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Why you should visit classy Kusadasi

Photo of Robin GauldiePhoto of Robin Gauldie
By Robin Gauldie

28 July 20235 min read

A view of Dilek Peninsula National Park in Turkey with coastal steps leading down to a small beach with bright turquoise sea

The Greek writer Herodotus put Kusadasi on the map more than 2,000 years ago when he included the Temple of Diana at nearby Ephesus among his ‘seven wonders’ of the world.

Kusadasi still draws crowds in more modern times – there’s no ignoring the giant cruise ships that anchor here to disgorge passengers to be bused to Ephesus – but it hasn't been swamped by the huge hotels that fill boom resorts like Bodrum, Marmaris and Antalya.

Instead, at just 90 minutes from Izmir, Turkey’s third-biggest city, Kusadasi is a popular getaway for city dwellers looking for a change of pace. Here’s why you should join them.

You can visit quaint old towns near Kusadasi

Kusadasi has a sprinkling of history right in town – stroll across the causeway to Guvercin Ada ('Pigeon Island') and spend an afternoon wandering around the ramparts of its formidable medieval fortress. Within the walls of Kaleiçi, the city's oldest quarter, shop in the narrow, traffic-free streets of the bazaar area, filled with colourful, rickety old houses and traditional restaurants and cafés.

Further afield, a rental car can get you to little-changed historic towns. Consider traditional Selçuk, huddled beneath the towers of a hilltop Byzantine citadel and home to the Meryem Ana Evi, where the Virgin Mary is claimed by some to have spent her final years.

In both Selçuk and nearby Şirince, gracious old Ottoman era-mansions have been converted into chic boutique inns. Don't forget to sample Şirince's famous organic fruit wines – made from locally grown berries, cherries, melons, peaches and pomegranates.

There are ancient wonders within easy reach

Ephesus, around 18km (12 miles) from Kusadasi, has been knocked about a bit over the centuries but the columns and arches of the vast and well-preserved Roman city – site of the (now vanished) Temple of Diana, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – are still awe-inspiring.

Hire a car to go beyond crowded Ephesus and explore the lost world of the Menderes Delta, a vast expanse dotted with the imposing remains of once-great seaport cities of the ancient world, now left high and dry by the silting up of the mighty river. Straightened and channelled in modern times, the once serpentine Menderes meanders no more, but still irrigates a rich patchwork of incredibly fertile fruit gardens and cotton plantations. Everything seems to grow here, from scarlet pomegranates to huge green melons, purple figs, oranges and tomatoes – all sold at the roadside by local farmers.

Closest of the ancient cities to Kusadasi, and spectacularly sited on pine-covered slopes with the coast stretching below, is Priene, where the white marble columns of the Temple of Athena date from the 4th century BC. Nearby is Miletus. Now stranded amid cotton fields, it’s hard to believe it was once a mighty seaport, but the 15,000-seat Roman theatre hints at its former prestige. Standing amid the ruins, the 15th-century mosque of Ilyas Bey is a gorgeous Ottoman relic.

For a longer day's exploring, head to Aphrodisias, a sprawling and surprisingly little-visited 2,000-year-old city where you could spend all day wandering among the remains of temples, Byzantine churches and huge Roman theatres.

There’s water park fun for the kids

It wouldn’t be a Turkish resort without at least one family water park, and Kusadasi boasts a couple of crackers.

Aqua Fantasy, 11km (7 miles) north of the city centre on long, sandy Pamucak beach, has its own huge all-inclusive hotel offered by UK holiday companies including TUI and Jet2, and Adaland Waterpark, just down the road, has adrenaline-pumping rides, slides and pools including one for toddlers.

Ladies Beach (Kadınlar Plajı), south of the centre, is the city's best (and busiest) family-friendly beach, with calm, shallow water and plenty of sun-loungers and umbrellas.

Outdoor adventures are on your doorstep

Around 25km (15 miles) south of town, the Dilek Peninsula National Park is Kusadasi's own pocket wilderness – 50 square miles of wooded hills surround the 1,237m (4,058ft) Mount Dilek. From the top there are stupendous views over the broad Menderes Delta and out to sea. Explore the park's forest trails, river valleys and lovely pebble beaches on a 4WD safari* or strike out on foot to echoing Zeus Mağarası cave with its crystal-clear water – locals tie ribbons and rags to trees at the cave mouth to bring good luck.

Heading out to sea, boat trips leave every morning from Kusadasi's harbour to sail round the shores of the Dilek Peninsula* with stops for swimming, snorkelling and barbecue picnics in sheltered bays of gin-clear water that can only be reached by boat.

And from the Laren Safari Park, you can ride on horseback along Pamucak beach and through nearby woods and fields. There are Shetland ponies for little riders.

When is the best time to go to Kusadasi?

For guaranteed beach and pool weather, visit Kusadasi between June and September – but be aware that it can be uncomfortably hot in July and August, when temperatures can reach almost 40C. For exploring, go in spring, early summer (April-June) or in October.

Accommodation is most expensive in June to August, when Kusadasi is popular with Turkish holidaymakers. You'll find better deals in May, September and October.

How do I get to Kusadasi?

You have your pick of two regional airports – Izmir, a handy 90-minute transfer away, and Bodrum, a slightly longer two-hour drive.

Turkish Airlines and easyJet fly seasonally to Bodrum from London Gatwick and Jet2 flies to Bodrum from Manchester. TUI and easyjet fly to Izmir from London Gatwick; Sun Express flies to Izmir from Manchester.

Flight time from the UK is around 4 hours.

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