Home to monumental statues and one of the largest archaeological sites in Turkiye, the Ephesus ruins are a wonder to explore. See it all with our complete guide to visiting Ephesus, Turkiye.
Visiting the Ephesus ruins was one of the wildest experiences from our travels through Turkiye. Ranked among the most visited places in the country, Ephesus can see up to 10,000 tourists per day strolling through its marble streets.
Whether you’re planning on visiting Turkiye on a cruise ship or touring through the country by land or air, there’s a good chance that, at some point, you’re going to end up visiting Ephesus. And with good reason.
Considered among the most well-preserved Greek ruins in Turkiye and situated within easy reach of the Aegean Sea, where countless cruise ships dock each day, Ephesus draws visitors with visions of the towering facade of the Library of Celsus, the most stunning building in the city.
But the story of the Ephesus ruins is far grander than one building. In fact, Ephesus is one of the largest archaeological sites in the country and one of the best places to visit in Turkiye. And because of that, coming to the site armed with a little knowledge will go a long way towards making your visit to Ephesus a memorable one. After all, Ephesus is more than just a beautiful Greek ruin.
There is an absurd amount of history that runs through its streets.
About Ephesus, Turkiye
Table of Contents
The history of Ephesus dates back to over 1,200 BCE. Its early years were fraught with trouble, including natural disasters and war. But after nearly complete destruction during a Cimmerian invasion in 700 BCE, Ephesus rebounded to become one of the wealthiest cities in the Greek empire.
The city was a center of learning and was key to the growth of philosophy. Artists and scholars filled the squares, and the city was filled with architectural wonders. One of those architectural marvels grew to fame as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The Temple of Artemis, located in the nearby town of Selcuk, with its 127 columns and masterful art and sculpture work, was one of the most stunning buildings in the world before its destruction by arson in 356 BCE.
Even after the fall of the Greek Empire caused by the Persian invasion, Ephesus continued to prosper as a vital trade hub. The city was liberated by Alexander the Great in 334 BCE. It was abandoned briefly when General Lysimachus, who ruled the region after the death of Alexander the Great, blocked the city’s sewage system after Ephesians refused to leave when he ordered the town to be moved two miles southwest.
By 281 BCE, Ephesus had been re-founded and once again grew to be one of the most important commercial ports in the Mediterranean. By 129 BCE, the city fell under Roman rule. Over the coming century, Ephesus became a cultural center for the Christian community. Saint Paul was notoriously “booed” while preaching at one of the city’s theatres, and the city became the final home for both Saint John the Baptist and Mary, mother of Jesus. Both the Gospel according to John and the Book of Ephesians from the Christian Bible are said to have been written in and around the city.
It was the rise of Christianity that ultimately led to the decline of Ephesus. Emperor Theodosius I ordered all pagan temples and schools closed. Women, who thrived through Roman and Greek times, were reduced to second-class citizens, and the worship of the Goddess Artemis was outlawed. This, combined with a series of natural disasters and attacks by outside forces, contributed to the downfall of one of the greatest cities in the Eastern Roman Empire.
The reconstruction of the Temple of Artemis was destroyed by a Christian mob, and the city fell into decay, eventually resulting in its desertion.
How To Plan Your Visit To The Ephesus Ruins
The ruins of Ephesus, or Efes, as it’s known in Turkish, are vast. There are two entrances to the archaeological site: the upper entrance and the lower entrance. While you can visit the ruins from either entrance, I recommend starting at the upper entrance and working your way down. That way, you’ll be walking downhill for most of the visit. The downhill route will also give you the best views of the Library of Celsus.
Map of Ephesus
I put this map of the Ephesus ruins together to help you plan your visit to the site. It outlines most of the key areas within the ruins.
Top Things To See At Ephesus
Bath of Varius
Entering from the top gate, the first of the Ephesus ruins that you’re likely to encounter is the Bath of Varius. Like many Roman baths, the Varius Baths were situated at the main entrances to many ancient cities. They allowed visitors to wash before entering and mingling among the local citizens.
The Bath of Varius dates back to the 2nd century near the Magnesian gate and was erected under the direction of Emperor Vespasian. Along with welcoming visitors, they were an important social hub where residents would visit for massages and bathing.
The State Agora is one of two agora’s within Ephesus. This agora, located in the southern part of the Basilica, was built around the first century B.C. Unlike most agoras, this was not used for commerce but rather as a meeting place for government debates and discussions.
The agora’s northeast corner contained many burial sites that date back to the 7th and 6th centuries BCE. In this corner is a water reservoir that gathered much of the water used in the city as it entered from the Pollio Aqueduct, the remains of which lie about 5 kilometers from the city along the Selcuk-Aydin Highway.
Opposite the State Agora is the Odeion, the smaller of the two amphitheatres in Ephesus. The Odeion could hold up to 1,500 patrons and would have had a wooden roof originally. It was financed by a wealthy Ephesian named Vedius Antonius.
The Odeion was used for political meetings, social events, concerts, and theatrical performances. It contains a stage, an orchestra, and a podium.
Walking downhill to the end of the Curetes Road bordering the State Agora, look to your right, and you’ll find one of the most stunning monuments among the Ephesus ruins. The Memmius Monument was erected in the 1st century CE by Memmius, one of the sons of Caius and the grandson of dictator Sulla of Roma.
Dictator Sulla was celebrated as a Roman hero. He was hailed for the emancipation of Ephesus from the occupation of the Pontic armies, who killed more than 80,000 Romans in one day to protest the empire’s high taxes.
The four-sided victory arch celebrates the liberation of Ephesus. While many of the inscriptions have been lost throughout the years, Memmius’ father and grandfather figures are still in excellent condition.
As you reach the bottom of Curetes Road and the Memmius Monument, most visitors hang a right to continue on downhill toward the Library of Celsus. Instead, take a detour to your left. Don’t get distracted by the prominent arch showcasing the Temple of Domitian. Instead, look immediately to your left after turning the corner. Here, you’ll find the Pollio Fountain.
The Pollio Fountain was built in 97 CE by the rich Ephesian C.S.Pollio and his family. The water from the fountain came from a network of baked clay pipes, and the water from the fountain was free for all to use. The towering arch facing the Temple of Domitian was decorated with many statues, including the head of Zeus, which can now be found at the Ephesus Museum in Selcuk.
Temple of Domitian
Facing the Pollio fountain is a tribute to one of Rome’s most brutal emperors, Domitian, although it may have been built for Emperor Titus. Either way, the Temple would have been considered a great honor for the city.
The stairs that used to reach the second floor of the temple are still in existence and can be seen in the back of the temple. The U-shaped altar that once stood at the northern side of the temple is on display at the Izmir Museum.
If you stroll down the lane running West from the Temple of Domitian, you’ll find a number of caves. Some of these have stone plaques with writing from contracts and business dealings of the age.
Head back to Curetes Road and begin walking downhill. On your right, pay attention to the large pillars that hold two reliefs of Hercules. This is the Heracles Gate.
An inscription that can still be made out dates the pillars to the 2nd century CE, although it’s believed that the pillars were actually moved from another building sometime around the 4th century CE.
Hercules was celebrated as the greatest of the Greek heroes. In the reliefs, he is shown wearing the skin of the Nemean Lion, whom he was charged with defeating. The lion was said to have skin so thick that it couldn’t be killed. Eventually, Hercules beat the beast by wrestling it and choking it.
The Hillside Houses, also known as the Terraced Houses, may have an additional cost for visiting, but the admission fee is well worth it. Not only do they offer a glimpse into the lifestyle of Ephesus’ most elite residents, but it’s also one of the few places amongst the Ephesus ruins where you’ll find ample shade.
The Hillside Houses is a series of luxurious residential villas on the northern slope of Bulbuldagi Hill across from Curetes Street. Two housing complexes have been excavated so far, but more are being uncovered. The excavation work began in 1960, and some of the most beautiful tilework in the city can be found here.
At the base of the Terrace Houses is the only concession stand in the city of Ephesus. If you need to grab water, snacks, or a slushie, this is the spot to do it.
Library of Celsus
If you’ve ever looked up Ephesus, chances are that you’ve seen images of the Library of Celsus. This is the most grand structure in all of the ruins of Ephesus, and it’s not something that is easy to miss.
The Library of Celsus once held over 12,000 scrolls and was one of the most beautiful buildings in the Roman Empire. It was built in the 2nd century CE. Only the stunning facade of the building remains, but it is still an impressive site and easily one of the most outstanding ruins I’ve seen in all of my travels outside of the temples of Luxor and Abu Simbel in Egypt and the ruins of Petra in Jordan.
Lying right next to the Library of Celsus is one of the oldest sections of the Ephesus ruins. The Lower Agora, also known as the Commercial Agora, was the center of commerce in the city. It was originally linked to the harbor by the Arcadiane or Harbor Road.
The Lower Agora had three main gates, the best-preserved of which lies on the south-eastern side close to the Library of Celsus. This gate is called the Mazeu-Mithridates Gate.
This agora was established in the 3rd century BCE, but its actual age pre-dates that by quite a bit. Excavations have uncovered layer-upon-layers of construction dating as far back as the 8th century BCE. In later years it was used as a graveyard and currently, much of the Lower Agora is littered with tombs.
Connecting the Terraced Houses and the Library of Celsus to the Grand Theater is the beautiful Marble Road. Originally, this road would have connected to the Temple of Artemis, but much of it has yet to be excavated.’
The Ephesus Marble Road dates back to the 1st century AD, although it was rebuilt in the 5th century. The road ran along the Commercial Agora and was the main thoroughfare in the lower part of the city.
On your right-hand side, you’ll find many fascinating things to see in Ephesus, such as the brothels and the public toilets. It’s a unique glimpse into everyday life in the city.
One of the final stops in our guide to the Ephesus ruins is the Grand Theater. This impressively preserved building at the base of the Marble Road held an audience of up to 24,000 people. The construction began under Emperor Claudius around 41-54 CE and was expanded to include a second for by Emperor Nero a few decades later. An impressive third story was later added about 100 years later.
The Great Theater was never covered by a roof, although an awning was used after the mid-2nd century as a protection from the elements. The steep seating meant that all of the spectators had an excellent view of the show.
The great theater of Ephesus is a splendidly preserved and very impressive building. This structure, built of marble, has a width of 145 meters, and its audience once reached up to 30 meters. In its heyday, it could accommodate up to 24,000 spectators.
Harbor (Arcadiane) Street
As you make your way past the Grand Theater towards the lower entrance of the Ephesus ruins, you’ll be walking along Harbor Street, also known as Arcadiane Street.
This colonnaded road was named for Emperor Arcadius, who ruled between 395 and 408 CE. It’s believed that the street was renamed, as the existence of the road dates back to the 1st century CE, long before Emperor Arcadius was born.
The street is well-preserved and sometimes hosts skits and plays that greet visitors entering via the lower gate. It was the showcase of Ephesus for newly arrived guests and was the grandest street in the city. Originally, the tall walls of the surrounding buildings would have blocked the view of anything outside of the street itself.
This street would have seen parades of wealthy elites, emperors, and celebrities making their way between the city center and the harbor.
Church of the Virgin Mary
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is believed to have spent her final days in and around the city of Ephesus. The House of the Virgin Mary is located just a few miles away and is believed to be her final resting place.
Within the ruins of Ephesus itself lies the Church of the Virgin Mary, one of the first churches to be dedicated to the mother of Christianity. The church was erected in the 3rd century BCE as a basilica with a nave and two aisles. The best-preserved section is the cylindrical baptistery located in the north part of the atrium.
The church of the Virgin Mary lies on a side road away from the lower Ephesus gate and can easily be missed. As you’re heading towards the exit, hang a left instead of going straight and follow the road. The church will be on your left-hand side.
Ephesus Archaeological Museum
The Ephesus Archaeological Museum is not within Ephesus itself. Instead, it’s located in the town of Selcuk, about a 10-minute drive away. Most visitors to Ephesus don’t ever get the chance to visit, so if you make it to the museum, consider yourself lucky.
The Ephesus Museum is packed with relics, sculptures, and artwork from the city of Ephesus as well as from the Temple of Artemis, which is just a 10-minute walk from the museum.
Temple of Artemis
A visit to the Temple of Artemis, or Artemesia, is located in the nearby town of Selcuk, but it was once a part of the ancient city of Ephesus.
Once a grand temple to the Greek Goddess Artemis, little remains of the temple’s original majestic halls. But the Temple of Artemis was once considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and for that alone, it’s worth the visit.
Of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt remain standing. Of the remaining six, Selcuk and the Temple of Artemis is one of the few places where you can still see remnants of the original building.
In its prime, the Artemesia was a stunning monument to Artemis, who in Roman times was referred to as Diana. She was the Goddess of Fertility, and her influence continues in the region, as you’ll find egg statues and references throughout the ruins of Ephesus.
The Temple was commissioned by Croesus, the King of Lydia, before 550 BCE and was infamously burnt to the ground in 356 BC. The temple was rebuilt but eventually destroyed by Goth invaders in 262 CE. The temple was made entirely of marble and covered a massive 350 by 180 feet (about 110 by 55 meters). It featured 127 columns.
Of those columns, only one remains standing at the site, while half of another remains. There are fragments that sit in the British Museum in London. However, the site itself was looted thoroughly to build nearby temples and mosques.
Make sure to include a visit to the Ephesus Archaeological Museum, which includes scale models of what the original Temple of Artemis looked like at its height.
How To Get To Ephesus, Turkiye
Getting to Ephesus from Kusadasi
Most visitors come to Ephesus from their cruise stop in Kusadasi. While many cruisers will book directly from their cruise ship, they can save a lot of money by booking a group or private tour of Ephesus.
Cruise tours often only see Ephesus itself, while smaller tours offer the chance to see more of the attractions surrounding Selcuk, such as the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, the House of Virgin Mary, and the Ephesus Archaeological Museum. This Ephesus tour from Kusadasi is a great place to start.
You can read all about our Aegean Sea cruise with Celestyal Cruises here.
Getting To Kusadasi from Selcuk
If you’re taking some time to explore Selcuk, good for you. This tiny town punches far above its weight when it comes to attractions. Most visitors to Selcuk will take a taxi to Ephesus. The ride takes about 10 minutes. I recommend asking to be dropped off at the upper gate.
Another option is to take the public minibus. These small buses might be a bit cramped, but they’ll get you from Selcuk to Ephesus for just 30 Lira. The busses depart from in front of the Ephesus Archaeological Museum.
Getting to Ephesus from Istanbul
If you’re based in Istanbul and are looking to explore Ephesus as a day trip, it’s possible. One option is to book an Ephesus day trip that includes flights. These tours leave right from Istanbul and will have you back in the city before bedtime.
If you want to make the journey yourself, I’d recommend departing from the Istanbul airport first thing and flying directly to Izmir. From Izmir Airport, it’s a 45-minute drive or taxi ride to the entrance to the Ephesus ruins.
Some visitors opt for the bus but keep in mind that the drive from Istanbul to Izmir is around 9 hours, and it’s an additional 45 minutes to Ephesus.
Most Popular Ephesus Tours
If you’re interested in joining an Ephesus tour you’ll gain the benefit of seeing the ruins through a unique lens. You’ll also have access to a well-trained guide who can go far deeper into the stories and history of the Ephesus ruins than you can read here.
Some of the most popular Ephesus tours include:
- Skip the lines and discover all of the highlights of Ephesus with the help of an experienced guide on this tour.
- See almost everything on this 8-hour tour that includes the Terraced Houses, the House of Virgin Mary, and St. John’s Tomb and Basilica.
- This full-day tour takes a different approach to Ephesus. You’ll get a tour of the ruins, but also head off the beaten path to visit the old village of Sirince and enjoy a private wine tasting.
- Exploring the Ephesus ruins builds up an appetite. This full-day tour takes you through the city’s most important sites and ends with a cooking class.
- Experience the breathtaking Turkish countryside on this eBike tour that takes you to Ephesus and also stops for treats such as Turkish pancakes and Turkish tea along the way.
Tips For Visiting Ephesus, Turkiye
Ephesus is a big archaeological complex, and it’s important to have an understanding of what you’re in for before you go. Here are my top tips for visiting Ephesus.
- Clothing: Wear comfortable clothing, especially shoes. You’re in for a lot of walking, and you won’t want to be strolling around in shoes that might lead to blisters or sore feet. Have a look at our favorite hiking shoes for men, women, and children for some suggestions. Make sure that you wear a hat and apply lots of sunscreen. Outside of the Terraced Houses there is little shade.
- When to Visit Ephesus: If you can avoid the summer months, do it. During peak season, Ephesus sees upwards of 10,000 visitors a day, all strolling the wide streets in the blistering sun. Most people don’t have options as to when they visit Ephesus, but that’s my suggestion. I also recommend going first thing in the morning when the weather is cooler, and the crowds are thinner.
- How Long To Spend at Ephesus: The ruins of Ephesus are vast. You’re going to spend at least two to three hours exploring. If you really love to get into the place, that visit time could stretch to four to five hours.
- Audio Guides: There are audio guides available at the entrance to Ephesus.
Where To Stay Near Ephesus
If you’re planning on spending a few days around Ephesus and Selcuk, there are plenty of attractions to keep you busy. It’s a lovely area to spend a few nights in, and there are accommodations for every budget.
We stayed at the Celsus Boutique Hotel, a lovely spot just a five-minute walk from Ayasuluk Castle in Selcuk and the Ephesus Archaeological Museum. The rooms were spacious and overlooked a courtyard with a lovely pool.
Another highly-rated Selcuk accommodations include the Nicea Hotel, a more traditional hotel-style accommodation with a continental breakfast and helpful staff.
Hotel Mary’s House is another great family-friendly hotel with a pool located right in the center of town. They feature family rooms and beautiful decor in large rooms. It’s one of the highest-rated hotels in Selcuk.
Enjoy Your Time Exploring Ephesus, Turkiye
Ephesus is a stunning ruin and one of the best places to visit in Turkiye. I hope that our complete guide to visiting Ephesus has helped you to plan your visit. Don’t hesitate to drop a comment or reach out if there’s something that we missed.
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