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Ruins, Beaches & Turkish Delight: Our Kusadasi Port Day With a Teen

Ruins, Beaches & Turkish Delight: Our Kusadasi Port Day With a Teen

We would start every port day of our Holland America Mediterranean Cruise by stepping out onto our balcony to take a first look at the picturesque port town that would be our destination for the day. When we arrived in Kusadasi, Turkey, our reaction wasn’t, ooooh! so much as, hmmm

Kusadasi is a resort town comprised of cinder block buildings hugging the side of a tall hill that slopes up from the port. It’s not pretty, but don’t be put off. 

a view of modern kusadasi from our cruise ship.

Kusadasi is an easy place to spend a day with tens and teens because you can easily mix some serious sightseeing with kid-friendly activities like going to the beach and eating and shopping in the Old Town Bazaar, a winding pedestrian zone just across from the cruise ship port. 

Kusadasi Crib Notes
• We started our Holland America Cruise in Venice. We also stopped in Split and Korcula, Croatia and in Rhodes and Santorini, Greece. We ended the cruise in Athens.
• We liked all of our Holland America tours, but if you want to go out on your own, you can see my curated collections of Kusadasi port-day tours on Viator.
•If you stay overnight, look for a hotel with a pool and sea views or a vacation rental on a beach.
• Scroll to the bottom to Print my Cruise Vacation Packing List

How To Make the Most of Your Port day in Kusadasi, Turkey With a Teen

Tour Obligatory & Impressive Ephesus

If you’re in Kusadasi, you have to take a day trip to nearby Ephesus, an ancient city that was an important and bustling Roman trading port in its heyday.

the ruins at ephesus include streets, columns and former shops and homes.

The ruins here were like nothing I’d seen anywhere else. We were walking through the unearthed remains of an entire city, with city gates, two amphitheaters, Greek and Roman temples, houses, shops, public baths, the library of Celsus and more.

Our tour guide knew her history and did a good job of bringing the city and its citizens to life for us. 

the ruins of the library of celsus, one of the largest in antiquity, is one of the main attractions in ephesus.

Celsus’s library is the image most associated with Ephesus. It once held 6,000 scrolls and was one of the largest libraries of the ancient world. 

But I was most impressed by the larger of the two amphitheaters. Built by the Greeks and enlarged by the Romans, it could seat 25,000 people and was important to Roman social and public life. 

the giant roman amphitheater in ephesus once held 25,000 people.

I read that the acoustics are good enough for the people in the top rows to easily hear even soft voices on the stage below, but we didn’t get a chance to test this.

The theater is intact enough that you can feel what it must have been like when it was full of crowds of all social levels who went there to see plays, concerts, gladiator games, lectures, debates and public meetings.

Practical Information for Your Day at Ephesus

The correct pronunciation of the city puts emphasis on the first syllable. And the second syllable us a short “e” or “u” sound: It’s EFF-uh-sus. Not Eff-EE-sus

Our guide told us we would be there for at least 90 minutes; it turned out to be more than two hours.

tourists crowd under the shade of a pomegranate tree at ephesus, turkey,

Be Sun Smart: Needless to say, there’s very little shadeWater bottles, hats and mineral sunscreen are a must. A shirt that will keep your shoulders from getting sunburned is a good idea, too.

The streets that have been unearthed are marble and extremely slippery, especially when you’re walking downhill. This is yet another place on this itinerary where you want sneakers or walking sandals; something with good, non-slip soles.

There is a courtyard between the parking lot and the entrance to the ruins with souvenirs and food. We bought freshly squeezed lemonade and orange juice from a snack counter. It was fresh and thirst-quenching and very cheap. 

We were amused by a large sign in one of the shops promising “genuine fake Rolexes.” Apparently, knock-offs are a popular thing in Kusadasi. At least they’re honest about it.

Book a Tour: Some of the Holland America excursions we had wanted for this port booked up before we could grab spots, so we wound up splurging a bit — less than you might expect — on a private tour. 

I don’t think you need a private tour but you do need an an informative, engaging guide. And I think it would be easier to navigate the crowds in a place like this with a group of ten to 12 than a group of 30. 

Being on our own allowed us to make our own itinerary, which helped us to make the most of our day.

Possible Ephesus Add-on: Ephesus was a hotbed of early Christian proselytizing. It’s believed that the apostles John, Peter and Paul passed through or spent time here. Paul made quite a stir, which you’ll learn about on your tour.

Tours to Ephesus are often paired with visits to the House of the Virgin Mary, the modest home where many people believe she lived out her final days after traveling to Ephesus with John. There’s more legend than history supporting this.

We opted to skip that proposed stop in favor of some beach time. 

Kusadasi beaches

When we said we wanted to go to the beach, our driver showed us a few different ones on the way to Ephesus. On the way back we chose Pygela Kustur Beach, a municipal beach that wasn’t crowded and stretched for about a kilometer with a good ribbon of yellow sand.

pygela kustur is a public beach a few minutes from kusadasi, with calm water and amenities.

The water was cool enough to be refreshing but not shockingly cold and we plunged in easily. There was no undertow and the gentle waves were perfect for bobbing around and swimming. It was clear enough that we could see fish where we stood.

Teen Traveler enjoyed floating around; and stopping at a beach definitely raised her opinion of Kusadasi. Older kids and teens looking to boogie board or body surf would be disappointed here. But you can feel comfortable swimming and snorkeling here with even very young kids.

There are places on the beach where you can rent chairs and umbrellasorder food and drinks and pay for water sports. We were just stopping for a swim and were there for barely an hour. We took advantage of an uncrowded stretch that included basic changing cabins and a stand where we could buy cold drinks.

There are other beaches, too, that you can reach by taxi or public transit from the port.

Shopping in the Old Town Bazaar

Once you turn left off of the main pedestrian plaza across from the cruiser ship terminal, you enter the Old Town Bazaar with its maze of narrow streets. It was a great first experience with this type of bazaar with a teen because it felt both authentic and safe; it wasn’t crowded and the shop owners weren’t aggressive.

this wide pedestrian plaza with its fruit carts and stalls is the entry way to kusadasi's old town bazaar.

Common Items: Boxes of spices, tea and Turkish delight were everywhere, but don’t buy your sweets here. There were a lot of leather stores, but I didn’t look closely enough to gauge the quality or value. 

Turkish Rugs: Yes, these handmade rugs are gorgeous, with vivid colors and patterns. They are hard to resist. If you decide to buy one look the rugs over carefully and bargain, bargain, bargain! 

A fellow passenger on our ship told us he offered a price that was about one-third of what the seller first asked and he accepted! When I hear this, I regretted not trying harder to buy one. 

Real handmade Turkish rugs will have from 100 to 1,000 knots per square inch and have an identical pattern on front and back (muted on the back). 

Ask the salesman to flip the rugs over to make sure you can see the pattern and the knots. The more densely the knots are packed, the more work went into the weaving. The size of the rug and knot count will influence the price the most.

If anyone asks you to come inside for coffee and tea, feel free to do so for the cultural experience. Just accept that a sales pitch will accompany your sweet Turkish tea.

As is inevitable on Kusadasi tours, our guide repeatedly asked us to come with her to have tea with a rug seller. We politely but firmly declined. The salespeople can be aggressive in this situation, and we didn’t want to be a captive audience.

If you’re interested in rugs or just curious to look at a few, walk into shops around town on your own. You’ll have more freedom to negotiate. And if you don’t like the sales tactics, you can leave and try somewhere else.

Turkish Delight Tip: On our way back through the cruise terminal to our ship we encountered a sweets shop selling myriad kinds of Turkish delight and offering samples. It all tasted like it was made with fresh fruit and nuts and was delicious. 

We bought several different kinds. We all loved the pomegranate and pistachio and I also liked one made with oranges and hazelnuts. There are squares and logs; both are good. The logs are denser and chewier.

It’s more expensive than the boxes you see in the bazaar but absolutely worth holding out for. 

Kusadasi with Younger Kids

As amazing as it is, I think the size and sun exposure of Ephesus would be a lot for kids under 10. The beaches are probably your best destination with them.

pigeon island is next to kusadasi's cruise ship terminal and is an easy excursion with kids.

If your kids are very young, and you want to stay close to the ship, when you walk out of the port, Pigeon Island is a quick walk to the right. It’s free and there is a modern castle and small park to explore.

If you turn left, the promenade follows the water for quite a while. Along the way you’ll find cool outdoor sculptures and a couple of playgrounds

There is a beach walking distance from the ship, which is probably okay for sand-play and splashing around with very little ones. But Cruise Director Ed discouraged us from choosing that beach for swimming; it’s too close to the port to be the cleanest water.

There are a couple of water parks a short taxi ride from the port, but they get very mixed reviews for safety. Read up on them if you are thinking of spending your day at one of them.

Lunch in Kusadasi’s Old Town Bazaar:

There are several restaurants on the docks next to the cruise terminal, but the ordering seemed tricky without knowing Turkish, and we assumed we would overpay. So we crossed the road and headed into the Old Town Bazaar for lunch.

Wandering through the bazaar, we saw several casual kebab restaurants and a taverna or two. We chose Erzincan Restaurant, on Bahar Street, near the mosque, because it had a large selection of good-looking kebabs in a display case. 

in kusadasi, meals often include a puffed up lava bread with nigella or sesame seeds o top.

After we ordered they brought a huge, puffy lavas bread speckled with nigella seeds to the table. It’s typical to have this or something similar with Turkish food, This was fresh from the oven and tasted as good as it looked.

It was perfect with the eggplant-tomato and yogurt-garlic spreads that we started with. We also ordered crispy fried calamari and a selection of kebabs, which came with salad, rice and fries. We had a couple of Turkish beers and lemon soda, too. We didn’t walk away hungry and the tab was quite reasonable. 

Practical Information: 

Money Tips

We didn’t get Turkish Lira since we had only one port day in Turkey and we could use Euros at all our other stops. But most shops and restaurants in the Bazaar took Euros and some even took dollars. 

For smaller items, my experience is that if you want to bargain, it’s better to have cash.

They take credit cards, especially for larger purchases like rugs, jewelry and leather. Visa and MasterCard are more ubiquitous than American Express. If you have the choice of currency for the charge, choose dollars. The conversion rate will be better than if the card company does it after the purchase. 

Communication on port days

I bought Airalo eSIMs for Turkey before we left home so that we could use WhatsApp and other apps we might need, like a map, on port days. 

The $4.50 virtual SIM cards each have 1 GB of data that was good for seven days from activation. But I didn’t mind paying that small a fee for a single port day, for at least one, if not all, of our phones. 

You need Wi-Fi to activate the eSim so do it before you leave the ship in the morning. 

Pin It For Later!

the ideal kusadasi, turkey port day with teens includes time at the beach, plus eating and shopping in the old town bazaar and a visit to the ruins of ephesus.

All photos by FamiliesGo!© except Kustur Beach (Pexel) and the bread (Erzincan Restaurant)

Holland America hosted us on this cruise. Our port days were a mix of hosted activities and activities we paid for. We paid for all our port day meals, snacks and shopping.