Cappadocia in Turkey is one of the most unique places in the world. In the semi-arid environment, history and culture have combined to make something remarkable.
Ancient volcanoes erupted millions of years ago forming strange conical rock formations called ‘fairy chimneys’ that were later carved out into homes as well as churches by early inhabitants.
There is plenty to do in Cappadocia, Turkey such as hiking through nature trails, riding horses through the valleys or a hot air balloon ride over the canyons and fairy chimneys.
No matter which activity you choose it is sure to be a memorable experience! Below is a Turkey travel guide that will inspire you and will help you find what to do in Cappadocia.
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Hot Air Balloon Ride
There are numerous hot air balloon rides that you can take over Cappadocia’s famous landscape. It really is the perfect way to start your day.
You will see all the beautiful rock formations and fairy chimneys from above and witness more than 100 balloons rising up into the sky all around you as the sun rises—it truly is an unforgettable experience!
Cappadocia is the number one destination in the world for flying in a hot air balloon, not only because of the amazing vista but because of the mesmerising sight of all the other balloons.
The balloons fly every day unless inclement weather occurs. You will need to book ahead as they become very busy.
Goreme Open Air Museum
Mount Erciyes erupted thousands of years ago, showering the surrounding land with ash and lava. As this material cooled, it formed tuff rock.
It took many centuries for the wind to wear away at and shape the rock, but it was not long before the locals realised that they could carve into the rocks and soon turned them into houses or churches.
The dense complex of Byzantine churches and monasteries carved out of soft rock dot the Cappadocian landscape, and many more remain undiscovered. Some of the churches still contain religious frescoes on the walls.
The Goreme open-air museum (located close to the city centre of Goreme) receives many visitors from all over the world as people are very keen to see the early traces of Christianity.
This area became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985, in order to preserve the churches. You can listen to an audio guide as you explore the complex, which is numbered in order and will give information about the church or paintings. It should take 1–1.5 hours to get through them all.
Zelve Open Air Museum
In the 1960s, the Zelve open-air museum became a UNESCO World Heritage site. Located 5 kilometres south of Avanos, this area only contains fifteen cave churches, which are not as well preserved as the ones you will find at the Goreme open-air museum.
The cave dwellings are of interest to archaeologists because they were carved into rocks by early Christians fleeing from religious persecution during Roman times.
In the 9th century, a monastery was built on the site, which by the 20th century had become an important village.
There are several cafes and a gift shop near the entrance to the Zelve museum. You will come across the cave rooms and churches on the 2 kilometre walk through this area, giving you a chance to explore them.
Derinkuyu Underground City
Derinkuyu Underground City (previously known as Elengubu) is one of the largest and most impressive excavated subterranean cities not only in Cappadocia but also across the world. With 18 levels of tunnels, reaching more than 85m deep into the earth.
This city was built around 700 BC and housed up to 20,000 people for thousands of years before being abandoned in the 1920s. There are believed to be around 200 underground cities in total, which would have been connected via a network of tunnels, with 36 of them in Cappadocia.
In 1963, a Turkish farmer accidentally rediscovered the ancient underground city while renovating his home, which uncovered a passageway.
Excavation revealed the network of passageways, caves, cattle stables, churches and wine stores, which stretched for hundreds of miles beneath the surface. In 1985 it became listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, Derinkuyu can be visited by tourists and locals who are curious about the ancient underground city as it was opened up to the public in 1969.
They can explore passageways that go deep into the Earth, which they would have used to protect themselves during times of war or unrest. Be aware that it can get claustrophobic in the tunnels, as some of the spaces are quite cramped.
Kaymakli Underground City
Kaymakli underground city is another ancient underground city in central Turkey, originally named Enegup. It is located 30 minutes away from Goreme and is a popular tourist destination. The city was carved out of the soft volcanic tuff rock by its inhabitants, who also expanded it.
As a result, it is one of the widest underground cities and held around 3,500 people. The largest chamber would have been used as a church. The people of Kaymakli inhabited the caves long ago for protection from invaders, and ventilation shafts brought fresh air into their homes.
In Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, you can see the huge boulders near entrances that would have been used to close off underground cities from invaders when necessary.
Kaymakli underground city became open to the public in 1964 and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. This site is 8 levels deep, although only 4 of the levels are open to the public.
You will find red and blue arrows to help you navigate your way around, with red arrows directing you down the levels and blue arrows directing you back up toward the exits.
It can also get very claustrophobic down in Kaymakli Underground City as some areas of the tunnels are very narrow and short.
The Rose Valley is one of the most popular hiking areas in the Nevsehir region of Cappadocia. It is a loop trail and connects with the Red Valley trail. Turkey’s natural beauty, rich history and mythology have created an environment ideal for hikers.
The valley is named for its pinkish hue, from the sun that glows on the rocks at various times during the day. At sunset, when the glow becomes brightest and most colourful, it is a sight worth seeing from the Rose Valley viewpoint!
You can observe some of the cave houses, and the pigeon houses (dovecotes) along the route, including The Crusader Church, which is worth a visit inside to view the incredible paintings. You will also come across the Columned Church, which still has the columns intact.
If you are staying in Goreme, you can walk to the entrance of the valley in just 20-30 minutes. The hike can be done alone or with a tour guide.
Either way, the best time to go is either early in the morning or late in the afternoon to catch the sunset, the valley gets very hot during midday. Alternatively, you can view the valley from one of the hot air balloons, or hire an ATV or motorbike.
A visit to the Red Valley is best either at sunrise or sunset to catch it at its most beautiful with the sun hitting the rocks and showing off the pinkish-red hues.
Hiking on foot is preferable to see the valley as parts of the route can be a bit challenging. ATVs and motorbikes are forbidden in this valley, although you can explore the valley on horseback.
Along the route, you will see some of the ancient cave dwellings and churches amongst the stunning scenery and you can connect with the Rose Valley hike trail. If you plan to visit Cappadocia, do not miss this hike.
Love Valley is one of the most beautiful places in Cappadocia. It is located between Goreme and Uchisar and is accessible from both of these areas easily.
This valley is an ideal place for hiking and exploring. There are many trails that lead to the top of the valley, where you can see all of Cappadocia’s valleys from above.
Love valley contains multiple phallic-shaped rock formations, which is claimed to be the reason for the name of the valley.
Sunrise or sunset are the best times of day to visit as the midday sun is far too hot. You can hike from Goreme, through Love Valley then on to visit Uçhisar Castle, which will take roughly 1-2 hours.
The historic cave of Uçhisar Castle is a great place to go if you are looking for adventure. Many visitors come to the castle not just for its historical significance but also to enjoy panoramic views of the region.
On a clear day, you can see Mount Erciyes, as the castle is built on a hilltop overlooking the town and desert.
The large cylindrical mound of the natural landscape became Uçhisar Castle, as the rock is made of volcanic tuff, which is very soft, allowing the rock to be shaped and hollowed out by the earlier inhabitants of the area.
It is surrounded by several other cave structures which now contain hotels and restaurants in the town of Uchisar. You can travel to Uçhisar Castle from Goreme by car or on foot.
Ihlara Valley (also known as the Peristrema Valley) is one of the popular hiking destinations in this area. This 14 kilometre valley reaches more than 100 meters deep in most places.
This valley also includes cave dwellings and churches, suggesting it was inhabited by a large community for many centuries.
This gorge was formed centuries ago by the Melindiz River, which flows through the valley, and would have provided an essential water supply for the Byzantine monks that once lived there.
This valley is located further away from Goreme or Uchisar, with Kaymakli and Derinkuyu in between. The Cappadocia Green tour, takes in Goreme Panorama, Derinkuyu Underground City, with a 1 hour walk through Ilhara Valley.
Situated between the towns of Goreme and Uchisar you will find Pigeon Valley. It is a very popular 6 kilometre hike between the two towns.
The name derives from the tiny pigeon houses (dovecotes) that were carved into the cave dwellings in the area many many years ago by the previous residents.
These pigeon houses can be found all over Cappadocia but the vast majority lie within Pigeon Valley. Pigeons were used as messenger birds, for their meat and eggs, and to fertilize the land.
Horseriding at Sunset
One of the best ways to see the beauty of the amazing landscape in Cappadocia is on horseback. The name ‘Cappadocia’ means ‘The Land of Beautiful Horses’ in the Persian language. On this sunset horseriding tour, you will take a gentle stroll on a beautiful horse.
Starting in Cavusin, you will ride through Rose Valley and onto Red Valley, where you will ride to the top of Red Valley before taking a break at Cross Church Cafe.
You will then continue to enjoy the stunning sunset at sunset point before riding back through Red and Rose Valley on this 2-hour trek.
This imposing rock castle stands in Ortahisar and offers a spectacular view of the fairy chimneys of Hallacdere, as well as Mount Erciyes’s snow-capped peaks.
The castle sits at a height of 110 metres (on the south side) and 80 metres (on the north side) and is one of the highest peaks in Cappadocia.
At the base of the castle, along the cobblestone paths, you can find a cafe and a wine cellar. Once you go up the path to the castle, you will be led through the interior caves, and up the inside and outside stairs to enjoy the view of Ortahisar town.
Sunset ATV Tour
There are tours available for those who love to get their adrenaline up, like an ATV tour. You can choose to go at any time of day but the most popular is the sunset ATV tour.
They take about 2 hours, where you will be guided through Red Valley, and onto Love Valley to watch the sunset before moving on to Cavusin.
Koza Cave Hotel
One of the unique things to do in Cappadocia is to stay in a cave hotel. There are some fantastic places to stay in Goreme, one of which is the Koza Cave Hotel which is located perched at the edge of the town.
It overlooks pigeon valley and provides spectacular views of the fairy chimneys from its rooftop terrace, which has the highest rooftop in the vicinity.
This eco-friendly, family-run hotel has only 10 rooms. It offers beautiful and intimate spaces full of handcrafted furniture, Turkish rugs, as well as recycled local materials to create a warm and sophisticated atmosphere.
All rooms are centred around the lovely courtyard. This hotel will also help you arrange any tours you might like to do.
Kelebek Special Cave Hotel
Kelebek Hotel was built in 1993. It first started as a guest house with 4 rooms but over the years the owner has transformed the space by purchasing the adjoining properties, restoring them, and transforming the hotel.
Kelebek Special Cave Hotel now has 35 rooms, and the facilities include an open-air rooftop swimming pool, a Turkish bath & sauna and an a la carte restaurant.
Many of the hotel’s rooms and terraces offer stunning views of the town and surrounding valleys. This hotel will help arrange tours for you if required.
Sultan Cave Suites
Sultan Cave Suites is located in Goreme. It offers 35 rooms, all beautifully decorated with hand-painted frescoes and antique furniture that create a unique cave hotel stay.
All guests can use the facilities at the property’s sister hotel, Kelebek Special Cave Hotel (located next door), which includes an open-air rooftop swimming pool, a Turkish bath & sauna.
Dine in the hotel’s famous Seten Anatolian Restaurant & Rooftop Bar and enjoy a stunning view whilst feasting on traditional Turkish dishes as well as international cuisine.
The soil in Cappadocia is blended with the natural volcanic tuff of the area, which suits the Emir grapes that grow there.
You can learn all about the ancient tradition of how they made wine on a wine-tasting tour, allowing you to sample some of the local wines, as well as wines from other areas in Turkey.
Turkish Night Food & Drinks
Fancy a Turkish night with dinner and drinks? Enjoy a musical evening of Turkish folk performances, belly dancing and colourful costumes—all highlighted by delicious traditional cuisine from different regions.
You will watch the shows while dining in an ancient-style cave restaurant. If you feel like it, you can join in with the belly dancers.
There are plenty of souvenir shops in Cappadocia to purchase a memory of the area for yourself or as a small gift for your family or loved ones.
Plenty of miniature fairy chimneys are available to purchase as a memento or you can get handmade pottery from Avanos. There are plenty of stores that sell items made from Onyx and Zultanite stones, which reflect light.
Traditional Turkish rugs and carpets are made in the area (although a large rug would be more difficult to get home) so perhaps a cloth doll from Soganli Village or handcrafted shoes to help support local craft makers.
Alternatively, you can buy food products, such as pumpkin seeds, dried apricots, dry cream or raisins, pestil, and molasses.
Cappadocia truly is a unique and magical place. The scenery and history of the area really transport you back to another time.
The landscape is like nowhere else and is visually stunning, especially when you witness the hundreds of hot air balloons that fill the sky every sunrise.
Beautiful cave hotels offer unique accommodations too. If you like history, hiking and exploring, this really is a place that should be on your list.
Recommended tours in Cappadocia
- Cappadocia Balloon Ride and Champagne Breakfast
- 1-hour Hot Air Balloon Flight Over the Fairy Chimneys in Cappadocia
- Cappadocia Sunset Quad Safari
- Red (North) Tour Cappadocia (small group)
- Green (South) Tour Cappadocia (small group)
- Cappadocia Green Tour (Prof Guide, Tickets, Lunch and Transfer included)
- Cappadocia Sunset Horse Riding through the Valleys and Fairy Chimneys
- Full-Day Tour in Cappadocia with Ihlara Hiking and Underground City
- Full-Day Private Cappadocia Tour
- All in One 10-Hour Private and Guided Day Tour in Cappadocia