Ephesus region and its environs are the second most visited destination of Turkey. Thanks to the ancient city of Ephesus and the House of The Virgin Mary, millions of tourists from land and sea come to see what Ephesus region has for them. Ephesus is just an hour drive away from Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport and 25 minutes from Kusadasi port which are making it very easy to access to Ephesus even for a day trip from Istanbul. Especially cruise companies have Ephesus in their Greek island trips and they bring thousands of tourists every year besides the big tour operators. Even though there are millions wandering in the area every year, I would like to make some suggestions to beat the crowds especially in the ancient city of Ephesus and other tourist attractions around so you can explore the region easily and comfortably. Here is my list of top ten things to do in Ephesus.
Explore the ancient city of Ephesus
But from the opposite direction. There are two main gates of Ephesus ancient city and one is mainly used to exit by almost all the big tour buses who rush to the house of The Virgin Mary in the morning. So you start from the opposite direction from the lower gate of Ephesus and it is highly recommended to be there at 7:50 sharp to get your tickets and enter the ancient city at the exact time of opening: 8:00 am. Don't forget to purchase tickets for the Terrace houses section as well which houses beautiful mosaics of the rich society of Ephesus. Start walking to the harbor street and continue to the Theater of Ephesus before walking above the harbor agora. Don't miss the first advertisement of the world in the middle of this marble street and explore the Library of Celsus and the gates opening to the harbor agora nearby. The Terrace houses is located nearby the library and beat the line with the pre-purchased tickets you have bought earlier. Take the aerial pictures of the marshes stretching to the Aegean Sea and half of the ancient city before visiting the latrines (toilets) right across the entrance of the terrace houses. Walk up the marble street and take pictures of the Temple of Hadrian and The Fountain of Trajan before reaching to the Gate of Hercules. Make photos like all the other tourists do in the middle of the gate and see the holy sanctuary of Domitian before walking around the city Agora and the Odeon. Take a break by the museum shop and refill your batteries before visiting the House of The Virgin Mary.
See the Terrace Houses
Terrace houses complex was unearthed in 1962 and since then is the jewel of the whole ancient city. It is reflecting the extravagant lives of the rich of Ephesus ancient city. The floors are all covered by mosaics and the walls are painted showing the artistic taste of the prosperous dwellers of Ephesus. The rich even had their own street separated from the lower class by some columns which were enabling the rich housewives of Ephesians to shop in the select boutiques places underneath the terrace houses. The colorful marbles of the region is seen on the walls and floors of the houses as well and the biggest puzzle of the world is still being solved by the interns of Austrian Archaeological Institute. When you complete your tour in the Terrace Houses, don't miss the latrines right across the structure where the rich sent their slaves to warm up the marble before they relaxed.
Visit the House of The Virgin Mary
The house of The Virgin Mary is located 4 kilometers away on top of the Bulbul Mountain overlooking Ephesus, Selcuk and the Aegean Sea. Thanks to the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich, the shrine was discovered by priests from nearby Izmir city who were inspired by the book of Clemens Brentano who met with Anne Catherine and published her visions. With the visit of Pope Leo XIII in 1896, the shrine caught international attention and was blessed as a pilgrimage place to the Christians who believed Saint John the Evangelist brought the mother of Jesus to here and she spent her life here until her dormition or assumption. Pope Benedict XVI has visited the shrine as well in 2006 contributing to the international appreciation of the house. Today, the shrine is important both for the Christians and Muslims since The Virgin Mary is stated in the Holy Quran. You can beat the crowds if you go there close to the lunch time since buses flock the shrine in the morning.
Visit the Selcuk Museum
You are driving through the Selcuk town when you are exploring the area of Ephesus and there is a recently renovated Archaeology Museum in Selcuk exhibiting most of the artifacts found during the excavations of Ephesus since 1860s. You can see the artifacts of Ephesus in Vienna and in British Museum as well but it is best to visit the Museum of Selcuk in the same day after visiting the ruins to complete your Ephesus tour. You are also able to get comprehensive information of the Mother God cult of Anatolia which was very powerful in Anatolia until the holy religions. The Marble statues of Artemis is phenomenal as wall as the many other finds of the huge ancient city's more than a century excavations. Take a walk to the Turkish Bath behind the Museum as well after cooling down underneath the powerful air conditioning of the museum.
See the Cathedral of Saint John
After bringing the mother of Jesus to Ephesus, Saint John the Baptist stayed in the area and continued to deliver the words of Jesus Christ. A Cathedral was built on behalf of him in Selcuk town by the castle and he was buried in the same place as well. There are beautiful views of the Ephesus plains all the way down to the Aegean Waters from the terraces of the Cathedral and you can see the condition of those plains during the Roman and Hellenistic times. The Ephesus we visit today was located by the water which is some 8 kilometers away now. It also offers nice photo opportunities of the Selcuk Castle and it is recommended to walk down to the Isabey Mosque which is located a stone throw away from the Cathedral.
Picture the Temple of Artemis
There are seven wonders in the world today and two of them are located in Turkey. One is the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus of Bodrum and the other one is the Temple of Artemis which is nearby Ephesus. It was 115 meters long and 46 meters wide with two rows of columns 13 meters tall. It was a gorgeous structure of her time and was showing the respect of the Ephesians to their patron goddess Artemis. In 356, Herostratus set the wood roof of the temple on fire for fame but his name was prohibited after his execution in Ephesus. Theopompus later credit his name and the expression 'Herostratic Fame' developed. Nothing but a single column is seen today but when you consider that the temple had more than 127 columns, you are able to imagine the size of the great structure. Below is a picture taken from the west of the temple and the castle of Selcuk, Isabey Mosque and the Cathedral of Saint John is seen behind the single column of The Temple of Artemis.
See the Isabey Mosque
The Isabey Mosque is constructed in the 14th Century and a great example to the Turkish Anatolian Beylik architecture. Most of the stones of the mosque was recycled from the surrounding ruins and you can see the inspiration of the Turkish architects from the Syrian architecture since the mosque is similar to the Great Mosque of Damascus. Had two minarets in the past but only one's half is seen today just over the entrance of the mosque. It is built asymmetrically resulting in different diameters of domes. There are beautiful tiles to see in the domes and the garden is full of flowers in the summer and spring. Park your car around the Cathedral and walk to the mosque and the Selcuk Museum for a nice afternoon.
Eat at Bizim Ev Restaurant
On the way to Sirince Village from Selcuk town, there is a beautiful restaurant named Bizim Ev. It is an open buffet restaurant which will make you forget everything you know about the open buffet restaurants of the world. The Aegean kitchen is very green and vegetables with olive oil are deliciously served in this modest family run restaurant in a gentle way. The owner Mrs. Hatice's beautiful recipes were published by her daughter living in United States which is available in the restaurant and in amazon.com After enjoying your Turkish coffee in the shaded garden with delicous semolina dessert, it is time to continue your journey in the old Greek village Sirince.
Watch the Sunset in Kusadasi
Kusadasi town is just 25 minutes away from Selcuk town and is a bustling tourist destination to the tourists of the area. Every year, thousands of tourists use the harbor to reach Ephesus after their cruises in the Greek Islands and you can easily catch a ferry to Samos island and combine your Turkey trip with the Greek Islands. The center of the city is full of nice restaurants and cafes with stunning views of the Turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea. I highly recommend you to finish your day watching the sun going down over the ocean with your loved ones and a cold beverage. There are many 5 star waterfront hotels in Kusadasi that are serving all year around and you can use them as an alternative to Sirince Village which I recommend over Kusadasi town.
Stay in Sirince Village
15 minute uphill drive from Selcuk, you will arrive to Sirince village which was an old Greek Village. Beautiful old stone and wooden houses are slowly converted to boutique hotels today which are hosting many tourists during the course of the year. Many hoteliers of the village inspired the small hotel owners of Turkey today and converted the village to a bustling culture vulture hot spot around Ephesus. Small restaurants are serving nice breakfasts and local wineries are producing very interesting sweet and fruit wines to the tourists that you can do multiple wine tastings during your walk in the cobbled stone streets of the village. If you are traveling with a small group or with one companion, a stay in a boutique in the village is highly recommended since you can rest after a long day in Ephesus and its environs.