Cappadocia is an area in central Turkey that is best known for 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 it’s deep valleys and stunning formations will make you believe you’ve actually traveled to another planet. There is absolutely no where 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 1-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 it’s deep valleys and fairy chimneys surrounded by mountain ridges, was originally formed by massive volcanic eruptions that covered the area in a 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 travelers dream with gorgeous cave hotels carved directly into the rock and delectable cuisine on every corner. And one of the top things to do during your visit 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 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 stone work 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 to Cappadocia is to go on a hot air balloon ride! The views from the air are absolutely breathtaking and you’ll won’t experience anything else like it anywhere else in the world.
It’s best to take your Cappadocia 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 all of 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 so no one will block your epic views of sun rising over the city.
Your balloon tour will take you high above Cappadocia, 800 meters into the air. You’ll be surrounded by dozens of other air balloons and the sight is truly breathtaking. Depending on wind conditions your pilot may also dip you down into a valley so you can get up close and personal with the 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, 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 toGöreme. 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 ending 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 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. 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 is 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.
7. 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.
8. 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, and imaging 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 an 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 and get some fun facts of the area for 10 lira.
We hope this helps you to plan your trip to the beautiful region of Cappadocia, Turkey!
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