Ultimate Independent Guide to Cappadocia
What is Cappadocia?
Cappadocia is a region in central Anatolia known for it’s “fairy chimneys”, otherworldly landscapes and the amazing sight of hot air balloons over it’s valleys. It’s a region with a rich history, listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The region is surrounded by volcanoes, which once buried the whole place in lava and volcanic ash. The wind and water did their job in forming this insane landscape, but so did the people. The first inhabitants of the region were the Hettites (around 2000 B.C.), who carved their homes in the rocks, building underground cities. Cappadocia was also a place of great importance in the spreading of Christianity: you can find thousand years old churches and frescoes in the valleys.
Cappadocia means “the land of beautiful horses”. I would probably add “the land of alien landscape, phallic shaped rock formations and insane sunrises with hot air balloons” to that translation. 😀 It’s a heaven for history geeks, for hikers, for adventure seekers, or for those seeking beauty: it’s a place where everybody can find something they like.
What does Cappadocia look like? Imagine the Flintstones drawn by Salvador Dali. I can’t compare it to anything I’ve seen before: it is surreal, magical, amazing, beautiful- insert any synonyms here. And I’m not even exaggerating!
After visiting a lot of places in Turkey, I can say that Cappadocia is my favorite among them. I would return here any time in a heartbeat!
Where to stay in Cappadocia?
In a cave.
Yes, you heard that right: you can sleep in a cave in Cappadocia! It is actually one of the many reasons to love Cappadocia. People used to live in these “cave houses” for centuries, and now they transformed them in guest houses and hotels. You can still see carvings and frescoes in some of the cave rooms! How awesome is that?
You can rent a guest house to sleep in cave. That’s right, Batman, IN A CAVE.
On a side note, don’t forget that these rooms can get chilly. They are carved in stone, duh. We had to turn on the heating in the middle of May. Another thing about these cave rooms is that they can get a little claustrophobic. It really depends on you, the property and how much time you spend in the room. Hint: you probably won’t spend much time there 🙂
The best place to stay in Cappadocia is in Göreme. However, you can find great cave houses and hotels in other cities too: Avanos, Ürgüp, Nevsehir.
We tried 3 different hotels in Cappadocia, and I chose another 2 which I think would be perfect for spending a few days in Cappadocia. (And only one of them is overpriced 😀 ).
- Divan Cave House: You can see that on the first picture. It was a modest hotel/hostel, with a great breakfast and friendly staff.
- Grand Cave Suites: you can see this on the second picture I posted. We stayed in this for one night, and really loved it. When we visited it, it was rather cheap, now the prices went up like crazy! The breakfast was amazing, the room clean, pretty, the bed comfortable, the staff was friendly and helpful, would totally stay there again!
- Sultan Cave Suites: This is the one you keep seeing on instagram with the terrace and the breakfast. Book it ahead, as it gets crowded with other instagrammers trying to take (almost) the same shot 😀
- SOS Cave Hotel: reasonable price, looks like a nice hotel. We did not stay here.
- Cave Seasons Deluxe: we stayed here for the third time. Cheap place, good breakfast, terrace with a view, close to the city center. Would definitely stay here again!
How to get to Cappadocia?
Cappadocia by plane
There are two airports that connect Istanbul to Cappadocia: Kayseri Erkilet Airport (ASR) and Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport (NAV). You can fly to these destination with Turkish Airlines or Pegasus Airlines.
Before you book your trip, check which airport are you flying from: Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST) or the smaller one, Sabiha Gokcen International Airport. The distance between them is 50 km.
Flying to Cappadocia from Istanbul is probably the most comfortable way to get there (the flight last 1 hour). You can also choose to go there by bus- that is a 12 hour ride.
You can get to Göreme or Nevsehir (the two main cities in Cappadocia) from the airport with a shuttle bus.
Cappadocia by car
We visited Cappadocia twice, each time going there by car. On the first time we started our trip in Istanbul, had an overnight stay in Bursa, and drove to Cappadocia the next day. The journey is 750 km long and takes 8-9 hours to get there (without stops). It is possible to drive there in one day, but it’s very exhausting.
In my opinion, traveling to Cappadocia with a car is the best option: it gives you more flexibility and independence to explore on your own.
Where to rent a car in Cappadocia?
Visiting Cappadocia with a rented car is by far the best way to discover the land of fairy chimneys.
You can rent a car at the Nevsehir or Kayseri airport. Renting a car for one day in Cappadocia costs around 40$ (and up), but the more days you rent it, the more discounts you will get. If you are planning to stay for a longer period (3-4 days), renting a car is cheaper than going on day tours. Especially if you share the car with friends!
We visited Cappadocia both time with a rented car. The flexibility it gives you is worth every penny. You can stop anywhere, have a random picnic, you can skip the rush-hours in the “cool” places, or just chase the perfect sunset in this fairy tale land.
Which is the best guided tour in Cappadocia?
Ok, what if you don’t have the option to rent a car? You can still visit Cappadocia on guided tours (as most tourists do).
When you are visiting Cappadocia on a guided tour, you have more options to choose from. There are different companies that operate daily tours in Cappadocia, and the hotel you stay at may have partners which they will recommend. Of course you can book a tour individually before taking a trip to Cappadocia. The prices are different, but there is only a small difference between the tours. These tours offer a glimpse of what this region has to offer.
There are several tour operators (and they may be using different routes), but here are some of the most popular tours:
Rose Valley Tour
Basically on each tour you cover 6-8 destinations in a day. The lunch is included in the prices. You have a limited time to spend at each attraction. The prices of these tours are usually between 30-70 euros (depending on the tour). The lunch and the hotel pick up is included in the price.
If you have only one day in Cappadocia (and no option to rent a car), I suggest taking one of these tours. I will cover all of the the destinations included in the tours, so it’s easier for you to choose.
Hot air balloons in Cappadocia
I know you’re here for the balloons 😀
The hot air balloons that rise EVERY MORNING in Cappadocia are just the cherry on top of this place. As if the landscape is not captivating enough, somebody (bless his soul) woke up one day and said: “Let’s fly hot air balloons over this place and make it even more ridiculously beautiful”.
And they did it.
Every morning, there are tens (or hundreds) of balloons that fill the sky over Göreme, making it one of the most magical places on Earth.
Thousands of tourist come here just to go on a balloon ride- and I don’t blame them. If it’s this beautiful from the earth, Cappadocia must look amazing from the sky.
don’t want to sell your kidneys don’t want to go on a hot air balloon ride, you can still enjoy the mesmerizing balloons in the morning as they fill up the sky. One of the best places to see the hot air balloons in Cappadocia is the Sunset Point in Göreme. You will probably share the view with lots of other tourists, but it’s still enjoyable and peaceful (probably because everyone is still half asleep). If you are traveling with a car, you can check Love Valley or Red Valley too. It will probably be less crowded.
At what time do the hot air balloons begin their flight in Cappadocia? At dawn. And by that I mean we got there at 4:30AM in May. So you probably want to set an alarm. Or two. 😀 The whole “show” is over around 7AM.
Things to know before going on a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia:
- the price of a hot air balloon flight in Cappadocia starts at 120-130 euros
- the flight lasts from 45 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes (depending on the price/operator)
- the basket size ranges from 2-28 people (for a better experience choose one with 20 people max.)
- book your ride in advance, they tend to get booked up weeks ahead in high season
- choose a pilot that can speak English: it’s a better experience if you actually know where you are flying
- if you don’t book in advance, ask your hotel about recommendations: they will most likely work with a tour operator they trust
How to visit Cappadocia independently
Cappadocia is so much more than a hot air balloon ride at sunrise!
There are underground cities, ancient churches, unbelievable landscapes, forgotten villages, valleys, lakes waiting to be discovered. I included a Google Map with all the places we visited, you can find it on the bottom of the page. Coordinates included 😉
If you plan to visit Cappadocia independently, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Buy a Museum Pass to Cappadocia at the first place you visit! You can save a lot of money on entrance tickets. A museum pass grants you access to all the museums/underground cities and other places that require an entrance fee. The price of the Museum Pass is 75 TL. You can also buy a Museum Pass to all of the museums in Turkey, which costs 210 TL.
- You will need a GPS or a phone with GPS. While some of the places are easy to reach, there are hidden spots which are not on the usual tourist route
- Look for the brown road signs: these are the ones that indicate the nearest attractions
- You can hike in Cappadocia: there are a lot of hiking trails (ask your hotel for a map of the hiking routes)
- There is public transport available between cities, but not between the attractions (hitchhiking is also popular)
- You might get lost a few times. But it’s the best place in the world to get lost!
What to visit in Cappadocia
Everything! You’ll love it, I promise 🙂 To make things easier (and because I’m a planning geek), I made you a little map. You can use this map for your next trip to Cappadocia, as everything you’ll see below is marked on it. We had so much trouble finding some of the places on the GPS when we visited Cappadocia for the first time, that I thought I’d make other travelers life easier. So here you go, a map of the things you can visit in Cappadocia. Enjoy your trip! You can also download the map!
Pssst, there are some bonus places that are not included in this guide 🙂
Göreme Open Air Museum
The Göreme Open Air Museum is one of the most important sights in Cappadocia. Only a 15 minutes walk from the city of Göreme, this museum is a great introduction to the wonders of the region. The rock-cut christian churches with intact frescoes dating back to the 11th century are almost as unforgettable as the alien landscape. The Göreme Open Air Museum has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.
If you want to avoid the crowds, arrive here early in the morning, or during lunch time.
Entrance fee: 30 TL + 10 TL for the Black Church
Zelve Open Air Museum
Zelve is an amazing cave-town, which was inhabited by Christians and Muslims until 1924, when the Christian community had to leave the place because of the exchange of minorities between Greece and Turkey. The remaining Muslim population had to leave in the 1950’s, as the place became too dangerous because of the erosion.
Can you imagine that people lived here until the 1950’s?!
You can enter some of the cave homes and churches. Walking around this place takes at least two hours: allow yourself to get lost in the valleys. It’s a magical place! Zelve open air museum is by far my favorite museum in Cappadocia: it’s quiet, interesting and it is not packed with tourists.
Entrance fee: 10 TL
Göreme is the main town in Cappadocia: most of the travelers stay in this place, as it’s the closest to the hot air balloons. The town offers some amazing cave hotels for every budget.
The true beauty of the town emerges at sunset: the call to prayer and the blinking lights of the cave houses make this place straight out of a fairy tale. Even if we were exhausted after hiking and exploring the whole day, we couldn’t resist taking a walk among the little streets and shops.
This is the place you want to be if you want to see the hot air balloons rise.
Underground cities in Cappadocia
Don’t skip visiting the underground cities in Cappadocia! There are 36 underground cities spread across Cappadocia. The two main ones you can visit are: Derinkuyu and Kaymakli Underground City. Kaymakli is the largest underground city and Derinkuyu is the deepest one.
These caves were excavated during the Hittite times (1200 B.C.). The city contains 8 underground levels and an extensive networks of narrow passages and tunnels. This was a perfect hiding place for the people that lived there: you can still see some of the traps they used. It’s a mind-blowing place, I can’t even imagine how they could survive there! You can see a lot of storage places, kitchens, wineries, altars.
You can hire a guide at the entrance of the city. Unfortunately we did not hire one, but managed to sneak around an English speaking group to hear some mind-blowing facts 😀 #sorrynotsorry
Entrance fee to Kaymakli: 25 TL
There are two castles in Cappadocia: The Uchisar Castle and the Ortahisar Castle. Ortahisar is the smaller one (and less crowded). You can climb to the top of the castle and be greeted by these views. Unless you are afraid of heights: then it’s perfectly acceptable to chicken out and go back to a safe point and just enjoy the view from one of the windows 😀 At least I wasn’t the only one who freaked out by the stairs of this castle: cheers to the other girl who waited with me, while my boyfriend climbed to the top. #notallheroeswearcapes
This origin of this 90 meter high natural fortress is still a mistery: the only thing they know about it, is that it was one of the three fortresses that guarded Cappadocia in the Byzantine period.
I really liked the atmosphere of this small city. Spend some time in the little streets to discover some picturesque stone houses. You can also find great wineries and cafes here too 🙂
Entrance fee: 3 TL (not included in the Museum Pass)
If you don’t want to pay for a balloon ride but still want to enjoy the landscape of Cappadocia from above- this is the place to be.
Uchisar castle is the most visited castle in Cappadocia, and I’m not surprised: the panorama view from the top of the castle is stunning! This is the highest point in Cappadocia, and served as the main defensive fortress of the region.
It’s a must visit place!
Entrance fee: 8 TL
The most stunning fairy chimneys are located in the Pasabag Valley. These pillars are in a middle of a vineyard, hence the name: Pasabag means the Pacha’s vineyard. The place is very beautiful, but it is also packed with tourists. Head there early in the morning or at sunset to avoid the crowds.
These fairy chimneys are 10-15 m high!
Entrance fee: free.
I may be a grown-up on paper, but I’ll never stop giggling every time I see these phallic shaped rock formations 😀
Entrance fee: free
I have to admit, I am still not sure if we visited the Rose valley, or not 😀 As it’s a valley, not a clearly marked place on the map, it’s hard to tell. But these pictures were taken at a place that resembles very much the picture I’ve seen of the valley.
Devrent Valley (Imaginary Valley)
This place is included in every guide about Cappadocia. For us, it was a bit “meh”. This camel-shaped stone is worth a visit, though. They even built a little fence for it. How cute is that? 🙂 You can walk around in the valley and admire the fairy chimneys.
Entrance fee: free
Sunset point in Göreme
The sunset point in Göreme is also the perfect spot for the sunrise too. If you want to see the hot air balloons at sunrise, head to this place!
Pigeon Valley is one the most visited places in Cappadocia. The valley got it’s name because of the pigeon houses that have been carved into the rocks. This is not the only place in Cappadocia to see these pigeon houses, but it’s the most spectacular one (especially since you have a great view of the Ortahisar Castle!).
Entrance fee: free
Narlıgöl Crater Lake
The Nar Lake is a totally underrated place in Cappadocia. I get it, it’s a bit far from the other attractions (60 km’s from Göreme), but I think it’s worth driving one hour to get there.
This crater lake is in the middle of Cappadocia and no one seems to know of it! Or at least nobody visits it, because we were the only ones there. Except the shepherd boy with his donkey and baby goat.
The lake has healing properties, it can cure all sorts of skin problems. The hot water of the lake also cures rheumatism, and many people from the neighboring villages come here for a cure. We saw two big thermal hotels close to the lake: one of them seemed abandoned. It’s such a shame, because this area is really beautiful!
The lake is almost perfectly round, and you can drive around it. We found some nice place on the other side of it, had a “picnic” there and went for a hike. We had this place to ourselves!
My new happy-place 🙂
Ihlara Valley is located 87 kilometers from Göreme, and it’s one of those places you don’t want to leave. We spent a Saturday here, and we definitely didn’t regret it! It’s a beautiful place, with several christian churches and cave-houses dating back the 10th and 11th century. A lot of the frescoes are still intact- it’s mind blowing! As you hike through the valley, you’ll end up at a restaurant in the middle of the forest. It was the perfect ending to a very hot day: you can have a Turkish coffee, or eat gözleme in a restaurant that’s placed on the river. It became one of my favorite places in Cappadocia!
Entrance fee: 20 TL (parking: 8 TL)
This was the first place we visited during our second time in Cappadocia. We managed to cross the little village among the way to the cathedral, only to be greeted by a little boy, who offered to show us around the place. I am still amazed by the fact that a place like this is a playground for the children of the area!
However, after we spent there almost an hour, we realized that the actual Selime monastery was 500 m further from this place. But this was a more unique experience: we had this all to ourselves, didn’t pay an entrance fee, and got to see places most of the tourist are not visiting. Regrets: none.
Entrance fee to the actual Selime monastery: 20 TL
A picturesque little city with a lot of local shops that focus on craftsmanship. I returned to some of the shops this year too: you can buy some local hand-made souvenirs, carpets, jewels, clothing. (And it’s much cheaper than in the other places). There’s a viewpoint on top of the city, but I would skip that, there’s not much to see.
A very small village with a very big “wow”-factor.
The name is pretty self-explanatory: three beautiful rock formations. And pretty much that’s it. It was full of tourists.
Entrance fee: free.
Valleys and nature in Cappadocia
Cappadocia is one of those places that look far better in real life, than on the internet.
How long to stay in Cappadocia?
Are you wondering how many days is needed in Cappadocia? I would say 3-5 days is the minimum amount to spend in the region.
If you are visiting Cappadocia for the hot air balloons only, keep in mind that sometimes the balloons won’t fly in the morning due to weather conditions. This happened to us on our second day, when we woke at 4AM only to be informed that the balloons are not taking off due to the wind. You should probably book at least 2 nights to be sure.
We spent there almost a week in total (and we’re probably going back soon), and even that felt like a bit rushed sometimes. There are so many places to visit, that I feel like I could spend another
year week there.
Things to do in Cappadocia
Visit the pottery of Chez Galip
Chez Galip is the most famous ceramic master in Cappadocia. And by that I mean he holds two Guinness records. One for creating the tallest pot structure made entirely of ceramic pots measured (3.70 m), and one for a weird museum he owns. See below! 🙂
We took a visit to his pottery, and had the chance to meet the Master. After meeting him I was probably smiling for ten minutes straight 😀 Not just because I got a signed ceramic from him, but because he has such a positive vibe, that only people who truly love what they are doing have. I don’t know how to describe it: he’s somebody that has such a good energy that it’s good to be around him.
And he also looks exactly like Einstein 😀
His pottery is also a museum, shop and a place for workshops too! We saw a pottery maker’s demonstration, and had a tour guide too. He took us to throughout the history of pottery, talked about symbols they use to decorate the beautiful ceramics, the process of making pottery. It was a very informative tour, which ended in the room filled with the artworks of Chez Galip. Clearly, that room was the highlight of the place: I’ve never seen so many stunning ceramic works in one place!
Entrance fee: free of charge
Visit the Hair Museum of Chez Galip
The other Guinness Record of Chez Galip was earned for his hair museum. It was one of the weirdest museums I’ve ever visited (and I’m a weird museum fan).
You might wonder why would anybody own a hair museum. Well, mr. Galip fell in love with a french woman 39 years ago: “big love, for 5 years” as his nephew told me. After they broke up, the woman gave him a piece of her hair. Since then, he started to collect women’s hair from around the world. His collection has hair samples from more than 16 000 women. 16 001 to be fair: you can find mine there too 😉
It is not allowed to take pictures in the museum. Women leave their personal contact information on a piece of paper which is attached to the their hair. Each year, the first guest in the museum in June and Demceber, gets to select 10-10 winners. These women get invited to Cappadocia (all expenses paid) to participate in one of the workshops organized by the potter.
Entrance fee: 3 TL (not included in the Museum Pass)
Go on an adventure ride
You can explore Cappadocia by going on an ATV tour, horseback riding or a Jeep Safari. We did not take any of these tours, but if you are with a group of friends, this sounds like a great activity!
Experience a Turkish night in Cappadocia
We tried this last year and it was a great way to spend our first night there. We arrived to Cappadocia in the evening last year, and after watching the sunset in Göreme, it was the perfect way to end our night.
The Turkish night was held in a cave restaurant at 15 kms from Göreme. It included a show of different traditional dances, belly dancing, some knife throwing, amazing music and LOTS OF FOOD. I mean it, we could barely walk out of that place! The price of the Turkish night included the unlimited food, drinks and the show. (Unfortunately I can’t remember the price of it, but it was definitely worth it!) If it’s your first time in Turkey, I highly recommend this activity.
Whirling Dervishes in Cappadocia
There’s also an opportunity to see whirling dervishes in Cappadocia. You should ask your hotel for more information about it. When we were there, they were not performing. However I got to see them in Konya: it was one of my best experiences in Turkey so far. If you have an opportunity, take a visit to Konya: it is THE place to see them perform.
Have a clay pot meal
Or any meal, actually, because everything is yummers in Turkey 😀
But the clay pot is a specific meal in Cappadocia: they serve a kind of beef/chicken/lamb stew with vegetables in a clay pot. The waiter will break the pot in front of you: we were quite shocked to see it for the first time, as we definitely did not expect that. Must try food in Cappadocia!
Want to read more about Turkey? Here are other articles I’ve written:
- Pamukkale: a journey to the Cotton Castle of Turkey
- Travel guide to Alanya
- Rose harvesting in Isparta
- Northwestern Turkey: an analog photo diary
- 8 things I learned while living in Turkey
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