Cappadocia! Of all the places we have been to in the world and in Turkey, visiting Cappadocia really stands out! From fairy chimneys to cave hotels and underground cave cities there is something for everyone. It is like nothing we have ever seen! When we first drove into Göreme we were blown away by the fascinating but unreal landscape that you will see in Cappadocia. So when you are thinking about where to go in Turkey, Cappadocia just has to be on your itinerary.
The area of Cappadocia is absolutely huge and you could spend weeks exploring this alien landscape and still see only a small part. So why is this area so unique? Well, we have to go back a long way, right back to ancient volcanic eruptions. The strange rock formations were created through millennia of intense volcanic eruptions and activity.
The fairy chimneys that you can see all over this martian-like landscape are made of two types of rock. The hard rock which doesn’t erode easily and the ‘tuff’ rock (unlike its name) erodes fairly easily. The erosion of the tuff rock has left behind some truly unique landscapes that can only be seen in a few places around the world.
Not only is it an incredible place to visit and explore but it has been home to people for over 3,800 years! Dating back to 1800 BC when the first settlers came here, known as the Hittites.
People have been carving away at the tuff rock to create and wonderland of human-created cave networks, living quarters, storerooms, churches and many more intricate cave-rooms. There are even complex towns under the surface going down eight stories below ground!
What is really interesting about this fascinating area in Anatolia is that many residents still live in these cave houses and you can even stay in one of the many ‘cave hotels’! It is a really unique experience and you are not short of choices of where to stay in Cappadocia, regardless of your price range.
Most people visiting Cappadocia tend to only stay two to four days and cram in as much as possible. Of course, if you are short on time this is a good way to see ‘everything’. However, if you know us, we like to stay places a little longer to get a feel for the cities, towns or countryside we are visiting and Cappadocia is a perfect place to do this.
You could spend weeks here exploring and still only see a small part of the 5,000 square kilometre area spanning three regions: Nevşehir, Kayseri and Niğde.
This is why we feel you should plan for a least five days to get to know some of the locals or find those little hidden gems that most people will miss out on with their hectic schedules being shuffled from sight to sight.
Top things to do when visiting Cappadocia
There are so many places and things to do in Cappadocia when you visit so we will just stick to the different areas that we visited during our time there. Please feel free to recommend any places that we have missed in the comments below so other people can also visit them.
1. Göreme Open Air Museum
Göreme Open Air Museum should probably one of your first stops when you arrive in Cappadocia. However, being the Timezone Junkies and seeing the bus loads of people going in when we arrived we decided to skip it and do our own Cappadocia trip and tour!
We arrived at 10 am and it was incredibly busy but if you were to arrive at opening time, 8 am, you may well have this outstanding open air museum all to yourself.
Inside you will find a spectacular array of rock-cut churches, chapels and monasteries. In the religious caves themselves you will also find beautiful frescos, some still in very good condition dating back to the 11th century!
Other travellers we have met said we missed out by not going inside, so don’t make the same mistake we did! We will be going in next time we visit, that is for sure! That said there are still plenty of things to do in Göreme.
You can see Uçhisar from almost every angle in the area. This is because of the precariously perched Uçhisar Castle sitting atop the village below. It We didn’t go up to the castle but to see it from below is already pretty impressive. If you were to head up to the castle you would definitely be rewarded with amazing panoramic views of the area especially for sunrise.
From what we have read about the castle itself there seems to be a maze of criss-crossing underground passages which, unfortunately, many are now impassable. At one point there were 1,000 people living in this 60 metre high, carved-out, mountain castle. Incredible!
Monk’s Valley, also known as Paşabağ, is quite possibly the most famous site in Cappadocia. Its fairy chimneys are remarkable and some of the most picturesque off all the chimneys in the area.
Here you will find plenty of tourists taking an uncountable amount of Instagram pictures! With reason of course, it is something very special. We were blown away when walking around Paşabağ.
It also has some pretty interesting history behind it too. Apparently some of the monks used to live in the chimneys as hermits! They would hollow out the chimneys from the bottom to the top thus creating rooms up to 15 metres high!
You can actually see this when you are there and even go in, assuming there isn’t a bus load of tourists waiting to climb up. Probably best to head to this spot early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
4. The Valley of Swords
We accidentally stumbled upon Sword’s Valley when we decided not to head into Göreme Open Air Museum. We walked off the road on the opposite side and realised there was a lot to see here for free. Right there, on the other side of the road from the museum you can find old chapels, passages between different rooms and even some frescos!
This is actually one of the smaller valleys in Cappadocia, but don’t let that fool you, it is still worth wandering around and making your own archaeological discoveries! We even read that there is a 300 metre tunnel but we never found it. You will also find plenty of fairy chimneys here, of course.
5. Pigeon Valley
As the name insinuates, this valley is famous for pigeons. Why pigeons you ask? Well, back in the day pigeons were useful to have around for several reasons. They were used as message carriers, of course, but not only that. Their droppings could be used as fertiliser and possibly even for making explosives!
It isn’t too obvious where you should go to get to pigeon valley so we found this blog useful. Unfortunately, in true Timezone Junkies style, we took a wrong turn and ended up heading towards Uçhisar and missing out on all the dovecotes (carved out pigeon houses on the rocks and cliffs)!
6. Avanos (Pottery)
Our trip to Avanos was rather interesting, but we will get into that in a minute. So, what is Avanos? It is a small town on the banks of the river Kızılırmak (Red River). This river is famous for being red due to the huge amount of red clay. This in turn has made this town famous for one thing. Yes, you guessed it, Pottery!
Back to the story mentioned before. We were leaving Monk’s Valley and trying to get a ride back to Göreme, when a car stopped with three guys inside. We told them where we were heading and in true hitchhiking style they told us to get in (language barriers unimportant) and off we drove.
It wasn’t until we passed the junction for Göreme that we realised we weren’t going the right direction! We decided to go with it and it turned out to be a great decision.
They took us into Avanos and showed us some of the highlights and even took us into a pottery shop which tuned out to be a complete labyrinth! The pottery was VERY impressive and we would have loved to have bought some, however backpacking and hitchhiking would have made it kind of tricky to grab some souvenirs!
7. İbrahim Paşa
This was not on our list of places to visit whilst in Cappadocia, in fact we hadn’t even heard of it! We were very lucky to have had the chance to visit this little village that very few tourists go to. It is definitely not on the list for all the tour buses.
We happened upon this small village when we were picked up by Osman, who has since become a friend of ours, and he ended up giving us a little tour of some of the different places in Cappadocia that we hadn’t seen!
İbrahim Paşa is still a fairly quiet little town two kilometres from the main road between Ürgüp and Nevşehir. Wandering around this quaint town you will see few tourists and get a glimpse into the old life of the Cappadocia region.
However, in the last few years locals are realising that this sleepy little town could benefit from tourism so get there soon before it is too late!
8. Stay in a Cappadocia Cave Hotel!
This is something everyone visiting Cappadocia should do! There are so many options to choose from, but not only that there are rooms for all types of budget. If your looking for a simple cave room to sleep in you can find it! If you are looking to splurge on a beautiful room with amazing views of the area, no problem!
Cappadocia is also an Instagramer’s dream with many hotels perfectly set up for those cliche pictures with balloons in the background!
So, where should you stay in Cappadocia? Well, first of all, we want to be totally honest about our time in Cappadocia. We actually stayed here with a Couchsurfing host that worked at one of the cave hotels. They had a quaint garden area in one of the small valleys in Göreme and we were allowed to stay in a really unusual place.
With that being said, we did hang out A LOT with our host at the hotel he worked at. We were welcomed by the owner and his father and felt like family right away.
9. Visit an underground city!
There are plenty of choices when it comes to underground cities in the area and we don’t imagine any of them will disappoint you as they are impressive feats of engineering and allowed for cities to live underground! What’s not to like?!
We decided to visit Derinkuyu Underground City as it is apparently the largest excavated underground city in Turkey! It extends to an approximate depth of 60 metres and could have sheltered as many as 20,000 people with their livestock and supplies! Not bad! Unfortunately, you can only go in about half of the tunnels as the rest are not accessible.
There is so much history behind Derinkuyu Underground City and you can read more about it here. We had a great time exploring the underground city and would love to visit more in the area next time we are in Cappadocia!
10. Go in a hot air balloon or watch the balloons at Sunrise?
The most recognisable pictures of Cappadocia will, of course, include hot air balloons and most people coming will have planned to do a hot air balloon ride and why wouldn’t they? Well, recently the prices went up. The Cappadocia hot air balloon prices are currently between 120$ and 200$ (2019) depending on what kind of experience you would like. The more expensive flights would involve less people per balloon and you might even get a glass of champagne upon landing!
Instead of going on a hot air balloon we decided to watch the sunrise and balloons take off from the sunrise spot just outside Göreme. It was an interesting experience and it was quite funny to see the lengths people go to just to get that perfect Instagram shot.
People took blankets up there as well as their quilts from the hotel and posed so gracefully. Others were wearing skimpy dresses, which was particular impressive considering it was really cold at 6 am!
Back to the point, it was something very special and we really enjoyed being up their witnessing the sun coming up from behind the mountain and all of the hot air balloons firing up below in the valley! Just take a look at some of the photos to see how amazing it is!
Organised tour or a D.I.Y. Tour when visiting Cappadocia?
So you have arrived in Cappadocia and aren’t sure where to start. Most people will opt for one or more of the three tours available. All these tours are available from all of the tour agencies around Göreme and the other towns in the area. The tours are labelled by colours; red, green and blue.
The Red Tour Cappadocia mainly focuses on the Central part of the area (northern region) and covers the must see spots in Cappadocia; the Open Air Museum, some of the valleys and of course the famous mushroom shaped fairy chimneys mentioned above. You would also be visiting Göreme, Uçhisar and Avanos.
The Green Tour Cappadocia is a longer tour covering the southern part of Cappadocia. Many people chose this tour as it visits Ihlara Valley which is famous for a large amount of ancient churches carved in the volcanic rocks as well as visiting Derinkuyu Underground City.
The Blue Tour Cappadocia is a little different as it goes to more villages and tends to cover a more ‘off-the-beaten-track’ side of Cappadocia. It goes to Mustafaşa and Soğanlı valleys which are apparently some of the most beautiful hiking spots in the area and are home to domed churches and caverns.
You can also find bicycle tours and hiking tours arranged through hotels, guest houses and tour agencies. No doubt all of these tours are great and you will meet other travellers whilst doing it and have a good time exploring the area with a guide.
However, we are more into D.I.Y. Tours. Cappadocia is a great place to do this and you can go almost anywhere and nobody will say anything. It is a great place to explore on foot, by bicycle, by car or even by using hitchhiking (our preferred method of transport). If you don’t feel comfortable hitchhiking you can always rent a car for a fairly reasonable price (depending on the time of year).
So, what’s our recommendation? A do it yourself Cappadocia tour of the area. This is an especially good option if you are planning to spend more than one or two days in the area as you can take your time to find all the nooks and crannies and hidden spots of Cappadocia!
Where to stay when visiting Cappadocia?
As you will have worked out by now Cappadocia is a huge place therefore there are plenty of options for places to stay. You don’t have to stick to Göreme as we mentioned earlier but you also have the choices of plenty of other towns and cities around the area.
Göreme is probably the most popular place to stay in Cappadocia and is the heart of tourism in the area. You will also find the main bus station here as well as wide selection of restaurants and an uncountable amount of hotels in Cappadocia catering to all budgets including our favourite Antique Terrace Hotel. From Goreme it is possible to walk to the Open Air Museum as well as Sword’s Valley.
Ürgüp is similar to Göreme but a little more upscale and it might be the right place for you to stay if you are looking for something a little more sophisticated compared to Göreme. It is also the main producer of wine for the region and is apparently a great place to dine out.
Avanos which we talked about earlier in this post is the home of pottery in Cappadocia and you can get lost inside some of the shops with their tiny passages leading to many little rooms full of colourful pottery! Avanos however, is a bit of a drive from the popular sights in Cappadocia so it is worth bearing that in mind. There are lots of restaurants and options of places to stay.
Uçhisar is the town closest to Nevşehir and famous for its castle sitting atop the mountain which we mentioned here. From Uçhisar you will get spectacular views of the area and is home to many luxury hotels and apartments. If that is up your street then this is the place for you!
When to visit Cappadocia?
Your experience of Cappadocia really depends on what time of year you visit. We were there around the middle to end of May and the temperature was very pleasant. During the day it was warm and sunny and the evenings/mornings were quite fresh. We would definitely recommend this time of year.
We would say that Spring and Autumn are the best times of year to visit Cappadocia for several reasons. Firstly, it is peak season so you can avoid the price increases that happen during the summer and secondly, the weather is much more comfortable.
If you were to travel to Cappadocia during the Summer you would be dealing with some very hot weather (32°C in August) as well bus loads of tourists coming from different holiday areas when they visit Turkey. Not only that but you would have to pay higher prices in general at this time of year.
Travelling to Cappadocia in the Winter will be quite challenging and VERY cold! That being said it could be seen as a good time to visit as the prices for accommodation and activities will be lower and you might even get to see the area covered in snow would be a reason alone to visit the area at this time of the year. Just make sure you bring some warm clothes.
How to get to Cappadocia?
If you are going to travel from Istanbul to Cappadocia (check which airport in Istanbul as they have just completed a new one) you can fly to both Nevşehir and Kayseri with Turkish Airlines or you can fly with Pegasus Airlines to Kayseri. Both airlines have multiple flights per day depending on what time is best for you.
There are a few companies that run overnight buses from Istanbul to Cappadocia. It is an affordable way to travel between the two places, however it is also the most time consuming option. The over night bus takes around 10 hours. The buses themselves are fairly comfortable and better than most night buses you will go on.
If you wanted to get an over night bus from Izmir to Cappadocia, there only seems to be one company that runs this service and it takes around 12-13 hours. Kamil Koç runs this service and it costs around 20$ per person and it drops you off in Göreme.
Check out our video from Cappadocia!
Not already inspired to head over to Cappadocia? Well, check out our video below to see what we thought of Cappadocia and what we did when we were there.
We had a great time in Cappadocia and would love to go back again soon and this time stay for a least a month to explore and soak up the atmosphere of this incredible location.
We hope that you have found this guide to be helpful. There are many more things to see and do in the area and these suggestions are all based on our experiences and we would love to hear any ideas in the comments below.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact us and we will do our best to answer them to the best of our abilities!
Have a great time in Cappadocia!
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