Ephesus. If you don’t have access to a car, this is your best bet to visit Ephesus. Ephesus tour from Izmir come in private and small group sizes, so it depends on your budget and preferences. 

I’ve recommended a couple of Izmir Ephesus Tours that come with hotel pick up, transport, lunch and guide:

Kusadasi to Ephesus Tour

The tour guide will pick you up from your Kusadasi hotel or the Kusadasi cruise port for a half-day excursion to Ephesus city.

Ephesus city

How to Get to Ephesus 

Wondering how to visit Ephesus? Getting to Ephesus is pretty straightforward if you are staying in places like Istanbul, Pamukkale, Izmir or Kusadasi. Since the ruins of Ephesus enjoys a central location along the southwest coastline of Turkey and are a popular tourist attraction, you can reach Ephesus by car, bus, plane or tour

Your mode of transportation will depend on where you are staying beforehand. I’ve outlined your options here:

Check out this detailed guide on renting a car in Turkey

Istanbul to Ephesus

BY CAR

The best way to get from Istanbul to Ephesus is via rental car. The drive will take approximately 5.5 hours along a scenic highway through cities like Bursa and Izmir. 

BY PLANE

The Istanbul Ephesus route can also be made by plane through the Izmir airport to Ephesus. Hop on a domestic flight between Istanbul and Izmir, then take a local bus the 1-1.5 hour journey to Selcuk (Ephesus).

I use Skyscanner to book short-haul flights all over the world.

BY BUS

Istanbul to Ephesus by bus will start at the Istanbul central bus station and take approximately 10 hours with many stops along the way. The bus from Istanbul to Ephesus price starts at $18USD. I used 12Go to search bus routes and book my tickets while travelling around Turkey for six weeks.

>>> Check Bus Price + Schedule for Ephesus on 12Go

Turkey Ephesus
The town of Selcuk at golden hour

Pamukkale to Ephesus

BY CAR (The Best Option)

If you are making your way through the ideal 10 days Turkey itinerary by car, you can easily reach Ephesus from Pamukkale in 2.5-3 hours along a well-maintained road. 

BY BUS

You can catch a bus at the Denizli bus station to Selcuk, a 20-minute taxi from the town of Pamukkale. I booked my tickets via 12Go and was happy with the service I received. The bus trip takes 3-4 hours depending on how many stops they make. Make sure to search for the Denizli to Selcuk route.

>>> Check Bus Price + Schedule from Denizli to Selcuk on 12Go

Izmir to Ephesus

BY CAR

The distance from Izmir to Ephesus is only 80km and should take an hour depending on traffic. Note that the fastest route via the E87 road will have a toll. You could also book yourself a private transfer from the Izmir airport to Kusadasi, a great location for basing yourself for visiting Ephesus. 

BY TRAIN (The Best Option)

Start your journey at the Basmane Izmir train station. Grab a ticket for the Izmir-Denizli route, they generally depart every hour. The Izmir to Ephesus train ticket will start at 7.5TL ($0.50USD) and will take 80 minutes to reach Selcuk. 

BY BUS

If you decide to go from Izmir to Ephesus via a quick bus trip, you will start your journey at the busy Izmir bus station. The Izmir Ephesus trip will take upwards of 2 hours due to stops at towns along the way. 

Kusadasi to Ephesus

The best way to reach Ephesus from Kusadasi is to book a half-day guided tour that includes hotel pick up, transportation, entrance fee and knowledgeable guide. Or, you can make the quick Kusadasi Ephesus journey by car with a maximum of 30 minutes of driving time.

Visit Ephesus

Where to Stay for Visiting Ephesus

If you are cruising around Turkey on a road trip, I’d suggest basing yourself in Selcuk, a 5-minute drive from the ruins at Ephesus. Note, there are no hotels directly at the ruins of Ephesus, the closest town is Selcuk.

If you flew into Kusadasi to spend a few days on the beach and don’t want to leave Turkey without a visit to Ephesus, or are touring around Turkey and need a couple of beach days, then Kusadasi is also a decent base for visiting Ephesus. 

Hotels in Ephesus (Selcuk + Kusadasi)

IN SELCUK


IN KUSADASI

Things to See While Visiting Ephesus

The ruins of Ephesus are a joy to stroll through and have a few main highlights, including the Library of Celsus, the Terrace Houses, the Great Theatre and Curetes Street, which were my personal faves. 

The things to do in Ephesus have such a deep history, so no matter if you are an antiquity buff, or just love to admire the ancient architecture, you will find visiting Ephesus a true delight.

Celsus Library of Ephesus

Visit Ephesus

The Library at Ephesus, built in 110s AD as a funerary monument stands as one of the largest examples of a library during the Roman empire. It held over 12,000 scrolls and is considered an architectural wonder. And boy is it ever! The Library of Celsus at Ephesus was my absolute favourite of all the Ephesus attractions. 

The facade of the Celsus Library in Ephesus has become popular over the years as an Instagrammable place in Turkey, due to its epicness and elegance. I personally fell in love with the facade itself and found myself sitting and taking it all in for about 20 minutes. 

Make sure to walk up the stairs, walk through the pillars and look up! Imagining myself back in 110 AD at the height of the Roman Empire was a truly exciting experience. Visiting Ephesus ancient city is worth it just to see the Library of Celsus, in my humble opinion.

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Curetes Street Ephesus

Turkey Ephesus

Curetes Street in Ephesus was the main drag of Ephesus during ancient times. Used as a processional way, it connected upper Ephesus (Hercules Gate) with lower Ephesus (Celsus Library) and was the main street for commerce and religious parades. The street took its name from the priests that led the processions.

Also known as marble street Ephesus since the entire construction was made of fine marble. Marble cobblestones were installed on the road and the street was surrounded by tall marble Roman pillars, fountains, statues and monuments. You most definitely get a feeling of grandness and importance when striding down Curetes Street upon visiting Ephesus. 

Over the years, the marble cobblestones have become smooth with wear and can tend to be slippery when it rains, so use caution!

Terrace Houses Ephesus

Ruins in Turkey Ephesus

The Terrace Houses in Ephesus can be visited on a separate entrance ticket of 45TL ($3.50USD), so if you want to visit, make sure to purchase tickets at the entrance gate. The Terrace Houses require you to keep your ticket for entry, so keep it on hand! 

The Terrace Houses were excavated in recent decades and give you a great example of how the wealthy people of Ephesus lived. With six compounds or homes to view, a visit to the Terrace Houses is most definitely worth it

Clear walkways will lead you through the Terrace Houses, starting at the large portico with a mosaic floor. In ancient times, shops would be located behind the portico and then single-family dwellings made of brick with red tile roofs.

The family rooms were arranged around a central courtyard which you will see on your visit. Balconies and windows of the homes faced inward toward the courtyard, and not to the street, to keep the houses safe from thieves. 

Make sure to stop and appreciate the mosaic work on the walls, they are truly a marvel!
The Terrace Houses were used from the first to the seventh century AD.

The Great Theatre of Ephesus

the city of ephesus

The Great Theatre at Ephesus was built in the first century AD at the foot of the Panayir Mountain that stood over the ancient city of Ephesus. The amphitheatre consisted of 66 rows of stone seats and could house 25,000 spectators. Used mainly for musical and theatrical performances, the theater at Ephesus was also used for political and religious events

Constructed over a century, by emperors like Nero and Severus, the amphitheatre Ephesus had three levels, many marble pillars, statues and carvings. The bottom row of stone seats with the best view was backed with marble for the prominent citizens of Ephesus. 

Today, during the summer months, Ephesus puts on periodical classical concerts in the Great Theatre for public enjoyment. Special guests over the years include celebrities like Diana Ross, Ray Charles and Elton John.

The Odeon Theatre at Ephesus

ruins in ephesus

Located close to the upper entrance gate, the Odeon Theatre is the smaller of the two theatres of Ephesus. Firstly and primarily the Odeon Theatre was used for meetings of the senate to discuss important city matters. 

The Odeon Theatre held 1500 people with was originally enclosed with a wooden roof. While the Odeon Theatre isn’t as great as the Great Theatre, it’s a good spot to sit and marvel at the Ephesus grounds and take photos if you’d like to.

Temple of Hadrian Ephesus

The Temple of Hadrian was constructed in the second century AD to honour a visit to Ephesus by Emperor Hadrian. It stands proud and well preserved as a highlight on Curetes Street. Adorned with four Corinthian pillars, an arch and relief dedicated to the god of victory. 

Hadrian himself was known as one of the Roman empire’s Five Good Emperors, first coined by the philosopher Machiavelli in 1532. Other ‘good emperors’ include Nerva, Trajan, Pius and Marcus Aurelius.

ruins at ephesus

Other Things to Do Near Ephesus

The nearby town of Selcuk is home to a few great things to do at Ephesus, too. If you are based in Selcuk, you can walk to these attractions within 10 minutes, so don’t miss them!

Basilica of St John

ruins of ephesus

Located on the slopes of the Ayasuluk hill under the Selcuk castle, the basilica of St. John stands over the supposed burial site of St John the apostle. Built in the 6th century BC by Emperor Justinian 1, the basilica was modelled at the now lost Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. 

When visiting the basilica St John you can wander through well-preserved pillars and walls of the original building and stand over the supposed burial site of the apostle himself. 

If you choose to visit the St John basilica Ephesus, entry tickets cost 25TL ($2USD) and include a visit to the Selcuk castle as part of the Ayasuluk Hill UNESCO site, which is just up the hill from the basilica ruins. Opening hours are the same as the Ephesus archaeological site. 

I ended up visiting the basilica and the castle in the afternoon after a visit to the ruins of Ephesus and can say I have mixed feelings about recommending it to you. If you have plenty of time in Selcuk and Ephesus then check it out. But I wouldn’t make an extra trip or cut your time short at the ruins at Ephesus to visit the basilica and castle.

Selcuk Castle

visiting Ephesus Turkey

Otherwise known as the Ayasuluk Citadel, the Selcuk Castle is located right above St John’s Basilica on Ayasuluk Hill. The well preserved Byzantine castle has stood for over 1500 years, and once donned 15 towers and large fortified city walls. Over the years the Selcuk Castle was rebuilt and expanded by the Seljuks and Ottomans. 

A visit to the Selcuk Castle is included in the ticket price combined with the Basilica of St John.

visiting Ephesus Turkey
View from the Selcuk Castle Walls

Temple of Artemis in Ephesus

The Temple of Artemis, otherwise known as the Temple of Diana,  or Artemisium, was dedicated to the Greek god of Artemis, the god of fertility, forest and animals. The Artemis Temple Ephesus was built in the 6th century BC by the Greeks, with a scale larger than the Pantheon in Athens. The temple is considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Destroyed by an intentional fire in the 4th century AD, the temple was a central part of the conflict between Christians and worshippers of Artemis. Today, only the foundation and one single pillar remain for viewing.

House of Virgin Mary Ephesus 

Located 7kms outside of Selcuk, the house of Mary in Ephesus, discovered in the 19th century, is said to be where the virgin mary lived and remained after being delivered there by St John. The stone house has been reconstructed in recent years and receives many Christians on pilgrimage every year.

I personally didn’t visit the House Virgin Mary in Ephesus, but if this Ephesus attraction sounds up your alley, the cost of admittance is 80TL ($6USD).


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