Known for its fairytale landscape and hot air balloon rides, Cappadocia has fascinating history. As a result, there's a lot to explore in this beautiful region, from underground cities and cave churches to hidden valleys caravanserais.
There's a lot to see and do in Cappadocia and organised day tours are a popular way to explore the region. Saying that, it's also easy to do these activities independently if you have your own transport.
Here are just a few things you should do during your trip to Cappadocia.
For the postcard view of Cappadocia, fly over this surreal landscape in a hot air balloon.
Even if you only have one day in Cappadocia, a hot air balloon ride should be on your list. Up in the air you’ll get an unparalleled view of Cappadocia’s fairy chimneys and valleys, as well as the other balloons.
If flying in a balloon isn’t for you, still get up early one morning to watch them hover over the valleys as the sun rises. It’s a spectacular view.
Book your balloon ride before you go, otherwise get recommendations from your hostel or hotel to be sure you choose a reputable company.
Visiting an ancient, underground city is one of the most intriguing things to do in Cappaodocia. Thought to have been initially created by Phoenicians in the 8th-7th centurIes BCE, these underground caves were enlarged by early Christians under the Roman Empire.
In subsequent centuries some cities were used as sanctuaries for Arab Muslims in the Arab–Byzantine wars. They were later used by Christians during the Mongolian invasion and by locals under the Ottoman Empire.
There are over 200 underground cities in Cappadocia. The largest is Kaymakli with a large variety of rooms and underground passage, while Derinkuyu has multiple levels and was thought to have housed up to 20,000 people, along with their food stores and livestock.
Most people visit the underground cities as part of one of the Cappadocia day tours, however, you can also visit them independently if you wish.
Visit Goreme Open Air Museum to walk through a range of churches, chapels and monasteries carved into the fairy chimneys from the 10th to 13th centuries. Many of these churches have beautiful frescos painted on the walls.
If you go for hikes through Cappadocia, you're likely to see more cave churches, often with colourful frescos still visible. The region is dotted with them and some are very well preserved, however the frescoes on display at the museum are remarkable.
It's well worth visiting the museum even if you have seen several cave churches on your trip. If you don't want to do the popular full-day Goreme tour, you can just take a walk to the museum and buy tickets at the door.
Wander through valleys studded with fairy chimneys, interesting rock formations and hidden churches. There are many hiking trails in Cappadocia and each comes with beautiful views and special characteristics.
Popular places for hiking include Rose Valley, Red Valley and Pigeon Valley, all easily accessible from Goreme. You can do a guided hike through the Red and Rose Valley, however, hiking independently is also easy.
If you want to go a bit further afield, head to Ilhara Valley, a canyon about an hour's drive from Goreme, and walk surrounded by forest, pretty fairy chimneys and towering cliffs.
One of the most remarkable things about visiting Cappadocia is seeing people living in buildings carved from the same rock as the ancient cave churches and houses. In the towns, many hotels are carved into the rock, offering visitors the opportunity to stay in cave rooms themselves.
These rooms are quaint and are often beautifully decorated and quite luxurious. Many of the hotels offer incredible views over the surrounding areas and are especially enchanting at night when you can see the twinkling lights in the cliffs around you.
Early mornings are also magical, when you can enjoy breakfast on a terrace with hundreds of colourful balloons suspended in the sky above you.
If you aren’t going to Konya, take the opportunity to see a traditional Sema or whirling dervishes ceremony in Cappadocia. These ceremonies incorporate dance, symbolic dress and music, and represent the spiritual journey to reach perfection.
Watch the traditional ceremony at the Saruhan Caravanserai, a 13th Century building on the Silk Road, for a truly unique experience. Just keep in mind that no photography, cheering or applause is allowed during the ceremony.
If you’re looking for a shorter glimpse of the whirling dervishes, they perform at the tourist Turkish Nights in Cappadocia. These shows feature folk performances from the seven regions of Turkey and usually include dinner, drinks and belly dancing.
It's completely different to a traditional Sema, but guests often find it entertaining and very accessible.
On the edge of Göreme National Park lies the settlement of Uçhisar and its major attraction, Uçhisar Castle. Dating to the 12th Century and rising 60-metres high, the castle-mountain dominates the landscape as you approach the town.
Originally home to a thousand people, Uçhisar Castle is a large tower, with several underground passageways and rooms.
The castle once housed families and later served as cloisters in Byzantine times. Now, the rooms and passages are now generally blocked and there is little to see inside the castle today.
Instead, it is the view at the top of Uçhisar Castle which is the highlight of the visit, overlooking the town and fairy chimneys of the national park.
Famed for its fairy chimneys, Pasabagi Valley (also known as Monk’s Valley) is on the road between Goreme and Avanos. This valley’s claim to fame is the refuges for monks which were carved into the soft rock cones.
The monks hollowed out the soft volcanic tuff inside the pillars and created narrow staircases leading up to the cone-shaped shelters which they used as living quarters. St Simeon was one of the monks which took refuge in a valley, his home 15 metres above the ground.
Crawl inside the rock and climb the staircases to for magnificent views of the area. You can also visit a chapel dedicated to St Simeon and see abandoned hermit cave homes in the area.
A traditional dish in this area, the testi kebab is a rich stew cooked slowly in a small clay pot (“testi” means clay). The dish is served in the sealed pot, which your waiter will crack with a little hammer, and lift the “lid” to reveal your dinner.
Traditionally, testi kebabs are cooked slowly in the coals of a tandoor oven, the filling usually containing lamb or beef and vegetables. While testi kebabs are available throughout Turkey, it’s worth trying it in Cappadocia.
While some restaurants will make it to order, you really want the stew to simmer slowly over several hours. Busier restaurants in Cappadocia will prepare the dish early, others will let you order it advance – if in doubt, give them a call to check before you go.
Not far from Uschisar Castle is yet another beautiful valley in Cappadocia. Offering the ubiquitous fairy chimneys, scattered trees and lovely views, Pigeon Valley is named after the thousands of pigeon houses carved into the soft stone.
The fairy chimneys in this valley were carved into bird houses and then painted white to attract the birds. The droppings were then used to fertilise the surroundings vineyards and farms.
Pigeons have been recording in the region as far back as the 9th Century and you can still see pigeons here today.
As well as walking through Pigeon Valley, you can head up to the hill and see the famous “Evil Eye Tree” while you admire the view of the valley from above.
Originally a Greek village, the historic town of Cavusin is about 5km north of Goreme. Due to falling boulders, most residents have moved to the new town, however the old village is still worth visiting.
There you'll find the Church of John the Baptist, the largest cave church in Cappadocia, which dates back to the 5th Century. While not as well-preserved as some of the churches at the Open-Air Museum in Goreme, it's size is still impressive and you can see the huge original pillars.
There are also lovely views of the village from the church. As you leave the church, you can also see a stunning panoramic view of the new town and the entrance into Rose Valley.
Situated on the banks of the Kızılırmak (the Red River), is the town of Avanos, known for its long pottery tradition. Pottery has been produced in the area since 2,000 BCE, with the river supplying the red clay used by local craftsmen.
There are many family-run potteries in town where pottery is made by hand. It takes years of experience to become a skilled potter and the handmade pottery of Avanos is exceptionally beautifully.
Rather than visiting as part of a tour, try wandering through the town at your leisure, admiring the artwork as you go. Just try to avoid the tourist shops if you're interested in buying local pottery yourself - instead opt for one where the pottery is made on-site.
At the end of Ilhara Valley, Selime Monastery is the largest and most elaborate cave complex in Cappadocia. The fortress-monastery is dated from 8th and 9th centuries and served as both the military headquarters for the region and an education centre for clergyman.
The Byzantine settlement spans multiple levels and includes a cathedral, two halls, a large kitchen and numerous other rooms designed around two adjacent courtyards. The frescoes in the monastery date from the late 10th and early 11th centuries and show the Ascension, Annunciation and Mother Mary.
Combine a visit to the site with a walk through the beautiful Ilhara Valley. The site is a museum and there is an entry fee for visiting.
Last Updated 4 September 2023