The most popular tourist destination in Turkey (along with Istanbul) has to be Ephesus, located near the western Aegean coast port of Kusadasi. Due to Ephesus’ proximity to the coast, it is a popular cruise ship day-excursion. Be prepared for hordes of tourists. (For a map of major sites we visited in Turkey, click here).
If you’re lucky enough to have your own transportation you can have the site nearly to yourself by visiting in the late afternoon. In September of 2012, we had the most famous sight of Ephesus, the Library of Celsus, practically to ourselves around 4:30 pm, what a pleasure!
Ephesus in its prime (about 100 AD) was a major seaport (population of about 250,000) and the capital of Roman Asia Minor. This was an important city of the early Christian Church—the Apostle Paul lived here for about 3 years. He also wrote his famous letter to the Ephesians, as documented in the New Testament. It’s very likely that the Apostle John lived here (the isle of Patmos is about 105 km or 60 miles away) and he may have brought Mary (Jesus’ mother) here. About 18% of the city has been excavated, and the main accessible ruins run along two main streets. For a reasonable visit, plan on at least 2-3 hours.
Another way to avoid the crowds is to visit the Terrace Houses (enclosed to protect the fragile frescoes), right near the Library of Celsus. The Terrace Houses require a separate entry fee (a barrier for many visitors). These ruins were homes of the very wealthy and they reminded me a bit of the buried cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy.
The houses had hot and cold running water (amazing), numerous frescoes and mosaics. They are still doing excavation work on these houses. This separate area was a fascinating part of Ephesus and we were practically the only people visiting these ruins.
Cost: Car parking at Ephesus was 7.50 TL, the main entry fee was 25 TL, and the Terrace Houses cost another 15 TL. (1.9 TL per USD as of July 2013). Keep in mind there are other places to visit near Ephesus – the reconstructed House of Mary (mother of Jesus), as well as other tombs and ruins.
Since we were on our own driving tour, we spent a couple nights in Kusadasi at a pretty good hotel (Mr. Happy’s Liman Hotel) next to the port and then drove out to Ephesus (only about 19 km). The area around the port of Kusadasi is quite nice, and we enjoyed wandering around and visiting the local shops, restaurants and a little island fortress just off the shore.
There is pretty good beach south of the harbor a couple of kilometers. Don’t rush your visit to this part of Turkey!
References: Lonely Planet Turkey, DK Eyewitness Travel, Turkey.