16 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Cappadocia
High on every tourist's Turkey hit-list, Cappadocia is an enchanting region of swirling volcanic-rock landscapes that seem to have been fashioned by mischievous elves. Humans have settled in this area since the Bronze Age and have left their own mark on this weird and wacky moonscape by burrowing into the soft volcanic rock to live. The star sightseeing attractions are villages carved out of the hillsides, Byzantine era rock-cut churches with dazzling frescoes, and labyrinth underground cities where early Christians once hid from invaders. It's a magical wonderland brimming with things to do that both nature lovers and history buffs can appreciate.
See also: Where to Stay in Cappadocia
1 Göreme Open-Air Museum
Just outside of Göreme village is the UNESCO-protected site of Göreme Open-Air Museum, a monastery cluster of rock-cut churches and monk-cells that hold fabulous frescoes. The complex dates from the 10th to 12th centuries, when Cappadocia was an important Byzantine religious center. There are several churches and chapels within the complex, but the most important are the Elmalı Kilise (Apple Church), with its Ascension fresco above the door; the Azize Barbara Şapeli (Chapel of St. Barbara), with its red-ochre interior decoration; Yılanlı Kilise (Snake Church), with its wall-paintings of St. George and interesting fresco of the hermetic hermaphrodite St. Onuphrius; the stunning and superbly restored frescoes of the Karanlık Kilise (Dark Church); and the cavernous Tokalı Kilise (Buckle Church), with its dazzling wall-paintings that cover the entire barrel-vaulted chamber. The museum is one of Turkey's top highlights and it's Cappadocia's most famous tourist attraction.
Incredibly cute and perfectly photogenic, Göreme has been voted one of the most beautiful villages in the world by several travel magazines for good reason. The village is half buried into the hill, its stone house facades hiding a maze of cave rooms below. For most visitors, hot-air balloon tours are the main activity here. Balloons take to the sky above Göreme every morning, swooping over the lunarscape of valleys on the outskirts of the village. The fresco-adorned El Nazar Kilise (Evil Eye Church) and Saklı Kilise (Hidden Church) are both on Müze Caddesi, a short walk from the center on the way to Göreme Open-Air Museum.
Location: Central Cappadocia
3 Kaymaklı Underground City
Cappadocia's underground cities first began to be chiseled out of the ground in the Bronze Age Hittite era but they are most famous for their early Byzantine history (6th and 7th centuries) when the region's Christians took to living underground for long periods to escape from Arab and Persian invaders. Kaymaklı Underground City is Cappadocia's largest example, with a labyrinth of rooms connected by tunnels that extends for eight levels. Four of these levels can be explored by visitors. Heading underground into the mazy network of tunnels is a fascinating experience, but those with claustrophobia should be aware that some of the tunnels are exceedingly narrow.
4 Zelve Open-Air Museum
With its knobbly-topped rock cliffs speckled with cave dwellings, walking through Zelve Open-Air Museum is an experience of the Cappadocia of old. The settlement began life as a monastery in the 9th century and by the 20th century was a thriving village. Due to erosion and rockfall dangers, the village had to be abandoned in 1952. Now the entire valley is a museum. There are a couple of interesting chapels to see - the Üzümlü Kilise (Grape Church) being the most intact - and a rather picturesque rock-cut mosque. But the real joy of this site is meandering down the cliffside paths, exploring the fire-blackened interiors of the cave dwellings, and staring out at the magnificent vistas over the surrounding countryside.
5 Derinkuyu Underground City
Derinkuyu Underground City is Cappadocia's deepest underground shelter, and just like Kaymaklı, was used by the early Christians to hide from attack. The tunnels here are quite claustrophobic in places as they travel deeper and deeper into the ground. There is a cavernous chapel area and many living and storage areas to explore in this below-ground maze. The ingenious ventilation shaft system used by Derinkuyu's inhabitants can also be seen. Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı Underground Cities are close enough together to see both on a day trip, but if you only want to see one, Derinkuyu is less popular with large tourist coach loads so you're more likely to be able to explore the tunnels here unhindered by crowds.
6 Red and Rose Valleys
Cappadocia's most beautiful intertwining valleys lie between the villages of Göreme and Çavusin. Here, the rolling and rippling rock faces arc out across the countryside in a palette of pastel pink, yellow, and orange cliffs, formed by volcanic explosion and millennia of wind and water erosion. Between the cliffs are lush orchards and vegetable plots still tended by local farmers, while carved into the rock are hidden churches and hermit-hideouts, which date back to the Byzantine era.
There are dozens of hiking trails, so it's the perfect opportunity to grab your walking shoes and head out onto the paths. Three particular attractions within Rose Valley are the Kolonlu Kilise (Columned Church); Haçlı Kilise (Church of the Cross), with its mammoth cross carved into the cave ceiling; and the Uç Haçlı Kilise (Church of the Three Crosses), with its amazingly preserved ceiling carvings and interesting (though severely damaged) frescoes.
7 Ihlara Valley
The narrow, verdant valley at the bottom of this deep (100-meters) gorge in southwest Cappadocia is a nature lover's delight. Hemmed in by rugged, steep cliffs, Ihlara Valley is a lush Eden of tall poplar trees and fertile farming plots beside the babbling Melendiz River, which runs for 14 kilometers from Ihlara village to Selime village. During the Byzantine period, this was a favored retreat for hermetic monk communities, who carved churches and monastery complexes into the cliff face. The Kokar Kilise (Fragrant Church), Yılanlı Kilise (Snake Church), and Kirk Dam Altı Kilise (St. George Church) are three of the best, but there are plenty of others to see along the way. At Selime village, the craggy rock pinnacle of Selime Monastery is also worth a visit.
Location: South Cappadocia
The main attractions in the dinky village of Çavusin are two lovely Byzantine churches. By the entrance into town is the Çavusin Church (also known as the Big Pigeon House Church, due to having been used as a local pigeon house in the early 20th century) with a stunning interior of frescoes. In the old village center, after hiking high up on the ridge above the tumble of derelict houses, is the Church of St. John the Baptist. This is thought to be the oldest church in Cappadocia, and its basilica-like proportions and fat columns are an impressive sight.
Location: 2 kilometers from Goreme
The twin valleys of Soǧanlı are scattered with pyramid-shaped rock pinnacles that were first hollowed out in the Roman era. By the time the Byzantine period was in full bloom, Soǧanlı had become a major monastic center, its rock pinnacles home to chapels and monk cells. The Karabaş Kilise (Black Hat Church), Yılanlı Kilise (Snake Church), and Saklı Kilise (Hidden Church) have the best preserved frescoes in this chapel cluster.
Soǧanlı is an excellent place for a day trip, with the road leading here scattered with tranquil villages and interesting historic sites. Two of the best attractions to stop off at are the Byzantine era Keslik Monastery and the ancient ruins of Roman Sobesos.
Location: South Cappadocia
The mushroom-shaped rock needles of Paşabaǧ valley have made it one of Cappadocia's most famous landmarks. In the early Byzantine period, a religious community who were disciples of St. Simeon Stylites (a 4th-century monk, who spent his life on top of a pillar in northern Syria) devoted their lives to their own stylite practices here. Instead of pillars, though, they carved monk cells high up in the pinnacles to lead a hermitic life of prayer. One of these monk cells can still be visited. A trip to Paşabaǧ valley is easily combined with a visit to Zelve Open-Air Museum. The sites are about two kilometers apart on the same road.
Location: Avanos-Goreme Road
The village of Uçhisar is dominated by a mammoth rock-cut fortress riddled with tunnels and caves. Just like the region's underground cities, this rocky outcrop provided villagers with protection from invaders during the Roman and Byzantine eras. The fortress can be climbed to the top, where you are rewarded with sweeping panoramas over the undulating valleys that surround the village. Uçhisar is also a good starting point for valley walks. In particular, trails through Pigeon Valley and White Valley run from here to Göreme making for a very scenic walk between villages.
Location: Central Cappadocia
Avanos is a bustling provincial town beside the Kızılırmak River. The older part of the town winds up the hillside in a maze of cobblestone roads lined by dilapidated Ottoman mansions. Avanos' main attraction is its pottery. This town has a pottery industry history that stretches back to the Hittite period and now, like then, local artisans utilize the distinctive red clay of the Kızılırmak River for their craft. Potter workshops and shops are along the main road in the town center, beside the river, and many of their owners are happy to let you watch them work or have a go at creating a simple pot yourself.
The town's new museum, the Guray Ceramic Museum, celebrates this pottery heritage with an astonishing collection of ceramics from across Turkey. It's also worth a visit simply for its location - a series of caves carved underneath the Guray Pottery Workshop.
Location: Central Cappadocia
13 Eski Gümüşler Monastery
Barely 10 kilometers northeast of the town of Niǧde in Cappadocia's far south is the Eski Gümüşler Monastery. This rock-church has some very impressive frescoes that rival those of the more famous churches near Göreme. The paintings date from the 11th century and include the Annunciation and the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus flanked by the Archangels Gabriel and Michael. Just as interesting as the frescoes is the mazy series of tunnels you can explore within the complex that have been recently restored and opened up for tourism. They are a bit of a squeeze in parts but great fun to scramble through.
Most visitors only see Kayseri on their way to and from the airport, but this bustling city has a handful of interesting Seljuk and Ottoman monuments for those with some spare time. The Citadel is right in the center of town, squeezed between modern shops and busy roads. The well-preserved Çifte Medrese in Mimar Sinan Parkı was one of the world's first medical schools and is now home to the Museum of Seljuk Civilisation, with a beautifully curated collection of artifacts that ranges from textiles and jewelry to ceramics and stone work. Kayseri's Archaeological Museum is also worthy of a peek for its exhibits from the Hittite excavation sites of Kültepe. Mount Erciyes glares down at you from wherever you are in the city. The town is only a short drive from the mountain (Cappadocia's highest) and its winter ski slopes. Just to the southeast is the Seljuk caravanserai of Sultanhanı, a good stop if you're driving onwards to Sivas.
Location: Central Cappadocia
Hacibektaş is a pilgrimage center for the followers of the Bektaşı order of dervishes, founded by the Iranian philosopher and Sufi Haci Bektaş Veli. The museum here is a place of great devotional worship, including Haci Bektaş Veli's tomb as well as many interesting exhibits about the faith.
On the road between the towns of Nevşehir and Hacibektaş is the village of Gulşehir, which is home to two interesting attractions. The rock-cut monastery of Açık Saray was probably used by monks in the 6th and 7th centuries and contains a number of interesting cave-cut rooms. A little further down the highway is the 13th-century St. Jean Church, which is rarely visited despite having an interior absolutely covered in gloriously colorful and well-restored frescoes.
Location: North Cappadocia
Ürgüp doesn't have many of its own actual sights but it's a popular place to stay for visitors to Cappadocia because of its boutique hotels and good restaurant scene. Relics from the Seljuk period include the Karamanoǧlu Mosque (which dates to the 13th century) and the Altı Kapı Türbesi (a tomb built by a Seljuk prince for his family). The old town section, which runs up the hill away from the modern center, also has some lovely old Ottoman stone houses, many of which have been finely restored and are now boutique hotels.
Nearby is the small village of Mustafapaşa, which until the 1923 Population Exchange with Greece had a mixed community of Greeks and Turks, and many of the old stone houses that still line the quiet cobblestone streets are the remnants of its now departed Greek inhabitants. The Agios Konstantinos-Eleni Church is right in the center of town, while the 12th-century Ayios Vasilios Church is found by walking up the hill to the ridge. Some small cave churches are also just out of town in the aptly-named Monastery Valley.
Location: Central Cappadocia
Where to Stay in Cappadocia for Sightseeing
We recommend these unique hotels and guesthouses amid Cappadocia's rugged and rocky landscapes:
- Hezen Cave Hotel: luxury cave hotel, overlooking a castle, stylish decor, amazing service, delicious breakfast.
- Kelebek Special Cave Hotel: mid-range pricing, cave theme, wonderful staff, rock-walled rooms, organic breakfast, outdoor pool.
- Jacob's Cave Suites: affordable rates, beautiful views, warm hospitality, large garden, complimentary breakfast and afternoon tea.
- Riverside Mansion Hotel: budget hotel, friendly owners, lovely river views, free breakfast and parking.