Cappadocia is a semi-arid region of Central Turkey famed for it’s distinctive rock formations. Commonly known as Fairy Chimneys, these incredulous rock and earth towers are the result of millions of years of weathering and erosion.
For a long time this pretty region of Turkey has grown in popularity with tourists and is now a must-visit destination for any trip to Turkey. Explorations of this other-worldly landscape can be enjoyed on foot, on horseback or, as it’s become most famous for, by hot air balloon.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Cappadocia multiple times and it’s always a pleasure to return. Since it’s such a special place, I have curated a list of must-visit places that will help you to explore Cappadocia like a local.
Read on below to discover the 18 best things to do in Cappadocia, Turkey.
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How To Get To Cappadocia
There are two airports in Cappadocia that offer flights from Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya and other major Turkish cities. Kayseri Erkilet Airport (ASR) is around 1 hour from Göreme and has flights with Turkish Airlines and Pegasus. Nevsehir Airport (NAV) is around 40 minutes from Göreme and also has flights with airlines such as Turkish Airways and Pegasus.
Flights from Istanbul will take around 1 hour and will costs around $50 USD. However, the further in advance you book, the cheaper the ticket will be. Check the latest flight prices here.
The easiest way to get from the airport to Göreme is via a shuttle bus. Your accommodation can arrange a transfer for you or you can book a shuttle bus online. This shared shuttle bus costs just 10 Euros.
A great way to travel to Cappadocia is by car. This gives you the freedom to explore the Cappadocia region with your own transport. From Istanbul you could drive directly from Istanbul and this takes around 9 hours. There will be some road tolls to pay on this route. Check out the best car rentals deals here.
Learn more about road tolls and driving in Turkey is this guide.
Alternatively you could enjoy a Turkey road trip and arrive in Cappadocia at a more relaxed pace. Read more about a Turkey road trip itinerary from Istanbul in this guide.
What Are The Best Things To Do In Cappadocia?
Most activities in Cappadocia revolve around admiring the beautiful and unique arid landscape. This can be done in all sorts of ways from on foot to on horseback. However, the Cappadocia region is also steeped in history and was an important stop along the ancient Silk Road. This means there is a vast array of historical sites to visit.
So let’s get stuck into the top things to do in Cappadocia!
1. Take To The Skies On A Hot Air Balloon Ride
Cappadocia is famous for its hot air balloon rides, and for good reason.
The breathtaking views of the fairy chimneys and the surrounding landscape from above are simply stunning and one of the most spectacular places in the world to take a flight.
The best time to take a hot air balloon ride is at sunrise, when the colours of the sky create a magical backdrop. At this time of day the weather is usually at its most calm which makes it ideal for hot air balloon rides. Allow a few days in Cappadocia to visit all the sites and also incase weather delays your flight to the next day.
Flights typically last around 1 hour and expect to share your basket with around 20 people. Balloon rides typically cost in the region of 150 Euros, and are worth every penny in my experience. Click here to check the latest hot air balloon prices and reserve your spot or using booking form below.
Premium flights with fewer people are also available for a slightly higher price. There are also options to include a champagne breakfast if you want to make it extra special. Here are the top 3 hot air balloon flights on offer.
2. Watch The Balloons Take Off At Sunrise
If your budget doesn’t stretch as far as balloon ride or if you just want an equally magical experience, then set your alarm early and watch the balloons take to the air from ground level.
Depending on which hotel you’re staying in, you may be able to watch the balloons from your hotel rooftop. (See my suggestions on this later) However, if your hotel doesn’t have this feature then the easiest place to watch the balloons take-off, is from Göreme Hill Sunset Viewpoint.
As the name suggest, this is a great sunset spot but it’s also spectacular for sunrise. It’s a short, albeit steep walk, up through the windy streets to the top of the hill from where you can look out and enjoy sunrise across the whole region. Another popular spot for sunrise balloon viewing is from near Uçhisar Castle however this is a little ways out of town and therefore requires a car.
It’s also impressive to watch the balloons take to the skies from up close. Take off sites are dotted around Göreme but the closest one to town is near the Göreme Open Air Museum.
3. Visit Uçhisar Castle
Uchisar Castle is a fortress carved into a rock outcropping in the town of Uchisar, above Göreme. The castle has multiple levels and rooms, which offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
This 60m rock-cut castle mountain offers arguably the best view in all of Cappadocia. The rooms at the base of the mountain are free to explore, however to entre the castle and enjoy the views from the top there is a small entrance fee.
Uçhisar is easy to visit from Göreme. There is a hiking trail which leads from Göreme to the castle through Pigeon Valley. It’s a 3.5km walk one way and the trail is marked on Maps.me.
Alternatively, Uçhisar can be reached by car or bus. The bus destined for Nevşehir leaves from Göreme town centre. Just let the driver know when you get on the bus that Uçhisar castle is your stop and he’ll let you know when to get off.
Pro Tip: For the best visit to Uçhisar, I suggest hiking through Pigeon Valley in late evening so that you can enjoy the soft afternoon light on the rocks. Then climb up to the castle summit to enjoy sunset views over Cappadocia. Once you’re done, catch the dolmus (bus) back to Göreme.
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4. Enjoy Sunset Over Rose/Red Valley
There are so many amazing places to watch sunset over Cappadocia that this list could just be compiled of these spots! However, due to the sunset friendly hues of Rose and Red valleys, these make it to the top of this list.
The easiest way to enjoy sunset over Rose Valley is to drive to the sunset viewpoint at the end of the road (small access fee required). Here there are several cafes where you can sit and watch the drama unfold.
Alternatively, stop at the viewpoint further back which has a pop-up coffee shop and love heart photo point. This might be an even better viewpoint in my opinion as you can look along the length of Red valley.
Without a car, the better (and shorter) option would be to walk out of town and enjoy sunset from within Rose Valley itself. The walk is 3km and will take around 1 hour one way. From the viewpoint you can watch sunset over Göreme and Uçhisar Castle and in the other direction you can see the valley cliffs light up.
Don’t forget to take a torch for the walk home!
5. Embark On A Cappadocia Hike
Walking through the valleys of Cappadocia is an amazing way to explore this surreal landscape. On these walks you are able to climb amongst the Fairy Chimneys and venture inside the abandoned cave houses and churches.
There are many valleys and many walks to choose from. Two of my favourite walks around Cappadocia are Uçhisar Castle to Goreme through Pigeon Valley (as described earlier) and Goreme Open Air Museum to Çavuşin through Red and Rose Valley.
In fact, the Red and Rose Valleys offer some of the most beautiful hiking trails in Cappadocia. The valleys are full of unique rock formations and caves, and the colours of the rocks change throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky.
These trails are all marked on the free offline maps app Maps.me.
6. Take A Quad Bike Tour
One of the most exciting ways to see the sights of Cappadocia is by a quad bike/ ATV tour. There are several ATV tours to choose from ranging from 2 hours to all day. I enjoyed the 2 hour sunset tour which allows you to ride amongst the Fairy Chimneys in the soft light of golden hour.
The tours typically visit love valley and rose/red valley.
7. Go On A Horseback Ride
Horseback riding is a fun and unique way to explore the stunning landscape of Cappadocia. There are several horseback riding tours available that will take you through the valleys and fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. It’s a great way to see the landscape from a different perspective.
Tours visit Sword Valley, Meskendir Valley, Rose Valley and Love Valley which are all Cappadocia must-sees. As a beginner you might opt for a 2 hour ride or if you are more experience you might prefer the 4 hour ride. Prices range from 45-85 euros.
8. Visit Göreme Open Air Museum
Cappadocia has several Open Air Museums and they are definitely must visits on your Cappadocia trip.
The Göreme Open-Air Museum is an UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Cappadocia. It is an ancient monastic complex that features numerous rock-cut churches and chapels, some of which date back to the 10th century. The frescoes inside the Dark Church (extra fee required) are some of the best-preserved examples of Byzantine art.
The Göreme Open Air Museum is just on the outskirts of Göreme, so it’s the easiest to visit on foot if you’re based in Göreme. However, being located so close to Göreme, this site does get busy so try to arrive early to avoid the crowds.
This site is included on the Red Tour (see later) .
9. Wander Through an Underground City
There are a vast number of underground cities in the Cappadocia region, several of which are open to the public. It is thought that these underground cities were built by early Christians to protect themselves from persecution. The cities have many rooms including living spaces, kitchens, stables, wine cellars and churches
The two most popular underground cities are Derinkuyu and Kaymakli and I’d certainly recommend visiting at least one of these important ancient Turkish sites.
The Derinkuyu, which is another UNESCO World Heritage site, is the bigger of the cities and the deepest underground city in all of Turkey. It is an impressive feat of engineering and is a fascinating place to explore.
In Kaymakli the tunnels are low and steep so it gives you a real feeling of being underground. Perhaps not the best if you’re claustrophobic though!
Both cities can be reached by dolmuş (public bus) from Nevşehir or car if you have one. One of the cities is also included on the Green Tour. (see later). Alternatively, this tour visits Seratli Underground City, a Caravanserai and Lake Tus, which is an incredulously pink salt lake.
10. Explore Paşabağları and Zelve Open Air Museum
Farther out of Göreme town centre you can find Paşabağları. This open air museum is a small site but has the quirky feature of having a Jandarma (Turkish Police) station in one of the Fairy Chimneys. This is a quirky Cappadocia attraction to add to your bucket list.
A little further along this valley brings you to Zelve Open Air Museum. Originally a monastic retreat, Zelve was lived in by villagers until 1952 when it was deemed unsafe. This is a great site to clamber around later on in the day when the tour groups have left.
Remember to take a head torch with you!
11. Cool Off In Ihlara Gorge
Cappadocia is a hiker’s paradise, with a variety of trails that offer stunning views of the region. For those looking for a more challenging hike, the Ilhara Valley offers a 16-kilometer trail that winds through a narrow canyon with waterfalls and caves.
Ihlara gorge is a lush, green gorge with a river running along the valley floor. It was created after multiple eruptions of nearby volcano Mount Erciyes. (Check out this video of our skiing trip to Mount Erciyes!)
A popular hike to enjoy is from Selime Monastery to Ihlara Village. Along this route you can wander alongside the river, cool off in pretty waterfalls and explore a whole host of churches and monastery complexes, which are carved into the cliff face.
The Green Tour (see more about tours below) visits Ihlara Valley and hikes a small section of the gorge, so if you don’t want to explore by yourself you can join a tour group.
12. Visit Selime Monastery
At the beginning or end of your Ihlara hike you can visit the rocky pinnacle of Selime Monastery. This monastery was the largest religious complex built in Cappadocia and also functioned as a caravanserai for traders travelling along the ancient Silk Road.
The complex is situated on a hill and requires a little scrambling to explore all of its narrow passageways and churches. Be sure to wear sturdy footwear for this visit!
13. Explore The Region On A Guided Tour – Blue, Red, Blue
One of the easiest ways to see the best places in Cappadocia is to join a guided tour. This is especially true if you don’t have your own transport, as you can visit lots of sites located out of town.
Several tours visit various locations around Cappadocia which are named by colour. The red tour visits all the main sites in and around Goreme which is great but these are sites that are easy to visit independently.
My favourite is the Green Tour. This tour includes Ihlara Gorge and an Underground City, both of which are around a 30-60 minute drive from Göreme. It also visits the beautiful Selime Monastery and various panoramic viewpoints around Cappadocia.
Learn more about each tour below.
14. Experience A Turkish Hammam In Ergup
A hammam is a hot steam bath followed by a massage. This is a popular pastime in the Middle East and a really unique Cappadocia thing to do.
Many places in and around Göreme offer hammams, but the Heybe Hammam and Turkish Bath in Ergup offers the full Turkish experience. It’s not the cheapest, but offers a top quality service and has a swimming pool if you fancy a dip afterwards.
15. Feast On Delicious Anatolia cuisine
All around Göreme you will find restaurants offering pottery kebabs, also known as Testi kebabs. This is an Anatolian speciality prepared in a clay pot. The pot is filled with meat of your choosing in a tomato based stew.
When the dish is served the pot is set on fire and the clay pot is cracked open to release its contents. Yup, pretty awesome! I love trying new food when I travel and to have the added drama of this dish makes having a pottery kebab one of my favourite things to do in Cappadocia.
However, the signature dish of Cappadocia is in fact, Manti. These are small packets of pasta stuffed with meat or cheese and served with a tomato and garlic sauce. Sort of like ravioli. Outside of Göreme, in the less touristy towns of Nevşehir and Kayseri, you will see this dish everywhere.
16. Visit A Carpet Shop
This is a must-do experience on any trip to Turkey and Cappadocia has some of the best carpet shops in Turkey. Even if you’re not in the market to buy, you can still venture into the shops and admire all the intricate carpets on offer and experience carpet salesmen at their very best!
If you’re looking for the highest quality carpets then I recommend Sultan Carpets. Ali the owner is a great guy who’ll be sure to find the right carpet for you. If you just want to have a photo shoot amongst all the beautiful rugs at Sultan Carpets, then you can also do that here for 10 Euros per person.
They also offer a professional photo shoot for 50 euros.
17. Stay In A Cave Hotel
Cappadocia is known for its cave hotels, which offer a unique and unforgettable experience. These hotels are built into the natural rock formations and offer all the amenities of a luxury hotel. Staying in a cave hotel is an experience in itself and is one of the best things to do in Cappadocia.
There are many to choose from but I enjoyed Kookaburra cave hotel. It’s small, with a lovely rooftop terrace from which to sit back and enjoy sunset or get up early and watch the balloons at sunrise. It’s centrally located, the rooms are cosy and it’s very affordable.
18. Take A Cooking Class
Cappadocia is famous for its cuisine, and taking a cooking class is a great way to learn more about it. You can learn how to make traditional Turkish dishes like stuffed vine leaves, baklava, and Turkish delight.
Or you could try making dishes dishes more local to Anatolia such manti or testi kebab.
There are many cooking classes available in Cappadocia, and it is a fun and interactive way to experience the local culture. Here are a few cooking classes available during your visit.
The Best Places To Stay In Cappadocia
One of the top things to do in Cappadocia is stay in a cave hotel so accommodation options are mostly centred around these. In Göreme itself, a budget friendly option is Kookaburra cave hotel. It’s small, centrally located, with a lovely rooftop terrace from which to admire the views.
Outside Göreme in nearby Uchisar, you could stay in the gorgeous Museum Hotel. This boutique hotel houses priceless antiques and boasts an outdoor swimming pool.
Meanwhile Kelebek Special Cave Hotel has its own Turkish Bath and Spa treatments, which is the perfect way to relax after a busy day spent visiting Cappadocia’s top tourist attractions.
Where To Eat In Cappadocia
One of the newest restaurants in Göreme is Chef Kebab. This restaurant offers all the top Turkish dishes and is great value for money. They provide complimentary fresh bread and a selection of meze dips, water and çay.
I can recommend the beef and aubergine Güveç as well as of course the Testi kebab. This is a great budget option in Göreme although they do not serve alcohol at this restaurant.
For dinner in a more unique location, try the Organic Cave Kitchen. This restaurant is located in a huge rock just below the Göreme Sunset Hill. The terrace offers beautiful views over the town and is the perfect place to end a day spent exploring Cappadocia.
For a light bite at lunch or for evening drinks and a shish-a, I recommend Fatboys bar and cafe in central Göreme.
The Best Time To Go To Cappadocia
As a semi-arid desert region, Cappadocia is hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. During summer temperatures can sore and there’s very little shade on offer. In winter snow is common and temperatures commonly drop below zero (celsius).
In Spring wild flowers bring colour to the region and temperatures are mostly pleasant. During Autumn the rock colours are at their brightest and the trees turn glorious shades of yellow and orange.
The best time to visit Cappadocia, therefore, depends on what you want from the visit. If you’re determined to get that balloon flight, then choose the calm weather months of summer (June, July and August). However, this is the busiest time to visit so be prepared for crowds and book your flight well in advance of visiting.
If you’re a photographer and want to capture colourful Cappadocia then consider Spring (April, May) or Autumn (September, October). If you’re a winter enthusiast and want to see the fairy chimneys covered in snow, opt for the snowy months of January, February and March.
Onward From Cappadocia
If your travels in Turkey take you further east, be sure to visit Turkey’s most famous heads, Nemrut Dagi and don’t miss my favourite city in Turkey, Mardin. The foodies should visit the Gastronomy centre of Turkey, Gaziantep and for a truly authentic bazaar experience, add Sanliurfa to you list.
Cappadocia Things To Do Summary
There are some places in the world that I’m more than happy to visit multiple times and Cappadocia is one of those places. The landscape is so unique you can never get bored of exploring the region.
Cappadocia has many special places to visit and lots of sights to see. These can be explored independently or through joining tours.
There are a range of activities to enjoy in Cappadocia from horseback riding to quad biking, but if your budget allows for just one thing then splash out and do the hot air balloon ride. Believe me it’s an experience you’ll never forget!
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