Balloons over Cappadocia
travel guide

Cappadocia: discovering Turkey's fairytale land

You’ve seen the romantic pictures of hot air balloons floating above rock formations and beautiful breakfasts in an airy hotel room with sweeping views. And so, you’ve decided to visit Cappadocia.

In the middle of arid plains, Cappadocia looks like a fairytale kingdom, with rock chimneys and winding valleys, hidden churches and underground cities and luxurious cave hotels. The tourist town of Goreme is small and beautiful with sophisticated infrastructure. And all around, is whimsical, magical scenery and long walks through enchanting places.

Here is all you need to know to plan your trip to this fascinating part of the country.

Balloons over Cappadocia at sunrise

How to get to Cappadocia

If you want to head to Cappadocia from Istanbul, the quickest and cheapest way to to fly. There are regular flights to Kayseri Airport, which is a short drive or bus ride to the major towns of Ürgüp and Göreme. You can also hire a car from the airport or take a private transfer if you prefer.

Another, cheaper option is to take the overnight bus. The buses are relatively comfortable and stop often at modern bus stations with good facilities, however, don't expect to get a full night's sleep.

If you want to travel to Cappadocia from Pamukkale, you can also take overnight buses from Denizli bus station, arriving in Göreme around sunrise.

Best time to visit Cappadocia

Cappadocia can get very hot in summer and extremely cold in winter (although photos of Cappadocia in the snow look magical) so autumn and spring are the best times to visit. You’ll end up spending quite a lot of time outdoors in Cappadocia, and there are some beautiful hiking trails in the region, so going during more temperate weather is a good idea.

Tree adorned with nazar (charms against the evil eye) in Cappadocia

How to get around Cappadocia

There’s a lot to do in Cappadocia, but it’s a large region and a lot of the sites aren’t easily accessible by public transport. So, unless you want to spend a lot of your trip navigating buses, I’d suggest hiring a car if you want to travel independently. Otherwise, there are a number of day trip options which allow you to explore different parts of the region in a relatively affordable way. The day trips are run by qualified tour guides who can give you more insight into the history and culture of the region.

Autumn trees in Pigeon Valley
Rose Valley in Cappadocia

Things to do in Cappadocia

Staying in Cappadocia you're surrounded by nature, so it should come as no surprise that hiking and walking are near the top of the list of things to do here - along with quintessential hot air balloon ride, of course.

However, there are also many historical and cultural landmarks to explore, so don't be surprised if cave churches and hidden cities find their way onto your itinerary. Here are just a few of the most popular things to do in Cappadocia.

  • Hiking through Pigeon or Rose Valley: You can go with a guide or by yourself - just remember to take water with you

  • Exploring one of the fascinating underground cities, used by early Christians

  • Going up a hot air balloon to watch the sunrise from the air - and get the perfect Cappadocia photo

  • Visit the Goreme Open Air Museum - an easy and accessible way to see cave churches with colourful frescos

  • Getting a small taste of local culture at a Cultural Night: There's a good chance you'll find yourself at one of these... just be warned that these are very touristy!

There's a lot to see and do in Cappadocia and organised day tours are a popular way to explore the region. For more ideas, read our article on things to do in Cappadocia.

The Derinkuyu underground city is an ancient multi-level cave city in Cappadocia, Turkey.

Where to stay in Cappadocia

There are a few small towns in Cappadocia with good accommodation options, however the most popular places to stay are Göreme and Ürgüp. Cave hotels are popular, where rooms are carved out of the soft volcanic rock. Many are beautifully decorated and staying in a cave hotel is a wonderful experience while you're visiting Cappadocia.

Göreme

Goreme is a pretty, little tourist village in the midst of the valley. It’s easy walking distance to the Goreme Open Air Museum and a couple of valleys. You’ll find budget and mid-range hotels here, along with a good selection of cafes and restaurants. It’s definitely a good choice if you don’t have car, and you’ll see the magical Cappadocia landscape all around you. It can get busy in the middle of summer, but it’s very pleasant during the shoulder season.

Stay at the beautiful Kelebek Special Cave Hotel in Goreme and try their farm breakfast

Goreme at night

Ürgüp

Ürgüp is one of the larger towns in the region and offers a mix of traditional and modern accommodation options. Once again, there’s good restaurants, cafes and shops, with the addition of some nightlife options. There are also some more luxury hotels in Ürgüp if you wanted a more high-end experience.

Stay at the Kayakapi Premium Caves hotel and make sure to find time to relax in the pool

Uchisar

Uchisar is the highest point in Cappadocia and many hotels have amazing views. It’s a little less touristy than Goreme and much quieter. Day trips frequently stop in Uchisar, but fewer people choose to stay here when they visit.

Stay at the Hotel Taskonaklar Cappadocia and take in the stunning surroundings

Cavusin

For a more off-the-beaten track experience, Cavusin is a good option. It’s located within the Goreme National Park and is home to a few boutique hotels. This is good for hiking, but you may want to hire a car if you stay here.

Stay in Azure Caves Suites in the middle of the national park

A Turkish breakfast at a farm in Cappadocia
Walking down the steps in Pigeon Valley

What to eat in Cappadocia

During your time in Cappadocia, you’re sure to come across the testi kebab. 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.

Other than that, you’ll find foods similar to the rest of Turkey: kebabs of different types, pide bread, dried fruit and nuts. Aside, a type of grape molasses, is another Cappadocian speciality. What stood out for me was the quality of the honey and Greek yoghurt in Cappadocia. There is also a long history of wine production in Cappadocia, so you may one to taste a couple of local varieties while you’re there.

The lights of Goreme at night

Best views in Cappadocia

This is a long list. The overall best view is probably when you’re in the hot air balloon, looking down at the incredible landscape. If you want to stay on land, there are still a number of places with amazing views:

  • Sunset Point in Goreme – look over the valley and into the tiny caves in the distant fairy chimneys

  • Fairy chimneys in Love Valley – yes, they are quite phallic looking

  • Uchisar castle – the best thing about this attraction is the view from the top… absolutely magical

  • Red Valley – the best place for sunsets

  • Pigeon Valley – just wander through the valley and look around.

  • Many of the hotels in Goreme and Uchisar also have spectacular views.

Fairy chimneys in Cappadocia

Cappadocia with children

With its wealth of outdoor activities, interesting views and cave hotel rooms, Cappadocia is a wonderful place to travel with children. From walks through canyons and forests, to hidden churches and underground cities, exploring Cappadocia is a real adventure.

Saying this, it would definitely be a more of a challenge with little children – those under six may struggle with walking the longer distances, or navigating the tunnels in underground cities. In other words, they’ll probably be fine, but be prepared to carry them a fair amount while you’re out and about. The terrain isn’t suitable for prams, but younger children in a front pack will be fine.

Cave buildings in Cappadocia, Turkey

There is also a bit of driving to get to some sites, although the distances aren’t usually too far. Older children may also enjoy the opportunity to ride in a hot air balloon or try out a Turkish bath.

Cappadocia is a place where people are friendly and children can have the freedom to run around and explore. In Goreme and the smaller villages, there aren’t too many cars, so walking is fairly safe. We saw a number of children on our trip there and one family in particular said their highlights were the hot air balloon ride and the beautiful organic farm breakfast offered by our hotel. When my little boy is a bit older, we’ll definitely be taking him to Cappadocia.

Final thoughts

Cappadocia is a fascinating destination and fully deserves a place on any Turkey itinerary. Many people only spend a couple of days there and focus on the area around Göreme, however, there is a huge amount to do in Cappadocia and it's worth taking the extra time to fully explore the region.

Cappadocia is also a great starting point for travels further east and south into Turkey. Consider continuing your trip with a journey to the ancient ruins of Mount Nemrut and on to the fascinating cities of Gaziantep and Urfa.

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Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet and The Culture Trip. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.

Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.

Last Updated 11 November 2022

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