The Fairy Tale region of Cappadocia is in the central region of Turkey called Anatolia. This is a magical, breathtaking part of Turkey that every avid traveller should try and visit at least once in their life. With fairy chimneys poking out of the ground, hundreds of hot air balloons flying in the sky at sunrise, and remarkable rock formations all around, you’ll feel like you’ve landed on another planet.
You could spend days exploring Cappadocia. Boredom is not on the cards! We spent three and a half days exploring it and had the most amazing time. We could easily have stayed longer.
Obviously, our favourite thing to do was the hot air ballooning. Nothing can possibly beat that! It was one of the most breathtaking things we’ve ever done. But even though most people visit Cappadocia for the hot air balloons, there are many other cool things to do there. Here’s a list of all the best things to do on a short trip to Cappadocia.
1- Hot Air Ballooning
Hot air ballooning is an absolute MUST DO in Cappadocia. Yes, it’s expensive but it’s totally worth the cost. It’s an experience you will never forget, nor regret spending the money on. Be sure to book your ride in advance and spend a minimum of 3 or 4 nights in Cappadocia to make sure you get to fly. It’s not uncommon for flights to be cancelled due to bad weather. You can read more about our incredible hot air ballooning experience here and see our best photos from the flight.
2- Hiking and exploring the many valleys
Our second favourite thing to do in Cappadocia was hiking through its beautiful valleys. There are many hiking trails across the region and if you love hiking, you will love exploring these valleys.
We did two hikes and it’s hard to say which was our favourite. Our first hike was the Love Valley, White Valley, and Pigeon Valley loop. It took us over 4 and a half hours as it was a photographer’s paradise. Our second hike was through the Rose and Red Valleys, which also left us speechless. These hikes had such incredible scenery and were so different from the hikes we’ve done in the past.
Exploring each valley by foot was great. We loved seeing all the different rock formations and we took so many photos. We were lucky to have fabulous weather too and being the shoulder season, we were mostly alone exploring the valleys. That made it even more special. Read more about our hiking in Cappadocia here.
3 – Take a sunset ATV tour
ATV tours are super popular in Cappadocia, and you will see ATVs everywhere. It is a dusty experience, but we had a heap of fun exploring multiple viewpoints, valleys and watching the sunset at the viewpoint in the Rose Valley. You can book the experience through many travel agents in town or through most hotels. You can also book it in advance through Get Your Guide to make sure you get a reputable company.
4- Watch the sunrise and balloons from the terrace of your hotel
Another amazing way to watch the hot air balloons is from the terrace of your hotel. When you research your accommodation, look for a hotel with a terrace. We stayed at the Zara Cave Hotel where they have four separate terraces to watch the balloons from in the morning.
You will be amazed at how low some of the balloons descend and just how many of them fly over the town. It is an incredible sight to see and super photogenic. Of course, once again you’ll need to rise early! But it is worth it.
5- Explore an old underground city
There are around two hundred underground cities scattered across Cappadocia. It is believed that these underground cities were first built during the eighth and seventh centuries BCE by the Phrygians. They carved their living spaces into the region’s soft volcanic rock, and initially built them for wine making, food storage and animal shelter.
Under threat from their enemies, they enlarged the caves for defensive purposes. Once other civilizations ruled over Cappadocia, the population grew, and the caves were extended over and over again.
The most visited caves in Cappadocia are Derinkuyu and Kaymakli. We visited Kaymakli. Kaymakli opened to the public in 1964 and was awarded Unesco World Heritage status in 1985. It descends eight levels deep, to around 20m below ground. However, only the first four levels are accessible to visitors.
Only Simon made it down to the fourth level because I chickened out at the second level! I am way too claustrophobic for those tight passageways. It was too busy for my liking, and I didn’t fancy being stuck in there while having a panic attack!
It is estimated that at its peak, the population of Kaymakli grew to around 3,500 people. How they fit that many people in there amazes me. I feel sick just thinking about it!
Kaymakli entry fee: 300 Turkish Lira
Tip: If you don’t have a car or a lot of time, sign up for a Green Tour which will take you to Ilhara Valley, Selime Cathedral and one underground city.
6- Hike through the Ilhara Valley
The Ihlara Valley is a beautiful gorge which has a river running right through the heart of it. The valley is 16 kilometres long and is a great spot for an easy and peaceful hike. You will find many cave churches along the trail. 16 of the churches in the valley are open to visitors and there are intact paintings and carvings inside.
The Ihlara Valley is approximately an hour from Goreme and runs from near Selime to the Ihlara Village. You can either hike a short part of it or keep going depending on how much time you have.
The Ilhara Valley is also part of the Green tour.
7- Explore the Selime Monastery
The Selime Monastery is the largest and most elaborate cave complex in Cappadocia. This monastery dates back to 8th century. Its byzantine construction includes a large church, a kitchen, two halls and other rooms all cut into the volcanic rock. The structure and views are beautiful and worth the climb up to the top. It is not far from Ilhara valley and is also part of the Green tour if you don’t have a car.
Entry Fee: 200 Turkish Lira
8- Visit the Göreme Open Air Museum
The Goreme Open-Air Museum is one of the most popular attractions and historic sites in Cappadocia. That means that it can get super busy, so be sure to arrive first thing in the morning if you can. It is walking distance from Goreme (only about 15 mins walk outside of the town).
Once there, you can hire an audio guide that will take you through the ancient paintings, churches, and cave houses from centuries ago. The main attraction is the Dark Church, which has a separate entry fee. It is forbidden to take photos inside the churches, to preserve the paintings. Although, sadly, it was obvious that many people didn’t think the rule applied to them!
Entry fee: 480 Turkish Lira
9- Visit Uchisar Castle
Uchisar Castle is not your typical castle. Like most buildings in Cappadocia, Uchisar Castle is carved out of rock and its remarkable architecture is unique to the area. Standing at the highest point of the region, the castle offers an excellent view of the nearby valleys and has been standing for centuries, as a testament to its resilience.
The castle played a vital role in defending against invaders during the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods due to its strategic location on high ground. Today, visitors can explore the castle’s eroded walls that reveal a honeycomb structure of tunnels and cavities, including a secret tunnel leading to the water supply.
Uchisar Castle is about four kilometres from Goreme and is accessible via local buses. Or, as we did, you can trek there through the Love Valley. The best time to visit is at sunset, when you can enjoy an amazing view of Cappadocia’s landscape and the beautiful sunset in one spectacular setting.
Entree fee: 250 Turkish Lira
10 – Stay in a cave hotel
Many of Cappadocia’s hotels are either underground or carved into the rock. There are many awesome places to stay. Cave hotels might be a bit pricier, but they are a truly unique experience.
Many of these hotels also have terraces with views over the surrounding area. These are great places to watch the hot air balloons in the morning. You won’t have to go too far to enjoy the spectacle of the hot air balloons at sunrise.
We stayed at the Zara Cave Hotel and found it perfect.
Should you take the red or green tours?
If you only have a small amount of time in Cappadocia and want to see as much of it as possible, it might be worth considering taking one of their popular red or green tours. That’s if you don’t have a hire car booked.
The red and green tours visit different areas. The red tour is a shorter tour and typically visits area closer to Göreme, such as the Uçhisar Castle, Love Valley, Open Air Museum, Çavuşin Rum Village, Paşabağ Valley, Pottery Workshop. The Green tour is more of a full day tour visiting places further out such as Selime Monastery, the underground city and Ilhara Valley.
We found that we could easily visit the places on the Red tour by ourself since we love walking. So, we only booked the Green tour, given we didn’t have a hire car. I think it was a good option for us. The cost of the tours varies depending on where you book the tour and the company you use. You can also choose to do a group tour or a private tour depending on your preference.
Where to stay in Cappadocia?
Zara Cave Hotel
We stayed in Zara Cave Hotel and had a great stay. The hotel was spectacular with rooms carved into the rocks. There were four terraces to enjoy the sights of the hot air balloons in the morning. They fly incredibly low over town. The location in Göreme was also perfect. Find out their latest prices here.
Artemis Cave Suite & Spa
Located in the heart of Göreme, Artemis Cave Suites & Spa – Adults Only features a garden. The hotel also has a terrace and views of the city and balloons in the morning. Find out their latest prices here.
Kelebek Special Cave Hotel
If you are after luxury, this cave hotel offers a traditional Turkish bath and an outdoor swimming pool. This cave hotel is situated in the heart of historical village Göreme. The spacious suites of Kelebek Hotel feature fireplace and private balconies with views of Uchisar and Cavusin. Find out the latest prices here.