Just a few miles inland from the Aegean coast lies the quaint town of Selcuk, Turkey. Known as the gateway to Ephesus, it is also a destination worth spending some extra time to explore.
Located in the province of Izmir, Selcuk truly delights its visitors with its laid back atmosphere and plenty of must-see attractions. That said, very few people tend to stick around and explore the city.
Besides the massive and impressive Ephesus complex, there are actually quite a few charms to the town that shouldn’t be missed on a visit.
9 Cool Things to do in Selcuk Turkey
Explore the Ancient City of Ephesus
Hands down, the most noteworthy site to see is the Ancient City of Ephesus. Second, only to Rome in its importance during 1st and 2nd century AD, it had a booming population of 33 000 – 56 000.
Built by the Greeks in 10th century BC, it was once the trade and commercial center of the ancient world. Its Greco-Roman ruins are among the biggest and most well-preserved in the world.
Walking around this historical city you will be amazed by how massive it truly is. What is even more incredible, however, is that most of the city still remains uncovered.
Throughout the centuries both invasions and earthquakes have damaged the city which leaves approximately 85% still underground. When you walk around Ephesus you truly will be walking in the footsteps of those who played an important role in world history.
Ephesus served as the capital city of Asia Minor and was visited by Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony, Cleopatra and then became the home to St. Paul, St. John and the Virgin Mary.
Ephesus is about 1 and a half miles from the center of Selcuk so getting there is very easy. The dolmus (shuttle) drops you off at the lower entrance gate and costs 2 TL. It is also possible to walk, however walking around Ephesus was tiring enough for me, especially during the summer months when it gets really hot.
As of 2019, entrance into Ephesus is 60 TL for adults (approximately $10 US) and children under 12 are free. From April to October the hours are 8 am to 7 pm and during the winter months of November to March the hours are from 8 am to 5 pm.
There are so many extraordinary sites to discover when exploring this ancient city. For me, the most spectacular was the massive Library of Celsus. Built in honor of Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, this two-story masterpiece was built between 114 and 117 AD.
It was built to house over 12 000 scrolls as well as serve as a mausoleum for Celsus. Today Celsus’ remains still lay in a crypt below the library. The architecture is absolutely stunning with towering Corinthian columns guarding the entrance.
It is also built upon a platform where nine steps span the full width of the entire front entrance. There are four statues carved into the nooks at the entrance; each symbolizes the four virtues – wisdom, knowledge, intelligence and valor.
At its time the Library of Celsus was the third largest library in the ancient world, behind Alexandria and Pergamum.
Another jaw-dropping structure to visit is the Ephesus Great Theater. It was first constructed during the Hellenistic Period around 3rd century BC and was later expanded by the Romans in 1st century AD.
This massive open-air theater is set upon a hill and has a seating capacity of 25 000! The stage structure itself towers 3 stories high and is adorned with columns, niches, windows and statues.
The Ephesus Great Theater was used for concerts, plays, religious, political and philosophical discussions as well as animal and gladiator fights.
My biggest suggestion when visiting Ephesus is to wear a hat, use sunscreen and bring plenty of water. There is barely any shade throughout the entire city which can make the exploration in the summer months very tiresome.
They do sell water within the city, however, like most tourist attractions it is extremely overpriced. The footpaths in the city are relatively uneven so wearing a comfortable pair of walking shoes or runners is also suggested.
Located right in town, just across from the Otogar Bus Station is the Ephesus Museum. Any archaeological artifacts that were dug up between 1867-1905 were taken to the British Museum and those that were found between 1905-1923 were taken to Vienna.
After the founding of the New Turkish Republic, the government forbid any of its relics to be taken out of the country and required that any artifacts formerly taken be returned to its rightful owner.
In 1964 Ephesus Museum was founded and excavations from the Ephesus site were then proudly displayed in this small but important museum. The museum is open from 8 am – 6:30 pm daily.
House of Virgin Mary
Perfectly located on the top of Bulbul Hill about 5 miles from Ephesus sits the House of Virgin Mary. Said to be the place where Mary spent her last years, today this stone cottage that is nestled among the hills is a chapel and pilgrimage for both Christians and Muslims alike.
It has been said that Jesus entrusted Virgin Mary to St. John before he died on the cross. St. John then came to Ephesus with Virgin Mary to escape persecution in Jerusalem.
What remains of this two-storied house looks more like a chapel than a cottage. Interestingly there is a fountain called the Water of Mary that is said to have healing properties.
It can be found near the exit of the church area and is said that the stream providing the water used to flow directly into the room where Virgin Mary slept. Visitors can leave prayer offerings by tying tissue to the wishing wall and even drink from this holy fountain.
Entrance into the House of Virgin Mary is 25 TL and it is important to note that you are only allowed to pay in cash. Hours into the chapel are 8 am – 6 pm from March to October and 8 am – 5 pm from November to February. Every Sunday there is a holy mass that takes place at 10:30 am and it is given in English.
Byzantine Castle of Ayasuluk
At the top of the hill stands the Byzantine Castle of Ayasuluk. This fortress was built atop Ayasuluk Hill during the Byzantine times to stand over the Basilica of St. John.
Later renovated by the Turks you can now see the face of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – Father of the modern-day Republic of Turkey on the outside of the castle. Although the castle itself is a tad underwhelming as the inside is merely ruins of a Mosque, the views over Selcuk Turkey are definitely worth the visit.
Try coming around sunset and soak in the history that is literally beneath your feet. Make sure to combine your visit with the other nearby sites of St. John’s Basilica (entrance fees include both sites) as well as the Isa Bey Mosque.
St. John’s Basilica
Although St. John’s Basilica is merely just a skeleton of the splendor it once was, it is a popular stop on the way up the scenic Ayasuluk Hill. This Basilica was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian and was built to honor St. John the Apostle who lived in Ephesus after leaving Jerusalem.
It has been said that he wrote his gospel on this very hill. Referenced in the New Testament and burial site of the Apostle, this site holds such meaningful significance in Christianity.
The church’s major attraction is of course St. John’s tomb which also hold his relics and its marble encasement is still visible today. Entrance into the Basilica is 10 TL and also includes the your ticket into the Byzantine Castle of Ayasuluk.
The site is open from 8 am – 6 pm from April to October and 8 am- 4 pm from November to March.
Temple of Artemis
The Temple of Artemis is part of the original list of the Ancient 7 Wonders of the World. Interestingly enough, only one out of the seven actually still remains intact – the Pyramids of Egypt.
Even though little remains from this original architectural masterpiece, it still is worth the time to walk past the site and ogle at what once was. The Temple of Artemis was first built by Croesus, King of Lydia in 550 BC.
It was built as a place to worship the Greek Goddess Artemis – goddess of fertility, the earth, the moon and the animals. Considered to be 3 to 4 times the size of Athens Parthenon, it truly was a place of important significance.
It is said that the temple was adorned with intricate works of art and stood over 350 feet! Unfortunately due to environmental and human disasters, a lone column with a stork’s nest is all that remains.
Thankfully the original statue of Artemis was salvaged and is on exhibit at the Ephesus Museum.
Isa Bey Mosque
Right among the other historic sites in Selcuk you will find the Isa Bey Mosque. According to the inscription on the West Gate, the Mosque was built by an architect Ali Dimaski from Damascus in 1375 for Sultan Aydinoglu Isa Bey who is known as a Patron of Scientists.
The Mosque is unique in that it is asymmetrical and its columns and stones were taken from the ruins of Ephesus City. Don’t miss the gorgeous mosaic in the south dome and the statue of Emir of Aydin’s bust opposite the main entrance outside in the courtyard.
Entrance into the Mosque is free but make sure that you are appropriately dressed (women must wear a headscarf and have long clothing).
Just 4 miles from Selcuk is the longest beach in all of Turkey. On the southern tip, there are a few hotel resorts but most of the beach is public. This 260 foot stretch of sand is a popular place for Turkish families to come on the weekend but during the week the beach is nearly empty.
There are a few amenities to buy drinks and snacks but the beach itself is not very developed. As well, there is very little shade so make sure you have a hat, water and are loaded up with sunscreen.
Day trip to Sirince from Selcuk Turkey
One of my favorite villages that I visited in Turkey is the cute little Greek-influenced town of Sirince. Having once been occupied by the Greek Orthodox, homes nestled among the hills definitely have a Greek architectural feel.
The first settlers actually named the village Cirkince which means ugly in hopes to deter outsiders from entering the village. Since 1926 the name has changed to Sirince which translates to cute, and true to its name, its beauty has so much character that it is very obvious why this little gem has become a tourist hot spot.
Getting to Sirince is relatively easy from Selcuk. You can catch a dolmus (minibus) from Selcuk Otogar (bus station) for only 6 TL. It takes about 15 minutes to get there and the view winding up the lush hills is absolutely picture perfect. The dolmus stops in the center of the village and picks up is at the very same location.
The village is surrounded by fertile fields which have made it perfect for vineyards and several fruit orchards. Homes are connected by narrow cobblestone streets and the main center is well preserved as there are no vehicles allowed.
This makes exploring the town just that much more peaceful and picturesque. It is quite hilly so be prepared with a good set of walking shoes. Sirince is known for its wine so perhaps the exercise from climbing the hills will help burn the calories from all the wine tastings that are possible throughout the town.
Shopping at the Sirince Bazaar is another fun experience. There are colorful shops, wonderful cafes and interesting stalls in plenty. There are so many handcrafts to purchase and knowing you are supporting a local village makes it that much more special.
Without a doubt, Sirince stole my heart. With its friendly people, small-town charm and naturally perfect outskirts, this town is a must-see for anyone traveling near the Aegean coast.
How to get to Selcuk Turkey
- By Air: Getting to Selcuk by air is always an option, however, the nearest commercial airport is located in Izmir which is about 50 miles away. Dozens of flights leave Istanbul daily and they only take about an hour and fifteen minutes. From the airport, you can either take the train, taxi or shuttle.
- By Train: The train station is located directly on the Adnan Menderes Airport grounds and leaves 8 times per day. Although I have not experienced the journey by train myself, I have heard that it can get very busy and you might have to stand for the entire journey. It is also important to note that there is a train that runs directly from Denizli (Pamukkale) to Selcuk which makes it a great destination to either come from or head to after.
- By Shuttle: Shuttles are another option from the airport but maybe a bit trickier to navigate as they are not directly located on the airport grounds. The Central Bus Station, called Otogar is located about a mile from the airport. It is not a bus, but rather a large minivan and is labeled Selcuk-Ephesus. The shuttle journey lasts approximately one hour and will have other stops along the way. If you happen to fly from Istanbul with Atlas Jet, they have their own complimentary shuttle service that will take you directly to Selcuk.
- By Taxi: The last but most expensive way to get from the airport to Selcuk would be by taxi. It costs approximately 100 TL which is about $18 US.
- By Bus: Traveling by bus through Turkey is incredibly easy. There are plenty of overnight buses that travel to Izmir and finding the perfect connection can be just a click away. Once in Izmir you can travel to Selcuk the same way as above; by train, shuttle or taxi.
Where to Stay in Selcuk Turkey
With the popularity of nearby Ephesus, there are plenty of hotel options in and near Selcuk. These properties can accommodate a wide range of budgets and vary widely on what to expect for amenities.
That said, I recommend that you have a look at either the Cella Hotel & Spa or Ena Serenity Boutique Hotel for your stay in Selcuk. Both have fantastic 10-star review ratings from fellow travelers and offer a comfortable stay.
As you can see, there is so much to do while visiting Selcuk. Spending at least two days in Selcuk would be my recommendation so that you can discover all that it has to offer.
Whether it be soaking in the incredible history, getting a taste of the delicious Turkish food or just meandering down old cobblestone streets, this destination is truly what Turkey is all about.
More on Turkey:
- 11 Unmissable Things to do in Istanbul
- Foolproof Guide to Pamukkale Turkey
- Cappadocia, Turkey: 10 Things to Know Before You Go
- What to Wear in Turkey