What are the best approaches to traveling Istanbul to Ephesus in May, 2018? Is it common or even possible for Americans to rent a car, and is that advisable for a non-Turkish speaker?
For my trip to Turkey in 2011, I found the Turkey Travel Planner invaluable: https://turkeytravelplanner.com/
He has a whole section on car travel, including car rental: https://turkeytravelplanner.com/trans/Car/index.html
Are you looking to see places in between, or just to get from Istanbul to Ephesus? On our trip, we flew from Istanbul to Izmir on Atlas Jet. We chose them because they are one of several airlines that have a free shuttle bus from the airport to Selcuk (at least in 2011, Turkish Air did not). We then saw Ephesus the next day from Selcuk, before taking the train back to Izmir airport (since our next flight was on Anadolou Jet, which was fine otherwise but did not have a shuttle bus from Selcuk to the airport). The shuttle bus worked fine; the train was PACKED and we stood the whole 90 minute way, but the train stops right at the airport so it was easy.
Incidentally, although our Lonely Planet guidebook felt Selcuk was little more than a way station, we disagreed; we liked it and could have stayed an extra night.
Domestic flights in Turkey are quite nice. I's been said that they are "old fashioned flying," in a good way - you get a beverage and a snack even though the flights are short, the flight attendants are pleasant, there's some legroom, etc. They're also cheap, particularly if you book in advance.
Is it common or even possible for Americans to rent a car, and is that
advisable for a non-Turkish speaker?
Why not? Just look up the road signs online so you're familiar with them. There are also long-distance buses and tons of guided tours you can pick up in Istanbul (they are advertised everywhere). If you're going to rent a car, do it from Izmir (unless you want to stop along the way to places like Gallipoli, etc) - you can fly there cheaply and quickly. Personally, I don't think you even need the car because public transport works just fine. Little shared vans called "dolmuş" fill in the gaps in out-of-the-way places. They've got a great transport system going there...it puts most of the US to shame. Turkey is a lot more modern than you may imagine, particularly the large cities like Izmir and Istanbul.
Try to get to Ephesus first thing in the AM, it gets really overloaded with tour groups.
We had a rental car in Turkey, which we picked up in Istanbul at Taksim. Seemed to be Car Rental Central.
Personally I have taken a Turkish Airlines flight to Izmir. Izmir was a good base for me. From there I explored Ephesus, Pergamon, Asclepion, Seljuk etc....I beleive this is the most convenient way of travelling from Ephesus. As for the tours, transfers, cars with drivers I heard that Tura Turizm is a good company....
We flew from Istanbul to Izmir and then on free shuttle to Selchuk. I think airfare was around $50 and for a 55 min flight you had leather seats, nice FA and a drink + sandwich. Like the old days of flying in the US. I would stay a day or two in Selchuk as aside from Ephesus, it's an interesting town and one can take minibuses to other cities for day trips.
Just want to give another shoutout to the local airlines-I think we flew Atlas, but don't remember. Our mouths dropped open at being fed on the short flight between Izmir and Istanbul. (Aegean also did this on a flight between Santorini and Athens. Meanwhile, BA doesn't even serve water in coach when you sit on the runway for over an hour with very weak AC and even ran out of water to sell!) It was so civilized, as was the bus we took(forget from where to where). Of course, Constantinople was the seat of civilization before Europeans(even the Vikings) knew North America existed!
Like the others we flew from Istanbul to Izmir on AtlasJet then took the free shuttle from there to Selcuk. Flight was cheapish, the attendants were nice and we got a hot sandwich, drink and short video for 55 min flight. Very nice and relaxing.
Also if you could stay a few nights in Selchuk, I'd recommend it. It's a calm oasis after Istanbul with some decent food options. Spent almost a day at Ephesus and then the next day took a minivan/cab to Sirince to explore.