Fairy chimneys, caves and hot air balloons… the scenery of Cappadocia could be straight out of a fairytale. And nothing can prepare you for that moment you drive into this magical destination for the first time. Cappadocia has this mystique about it and there are just not enough hours in a day to explore it all.
At a young age I remember coming across a photo of the fairy chimneys and cave houses in Cappadocia Turkey. I was mesmerized and knew that one day I’d end up there exploring the valleys. So, when I finally DID get there it was one of those surreal moments where you can’t actually believe you made it!
In Cappadocia you can find a little something for everyone. No longer just a hub for hiking valleys and exploring fairy chimneys, Cappadocia has diversified! Due to our now full-time slow travel, we were able to make REALLY explore the region on our one month road trip in Turkey. So look no further for a complete list of things to do in Cappadocia.
Browse through for the best free activities like walking and hiking, the best paid tours from the Green and Red Tour, to hot air balloons and we even throw in some of the best unique things to do in Cappadocia!
We’ll guide you to the best museums, churches and frescoes and the best vantage point to watch the hot air balloons. BUT to get you started we share three perfect hotels that you should check out… one to suit each type of budget.
Where is Cappadocia
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Cappadocia refers to a very large region of Turkey. You’d be forgiven for mistaking Cappadocia as the town that launches hot air balloons over fairy chimneys. We made the same mistake, and on researching for our visit we learned that Cappadocia is in fact the entire region. See our map below for a better understanding.
This post highlights our top things to see and do in Cappadocia and so you’ll find some might involve up to a 40 minute drive to get to. But trust me… every location we mention here is worth every minute. If I could do it all over again I would.
Before moving onto our really cool list of 18 things to do in Cappadocia, let’s first take a look at where to stay. This is an important decision as it will greatly affect your stay in Cappadocia, particularly if you are like me and enjoy being at the centre of all the action.
Where to Stay in Cappadocia
The main village in Cappadocia is Göreme. This is where we stayed and where I would recommend is best. We had friends who had visited before us and this piece of advice they shared with us served us well.
Aside from being a really cute little village, Göreme is the location that you see those now infamous photos of balloons in the background. Ofcourse this also depends on the wind direction on the day, but generally speaking Göreme is the place to be.
The second best location to stay is Uçhisar. This is still very close to the action and can be a great vantage point to see the balloons from also.
I recommend these three hotels in Göreme.
Budget – The Garden Cave Hotel
The Garden Cave is where we stayed. We travel full-time so budget is important to us. What we loved the most about The Garden Cave was that despite choosing budget accommodation we still had the cave room. In other words, all the atmosphere at a fraction of the price.
The staff were very friendly, the breakfast was great and the view from our balcony was perfect. Ask for Room 2 if you can, as it has its own balcony. The other thing is that the hotel is up high, it is at the end of a quiet road and is a short walk to Sunset View Point, which is one of the best views for catching the balloons in the morning.
In the same location come the following two midrange and high end hotels. And so you still benefit from the same beautiful, central, quieter location in Göreme, but just with a few more comforts.
Midrange – Grand Elite Cave Suites
If our budget was a little more flexible we would have stayed in the Grand Elite Cave Suites. This hotel is rated superb. They were right beside our hotel so the location was perfect. They have a great breakfast and pool to boot!
High End – Divan Cave Suites
And if we were still living and working in Dubai and travelling as we used to, the Divan Cave Suites would have been my top choice.
Their terrace provides the perfect view over Göreme and the hot air balloons. This is the perfect luxury location for a visit to Cappadocia.
For more information and choices on where to stay in Cappadocia, see this post here (coming soon.)
Things to do in Cappadocia
There are literally loads of things to do in Cappadocia as the area is massive. What was once a destination for hikers and geology enthusiasts has now become a busy tourist hub. With the arrival of Instagram and the hot air balloons Cappadocia blew up in terms of popularity.
As a result, the region became big on adventure tourism – from hot air balloon rides, to ATV safaris to horse treks. And so now they have a little bit of everything for everyone.
They have incredible walks for all levels of hikers and they have museums and historical sites for the history lovers. Basically, if you want any of the above OR to go carpet shopping, pottery making or get a photo shoot, then you are going to love Cappadocia.
Hot Air Balloon
Phew what an experience this is… and it isn’t just like any normal hot air balloon. Given that you are surrounded by some other 200 balloons is what makes this hot air balloon ride stand out beyond all the other balloon rides.
When it comes to price, it varies greatly. Depending on the season, holiday seasons in Turkey, school holidays in Europe and plain old supply and demand. During the peak it can go over 250 Euros and in winter you can get it for 100 Euros.
The great thing about booking a balloon ride is if the weather doesn’t come to the party, you’ll always get your money back. Usually tour providers hold the money and you go up when the weather is agreeable. But if you haven’t gone up before the end of your stay, then you can expect a full refund.
The whole process is one extremely slick operation. These tour providers know exactly what they are doing. But see this post for our full review of a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia.
Hot Air Balloon Booking
As always we like to book our tours with Get Your Guide original tours. Below are two of the best tour providers for balloon rides in Cappadocia. They are the most frequently booked with consistently high reviews. If you are on a tight schedule then we recommend booking your hot air balloon ride in advance. And note, that if you don’t get to fly you will receive a full refund.
Walks, Hikes & Valleys
Now before you assume I am a master hiker or something like that, I’ll let you know that I am nothing of the sort. I enjoy nature and as a result love walking in nature. Also, when you are on a budget travel mission, hiking and walking fits nicely into that category of travel.
So, the following walks and hikes that we did were beautiful and totally manageable for a non-hiker like me. But most importantly were great for the kids – ours are nine and seven. At times they needed a small motivational push, but mostly they handled it like champs.
Basically, you can turn up to any of these valleys and wander as little or as long as you like. There is no need to do the full track.
Rose & Red Valley
This hike was my favourite. The starting point was only a five minute drive from town, two valleys, two completely different walks combined into one hike.
The rock formations and colours on this walk are some of the best in Cappadocia. And the bit I loved the most was the total lack of other tourists. I mean every now and again, we’d cross paths with another, but generally speaking… no one!
The churches, and cave houses made for an interesting pit stop for the kids. But also, the couple of tea houses where you can stop for a tea or fresh orange juice were a pleasant place to chill for five minutes.
Download the AllTrail app if you don’t already have it. We followed it very closely while walking the Rose and Red Valley tracks. You don’t need the paid version, the free one is all we had. It just helped to understand where we should be as the signs were a bit vague on route.
We started from Rose Valley and walked the loop track in a clockwise direction. Just keep the app open and use it to guide your path. At times we had to backtrack a few metres when we realized we’d diverted from the trail. To be honest I don’t think we would have finished the hike without the app. All up we walked 9km and it took us four hours.
Note: There is one section that involves some wall scaling. There was a rope there to help and we whipped up it pretty quickly. But you definitely want to bring some sturdy walking shoes and plenty of water.
Tip: Rose Valley is a great spot to get photos of the hot air balloons, if they head in this direction.
This was my second favourite walk and was about a 40 minute drive from Göreme. We parked our car in Ihlara village near the Star Restaurant and walked to the starting point at the southern entrance of the valley, guided by the AllTrail app. There was small fee to pay to enter the national park and keep in mind this is not a loop track.
We didn’t walk the full valley, instead we choose to complete it at Belisirma. You can also return and walk back the way you came. But as we had the kids we decided to grab a taxi at Belisirma to bring us back to the start.
What makes Ihlara Valley special is the river valley which you follow. A contrast to the fairy chimney and rocky views typical of Cappadocia, in this valley you are surrounded by lush green scenery.
All the way down the river you’ll find cave churches a few minutes walk up from the river’s edge. In some of these churches you will find stunning frescoes painted from 900-1000 AD. The beauty of the Ihlara Valley track is that you can pick and choose which cave churches you want to walk up to.
In total the walk was 6.5 km and it took us under four hours to walk one way. That included a lunch stop and plenty of photo taking.
Some of our favourites churches were Kokar Church, Dark Castle Church, Jacinth Church, Kirkdamalti Church (also known as St George Church).
When you get to the end of the track walk out the gates and head left up the road a little further to the Direkli Church. This was actually one of my favourites with the central columns a striking difference from the other churches we had seen. And the frescoes painted on the columns were incredible. Back down the hill we caught our taxi back to the car for around 100 Lira.
Love & Pigeon Valley
This walk can be taken from Göreme and connects two well-known valleys into one. It also includes Uçhisar Castle (more below).
Starting from Göreme and heading through Pigeon Valley, look out for the small pigeon sized holes carved into the rock walls. Historically speaking, pigeon poo was very important to the people living in these valleys. The holes were carved to encourage pigeons to set up nest here. This gave locals access to their manure, which played an important role in fertilization for gardens.
Link up to Uçhisar castle for some lunch or a tea and then carry on back towards Göreme via Love Valley. This one is famous for the phallic shaped fairy chimneys most commonly photographed in Cappadocia.
Once again, check the AllTrail app for a detailed and interactive map for navigating this trail.
Tip: Love Valley can also be a great spot to photograph the hot air balloons early in the morning, wind depending.
Devrent Valley – Imagination Valley
Imagination Valley is a good one for the kids. We treated it as a drive by really, jumping out of the car for a couple of quick pictures and stretch the legs.
The rock formations in this cluster are a little more unique than the other areas and are subject to interpretation. Take a wander and use your imagination… what is it that you see?
Sunset View Point
Sunset view is a must see… pure and simple. We went for sunset, but ofcourse it is peaking at 5.30am for sunrise as well when the balloons are in the air and the day is clear. There is a small charge to get in which is paid just a little further towards the bottom of the road.
If you decide to have a tea at Sunset View Point, first ask the price! We had friends who were stung with a high bill because they forgot to ask first.
Did you know there are some 30+ underground cities visited in the Cappadocia region? Neither did we! They were a real surprise and an experience that we really enjoyed. I am not a lover of small spaces, but these underground cities were an exceptional place to visit.
They have literally been carved deep down into the earth. At some point we were down four stories. And when you stop to think about that when you are four stories down the thought becomes a little overwhelming. So, you make the decision to stop thinking about it and carry on exploring more dark corners. They are maze like and great fun for the kids.
There is a small fee to enter the underground cities. Each varies depending on the location. We were recommended the following three caves by a local friend and so we explored the first two.
This was the smaller underground city of the three mentioned and less visited by tourists. We visited Özkonak first and this gave us a great introduction to what an underground city was all about.
What we liked about Özkonak was the grounds just outside the exit. Take a stroll through the grassy area and you can see more cave dwellings above ground.
I recommend arriving early to avoid the tourist buses. It did get a little crowded while we were there as a large bus arrived just before our visit. Also, there are a few dark corners to explore, so bring a headlamp and go a bit further into the lesser explored rooms should you choose.
Kaymakli is the wider of the three caves mentioned here. There is a route in and a route out which makes navigating the caves in and out relatively easy amidst the other tourists. It was probably one of our favourites of the two because of the depth you get to.
There was a little documentary at the entrance to the cave which also helped explain how these underground cities came about. It was interesting to learn that they were only inhabited when under threat of invasion. Basically, when the villages were attacked they would go to ground and hide.
In Kaymakli there were rooms, a church, wine pressing chambers a kitchen. There were also large ventilations shafts that gave a perception of just how deep down they would go. But probably the most intriguing fact is that we were only able to explore a fraction of the city. In many cases, the underground cities were not entirely excavated.
This is the most visited underground city and certainly the most popular. It is the deepest of the three mentioned here, at eight floors down you’re getting pretty far down!
We didn’t visit Derinkuyu as the first two came highly recommended. And when you’ve seen two, I think that’s enough for one trip. When we go back to Cappadocia we’ll be sure to make a stop at this one too.
Open Air Museums
There are a couple of open air museums worth visiting, but read below to narrow down which is better suited to your budget or preferred experience.
Göreme Open Air Museum
The Göreme Open Air Museum is one of the main tourist attractions in Göreme. Confession – it wasn’t one that we visited. We had so many other places to see and visit that we just didn’t get to this one.
About 1.5km out of the main village in Göreme this is nice and close and walking distance from town. Inside you’ll find churches, incredible frescoes and believe it or not more cave houses!
In total honesty, we had friends that visited and the reviews from all were mixed. In my opinion, if you are walking the Rose and Red Track or Love Valley then you’re essentially seeing more of the same thing. If you perhaps don’t have a rental car and therefore no access to these trails then it would be worth the visit.
Açık Saray Museum – Free to Enter
This special little place is one totally off the tourist trail… a little secret shared by a friend living in Göreme. What was once a museum that tourists used to pay to enter, is now open for free. A few years back, the museum commission decided to up and leave and so now it is essentially abandoned. Gates wide open for all to explore at will.
Given that there was no one there, this was one of my favourite places to visit in Cappadocia. And if you go early May when we did, you might be lucky to see the wildflowers in bloom. It brings the space to life! And an hour or two before sunset is the picture perfect time of day to walk through the caves.
Our friend took us for a family photoshoot and got these beautiful pictures. Read below for more details on getting your own family photos in Cappadocia.
The open air museum spans a few kilometres in total. And when you stroll from the path to explore the cave houses, the church and cathedral it feels surreal that you would have it all to yourself.
If you happen to enter Göreme from the East, then chances are this is the first glimpse you will get of iconic Cappadocia. The castle is an impressive sight and is one of the tallest points in the area. The castle was inhabited until the 1960’s but now is only open for tourism.
While there is not a lot to see inside the castle aside from the normal cave rooms and passages the panoramic views from the top can’t be beat!
There is also a walk via Pigeon Valley that ends at Uçhisar Castle, so you might like to combine the two sights into one. Read the Love and Pigeon Valley above for directions on how to get there.
Photoshoots in Cappadocia
Now it has to be said that Cappadocia is the most ideal instagrammable destination. Images of rooftops covered with carpets and cushions flood the gram. And if you want a little piece of this action then we can tell you how to get it.
First of all, don’t be fooled by these Instagram shots. They are more often than not shot by photographers and that carpet and table with bowl of fruit is essentially a photoshoot. The insta reality is that there is a line of people waiting in the wings for the same photo.
But hey I get it, Cappadocia is a bucketlist destination and let’s be honest there is no place on earth with these unique views. Fairy chimneys, cave houses and hot air balloons as I said in the beginning, are stuff that fairytales are made of.
So, if you want this view then book yourself a night at the Sultan Cave Suites. They are perched high on the hill and their in-house photographer will help you get that family photo you are looking for. But prepare yourself ahead for the queue of people who are waiting for the same photo. It isn’t actually the dreamy relaxed breakfast it is made out to be.
My Favourite Photographer in Cappadocia
If you want my favourite photographer in town, Maria claims to be a hobby photographer but in reality, she is the real deal! Look her up on Instagram and reach out, she might be in town if you are lucky… home is the Ukraine, but her second home is Cappadocia.
Best Spots to Photograph the Hot Air Balloons
If you want to get your own photos of the balloons in the morning like I did then read on. I woke up early every morning. No sleep-in for our family in Cappadocia.
In truth everyone will tell you they know the best place… but on the day it really all depends on which way the wind blows. And this basically means, there is a bit of luck involved. I recommend, got to bed with a bit of a plan the night before, get up just before 5am and then monitor which way the balloons are headed. Then get there pronto!
- The best view of course is from a hot air balloon.
- The next best way is to head to Sunset View Point (read above).
- Drive to the launch points or landing points to get really close.
- Book a night at Sultan Caves Suites for a rooftop view.
- Wake up early – keep an eye on which direction the balloons are veering towards and then drive to either Love Valley or Rose Valley.
Alternative Things to do in Cappadocia
One of the things we love about Cappadocia, were the reasonably priced tours. There are so many ways to explore this region and honestly something for everyone.
We recommend booking a couple of things and going for it… chances are you won’t be back. So might as well splash out on a few of the more unique things to do in Cappadocia and make some cool memories.
Sundowners at Crazy Ali’s
Now I know we mentioned visiting Sunset View Point at sunrise, well now I’m going to tell you where to go for an alternative sunset. Follow the road Dr. Zeliha Berksoy Blv. out of town to the top of Rose and Red Valley. Grab a beanbag or a cushion, order a drink and enjoy the sunset.
For more clarification on the location, check our map below.
Red and Green Tours
If you don’t have a rental car but you don’t want to miss the sights then book yourself a Red or Green tour of Cappadocia. The red tour is centred around the history and culture of Cappadocia, while the Green tour visits underground cities and usually Ihlara Valley.
Big Bus Tour
Yes, I was also surprised to see that the Big Bus Tour company are in Cappadocia! From the open air double decker bus you’ll have a great view of the mountains, fairy chimneys, valleys and scenery of Cappadocia. Also included is a stop at the Zelve Open Air Museum.
Horse Riding Tours
IF you are a horse lover then consider booking a two hour horse riding tour through the Rose and Red Valley. We passed a few groups going out on a trek while we hiked and the backdrop and surroundings couldn’t be prettier. The horses look well cared for and the tour includes a pickup from your hotel. Easy peasy!
Make Pottery in Avanos
For something a little different take a drive to Avanos and explore the town of pottery. As soon as you drive in you begin to note that the craft of pottery making is a central focus. This is because of the red clay that comes from the river banks.
As a result there are many workshops and ateliers to visit, and hey why not take a quick crash course in the art. Culture trip recommend avoiding the large tourist shops and head for where the real art happens in the smaller family run ateliers.
Final Thoughts on Cappadocia + Map
This about exhausts our list of things to do in Cappadocia. We know you’ll find something from this list to keep you busy and to get you on your way towards making holiday memories of a lifetime.
Cappadocia is superb and I have no doubt you will absolutely love your time there. Still have some more questions? Drop them below and we’ll get right back to you!
Check out our other posts on Turkey –
- Turkey Road Trip
- Visiting ANZAC Cove and Gallipoli
- 4 Days in Istanbul
- Planning for the Perfect Visit to Pamukkale
- 16 Awesome Things to Do in Kas
- Taking a Hot Air Balloon in Cappadocia – Is it Worth it?
And don’t forget to pin this post for later!
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