After posting our Ultimate Guide to Ephesus, we might have been in need of a cold Efes (or two). Still, it didn’t keep us from doing what we love so we went out to explore the surroundings of Ephesus or Efes as it is called in Turkish. In this post, we will take you to Selçuk Castle, the Basilica of Saint John, Isa Bey Mosque, the Ephesus Museum, the Temple of Artemis, The Cave of the Seven Sleepers, the House of the Virgin Mary, and Sirince (or Şirince in Turkish). In short, we’ll tell you the things worth visiting outside of the ancient site of Ephesus itself. This is how to extend your stay in Ephesus and make the most of it.
Selçuk Castle: Ayasuluk Castle
It is virtually impossible to miss Selçuk Castle since it is dominating the entire town. In fact, it is far more easy to spot Ayasuluk Castle than it is to find Ephesus. 🙂 Some castles look great from a distance but aren’t really worth visiting. Selçuk Castle is different. Its grounds are home to the Basilica of Saint John, and of course, to the inner Ayasuluk Castle. The Byzantine Castle was also used during the Selcuk and Ottoman reigns. If only to admire the views, it is worth climbing the steps to the inner castle. Other than the views, you will discover the remains of a restored mosque, and ruins of cisterns, baths, slope houses, mansions and a small basilica.
The Basilica of Saint John
The Basilica of Saint John must have been an impressive construction before it was destroyed after an earthquake. Still, it is said that Saint John is buried on the Northern slope of Ayasulug hill, where people constructed a small chapel during the 4th century. Emperor Justinian felt the small church didn’t do Saint John justice and ordered the construction of a monumental basilica. The cross-shaped basilica with six domes was built of stone and brick, a rarity in those days. Nowadays, it is a collection of pillars, gates, and walls that are the remains of what must have been a spectacular building.
Isa Bey Mosque
Isa Bey Mosque lies just below Saint John’s Basilica and has a courtyard with an almost mystical character. It is an illustration of Seljukian architecture. Though we have visited the mosque inside, we felt that its attraction lies in the impressive courtyard and the decorations above the entrance gate. You will see some fascinating gravestones against the back wall surrounding the courtyard.
The Ephesus Museum
The Ephesus Museum is located in the center of Selçuk and we highly recommend to visit it after you have seen Ephesus. The museum has an archaeological and an ethnographical section displaying artifacts from Prehistoric, Mycenaean, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman Periods. The 8 exhibition halls each cover a specific theme and display artifacts belonging to that topic from different times in history. These are the different subjects for each exhibition hall:
- Fountain Sculptures
- Terrace Houses Finds
- Ephesus through the Ages
- Stone Artifacts
- Cult of Cybele
- Temple of Artemis Finds
- Artemis Ephesia
- Imperial Cult
The Temple of Artemis
The Temple of Artemis is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It must have been beyond impressive and has been rebuilt twice. The latest version consisted of 127 columns of 17,5 meters. Nowadays, there is not much more than one pillar still standing in a swampy field. If you are into history, have a quick stop here, it is along the way from Selçuk to the ancient site of Ephesus anyway. But be prepared for some over-eager fake coin sellers trying to trick you into buying genuine fake antique coins.
The Cave of the Seven Sleepers
You’ll find the Cave of the Seven Sleepers not too far from the ancient site of Efes, on the slopes of Mount Pion on the road to the House of the Virgin Mary. The Grotto of the Seven Sleepers is not much more than yet another road stop during your ventures around Ephesus. You can see the remains of a church built by Christians on top of the cave as well as several tombs.
The House of the Virgin Mary
The House of the Virgin Mary lies in a lush green setting on a mountain at about 9km from Ephesus. It is said to be the place where Mary spent her last days. The Roman building of which only the central part is open for visitors combines a house, a church, and her grave. The House of the Virgin Mary near Ephesus is a pilgrimage place for both Christians and Muslims who acknowledge Mary as the mother of one of their prophets. Each August 15th you can attend a ceremony commemorating Mary’s Assumption. If this place is of special spiritual significance to you, make the drive up there and pay the rather high entrance fee. If not, you may feel slightly disappointed by your visit, especially if you’re unfortunate enough to have to wait in line behind a few busloads of people waiting to enter the chapel.
Sirince, quaint mountain village near Ephesus
It has almost become a classic, Şirince, the mountain village not too far from Ephesus is turning into a tourist circus, despite its reputation of being authentic and typical. Admittedly, Sirince is picturesque, but since it has been ‘discovered’, it is also crowded, to an almost unpleasant degree. The reason is obvious, it is a perfect place for tour buses to stop and show their client what a Turkish village looks like. The result is that the narrow streets are flooded with people. It’s a shame because this is a pretty village. And if you hang around long enough to see the day trippers leave, it is very enjoyable; with lovely restaurants and cafés, artisan shops and lots of wine shops that sell the wines coming from the grapevines surrounding the village. Should you visit Sirince or not? That’s entirely up to you, but if you plan on going during the tourist season in the middle of the day, don’t be put off by how crowded it gets. If you are after a more relaxing vibe, go out of season and spend the night, it will be the best way to experience the village as it was not too long ago.
How about Selçuk?
Selçuk is a great option as a base to visit Ephesus and the broader area. If you stay in the old town, Selçuk Castle, Isa Bey Mosque and the Basilica of Saint John are within walking distance, as are the Ephesus Museum and Artemis Temple. The town itself is a nice mixture of old and new and caters for any kind of traveler. Wandering around its streets, you’ll discover plenty more historical buildings or charming corners.
Where to stay?
You will find there are plenty of options in Selçuk for all kinds of budgets and travelers. We stayed at Ephesus Paradise Hotel in Selçuk. This is a lovely, boutique style hotel in the old town of Selçuk, within walking distance of Isa Bey Mosque, the Basilica of Saint John, and the Castle. It is run by a historian who wrote a book about Ephesus that is for sale at a reduced price at the hotel, compared to the Museum Shop in Efes.
Find more hotels and hotel deals near Efes by checking out this selection:
More practical information for your Efes area visit
Looking for an excellent guide to take along on your travels? This Lonely Planet edition covers Ephesus and its broader area. The easiest way to prepare your trip to Turkey is to visit this page where we’ve bundled all Turkey travel resources on one page. It contains the links to the official visa application website, FastTrack through Istanbul airport links and plenty more.
The nearest airport is Izmir with easy connections with Istanbul airports if required. You’ll find cheap flight options here. Or you can use the search widget on the side to quickly find the most affordable and best flights available. Don’t forget to make the most of our map search function for more Turkey travel inspiration.
If you ask us, you need more than one day to cover Ephesus and the surrounding sights. But we’re into slow travel, and we prefer to take it easy to avoid the crowds. To make the most of your visit to Ephesus (or Efes) invest time in preparing your trip and choose the right timing. Take a closer look at the pictures in the blog post about Ephesus. They clearly show the difference between having the place almost to yourself early in the morning or towards sunset, compared to having to share it with busloads of people at other times of the day. The same goes for any of the places we showed in this post.