What To Do in Selcuk, Turkey: Visiting the Ancient City of Ephesus and More

Selçuk Home of Ephesus

Selçuk is a small town with a big attraction. Unassuming on its own, this village has distinguished itself as the home of Ephesus, a city considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Thought to have been established around 6000 BC, Ephesus was once a thriving Greek port city with an advantageous location and fertile soil. Now it’s an archeological and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ephesus has a complex history marked by different empires, attacks, conquerors, faiths, and earthquakes. The Roman Empire left behind it’s characteristic style of architecture. For a time the city played a significant part in the spread of Christianity, even receiving mention in the Bible. Ephesus was visited by St. Paul and believed to have been the home of the Virgin Mary. The Ottoman Empire was the last to lay claim to Ephesus in the fifteenth century but, as the harbor filled with silt it was ultimately abandoned. Today it’s possible to visit the city, located less than 4km from Selçuk. You can observe the skeleton of the city among the ruins and imagine its former splendor.

The Library of Celsus in Ephesus, Turkey

The Library of Celsus in Ephesus, Turkey

Getting to Selçuk Izmir the closest airport to Selçuk. Pegasus Air, an affordable Turkish airline, flys regularly from Istanbul to Izmir. The flight to Izmir is about one hour. We purchased tickets to Izmir, from Istanbul, for less than $20 each. A train or bus will take you directly from the Izmir Airport to Selçuk in an hour or less.

Stay Ephesus Palace is a family boutique hotel that sits at the top of a hill overlooking Selçuk. The hotel shines with its exemplary Turkish hospitality and home cooked breakfasts.

Outdoor dining area at Ephesus Palace in Selcuk, Turkey

Outdoor dining area at Ephesus Palace in Selcuk, Turkey

Planning a Visit to Ephesus 

Ephesus is a humbling piece of antiquity. This ancient city is one of the largest excavated sites in the world, which is incredible considering that only an estimated 20 percent has been unearthed. Walking through the ruins of Ephesus it’s almost possible to imagine the hustle and bustle of daily life and vendors stalls between the grand columns of the main street. A visit to Ephesus takes you back in time. Witnessing this historic marvel and its ancient treasures like the grand amphitheater, bath houses, gymnasiums, aqueduct system, and majestic Library of Celsus is awe-inspiring.

Odeon Was an Indoor Theater in Ephesus, Turkey

Temple of Hadrian in Ephesus, Turkey

One of the most remarkable testaments to the life in Ephesus are the Terrace Houses. Six dwellings contained in three story compounds make up the Terrace Houses, once home to the elite. Their lifestyle was so lavish that pipes beneath the floors and behind the walls circulated hot air throughout the homes and the houses had hot and cold water. Great care has been taken to restore the inside of the Terrace Houses returning ornate mosaics to the floors, frescos to the walls, and revealing elaborate interior courtyards.

Intricate Tile Mosaic Flooring in the Terrace Houses Ephesus, Turkey

Painted Wall Frescos in the Terrace Houses Ephesus, Turkey

Mosaic Flooring in the Terrace Houses

Getting to Ephesus: Many people make Ephesus a day trip from larger neighboring towns like Izmir visiting with tour groups on chartered buses. It is also possible to stay in the town of Selçuk, which has ample accommodation and restaurant options. Tours can be arranged with little advance notice at the numerous tourist offices in Izmir and Selçuk. To get from Selçuk to Ephesus you can take a Dolmuş (minibus) from the bus station in town, hire a taxi, or walk the 4 kms. We opted to walk and followed the main road in Selçuk until it turned into a dusty trail. The trail lead us between rural orchids until ending at the ancient ruins. The walk took a little less than an hour.

Logistical Information: Admission to Ephesus costs ₺60 ($10 USD in 2019). Entrance to the terraced houses costs an additional ₺30 ( $5 USD in 2019). At the entrance, by the ticket booth, there is the option to rent a headset and listen to the audio tour. Though the audio tour may enhance your experience, most of the significant buildings are accompanied by a plaque containing sufficient information. Plan for at least two hours to explore the ruins. There is little shade so take precautions for the sun and pack lots of water. At the entrance and exit of the historic site there are shops and restaurants. Expect crowds; Ephesus is one of the largest tourist attractions in Turkey bringing in over a million visitors a year.

Map of Ephesus: Click to Enlarge Image

Dolmuş at the Bus Station in Selçuk, Turkey

Dolmuş at the Bus Station in Selçuk, Turkey

What’s There To Do Around Selçuk?

Şirince

If you make Selçuk your home base while visiting Ephesus it’s possible to take a Dolmuş to the village of Şirince, 8km away for ₺3 (about .50 USD in 2019) . Smaller than Selçuk, Şirince boasts a cluster of historic white Greek houses on a hillside. You can spend a few hours in the town ambling the narrow labyrinth like alleyways and trying their famed fruit wines flavored with local fruits like cherry, apricot, and mulberry. Although the town is striking with towering rose bushes, it is very much a tourist attraction. Some authenticity has been lost as nearly everyone in the town has turned their home into a restaurant or hotel.

While it’s possible to find peaceful unadulturated cobblestone alleys to wander, others are stoked with souvenirs and brazen ice cream vendors, like the one who playfully took Scott’s hat and glasses and then extended the “joke” by attempting not to return the hat and glasses until we purchased ice cream. He ultimately returned them upon recognizing our displeasure. You’ll find these cheeky ice-cream vendors in many popular tourist towns. They put on an entertaining show to lure your to their stands. Turkish ice-cream, called dondurma, is sticky and stretchy because of a resin like ingredient called mastic, this allows for the venders to twirl and toss the ice cream around on their long serving spoons.

White Greek Style Houses in Şirince, Turkey

White Greek Style Houses in Şirince, Turkey

White Greek Style Houses in Şirince, Turkey

White Greek Style Houses in Şirince, Turkey

Turkish Ice Cream, Dondurma, Is Sold Streetside in Sirince By Assertive Vendors

Selçuk Saturday Market 

On Saturday in Selçuk roads close, tarps stretch overhead between lamp posts for shade, and hawkers meticulously lay out their colorful bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables, clothing and home goods.

Breakfast Sandwich at the Saturday Market in Selçuk, Turkey

Breakfast Sandwich at the Saturday Market in Selçuk, Turkey