The great news about Western Turkey is most major sites in this region that you’re aiming for, have a high concentration of smaller sights and things to do around them.
It’s perfect for you to be able to enjoy several days of different itineraries which be mixed and matched depending on how much time you have, basing yourself in different areas along the way.
There’s so much to cover in the region of Western Turkey.. So, I’m starting with my favourite pick.. The ancient city of Ephesus!
Just outside the city of Selcuk lies my favourite ever historical site, so much so I’ve visited 3 times in two years. The ancient city of Ephesus has to be seen to be believed, it genuinely is one of the 7 Wonders of the World!
Ephesus has some seriously well preserved relics from when it was an impressive Roman city, like the huge Roman stone high street flanked by some in tact pillars.
..or the absolutely breathtaking Library of Celsus, that is a total marvel…
For an small additional entrance fee (that’s well worth it!), venture inside to the covered ‘terrace houses’ to see vast original mosaic work and intact homes to Ephesus’s original residents.
Step away from the crowds and don’t miss the nooks of Ephesus, spots like the Church of Mary, a mere sign post that you might wander past if you didn’t know better (like I did on my first visit!), but a beautiful partially standing church with some vast water troughs that’s seeping history from its every pore.
Not to mention the 2 crazy huge theatres. Climb to the top seats of the main theatre (near the main entrance) and revel in the view, imagining how Ephesus may have looked before the water receded – previously the port was right on Ephesus’s doorstep, but today you can see just how far the sea moved away.
Don’t forget to stand in the secret alleyways of the theatres and imagine the gladiators who would’ve woven their way through these very stone steps and alleys, making their way to the centre stage. Whilst you’re there, stand on the stage and check out the crazy good acoustics!
Those clever Romans certainly knew how to build a hell of a city, and Ephesus makes for one of the most enchanting historical sites you can find of anywhere. Even if you don’t think you care about the Romans or history, I defy anyone not to be bewitched by the antiquity of the place.
Pro Tip: Whilst nearby Selcuk offers some delicious food, there’s only one cafe once you’re inside of Ephesus, and said cafe is only worth a stop for an overpriced Turkish coffee. Work smart not hard and take something to picnic on in the grounds of Ephesus. There’s plenty of trees, shade and benches, away from the crowds.
Entrance Fees: 40tl for the main site + 20tl for the terrace houses = 60tl which is approximately £14/€15/USD$18
HISTORY / MUSEUM: Archeological Museum of Ephesus
Located in the centre of Selcuk, outside of the main Ephesus site, the museum is a logical stop. Though I recommend visiting after you’ve seen the main site as it helps put the history in to perspective.
The museum is home some artefacts that have been recovered from Ephesus, and the nearby area, for better preservation. Like the remnants of the giant statue in the photo! It’s not a showstopper of a museum, so keep your expectations low, but a true visit to Ephesus wouldn’t be complete without it.
Entrance Fees: 10tl – approximately £2.30/€2.50/USD$3
HISTORY / RELIGION: House of Mary
I visited Ephesus twice before I finally caved and visited the supposed ‘Mary’s House’. Rumour has it, this is where the Virgin Mary lived her last years, eventually dying in this area.
Jury’s out on if she actually lived there, but put it this way: it’s privately owned (unlike the rest of the historical sites in Selcuk – where your entrance fee goes to the council) and there isn’t really much to see.
Unless you’re seriously devote and on a religious pilgrimage, save your lira and skip it.
Pro Tip: Modest clothing is requested, being a religious site ’n all.
Entrance Fees: 25tl (pricey given the value for money of Ephesus!) – approximately £7/€6/USD$7
CITY LIFE / LOCAL CULTURE: Selcuk
I love the city of Selcuk. It’s a beautiful blend of bustling Turkish culture, with old and new architecture blended together in an inoffensive mix of rich culture.
There’s a huge weekly market filled with fresh vegetables, cheese, olives and any number of delicious Turkish delicacies you care to imagine. It makes for the perfect place to pick up some picnic supplies before heading to Ephesus.
Selcuk boasts lots of great restaurants dotted around town for you to enjoy, including some mean pide restaurants and higher end local establishments.
The shopping here is pretty good too, with reasonable prices, and nice textiles, there’s small local shops throughout the city centre.
HISTORY / RELIGION: Basilica of St. John
Overlooking Selcuk is the Basilica of St John, rumoured to be where John The Baptist came. There’s a lot more historical documentation on this than Mary’s purported visit, but regardless of the religious connotations, the site is worth visiting even if that’s not your usual jam.
Wander to the top of Ayasoluk Hill, inside the Basilica complex, scramble across the ruins of the fortress and enjoy a very impressive view overlooking the city.
Entrance Fees: 10tl – approximately £2.30/€2.50/USD$3
HISTORY / RELIGION : Isa Bey Mosque
Behind the entrance to the Basilica of St John, is Isa Bey Mosque. It won’t take you long to have a look round, but boasts impressive architecture from the 1300s. It was very majestic and peaceful when I went, and I would recommend you spend the 15 or so minutes it takes to soak up the atmosphere.
Entrance Fees: Free!
WINE / OUTDOORS: Sirince
Just 20 minutes drive outside of Selcuk is the famous wine region of Sirince. Easily done in conjunction with Selcuk, stop at this small hamlet for a tasting. Mostly famed for the local fruit wine, I managed to nab a palatable light red (think pale pinot noir).
But, time your run or may end up in crazy traffic with bus loads of other tourists. Once you find a precarious parking spot, stop for a drink at the restaurant that overlooks the view of this beautiful area, with vinyards-a-gogo. It’s a stunner.
Entrance Fees: Free! Expect to pay around 50tl for a bottle of wine.
How long do I need? See it all in 2 full days if you’re ambitious, 3 if you enjoy meandering and want to shop.
Where should I stay? Lots of choice in Selcuk, from basic to fancy. Haggle during in Winter for some amazing deals that’ll be about 30% of what you’d pay in Summer! There’s options outside of town too, nearer Sirince.
How should I get around? Self drive is always easiest, but there’s plenty of tour companies running out of Selcuk. It’s a 10 minute taxi ride from the centre to the gates of Ephesus, and there’s always taxis waiting to take you back to the city. Everything else in Selcuk is walking distance.
Fly in, fly out? Your closest airport is Izmir, around an hours drive north. You can take a train or bus from the airport directly to Selcuk, or there’s oodles of tour companies to choose from will arrange all transfers you require for a premium.