Quick Guide to Western Turkey
A short guide to the historic western coast of Turkey
Why I Love Western Turkey
When I first arrived in Western Turkey, someone told me that Turkey has better preserved Greek and Roman ruins than Greece and Italy. Them be fighting words, I thought! But as I explored the various beautiful sites, it made me wonder if there could actually be truth to this. This part of Turkey has a long fascinating history with the Greco-Roman world and evidence of it is all over the region. The historically important sites along with the amazing landscape are the reasons why I loved Western Turkey. I think it is well worth a visit during your next trip to Turkey! So brush up on your Greco-Roman history and Christian Biblical history, strap on a pair of good walking shoes, pack a swimsuit (just in case the blue waters tempt you), and let’s go!
What to Do
A visit to this amazing archeological site is an absolute must even if you are not a Roman or Christian history buff. Ephesus is a fairly large site and will provide you with hours of wonder as you wander. Don’t miss the Terrace Houses either for a glimpse into the lives of long dead wealthy Romans. If you’re lucky, there will also be people busy restoring mosaics, a rare view of the work that goes into preserving ancient sites!
Another ancient Greek city, Miletus has a brutal history of war with places like Persia and connections to big names such as Alexander the Great and the Apostle Paul. My favourite part of the ruins was the theatre with its atmospheric tunnels.
This city is unique in that it is named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and used to house a unique cult image of her. Aphrodisias has some amazing restored architecture, including one of the best preserved stadiums in the Mediterranean region and a great gateway that once led to the Temple. There is also a good museum that displays many pieces of statuary and art that had been found on site.
An ancient Greek port city that is now far inland due to several centuries’ worth of landscape changes. While Priene wasn’t all that important during its heyday, it does provide a great glimpse into how cities were designed in Greek antiquity. My favourite aspect of Priene, however, was how nature is doing its best to reclaim it – especially if it is a quiet day, the atmosphere here is amazing as you explore the flora covered ruins around you.
This ancient Greek city’s claim to fame is the huge Temple of Apollo. Didyma is a fantastic spot to get the imagination going: politics, religion, enigmatic oracles, and titillating scandals.
Blindingly white in the hot sun, Pamukkale is a calcified geothermal springs with bright blue terraced pools of water. In Greco-Roman times, Pamukkale was a site of hydrotherapy. Evidence of its popularity can be gleaned from the size of Hierapolis, the ancient city that looms over Pamukkale. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is definitely worth a visit, especially for the golden sunset limning the calcified springs!
Where to Stay
Selçuk is a town in the İzmir Province of Turkey, not far from the ancient city of Ephesus. It is a pleasant Turkish town where you can do things like eat at the foot of an ancient aqua duct, on which storks make their home. Selçuk is also a great base from which one can visit Roman era sites, such as Ephesus, or even take a day trip to Greece!
A small family run pension, Homeros was a fantastic place to stay. The host was amazingly welcoming, the pension itself is beautiful with all its textiles and antiques, and the roof top terrace has fantastic views of Selcuk and the surrounding landscapes. Highly recommended.
A small town, Pamukkale pretty much only exists to service the tourists who are here to see the travertines and Hierapolis. There are shops, restaurants, tour and bus offices, and many places to stay.
Melrose House Hotel
A small hotel, about a 10 minute walk from the travertines and the town centre. As such, it is wonderfully quiet. The hotel offers good sized rooms, a pool, and fantastic traditional meals served on an outdoor terrace. Definitely Recommended.
How to Say
Turkish is the official language of the Republic of Turkey. It is a hard language to learn but it is well worth the effort to learn some key phrases beforehand. People are most appreciative when you at least try a few words!
Yes / No
Evet / Hayir
Do you speak English?
İngilizce biliyor musunuz?
eeng-ee-leez-jay koh-noo-shoo-yor moo-soo-nooz
My name is...
Morning – explore Pamukkale’s town centre or nap after a probably tiring overnight bus ride.
Mid-afternoon – explore Pamukkale and Hieropolis. Later in the afternoon makes for better light in which to photograph the ruins and the setting sun makes the calcified landscape glow quite prettily.
Take a day trip to Aphrodisias – unless you rent a car, the only practical way to get to Aphrodisias is via a tour. It is unlikely, however, that the group will be big (mine consisted of three of us). Bonus if you can get Laodicea included as a stop!
Note: The tour company you choose should be able to arrange your bus ticket to Selçuk. I highly suggest you make use of this as the tour guide would drop you directly at the bus station in the town of Denizli. This way you avoid going back to Pamukkale town centre where you would then take a local bus (which only leaves once full) to Denzili. It is a three hour comfortable bus ride from Denzili to Selçuk. I was even served ice cream as a snack!
Morning – explore the town of Selçuk or visit the nearby Pamucak Beach
Afternoon – take a dolmus (a minibus) from the bus station to Ephesus. They are clearly marked and only take about five minutes to get to the site!
Take a day trip to the Greek island of Samos via ferry. However, if you have extra time, it is worth spending two days and one night here. At least!
Visit the hill town of Sirince (famous for olive oil and other natural products) and the House of the Virgin Mary (both a Catholic and a Muslim shrine where Mary is supposed to have spent her last days).
Day Six or more:
Move further down the coast to visit Bodrum in order to get your beach fix!
How to Get There
From Cappadocia, take the overnight bus to Pamukkale. Confirm where the bus will drop you as Pamukkale is sometimes serviced by a shuttle instead (i.e you’d be dropped off at the side of a highway. Be ready to jump quickly onto the shuttle if you want a seat. Slow movers have to stand slightly hunched for the ride to Pamukkale).
Western Turkey is very easy and safe to visit as a solo female. If you’re on a budget (i.e. renting a car is not feasible), there are day tours available.
When to Visit
April to June and September to November are the best times to visit – temperatures are more moderate and the crowds will be a little less.
Leaving Western Turkey
The closest airport to get to Istanbul or Cappadocia is Adnan Menderes Airport in Izmir. It lies about 55km north of Selçuk. The best way to get there from Selçuk is via train. It’s pretty comfortable and fairly cheap so it is a good option. The route passes through farming towns and pretty countryside. The train will drop you off right by the airport.