If you’re planning a trip to Cappadocia, you’re in for a magical experience. Hot air balloons rising at dawn, incredible rock formations that look like they come from another planet, and underground cities that defy logic: Cappadocia is like another world.
If you’re planning a Cappadocia itinerary, it can be a bit overwhelming to put it together. While you can squeeze everything into 2 days in Cappadocia, we really recommend allocating at least 3 days in Cappadocia because you have a much more relaxed pace. Plus, Cappadocia is all about those sunrises – and the more nights you have in Cappadocia, the more incredible sunrises you’ll witness.
Day 1 of Your Cappadocia Itinerary: Checking In & Checking Out the Shops
This itinerary for Cappadocia assumes you’ll fly into Cappadocia from Istanbul in the early afternoon. Flights between Istanbul and Cappadocia are generally quite inexpensive. I flew to Kayseri (close to Cappadocia) for about $25 on Pegasus.
There are two airport options for arriving in Cappadocia: Nevsehir (much closer) than Kayseri (further, but not so bad). I took a shuttle from Kayseri to my hotel in Göreme, on a shared shuttle service just like this one. Private transfers are also available at a higher cost, but they are still reasonably priced. I recommend this private transfer service offered on GetYourGuide, which is one of the companies I use most often when booking airport transfers.
From the airport, you’ll have about a 45 to 90 minute ride to your hotel, depending on which airport you flew into and where your hotel is.
Check into an epic cave hotel
One of the most incredible things about visiting Cappadocia is staying in a unique cave hotel – we’ve created a guide to our top cave hotels in every budget category here.
Cave hotels are an incredible way to experience Cappadocia as they’re not a gimmick, but rather intrinsically tied up in Cappadocia’s unique history. For centuries, the people who lived in Cappadocia have used the porous limestone as the building block for shelters both temporary and permanent. There are monasteries, houses, hotels, and even whole underground cities carved into the rock!
Many of the cave hotels you’ll find in Cappadocia have been restored from old homes that were cut into the rock and given new life. Staying in a cave hotel in Cappadocia was truly one of my favorite parts of the entire experience. I was traveling Cappadocia on a mid-range budget and stayed at Chelebi Cave House.
I got an abnormally good deal and paid $50 per night for a double room with a jacuzzi. It was the high season because I was visiting during Eid Al-Adha and it was one of the few hotels left, so I was lucky to end up snagging such a beautiful hotel at the last minute despite the holiday. Generally, Chelebi Cave House Hotel is a little more expensive than what I paid now (perhaps they’ve increased their rates since I visited in fall of 2017) but it’s still an excellent deal and absolutely worth the money.
They had a delicious daily Turkish breakfast with an incredible view of the fairy chimneys and other cave hotels in Göreme nestled in Cappadocia’s beautiful and unique landscape.
If you have a little more to spend on your Cappadocia trip, there are some fantastic luxury cave hotels that look worth the splurge. The most-Instafamous one is Sultan Cave Suites. I’d be willing to bet you’ve seen the breakfast set-up at Sultan Cave Suites approximately 29,832 times as you scroll through Instagram. While this is staged (the food is not meant to be eaten and you must take your turn to get the shot), there is an actually edible delicious Turkish breakfast spread ready for you once you’ve gotten your Insta pics, so you can snap your ‘breakfast photos’ without your food getting cold. Oh, also, there’s an adorable dog included. Marketing genius. Surprisingly, your average room at Sultan Cave Suites is less expensive than you’d think.
Another fantastic-looking but slightly more expensive option is the incredible Museum Hotel. Awarded both the Best Luxury Boutique Hotel and the Best Hotel Architecture in Europe, you can rest easy that Museum Hotel is basically as good as it gets in Cappadocia and is a perfect pick if you’re in Cappadocia for a special occasion like a honeymoon or anniversary. It’s located in Uchisar, not Göreme, which is a smaller town, but Göreme is easily accessible by taxi, which should be fairly inexpensive. However, there are still plenty of restaurants and any tours you want to do will pick you up in Uchisar, so you don’t have to feel envy that you’re not staying in Göreme.
If you want a dreamy place for sunrise balloon photos, you’d be hard pressed to beat the dreamy infinity-style pool at Museum Hotel (yes, breakfast can be included poolside, and the pool is heated even in winter!) But the coolest thing about Museum Hotel is that its name isn’t in vain: the hotel is literally set within historic ruins which have been renovated to provide an incredible hotel experience. It has a number of artifacts from around Turkey that create a ‘museum’ within a hotel — plus each room is furnished with invaluable antiques that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Staying here is like staying in a living, breathing, 5* piece of history.
Check out the incredible shopping in Göreme
Whether you stay in Uchisar or Göreme, you’ll want to spend the late afternoon and evening checking out the fantastic shopping scene in Cappadocia’s main tourist town, Göreme.
There are a lot of great shops to be found in town – and some of them I’m sure you’ve already seen on Instagram.
The most famous shop in Göreme, and one of the most beautiful stores I’ve ever seen, Galerie Ikman is on most Insta-lovers bucket list on their trip to Cappadocia.
Once a typical souvenir shop, this rug shop owned by an Instagram-savvy businessman is now a major spot for Instagrammers visiting Cappadocia. Before you go here, know what you are getting into or risk being like one of the hundreds of people leaving bad Trip Advisor reviews.
Rule one: Photos are not free, and you must ask permission (and pay) to take photos. The owner charges 50 lira (about $10 USD) to take photos in there for 10 minutes. Apparently he also offers a “drone service” if you want a photo taken from above of you laying on a rug, which costs closer to $50 USD. Seems like a rip off, but something about doing it for the gram? The other rule is pretty logical, given that there are carpets all over the floor that are for sale: you must remove your shoes before entering.
Sultan Carpets is another such carpet shop in Cappadocia worth a visit, and I’ve heard that it’s the better option if you are actually trying to buy a carpet as they are less pushy and offer better prices than Galerie Ikman, which is beautiful but better for browsing than buying.
That said, Sultan Carpets has also cottoned on to the Instagram trend and is taking advantage by offering a few different photo services. They have a costume rental, where you can rent a traditional dress, as well as “drone service.”
Not into carpet shopping or doing it for the ‘gram? There are tons of other vendors in Cappadocia selling unique crafts so you can pick up a wonderful Turkish souvenir.
One of my favorite stores in Göreme is Art by Emre which sells beautiful handcrafted jewelry and leather goods as well as some of the standard souvenirs like lanterns and evil eyes. A few other traditional souvenirs you’ll find here in Cappadocia are ceramics, which are big in Göreme, as well as balloon-themed merchandise (obviously!) which is a great reminder of an unforgettable ride over Cappadocia.
Have a testi kebab for dinner
Literally pronounced “tasty kebab,” this special dish is unique to Cappadocia and it’s a must-try when you’re visiting. Testi kebab means “pottery kebab” and that’s exactly what it is. Basically, it’s a meat stew with vegetables cooked inside of a completely sealed clay pot, which they break in a very exciting fashion over the fire.
We had this plus a delicious plate of meze (photographed above, because I was too drunk on Turkish wine by the time my testi kebab came out to remember to take a photo….) at Inci Cave Restaurant, which was just down the street from Chelebi Cave House (also quite close to Sultan Cave Suites, if that’s where you’re staying). They have lovely outdoor dining as well as an indoor area where you can sit on the floor on a traditional Turkish kilim, and the food is really tasty and authentic (I was traveling with a Turk and he gave it the seal of approval!)
Now, head to bed so you can be prepared for an early rise for an epic Cappadocia balloon ride tomorrow!
Day 2 of your Cappadocia Itinerary: Balloons & Museums
One quick note here: I recommend making your balloon ride reservation for the first morning of your trip. Why is that? In the rare event that wind or bad weather results in your balloon ride being cancelled, you have another day to rebook and hopefully get to go on your balloon ride!
Your odds are pretty good, as balloons tend to fly nearly 300 days a year, with only 60 or so days being canceled due to bad weather – and most of those are in the winter/spring season between December and April. However, that’s still about a 15% chance that your balloon ride may end up canceled, so I’d recommend booking it for the first morning of your trip, in case you need to rebook. If your balloon tour operator cancels the tour due to weather, you should receive a full refund that you can use on another tour.
Wake up before dawn for an incredible balloon ride
I mean, riding in a hot air balloon is the real reason why you go to Cappadocia in the first place, right? OK sure there’s also tons of hiking, culture, and Instagrammability, but the hot air balloon ride was a true highlight experience for me and honestly stands out as one of the top experiences of my life!
I did a lot of research before selecting a hot air balloon ride and settled on Royal, as they have one of the highest reviews on TripAdvisor and I could easily book my balloon tour online. This is the one I picked, which included transfers, a delicious breakfast (albeit slightly rushed!), a 60-minute balloon ride, champagne, and a flight certificate. There’s also a 90-minute option with the same company.
Frankly, all balloon tours in Cappadocia are pricy, and I was happy to pay just a little extra for the most reputable tour company around with an incredible safety track record – especially when you’re flying 300 meters above the ground in nothing more than a wicker basket powered by a flame!
My experience floating over Cappadocia for an hour truly felt like a dream. I’m an anxious person and I’m slightly afraid of heights but I had an incredible experience and would recommend it to anyone who’s considering it while in Cappadocia, as it really is one of the most memorable moments of my travels.
Watching the sun rise over the fairy chimneys, slowing changing the colors of the landscape, and seeing the look of joy on the faces of everyone else in my balloon was incredible. It was one of those moments of travel where I put my camera down away from my face and truly lived in each moment, feeling alive as the winds whipped my face and the other hot air balloons did their dance in the sky.
Take a nap and relax at your hotel
A hot air balloon ride means a very early morning (we woke up at 4 AM) and a whole ton of adrenaline: a recipe for a mid-day nap much needed!
Rest up at your hotel (bonus points if it comes with a pool) and then head back out once you feel refreshed for some lunch and some more exploring.
Visit the Göreme Open Air Museum
One of the most interesting places on this Cappadocia itinerary, you shouldn’t miss a visit to the Göreme Open Air Museum just outside of the town, about a 20-minute walk.
Here, you’ll find incredible ruins dating back to the 4th century, when the town of Göreme started being settled. You’ll find the remains of monasteries, churches, and homes which have all been carved into the soft rock (your precursor to cave hotels!) and can now be visited by all. The rock churches have incredible frescoes on the walls, their colors largely undimmed by the centuries, and for this reason the Göreme Open Air Museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been since 1984, when it was the second UNESCO site named in Turkey.
Admission is 25 TL per person (about $4 USD) and while you can certainly hire a guide I didn’t find it necessary for my visit as there is good signage and explanation of the sites. Allocate at least two hours here to do the site justice, but be aware that it is mostly uncovered and can be quite hot in mid-day (so I recommend going after 3 PM in summer, when the noontime heat has burned off a bit).
Cap off the evening with an ATV ride through Rose Valley
Who says sunrise is Cappadocia’s best hour? Sunset can be just as thrilling and the colors are totally different during sunset vs. sunrise, casting a reddish-orange glow on the incredible landscapes.
I recommend doing a sunset tour ATV ride which lasts two hours, which you can book online here. This two-hour ATV ride through Cappadocia’s breathtaking landscape, starting in Swords Valley and making your way through Red and Rose Valley just as the colors turn dusky-red, is a wonderful way to cap off your incredible day in Cappadocia.
You’ll also see the Cavusin ghost village, which has been abandoned since the 1950s due to rock falls but dates back to 400 AD. The sunset ATV ride also goes through the White Valley to end up in Love Valley, known for its, um, phallic-shaped rocks which are really just so excited to see you.
You can book a one-hour option during the day or opt for the two-hour sunset version; I’d lean towards the sunset option as it’s much better for photography, includes Love Valley, and isn’t much more expensive than the 1-hour tour. Both can be booked online via GetYourGuide, my favorite online tour aggregator with a best-price guarantee, which you can find here.
Enjoy dinner in town
For your next night in Göreme, check out one of the other restaurants in town. I was blasphemous and went for Korean food at Urizip because whenever I see Asian food I can’t help myself. It was delicious, run by a Korean family who had relocated to Cappadocia, and both the kimchi soup and banchan were fantastic…. but you may want something more traditional.
Some other highly-reviewed options in Göreme are Organic Cave Kitchen and Topdeck Cave. In Uchisar, check out Sakli Konak or House of Memories.
If you want a traditional dinner and dance show, this 4-hour dinner and show combination is an excellent option and a great value, as it includes a show, dinner, and all you can drink alcoholic beverages. Check it out here.
Day 3 of your Cappadocia Itinerary: Underground Cities & Rock Monasteries
Cappadocia is really not set up for public transportation. The tourism industry is too central to the city’s economy and frankly, having buses that take you to the popular spots would be counter-productive for locals who make their livings as tour guides, taxi drivers, and hoteliers who take a cut of what you book.
So really, to get around Cappadocia in an orderly fashion, it’s best to either hire a private driver (expensive), rent a car (doable, but not without its drawbacks due to the craziness of Turkish drivers!), or go on a guided tour (the most economical).
Even though I was traveling with my Turkish friend, we couldn’t really make sense of the public transportation system and we decided that a guided tour would be the least headache for the best price [this is the one we booked].
There are three main tour circuits in Cappadocia, each of which is named for a color: red, green, and blue. Theoretically you could take a different color tour each day and see all of the highlights of the entire Cappadocia region. However, we only have time for one tour so we had to pick carefully. If you only have 3 days on your Cappadocia itinerary, and one day you’re doing a balloon ride, you’ll only have one day as well.
After considering all our options we ended up picking the green tour because we wanted to see Derinkuyu Underground City and Selime, and we liked the sound of a hike in between all of that to break up the monotony and make us not feel like we were sitting on a bus all day. We were super satisfied with our choice, but if you want to do more research before picking which tour is best, click to read and compare the green tour vs. the red tour vs. the blue tour.
I’ll go into detail about the green tour below as it’s the only one I can speak to personally, but given how impressive the entire Cappadocia region is, I highly doubt you could go wrong with any of the options.
Get deep at Derinkuyu Underground City
While there are two main underground cities that you’ll find in Cappadocia, Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, Derinkuyu is the largest and most impressive and that’s the main reason we picked the green tour over the other tours.
At a maximum depth of 85 meters below ground level, this multi-level city (our guide said there were some 14 levels, some so short you could only crawl through) could fit up to 20,000 people. People would live down here for years at a time, hiding from invaders above the ground, who didn’t notice that there was an entire city living, cooking, sleeping, making wine (obviously) and thriving below ground.
Visiting this underground city was a true insight into the history of this region, the challenges they faced and the incredible strength the people to surmount them. They were used to protect the Byzantines, who were largely Greek-speaking Christians, from raids during the Arab-Byzantine wars of 780 to 1180 AD. In the 14th century, they were again used by Christians avoiding the Mongolian invasions of the region.
Historians believe that Derinkuyu was used up until 1909, when Cappadocian Greek Christians took shelter underground after a series of massacres against Armenian Christians took place in Adana. The Christian Greeks of Cappadocia eventually left the region and re-settled in Greece, as part of the population exchange agreement made in 1923 to end the killings of Greeks that had been taking place in the wake of the end of World War I. It was largely forgotten for decades, only to be rediscovered in 1963 when a local found a room behind a wall of his home – can you imagine? It was fully excavated in 1969 and began welcoming visitors.
Admission was included as part of our guided tour but if you went independently via taxi or public bus, it would be 35 TL / $6 USD for admission. However, I’d be pretty wary about going without a guide as you wouldn’t learn much, and I’m not sure if you can book one at the entrance, so I liked that it was part of our tour.
Trek in the Ihlara Valley
I loved our 4 kilometer walk through the verdant valley of Ihlara, walking along the banks of a beautiful river, the Melendiz Çayı. It was a great break between some of the stops on our tour, as a lot of the time guided tours can feel like you’re just being shuttled from sight to sight without any time to stop and enjoy fresh air.
About halfway through our walk, we stopped at a small riverside café to enjoy a delicious cup of tea and rest our feet. Honestly, the atmosphere of this gorgeous café meant that I could have sat there all day, but we only had about 20 minutes there.
The hike was pretty easy – I did it in a white jumpsuit (because #Instagram) and Birkenstocks – so you don’t need any special gear for it, though sneakers would be a smarter choice.
Marvel at the magical Selime Monastery
The Selime rock-hewn monastery was one of the highlights of my visit to Cappadocia. It’s one of the largest religious structures in Cappadocia and was built entirely into the rock. Here, you’ll find original frescoes (nearly as impressive as at Göreme), as well as living quarters such as the remains of a kitchen, stables, and monks’ bedrooms. There’s also a large cathedral structure which was at the heart of the monastery.
Settlement of this area of Selime dates back as far asthe 8th century BC, as signs of various civilizations have been found here. The age of the monastery itself is hard to determine, but it is thought to be around 300 AD, when persecuted Christians fled to the Cappadocia region.
While for a long time, Selime was a monastery, it functioned for a time as a caravanserai, an inn for travelers along the Silk Road. It was abandoned for centuries when sea routes for trading meant that the Silk Road became basically defunct, and was later rediscovered and marketed for tourism.
It’s famous today for being one of the settings of Star Wars, and visiting today, you can see why: it truly looks like a land from another planet. This was one of my favorite parts of the green tour and I was so glad I ended up picking this one over the red or blue circuit.
Have one last dinner in town – or make preparations for your next stop!
Finally, your time in Cappadocia is coming to a close. I had one last meal in Cappadocia before heading off to my night bus to Pamukkale, which is a wonderful place I recommend you visit in Turkey. But you may be opting for a plane back to Istanbul or elsewhere in Turkey and need to head to the airport, so be sure to book your airport transfers in advance if necessary so you aren’t at the mercy of a taxi driver at the last minute.
I hope you enjoyed this Cappadocia itinerary and will leave with as many amazing memories of this unforgettable place as I did.
List of Recommended Cappadocia Tours
I included my Cappadocia tour recommendations above, but here are all the tours mentioned in this post in a quick, easy-to-reference format. Mix and match how you like or browse other tours to customize your perfect Cappadocia itinerary.
Cappadocia: Shared Airport Transfer Service
Cappadocia Private Airport Transfers
Hot Air Balloon Tour of Cappadocia: Royal Queen Flight (60 minutes)
Cappadocia: Royal King Flight by Royal Balloon (90 minutes)
Cappadocia ATV Tour Adventure
Göreme: Dinner and Folk Show at a Cave Restaurant
Full-Day Small Group Cappadocia Green Tour
Red Tour: North Cappadocia with Göreme Open-Air Museum
Full-Day Cappadocia Blue Tour with a Small Group
More Turkey Travel Resources
You’re likely also planning a trip to Istanbul if you’re headed to Cappadocia. We’re working on our massive things to do post, but for now, you can check out our Instagram guide to Istanbul, our favorite Istanbul neighborhoods and where to stay, and tips for shopping in Istanbul.
For more general Turkey information, check out this guide to planning a trip to Turkey (including visa information) and this guide to other beautiful places to visit in Turkey.
Headed to Cappadocia? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
If you’re planning a trip to Cappadocia, make sure to travel with a valid travel insurance policy. While we feel safe in Turkey, especially in Cappadocia, you need to be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident.
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
Originally from California, Allison has been living in Bulgaria for the last two years and is obsessed with traveling around the Balkans. She has been published in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, Matador Network, and the Huffington Post. She loves befriending dogs, drinking coffee, geeking out about wine, and cooking food from around the world.