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From the unusual natural scenery to its rock-hewn churches and frescos, discovering all of Cappadocia is like wanting to eat one whole Enchilada with just a bite.
You will not get to discover all its different flavors and you will probably end up having a stomach ache.
The endless historic and geographical sites make the Goreme National Park very difficult to discover in one visit.
However, there are some unmissable things to do in Cappadocia that offer the best of everything, so don’t worry, you will get your chance to see the highlights.
In this Cappadocia travel guide, our friend Roberto S. Gallegos Ricci shares his top tips for the best attractions in Cappadocia including some hidden gems!
- Where is Cappadocia?
- What is Cappadocia best known for?
- Things to Do in Cappadocia
- 1. Göreme Open Air Museum Rock Cut Churches
- 2. A Walk Around the Goreme Valleys
- 3. Çavuşin Village & The Church of St John the Baptist
- 4. Derinkuyu: An ancient Underground City
- 5. Balloon Ride in Cappadocia
- 6. Uçhisar Castle
- 7. Red Valley Sunset Point
- 8. Try a Testi Kebab (Clay Pot Kebab)
- 9. Zelve Open Air Museum
- Where To Stay in Cappadocia: Goreme
- Best Time to Visit Cappadocia
- How to Get to Cappadocia
- Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Cappadocia
- More Turkey Inspiration
Where is Cappadocia?
Cappadocia is a region of central Turkey in the Nevsehir province, and is made up of several small towns and villages. It extends from the town of Avanos South towards Ihlara Canyon.
Some of the main towns in Cappadocia are Uchisar, Ürgüp, Ortahisar, and Cavusin.
Göreme is the main town in Cappadocia, and it’s packed full of things to do.
What is Cappadocia best known for?
The region is popular with tourists for its hot air balloons and hiking through the spectacular desert landscapes and past rock formations known as fairy chimneys.
It’s also known for Göreme Historical National Park, a national park in Cappadocia. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 under the name Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia.
The landscape with the various pillars, rock towers, and other fairy chimney rock formations is the highlight of a visit to Göreme National Park.
Cappadocia is also a historical area, with a history that goes a long way back to1800 B.C., when Hittite settlers used the soft volcanic rock to carve cave dwellings for shelter in the cave room hotels of today.
Planning to visit Cappadocia but don’t have much time? Why not take a look at the Red Tour and Green Tour. These tours have been designed for people who have only a few days in the region and are unable to see it all. They take you to some of the best valleys, hikes, underground cities, and more. Both tours offer a different experience, so take a look at the itineraries and see what looks best!
Cappadocia Red Tour: Avanos Town (Pottery Workshops), Uchisar Castle, Goreme Open Air Museum, Cavusin, Pasabag Monks Valley, and Devrent Imagination Valley
Cappadocia Green Tour: Esentepe Viewpoint (Pigeon Valley Viewpoint), Ihlara Valley, Derinkuyu Underground City, and Selime Monastery
Things to Do in Cappadocia
Seek to experience Cappadocia as if it were your own Enchilada to eat, enjoying piece by piece. Even if you don’t finish it all, the taste will last for a lifetime.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Cappadocia, Turkey!
1. Göreme Open Air Museum Rock Cut Churches
The Goreme Open Air Museum is a complex of churches cut into volcanic rock during the Middle Ages and decorated with frescoes.
The group of rock-cut churches features the Apple Church, Chapel of St. Barbara, Chapel of St. Catherine, and the so-called Dark Church, which will satisfy any art standards with the painted frescos inside them.
Goreme Open Air Museum hosts the most important Byzantine cave churches in the world that where the monks and nuns pursued monastic life, and this UNESCO World Heritage site is an essential stop on any Cappadocia itinerary.
My personal favorite is the Tokali Kilise or Buckle Church 50m down the hill from the entrance. It features an impressive well preserved small fresco of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus on the far end of the church.
Don’t miss the Dark Church, named like this because of its lack of windows. There is an extra fee for entry, but it’s worth it, and is a way to restrict access in favor of the preservation of the site.
From Göreme center it’s a solid 1.5 km walk, but it’s all flat and very easy.
Cappadocia: Full-Day Private Tour: See the best sights Cappadocia has to offer on this full-day tour with a knowledgeable guide. Marvel at incredible monuments from the Goreme Open Air Museum to Underground City, Uchisar Castle, Devrent Valley, and Pasabaglar Valley. Check it out here.
2. A Walk Around the Goreme Valleys
You can either hike, mountain bike, horse ride, or scooter through the valleys from Göreme that naturally exhibit the different rock formations that are particular to this place: mushrooms, columns, and cones. It is like walking through a natural phenomenon museum.
If you are into photography there will be plenty of great shots waiting for you to take. It is rumored among locals that George Lucas wanted to film in these valleys scenes for his Star Wars movies but declined due to the fact that producers did not want to portray phallic symbols in the film.
When you visit the Love Valley you will understand why (ahem, photo above).
The most famous valleys are the Red Valley, the Rose Valley, the (not so romantic to my eyes) Love Valley, and Zemi Valley. They are all within a 10km range from the town of Göreme.
There are many valleys around the most central town of the Cappadocia region. Your best bet is to ask for a map in your hotel and plan an all-day hiking trip if you want to visit the major ones.
If you have a lot of time to spend in Cappadocia, here are some other valleys you can visit that are cool but not at the top of my list of valleys to explore:
- Pigeon Valley – this is so named because of the pigeon holes in the fairy chimneys. Farmers used to breed pigeons for their poop, which was very expensive in the olden days.
- White Valley – This valley is connected to Love Valley and it’s often not clear when you leave one and enter the other. However, if you plan on walking to Uchisar Castle, you’ll pass through this one.
- Imagine Valley (Devrent Valley) – This is a small valley known for its rock formations that look like real-life objects, for instance, a camel. It’s small and worth visiting for 30 minutes for a few photos, but not much longer
- Monks Valley and Passabag Valley – This valley is between Goreme and the Zelve Open Air Museum. If you go to Zelve, you get free entrance to this valley so it’s worth seeing for that reason. There isn’t much special about it otherwise. Once you’ve seen Love Valley and Red & Rose Valley, this seems less impressive.
- Sword Valley – the smallest valley in Cappadocia and is famous for having the longest tunnel.
Want to explore Cappadocia’s valleys? Then take a look at these tours!
3. Çavuşin Village & The Church of St John the Baptist
It may not make the list of the top 5 places in Cappadocia on most lists, but for Annika and I, Çavuşin was a great experience.
Çavuşin is a small village and one of the oldest settlements in Cappadocia. It’s known for the 5th Century Church of St John the Baptist, the oldest and largest in Cappadocia.
It was here that we took some incredible pictures from the top of the deserted rock town that was once inhabited. It is no coincidence that many hiking tours and horseback riding tours use this place as its starting point.
Don’t miss the view from behind the rock town. There is a beautiful 4 km hiking trail from Göreme to get here. And sunsets are meant to be beautiful here.
4. Derinkuyu: An ancient Underground City
This landmark attraction is one of my personal favorite things to do in Cappadocia. Derinkuyu is an ancient underground city that was discovered accidentally by a local renovating his house in 1963. Can you imagine?
He uncovered a mysterious labyrinth of caverns and tunnels over several levels that wound over 85 meters deep in the bowels of the earth. This underground metropolis dates back to the seventh century BC.
This underground city helped me understand the terror of what persecution might be like. To hide from the sun underground is a big price for anyone to pay. It is said that around 10,000 Christians lived here in the 6th and 7th centuries when Persians and Arabic armies sought to vanquish the Byzantine Empire.
Chapels, rooms, wine cellars, and even schools are found deep within the city. Air shafts were designed not only to keep the air circulating but as elevators where water and food were transported to the many different levels of the city. Today you can only access seven of them.
It would be advisable to hire a guide. Although the site is interesting enough it is hard to make for yourself the distinctions between the rooms and their importance. A guide will charge you upon site so the negotiation is up to you.
If you found Derinkuyu fascinating, then be sure to walk 15 minutes to the nearby Kaymakli Underground City, which is smaller than Derinkuyu but it’s older.
It also has several tunnels and caverns to explore rather than the single-file tunnel at Derinkuyu, so it’s better for those who love adventure.
5. Balloon Ride in Cappadocia
Maybe one of the most famous Cappadocia activities and let me just say the most expensive. We have to be honest and say that we did not do the hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, but heard so many wonders about it.
We even met a group of Turkish people that came from Istanbul and took the 12-hour bus just to experience what they called “a life-time opportunity”. So if you can afford it, don’t hesitate and ask your hotel for advice.
A great tip was given to us by a local. If you don’t want to look for a discount price, arrive early at the starting point of ascension. Many balloons might have one or two spaces left that you can be negotiated there and then for a discount. If you are unsuccessful just walk to the Göreme Sun Set Point (on the road towards Uchisar) and watch the balloons color the scenery from there.
There are hundreds of hot air balloons that take flight at once, filling the skies one after the other. There is nothing else quite like it. It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Sounds exciting? Check out these Hot Air Balloon Tours in Cappadocia:
- Hot Air Balloon Tour with Transfer, Light Breakfast & Champagne: Float over Cappadocia’s fairy chimneys, tuff valleys, and rock-cut churches on this hot air balloon flight. Check out the experience here.
- Hot Air Balloon Flight at Sunrise: After a complimentary breakfast, soak up the panoramic views of the Red Valley to Göreme as you glide through the sky. Take a look here.
6. Uçhisar Castle
Uchisar Castle is the highest point in Cappadocia and a massive structure that speaks of the size and complexity of the ancient settlements here.
The castle was once the main point of defense in the city and was said to have housed 1,000 people living in it, usually soldiers.
Today, much of the castle is in ruins but you can still explore it. As you wander around the rocky mound, you’ll see the remains of rooms and living quarters.
From the top, you see panoramic views of Goreme National Park below.
Visitors should wear sturdy shoes as the rock underfoot is quite slippy. Be careful and keep an eye on your kids.
7. Red Valley Sunset Point
Red Valley is one of my favourite valleys in Cappadocia for its colourful rock formations. The bright red rock is best visible though, at sunset when the sun lights up the landscape in a sea of oranges and reds.
The Red Valley sunset viewpoint is a popular spot to watch the sun go down. You can either hike to it, or drive to it, but once you’re there you’ll find some cafes and food stalls where you can get a snack and a cool beverage, plus some swing chairs and benches to sit on.
If you’re looking for relaxing things to do in Cappadocia, this is definitely up there. (well, aside from sitting in a Turkish hammam!)
8. Try a Testi Kebab (Clay Pot Kebab)
Turkish food is so diverse and you’ll find each region has something special to call its own. In Cappadocia, the region is famous for its Testi kebabs, otherwise known as clay pot kebabs.
Inside a clay pot, you have a stew of meat and vegetables, which is then cooked over an open fire until the bottom of the pot breaks.
Don’t worry, they usually stuff the pot with bread to catch the shards of pottery so you don’t eat clay for dinner!
The best place to find Testi kebab in Goreme is at a restaurant in town called Dibek.
9. Zelve Open Air Museum
If you enjoyed the Goreme Open Air museum, then you’re going to love the Zelve Open Air museum! Personally, this was my favourite of the two because it’s less busy and you can explore without the use of a guide.
The museum is similar to Goreme in that it’s an ancient town that has been turned into a museum. You can see the old bakeries, stables, wine cellars, and both churches and mosques.
What’s interesting about Zelve however is that people still lived here right up until the 1950s! The residents were then asked to leave by the Turkish government due to safety concerns and were relocated to houses in nearby towns.
Where To Stay in Cappadocia: Goreme
If it’s your first time in Cappadocia, we highly recommend you stay in the town of Goreme. This is where the long-distance night bus from Istanbul drops you off, and it’s also the center of the region.
From Goreme, you can easily book tours, hire a bicycle, hire a car and even walk to many of the top attractions in Cappadocia.
Here are some great places to stay:
- Henna Hotel is an adults-only hotel and perfect for couples. It’s located in the center of Göreme and is one of the unique cave hotels that you find in the region. It features a charming terrace offering far-reaching views of the historic village. Check rates and availability here!
- Yunak Evleri Cappadocia: Located in Urgup, just a short distance from Goreme, is this gorgeous hotel. Nestled between Cappadocia’s landscape of fairy chimneys, Yunak Evleri is a unique cave hotel carved into a mountain cliff. It offers rooms dating back to the 5th century and a 19th-century Greek mansion. Certain rooms include a balcony or a terrace where you can admire the views of Urgup. See rates and availability here!
- Sultan Cave Suites: Perched atop Aydinli Hill in Goreme, this unique hotel offers cave rooms furnished with antiques from throughout Turkey. It features far-reaching views out over Goreme National Park from its panoramic terrace. See rates and availability here!
Best Time to Visit Cappadocia
Because Cappadocia is a region quite high up, you don’t get the unbearable heat that you get in most desert landscapes. You can visit pretty much any time of year, but you should note that it snows in the winter which means hot air balloons don’t often fly and a lot of hotels close.
The best time to visit would be the Spring and Autumn season because the temperatures are cool and the weather is most optimal for flying hot air balloons.
September and October are great times as it’s just after the summer holiday and the crowds disperse, meaning you get great weather and fewer crowds. Likewise, April is the shoulder season and is a quiet month.
June is the start of the high season and one of the busiest times to visit.
How to Get to Cappadocia
Cappadocia is really easy to get to. If you are thinking of visiting from Istanbul or Antalya, you can easily fly or take a long-distance bus.
There are two airports in Cappadocia, but most regional flights will fly to Kayseri Erkilet Airport (ASR). From here, you can get an airport transfer in advance or take a shuttle bus from the airport.
It’s a small airport so you’ll easily find the shuttles out the front.
Alternatively, you can take the cheaper, longer, and slightly less fun option – the night bus.
Night buses run from Istanbul, Antalya, and other major cities in Turkey to Goreme. The good thing about the night bus is that it drops you off in the center of town, and it’s a small town, so you won’t have to walk far to your accommodation.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Cappadocia
Cappadocia is a huge region, and as you can see, it’s packed with so many important and historical landmarks and attractions.
While you may not have time to see it all, we hope this guide helped you plan a few attractions in Cappadocia to add to your Turkey itinerary.
So whether you choose to focus your time visiting churches, walking through the valleys, or just resting in your cave room the important thing is to have fun and enjoy the magic that this place has to offer.
So smile and let Cappadocia smile back at you.
BIO Roberto S. Gallegos Ricci is an independent travel blogger and Co-founder of project Tasting Travels, along with his soul mate Annika Wachter. The project seeks to promote travel as a means to strengthen social empathy. Currently, they are riding a motorbike East and writing articles about the people, places, and cultures that they encounter along the way. “It’s not only about the bike ride, it’s about the people we meet.”
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