The Ultimate Guide of Things To do In Cappadocia
The unreal, lunar-like landscapes of Cappadocia have fast gone from being a wilderness in Central Anatolia to one of Turkey’s fastest growing tourist attractions. The ever-growing popularity is down to the surreal scenery, the ancient history, the underground cities, the epic hiking and the beautiful balloon flights that the region has become renowned for.
To help you to make the most of your trip to Cappadocia, and to help you to get even just a little bit off the beaten track while you are there, I put together this ultimate guide on the best things to do in Cappadocia. The first step is to obtain your Turkey visa here and after that, it’s time to decide which hikes are for you, if a hot air balloon flight is really worth all that cash – trust me, it is – and where the best place to base yourself in Cappadocia will be.
Read on, for my ultimate guide of things to do in Cappadocia.
Things to do in Cappadocia
Cappadocia is a vast region, encompassing not just one town or city – there is actually no individual community, named Cappadocia – and there is a lot to see in the area. Most travellers will choose to base themselves in the town of Goreme, where you can find the pick of the restaurants, hotels and from where you can easily access all of the things to do in Cappadocia that I’ve listed below, many of which are even in walking distance.
Here are the best thing to do in Cappadocia.
1. Hot Air Balloon at Sunrise
Okay, so you’ve probably seen all those Instagram accounts that have been posting beautiful pictures of a landscape filled with hot air balloons stretching for as far as the eye can see over the last few years. That’s Cappadocia, and truly, taking a hot air balloon ride at sunrise is one of the most awe-inspiring things to do in Cappadocia.
It’s an early start, and it’s not cheap. Prices start from a minimum of 150 Euros per person depending on the company you use. I went with Butterfly Balloons, one of the top players in the game here. The fairly hefty expenditure is totally worth it though, as you are taken over the incredible, surreal landscape and will see first hand why Cappadocia has become a top spot on the Turkish tourist trail as the sun rises and you are surrounded by other balloons.
When you land, you even get a glass of champagne. What more could you want?
2. Goreme Open Air Museum
If you are short on time in Cappadocia, then the one place that you need to make sure that you visit is the Goreme Open Air Museum. Although the museum can be busy, as it’s within walking distance of the main tourist hub of Goreme, it’s the best place to start to get a feel for what Cappadocia is really all about.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site contains some of the world’s oldest Christian churches, as for centuries, Cappadocia and the soft rock found here was perfect for carving out hideouts in the mountains for those looking to escape persecution. The Goreme Open Air Museum contains some of the best-preserved cave churches in the area, and it’s an excellent place to spend a few hours wandering around. Get here early though, to avoid the bus tours that inevitably roll in at some point.
3. Zelve Open Air Museum
If you are looking for something a bit more of the beaten path, then head to the Zelve Open Air Museum. Although it’s close to the main Goreme Museum mentioned above, you will find it’s substantially quieter, but equally as historic and spectacular. The museum houses the vast and well-preserved remains of what was once one of Cappadocia’s largest cave-dwelling communities. People even lived here until as late as the 1950’s.
There is a lot to explore, as the museum covers an area that expands through three separate valleys, meaning you can easily turn this into a day of hiking through abandoned caves and hidden churches. Most of the Christians that lived here left when Turkey and Greece had a huge population exchange in the 1920’s, after World War I.
4. The Three Beauties
The Three Beauties are just a bunch of rocks, but what makes them unique from the many other rocks that you will see wherever you look in Cappadocia, is that these three rocks are shaped like three maidens. The rocks gaze hauntingly out over the surrounding landscape and are found next to the town of Urgup.
Local legend has it that three unfortunate sisters decided to run away from home, to meet their lovers in a nearby village, but for this act, they were turned into stone and immortalised into the rocks of Cappadocia.
5. Explore the Underground Cities
Remote, wild and seemingly inhospitable, Cappadocia has always been the realm of persecuted people and minorities attempting to hide away from the world. The rock is soft enough to be carved easily into dwellings and underground you will even find entire cities that were built completely out of sight. It’s absolutely phenomenal, and archaeologists aren’t even sure how many of these underground labyrinths are still waiting to be discovered.
The two underground cities that are open to visitors are Derinkuyu Underground City and Kaymakli Underground City. Both were built underneath the villages on the surface, as places to escape to in times of trouble or invasion, and they were so well hidden they weren’t rediscovered again until the 20th century.
Derinkuyu is at least 18 levels deep, stretching far underground, and there elaborate defences, hidden tunnels and entire underground houses, stables and cooking areas. It’s an extraordinary feat of engineering, and it’s a strange experience to walk through the darkened caverns far below ground.
Kaymakli isn’t as deep or as extensive as Derinkuyu, but it is equally as impressive to walk underground through. Here there are 8 floors that have been found, and amongst the rooms and stables, they even built an underground winery!
6. Uchisar Castle
Uchisar Castle is one of the most impressive historical structures to be found in Cappadocia. You will see the prominent peak that the castle is built around from miles away because this is one of the highest points in the area. It’s actually a huge piece of volcanic rock, and for centuries, the locals of the region dug tunnels and fortified the peak. You can get to the top, for incredible views over Cappadocia.
The town of Mustafapasha was, until the Greek-Turkish population exchanges, known by the name of Sinasos. When the Greeks were forced out though, the name was changed and the town was repopulated. It’s an interesting place to visit, as you can very much see the Greek architecture, churches and religious symbols and even fading Greek national colours across the town.
8. Pigeon Valley
Cappadocia is famed for its fairytale chimneys and beautiful hiking valleys. Pigeon Valley is one of the most popular of the many hiking routes that take you through the spectacular rocks and landscapes of this unreal world, and it makes for an easy walk that’s found close to Goreme. The whole route takes you through the valley and ends up in nearby Uchisar if you hike from Goreme. The valley gets its name from the fact that there are hundreds, if not thousands of little pigeon coops built into the rock, as locals would keep the birds to collect their droppings for use as fertilizer.
9. Love Valley
Love Valley makes for another great hiking trip, and this route takes you past strangely shaped rocks and monoliths, that are distinctly phallic in shape – hence the name, Love Valley. The valley is easily accessible from Goreme and makes for a gentle few hours of strolling.
10. Rose Valley
If you carry on from Love Valley, rather than returning to Goreme, then you will reach Rose Valley – also known as Red Valley. This is a bit of a tougher hike, as there are steeper, and rockier sections to traverse, but it makes for a beautiful scene. There are plenty of hidden caves and old churches to explore as you make your way through the valley.
11. Dervent Valley
Dervent Valley is one of the shorter valleys in the Cappadocia region, but its found right on the outskirts of Goreme, making it very accessible. Dervent means Imagination in English because here the many different rocks that have been eroded by the weather over time form many distinct shapes, including the famous Camel outcrop.
12. Ihlara Valley
Hiking the Ihlara Valley makes for a great day out in Cappadocia. The valley is different from the others you may have hiked, as whereas much of the rest of the land appears barren and lifeless, this is a green and verdant place, fed by the local river which runs through here. You can hike from village to village and enjoy the wonderful outdoors.
13. Soganli Valley
The Soganli Valley is a real off the beaten track valley to explore when visiting Cappadocia. Unlike the busier hikes through say Pigeon or Love Valley, this one is quiet, secluded and out of the way. You will need to arrange transport, or a tour here, though but it’s worth it. The valley stretches for some 16 miles, but you can see the best sections in a few hours, and spend your time wandering through old cave dwellings and ancient Christian churches which are full of frescoes in various states of disrepair. The highlight is the abandoned village of Soganli, where you can see the remains of the old houses where people lived for centuries before being moved out by the authorities to new areas.
14. Horse Treks
A great way to experience the valleys and moon-like scenery of Cappadocia is to take a horse riding trek through the landscapes. Many companies in the area offer trips on horseback, stretching from just an hour or so to full day treks through some off the beaten path locations.
15. ATV Touring
If horse riding isn’t quite for you though, then another great way to explore more of Cappadocia than you ever could on foot, and a way to get much further off the beaten path, is to join an off-road ATV tour through the valleys. Many of these set out in the late afternoon, taking you to perfect, hard to reach sunset spots where you can really enjoy the landscapes.
16. Enjoy a Turkish Bath
The Turkish Bath is a time honoured tradition in the country, and in Goreme, you will find a few options where you can relax and chill out while immersing yourself in the culture. Have a scrub, have a massage and enjoy yourself after a hard day of hiking or sightseeing
Locations of the Best Things to do in Cappadocia
Where to Stay in Cappadocia
Cappadocia is a sprawling region, and it can be a bit daunting deciding where to base yourself. The main towns for tourism, with the best facilities and accessibility to attractions, are Goreme and Urgup, while the towns of Uchisar and Ortahisar are a bit more off the beaten track and a lot quieter.
Here’s my rundown of where to stay in Cappadocia.
Goreme has become the main tourist town in Cappadocia because it’s excellently located, close to all the major attractions and has a wealth of great eateries and accommodation. There are plenty of hotel options in Goreme, and this is the place to stay if you are on a budget, as there are some great backpacker cave hostels and mid-range boutique guesthouses.
Most of the tour companies are based here these days, and the local bus station can easily transfer you to connecting long-distance transport in the nearby cities, or to the airport too.
Urgup is the town by The Three Beauties, and it’s the original hub of tourism in the Cappadocia region. You will see why, as it’s a beautiful, charming place, where cave hotels and restaurants tumble along the mountainside. It can be a good place to stay, although most of the hotels here are now more upmarket, and very boutiquey, and consequently, attract a heftier price tag. There are good restaurants and an interesting museum.
Uchisar is the site of the impressive Uchisar Castle, a must visit sight in Cappadocia. It’s a small town and is usually seen as more of a day trip by visitor’s to the region, but there are a few accommodation options and restaurants, and it makes for an interesting alternative to the more popular towns.
Ortahisar is very much off the beaten track, and very much secluded. I’d recommend staying in this charming, peaceful town if you enjoy a quiet atmosphere and don’t plan on doing much at all. There are limited accommodation options, and few eateries, but you can easily get down the road to Goreme anyway from Ortahisar.
Kayseri is the largest city within easy reach of the Cappadocia region, and many travellers will find themselves arriving or departing from here, either from the main airport or the large bus terminal. While many people don’t hang around, it may be a good spot to spend the night if you have an early departure or late arrival, or simply to enjoy life in an offbeat Turkish city.
Nevsehir is another large city, located close to the tourist hubs of Goreme and Urgup. While there’s not a huge amount to see here either, it may make a good place to stay, particularly if you are heading overland to the west coast after your stay in Cappadocia, as there are good connections from the city.
7. Stay in a Cave!
When in Cappadocia, it’s imperative that you stay in a cave. Many of the hotels, hostels and guesthouses are built from the old cave dwellings that were used in the towns for centuries. Some are absolutely luxurious, retaining the unique historic nature of the dwellings while offering upmarket comforts, while the backpacker ones are decidedly more rustic, but equally as atmospheric.
Locations of the Best Places to Stay in Cappadocia
How to Travel to Cappadocia
Cappadocia is a fairly remote destination when it comes to travelling around Turkey. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t easy to get to, it just means that unless you fly, it will take you a long time to actually get here.
Cappadocia is found in Central Anatolia, pretty much right in the middle of the country. The largest cities and transport hubs nearby are Nevsehir and Kayseri, where you can fly in on the regular scheduled flights from around Turkey. There are frequent connections from abroad with Turkish Airlines, although you will need to change in Istanbul. Return flights from Istanbul can be expensive during peak season, due to high demand, so book in advance. At the airport, you will find plenty of shuttle buses travelling directly to Goreme or Urgup, a journey of around one hour.
If you are travelling overland, then there are many different options. From Istanbul, the night bus takes around 12 hours but is relatively inexpensive. These will arrive at the huge bus terminal in Kayseri, where you can quickly switch to a minibus to either Goreme or Urgup. Many companies will even include this transfer in the price. The other way, from Goreme or Urgup, the bus companies put on shuttles to Kayseri, where you then change. From Kayseri, you can travel almost anywhere else in the country overland.
There is also a bus terminal at Nevsehir, where you can find many buses heading west, towards Turkey’s popular coastline.
How to Travel Around Cappadocia
Unfortunately, because of the spread out nature of Cappadocia, there is very little in the way of local, public transport around the region. If you are based in Goreme, then getting to the major hiking valleys and to nearby towns isn’t so difficult, as everything can realistically be walked.
If you aren’t into hiking though, then you are best to arrange a private car or to join one of the many tours that take in the area. The different companies offer very similar packages and have even divided the area up into three major sections, which are sold across the board as the Red, Green and Blue tour, meaning you can conveniently book onto the separate tours on different days to get a very good, broad-ranging taste of Cappadocia.
Many taxis offer rides between the major towns, and you could potentially even hitchhike quite easily if you fancied.
When to Visit Cappadocia
Peak season in Cappadocia is between April and June when the weather is hot and conditions for hiking and balloon flights are great. The shoulder seasons though can still be a great time to visit, as it’s quieter and cheaper. Winter, however, can be a bad time, as it can get incredibly cold in Cappadocia, and you may find many of the hotels and tour companies have closed for the season, while balloon flights can be grounded due to high winds.
What to Eat in Cappadocia
There are a great many restaurants in Cappadocia, and many new ones popping up constantly, so rather than suggesting the best places to eat out during your stay, I thought I would suggest a few great dishes to try. While you can get many of these all over the country, a few, such as the Clay Pot Kebab, are particularly unique to Anatolia. Here were my favourite Turkish dishes in Cappadocia.
Start the day with a hefty but surprisingly healthy Turkish Breakfast. The array of small dishes served up will include everything from bread and yoghurt to cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers. And of course, a healthy dose of strong, Turkish Coffee, which is never for the faint of heart.
Clay Pot Kebab
The Clay Pot Kebab – which is actually called the Testi Kebab – is a very unique, Anatolian dish, and Cappadocia is the place to try it. The lamb is slow cooked in a clay pot for hours, and when it’s time to serve it up, the waiter will quite literally smash the clay pot open before pouring the contents onto your plate. It’s a wonderfully tender and delicious dish.
Gozleme is a Turkish staple, and one of my favourite snacks or light meals to eat when I’m in the country. It’s basically a pancake, and it’s cooked with a savoury twist that includes vegetables, meat and cheese.
Iskender is the pinnacle of all Kebabs in my humble opinion. Take chicken or beef kebab meat and cover it in a delicious tomato sauce, serve it up on a piece of flatbread with creamy yoghurt to accompany it. Iskender means Alexander, and it’s named for the creator of the dish itself.
Pide is essentially Turkish Pizza. It’s a long, thin piece of dough covered in all sorts of great toppings and a hefty helping of cheese too.
You can find Borek all over Turkey and even the Balkans and this delicious pastry is the perfect breakfast or snack, and great to take on hiking trips. The long, thin parcels of pastry are filled with cheese or meat or vegetables or all three.
Where to Travel to Next from Cappadocia
Cappadocia may seem fairly remote and far removed from much of the rest of Turkey, but actually, there are plenty of options if you are looking to turn your stay here into a broader travel itinerary. If you look to the east, then there are many fantastic, off the beaten path destinations that you can travel to.
I personally carried on to the incredible, ancient, giant heads of Mount Nemrut. Built by a king on top of a huge mound, it’s a strange but unique sight to see.
From Mount Nemrut, I travelled further east towards the amusingly named city of Batman, where I visited the town of Hasankeyf, a spectacular and historic place that may soon be underwater.
There are plenty of other options too and don’t be put off by how far away things may seem to be, the Turkish transport system is very reliable and there are a lot of magnificent locations that have yet to be become anywhere near as busy and touristy as Cappadocia.
All Words and Photos by Richard Collett