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The gateway to the great Roman ruins at Ephesus – an expert guide Kusadasi, Turkey
Two decades ago, Kusadasi was little more than a fishing village. Now it’s a busy port and tourist-oriented town of 50,000 people. A few old districts retain their charm but most cruise passengers are here to visit the great Roman ruins at Ephesus, Turkey’s premier visitor attraction after Istanbul, which is located 10 miles (16km) northeast of the town.
Cruise port location
Cruise ships dock at two dedicated piers in the port, which is located on the waterfront immediately north of the town’s main streets. The modern terminal complex contains shops, cafés and other dining options.
Can I walk to any places of interest?
It is two minutes’ walk from the cruise piers to the heart of the modern town. Exit the terminal building and walk straight for 100 yards (90m), bear left (east) on Atatürk Boulevard and the first right, Barbaros Boulevard, leads to the central streets. The town’s older districts are also within walking distance, as is scenic Guversin Adagi (Pigeon Island), which you’ll see to the west of the cruise piers and which is connected to the mainland waterfront by a causeway.
You will need to join a tour (see below) or take a private or much cheaper shared minibus (dolmus) to reach the ruins at Ephesus. Note, though, that taxi fares, with waiting time, are the same, and often more, than the cost of a tour. If you opt for taxi, it is best to book a car online to meet you outside the terminal.
Ephesus’s size means it makes sense to start and finish your tour at different points – organised excursions do this, beginning at the Upper Gate and walking downhill through the site – so be clear on your pickup point.
What to see and do
Half a day is enough to see Ephesus – though you will probably want to spend longer – which leaves enough time on a full-day stopover to see Kusadasi. This is not the most charming of towns, however, so you may want to join an additional tour to other archeological sites or take a taxi to spend time on local beaches.
What can I do in four hours or less?
The main Ephesus site can be seen in four hours, enough time to take in what began as a Greek settlement in around 1000 BC, becoming the Aegean’s major port and home, among other things, to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Later the Romans transformed it into what we see today, a place of wonderfully preserved temples, theatres, baths and terraced houses.
Beware the many tours to the site that effectively waste sightseeing time by including dull shopping stops. Note, too, that the site becomes hot in the afternoon in summer, so most tours visit in the morning, making the site especially crowded before noon. Whenever you visit, take a hat, water and sunscreen.
No Frills Ephesus Tours offer half-day and longer excursions with no shopping.
If you visit alone – note that taxis and dolmus buses are confusing and time-consuming – you take a chance with the many guides touting for business at the entrance, whose quality is variable. A good alternative is an audio guide such as Apple’s Ephesus walking tour.
What can I do in eight hours or less?
Half-day tours to Ephesus generally do not allow you time to see the excellent Ephesus Museum or the House of the Virgin Mary and Basilica of St John, the region’s other key attractions.
The Ephesus Museum is located in the town of Selçuk, just over a mile (2km) south of Ephesus and en route to and from Kusadasi. It has displays from around the region, including three fine statues of Artemis from the Temple of Artemis, whose now patchy site is 10 minutes’ walk to the west.
The House of the Virgin Mary is a woodland chapel three miles (5km) southwest of Selçuk towards Kusadasi. The Virgin is said to have travelled here with St John the Evangelist and spent the last years of her life at the site, which appeared to a German nun in visions early in the 19th century and was “discovered” by the Christian clergy in 1891.
Whatever the veracity of the site, it is far more likely that St John came to the area and was buried around AD 100 on a hill just northwest of Selçuk. A chapel was built here and replaced 300 years later, on the orders of Emperor Constantine, by a vast basilica, the remains of which can visited today. Close by is the fine 14th-century Isa Bey mosque, also worth a visit.
Note that many tours do not include the entrance fees for Ephesus (and the extra fee to visit the site’s terraced houses) or the above sites in their upfront prices.
Other add-on tours to Ephesus include visits to Sirince, a once charming village east of Selçuk now rather compromised by the number of visitors.
Eat and drink
Fish and seafood are obvious options on the waterfront restaurants either side of the cruise terminal (prices are lower the farther you are from the terminal) and by the yacht marina. For snacks, try the traditional sigara böreği, filo pastry rolls filled with cheese and spinach, or cöp sis, small lamb and vegetable kebabs local to nearby Selçuk and often available from street stalls.
Don’t leave without…
Kusadasi is crammed with souvenir, jewellery, carpet and other shops aimed at cruise passengers. Beware that guides and other operators will often take you to shops with which they have a commission arrangement. Bargain hard if you are buying carpets. Also look out for fakes, especially the coloured glass substituted for zultanite, a rare, expensive and – when genuine – beautiful gemstone, also known as csarite or Turkish diaspora.
Need to know
Be on the lookout for pickpockets in busy streets and crowded parts of Ephesus, particular in and around the site entrance. Also be on guard when shopping for carpets or gemstones (see above).
Best time to go
Ephesus is a busy site, especially between June and August, which is also the hottest time of the year, with daytime temperatures often exceeding 86F (30C). Spring – late April and May – is cooler and the site is less crowded and more verdant.
Ephesus is open daily, year-round, with the exception of some major religious and other holidays, when it may close for the day or morning.