Best Ephesus Day Tour From Kuşadası: Choosing a Guide & Where To Go

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When it comes to exploring the wonders of ancient Ephesus in Türkiye, a knowledgeable guide by your side is the key to unlocking its hidden secrets.

Every day thousands of tourists, including myself on a previous trip, pour out of colossal cruise ships and find themselves following a flag, dead-eyed, herded around in large group shore excursions.

Slow progress and limited sightseeing left me yearning for a richer, more immersive experience. So on my most recent trip to Türkiye, I opted for a private tour with a personalised itinerary tailored to my preferences.

The difference was night and day.

My guide, Erkan, proved to be an adept navigator for this time-travelling journey. Not only was she an expert in ancient history, but her ability to breathe life into the stories of Ephesus made each moment relevant and relatable.

With her guidance, I uncovered the most prominent historical locations, as well as lesser-known details, delving into the heart of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. From the grand Library of Celsus to the majestic Temple of Artemis, every step felt like a captivating adventure.

Join me on my unforgettable expedition through Ephesus. And I’ll share why a private tour with an expert guide is the ultimate way to experience the allure of this ancient wonder.

Fasten your seatbelts for an expedition like no other – Ephesus awaits!

‘Library of Celsus’ within Ephesus Archaeological Site

Where to Find a Guide for a Day Tour Around Ephesus

You’re probably spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on flights, accommodation, transport, and food on your trip to Türkiye. This is your dream, many years in the making.

But when it comes to experiencing the core reason why you came all the way to Kuşadası, you’re tempted to book a cheap, generic, large group tour.

Don’t cut corners now… take my word for it. Otherwise, all your efforts will have been in vain.

When it comes to premium private tours, the first place I turn is ToursByLocals. They have thousands of hand-picked guides across 185 countries. Over 2 million travellers have chosen ToursByLocals since 2008, with 98% giving a 5-star review on Trustpilot.

After comparing a few options, I chose the “Best of Ephesus Private Tour” run by Erkan. This wasn’t a run-of-the-mill rinse-and-repeat tour. She personalises each trip to ensure you finish the day completely satisfied.

This Ephesus day tour was scheduled to be 6 hours, however, it went a little longer (around 7 hours) since we fit a lot in, and I didn’t have an urgent return time.

Erkan also arranges pick-up from your hotel, rail station, bus station or cruise ship port, in Kuşadası (not İzmir), but if you’re arriving in İzmir, ToursByLocals offer more tour options.

Tip: I recommend booking your Ephesus tour at least a few weeks in advance, but the sooner, the better.

Avoid the slow large group tours, and choose a private tour around Ephesus

Why I Prefer ToursByLocals for Private Day Tours

There are many reasons why I choose ToursByLocals, but here are a few of my favourite:

Get to know your guide – there’s a name and face for each tour, and if you have any questions, you can message the guide directly on the ToursByLocals website. Find out more about your guide’s experience and expertise on their profile page.

My Ephesus tour guide, Erkan

Top quality – ToursByLocals only uses professional, licensed guides, and each one goes through a thorough vetting process.

No One Left Behind” guarantee – if you’re on a cruise, the guide will get you back to port on time, otherwise ToursByLocals will cover the cost of overnight accommodation and transport to the next port. Out of 150,000 shore excursions sold since 2009, this policy was only activated twice. That’s a pretty incredible track record.

Estimated cash needed – there’s nothing worse than going on a tour and realising part-way through you don’t have enough cash. ToursByLocals provide an estimate of how much cash you’ll need for entry tickets and other typical costs during the tour.

Activity level – if you’re not the fittest, then you won’t be caught off-guard with a tour that overexerts you. A standardised description for each tour is provided so you know what to expect.

Family friendly – if you want to bring your child on the tour, each tour has a clear indicator if it’s “kid friendly”.

Verified reviews – see what other travellers had to say about their tour experience. Reviews include the travel date, and country of origin, as well as the opportunity for the guide to respond so you get a well-rounded account of the experience.

Flexible refund policy – if your travel plans change, you can receive a full refund if your cancellation is made at least 15 days before the tour. For a small extra fee, you can add “cancel for any reason” coverage which allows cancellations until the last minute. If you don’t need to cancel, then the policy value is returned to you as a credit to use on future bookings (so it’s pretty much free).

Travel in a group and save – if you are travelling as a family, extended family or with friends, then most private tours on ToursByLocals are a fixed rate for up to 8-10 guests. That means the price per person drops when you travel with buddies.

What Is Included in a Private Day Tour Around Ephesus

Depending on which specific tour you choose from ToursByLocals, the inclusions can vary. But the “Best of Ephesus Private Tour” included: an experienced guide, driver, van with air conditioning, and bottled water.

Usually, you have to pay for entry tickets to each attraction, as these can differ depending on how your itinerary is customised. Some attractions around the Ephesus region are free to enter. Although it’s not mandatory, it’s customary to give the guide a tip at the end of the tour for a job well done.

Private mini van for tour of Ephesus

Private Ephesus Day Tour Itinerary

As each tour is customised, yours may look a little different, but here are the locations Erkan, my guide, covered on my private tour of Ephesus to give you a little inspiration.

Pick up

Erkan and her driver were ready on time, at 8:30am, at my apartment in Kuşadası.

Ephesus Archaeological Site

This was the main event – the whole point of the tour – so we started here first. That way, we could explore Ephesus before the cruise ship crowds descended, plus it was also the coolest part of the day (it can get very hot in summer).

The driver dropped us at the main entrance, and we meandered mostly downhill for over 2.5 hours. There is a little signage, but Erkan explained everything in far richer detail. From its humble origins as an Attic-Ionian colony in the 10th century BC, this city became one of the most prominent Mediterranean hubs of culture, trading and religion for hundreds of years.

We also walked through the newly-excavated terraced houses, which usually cost extra (and is well worth it). These offer a glimpse into the luxurious lifestyles of Ephesus’ wealthy merchants.

By the time we made our way to the lower parking lot, the driver was already there. A huge time saver!

Ancient toilets in Ephesus
One of the furry residents of Ephesus

House of Virgin Mary

This small hilltop chapel is believed by some to be built on the site where Mary, the mother of Jesus, spent her last years under the care of the disciple John. A nearby freshwater spring is freely accessible, which some claim has the power to cure diseases. I wasn’t sick at the time, so couldn’t verify that, but the water tasted just fine. There is also a wishing wall where pilgrims write prayers and petitions on a piece of paper and attach it with a ribbon.

Statue of Mary near entrance

Virgin Mary Statue

This statue is located at the base of the hill below the House of the Virgin Mary. Erkan shared some fascinating stories about the statue, but I’ll leave a little of the mystery for your tour. This stop also offers a panoramic viewing point overlooking Ephesus and Selçuk.

Basilica of Saint John

This 6th-century Byzantine church was built by Justinian I over the believed burial site of the disciple John. It was in use until the 14th century, when an earthquake devastated the church. Although only a few pillars and walls remain, it’s easy to imagine the spectacular 6-dome structure thanks to a scale model on-site.


İsa Bey Mosque

This grand mosque, constructed in 1375 AD, is one of the best examples of Seljukian architecture and is the oldest active mosque in Türkiye. The construction used recycled stone pieces and columns from ruins at Ephesus and the Temple of Artemis.

The Temple of Artemis

As one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, this marble temple consisting of 127 columns was considered to be the most beautiful in the world at the time. Originally built around the 7th century BC, it was rebuilt and expanded several times after flooding and arson. After its destruction by invading Goths in 262 AD, the site lay in disrepair, and materials were re-used in other buildings until the temple was rediscovered in 1869. Now the site is marked by a single humble column rebuilt from piecemeal fragments.


As I mentioned to Erkan that I follow a plant-based diet, she recommended a little-known lunch spot that was an absolute gem. Located adjacent to the carpet shop (next stop), this restaurant is set up for small private tour groups. They customised the menu based on my dietary requirements (although it’s best to notify them a day before).

The kitchen staff learn to cook as part of a government-run course through the Ministry of Education, and also feed staff working for the carpet shops, so it’s a win-win.

For a fixed low price of 90TL (about €5) they provide small Turkish plates - as much as you can eat. This includes chicken kebab, beef meatballs, roasted vegetables, smoked eggplant, sundried tomato paste with onion and garlic, deep-fried vegetables, and green beans (with optional omelette). Every bite was absolutely mouth-watering!

Turkmen Carpet

With a full tummy, we walked to our final stop, a Turkish carpet factory. A manager provided a short tour of how the carpets are weaved by hand, including the dying process. It was fascinating to see experienced artists hard at work, taking months to create a one-of-a-kind design. At the end of the tour, carpets and rugs were available for purchase in a small shop.

Drop off

After a full day exploring Ephesus, I was returned to my apartment in Kuşadası, and said my goodbyes to Erkan. What an amazing tour!

The Bottom Line

The Ephesus archaeological site is one of the world’s greatest ancient wonders that is open to tourists. It’s a must-see dreamy destination for any history lover. And the best way to explore this ancient city and surrounding area is with a knowledgeable, friendly guide on a private tour.

So don’t cut any corners on your next trip to Türkiye; otherwise you’ll kick yourself later.

Take my word for it.

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Marie Lou Aug 25th, 2023

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