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Exploring Ephesus on a Cruise Excursion

Updated 05.11.2019: An Ephesus cruise excursion is easily the highlight of a Mediterranean cruise itinerary, especially for lovers of antiquity. The fourth largest city in the eastern Roman Empire during the 2nd century BC, the city’s amenities included a library and medical school. Today, visitors to Ephesus marvel at the ruins of the UNESCO World Heritage site.

What to expect on an Ephesus cruise excursion

Roman columns rest against each other on the ground at Ephesus.

Pieces of the puzzle in Ephesus, Turkey. How do you put them back together again?

Standing at the top of the hill in Ephesus, near the Magnesia Gate (south entrance), I look around to see artifacts scattered on the ground as if someone forgot to put the giant pieces of a puzzle together. Considering the numerous earthquakes that have occurred in the area through the centuries, there’s a strong likelihood that this puzzle will never be completed.

Guests walk through a Roman arch on an Ephesus cruise excursion.

Walking through a stone arch in Ephesus is like going back in time.

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I’ve visited numerous antiquity sites around the world including Rome, Pompeii, the Pyramids and even Anasazi cliff dwellings in the Southwestern U.S. Although these sites always impress me, none compare to Ephesus, in my opinion.

Stone stairs lead to more ruins on an Ephesus shore excursion.

Stairs lead to more ruins in Ephesus.

I explored the ancient Roman city on an Ephesus cruise excursion with Royal Prince Cruise when the ship docked in Kusadasi, Turkey. Along with approximately 20 other cruise guests, I boarded a small bus right after breakfast for the 45-minute ride to the Magnesia Gate and the beginning of an early morning tour.

Did you know that Ephesus has been rebuilt at numerous times and not all in the same location? More surprisingly, the ancient city once fronted the Agean Sea before the Cayster (Kucuk Menderes) River began filling up with silt. Those are just two of the facts that I learned from tour guide, Regina, on the ride to Site #3, the Ephesus of Roman and early Christian times.

Start your Ephesus tour at the Magnesia Gate

Be sure to use the clean bathrooms at the Magnesia Gate before you enter Ephesus. Cost to use them is 50E. The next facilities are located at the end of your 3 to 4-hour tour.

After entering the gate, our group circled around Regina near the edge of an empty field littered with archaeological artifacts as she began her explanations.

“Approximately 90% of Ephesus has yet to be uncovered,” Regina told us.

My mind reeled with the possibilities of what was located beneath the very ground where I stood.

The stone arched front of the Temple of Hadrian.

Temple of Hadrian was built in 118 A.D.

As we walked along the main trail, Regina described how the city was organized into sections for commercial, political, and educational uses. Yes, city planning existed long ago, a reminder that modern-day man is not solely responsible for the advances in civilization despite our big egos that let us think so.

The two-storied Library of Celsus in Ephesus.

The crowds begin to arrive at Library of Celsus

Beginning our descent down the hill along Curetes Way, more of Ephesus revealed itself, with many well-defined structures to explore. The imposing Library of Clesus stood at the bottom of the hill and was easily the most impressive structure of the archaeological site.

Purchase a separate ticket to see the Terrace Houses

Terrace houses being excavated in Ephesus, Turkey.

Putting the pieces back together in the Terrace Houses.

Our tickets included admission to the Terrace Houses where archaeologists are painstakingly reconstructing the homes of wealthy Ephesians—tile by mosaic tile. Protected by a canvas roof, the site is still being restored while visitors view the progress from plexiglass walkways suspended over the homes.

Purchasing a ticket to visit Ephesus does not include entrance to the Terrace Houses, House of Mary, Archaeological Museum of Ephesus or Basilica of St. John, all of which require separate tickets.

By the time our tour ended (near the public restrooms), the crowds had increased and the temperature was soaring. Time was allowed for browsing the stores that line the road on the way to the amphitheater. You’ll find trinkets, souvenirs and persistent shopkeepers and hawkers. I recommend saving any major shopping, like jewelry, for Kusadasi.

The air-conditioned bus was a welcome relief. On the ride back to the Royal Princess, one of Regina’s comments kept playing in my mind. “Approximately 90% of Ephesus has yet to be uncovered.” Think of the possibilities.

Crowds line the streets by midday.

By lunch time, the crowds are thick in Ephesus. Go early to miss this.

Tips for an Ephesus cruise excursion:

  • Bring 50E to use the bathroom before entering the site, if you enter from the Magnesia Gate.
  • Bring sun protection: sunscreen, hat and water. It’s hot during August!
  • Find shady spots to rest while the tour guide talks to conserve energy in the heat.
  • Book the earliest excursion possible to avoid crowds and the heat of the day.
  • Watch your step as ground is uneven and the marble is slippery
  • Don’t pet the stray cats and dogs that are everywhere. They have not been inoculated.
  • Know the exchange rate, if you’re planning to purchase souvenirs.
  • Attending a concert excursion at the amphitheater doesn’t guarantee a visit to the rest of Ephesus.

Thinking about booking a Royal Princess Cruise in the Mediterranean? Read all of the articles from my cruise on Royal Princess from Venice to Istanbul.

Disclosure: Princess Cruise lines provided this travel experience. As always, the opinions are my own. 

More Mediterranean cruise excursions with an emphasis on archaeology:

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