My wife and I have signed up for a RS one week tour in Istanbul in 2011. After the tour would like to take a sidetrip to Ephesis. How many days would you suggest staying in Ephesis and would you hire a private guide or a local tour company.
You won't be staying in Ephesus. Nobody lives there anymore. The best would be to stay in nearby Kusadasi. Go to Ephesus by taxi, minibus etc. You would have a lot of options because Kusadasi is a cruiseship port. One day is enough to see Ephesus. Nearby is also house of Virgin Mary but that I didn't see. You can do Ephesus on your own or go with a local tour company. Private guide would probably be an overkill unless you are very much into history.
Here's another suggestion. Fly from Istanbul to Izmir via one of the Turkish budget airlines like Onur Air or Atlasjet. It's very cheap to do this and the flight is less than an hour long. Book a hotel in Selcuk, the town nearest to Ephesus, and arrange for them to pick you up at the Izmir airport and take you back. Most hotels in Selcuk will also arrange transport to and from the site at Ephesus. Or, in the alternative, rent a car at the airport in Izmir and tool around yourself. The roads are very good in that part of Turkey and the driving is easy.
Kusadasi is actually further south than you need to go, and it's a cruise port, which means expensive hotels, touts seeking to sell you overpriced souvenirs, and restaurants and bars catering to the cruise ship crowd. If you enjoy that kind of atmosphere, Kusadasi is the place to stay, but if you don't, it can spoil your impressions of Turkey.
There's plenty to do for several days in the area. The ruined basilica of St John, the house of the Virgin Mary, the formerly Greek wine-making town of Sirince, the tomb of the seven sleepers - all are within easy reach of Selcuk. A bit further afield are Didyma, Miletus, and other coastal ruins.
I have stayed at the Hotel Bella in Selcuk a couple of times and highly recommend it. Some of the rooms have balconies overlooking the ruined basilica, the common area serves an excellent optional dinner as well as breakfast and drinks during the day. The staff there are friendly, knowledgable, and can arrange side tours to all of the places I've mentioned, including dropoff and pickup later. And, across the street from the hotel are stork nests where you can watch the storks and in the right months the nestlings!
yes fly to izmir is a good way. evening bus to selcuk is cheap but takes 8 hrs. there is a train from izmir airport to selcuk. i stayed at a place called wallabies, it's 5 min walk to train/bus only 40TL/night. ephes is not big, if you hire a guide at the gate he'll take you through in 2 hrs, but walking it yourself maybe 4hrs. st.john's church is also worth a visit, so i think 2 nights in selcuk will be enough. you can go to the coast from selcuk only a couple of hours by bus, it's typical Turkish coast - beach, boat ride, shopping, nothing spectacular, but if you haven't see it before worth a visit. i think the private tours are helpful but if you read enough ahead of time, you can enjoy it at a slower pace and be creative.
Thank you all for your very usefull information about Ephesus. I found a great website Travel Turkey Planner by Tom Brosnahan which covers the area in detail. I will take JER advice and stay in Selcuk at the Bella Hotel. 2 nights should give me plenty of time not to rush through Ephesus. I will be going in late oct 2011 and should be a good time to visit Turkey.
forgot to mention there is a little greek villege about 20 min bus from selcuk on the hill - everyone in selcuk knows the name. it produces great fruity wine, buy it at the shop next to the bus stop - good deals and taste great.
The village that David is referring to is Sirince, and it is a delightful side trip in the Ephesus area.