Cappadocia is an area in central Turkey that is best known for its enormous and complex underground cities, cave churches, houses, and hotels carved directly into the rock, and “fairy chimneys,” which are tall cone-shaped rock formations stretching upwards of 130 feet into the air.
More recently, it has become known for the hundreds of hot air balloons that take to the skies every morning at sunrise, perfectly complementing the already surreal setting. The landscape of Cappadocia with its deep valleys and stunning formations will make you believe you’ve actually traveled to another planet. There is absolutely nowhere else like it in the world!
Check out our list of the best things to see and do in the spectacular city of Cappadocia!
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Cappadocia, Turkey Travel Basics
Getting to Cappadocia
Cappadocia is a remote area and not entirely easy to get to. A short plane ride from Istanbul will get you to Kayseri (ASR), and then you’ll need to take a one-hour shuttle bus into Cappadocia. Kayseri is also accessible by bus or train. If you are adventurous enough to make the trek out to it, you’ll be rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime adventure!
Once you get to Cappadocia, you’ll likely want to rent a motorbike at one of the many shops around town so you can cruise around at your own pace.
Where to Eat and Drink in Cappadocia
Be sure to have an afternoon snack at the Viewpoint Cafe and Restaurant. They offer stunning views over Cappadocia and delicious iced cold coffee.
House of Memories is a quaint little local joint that we’d highly recommend for dinner. Start with the mixed appetizer platter, and then try the fried beef for your main course. Grab a bottle of local wine in the wine shop directly below the restaurant – they’ll open it for you!
Stop at Sedef Restaurant in Göreme for the chef’s special kebab. It’s the best in town!
Know Before You Go
- The Turkish currency is the lira and the conversion is about 3.5 lira to the US dollar
- Learn a few phrases in Turkish; “mer-ha-ba” is “hello”, “saw-owl” is “thanks”, and “goo-lay-goo-lay” is “goodbye”
- Be sure to arrange a shuttle from the airport to Cappadocia in advance – taxis are few and far between and incredibly expensive
- Accept tea when it’s offered to you and place your spoon across the top of your glass when you’ve had enough
- A 5-10% tip at restaurants is acceptable
- While Cappadocia is a tourist hot spot, women travelers should consider dressing modestly as Turkey is fairly conservative overall
A Brief History of Cappadocia’s Spectacular Landscape
Cappadocia’s Göreme Valley, with its deep valleys and fairy chimneys surrounded by mountain ridges, was originally formed by massive volcanic eruptions that covered the area in thick ash. That ash then solidified into a soft rock called tuff, which was then eroded by wind and water for centuries leaving behind the interesting rock formations that we see today.
In the 4th century, it is believed that small anchorite communities saw the honeycombed rock formations and determined to begin inhabiting them, be it for protection from the elements or from warring neighbors. In the present day, they are the most striking and largest cave-dwelling complexes in the world.
The 8 Best Things to do in Cappadocia, Turkey
1. Sleep in a Cave Hotel
Cappadocia is a traveler’s dream with gorgeous cave hotels carved directly into the rock and delectable cuisine on every corner. And one of the top things to do in Cappadocia is to actually sleep in a cave hotel. Taskonaklar is a boutique-style cave hotel located just outside of Göreme in the small historic town of Uçhisar. The land surrounding Taskonaklar was purchased originally as ancient cave ruins, and the architect kept the integrity of the original rooms in the present-day design.
While the town of Göreme is more of a busy backpacker scene, the town of Uçhisar is home to upscale boutique hotels and offers the best views of Cappadocia in the region. The town is quiet and quaint with delicious local fare and friendly locals. And it is only a short ride to Göreme. We would most definitely recommend staying in Uçhisar during your trip to Cappadocia.
Each cave room at Taskonaklar is different and unique and will make you feel as though you are actually sleeping in an ancient cave, but with all the modern-day conveniences. Intricate stonework and antique furniture create the foundation of each room, while luxurious bedding and traditional decor give it flare.
The peaceful outdoor space at Taskonaklar also provides amazing views of the hot air balloons floating by in the early mornings. Be sure to awake early so that you can catch the amazing sunrise views over the valley!
2. Go on a Hot Air Balloon Ride
One of the things that you absolutely must do during your trip is to go on a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia! The views from the air are absolutely breathtaking, and you won’t experience anything else like it anywhere else in the world.
It’s best to take your hot air balloon ride early in your trip as they are completely dependent on wind conditions. So if you wait until your last day; unfortunately, your trip may get canceled and you’ll miss out on the bucket list activity that puts Cappadocia on every Turkey itinerary. Be sure to book your hot air balloon ride in advance to ensure you get a spot!
The tour will pick you up from your hotel bright and early (way before sunrise) to take you to their office for tea, coffee, and a light breakfast. Once everyone is checked in, they’ll drive you to the spot where the balloons launch, and you will watch as your balloon is inflated. They fit around 20 people in each basket, so quarters are tight, but everyone has their own railing space to ensure no one will block your epic views of the sun rising over the city.
Your Cappadocia hot air balloon ride will take you 800 meters into the air, giving you a birds-eye view of the valleys below. You’ll be surrounded by dozens of other hot air balloons and the sight is truly breathtaking.
Depending on wind conditions, your pilot may also dip you down into one of the valleys so you can get up close and personal with the massive stone pillars and cave houses. The entire trip takes about an hour to an hour and a half, and it’s worth every penny!
3. Take a Ride Through the Valley on a Quad
One of the most popular things to do in Cappadocia is to cruise around the Sword, Love, and Rose valleys on a quad bike. The most popular time of day to tour the Rose Valley is during sunset when the rock formations turn into light pink hues. But regardless of the time of day, you’ll love flying down the maze of rough roads while enjoying the landscape of Cappadocia!
We would highly recommend doing this excursion as a tour in Cappadocia, rather than simply renting a quad in town. The roads are incredibly confusing and it’s very easy to get lost. Take it from two people who did.
4. Take the Scenic Route to Göreme
If you want to get out and stretch your legs a bit, then you’ll love the scenic path that leads to Göreme. Take the road into Pigeon Valley from Taskonaklar, and you will find a 2.5-mile-long path into Göreme. Even though it’s a well-trodden route, you’ll likely end up getting a bit lost. Luckily, a very friendly local named Ahmet will likely come to your rescue.
Ahmet will take you to a few scenic overlooks, you’ll stop at a few local spots for Turkish tea and eggs and finally end at an old cave church in Göreme. He’ll expect a tip at the end, so if that’s not your cup of tea, just give him a polite but firm “no thank you” when he first approaches you. A tip in the range of 20-50 lira should suffice. If you enjoy learning a bit about the plants of the area and having a darling local guide, then you’ll have a great afternoon with Ahmet.
5. Visit Uçhisar Castle
Uçhisar Castle is an absolutely stunning place to watch the sunset in Cappadocia. This rock castle towers above the small town of Uçhisar, and there are many interesting cave rooms to explore both inside and around the vicinity. After your climb through the castle and to the panoramic lookout at the top, be sure to head around to the side where more great views await.
6. Stroll around Uchisar Village
Once you have completed your visit to Uchisar Castle, take a stroll around the village with its many cobbled paths, shops, and galleries. Some shops have beautiful ceramics, carpets, and antique jewelry.
The Naile Art Gallery has many Ebru art pieces – colorful patterns done in a pan of oily water then transferred to paper – used for decoration and even bookbinding. The Alaturca Taner has a range of products, including handcrafted necklaces, bracelets, bowls, and rings all at reasonable prices. For ceramic art and natural stones, check out the Hisaronu Ceramic Art and Gallery, and the Ozler Onix Factory.
Once you have your fill of Uchisar Village, you can enjoy coffee or tea with a view at Peri Cafe.
7. Tour the Underground Cities
Did you know that there are 150-200 known underground and cliff settlements in the Cappadocia region? Some were large enough to accommodate 30,000 people! It’s difficult to consider what life underground would be like unless you actually tour these underground cities for yourself.
There are two popular underground cities that are open to the public, Kaymakli and Derinkuyu. Kaymakli is a popular tour bus destination as it is the widest cave and laid out in a loop, so there is no need for large groups to pass each other in tight quarters.
Derinkuyu is the deepest of the caves and is rich in history. It is thought to have been built during the era of 780-1180 AD and was likely used as a giant bunker to protect the inhabitants from wars and/or natural disasters. Heavy stone doors on each floor allowed those inside to fend off intruders.
If low walls and tight tunnels aren’t your thing, head to Kaymakli. If you don’t mind an enclosed labyrinth of tunnels, then Derinkuyu is the more fascinating of the two options. It is approximately 278 feet deep with 8 floors. Imagine people living there; going to school, cooking meals, having church. And consider the intense amount of work that went into carving not only the massive tunnels but also the giant 180-foot-deep ventilation shaft.
8. Snap a Photo in Paradise Valley
Be sure to stop at Paradise Valley for a quick stroll through the towering fairy towers at the base of Uçhisar Castle. This is a small area where you can wander around, snapping photos of the amazing stone formations surrounding you.
9. Visit the Zelve Open Air Museum
No trip to Cappadocia is complete without a trip to the Zelve Open Air Museum, which was once one of the largest communities in the region. Take your time walking the 1.25-mile loop around the 3 valleys reading the signs along the way, wandering in and out of the churches and dwellings, imagining what life was like in these shelters.
And on your way back to town, be sure to stop at The Church of Saint John (Vaftizci Yahya Kilisesi), which is a honeycomb cave church that rises above the small town of Çavusin. The rooms of the cave are interesting, but the real gem of this site is the view from the very top. You can hike to the top on your own or hire a local guide to get some fun facts of the area for 10 lira.
10. Relax your Body with a Turkish Bath
There’s nothing like relaxing with a Turkish bath, known as a hammam, just like the Romans used to do. The bathing rituals involve washing the body, a body scrubbing with a kese – handwoven washcloth – a foam wash, and concludes with a massage.
The experience is best enjoyed naked, but visitors have the option to bring a bathing suit and attendants (tellak for men and natir for women) provide you with peshtemal – a large and velvety soft towel.
The process starts with a warm bath to make your body sweat followed by a body scrub done by the attendant. Afterward, you will go to a warm marble slab for the foam wash. It’s certainly an experience for all the senses as you hear the sounds of splashing water, smell the scents of the sweet soaps, and feel the steam against your body.
End your experience with a massage. Different Turkish bathhouses offer a range of massages, such as classic, aromatherapy, medical, and even shiatsu therapy, which helps the nervous system and stimulates circulation.
You will come out totally renewed and with glowing skin!
11. Gaze at the Fairy Chimneys of the Pasabag Valley
It only took nature a few million years to create the fairy chimneys of the Pasabag Valley. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “the chimneys are a result of a geologic process that began millions of years ago when volcanic eruptions rained ash across what would eventually become Turkey.”
Describe as supersized mushrooms, the fairy chimneys are a sight to behold. Walk among these giants and experience some of their fairy magic.
12. Visit the Goreme Open-Air Museum
Unlike the Zelve Open Air Museum, Goreme has a collection of cave churches carved into the stone with well-preserved murals. The highlight is the Dark Church – named as such due to the lack of windows – it helped preserve many of the frescos and murals.
Some of the other highlights include the 11th-century Chapel of St. Basil, the Chapel of St. Barbara, the Apple Church, Snake Church, Chapel of St. Catherine, 13th-century Sandal Church (don’t miss the footprints marked on the floor!), Rahibeler Monastery, and Buckle Church.
If you’re an art history buff, make sure you don’t miss these!
13. View the Natural Sculptures at Devrent Valley
Remember when you were a kid and tried to find different animal shapes in the clouds? You can do the same at Devrent Valley – known as Imagination Valley. Use your imagination to find different animal shapes, including a dolphin, a snake, a seal, and even an alligator.
No one ever lived in the area, so you won’t find churches, castles, troglodyte caves, or pigeon homes. Instead, find geological anomalies that took centuries to form. The valley is located on the outskirts of Goreme and it is free to visit. There are some hiking trails in the area and day tour itineraries with Jeep, Quad, or Horse Safari options available to explore the valley.
14. Tour the Selime Castle
Built in the 900s, Selime Castle has multi-level settlements that house a kitchen, halls, courtyards, and even a basilica church. Located between the Selime and Yaprakhisar villages, the castle is now a museum, so an entrance fee is required.
Bring your hiking shoes and get ready to climb all the way up to Selime, but be careful as it can be a bit slippery.
15. Get Refreshed at the Kapuzbaşı Selalesi
The Kapuzbaşı Waterfalls are located about 100 kilometers from Cappadocia but serve as a great day trip option. The waterfalls are part of the Aladağlar National Park and they are the second-highest waterfall in the world. These consist of seven waterfalls gushing down from its rocky mountain.
Enjoy the drive through the Aladaglar mountains and bring comfortable hiking shoes to trek to the waterfalls. You will experience unique views and see the solid-rock cliff face waterfall surrounded by nature and the beautiful landscape. Bring your own food and have an impromptu picnic after you’re done exploring.
We hope this helps you to plan your trip to the beautiful region of Cappadocia, Turkey!
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