On our road trip through Turkey, we both wanted to stop and spend one day in Ephesus. We did not expect it to be much, but we wanted to see the ruins of the Biblical city where Paul once walked. The ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus surprised me. The ruins are impressive and worth the visit.
Exploring the ruins of Ephesus, located just outside of Selçuk in Turkey, did not take long. You can easily see them in a few hours without a tour. If you are visiting Ephesus for the first time, here is everything you need to know about the ancient city and its ruins.
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What to See in Ancient Ephesus
All in all, we spent about 3 – 4 hours exploring the ruins of ancient Ephesus. We would have spent less time, but they did not kick us out at closing time because of an evening event taking place. We felt that was a good amount of time to wander the city from the bottom of the hill to the top and back again. These were our favorite stops along the way.
Library of Celsus
The Library of Celsus is the highlight of the Ephesus ruins. It is a must see and you can’t miss it on the road through ancient Ephesus. The Library of Celsus is the third largest library in the ancient world. It was built to hold 12,000 scrolls and completed in 114 – 117 A.D. Built by his son to honor him, Senator Celsus is buried in a mausoleum underneath the library. The facade lay in ruins for years before being put back together again between 1970 and 1978.
After I saw pictures of it online, I knew I wanted to see it but that it would be crowded. Since we went in the afternoon, we decided to make it our last stop, hoping the tours would leave by then. It worked!
While we did make it our last stop, we also stumbled upon it earlier. As we wandered through the ruins on the main path, I noticed a decent amount of people around taking pictures of something. I looked over, and there it was. At first, it was smaller than I expected. From the road, you walk down a path to get to the bottom of the library. When we came back later and walked down, it looked more like the size I expected. At first, I thought that it must be a similar building instead of the real thing.
Because the Library of Celsus is the main stop in Ephesus, it is also one of the more crowded spots. If you want to get photos without anyone in them, get there when it opens and go straight to the Library. Do not stop anywhere along the way as you can go back later. If you are like us and visit in the afternoon, make it your last stop. There will probably still be a few other people there, but you can use creative angles to crop them out or take turns taking photos. We ended up waiting for the last family to finish their photos before we took our photos.
Because we were the only ones left, we set up the tripod to take a picture of us. It was right at closing time, and a security guard walking by came over to us. We assumed it would be to tell us to leave. It was not. He just let us know that we could not use the tripod to take pictures for security reasons and then left us alone. We respected the rule even though there was no one else around to take pictures of us. We ended up setting the camera on a rock instead. If you are traveling alone, have a plan to get pictures of yourself that does not involve a tripod.
Curetes Street is one of the main streets through Ephesus. It connects the upper part of Ephesus to the lower part of Ephesus. Many of the main stops throughout the ruins are along Curetes Street. The street leads from the Library of Celsus up through a main street that was full of shops in ancient times.
This street is made of marble, and parts of it were a bit slick. While avoiding these areas and finding steady footing is not difficult, be aware of the slippery patches, especially if it is wet. You can see the parts of the street that have been smoothed out and have become slippery from years of use.
The Terrace Houses in Ephesus are an extra fee of 30 TL (about $5). It is worth the fee. If you visit in the summer like we did, it is worth it even more because you get a break in the air conditioning and shade for a while. The area opens at the same time as the ruins but closes 30 minutes beforehand.
The Terrace Houses are the homes where the wealthy lived in ancient Ephesus. The houses were used from the first to seventh century A.D. Inside the closed in area, you find six homes full of mosaics and walls that tell the stories of ancient myths.
While inside, you follow a walkway through the different levels of the homes. When we visited, we were the only ones inside. We took our time, enjoying the air conditioning and imagining what life was like for these families. The work that went into these homes is incredible. The mosaics and painted walls show the wealth these families had. There are signs along the way to point out things or explain things for visitors. If you are visiting with a tour, you will have to see if the tour includes the Terrace Houses or not.
The Great Theater & The Odeon Theater
These two theaters in Ephesus are at opposite ends of the ruins. If you enter from the lower entrance, the Great Theater is the first one you see. If you enter from the upper entrance, you first come across the Odeon Theater. The Great Theater is the more crowded of the two, at least when we went. It is also the bigger of the two by far.
The Great Theater of Ephesus
If you walk the main roads through the entire ruins, both theaters are on your route. Take time to explore the Great Theater, the biggest ancient theater in Turkey. It seats 24,000 people. Built back in the 4th century BC, it was a Greek theater that later became a Roman theater.
For Christians or those interested in history, the Great Theater is where the events of Acts 19:23 – 41 took place. A silversmith by the name of Demetrius started a riot against Paul for speaking out against Artemis (Diana). The Temple of Artemis is nearby and one of the Ancient Wonders of the World. Because Paul spoke out against worshiping her, the silversmiths worried they would lose income for their silver shrines sold to visitors. They took Paul’s companions into the theater, but the apostles pleaded with Paul not to go. Eventually, a city clerk dispelled the crowd, encouraging them to take their problems to the legal system instead of a public assembly as the men had committed no crime.
There was a concert in the Great Theater on the day we visited. It was a special event being held that night. Because off that, we were not asked to leave at closing time. I am not sure if they are as lax about closing time when there is not an event, but it worked out well for us.
The Odeon Theater
Unlike the Great Theater which began as a Greek theater, the Odeon Theater was built by the Romans. It seats 1,400 people, so it is much smaller than the Great Theater. Before it was excavated, the entire theater was underground. It is also less crowded than the Great Theater, making it a good photo spot.
Temple of Hadrian
The Temple of Hadrian sits across the street from the Terrace Houses. Built in the second century, the temple honors the Roman emperor Hadrian. Later it became a Christian church. This impressive structure was restored more recently and is along the main path. This makes it an easy stop as you wander through Ephesus.
Practical Information for Visiting Ephesus
Ephesus is popular for tours, but it is still easy to visit on your own. For our road trip through Turkey, we visited Ephesus after coming from Istanbul. From Ephesus, we continued our road trip to the thermal baths at Pamukkale and then to experience the fairy chimneys and hot air balloon sunrises of Cappadocia.
Opening Hours & Ticket Prices
The ruins of Ephesus open at 8 a.m. all year long. In the summer months, from April to October, the ruins close at 7 p.m. The rest of the year, from November to March, they close a little earlier at 5 p.m. The night we were there, there was a concert in the Great Theater. We ended up staying until 7:30 or 7:45, and no one asked us to leave. We planned to be out by 7, but since it was empty and no one was asking us to leave, we kept taking pictures as we slowly made our way out. There was a tour group there for the concert and security walking around, but that was it.
The cost to enter the ruins is 60 TL (Turkish Lira) or about $10. If you choose to visit the Terrace Houses, the price is an additional 30 TL or about $5. Children under 12 are free except in the Terrace Houses where only children under 6 are free. There is a Museum Pass if you are planning to visit multiple museums or historical sites in western Turkey. The cost is 185 TL (or about $32), and you purchase the pass at the entrance to the museums or historical sites.
The Two Entrances & What To Avoid
There are two entrances to Ephesus. There is a lower entrance and upper entrance. The lower entrance has a huge parking lot that was mostly empty. There were a few tour buses. When we walked through the ancient streets to the top of the ruins, we found the second entrance. I’m not sure if cars can park up there or if it is just for tours as we did not walk all the way up to the actual exit to see. The entrance at the top does not have much going on around it. The lower entrance is the main entrance with shops, bathrooms and food available.
Because the lower entrance is more popular, the upper part of Ephesus is less crowded. The crowds mainly stay between the Great Theater and the Library of Celsus. They wander out from there a little bit, but the upper area of the ruins near the top entrance is not as crowded. This includes the area around the Odeon Theater.
We parked at the lower entrance. As soon as we exited the car, a man approached us. He offered us a ride to the top in a buggy with a horse or donkey pulling it. The price was cheap, and his selling point was that it was 1600 meters. At first it sounded like it might be a tough walk, and he tried to convince us it was. He told us it was all uphill and kept telling us it was 1600 meters. Being American, I think he assumed we would not know how far 1600 meters was. Being a runner, I knew it was about a mile.
We opted not to take him up on his offer. We did not regret it one bit. The roads are flat in some areas and gradually slope upwards in others. You are not climbing a mountain. It has some sections that are more uphill than others, but it is not strenuous. Because it is not a race to the top, it makes it easy to stop and take breaks. Honestly, you will probably stop a lot along the way and take some detours to check out other things as well. Thanks to frequent stops and taking in the ruins, the uphill is not so bad (and we are flatlanders).
If you are worried about the walk to the top, know this is an option. If you take the ride to the top, you walk back down to the bottom and pass the sites once. We liked walking to the top and back because it gave us two chances to see everything.
Tripods Not Allowed
We learned the hard way that tripods are not allowed. We set up once everyone left to get a picture together, and then a security guard came over to let us know about the rule. Since no one else was around, we ended up using a rock as a tripod to get a picture of us. If you are a solo traveler or a travel couple who wants pictures together, be aware that you will not be able to use your tripod. When other people were around, we took turns taking pictures for each other. If people were not around, we took selfies or set the camera on rocks.
When to Visit Ephesus & What to Wear
Ephesus gets quite hot in the summer. We went on a summer afternoon in June, and it was warm. The temperature was in the lower 80s (about 27C), but there was no shade and little breeze. In the winter, the temperature drops to the 40s and 50s (average of 9 – 12C).
For the summer, we wore shorts and t-shirts and were happy with our decision. In the winter, plan to bundle up more depending on your tolerance for the cold. No matter when you go, wear comfortable shoes. Wearing shoes with a good grip helps in areas where the marble is slippery. I wore my flip flops, and they were comfortable but had no traction on the marble.
How to Get to Ephesus & Where to Stay
We drove to Ephesus from Istanbul. The drive from Istanbul to Ephesus took about 5.5 hours, but we stopped partway and stayed at Onhann Hotel in Balikesir and enjoyed our room and breakfast there. This area was about 2.5 hours away from the ruins. There are quite a few hotel options much closer to Ephesus in nearby Selçuk too.
From Ephesus, we continued on to the thermal pools in Pamukkale. The thermal pools are about 2.5 hours from Ephesus and are worth the visit. If you are staying near Pamukkale, a day trip to Ephesus would be perfect.
Many people who visit Ephesus come from Kusadasi. Kusadasi is a coastal city and cruise port, making it a popular tourist destination. Many day tours come from Kusadasi, and Ephesus makes for a popular cruise excursion. If you visit this way, I would hire a taxi for the day, but that is just because we try to avoid tours. If you enjoy tours, there are many available.
While you are in Ephesus, make sure to eat at Agora Restaurant. It is right next to the museum (not the ruins), and the food is delicious. We enjoyed sitting outside in the shade and relaxing there before exploring the ruins for the rest of the day.
Other Things to Do in Ephesus & Selçuk
Besides the ruins of Ephesus, there are several other options for a trip to the Ephesus and Selçuk area. There are museums to visit including the Ephesus Archaeological Museum which houses many of the items found in the excavation of Ephesus. Besides the ruins and museum, here are some of the other top stops in Ephesus.
Temple of Artemis
This was our first stop in Ephesus. While there is not much left, the Temple of Artemis is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. There was no one else there when we went except for an older gentleman selling postcards in the parking lot. Only one pillar out of the original 127 remains standing. It only takes a few minutes to see it, and it is not too far off the beaten path.
For Christians or history fans, this is the temple that Paul spoke out against in Acts. When he spoke out against this temple, some of the silversmiths started a little riot against him. They sold silver shrines to visitors from all over who came to worship Artemis (Diana) and worried it would hurt their bottom line.
The Basilica of St. John
The entry fee for the Basilica of St. John is 15 TL (about $2.50). It opens at 8 a.m. all year. It closes at 7 p.m. from April to October and at 5 p.m. from November to March. Built in the 6th century, it is believed to be built over the burial site of John the Apostle. We did not visit due to staying at Ephesus until it closed.
It is believed that John went to Ephesus in the later years of his life and took Mary, the mother of Jesus, with him. While there, he wrote the books of the Bible attributed to him other than Revelation. He lived here, was sentenced to exile on Patmos (where he wrote Revelation) and then returned when he was pardoned. He lived out the rest of his life preaching here according to early church sources and died here. There was a church built on this site before this to honor the apostle. However, it was torn down for the basilica to be built.
If you choose to visit the Selçuk Castle, you enter through the Basilica of St. John. We saw it from the Temple of Artemis, but there are mixed reviews on whether it is worth the climb or not.
Cave of the Seven Sleepers
This is a popular spot due to the story attached to it. According to the story, seven young men hid in a cave to escape religious prosecution. They fell asleep and emerged from the cave 300 years later. The story gained traction when an early bishop spread the tale. The story also appears in the Qur’an. Many tourists still visit this site, but we did not.
House of the Virgin Mary
We also skipped this one, but the house where Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived out the rest of her life is believed to be here as well. Because Jesus told John to take care of his mother, many believe he took her to Ephesus with him. It is now a Catholic shrine and a popular stop in Ephesus. The cost to visit is 35 TL ($6). The area opens at 8 a.m. all year. It closes at 6 p.m. from March to October and at 5 p.m. from November to February.
Visiting Ephesus for a day trip is a perfect stop for anyone who enjoys history and ancient ruins. The ruins only take a few hours to see, and then you can continue your trip through Turkey. What are some other ancient ruins outside of Rome and Athens that are must see ruins?
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