Cappadocia is the second most visited area in Turkey after Istanbul, and no wonder why. It’s one of the most magical places I have been. Volcanic peaks backdropped with hot air balloon rides indeed are breathtaking scenery to watch! Even though riding the hot air balloon over those natural wonders is one of the main reasons people visit the area, there are plenty of things to do in Cappadocia.
I have seen ads in many countries offering tours in Cappadocia, but I would suggest doing everything independently. You’ll have a completely different experience than following an arranged tour. And this detailed travel guide will help you to plan your trip accordingly.
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- Istanbul travel guide– what to see and eat in Istanbul in a short time
- Istanbul to Cappadocia – practical transportation guide
- Cappadocia travel guide – everything you need to know
- Things to do in Ankara – exploring Turkey’s capital
- What to wear in Turkey – practical guide to what to pack
- Turkish street food– best meals to try
Where is Cappadocia?
Before I get into the things to do in Cappadocia and its practical tips, it’s important to understand where is Cappadocia. So actually it is not a city or a town – Cappadocia is a historical region in Central Anatolia and covers Nevşehir, Kırşehir, Kayseri, Niğde, and Aksaray Provinces in Turkey. Throughout history, Christian sources used the name – Cappadocia – to define a region of natural wonders, defined with unique geological, cultural, and historical heritage.
Four main cities in the region – Nevsehir, Kayseri, Nigde, and Aksaray – are popular among tourists. The most significant towns in Cappadocia are Goreme, Urgup, Uchisar, Avanos, Ihlara Valley, Zelve, Selime, and Guzelyurt.
How to get to Cappadocia?
Since Cappadocia is a popular destination in Turkey, there are many ways to get to Cappadocia. The most efficient way is to fly in. The nearest airport in Cappadocia is Nevsehir, while Kayseri airport is only 40 minutes bus ride from Goreme.
Here’s a complete guide on how to travel from Istanbul to Cappadocia. However, you can easily find flights to the region through Turkish budget airlines such as Pegasus, SunExpress, and Atlas Global from different countries worldwide. For a more comfortable trip, you can try Turkish Airlines too.
If you plan on exploring other sites of Turkey and want to add Cappadocia to your itinerary, buses are going to either Nevsehir or Kayseri from all over the country. We had a very comfortable ride from Ankara to Nevsehir through the Kamil Koc bus company. It is one of the best ones in Turkey.
Depending on which town you are staying in, getting from Nevsehir or Kayseri to those towns is not a problem either. Turkey has a well-laid-out transportation system. From Nevsehir bus station, minibusses are going to Goreme, Urgup, Uchisar, and Cavusin.
And don’t be fooled by locals at the bus station saying there are no more buses to those towns if you get there late in the evening. Take a minibus to Nevsehir town and ask the driver to drop you off at the stop where buses to the cities pass by. The wait might be long, but the latest minibus to those towns departs around 10 or 10:30 pm.
Best time to visit Cappadocia
The region is beautiful all year round; however, the best time to visit Cappadocia is April -June, followed by September and October. These months the days are warmer, and nights are cooler. Summers here can get quite hot, while winter months see snow transforming Cappadocia into a winter wonderland. We traveled here in the first weeks of March and experienced all sorts of weather from sun to wind and a bit of rain. But overall, the weather was nice and didn’t ruin our plans. The only disadvantage was that during our 5 days here, hot air balloons flew only once on our last day…
What to do in Cappadocia
Wandering through different valleys is the main Cappadocia attraction. There are dozens of valleys around the area, from which Love, Pigeon, Fairy Chimneys, Red Rose, Devrent (Imaginary), and White are the most popular ones. Those rock formations in the valleys are the result of volcanic eruptions a thousand years ago. Since Cappadocia is a windy area, the rocks have changed the shapes and forms over the years, resulting in spectacular, weird, and exciting pillars to look at.
Moreover, people used to carve houses, monasteries, and churches from those rocks. You can still see the remains of those dwellings and religious buildings when talking through the gorges.
Things to do in Cappadocia: Wander through the valleys
The name appropriately fits the description of the phallic rock formations found in the valley. It’s one of the most popular valleys of Cappadocia because of those formations. Located on the west side of Goreme, the valley, like any other we have been to, is easy to walk; you don’t need any special hiking shoes, sneakers will do just fine.
To start the hike, you’ll need to walk towards Uchisar from Goreme, following Adnan Menderes Cd. (Caddesi means street in Turkish). Pass the Panorama Campground. On your right, you’ll see a car road, that’s the start of the hike. If you follow the path, you’ll get to the panorama viewpoint. Instead, we went through a pedestrian trail to the valley.
It took us around two hours of slow walking to get to the area of those phallic rock formations, right under the viewpoint.
From Love Valley, you can continue your way towards Pigeon Valley through White Valley. It is a less-traveled area as I hadn’t read any information about it when planning the trip. As the name suggests, the rock formations are white.
Some parts of the valley are hard to walk as you’ll need to go over the rock formations, but it’s perfectly doable. There’s a stream that dries in summer and is a bit muddy during the other months.
You’ll need around 40 minutes to walk towards the end of the valley near Uchisar town. You’ll come up near Özler Center Artısanal. Once here, you’ll see a breathtaking view of Uchisar town.
Pigeon Valley starts near the Uchisar town with pigeon statues nestled on the wooden sticks. It’s hard to miss. There are two trails in the Pigeon Valley – Pigeon House Valley that comes back to Goreme and Pigeon Valley, which goes to the panorama viewpoint. The valley’s name comes from the hundreds of pigeon houses carved out on the cliffs and fairy chimneys.
On the first day, we took the Pigeon House Valley, and I must say it’s much more beautiful in terms of landscape than the other one. You walk through the beautiful gorge with not only pigeon houses but dwellings as well. It makes you wonder how did people manage to carve out homes so high on the formations.
The Pigeon Valley viewpoint offers a stunning view of the Uchisar town and its castle. Moreover, there are photo spots to take beautiful pictures and pigeons to feed with grains sold at 1 Lira.
Red & Rose Valley
These two valleys intertwined with each other pride themselves on gorgeous, red, and rose color gorge and rock-carved churches and houses. To start the hike, you’ll need to follow Bilal Eroglu Cd and make a turn near the Kadost Atv Safari. Follow the road, and you’ll see the sign of Red Rose Valley. It’s the most well-marked trail we have hiked.
Expect to spend a few hours here walking through a beautiful gorge and visiting churches along the way. You’ll end up near the village of Cavusin.
Things to do in Cappadocia: Visit small towns
Town of Goreme
Goreme is a relatively small town characterized by rock formations of fairy chimneys. As I already mentioned, the city is an ideal choice to be close to the valleys. Sightseeing here is limited to Goreme Open Air Museum and the Goreme Panorama viewpoint. There are plenty of dining venues to try local cuisine and shops to buy souvenirs. Other than that, there’s nothing else to see.
Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, boasts around 30 churches, chapels, and monasteries carved from rocks hundreds of years ago. Some of them have fantastic fresco paintings, which are still very well preserved. The frescos date back from the 9th to 11th centuries.
- Opening Hours: April 1 – October 1: 8 a.m – 7 p.m; October 1 – April 1: 8 a.m – 5 p.m
- Entrance Fee: 45 Lira
Find accommodation in Goreme
Cavusin village, like any other village in the area, has rock-cut and stone houses, along with the Great Basilica of St. John the Baptist and Cavusin Church. The elegantly carved facades are evidence of how extraordinary the village used to be.
From here, you can continue to Monks Valley. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to hike the valley on our trip. Alternatively, you can stand at the road and wait for the minibus to go either to Goreme or Avanos.
Find accommodation in Cavusin
One of the things to do in Cappadocia is to visit the small town of Avanos. It is known for the pottery works you see in souvenir shops all around Cappadocia. The city itself is limited in sightseeing, so the reason to visit it is to either buy ceramic items or take part in pottery workshops.
The ceramic trade here is centuries old and uses the same technique, kick wheel, since its foundation. On a warm sunny day, you can enjoy a boat ride on the river.
How to get there: Daily minibusses are running from those villages to Avanos. As we stayed in Goreme, we stood at the main road and waited for the bus to come by. The price of the ticket from Goreme to Avanos costs 4 Lira.
Find accommodation in Avanos
Dominated by a 60-meter high castle-mountain, Uchisar is another tourist attraction in the area. With a sizeable cylindrical tower, the castle has various underground rooms and passages, most of which are blocked to pass by. The citadel accommodated around a thousand people, but it’s not inhabited today. The town offers a landscape of fairy chimneys, cave hotels, and residential houses.
Find accommodation in Uchiar
Things to do in Cappadocia: Walk through an underground city
Cappadocia is also famous for its underground cities span all over the region; therefore, visiting at least one of them should be on your list of things to do in Cappadocia. There are around 36 such cities built as a shelter for invasions of the Roman Empire. From those 36 cities, Derinkuyu and Kaymakli Underground City are the most famous tourist attractions.
Derinkuyu Underground City
Derinkuyu is around 60 meters deep and could accommodate approximately 20,000 people and food stores and livestock, making it the largest of its kind in Turkey. Here, you can explore oil and wine presses, storage rooms, chapels, cellars, stables, etc. There’s a 55-meter long ventilation shaft used as a well to provide water to the villagers above it and inside.
How to get there: You need to get to Nevsehir town first. Ask the driver to drop you off at the stop for Derinkuyu underground city. From there, you’ll need to wait for the bus that takes tourists to Kaimakli and Derinkuyu. The bus leaves every 30 minutes. The bus ticket costs 8 Lira per ride.
- Opening Hours: April-October: 8 a.m – 7 p.m; October-March: 8 a.m – 5 p.m
- Entrance Fee: 35 Lira
Things to do in Cappadocia: Ride a Hot Air Balloon Ride
Riding the hot air balloon is one of the main reasons why Cappadocia is such a popular destination worldwide. Flying over the valleys and seeing these weird-shaped rock formations is a magical experience. In Cappadocia hot air balloon ride happens during sunrise every day all year round.
It heavily depends on suitable weather conditions. On our visit to Cappadocia, the weather was not great, and most of the rides were canceled. Balloons flew on our last morning, so instead of taking the ride, we preferred to watch them from Goreme Panoramic Viewpoint.
You can book the ride in advance; there are plenty of travel agencies offering rides or ask at the hotel’s reception once you get there. Hot air balloon ride price varies and starts from $150 per person. The tour includes pick-up from your hotel, transportation to the take-off area, a glass of a beverage at the end, and transportation back to the hotel. But to ease the hassle, here are some of the tours I recommend:
- Hot air balloon ride with pre-breakfast and sparkling wine after landing
- 3-hour long hot air balloon ride with breakfast and wine afterward
- Almost private hot air balloon ride of small group and divided basket
Other things to do in Cappadocia that we missed
Devrent, or Imaginary Valley, located between Avanos and Urgup, is known for the Camel Rock, meaning a camel stands near the rock for photo opportunities. I am sure you’ve seen the pictures. Otherwise, the valley is full of weirdly shaped rock formations that give your imagination and creativity a free soul to determine what the rocks remind you.
Zelve Open Air Museum
The Zelve Open-Air Museum once housed one of the largest communities. Today is a breathtaking cave town featuring residential houses and religious buildings. Located 10 km from Goreme towards the Avanos town, the area was home to both Muslims and Christians living in harmony until 1924. This year, Christians had to leave the village because of the exchange of the minorities between Turkey and Greece, while Muslims left the area in the 1950s since it was, and still is, an erosion-prone area.
Make sure you have at least two hours to walk around the valleys of the museum. Here, you can admire the oldest examples of regional architecture and fresco paintings.
- Opening Hours: April-October: 8 a.m – 7 p.m; October-March: 8 a.m – 5 p.m
- Entrance Fee: 15 Lira
Other popular things to do in Cappadocia include hiking Ihlara Valley, a canyon with a depth of approximately 100 meters. The track begins at Ihlara village and ends at Selime village, covering 14 kilometers. It is known for its picturesque landscape with hundreds of caves, churches, and dwellings.
The canyon has four entrances, one from Ihlara village, another four kilometers from the town (the most popular one), third from Belisirma village, and fourth end of the canyon from Selime Monastery.
If you drive a car, the best way to get to the canyon is through the third entrance. You can park your car here and come back for a nice lunch or dinner in the village.
Adventurous experiences in Cappadocia
Cappadocia is a place where you can join many interesting and fascinating experiences that you might not have the opportunity to do elsewhere. For instance, you can join the sunset quad safari tour around the region’s valleys, ride a camel or enjoy horseback riding through stunning landscapes, visit the nearby salt lake, and discover the hidden gems of Cappadocia, to name just a few. There are so many interesting activities and things to do in Cappadocia that it’s hard to choose, so I leave the list of other tours for your preference.
Where to stay in Cappadocia?
Goreme is the central town and an ideal place to stay if you’d like to explore the essential valleys on your own. Uchisar and Cavusin should be your next choice when it comes to accommodation. You can easily explore Love, Red Rose, Fairy Chimneys, and Pigeon Valleys and visit Göreme Open Air Museum from those towns.
Cappadocia is also famous for its beautiful cave hotels, most of which are in Goreme, Uchisar, and Urgup. Museum Hotel Cappadocia, Cappadocia Cave Suites, Artemis Cave Suites, and Sultan Cave Suites are some of the most popular and Instagrammable cave hotels in the area.
We stayed in Goreme at Goreme Cave Rooms Hotel. It’s a small hotel with a terrace overlooking the center of the town. The room was spotless-clean and came with an electric kettle and complimentary coffee/tea. The buffet breakfast, included in the price, was diverse and delicious.
Practical tips when visiting Cappadocia
My number one travel tip for Cappadocia would be to download the Maps.me app on your mobile. It has all the trails you’ll need to take and works offline!
Make sure you pack comfortable shoes to hike in the valleys. You don’t need any special hiking shoes; sneakers are just fine.
Pack a bottle of water for your hikes. There are cafes in the valleys, but during our trip in March, those cafes were closed. Make sure to take a snack with you, too, as you’ll be walking the whole day.
There are two supermarkets in Goreme, A101 and Bim. And if they are closed, there’s another local grocery shop to buy something you desire.
If you have traveled to Turkey before, you more or less know the prices for dining out. I have noticed that meal prices are a bit high in Goreme compared to the other towns. But overall, it might seem cheap depending on which country you are traveling from.
Transportation through other towns from Goreme is relatively easy. Minibusses run every day from early in the morning till late at night. The ticket prices are between 3-7 Lira depending on the town you are going to.
Tours in Cappadocia
Depending on how many days you plan on staying in Cappadocia, travel agencies provide Green and Red tours of the area. They are great for those who don’t have much time to explore the region and want to see the main sights. Those tours take you to the valleys’ viewpoints and not inside, and from what I saw, you don’t get to see the beauty of those gorges from most of the viewpoints.
Every agency has a slightly different itinerary on both tours, but they include the most important landmarks. For example, Green Tour usually includes a visit to Derinkuyu Underground City, Ihlara Valley hike, Selime Monastery, viewpoints of Goreme and Pigeon Valley, and several shopping areas. The price covers entrance fees to the attractions, transportation, lunch, and a guide.
Red Tour, on the other hand, incorporates Uchisar Castle, Goreme Open Air Museum, Cavusin, Avanos, viewpoints of Pasabag, Devrent, and Urgup valleys. Similar to another tour, the price includes lunch and entrance to the sites.