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 been lucky to visit Cappadocia four times and it’s always a pleasure to return. Since it’s such a special place, I decided to put together this guide.
Here are the 17 best things to do in Cappadocia, Turkey.
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- 1 How To Get To Cappadocia
- 2 What Are The Best Things To Do In Cappadocia?
- 3 1. Take A Hot Air Balloon Ride
- 4 2. Watch The Balloons Take Off
- 5 3. Visit Uçhisar Castle
- 6 4. Enjoy Sunset Over Rose/Red Valley
- 7 5. Take A Hike!
- 8 6. Enjoy A Quad Bike Tour
- 9 7. Saddle-up For A Horse Ride Like No Other
- 10 8. Visit Göreme Open Air Museum
- 11 9. Visit An Underground City – Kaymakli or Derenkuyu
- 12 10. Explore Paşabağları and Zelve Open Air Museum
- 13 11. Hike In Ihlara Gorge
- 14 12. Visit Selime Monastery
- 15 13. Explore The Region On A Guided Tour – Blue, Red, Blue
- 16 14. Experience A Turkish Hammam In Ergup
- 17 15. Feast On Delicious Anatolia cuisine
- 18 16. Visit A Carpet Shop
- 19 17. Stay In A Cave Hotel
- 20 The Best Places To Stay In Cappadocia
- 21 Where To Eat In Cappadocia
- 22 The Best Time To Go To Cappadocia
- 23 Cappadocia Things To Do Summary
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 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.
So let’s get stuck into the top things to do in Cappadocia!
1. Take A Hot Air Balloon Ride
It might be a cliché but this is the most popular thing to do in Cappadocia, no matter what the weather.
And for good reason.
Floating high above the Fairy Chimneys as the sun slowly rises is one of those experiences you’ll never forget.
Flights last around 1 hour and expect to share your basket with around 20 people. Balloon rides typically cost 150 Euros, which I think is excellent value for money, however in Winter this can drop to 60 Euros. Click here to check the latest price and book your spot.
Premium flights with fewer people are also available for a slightly higher price.
2. Watch The Balloons Take Off
It’s amazing to take a balloon flight but it’s equally impressive to see the balloons take to flight from ground level.
Now, if you’re lucky you will 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 sunrise and, weather permitting the balloons take off, is from Göreme Hill Sunset Viewpoint.
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.
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
Standing watch above Göreme town is Uçhisar Castle. This 60m rock-cut castle mountain offers arguably the best view in all of Cappadocia. There is an entrance fee to enter the castle and quite a few stairs to climb to reach the top, but the views are most certainly worth it.
The rooms in the base of the mountain are free to explore.
From Göreme you can walk to Uçhisar castle through Pigeon Valley. It’s a 3.5km walk one way. Trails are marked on the Maps.me. app. Alternatively, it’s 5 minutes 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. I recommend getting the bus there and then hiking back through Pigeon Valley.
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4. Enjoy Sunset Over Rose/Red Valley
There are so many good places to enjoy sunset in Cappadocia that it’s hard to narrow it down to just one place. However, due to colourings on the rocks at Rose and Red Valleys, this surly has to be top of the list.
At sunset the golden hour rays light up the rocks of Rose and Red valley and enhance their colour even further. It really is a magical scene to witness and something you must do on your trip to Cappadocia.
From the centre of Göreme it’s a 6km drive to the sunset viewpoint over Rose Valley. There is a nominal entrance fee to pay along this road.
You can drive all the way to the end of the road and enjoy sunset from there, but I believe the better view is from the viewpoint further back, which has a coffee shop and love heart photo point. From this point you can see the cliffs light up and look down 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. Remember to take a torch for the walk home!
5. Take A Hike!
Hiking the valleys around 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 and Goreme Open Air Museum to Çavuşin through Red and Rose Valley.
Again these trails are all marked on Maps.me.
6. Enjoy 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. Saddle-up For A Horse Ride Like No Other
If you prefer horses over horsepower, saddle-up for a guided Cappadocia horse riding tour. You can choose from 2 or 4 hour rides, with prices ranging from 45-85 euros.
The horseback tours explore Sword Valley, Meskendir Valley, Rose Valley and Love Valley. These are all Cappadocia must-sees.
8. Visit Göreme Open Air Museum
Cappadocia has several Open Air Museums and they are definitely must visits on your Cappadocia trip..
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. This is included on the Red Tour (see later) and contains the fresco-filled Dark Church (for an extra fee), which is arguably the most impressive church at the site.
Being located close to Göreme, this site does get busy so try to arrive early to avoid the crowds.
9. Visit An Underground City – Kaymakli or Derenkuyu
There are over 200 underground cities in the Cappadocia region, although only a few are open to visitors. The two most popular are Derinkuyu and Kaymakli and both are fun places to visit in Cappadocia.
These subterranean cities offered protection from outside invaders, allowing the Christian inhabitants to live their lives in complete secrecy.
Derinkuyu is the bigger of the cities and the deepest underground city in all of Turkey. 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. Hike In Ihlara Gorge
Ihlara Valley is a 16km-long lush, green gorge in an otherwise desert landscape. The gorge was created after multiple eruptions by nearby 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.
Several tours visit various locations around Cappadocia but 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.
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
One of the most fun things to do in Cappadocia is to embrace your inner Fred Flintstone and stay in a cave hotel. 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 in Göreme and the rooms are warm and cosy, despite being cut out of rock. The rooms are very affordable and the owner is also a pretty entertaining character to chat with!
If you really want to push the boat out and stay in a cave hotel with your own private Hammam, take a look at Kayakapi Premium Caves.
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 typically 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. Finally 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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