Skip to content

A Slow Travel Guide to Ancient Ephesus

Library of Celsus

Everyone knows the beautiful Library of Celsus, part of the the ancient ruins of Ephesus in Turkey.  Frequently on the cover of travel guides or prominently displayed in collections of evocative travel photos, everyone dreams of seeing this place someday.  Well, at least it seems that way once you get to Ephesus…  As I watched crowds hustled through the ruins, it only re-affirmed my love of slow travel.  I had an amazing visit to the archaeological site and am really happy that I spent the entire day there.

Library of Celsus

Me, some dedicated travelers, and the Library of Celsus in Ephesus.

I spent the night in a local guesthouse in Selcuk so that I would be ready to visit first thing in the morning and then didn’t have to travel far to get home.  Ephesus is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a fantastically complete ancient Roman city.  I had left the entire day open to explore and was definitely not going to worry about how long I stayed!  Arriving at 9am, there were only a handful of independent tourists.  Given the sheer size of the city, it felt like I had it all to myself.  While conventional wisdom says you have to start at the upper entrance to Ephesus, the elevation through the site is fairly moderate so ignore the cabbies interested in taking you to the top and start from bottom entrance.

Ephesus empty roads

Empty roads and perfect morning light in Ephesus.

Definitely take advantage of the morning light to get your “postcard photos” but remember to take some time to soak in the gleaming white marble structures and the elegant but massive road through town.  You have all day to explore the little spaces and artistic details so enjoy the sweeping views first.

Ephesus theater

The massive Ephesus amphitheater

Because the crowds will arrive!  Starting in earnest around 10:30am, the buses drop off in the upper city and then lead their groups down.  Between trips to the restrooms (by the lower town entrance), we noted the same groups from the top and estimated they were only spending 1-1.5 hours on site!  For comparison, having packed in lunch and water, I was in Ephesus for 6 hours!

Ephesus crowds

Mid-day Ephesus is overrun with day-trippers and cruise ship passengers.

While it makes movement through the city difficult and slow, the visitors are a nice reminder of how bustling this ancient town once was.  Ephesus was a popular trading port and a later Roman provincial capital.  Of course, if it gets to be too much, you can always take refuge in the Terrace Houses.  An often missed side attraction, the frescoes are gorgeous.

Ephesus cat

Take a tip from the Ephesus cats – enjoy the shade and don’t rush!

Otherwise, just sit back and let the crowds pass. Within 10 minutes most visitors move on.

Ephesus tour groups leaving

The crowds depart…

And then you can get back to enjoying the completeness of the architecture, the artistic detail and the cityscape.

Ephesus streets

Quite returns to the lovely ancient paved streets of Ephesus.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Christina, Ephesus looks fantastic. Your mode of travel is our preferred approach too when we’re lucky enough to have the luxury of time! (We spent two days at Petra and could’ve explored much longer…) How much time did you spend in Turkey? I’ve only been to Istanbul, but would love to explore more of the country?


    December 9, 2013
    • Thanks Tricia! We were in Turkey for 2 weeks and traveled from Istanbul to Bodrum along the Western coast. I can think of about 4 more trips I want to make to Turkey; there is so much to see!

      I’ll be sure to dedicate 2 days to Petra someday. 🙂


      December 9, 2013
      • What time of year were you there, Christina, and what was your mode of travel? We’re in Croatia now and considering heading down to Turkey, but uncertain given the time of year and the cold weather we’d encounter. 🙂


        December 10, 2013
      • We visited in late May/early June. It was actually quite hot already then. I have heard winter is still very nice in Turkey and that Istanbul is beautiful with a little snow. 🙂

        We rented a car and drove ourselves. I think it was a little worse than Greece if you can use that as a frame of reference. It was worth it at least for the independence you get from having a car and being able to explore at will.


        December 10, 2013
      • Bravo to you for being such an adventurous driver! Though I regularly braved it on the Autobahn and other spots in Europe for 10 years, I’m not sure what it would be like taking to the roads in other places. I have to smile when I think about my Indian friend’s comment about driving in Germany. She was actually intimidated to do so when she moved to Germany, but wasn’t nervous dodging cows, rickshaws, pedestrians or motorbikes in India. I suppose it’s all what we’re accustomed to. 🙂


        December 11, 2013
      • Oh that’s hilarious! I once asked an Indian co-worker about driving in India, and she told (without missing a beat) to just get a driver. 🙂

        I of course have to credit my husband who does all the driving. I am the master navigator!


        December 17, 2013

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: