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 13 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.
Giggle at the excited rocks of Love Valley
Easily one of the quirkier things to do in Cappadocia, though quite popular, is to take photos with the fairy chimneys of the euphemistically-named Love Valley, which derives its name from the phallic rocks which stand at um, attention, throughout the valley.
It’s a great place for a strange selfie (new Tinder profile pic, anyone?) but it’s also just a lovely place to walk around and enjoy the otherworldly landscapes of Cappadocia.
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 Love Valley for 4 kilometers and it 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 up to Uçhısar Castle (at sunrise if you can!)
Not like any castle you’ve ever seen before, the Uçhısar Castle is nonetheless extremely special. While not really technically a castle, it’s truly an impressive site. it was used for centuries by villagers as a place of refuge when enemy armies overtook the surrounding plains
It’s composed entirely of rock, which you can ascend through winding stairs that pass by cave homes and tunnels that have been used by the local people for centuries. It’s one of the best places to watch the hot air balloons rise over the valleys at sunrise, so if you’re staying in Uçhısar you should definitely make it a point to wake up early one morning and walk up there.
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 and it’s the definite highlight of the popular Green Tour circuit of Cappadocia. Check out the tour here.
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.