Cappadocia Travel Guide: Things to do in Cappadocia, Turkey

A Cappadocia balloon ride may be the most famous activity, but it's not the only thing to do in the area.

The area known as Cappadocia stretches across Anatolia, further east than Ankara, Turkey. Known for the unique rock formations called “fairy chimneys,” cave hotels, and hot air balloon rides, Cappadocia is a popular destination for luxury travelers, couples and Instagrammers. But don’t worry — even if you’re a solo traveler, on a budget, you can still enjoy this remarkable part of the world with my Cappadocia travel guide!

 

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How to get to Cappadocia

 

Wondering how to get to Cappadocia? Flying is the fastest way, but you can also take a bus from many other cities in Turkey.
An Istanbul to Cappadocia flight will save you tons of time — it’s a 12-hour overnight bus trip.

 

The easiest way to get from Istanbul to Cappadocia is to fly. The closest airport is in Nevşehir. Kayseri Airport is a bit further afield, but also has flights to and from Izmir — convenient if you’re coming from Ephesus. You can pick up a shuttle bus to your final destination from both airports (book in advance).

 

Flights on Turkish Air and Pegasus Airlines are insanely cheap — an Istanbul to Cappadocia flight often costs as little as $25. The flights take about an hour and a half.

 

Alternatively, you can take a (long overnight) bus to Cappadocia. You’ll probably arrive at the main bus station in Nevşehir, where you can transfer to a free serviis to your final destination. Beware of scammers at the Nevşehir bus station. The bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia is often more expensive than flying, but it may be a good option if you’re traveling from Ankara or further east.

 

Important towns for Cappadocia travel

 

Cappadocia refers to the entire region covered by fairy chimneys and historic caves. But within the region are a number of towns where you’ll find the main Cappadocia travel amenities and attractions.

 

Göreme

 

Göreme Turkey is the center of Cappadocia travel.
Göreme has the largest concentration of Cappadocia hotels, restaurants and traveler amenities.

 

The most popular town with backpackers and honeymooners, Göreme (pronounced Guh-reh-meh) is the biggest center of Cappadocia travel. It’s where most hot air balloon flights in Cappadocia originate from. You can find a cave hotel or hostel suitable for any budget here, and good food and coffee abound.

 

Göreme is also close to some of the best Cappadocia attractions, including the Rose Valley and the Göreme Open Air Museum.

 

The town’s total population is only 2,500 people, but it’s very friendly. Locals may invite you into their homes for tea, and the shopkeepers — even when they’re selling tacky tourist stuff — don’t try to rip you off. It makes a great base to explore Cappadocia from.

 

Uçhisar

 

Uçhisar Castle is one of the top things to do in Cappadocia.
The much-loved Uçhisar Castle is a popular stop on Cappadocia tours — visit early to beat the crowds.

 

Uçhisar is where you’ll find one of the most popular things to do in Cappadocia — the Uçhisar Castle. It’s also the start of the Pigeon Valley trail, which connects to the Love Valley and all the way to Göreme.

 

Uçhisar is a popular place to stay with tour groups and French travelers. It’s undergone overdevelopment in recent years and has more of a package-tourist vibe than Göreme. In other words, come on a day trip to explore the attractions, but stay overnight elsewhere.

 

Nevşehir

 

If you take flights to Cappadocia, you'll probably pass through Nevşehir on the way to your final destination.
The biggest thing Nevşehir has going for it is proximity to the Cappadocia airport and bus stations, but the surroundings are nice.

 

Nevşehir is the least interesting of the main towns in the area. Since the Cappadocia travel industry has taken off, it’s become rather scam-riddled and unpleasant. Meanwhile, it lacks the incredible natural atmosphere of its smaller cousins.

 

That being said, Nevşehir is a convenient base for a couple of the best things to do in Cappadocia. You can easily visit the Kaymaklı Underground City from here. And if you want to visit the Ihlara Valley without a tour, you’ll need to stay overnight in Nevşehir.

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Additionally, because Nevşehir is more built for locals than tourists, the food scene is fantastic. Even if you’re only passing through on your way to the cave city it’s worth stopping for lunch.

 

Top things to do in Cappadocia on a budget

 

The main appeal of traveling to Cappadocia is to see Turkish nature at its best. You won’t be exploring big cities like Istanbul or Roman ruins like Ephesus. Instead, you’ll wake up early to watch the sunrise, hike all day, maybe visit an open-air museum or two, and retire early to your cave hotel.

 

Of course, the most popular experience in the area is a Cappadocia hot air balloon ride over the valleys. However, this will run you at least $150 for even the cheapest tour — keeping it well out of range if you’re traveling on a budget. So this list of things to do in Cappadocia focuses on more affordable alternatives which still allow you to experience the magic of the fairy chimneys.

 

Wake up early to watch the sunrise — and the balloons

 

A Cappadocia baloon ride may be an incredible experience -- but seeing the balloons from the ground is just as good.
Watching the famous Cappadocia hot air balloon rides from the balcony of my hote.

 

You may not be able to afford a ride in a hot air balloon, but if you asked me, the best way to experience a Cappadocia balloon ride is from the ground anyway.

 

Stay overnight in Göreme and set your alarm for 6 am. In the morning, find a terrace or balcony — at your hotel, a restaurant or cafe in town, wherever. Wait for the sun to come up and illuminate the hundreds of hot air balloons soaring over the Rose Valley all around you.

 

Best of all, the cost of seeing the balloons from the ground is free! Just bring your camera and, if your hotel doesn’t have a suitable place to watch from, enough money for a coffee or breakfast.

 

Hike the Rose Valley

 

The hiking in Cappadocia Turkey is really amazing.
The best way to see the Cappadocia caves is on a hike through the Rose Valley.

 

No Cappadocia travel experience would be complete without exploring the area on foot. The major towns are connected through a network of hiking trails that take you into canyons, past ancient cave churches, and through apple orchards.

 

The most beautiful Cappadocia hiking trail is the spectacular Rose Valley. The valley — named for its pink- and red-tinted rocks — surrounds Göreme. You can easily visit as a half-day trip from the traveler center. Follow the signs to pick up the trail from just outside of town.

 

At the beginning, the Rose Valley trail is well-marked and easy to follow. Signs guide you to side trips to some of the cave churches hidden throughout the valley. The scenery is spectacular and the hiking is not particularly difficult — anyone capable of walking a couple miles could easily do it. There are some uphill sections, but none are long or steep.

 

The further you get into the valley, the fewer signs you’ll find and the harder the trail becomes to follow. I ended up missing the turnoff to go back to Göreme and had to ask a guide with another group for help. For this reason, you should either take a guide yourself, or at least set out early enough in the day that you’ll be back before dark.

 

Visit Uçhisar Castle — and then walk back to Göreme

 

Don't miss the chance to walk through the Love Valley on your Turkey trip.
The “Love Valley” gets its name from the shape of the rock formations you’ll find there. It’s one of the best and easiest hikes you can do when you visit Turkey.

 

Uçhisar Castle offers one of the best views in all of Cappadocia — and comes with a bit of history, too.

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The castle perches on the edge of the Pigeon Valley. Villagers constructed dozens of tunnels through the lower parts of the structure where they could safely hide when Uçhisar came under attack. You can wander through the tunnels before climbing the stairway to the top of one of the area’s tallest fairy chimneys — an essential Cappadocia travel experience.

 

Visit in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the massive tour groups that descend upon the castle in mid-day. Take a bus (every 30 minutes) from Göreme to get here. Admission costs 6.5 lira.

 

Once you’re done visiting the castle, you can walk back to Göreme via the Pigeon Valley. The well-marked trail begins just outside the castle with a gradual descent along the canyon wall. After you pass through a tunnel, you’ll join up with the Love Valley trail — named for its phallic rock formations. You’ll pass natural apple orchards (pick yourself a snack) before continuing on the flat walk into Göreme.

 

The whole walk is 6.5 kilometers and takes no more than two hours, even with plenty of photo stops. This is one of the easiest trails — both from a navigation and trail difficulty perspective — in Cappadocia.

 

Visit one of the underground cities

 

Most Cappadocia tours take in an underground city like Kaymaklı.
Visiting a Cappadocia underground city will give you a sense of what it was like to live in these caves for months at a time.

 

In Byzantine times, much of the population of this region lived underground as a defense mechanism against invading armies. Thousands of people often spent years of their lives eating, sleeping, and socializing up to 7 stories below the Earth’s surface in these ancient “cave cities.”

 

Today, you can visit an iconic Cappadocia underground city at two sites near Nevşehir. The most popular and accessible cave city is in Kaymaklı. Here, four levels are open to visitors. You can see the kitchen areas, living quarters, and storage spaces — all reached through an expansive network of tunnels. The other, larger cave city is the Derinkuyu Underground City, 10 km from Kaymaklı.

 

Admission to each cave city is 25 lira. They are both very popular Cappadocia travel destinations, with tour groups arriving around the middle of the day. If you’re claustrophobic, consider skipping them — the tunnels are small and you sometimes have to crouch to get through passageways.

 

To reach Kaymaklı from Göreme, you’ll have to change minibuses in Nevşehir. It’s straightforward — simply walk across the street from where your first bus drops you off to pick up the second. The journey takes about an hour total. You can also take a Cappadocia underground city tour from any of the major towns if you prefer to avoid public transportation.

 

See ancient cave paintings at the Göreme Open-Air Museum

 

An essential Turkey travel experience is a visit to the Göreme Open Air Museum.
The painted entrance to a chapel at the Göreme Open Air Museum.

 

A highlight of Cappadocia travel, the Göreme Open-Air Museum provides the area’s best explanations of what life was like in these caves during the Byzantine era. You’ll need at least two hours to explore the painted churches, chapels, and houses that have been preserved here.

 

The churches here first held a monastic colony, but later became a major pilgrimage site. Some were carved by soldiers, others by monks and nuns. All are decorated with elaborate paintings telling stories from the Bible.

 

The highlight of the museum is Karanlık Kilise. Virtually every inch of the church’s interior contains incredibly well-preserved paintings. The most notable is the depiction of Judas’s betrayal. The frescoes are still fragile, so don’t take any flash photos!

 

The best hotels in Cappadocia and where to eat on a budget

 

You must stay in a Cappadocia cave hotel when you travel to this part of Turkey.
The best hotels in Cappadocia are built into caves.

 

If you’re attempting Cappadocia travel on a budget, chances are you’ll stay in Göreme. It has most of the area’s hostels, as well as a wide variety of luxury accommodation. Most of the best hotels in Cappadocia are concentrated in this small town.

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“Cave hotels” are the most popular form of accommodation. These hotels are literally built into the fairy chimney rock formations. They’re very atmospheric and a must-do when visiting Cappadocia.

 

For budget travelers, the best option in town is the Shoestring Cave HotelThey have a huge range of rooms, from dorm beds to luxury suites. The roof deck is great and they include an extensive free breakfast. Aydinli Cave Hotel tops the list of the best hotels in Cappadocia at a mid-range price, with an extremely warm and family-friendly vibe.

 

Göreme has plenty of good places to eat. Firin Express has really good Turkish pizza for as little as 7 lira — and it’s quick. Nazar Borek is another cheap-and-cheerful option that also serves great desserts and ice cream. For something a little nicer, try Dibek. Seating is on cushions on the floor, and the claypot stews are to-die-for. Meals start in the 25-lira range.

 

Practicalities for Cappadocia travel

 

The Cappadocia Turkey images you have in your head don't live up to the real thing when you see it in person -- it's that beautiful.
On top of having so many things to see, Cappadocia is one of the easiest places for solo women to travel in Turkey.

 

Because local populations are so small and the tourist influx has been so big, the Cappadocia region is pretty easy to navigate as a traveler. Even if you’re new to backpacking around the Middle East, you’re unlikely to have problems.

 

Most local transportation is in the form of serviis — shared taxis or minibuses. Whether you end up in a shared taxi or a minibus for any given route depends on how busy it is — for instance, most transport originating in Nevşehir is minibuses, while you may find smaller cars plying the route between Göreme and Uçhisar. Either way, confirm the destination and the price with the driver before you get in — serviis are notorious for overcharging tourists.

 

If you prefer to travel with a guide or on a tour, you’ll have no problem finding a travel agency to help you out. Göreme is the best place to look, although every town has a few guides or you can book through your hotel. The most common of the Cappadocia tours is the Ilhara Valley because of the difficult logistics of getting there independently.

 

Most locals speak English in the main towns throughout Cappadocia, and people are very friendly. You don’t need to keep your guard up for scams nearly as much as you do in, say, Istanbul. However, if a local invites you to tea or to visit their home, you should either bring a small gift or tip them a little bit — go with your gut on which is more appropriate for each situation you’re in.

 

Finally, Cappadocia is very safe, and an easy region of Turkey for solo female travel. The one caveat is that hiking alone isn’t a great idea. You can easily get lost. But more worryingly, robberies occasionally happen, even on popular trails near the main towns. As long as you get back well before dark, you shouldn’t have any problems in a group of two or more.

 

Overall, Cappadocia travel is one of the most magical experiences you can have in Turkey. Don’t miss it just because you can’t afford the big-ticket item of a Cappadocia hot air balloon ride. I hope this list of things to do in Cappadocia gives you some ideas of more affordable ways to spend your time!

 

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Have you always dreamed of doing a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia Turkey, but can't afford it? I have good news -- Cappadocia travel has plenty to offer if you're on a budget. This guide includes the main things to see in Cappadocia and the best Cappadocia cave hotels. #turkey #travel

 

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Abbey White
3 years ago

I’m really enjoying reading your posts. I had no idea all of this could be found in Turkey and now I want to go.

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