Even with a full week in Cappadocia, there’s no way to see it all. And as most visitors only spend three or four full days in the region, planning your trip can be tricky. In the following guide, we’ll be covering the top things to do in Cappadocia that you shouldn’t miss. We’ll then be providing a couple of sample itineraries, taking travel budgets into consideration.
Simply put, the number one activity you can do in Cappadocia is hiking. This is the best way to take in multiple scenic landscapes in a single day while also avoiding the crowds.
Many valleys also feature a multitude of ancient churches. And since they’re so far from the roads, you’ll surely have them all to yourself. What’s more, is that hiking Cappadocia is absolutely free.
If you’d like to try hiking in Cappadocia, the best place to base yourself would be the town of Göreme. From the town center, you can simply walk to numerous loop trails and make it back in time for dinner.
In our previous guides, we detailed a loop trail from Göreme through Love Valley, Uchisar Castle and Pigeon Valley. We also covered a slightly longer hike through Meskendir, Red, Rose and Sword Valleys.
If you only have one available day for hiking, the journey through Meskndir, Red and Rose Valleys would be our top choice. The combination of fantastic viewpoints and ancient churches cannot be beat.
But if you or someone you’re traveling with isn’t up for such a strenuous trek, you can also try a flatter and shorter hike around the Zemi Valley loop trail. Or, you can simply walk along a flat dirt road to check out Çavuşin Castle.
There are additional hiking trails and different combinations of valleys highlighted on useful apps like AllTrails and TrailSmart.
Another popular trail for hiking is the Ilhara Valley. But it’s about an hour’s drive from Göreme, while the trail there is not a loop. Therefore, figuring out logistics can be tricky.
Alternatively, you can get a brief glimpse of Ilhara Valley by going on a Green Tour (more below).
2. Hot Air Balloon Ride
By far the most popular thing to do in Cappadocia is a hot air balloon ride. Departing just before sunrise, rides last from 60-90 minutes. And there’s nothing quite like floating over Cappadocia’s landscapes at as high as 300 m above the ground.
Choosing one of the slightly pricier companies is worth it. A real highlight of the ride is when the pilot takes you deep down into one of the valleys. And only experienced pilots have the skills to do this.
Hovering right above the ground, the balloon will maneuver in between Cappadocia’s iconic ‘fairy chimney’ pillars. It makes for a breathtaking experience, after which you can relax with a glass of champagne.
But is it hot air ballooning over Cappadocia really worth it? We already answered this question in detail in another guide. But the short answer is ‘yes.’
However, it all depends on the prices at the time of your visit. If they ever go back up to an exorbitant €300, you’ll be fine with skipping the ride and sticking with other activities on this list.
3. The Underground Cities
As beautiful as Cappadocia’s scenery is, there’s a whole lot more concealed beneath the surface. Over the years, ancient inhabitants took advantage of the soft tufa limestone beneath the ground, carving shelters for themselves in times of danger.
And over the course of centuries, these complexes turned into full-blown underground cities, capable of housing thousands at a time!
The true extent of the subterranean world beneath Cappadocia is not yet fully known. But the largest underground city discovered thus far is Derinkuyu, which extends a couple dozen stories beneath the ground (though visitors can only access eight).
The city contained bedrooms, kitchens, wineries, churches and a whole lot more. Of vital importance were its deep wells and ventilation shafts. And residents also devised a brilliant security system involving huge millstone monoliths.
Derinkuyu Underground City can easily be accessed on your own (learn more here). And it’s also a common stop on the Green Tour (more below).
If you decide to visit independently, you can easily make an additional stop at Kaymaklı Underground City, situated along the same highway.
While not quite as deep, Kaymaklı is much wider and overall a bit more disorienting. Kaymaklı is also better lit, making it ideal for photographers.
Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı are the two largest and most well-known underground cities in Cappadocia, but they’re not the only ones. Another site open for tourists is Özkonak Underground City, over 20 km north of Göreme. While slightly smaller than the other ones, Özkonak presumably gets much fewer tourists due to its remote location.
Additional underground cities have been discovered in recent years, though given all the cleaning and excavations required, they’re not yet open for tourists.
4. The Open Air Museums
The Cappadocia region features a couple of ‘open air museums,’ or valleys home to an especially high density of important churches. As they require constant maintenance, you’ll have to buy an entry ticket to see them. But the fee is well worth it.
Göreme Open Air Museum
Located just a couple kilometers east of town, the Göreme Open Air Museum is Cappadocia’s most-visited attraction. The area once functioned as a large monastery, featuring over a dozen different churches. And what’s special about them is that they contain the region’s very best-preserved frescoes.
Entry costs 75 TL (as of 2020), while the Dark Church costs an extra 25 TL. Both are also included in the Cappadocia Pass (more below).
While Cappadocia was a major Christian center from as early as the 1st or 2nd centuries, many of the extant frescoes date back to the 11th century. And hopping from church to church, you’ll notice a lot of the same scenes.
Typical scenes include the nativity scene, the arrival of the Magi, Christ’s baptism, his arrival in Jerusalem, the Last Supper and the crucifixion and resurrection.
Other paintings, meanwhile, depict St. Onuphrius, St. Thomas and St. Basil – three prominent church fathers in the Cappadocia region during the 4th century.
As mentioned, the frescoes here retain their vivid color in contrast to other Cappadocian churches where the art is largely faded or damaged. Unfortunately for tourists, though, photography is strictly forbidden inside.
You will, however, find some of the minor and less impressive churches unstaffed.
In addition to the standard ticket, there’s one church in the Göreme Open Air Museum that requires an additional entry fee. It’s known as the Dark Church, and it contains the most detailed and well-preserved reliefs by far.
But is it worth it? I’d have to say no, not really. As the reliefs are indeed in great condition, the murals are largely identical – both in subject matter and art style – to those of the neighboring churches.
On top of that, don’t be surprised to find the guard playing loud pop music from his cellphone speakers – an all-too-common annoyance at historical sites in Turkey!
Expect to spend around an hour at the Göreme Open Air Museum. In addition to the churches themselves, the natural scenery of the area is excellent.
The museum is open until the evening, so you can easily walk over here after one of your other excursions. Regardless of when you visit, expect to encounter lots of tour groups.
Zelve Open Air Museum
Another open air museum worth visiting is that of Zelve, located about 3 km east of Çavuşin. It’s home to some very interesting rock formations and of course, numerous ancient churches.
Zelve is actually home to not just one valley but three. And while tours do stop here, the overall area is big enough that it’s easy to avoid the crowds.
All in all, you could easily spend an hour or two exploring. Or, if you’re in a rush, you could see the main highlights in much less than that.
Among Zelve Open Air Museum’s top landmarks is a rock-cut mosque – quite rare in Cappadocia. Before the ‘population exchange’ of the 1920s, this area was home to both Christians and Muslims. Now, nobody lives in Zelve at all, as erosion made the area uninhabitable by the 1950s.
Spread out along the cliffside, meanwhile, are countless rock-cut rooms which make up a large monastery complex. Some of the upper rooms require climbing through tunnels or up rickety metal ladders to reach, which is quite the experience.
Notable churches include Geyikli Church, Uzumlu Church and Balikli Church.
If you’re traveling independently, don’t miss the chance to venture further out of the main valley. There are some very interesting outcrops here which are completely smooth yet curvy at the top. Walking up, you can get some excellent views of the wider area.
Give the area’s size, exploring Zelve Open Air Valley could be considered a hike in its own right.
If you’re based in Göreme, Zelve Open Air Valley is pretty easy to reach via an Ürgüp-bound bus (check with a local for the exact bus and departure point).
It’s also just 1 km east of Pasabag Valley (Monks Valley), known for its towering fairy chimney formations that look like monks. Pasabag requires an entry ticket, and while not labelled as such, acts as its own open air museum.
5. The Green, Red or Blue Tour
There are a few different tour routes in Cappadocia which all the tour companies follow. At the time of writing, tours typically cost around €50, which includes all transport, entry fees, lunch and a guide.
The Red Tour takes you around northern Cappadocia, stopping at the Göreme Open Air Museum, Uchisar Castle, the Love Valley viewpoint, Pasabag Valley, Devrent Valley and other scenic viewpoints in Ürgüp.
There’s also a Blue Tour which stops at Kaymaklı Underground City, the Greek town of Mustafapasa, Çavuşin Castle, Red and Rose Valleys, and Ortahisar Castle.
The Green Tour is the most popular of the bunch. It focuses on southern Cappadocia, stopping at places like Selime Monastery, Ilhara Valley, Derinkuyu Underground City, Nar Lake and a scenic viewpoint overlooking Pigeon Valley.
As you may have noticed, many of the stops on these tours have already been mentioned above and can easily be visited independently. Check the Recommended Itinerary section below if you’re confused about planning your trip.
During my first trip to Cappadocia, I joined a Green Tour which was overall a great experience.
One of the first stops, Selime Monastery, is arguably the highlight of the entire tour. As it’s located near the Ilhara Valley, it’s quite difficult to reach otherwise.
Dating back to at least the 10th century, the multistoried cave complex contains numerous churches surrounded by large settlements.
One of the most impressive rooms is an ornately carved hall used as a dining room. The main church, meanwhile, was once entirely adorned in reliefs, though they’re largely faded.
Many of the rooms offer excellent views of the beautiful scenery surrounding the monastery. And you’ll spot countless carved fairy chimneys wherever you look.
The tour moves onto Ilhara Valley, another location that’s difficult to get to from Göreme independently. There are many churches around Ilhara Valley and during my trip, we stopped at two – the Column Church and Ala Church.
While the valley is popular for hiking, you’ll only have time to stop at a few scenic viewpoints. Ilhara looks different from the rest of Cappadocia. Instead of the curvy rocks and fairy chimneys, the valley is surrounded by towering wall-like formations.
After lunch, we made a brief stop to look at the serene, ovoid Nar Lake. We then visited Derinkuyu Underground City (see above).
And after returning to Göreme, we stopped at a viewpoint overlooking Pigeon Valley. The spot also offers a clear view of Ortahisar Castle in the distance.
Considering the immense size of the region and the number of tourists visiting each year, it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s even more to see than what’s mentioned above.
If you’re particularly interested in ancient churches, there’s no shortage of places to visit. About 60 km southeast of Göreme is Soğanlı Valley, a good place to experience nature and ancient churches without the crowds.
And about 80 km south of Göreme is the Gümüşler Monastery, known for its huge square-shaped courtyard carved out from the bedrock. About 10 km east of Göreme, meanwhile, is Ürgüp, home to traditional Greek villages like Мustafapaşa.
The website Cappadocia History is an excellent resource on the region’s many churches.
Cappadocia is also known for adrenaline-pumping activities like off-road safaris, ATV tours and horse rides. While I didn’t do any of them, they’re heavily promoted by local tour offices, so be sure to ask for info.
For those staying in Göreme, an easy and (almost) free activity is watching the sunset or sunrise. While there are said to be a few different viewpoints, the most popular one is situated atop a hill in the southeast part of town.
The spot requires 3 TL for entry. And while it can get rather crowded, it is indeed a nice place to see the sunset. But I must say, it was a much more pleasant experience on my initial visit several years ago, before selfies became so ingrained in modern culture.
Below are a couple of different recommended itineraries which take both one’s budget and desire for independence into consideration. Cappadocia is a rather pricey region compared to most other parts of Turkey. But the more active and independent you want to be, the less money you’ll spend.
These sample itineraries assume you’ll be basing yourself in Göreme, though many of the activities are still possible from other towns.
The order in which you do the activities doesn’t matter, so rearrange them however works best for you.
Budget & Independent Itinerary: 3-4 Days
Day 1: Hike the Göreme – Meskendir – Red Valley – Rose Valley – Sword Valley loop trail.
Day 2: A visit to Derinkuyu Underground City and, depending on interest level, Kaymaklı Underground City.
Returning to Göreme, walk over to the Göreme Open-Air Museum in the late afternoon.
Day 3: Early morning hot air balloon ride (optional, based on budget).
The rest of your day will depend on your energy level. Either try easier hikes, such as Zemi Valley, a walk to Çavuşin, or a trip over to the Zelve Open Air Museum.
If you’re feeling more active, try the Göreme – Love Valley – White Valley – Uchisar Castle – Pigeon Valley loop trail.
Day 4 (if applicable): Whatever hikes or open air museums you haven’t tried yet.
Less Physically Active, Pricier Itinerary: 3-4 Days
Day 1: Join a Green Tour.
Day 2: Early morning balloon tour.
After a nap, hire a private driver (or rental car) to take you to Çavuşin Castle, Pasabag Valley and the Zelve Open Air Museum
Day 3: An independent hike. Choose according to your ability and energy levels.
Day 4 (if applicable): Either a Red or Blue tour, or an additional hike.
Or, you may want to drive down to one of the more distant valleys mentioned in the ‘Even More’ section.
(Be sure to also visit Göreme Open Air Museum at a time that suits you.)
If you’re visiting various sites throughout Cappadocia, you may want to buy a Cappadocia Pass. For a period of 72 hours, the pass provides access to all underground cities (including Özkonak), Göreme Open-Air Museum (including the extra Dark Church), Ilhara Valley and the Zelve Open-Air Museum.
At the time of my visit, if one were to visit every single location they’d save 100 TL. But prices are always changing due to inflation.
Even if you only save a small amount of money, the passes let you skip the lines at each ticketed site.
Cappadocia refers to a vast region that overlaps a few different Turkish provinces. And the region contains a number of cities and towns.
Cappadocia’s main towns are Göreme, Avanos, Ürgüp and Uçhisar – all of which are situated amongst stunning natural landscapes. And they all provide ample amenities for tourists, like hotels, restaurants and tour agencies.
The two proper cities of the region are Kayseri and Nevşehir, but they’re lacking in scenery and there’s no good reason to stay there.
Having stayed in Göreme during my first visit several years ago, I was considering changing things up by trying a different town. But upon further research, I realized that Göreme is by far the most conveniently located, hence its popularity.
As my main goal was to hike, I found that many of the region’s most well-known valleys, castles and other landmarks are within walking distance from Göreme. While there are indeed other highlights in Cappadocia that require a vehicle, you’ll have to rely on them much less if you stay in Göreme.
Göreme is probably one of the most touristy parts of Turkey. And with that comes both negatives and positives, among which is the large selection of hotels.
You’ll find something for all budgets here – from backpacker dorm rooms to luxury suites.
Many of the hotels advertise themselves as ‘cave houses,’ meaning they’ve been carved out of the natural limestone rock. This not only makes for a special and cozy atmosphere, but the rooms keep surprisingly cool in summer.
During my first visit to Cappadocia, I stayed in a proper cave house which is apparently no longer in business. On a smaller budget my second time around, I opted for the Mevlana Hotel. While not carved into the rock, the hotel is nonetheless made of stone.
The room was a basic private room with a private bathroom, and it also included breakfast. At the time of my visit, the price was reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic.
I was happy with what I got for the price that I paid. The room was fine, but I wouldn’t consider it a great value had I paid the standard rate. Then again, Göreme is a bit pricier overall than most places in the country.
The nearest big cities to Göreme are Kayseri and Nevşehir. Both of these cities have airports, and from either one you can easily take a shuttle bus to Göreme.
Despite being just a town, Göreme has direct bus connections with many major cities throughout Turkey.
For example, I was able to get a direct coach bus to Göreme all the way from Gaziantep with the Süha bus company. I was actually somewhat surprised that there was no transfer in Kayseri, with the same bus taking me all the way.
It’s not unheard of to need to transfer in Kayseri or Nevşehir, though, so it’s best to confirm this when buying your ticket (if they speak any English!).
Conveniently, the Göreme Otogar (bus terminal) is located in the very center of town. It shouldn’t be more than several minutes on foot from wherever your hotel is.
Leaving Cappadocia, I easily caught a direct bus to Konya, and the same bus would be continuing onward to Antalya. You should also find direct buses between Göreme and Istanbul, Ankara and other cities.
While the Turkish government isn’t quite as extreme as China when it comes to online censorship, you’ll probably want a decent VPN before your visit.
I’ve tried out a couple of different companies and have found ExpressVPN to be the most reliable.
Booking.com is currently banned in the country (at least when you search for domestic accommodation). However, there are actually quite a few Turkish hotels listed on there anyway. And many them don’t even appear on Hotels.com, which hasn’t been banned.
Over the course of my trip, I ended up making quite a few reservations with Booking.com and was really glad I had a VPN to do so.
Another major site that’s banned is PayPal. If you want to access your account at all during your travels, a VPN is a must.
While those are the only two major sites that I noticed were banned during my trip, Turkey has even gone as far as banning Wikipedia and Twitter in the past.