Celcus Library is one the top things to do in Ephesus and Turkey Travel Guide.

15 Best Things To See And Do In Ephesus

The ancient ruins of the city of Ephesus, Türkiye, which are over 2,000 years old, is one of my favorite Roman ruin sites. They’re stunning, even if you’re not into history. This ancient city achieved UNESCO World Heritage status in 2015. It’s also the home of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Temple of Artemis, the Church of St. John, and the House of the Virgin Mary. This post covers the top things to see and do in Ephesus.

About Ephesus

There are several legends of Ephesus with the most interesting being that it was founded by the Amazons, the great female warriors, and named after their Queen Ephesia.

Whether this is true or not, we do not know, yet we do know that under Greek rule, it became the most important Greek city, a center for learning, and an important center of trade. Later, Ephesus became one of the wealthiest cities in the Mediterranean under the Lydian Kings. After this, it was ruled by the Persians, Alexander the Great, and more before being gifted to the Romans in the King of Pergamon’s will in 129 BC.

Under Roman rule, Ephesus grew and prospered, with, at its peak, about a half million people living here.

It was a port city, due to the nearby Kaystros River that once meandered up from the sea. Unfortunately, sea levels dropped and the river silted up, eventually leading to the abandonment of this beautiful city.

Ancient Ephesus is part of the modern city of Selcuk which is nearby. In addition to the ancient city of Ephesus, there are other sites here too, including the remains of the Temple of Artemis, which is One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the house of the Virgin Mary, the Basilica of St, John, and more, making it an important stop on any visit to Türkiye.

Best Things To See In Ephesus Archeological Park

Although Ephesus was once one of the biggest cities in the world, only about 10% of it has been excavated. The ruins that have been excavated are in relatively close proximity to each other, making it very walkable.

There are two entrances. The entrance closest to Selçuk is the lower entrance, while the other entrance is the upper entrance. As most arrive at the lower entrance, the things to see noted below start at the lower entrance.

Great Theater

One of the first things you see after entering from the main gate of Ephesus is the Great Theater from the 4th century BC. Beautifully situated at the base of Panayir mountain, it overlooks the Aegean sea.

Originally built in 250 BC, it was enlarged by the Romans and held around 24,000 spectators. Today, it is the largest Roman ruin theater in Türkiye.

Visiting the great theater is one of the top things to do in Ephesus.
Great Theater

This theater is remarkably well-preserved and one can only imagine how beautiful it must have been when the sea reached this area.

Harbor Street

Harbor Street was a grand, colonnaded street lined with shops that ran from the great theater to what used to be the harbor.

Today, that harbor is actually several miles away due to silting of the river and changes in sea level.

View of Harbor street from the great theater.
Harbor Street

Commercial Agora

The Commercial Agora sits on the right hand side of Harbor Street in lower Ephesus. Surrounded by columns, there were about 100 rooms that included shops, workshops, warehouses, and meeting places, making it the center of the commercial world of Ephesus.

Celcus Library

Not far from the theater is the stunning Celcus library, one of the top ruins to see in Ephesus and one of the only great ancient libraries left in the world.

It was built around 117 AD as a funerary monument for the famous Roman Senator, Celsus, who is buried underneath it, and held around 12,000 scrolls.

Celcus Library is one the top things to do in Ephesus and Turkey Travel Guide.
Celcus Library


Celcus was the third largest ancient Greco-Roman library in the world, with only the libraries in Alexandria and Pergamon being larger.

There are four statues on the facade that represent the female personifications of four virtues: wisdom, knowledge, intelligence, and excellence.

This great library was ruined in antiquity from both a fire and an earthquake. It layed in ruins until its facade was reconstructed by archeologists in the late 20th century.

Temple of Hadrian

Next, on Curetes Way, just up the street from the Library, is the Temple of Hadrian. It was built in the 2nd century, to honor Emperor Hadrian who was one of the 5 Good Roman Emporers. It also was dedicated to the goddess Artemis and the people of Ephesus.

Visiting the Temple of Hadrian is one of the top things to do in Ephesus.
Temple of Hadrian

Copper statues of Roman Emperors Diocletian, Maximian, Constantis I, and Galerius once stood before it, although they have not been found. Only the bases survived.

This is one of the more well-preserved monuments in Ephesus, although many of the original sculptures and friezes are in the Archeological Museum of Ephesus (below).

Terrace Houses

Also on Curetes Way, across from Hadrian’s Temple, are the ‘Terrace Houses’. Archeologists have been excavating the homes here of some of the richest Ephesians, including high ranking officers, governors and rich tradesmen.

Only the first story of these once two-story homes have survived. They were heated by hot water running under the floors and inside the walls, similar to Roman spas.

The walls contain stucco sculptures and colorful paintings with mythological scenes and the floors have brilliant mosaics

Terraced Houses | Metuboy

The Terrace houses have a separate, small entry fee, but are worth it.

Public Latrines

Although some of the wealthier citizens had private toilets at home, most citizens used public latrines. In fact, they could pay a membership to have their own ‘seat’, or alternatively, pay a fee per use.

The latrines located on Curetes Way, consist of marble seats. The room was also heated in the winter, like the homes and spas. They’re not far from the Celcus Library and Hadrian’s Temple, so look out for them if you’re not with a guide.

Nymphaeum of Trajan 

Ephesus has many fountains, which provided daily water for the citizens. One of its most monumental fountains was the Nymphaeum of Trajan, also located on Curetes Way. This fountain, funded by Tiberos Claudius Arison and his wife, honored the goddess Artemis and Emperor Trajan. 

Nymphaeum Temple is one the top things to do in Ephesus and Turkey Travel Guide.
Nymphaeum Of Trajan

This was a large, colorful, two-story structure, with columns and niches, with many statues, some from Greek mythology. At the center front of the fountain, was a large statue of the Emperor of Trajan.

Many of these statues are now in the Museum of Ephesus, although the statue of Trajan was never found. Only the base survived.

Brothel of Ephesus

At the intersection of Curetes Way and Marble Street are the ruins of the brothel. At least they think it was a brothel due to a sculpture of Priapus with an oversized phallus, which is now in the Museum of Ephesus.

It was a two-story structure, with a social room on the first floor and the rooms where the women took their clients upstairs. Only the first floor survived.

The street had markings that they think were an advertisement for the brothel. There are carvings of a cross, a woman, a heart, a purse, a foot, a library, and a hole on the rock. The interpretation is…”at the crossroads, across from the library, a woman’s love can be purchased if you have enough money to fill this hole and if your foot is at least this big”.

They also think there was an underground tunnel connecting the brothel to the Celcus library nearby.

Political Agora

Ephesus had two agoras, the first, located in lower Ephesus by the port, was the commercial agora. The second, located in upper Ephesus was the political, or State Agora.

The Political agora was the larger of the two and where citizens gathered for political and social reasons. Also lined with columns, at its center was a temple devoted to Isis, built to honor a visit by Cleopatra and Mark Antony in the 1st century BC, where all decisions would have been voted on.

Other Top Sites Nearby

Its really best to stay in Selçuk for at least a night or two to see the other sites in the area.

St. John’s Basilica

The Church of St. John, or St. John’s Basilica is located on Ayasuluk hill, within walking distance of most hotels on Selçuk.

St. John the Baptist brought Mary, the mother of Jesus, here in the 1st century AD. He later returned to the area to write the Gospel.

This Church, built in the 6th century AD, sits over his tomb.

The Bascilica of Saint John is one of the top things to do in Ephesus
Basilica of Saint John

It is open daily from 8 AM to 8 PM for a small fee.

Location of The St. John’s Basilica: St. John’s Bascilica is located on Aziz Yohannes Bazilikasi.

Castle of Selçuk

Beyond the Basilica Of Saint John on Ayasuluk hill is the citadel, or castle of Selçuk. It was built from stones taken from older Greek and Roman buildings.

There is not much here beyond the outer walls, but it’s a beautiful area to walk around.

Visiting the Citadel of Selçuk is one of the top things to do in Ephesus
Castle of Selçuk

Temple of Artemis

The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Womders of the Ancient World, is also here. Built to honor the goddess Artemis, it was huge, twice the size of the Parthenon, and surrounded by two rows of columns. Unfortunately, all that remains today is one column.

Visiting the Temple of Artemis is a highlight near Ephesus
Temple of Artemis | Turkish Archaeological News

How To Get To The Temple Of Artemis: The Temple of Artemis is a 2-minute drive by car or taxi, or 15-minute walk from Selçuk.

House of the Virgin Mary

This shrine, located 5 miles outside of Selçuk, is considered to be the house of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus.

Visiting the House of the Virgin Mary is one of the top things to do in Ephesus
House of the Virgin Mary | Roger Smith

There is also a ‘wishing wall’ here that pilgrims, or tourists, use to adorn with notes of intention, or wishes. 

How To Get To Here: Other than taking a tour, you can drive, take a taxi, or a dolmus which leaves from the bus terminal. It’s a 15-minute drive southwest of Selcuk.

Archeological Museum Of Ephesus

After visiting Ephesus, visit the Archeological Museum of Ephesus, which is in Selçuk. This is where the many sculptures and artifacts excavated from the ruins of the area are located. Unfortunately, many were sent abroad, so the collection is not complete, but it is still a must-see.

One of its highlights is the statue of Artemis in the Hall of Artemis Ephesia. This Greek goddess, usually portrayed as a hunter, symbolizes fertility in this statue with multiple breasts.

There is also the Hall of Fountain Findings, the Hall of Terraced Houses Findings, the Hall of Coins, and much more.

The museum is centrally located in Selçuk and is open daily from 8:30 AM to 8 PM.

Statue of Artemis

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Where To Stay When Visiting Ephesus

Although Ephesus was the name of the ancient city at its peak, Selçuk is the name of the city today. Ephesus is located the city of Selçuk, yet set away from the main city. Due to its proximity, Selçuk is a perfect city to use as a base while visiting.

All these accommodation options offer a free breakfast and are located near many restaurants, cafe, and shops. They are all about a 3-4 minute walk to the Basilica of St. John and 1.8 miles (3 km) from the Ephesus Archeological Park. They are all currently rated over 9.2, except the one I stayed in (Homeros), but really liked.

Budget

  • I stayed in Homeros Pension & Guesthouse, which is owned by locals and located in historic Selcuk. This homey guesthouse offers old world charm and a rooftop terrace. Free pick up from the bus or train station is available and they can help with rides to Ephesus in the morning.
  • Amazon Petite Palace is a basic hotel with simple rooms and a swimming pool at a budget price.

Affordable

  • In Ephesus Hotel And Art Gallery is one of the highest rated places in Selçuk with high ratings for location and staff. It’s located about a 5-minute walk to the Ephesus Archeological Musuem. Some rooms have a balcony with city views.
  • Hotel Mary’s House has some rooms with city and garden views. It’s located a 3-minute walk to the Ephesus Archeological Museum.
  • Livia Garden Hotel has a sun terrace, a garden, a swimming pool, and a restaurant. It’s located about a 4-minute walk to the Ephesus Archeological Museum.
Basilica of St. John

How To Get to Ephesus

The best place to stay when visitng Ephesus is the modern city of Selçuk, which is about 2-2.5 miles (3-4 km) northeast of Ephesus. The best way to get to Ephesus from Selçuk is by taxi, dolmus, which is a mini bus, walking, or taking a tour.

Minibus

You can get to Ephesus by dolmus (minibus) from the Selçuk Bus Terminal. These minibuses leave when full, but there are usually several per hour. The minibus drops you at the lower entrance of Ephesus. To return by minibus, you will need walk back down to the lower entrance. Do not exit that park at the top as you will need to pay again to re enter.

Taxi

Taxis can drop you off at either the upper or lower gate. With this option, it’s better to start at the top of the hill and walk down, so it is less strenuous. The ride from the Selçuk Bus Terminal to Ephesus will cost around 40-50 Euro.

Walk

If you choose to walk the 2-2.5 miles (3-4 km) to Ephesus, it will take about 45 minutes, depending on your location.

Take A Tour

If you prefer to visit via a tour, this Day Trip to Ephesus, the Temple of Artemis, and Mary’s House picks you up from your hotel in Selçuk, Izmir, or Kusadasi. If you’re coming from Istanbul, consider the Istanbul to Ephesus tour. This tour includes a flight from Istanbul to Izmir airport, where you are picked up and driven to Ephesus (only). The tour is about 14 hours, including flight and drive time. A minimum of two people are required for this tour.

How To Get To Selçuk

The closest airport to Selçuk is Izmir, about 50 minutes northwest of the city. There is also a train from Istanbul to Izmir, then to Selçuk. From there, Selçuk can be reached by car, taxi, or bus.

Selçuk can also be reached by bus from an Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Antalya.

Want To See More Of Türkiye?

Türkiye is incredible. I’ve been here three times now. Each time I’ve visited, I’ve been amazed, yet there’s still so much more to see!

My favorite places include the following.

Istanbul is Türkiye‘s main tourist destination, full of glorious remnants from its Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman history. It’s sumptuous Topkapi Palace, stunning mosques, Basilica Cistern, and Roman ruins are amazing.

Cappadocia, with its fantastical fairy chimneys, cave dwellings, and fascinating history is truly amazing. You really need at least three days in this city to explore all it has to offer.

Antalya, on Türkiye’s stunning southern coast, has calm, turquoise waters framed by the beautiful Taurus Mountains, a charming old town, Kaleiçi, picturesque old harbor, and fabulous Roman ruins.

Pamukkale, with its unusual ‘cotton cloud’ spa terraces is interesting. I found the terraces to be a little overly touristic, but loved the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Hierapolis up behind them.

And to plan your trip, see my Türkiye Travel Guide, which features the top places to visit, how to get around, safety, scams, logistics, and more to help make your visit epic.

Safe Travels!

Julie

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

One Comment

  • Cyndi

    Beautiful photography of the ruins and so much history. Thank you for sharing!

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