Western Turkey is a fantastic place to visit. It may be one of those places that you think you must see via multi-day group tour, but you don’t! You can easily visit this area either by renting a car or by public transportation plus a few day tours. As I was travelling solo on a budget, I did the latter. When I first arrived in Western Turkey, someone told me that the country 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 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 and Christian Biblical histories, strap on a pair of good walking shoes, and let’s go!
Day 1: Pamukkale + Hierapolis
Make your way to Pamukkale by bus (if you’re coming from Cappadocia, I suggest taking the overnight bus). 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. Most people come to Pamukkale just for a few hours, but I think it is worth spending the night to avoid the tourist crush. I stayed at Melrose Place Hotel and found it pleasant and budget friendly. There isn’t much to see in Pamukkale itself, so I suggest arriving in the morning, have a late lunch and head out to Hierapolis and the travertines for mid-afternoon. This way, you will get to see them with less crowds and the travertines at sunset are amazing.
Blindingly white in the hot sun, Pamukkale is a calcified geothermal spring 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!
Day 2: Aphrodisias
Take a day trip to Aphrodisias, the City of Love – unless you rent a car, the only practical way to get to Aphrodisias is via a day tour. It is unlikely, however, that the group will be big (mine consisted of three). Aphrodisias is one of the most important archaeological sites of the Greek and Roman periods in Turkey yet in comparison to sites such as Ephesus, not many people visit.
Note for day 3 below: 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 where you would then take a local bus (which only leaves once full). It is a three-hour comfortable bus ride from Denzili to Selçuk.
Day 3: Selçuk
Selçuk is a town in the İzmir Province of Turkey, not far from the ancient city of Ephesus. It is a very pleasant Turkish town in which you can spend a couple days. If you feel for a swim, you can visit the nearby Pamucak Beach. You can also 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. If you feel the need to visit another country, head down to the port and take a ferry to Samos, Greece!
In Selçuk, there are many places at which you can stay; I stayed at a small family run pension, Homeros, and found it to be a fantastic place. The host was amazingly welcoming, the pension itself is beautiful with all its textiles and antiques, and the roof top terrace had amazing views of Selçuk and the surrounding landscapes.
Day 4: Ephesus
A visit (a local bus ride of five minutes from Selçuk) to this amazing archeological site is an absolute must even if you are not a Roman or Christian history buff. Ephesus is a 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! Visiting Ephesus will take about half a day, especially if you’re a history or architecture buff. I suggest the afternoon over the morning for better light and maybe a bit less crowds.
Day 5: The Ancient Greek Triptych of Didyma, Miletus, and Priene
These three ruined cities are accessible either on your own or via a day tour that visits all three.
Didyma is home to the huge Temple of Apollo. It is a great spot to get the imagination going: politics, religion, enigmatic oracles, and of course, titillating scandals!
Miletus is a town with a long brutal history of war with places like Persia; it also has 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.
Priene was once a port city. While it wasn’t all that important during its heyday, Priene does provide a 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.
Day 6+: Optional
If you’re lucky enough to have more time in your travels, why not move further down the coast to places such as Bodrum or further up north to Pergamon and Troy? If you’re ready to move on to other areas of Turkey, check out Cappadocia and, of course, the phenomenal city of Istanbul!
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.