Sofia Adventures

Welcome to Sofia!

Sofia is an intriguing city, with corners that show at various times a glint of the splendor of Vienna, the charm of Istanbul, the quirkiness of Budapest, and the brutalism of Moscow. You’ll find Roman ruins in our subway stations, medieval icons in the church basements, and Thracian relics in the former presidential palace. Yet Sofia brings all of these seemingly disparate traditions together into one magical, inspiring city.

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DISCOVER SOFIA

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11 Otherworldy Things to Do in Cappadocia, Turkey

Fairy chimneys, sunrise hot air balloons, entire cities built into rock: Cappadocia is like another planet. Visiting here is so unique that I truly can’t think of another place in the world that I’ve visited just like it.

There is no shortage of incredible things to do in Cappadocia, and this guide is meant to be your exhaustive, inspiring guide to Cappadocia travel so that you can mix and match the perfect trip from these experiences.

However, if sorting through this massive list of Cappadocia attractions proves too overwhelming, I’ve also created this 3-day Cappadocia itinerary you can follow. It closely mirrors my own 3-day trip there, with adjustments made for things I wish I had changed or known about before I traveled there.

So, here’s a guide to the best places to visit in Cappadocia, with all the information you need to plan the perfect Cappadocia trip.

The 11 Absolute Best Things to Do in Cappadocia

Take an incredible sunset hot air balloon ride

The feeling of floating over Cappadocia’s insane landscape at dawn, watching the colors slowly change as the sun made its ascent in the sky, is unforgettable. My hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia was hands-down one of my favorite moments of travel.

Riding a hot air balloon in Cappadocia isn’t cheap, but if your budget affords it, I think it’s 100% worth it. Besides, you never know if you’ll return to this part of the world (though I can promise you that you will want to – I know I will).

I did a lot of research before selecting a hot air balloon ride and settled on Royal, as they have the best reviews on TripAdvisor and I could easily book my balloon tour online. This is the one I picked, which included transfers, a tasty breakfast (albeit slightly rushed, as you’re racing the sun), 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 a proven safety track record – especially when you’re flying 300 meters above the ground in nothing more than a wicker basket powered by a flame! I felt like I was in insanely capable hands – my pilots had several thousand hours of flying time between them – and our ascent, ride, and landing were all incredibly smooth.

Go deep at one of the underground cities

Cappadocia is home to a handful of underground cities which were dug into the porous volcanic rock: the two main ones that tourists can visit at Derinkuyu, the larger and more impressive sight, and Kaymakli, which is smaller but less-visited. Derinkuyu is particularly massive, with a capacity of up to 20,000 people as well as livestock.

These underground cities were created during the Byzantine era, when the Greek-speaking Christians who lived in the Cappadocia region needed to hide from Arabs during the Arab-Byzantine Wars between 780 and 1180 AD. They were again used by Christians avoiding the Mongolian invasions of the region which took place in the 14th century. Even as late at the 20th century, these underground cities were being used as massacres of Christians (both Greek and Armenian) were taking place across Turkey.

These underground cities were largely forgotten for decades. Derinkuyu was only rediscovered in 1963 when a local found a hidden room behind a wall of his home, which led to the ruins of Derinkuyu. The city was fully excavated in 1969 and began welcoming visitors shortly thereafter. Kaymakli opened a bit earlier, in 1964.

I visited Derinkuyu as part of my Green Tour of Cappadocia (which I highly recommend as I think it has the most interesting sights of the three main tour circuits of Cappadocia, but I’ll go into more detail on that later in the post). It was incredible: 85 meters deep, a true multi-level city (I think my guide said there were 14) with facilities for cooking, wine-making (obvi), sleeping, using the bathroom, all without never needing to go above ground for anything other than scavenging.

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 hesitant about going without a tour as you wouldn’t learn much, and I’m not sure if you can book a guide at the entrance, so I was happy to visit as part of a tour.

Visit the incredible Göreme Open Air Museum

Just a 20-minute walk from the heart of the tourist center of Göreme, this is one of the coolest things to do in Cappadocia.

Göreme Open Air Museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been since 1984, the second site named in Turkey. Here, you’ll find incredible monastic ruins dating back to the 4th century AD. The complex includes monasteries, churches, and homes which have all been carved into the soft rock. Inside the churches, you’ll discover incredible frescoes on the walls, their colors still preserved despite the centuries that have passed.

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. However, it is often included on the Red Tour so if you want a guided visit that is a good option.

I recommend allocating at least two hours here to do the site justice, but be aware that it is mostly uncovered (besides the cave churches, obviously) and can be quite hot in mid-day. It’s best to visit after 3 PM in the summer months.

Eat pottery kebab

The traditional dish of Cappadocia, pottery kebab (called testi/tasti kebab in Turkish) is an unmissable dish to try in Cappadocia. Basically, a stew of meat (generally lamb or beef) is mixed with vegetables and cooked over a fire in a sealed ceramic pot.

The pot full of the cooked stew is then brought out to you, where it is dramatically cracked open and served to you on a plate. While a great part of the fun is the presentation of the dish, it’s also just plain delicious.

I enjoyed my testi kebab at Inci Cave Restaurant but almost every restaurant in Göreme will have this option.

Go hiking on one of Cappadocia’s many well-worn trails

Cappadocia has several hiking routes that are well-marked and easy for beginner hikers, with no real terrain challenges.

One of the most popular hikes is through Pigeon Valley, where you can take a walk between the two towns of Uçhısar and Göreme, two of the most popular places to stay in Cappadocia. It’s 4 kilometers and if you start in Göreme, you can end at Uçhısar Castle which you can enter for a small fee.

You can also hike through the euphemistically-named Love Valley, which derives its name from the phallic rocks which stand at um, attention, throughout the valley. It’s also about 4 kilometers and can be combined with Pigeon Valley quite easily for a longer loop. The starting point for the Love Valley easily combines with Pigeon Valley trailhead in Göreme.

If combining the two and starting in Göreme, I’d recommend starting with Love Valley, looping back to the start point, then going onwards through Pigeon Valley and ending at Uçhısar Castle, where you could then hike back or take a bus or taxi back.

Spend the night in a cave hotel

One of the coolest things about Cappadocia is getting to sleep in a cave – and it’s much more comfortable than it sounds!

Due to the porousness of the soft volcanic rock which Cappadocia is made of, the people of this region have been carving their homes, churches, and buildings out of rock for centuries. Rather than allowing these places to go unused due to modernization, many of these dwellings have been converted into comfortable hotels of basically every budget tier.

You can stay in a basic but comfortable cave room at a budget-friendly hotel like Chelebi Cave House for as little as $50 USD per night for a double at times. The Instagram sensation, Sultan Cave Suites, will cost you a little more but offers a more luxurious and photogenic experience, and still won’t break the bank too much (though it definitely must be booked in advance in peak season as it’s quite popular). Meanwhile, true 5* luxury can be had at Museum Hotel in Uçhısar, which was awarded both the Best Luxury Boutique Hotel and the Best Hotel Architecture in Europe!

Go ATV riding through Cappadocian landscapes

While you certainly can go hiking through the different valleys of Cappadocia, a thrilling way to cover ground more quickly is with a one or two-hour ATV ride through Cappadocia. This ride starts in Swords Valley and makes its way to Red Valley and Rose Valley, where you can see the Cavusin ghost village which has largely been abandoned since the 1950s.

If you do the two-hour option, you’ll go on past Cavusin to the White Valley and Love Valley – where phallic-shaped rocks will be more than happy to greet you (sorry, the puns never stop with this one).

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. You can read reviews and book online here.

Wake up early to see the balloons take flight

I recommend staying in Cappadocia an absolute minimum of two nights and two full days. The first morning you should reserve for your hot air balloon flight if you can: the next, wake up early again so you can see the hot air balloons making their flight at dawn.

I’m a certified night owl who is far more likely to see the sunrise because I stayed up way too late than because I woke up for it, and even I found it was easy to pull myself out of bed each morning to watch the balloons make their flights.

If you’re staying in a hotel with a gorgeous roof terrace like Sultan Cave Suites you have a huge advantage, as you can basically throw on some clothes, go up to your hotel’s rooftop, and see the beautiful balloon-dotted sunrise. If you’re staying in a place without a view, you’ll have to make a small hike: I recommend heading to Sunset Point in Göreme which is about a 20-minute walk from the center of town.

If staying in Uçhısar, Uçhısar Castle is a good viewpoint if your hotel doesn’t have the best vantage point. However, hotels in Uçhısar tend to be a little more upscale so I wouldn’t imagine that lack of a photogenic roof terrace would be a problem!

Hike through Ilhara Valley

If you are a more serious hiker, I highly recommend making a day of hiking Ilhara Valley. You can do a 5 kilometer, 7 kilometer, or 14 kilometer hike, starting in Ihlara Village or the beginning of the valley and continuing on to Belisirma (shorter) or Selime (longer). 5km (2.2mi): start at the main gate in Ihlara village and walk until Belisirma Village.

I did a short 5 kilometer walk as part of our Green Tour and it was a lovely walk – a break from the hop-in, hop-out nature of a full day tour and not too challenging, especially since we stopped for a lovely riverside tea break.

Go souvenir shopping in Göreme

There are a ton of great stores in Göreme to shop at if you are looking for the perfect Turkish souvenir to remember your trip. While the carpet shops of Cappadocia get a lot of press on Instagram, they aren’t exactly the best places to actually buy here – you will get a much better deal in Istanbul or elsewhere in Turkey. If you want to check them out, the two top carpet shops in town are Galerie Ikman and Sultan Carpets, though keep in mind that both charge for photography.

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 Turkish souvenir kitsch such as lanterns and blue 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 which is a great memento of an unforgettable ride over Cappadocia!

Explore the Star Wars-ian landscape of Selime Monastery

The final stop on my Green Tour, the rock-hewn monastery of Selime was one of the highlights of my visit to Cappadocia. This monastery is one of the largest religious structures in Cappadocia, and it was built entirely into the rock just like many of the towns here.

Throughout the monastery, you’ll find original frescoes, living quarters, kitchens, and the like, as well as a large cathedral which used to be the heart of the monastery. The age of the monastery itself is not extremely clear, but it is generally thought to be around the year 300 AD, when persecuted Christians fled to the Cappadocia region.

While it’s enjoyed periods of time as a monastery, a caravanserai (inn on the Silk Road), and a tourist attraction, it’s most famous today for being one of the settings of Star Wars.

Is Athens Safe? 10 Tips to Stay Safe in Athens, Greece

I adore Athens. I think far too many travelers come here and leave quickly, just doing the most important sites. But I actually love just hanging out here, getting coffee at Coffee Island and walking around Monastiraki or Omonia. Yet, Athens does have a big city feel to it (though the population is smaller than you might think). So I understand why so many travelers coming here want to know, “is Athens safe?”

Yes, you can safely travel Athens (or anywhere in the Balkans). But there is some common sense travel safety that you should practice when you travel anywhere, and Athens is no exception. So here are some important facts you should know about Athens safety and tips for staying safe here. 

Is Athens Safe? 5 Things to Know about Crime in Athens

Greece - Athens - Sunset from Hotel Balcony

Here are five facts about the current state of crime in Athens that you should be aware of. I address how to protect yourself in the next section. So while these things exist, there are things you can do. Being aware of them is the first step.

Tourist Scams are Alive & Well

According to the Greece 2018 Crime & Safety Report:

Street crimes (pickpocketing, purse snatchings, mobile phone theft, other crimes of opportunity) continue to be common. The majority of these cases occur within the popular tourist areas and on the Metro system (rail and bus). Many of the incidents involve multiple perpetrators using various methods to distract their victims.

Reported Sexual Assault is Low for the Population Size

There were 157 cases of rape reported to the Athens police in all of 2017. Of course, sexual assault is heinously underreported worldwide, and travelers should still be vigilant in situations that pose a higher risk for sexual assault. 

Crime increases in Omonia, Syntagma, and Exarchia during Protests

Greeks love a political protest. Stay away from Omonia, Syntagma, and Exarchia during political protests since these areas see violence and pickpocketing increase when the tensions rise and the crowds grow. 

Greece - Athens - Exarchia Street Art

Easter Festivities can Involve Illegal Fireworks

This one is pretty unique to Greece. According to the Greece 2018 Crime & Safety Report:

Visitors during Easter are strongly urged to exercise caution when attending the celebrations that occur at midnight on Holy Saturday. Festivities normally involved the large scale use of fireworks, some of which are homemade and illegal. There have been incidents in which spectators have suffered severe, sometimes fatal, injuries.

The Terrorism Threat in Athens is Medium

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Athens as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorist activity. There haven’t been incidents aimed at tourists, but if a terrorist incident happens in a public place a tourist could be involved. There are one or two small terrorism incidents in Athens every year, but they are typically aimed at politicians and international officials. 

So is Athens safe? 

Yes, I think Athens is as safe as any other large city of its size. Tourists are at risk of the kinds of crime specifically aimed at tourists, like pickpockets, tourist scams, etc. This is the same as any other city that receives a lot of tourists. 

10 Common Sense Athens Safety Tips

Greece - Athens - Mount Lycabettus - Pixabay

So Athens is safe, but you still have to use common sense because no place is one hundred percent safe at all times.

1. Know what to do if something goes wrong.

Having a plan for what to do if there’s a problem is the first step in making sure that you stay safe since you can take immediate action in case of an emergency. 

The main phone number for emergency services in English is 112. If you are a victim of a crime, the central police phone number is 100. The Athens tourism police can be reached by dialing 1571. For incidents believed to be racially-motivated, please contact 11414.

However, if you feel you’re the victim of harassment by the police, then you should reach out to your embassy. For Americans, this is American Citizen Services at +30-210-720-2414. For after hours, weekends, and holidays, call the Embassy Receptionist at +30-210-720-2490.

2. Have your travel insurance information handy.

Since you’re a smart, safety-first kind of traveler, you know it’s a good idea to get a travel insurance policy before you leave for your trip.

But what do you do with it once you have it? First, it’s a good idea to have easy access to your policy information so you can make a claim if needed. You can also give the policy info to an emergency contact who’s not traveling with you. In a worst-case scenario, they can access the benefits to help you if you’re unconscious.

Something no one likes to think about:  In an absolute worst-case, your family can use the policy to have your remains repatriated (provided this is part of your coverage, obviously. I look for policies that include this). No one likes to think about this stuff, but it would be worse if something happened and then your family had to figure out what to do.

Of course, the most likely scenario is you have travel insurance and everything goes right on your trip. That would be awesome. You’d have the peace of mind while you travel but you wouldn’t actually need to deal with anything. 

>>Get a travel insurance quote for your trip.<<

3. Keep Your Money Safe

Greece - Athens - National Archaeologal Museum of Athens

Never flash your cash at museums or tourist sites.

The safest way to travel in Athens is to use your credit cards and debit cards whenever possible. You can get cash out from ATMs, which have a better exchange rate than the money exchanges. Try to only take out the cash you need for a few days.

Make sure you use official ATMs. Stay away from the ATMs in night clubs or other ones that look disconnected from a business. These can be scams. I prefer to always use an ATM connected to a bank. 

Never flash your cash when out in public. I like to put a twenty or a ten in a separate pocket so I don’t have to get out all of my cash when I need to buy something. I also like to have a coin purse so I can just get out my Euro coins when I want to buy something small. No one but you should be aware that you have more than twenty Euros on you.

Don’t keep all your cards and cash in one place. Split them between your person and your hotel room. While it’s a small possibility that you will be mugged or your hotel room robbed, both are REALLY unlikely to happen on the same day. The safest thing to do is keep your money in two different places so if something goes wrong in one place, your money is safe in the other. 

4. Have a hard copy of your card numbers, phone numbers, and your passport

If something does go wrong and your cards and passport get stolen, you need to be able to get them replaced. Have a hard copy in case your phone also gets stolen. This way you can call your banks, your embassy, and then your travel insurance company to get everything replaced without needing access to the internet.  

5. Enroll in your government’s safety traveler programs

If your country has a program for traveler safety, enroll in it. I am enrolled in STEP, which stands for Safety Traveler Enrollment Program. This is an American program that allows me to tell the State Department my travel plans. In return, they email me if something happens on the ground (like a political protest) or another incident. 

I didn’t enroll in this program for Greece, but I did for my trip to Tunisia because there were protests happening in the capital. However, it’s completely free and a great resource for American travelers, so you can use it for any trip abroad.

I’m not sure which countries have similar programs, so you should check yours if you are not an American.

6. Think anti-theft

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

I use a special personal bag for my day bag that has anti-theft features like RFID technology, complicated zippers, and extra clasps. It’s not theft-proof, but it does make it more difficult for a pickpocket to get to my wallet and passport. It’s called the Pacsafe Citysafe, and I’m a little obsessed with it. Pacsafe also makes smaller bags that look like traditional purses, but are packed with TONS of safety features.

If you keep your wallet tucked into the appropriate pocket, don’t flash your cash, and keep your bag closed, as this will be much harder for someone to pick your pocket.

7. Don’t leave your stuff unattended

Greece - Athens - Exarchia Bar

Never leave your stuff unattended even to go to the bathroom. Ask an employee to watch your stuff (or better yet, don’t leave it at all).

It’s tempting to leave your bag a few feet from you or your cell phone casually on the table. But try not to ever be in a situation where someone could run up and grab your stuff. I like to sit with my bag wrapped around my chair leg when I’m sitting outside. 

You can’t be one hundred percent theft-proof out in public. But your goal is to look like the person who would be the most difficult to rob so that pickpockets and petty thieves move on to easier targets. 

8. Pay attention to your surroundings

I once stopped a guy from pickpocketing me in Milan because I saw him reaching to my bag out of the corner of my eye. Keep your head on and pay attention whenever you’re out in public. Don’t get lost in your phone on taxi rides and only sleep in the taxi if there’s at least one other person traveling with you who can pay attention.

9. Be cautious at night or when drinking

A common scam in Athens is for people to invite you into their taverns, and then overcharge you for drinks you might not even have bought. So you actually need to be cautious at night before you even start drinking!

Of course, once you’ve had a few drinks you need to be even more cautious. Never leave your drinks unattended. If you’ve had too much to drink, don’t walk back to your accommodations even if they’re close. Instead, take a taxi home (though ordering it with a taxi app like TaxiMe or BeatTaxi is best to avoid taxi scams).

10. Women need to be extra cautious because the world sucks

Greece - Athens - Airport Selfie Stephanie

I love traveling solo in Greece, but I do have to be extra cautious as a solo female traveler anywhere in the world.

Yes, sexual assault in Athens is low, but female travelers should still be cautious, especially in scenarios where alcohol is involved. Use the same caution you would to protect yourself at home. 

Where to Stay in Athens

Greece - Athens - Anafiotika

 

If this is your first trip to Athens, figuring out where to stay in the city can be a bit intimidating. Because of the location of the Acropolis, it really matters which neighborhood you choose to stay in, especially if you’re looking for Acropolis views, easy access to the metro, and a good value for your money.

For our hotel recommendations, Generally, budget means hostel beds for around $30 a night and singles/doubles for around $50, mid-range is from about $50-100 per night, and luxury will cost over $100 per night. However, note that availability, time of year, and how much in advance you book will play a role in how much accommodations cost in Athens.

Budget: If you want a hostel dorm bed in the heart of Psyri, check out the Acropolis Hostel. This basic-yet-clean hostel boasts what very few in the world can: Acropolis views from its communal terrace. You’ll enjoy having access to an elevator (no lugging you bag all the way up to your room), and you can enjoy the lively neighborhood atmosphere and come home when you want since the hostel has no curfew. 

Check out reviews, pictures, prices, and availability here.

Mid-Range: For my most recent trip to Athens, we stayed in a couple of different places, but my favorite was the Ares Athens Hotel off of Omonia Square. I loved it’s location, close to Omonia station, across the street from a Coffee Island (my personal version of Heaven), and with views of Mount Lycabettus. The rooms are clean and comfortable, and each room has a private terrace. 

Check out reviews, pictures, prices, and availability here.

Luxury: If you are a traveler who loves having stunning hotel views, book a stay at A for Athens, a boutique hotel in Psyri that has what is considered by many to be the best rooftop bar in the city. You can also enjoy Acropolis views from the panoramic terrace during breakfast, You can even get amazing Acropolis and Parthenon views from some of the rooms. This hotel is basically Instagram crack. 

Check out prices, reviews, photos, and availability here.

Don’t see a hotel that’s the right pick for you? Check out our complete Athens Neighborhood and Hotel Guide.

More Greece Travel Resources

Greece - Epidaurus - Stephanie Selfie

Headed to Greece? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Greece and local tipping customs.

If you are still trying to figure out your itinerary, check out our guides on where to go in Greece and when is the best time to visit. 

If you’ll be spending time in Athens, check out our Athens Instagram Guide, the best Athens day trips, and our complete Athens hotel guide.

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Finally, Make Sure You Come to Athens with Travel Insurance

I’m sure you’re aware that it’s a good idea to have travel insurance for traveling in Greece, the Balkans, or anywhere in the world! (Of course, you are, because I already talked about it in this post, but I digress).

Allison and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption. 

While we hope we’ve made it clear that Athens is perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel like theft or injury, so it’s better to play it safe. The saying goes “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel” is true!

 

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

Istanbul or Cappadocia: Which Turkish Destination Is Right For You?

If you’re planning a trip to Turkey but you only have time for one place, you’re in for a tough decision: Istanbul or Cappadocia?

These two destinations in Turkey are each worth a visit of their own, but picking between them is hard as they each offer so much yet are so different.

Istanbul is a giant metropolis of 20+ million people, truly one of the world’s greatest cities, whereas Cappadocia is a series of small villages carved into the rock in one of the most geologically interesting places on the planet. They’re like two different worlds, yet only an hour and a half flight apart.

So if you’re lost trying to decide between Istanbul and Cappadocia, and doing both just isn’t an option, here’s our guide to picking Istanbul vs. Cappadocia.

Choose Istanbul if…

… You’re a city person

Turkey - Istanbul - Ortaköy Mosque - Canva Purchase

It sounds obvious, but it bears repeating: Istanbul is one of the biggest cities on the planet, encompassing 20+ million people, probably a hundred neighborhoods, and spanning two continents. It is big in every sense of the word and I’ve usually dedicated at least five days to Istanbul on each of my three trips to the city. In fact, Stephanie has visited Turkey five times and never once left Istanbul – that’s how big and endlessly fascinating it is.

Stephanie and I are both avowed city lovers, and we love nothing more than taking a city break as part of our holidays. We find that cities showcase the history of a destination while also balancing the young, modern side to the destination. In Istanbul, this is especially noticeable. You’ll walk mosques and bazaars by day and explore centuries-old history, but by night, you’ll find countless bars (both alcoholic and shisha), clubs, and restaurants buzzing with young Turkish people.

… You’re a foodie

Turkey - Istanbul - Turkish Breakfast at Private Cafe

Turkish food is absolutely delicious and there’s no better place to eat it than in Istanbul, where you can eat everything from street food to Michelin-starred Turkish cuisine.

While you can definitely eat some tasty food in Cappadocia, there’s simply no comparing the two destinations when it comes to food: Istanbul will win by a landslide every time.

…. You live for history

Turkey - Istanbul - Blue Mosque - Pixabay

While Cappadocia has no shortage of historical sights, nothing beats Istanbul. It’s been the capital of three distinct empires – Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman – and has a wealth of historical sights from all three periods.

From Greek Orthodox churches to fortresses on the hills overlooking the Bosphorus to ornate palaces that housed the Ottoman rulers to stunning mosques that defy all expectations, Istanbul is a history lover’s dream. It’s maybe the most important historical city in history.

… You’re into nightlife

Cappadocia is made up of several villages in the middle of Turkey, far from any city influence, and the region is largely quite conservative. While you can definitely find alcohol in Cappadocia (I definitely enjoyed my share of Turkish wine and beer), nightlife isn’t the center of life here the same way it is in Istanbul.

Meanwhile, in Istanbul, there are nightclubs operating at virtually all hours of the night, tons of fun bars in various neighborhoods (Bebek, Karakoy, Kadikoy, Cihangir, and Arnavutkoy, to name a few), incredible rooftop bars, and laidback shisha joints for non-drinkers.

Choose Cappadocia if….

… You’re doing it for the ‘gram

While Istanbul definitely has its Instagrammable spots, Cappadocia is Insta-crack.

Whether it’s taking photos on your rooftop terrace with a casual breakfast spread with a view of the hot air balloons, posing amidst a colorful riot of Turkish carpets, or overlooking Cappadocia’s otherworldly landscape, Cappadocia has Instagrammable places galore that will have the likes rolling in.

… You’re into nature, not cities

What good is visiting a mega-city if you are decidedly not a city person? Istanbul is one of the top 10 largest cities in the world, and getting out of Istanbul and into nature that’s not a tiny city park or the Bosphorus is a traffic and logistical nightmare.

If you want to spend your time exploring gorgeous nature, hiking through geologically unique valleys, and admiring Turkey’s natural side, pick Cappadocia, not Istanbul.

… You really want to ride a hot air balloon

For many people, taking a hot air balloon over the valleys of Cappadocia is a bucket list must. And if a sunrise hot air balloon ride is on your must-do list, then there’s simply no equal in Istanbul (unless a helicopter ride will cut it).

I count riding a hot air balloon over Cappadocia as one of my top 10 travel experiences in the world, so if it’s on your bucket list, that may be a reason to pick Cappadocia over Istanbul.

… You want romance

While Istanbul definitely has its passionate side, Cappadocia just oozes romance in a way that a city as large and bustling as Istanbul can’t compete with.

Whether it’s a hot air balloon ride with your loved one, a thrilling sunset ATV ride, an intimate meal for two in a cave restaurant, or a night in one of Cappadocia’s stunning cave hotels, Cappadocia is the place to choose for proposals, honeymoons, babymoons, or romantic trips with your loved one.

Choose both for…

… meeting friendly Turkish people

The Turkish spirit of hospitality and kindness is infectious, and I’ve never left my numerous trips to Turkey experiencing anything other than warm welcomes and kind people. Turks are generous, social, and warm, and I trust that you’ll leave your trip to Turkey with the same lovely impressions of the Turkish people that we do.

As always, be cautious and trust your gut, and be wary of accepting too many freebies, especially from shopkeepers. There are some scams out there, but generally, we’ve never had problems in our 8 cumulative trips to Turkey.

…. eating delicious food

Turkish food is great everywhere. While I gave the edge to Istanbul vs. Cappadocia when it came to being better for foodies, really, it’s hard to go wrong anywhere in Turkey.

I always recommend ordering some meze – Turkish hot and cold appetizers – and perhaps a bottle of raki (if you can stomach anise-flavored drinks) and making a night of it. It’s one of my favorite ways to eat.

And don’t forget about the breakfasts! Turkish breakfasts are out of this world delicious, and any hotel worth staying in will deliver some seriously fantastic breakfast that basically overflows from the table.

… meeting the chillest cats in the world

Crete - Rethymnon - Cat with Green Eyes

If you think this is a weird item to put on the list, it’s because you haven’t been to Turkey yet.

Whether you go to Istanbul or Cappadocia, you will meet some of the friendliest, loveliest felines in the world. They are badass and you should probably bow down.

The Final Word: Should You Pick Cappadocia or Istanbul?

My personal opinion? If there’s a chance you may only visit Turkey once in your lifetime, I’d pick Istanbul over Cappadocia. There is so much to do within the city that you could literally pack your itinerary for weeks. That said, even if you only have a few days, you can easily fit the highlights of Istanbul into a 2 or 3 day city break by creating a focused plan.

To go to Turkey and not experience the wonders of the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque, witness the sunset over the Bosphorus, or wander the stalls of the Grand Bazaar would be a true shame. You’d simply be missing out on one of the most epic cities in the world. Cappadocia is wonderful and unforgettable, but in my eyes, it simply can’t compare to Istanbul when it comes to history, culture, and world importance.

Can You Do Cappadocia as a Day Trip from Istanbul?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer: It involves flying, it’s tiring, it’s expensive, and it’s likely worth it. This is the cheapest day tour I can find, and it still costs a pretty penny. It includes airport transfers, flights, exploring the monasteries of the Göreme Open Air Museum, seeing the fairy chimney landscapes, and visiting various valleys, before returning that same night. It does not include a balloon ride nor would it be possible to do one on a day trip.

If a balloon ride is a must, this overnight tour from Istanbul (1 day, 1 night via an overnight flight) is a costly but doable option.

However, even that trip is extremely rushed and I doubt you’d get any sleep on the way over, so if you were going to pick one Cappadocia excursion at all, I’d lean towards this 2-day 1-night tour which has received 5 star reviews. It’d be an ultra-quick trip and merely an introduction to Cappadocia, but it’d give you the opportunity for a balloon ride and extensive tour of the area.

Where to Stay in Istanbul

Budget

I often recommend the neighborhood of Galata for people in Istanbul for a city break, as it’s one of my favorite neighborhoods right in between Taksim and Sultanahmet, easily walkable to both. The best value-for-dollar option is Jurnal Hotel, which has small and sleek double rooms within just a few minutes’ walk to Galata Tower for an insanely affordable price.

»» Check prices and availability, read guest reviews, or book online here ««

Mid-Range

Rooftop breakfast with a view of the Galata Tower for less than $50 a night? It’s definitely possible at the Galataport Hotel, literally 200 meters away from the gorgeous Galata Tower.Price and location aren’t all it has going for it, though: guests love it, with an average review score at the time of writing of a whopping 9/10!

»»Check prices and availability, read reviews, or book online here ««

Luxury

This is my favorite Istanbul hotel! I stayed at Hammamhane for 3 nights and it truly started to feel like home at the end of my stay. Located literally on Cukur Cuma, the main street of the antiques district, Hammamhane is within walking distance to art galleries, design stores, antique shops, and chic cafés. Hammamhane is a converted boutique apartment-hotel, that was originally a hammam, which should be now open after years of renovations (it was still being worked on when I visited in 2017).

»» Check out reviews, prices, and availability here ««

Where to Stay in Cappadocia

Budget

I got an abnormally good deal and paid $50 per night for a double room with a jacuzzi in Chelebi Cave House Hotel and it was fantastic! 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. 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.

»» Check out reviews, prices, and availability here ««

Mid-Range

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.

»» Check out reviews, prices, and availability here ««

Luxury

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. 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 reviews, prices, and availability here ««

More Turkey Travel Resources

If you head to Istanbul, we have a lot for you! 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.

If you pick Cappadocia, we have posts on the most Instagrammable places in Cappadocia and the perfect 3-day Cappadocia itinerary. We’ve also written extensively about the best cave hotels for all budgets here in Cappadocia.

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.

We have tons more Turkey and Balkans resources, and we publish new content nearly daily. Bookmark our Turkey and Balkans travel pages so you can find any new resources that come out before your trip!

Headed to Turkey? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

If you’re planning a trip to either Istanbul or Cappadocia, one thing is sure: make sure to travel with a valid travel insurance policy! While we feel safe in Turkey, 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 NomadsI’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.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

10 Things to Know Before a Meteora Tour for a Magical Trip

Are you dreaming of going on a Meteora tour? This was a highlight of my first trip to Greece, and I highly encourage anyone who can take a trip to Meteora to do so! We have detailed guides to how to visit Meteora from Athens and from Thessaloniki, so if you’ll be leaving from these cities take a look at our guides. This post covers things you need to know before visiting the monasteries so that your tour of Meteora goes smoothly!

How to Book a Guided Tour of Meteora

Greece - Meteora - Monastery Winter

There are a lot of companies that resell guided tours in Greece, from hostels to hotels to online platforms. We personally use (and therefore recommend) you book through GetYourGuide. We prefer using them for a couple of reasons:

  1. They let you know who the tour operator will be so you can independently verify the tour company’s reviews on sites like Trip Advisor. 
  2. In our travel experiences, tours booked through accommodations tend to be overpriced.
  3. I personally had an awful tour experience in Dresden, Germany, and I was able to use GetYourGuide’s customer service when the tour company wouldn’t help me at all. I got a full tour refund within just a few days.

There are several options for going on a guided Meteora tour. Here are the most common circumstances.

From Kalabaka (Kalambaka)

Greece - Kalabaka Train Station

For travelers who come to Kalambaka on their own and stay in local hotels or guest houses, you can book a guided monastery tour that will take you around the monasteries and explain the history of each. They also will take you to some of the best photography viewpoints in the area.

Even if you want to visit some of them independently, a guided tour is a great way to start your visit. Then you can continue your travels afterward to the ones you missed. 

There are different kinds of tours that you can go on. Here are the main three.

Monastery Tour

Most people who come to Kalabaka to tour Meteora choose to go on a Half Day Monastery TourThis tour includes hotel pick-up, touring three of the monasteries, and seeing all six from the different vantage points across the landscape. Great for anyone who wants to learn about the history of the monasteries and also wants to be driven to them as opposed to walking up on your own from Kalabaka. 

>>Book a Half Day Monastery Tour or Check Tour Reviews<<

Hiking Tour

If you’re excited about exploring some of the amazing hiking that you can do here while also visiting the monasteries, you can go on a 5-Hour Hiking Tour of MeteoraOn this hike, you’ll see all six monasteries (going inside one or two) while learning about the history and see some of the secret places that can only be seen from the hiking trails. 

>>Book a 5-Hour Hiking Tour of Meteora or Check Tour Reviews<<

Sunset Monastery Tour

If you’re an avid photographer and you’ll be staying overnight in Kalabaka, then a Meteora Sunset Tour is a great opportunity to see the sunset in one of the most beautiful places in the world. On the tour, you’ll go inside one or two monasteries while seeing all six. The tour includes hotel pick-up, so you won’t have to walk back down the rocks after sunset in the dark.

>>Book a Meteora Sunset Tour or Check Tour Reviews<<

From Athens

Greece - Athens - Monastiraki

Visiting Meteora is an ambitious day trip from Athens, but it can be done. Most people who choose to come on a guided Meteora tour from Athens will go on a  Meteora Full-Day Trip from Athens by Train (this is the way that I chose to visit Meteora).

For more about the logistics of how to do this day trip, read my guide: How to Go from Athens to Meteora on a Perfect Day Trip

>>Book a Meteora Full-Day Trip from Athens by Train or Check Tour Reviews<<

If you’ll be based in Athens and are trying to decide whether to visit Delphi or Meteora (my two favorite Athens day trips), you’ll be glad to know that you can actually do both! I did them as two separate day trips, but you could book them as a single Delphi and Meteora 2-Day Tour from AthensOn this tour, you travel from Athens to Delphi by bus, tour Delphi, and then spend the night in Kalabaka. The second day you tour Meteora and Thermopylae and then return to Athens. 

>>Book a Delphi and Meteora 2-Day Tour from Athens or Check Tour Reviews<<

From Thessaloniki

Greece - Thessaloniki - Tower - Pixabay

If you’ll be traveling from Thessaloniki, Allison wrote up her entire experience on how to do a day trip from Thessaloniki to Meteora. She went on this Guided tour of Meteora from Thessaloniki, which included hotel pick-up and drop-off. In Meteora, the tour visits two of the monasteries with photography opportunities to see all six.

>>Book a Guided tour of Meteora from Thessaloniki or Check Tour Reviews<<

Things to Know Before Your Meteora Tour

Here are the things we wish we knew before our Meteora tours.

1. The monasteries have a dress code…and they enforce it

Greece - Meteora

The monasteries are important religious sites to Orthodox believers. The official dress code of the monasteries is: 

No entry for men wearing shorts and for women wearing trousers, shorts, or sleeveless.

Make sure you have dressed appropriately. However, if you’ll also be coming as a day trip from Athens or Thessaloniki then you also need to dress comfortably for the long bus or train rides. I chose a dress with leggings, but it’s up to you what you wear so long as you follow the dress code. 

2. What happens if you show up and you aren’t following the dress code?

Greece - Meteora

Women who aren’t dressed appropriately will be given wraps to put around your legs (or arms if you’re sleeveless). You can see in the picture what they hand out in one of the monasteries.

I have no idea what they do if men show up in shorts, so I wouldn’t test it. 

3. Wear comfortable shoes that can handle slick staircases

Greece - Meteora - Monastery Winter

You’ll be walking up and down lots of staircases, many of which are slick if the weather is wet at all from rain or snow. You’ll be happy in shoes that have rubber soles or ones with some grip. I wore tevas, and Allison wore her sneakers. 

4. Even if you go on a guided tour, you need to bring some cash

Greece - Meteora - Monastery Winter

Your tour price does not include the cost to get into the monasteries (three Euros), souvenirs, or a tip for your guide. You’ll want to bring cash with you so that you can get in. Each monastery has a gift shop (and there are also booths outside some of them).

5. Guided tours will go to a few of the monasteries, but it’s nearly impossible to visit all six in one day

Greece - Meteora

First, not every monastery is open every day, so it is literally impossible to go inside all of them unless you stay the night. The opening hours for each monastery changes from season to season, so if you’ll be going on your own you want to check the updated monastery schedules. 

Most tours visit two or three monasteries, but they all show you where all six of them are and give you time to take photographs of them from the outside. 

6. You can tour Meteora year-round & each season has advantages

Greece - Meteora - Monastery Winter

I went in October when the hills were still green and lush, but there weren’t very many tourists. Allison went to Meteora in winter and got some beautiful photos of the monasteries in the snow. Spring is also a great time to visit because the weather is great but the crowds haven’t flocked to the country yet. In fact, April is one of my favorite months to be in Greece no matter where in the country I am.

We have an overview of when is the best time to visit Greece, but the bottom line is that it’s beautiful year-round. Summer is hot and crowded, but it’s also when the tourism industry is in full-gear and more monasteries are open longer. Autumn and spring are great weather with moderate crowds. Winter might bring you some gorgeous snow to enhance the scenery even more. I mean, you really can’t go wrong. 

7. Pay attention to your guide…and tip them at the end of the tour

Greece - Meteora - Day Tour from Athens with Meteora Thrones

Greek tour guides are some of the best in the world, and the reason is that (surprise) Greece has a lot of rules and bureaucracy about who can be a tour guide. This is why tours can be a tad more expensive than in other parts of the world, but you also come away from your tour with so much more information!

In Greece, it is standard to tip between two and five Euros per person per tour for public tours. Private tours usually have larger recommended tip rates (from ten to twenty Euros per person).

8. How to behave in the monasteries

Greece - Meteora

Remember that this is a holy place. Follow any rules that your tour guide tells you. Be respectful, especially since many of the tourists are Orthodox believers, and this is a holy site to them.

Unlike Orthodox churches I’ve been to in Moldova and the Caucasus, women are not required to cover their heads with a scarf before entering. 

9. Things to know about photographing Meteora

Greece - Meteora - Winter Monasteries

Most tours will show you the best photography sites. Some of the monasteries don’t allow photography inside the actual churches, though, so be respectful of the rules of photography in each one. If you forget and accidentally snap a picture, you may be asked to delete it. 

Light during golden hour and sunset is the best, but if you’re on a guided tour you can’t always control when you’ll be there. Just keep this in mind for what tour time you pick (though coming from Athens or Thessaloniki means you don’t have any options on tour times).

10. Ten things to put in your day bag

Greece - Meteora - Stephanie

You don’t want a huge, heavy day bag, but there are some essentials that you need to bring with you:

  1. Cash
  2. Sunscreen 
  3. Sunglasses
  4. Camera (I was happy to have a good zoom lens on mine for pictures of the monasteries that are further away)
  5. Cell Phone (for normal pics and you know you want some selfies)
  6. Back-up charging bank to keep your cell phone changed since you’ll be taking tons of photos
  7. Phone charging cable
  8. Tissues
  9. Hand Sanitizer
  10. Your tour voucher (print a hard copy or download it onto your phone if digital tickets are allowed)

Meteora Tours Mentioned in This Post

Here are all the tours we mentioned in this post in an easy-to-reference list. You can also read about our personal experiences taking Meteor tours in our posts about traveling from Athens to Meteora and from Thessaloniki to Meteora.

From Kalabaka (Kalambaka)

Half Day Monastery Tour

5-Hour Hiking Tour of Meteora

Meteora Sunset Tour

From Athens

Meteora Full-Day Trip from Athens by Train

Delphi and Meteora 2-Day Tour from Athens

From Thessaloniki

Guided tour of Meteora from Thessaloniki

Where to Stay in Kalambaka

Greece - Meteora

If you plan on staying overnight, you will want to book your accommodations in Kalabaka and Kastraki. For our hotel recommendations, budget means hostel beds for around $40 a night and singles/doubles for around $60, mid-range is from about $50-100 per night, and luxury will cost over $100 per night. However, note that availability, time of year, and how much in advance you book will play a role in how much accommodations cost near Meteora.

Budget: If you want a budget room in Kalabaka, check out the much-loved Aeolic Star Hotel. This two-star hotel is located in the middle of town, just steps from the train station. Each room has a private bathroom, and the terraces have great views of the rocks.

>>Book a room at Aeolic Star Hotel or Check Hotel Reviews<<

Mid-Range: For a comfortable and relaxed stay in Kalabaka at mid-range prices, stay at the Theatro Hotel OdysseonEach room is inspired by a different play, so you don’t know what’s in store for you until you’re in your room. The hotel features stunning views, a garden, and a restaurant on-site. Located less than a kilometer from the train and bus stations. 

>>Book a room at Theatro Hotel Odysseon or Check Hotel Reviews<<

Luxury: If you’re looking for luxury, stay at the four-star Meteora Hotel at KastrakiYou can enjoy the amazing views, swim in the hotel pool (which also features great views), and large, bright rooms which are great to relax in after a long day of hiking or exploring the monasteries. 

>>Book a room at Meteora Hotel at Kastraki or Check Hotel Reviews<<

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is essential for traveling in Greece, the Balkans, or anywhere in the world! Allison and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption. 

While Greece is perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel like theft or injury, so it’s better to play it safe. The saying goes “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel” is true!

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

Greece Travel Resources

Headed to Greece? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Greece and local tipping customs.

We have a lot of resources for visiting Meteora, including how to visit Meteora from Athens and from Thessaloniki. You can also read why we love visiting Meteora in winter. 

If you are still trying to figure out your itinerary, check out our guides on where to go in Greece and when is the best time to visit. 

If you’ll be spending time in Athens, check out our Athens Instagram Guide and our complete Athens hotel guide. If you’re looking for more suggestions for day trips, here is our guide to the best Athens day trips.

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Istanbul to Cappadocia: How to Get to Cappadocia From Istanbul Painlessly

If you’re planning to travel to Cappadocia – and you should! – you are likely starting your journey in Istanbul.

However, Turkey is a huge country, and Cappadocia isn’t exactly close to Istanbul. The distance between Istanbul and Cappadocia is a whopping 735 kilometers, so it takes about 9 hours to drive between the two.

There are a few ways to get from Istanbul to Cappadocia, so I’ll detail them all in this post, so you can figure out the best method for how to get to Cappadocia from Istanbul in terms of time, ease, and cost.

The Best Method to Get from Istanbul to Cappadocia: Flight

The easiest way to get from Istanbul to Cappadocia is definitely by flying, and it’s cheaper than you’d think. Due to the depressed Turkish lira, flights are often really affordable for people purchasing with stronger currencies like the dollar, pound, or euro.

There are two main airlines that serve the routes from Istanbul to Cappadocia: Turkish Airlines (often operated by AnadoluJet) and Pegasus. Prices vary, but they are generally in the $30-60 USD range, which is pretty affordable.

Getting from Istanbul to Istanbul Airport

Turkey - Istanbul - Ortakoy Mosque

There are two airports in Istanbul, and the main airport is brand new; Istanbul Ataturk Airport is now closed (thank god because that airport suuuuucked). Those two airports are Istanbul New (IST) and Sabiha Gökçen (SAW). Most flights from Istanbul to Cappadocia depart from Sabiha Gökçen, which is a bit closer to the city than the new airport.

The best way to get to Sabiha Gökçen is via the Havabus from Taksim Square, which costs 18 lira ($3 USD) and takes about 90 minutes.

To get to the new main Istanbul airport, you can take Havaist which also costs 18 lira, about $3 USD. These will depart from Taksim, Beşiktaş, and Sultanahmet as well as other destinations. The ride takes about 90 minutes to 2 hours depending on traffic.

Alternately, it may be less hassle (but higher cost) to book an inexpensive airport transfer. Here are shared shuttles to IST and private transfers to IST. For Sabiha Gökçen, you can take this private transfer.

From Kayseri Airport to Cappadocia Hotels

There are two airport options for arriving in Cappadocia: Nevşehir (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. These companies provide services to both Nevşehir and Kayseri; just specify when booking.

Whichever you opt for, they will easily and safely take you to your hotel without the hassle of haggling with a taxi driver upon landing or stressing out about public transportation. It’s a far better way to start your trip!

There are local buses, but I’ve never taken one so I can’t speak to my experience. As far as I’ve been able to research, you have to take a shuttle into Kayseri bus station and then onwards to Göreme, which is run by Kamil Koc and runs four times a day. Doing that would cost you about 10 euros total, so it’s cheaper than a spot on a shuttle but definitely more hassle. If you do this route – let us know how it goes for you in the comments!

From Nevşehir, I imagine you could do something similar – take a shuttle from the airport to city center and then catch a bus – but I wasn’t able to find any information online, nor did I fly into Nevşehir so I’m not familiar with that airport.

For that reason, I’m inclined to recommend a shared shuttle for budget travelers or a private transfer if you want a faster, more private means of getting to your hotel, say if you’re visiting Cappadocia with your loved one for a special occasion.

TL,DR: Is flying from Istanbul to Cappadocia worth it?

Yes, definitely! Even factoring in getting to the airport, checking in, and booking a transfer out to your final destination, it’s a lot more comfortable and relaxing to fly.

The Next-Best Method to Get From Istanbul to Cappadocia: Night Bus

Turkey - Canva - Cappadocia - Best Places to Visit in Turkey

If budget is a concern, a night bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia is not a bad option. Typically, a bus between these two destinations will cost about 130 lira, about $20 USD, so it’s cheaper than even the cheapest flight options.

However, it does take about 10 to 12 hours given how slow buses go, how many stops it makes, and how long the distance is between the two destinations are. But if you’re the kind of person who can knock out on a bus and get a decent night’s sleep (I envy you) this is a good option.

I haven’t done the night bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia, but I did take the night bus from Cappadocia to Pamukkale as the next leg of my trip. I was surprised by how comfortable the buses in Turkey are and they’re definitely a step above Balkan buses to be sure! They have some light snack and drink services included for free on long-distance buses, which I really appreciated, and they were good about stopping frequently for bathroom and leg-stretching breaks.

As a solo woman, in my personal experience, I felt safe traveling on a night bus alone. I generally feel very safe traveling through Turkey, but again, that’s just me and my own personal comfort levels.

I traveled on Pamukkale between Cappadocia and Denizli/Pamukkale and it was excellent, but as far as I know, they don’t service the Istanbul toCappadocia route. Instead, I’d opt for Kamil Koç which has a great reputation too. Metro is not recommended by Turkish locals, both for the lack of comfort as well as lax driving safety standards, so I’d skip them.

To do this trip, go to Istanbul Esenler Otogari (you can get there via the metro, M1 line) and then take a night bus to Cappadocia.

Here is the current schedule on Kamil Koç between Istanbul and Cappadocia

That will put you in Cappadocia arriving in the morning, so you can maximize your time and not waste a day of travel.

It’s really up to you what you find more comfortable, but I was happy that I chose the plane as it was a lot more comfortable than a night bus for me.

Getting from Istanbul to Cappadocia on a Guided Tour

Finally, the last option would be to do a guided excursion from Istanbul which would take care of all transportation costs. This is likely more expensive than booking each aspect independently but can be a great choice if the thought of planning your own Cappadocia itinerary, picking your own cave hotel, finding the best photography spots, and deciding the right tours to take seems overwhelming.

There are several options for tours to Cappadocia from Istanbul, so I’ll list the best two at different price points for different budgets.

This 2-day tour is the cheapest option which departs by overnight bus and covers all your transportation costs, entrance fees, accommodations, and meals except for dinner.

However, this tour doesn’t account for a hot air balloon ride so if that is your main reason for visiting Cappadocia is to do one, it wouldn’t be the right choice for you. Read more about the itinerary and inclusions here.

This 2-day tour is more expensive, but it goes by plane and also includes a hot air balloon ride and two full-day tours and one night in a boutique hotel accommodation. You’ll get to see the Göreme Open Air Museum, Uçhisar Castle, Cavasin “Ghost Town,” Ilhara Valley, Selime Monastery, Derinkuyu Underground City, and so much more – and of course, the famous hot air balloon at sunrise, which is one of my travel moments of all time.

It’s basically the ultimate, jam-packed Cappadocia itinerary for people who have limited time but want the most epic experience possible without the hassle of planning their own trip. I recommend it highly for busy travelers for whom time is more of a concern than money! Read more about the itinerary here.

Other Ways to Get from Istanbul to Cappadocia

There are a few other ways to get from Istanbul to Cappadocia, but none are really ideal.

There is no direct train between Istanbul and Cappadocia. However, if you wanted, you could take a bus to Gebze, then take the train from Gebze to Konya, and then take a bus from from Konya to Göreme. It seems like more hassle than it’s worth unless you’re like… super into trains.

Alternately, you could rent a car and drive, but clocking in at a minimum of 8 hours of driving time with nothing too exciting in between, it seems like this wouldn’t be a great choice, especially if you’d need to return to Istanbul by car later. The cost of gas alone would be at least $120 USD each way, so you wouldn’t really save much over flying in additional to the rental car and insurance costs.

List of Recommended Cappadocia Tours

If you’re planning your own Cappadocia itinerary, here are a few of the tour companies I recommend most. The *** indicates that I took that tour and deem it to be one of the best!

Transfers

Cappadocia: Shared Airport Transfer Service
Cappadocia Private Airport Transfers

Hot Air Balloons

Hot Air Balloon Tour of Cappadocia: Royal Queen Flight (60 minutes) ***
Cappadocia: Royal King Flight by Royal Balloon (90 minutes)

Excursions & Activites

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 Cappadocia & Turkey Travel Resources

If you want to travel to Cappadocia, we have this massive DIY Cappadocia itinerary post that will be helpful to read if you are not going on a guided excursion. If you’re curious about the most Instagrammable places in Cappadocia, we’ve got you covered. We’ve also written extensively about the best cave hotels for all budgets here in Cappadocia.

For Istanbul, we also have a ton of resources! 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. If you visit in winter, we have a special winter in Istanbul guide.

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.

We have tons more Turkey and Balkans resources, and we publish new content nearly daily. Bookmark our Turkey and Balkans travel pages so you can find any new resources that come out before your trip!

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 NomadsI’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.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.


How to Go from Athens to Meteora on a Perfect Day Trip

One of the highlights of my first trip to Athens was visiting the monasteries in Meteora. Getting from Athens to Meteora is a bit of a headache, but you can do it as a day trip if you want! While you might prefer to spend the night in Kalabaka to have extra time, for those who truly only have one day here’s how to do it. I’ve listed three different ways to go on a Meteora tour from Athens, plus Athens travel tips to help you plan your trip. 

Read: 17 Spectacular Day Trips from Athens, Greece

3 Ways to Visit Meteora from Athens

In order from easiest to most difficult…

Taking a Guided Meteora Tour from Athens

Greece - Meteora - Stephanie

Awkward monastery selfie!

This is what I chose to do. I went on the Meteora Full-Day Trip from Athens by TrainIt’s not a full guided tour because you still have to take the train on your own from Athens. Here’s how this tour works.

First, you book the tour, and the tour company gives you the information about which train you need to take. You’re responsible for following their instructions and getting on the train. I found the actual journey to be boring but pleasant. It’s about five hours there and six hours back, so this is a long day!

Make sure you bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Even at 8 am, this was one of the dirtiest bathrooms I’ve ever seen on a train. Plus someone had been smoking inside it and the sink was already clogged. You’ve been warned.

So why go on a guided tour if I had to deal with my own public transportation? Well see how high these monasteries are off the ground:

Greece - Athens - Meteora

This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen with my own two eyeballs

I never could have walked up there and back from the train station before the next train. There were only about four-five hours from when I arrived to when I had to leave. The guided tour helped me make sure I saw everything I wanted to.

There aren’t really taxis at the bottom either, so you can’t just hire a driver on the spot. If you wanted to do this, you’d need to pre-arrange it.

Basically, the medieval monks who built Meteora wanted it to be difficult to get to. Mission accomplished.

Once I arrived in Kalabaka, the tour company picked me and the rest of the people on our tour up. From here they drove us to the monasteries. We went inside and toured two of them, learned about the other four from the road, and had two stops for photo shoots. 

Greece - Meteora - Day Tour from Athens with Meteora Thrones

Learning about the monasteries on the tour bus

Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable about where we were. Tour guides in Greece have to be especially good because there are all these rules about who is allowed to be a guide. It’s also why the tours in Greece are a bit pricier than elsewhere: the guides have to know their stuff.

Not included in the tour price: train tickets, lunch, entrance to the monasteries (one was three Euros and the other had no cost). 

If I was in Athens and wanted to go back to Meteora, I would still want a guided tour or to stay overnight. It’s just not an easy place to see on your own if you’re short on time. 

>>Book a Meteora Tour from Athens or Check Tour Reviews<<

Taking Public Transportation from Athens to Meteora

Greece - Kalabaka Train Station

Catching the train back to Athens

Athens to Meteora by Train

Essentially you’ll do what I did, except once you get to Kalabaka you’ll need to figure out how to get to the monasteries.  Make sure you book the direct train that leaves from Athens Larissa station and arrives in Kalabaka (sometimes written Kalambaka). If you want to do this round trip, you’ll leave on the direct train that leaves around 8:30 am and go back on the train that leaves around 5:30 pm. Double check the exact times when you buy your ticket.

You can buy your tickets online and check schedules at Train OSE

Athens to Meteor by Bus

Another option is to travel from Athens to Meteora on the KTEL bus. I love Greece’s buses (I’ve used them all over, especially in Crete). One thing to keep in mind is that KTEL is not a nation-wide company. The buses are split up at the prefecture level.

Plus, if you go by bus then you won’t have any real time to explore because the trip will take longer. The journey will go from Athens to Trikala, and then you’ll change buses to Kalabaka. 

You can check schedules and book your tickets at KTEL

Self-Driving from Athens to Meteora

Greece - Meteora - Stephanie

This is the face of a girl who didn’t have to worry about driving on the crazy steep Meteora roads.

I love doing day trips DIY and renting a car. We wrote about how we love driving in Serbia because we got to see things that are not on the traditional tourist circuit. However, I don’t personally think I would ever want to drive to Meteora from Athens and back in one day. The drive is four hours each way before you account for traffic leaving and returning to Athens.

I am usually all up for a Balkan road trip, but I would personally only drive there from Athens as part of a larger road trip or at least an overnight. The cost of the rental car will most likely cancel out any saving you have on the tour after factoring in the rental cost, gasoline, and tolls. 

But if you insist on driving, like if you have a few people to drive and you’re borrowing a friends car or something, then go for it. Just make sure you have data and that you download the section of Google Maps so that you have access to the driving instructions if you lose connectivity in the mountains. 

Also, if you have a crippling fear of driving in the mountains, (like I do), then don’t be the driver. Have someone else on your trip cover that part. 

How to Follow the Meteora Dress Code

Greece - Meteora Dress Code

The Meteora dress code is no joke man.

You may be wondering what to wear to Meteora. There is a dress code, and it is strictly enforced: “No entry for men wearing shorts and for women wearing trousers shorts or short sleeves.”

Yes, women, that means you need to wear a dress. Otherwise, they’ll give you a wrap to wear in the monasteries that are, let’s say, not Instagrammable.

You should also wear sturdy shoes that can handle slick staircases and long hours walking on stone steps.

Another thing to consider is that you’ll either be on a train for eleven hours or in a car for nine hours. You want to wear clothes that are appropriate for the monasteries, something you want to be photographed in, and also something that you can wear on the train or in the car.

I chose leggings and a dress, but you know what works best for you. 

The Best Times to Visit Meteora

You can visit Meteora year-round. The crowds will be much higher in the summer, but even in October during my visit, it was quite crowded. I loved visiting Meteora in autumn because the weather was amazing.

Allison visited Meteora in winter and got some amazing photos of the monasteries covered in snow. Bottom line, there isn’t really a bad time to be in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Recommended Meteora Tour from Athens

There’s only one tour that we’re recommending for this day trip:

If you’re iinterestedin other guided day trips from Athens, check our Athens Day Trip guide.

Where to Stay in Athens

Greece - Athens - Anafiotika

 

If this is your first trip to Athens, figuring out where to stay in the city can be a bit intimidating. Because of the location of the Acropolis, it really matters which neighborhood you choose to stay in, especially if you’re looking for Acropolis views, easy access to the metro, and a good value for your money.

For our hotel recommendations, Generally, budget means hostel beds for around $30 a night and singles/doubles for around $50, mid-range is from about $50-100 per night, and luxury will cost over $100 per night. However, note that availability, time of year, and how much in advance you book will play a role in how much accommodations cost in Athens.

Budget: If you want a hostel dorm bed in the heart of Psyri, check out the Acropolis Hostel. This basic-yet-clean hostel boasts what very few in the world can: Acropolis views from its communal terrace. You’ll enjoy having access to an elevator (no lugging you bag all the way up to your room), and you can enjoy the lively neighborhood atmosphere and come home when you want since the hostel has no curfew. 

Check out reviews, pictures, prices, and availability here.

Mid-Range: For my most recent trip to Athens, we stayed in a couple of different places, but my favorite was the Ares Athens Hotel off of Omonia Square. I loved it’s location, close to Omonia station, across the street from a Coffee Island (my personal version of Heaven), and with views of Mount Lycabettus. The rooms are clean and comfortable, and each room has a private terrace. 

Check out reviews, pictures, prices, and availability here.

Luxury: If you are a traveler who loves having stunning hotel views, book a stay at A for Athens, a boutique hotel in Psyri that has what is considered by many to be the best rooftop bar in the city. You can also enjoy Acropolis views from the panoramic terrace during breakfast, You can even get amazing Acropolis and Parthenon views from some of the rooms. This hotel is basically Instagram crack. 

 

Check out prices, reviews, photos, and availability here.

Don’t see a hotel that’s the right pick for you? Check out our complete Athens Neighborhood and Hotel Guide.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is essential for traveling in Greece, the Balkans, or anywhere in the world! Allison and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption. 

While Athens is perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel like theft or injury, so it’s better to play it safe. The saying goes “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel” is true!

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

Greece Travel Resources

Headed to Greece? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Greece and local tipping customs.

If you are still trying to figure out your itinerary, check out our guides on where to go in Greece and when is the best time to visit. 

If you’ll be spending time in Athens, check out our Athens Instagram Guide and our complete Athens hotel guide. If you’re looking for more suggestions for day trips, here is our guide to the best Athens day trips.

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Planning a trip to Sofia? Check out our best free trip planning resources