18 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 labyrinthine 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. For ideas on the best places to visit, see our list of the top attractions in Cappadocia.
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 Elmali Kilise (Apple Church), with its Ascension fresco above the door; the Azize Barbara Sapeli (Chapel of St. Barbara), with its red-ochre interior decoration; Yilanli 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 Karanlik Kilise (Dark Church); and the cavernous Tokali 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. The fresco-adorned El Nazar Kilise (Evil Eye Church) and Sakli Kilise (Hidden Church) are both on Müze Caddesi, a short walk from the center on the way to Göreme Open-Air Museum.
The village is the main base for walkers itching to head out on a hike, with all the main valleys branching out from here offering a plethora of trails that lead past kooky rock formations, known locally as fairy chimneys, and hidden cave churches up to panoramic viewpoints.
3. Hot Air Ballooning
For many visitors, going for an early morning hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia is one of Turkey's highlights. In high season, over 100 hot air balloons take to the skies just after sunrise and give you bird's-eye views of the valleys and their rock formations. Hot air balloon rides take around one hour (with deluxe packages lasting around 90 minutes) and are available year-round, weather permitting. All tours include pickup and drop-off from your hotel.
4. Kaymakli 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. Kaymakli 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.
5. 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.
6. Derinkuyu Underground City
Derinkuyu Underground City is Cappadocia's deepest underground shelter, and just like Kaymakli, 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 Kaymakli 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.
7. 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); Haçli Kilise (Church of the Cross), with its mammoth cross carved into the cave ceiling; and the Uç Haçli Kilise (Church of the Three Crosses), with its amazingly preserved ceiling carvings and interesting (though severely damaged) frescoes.
8. 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), Yilanli Kilise (Snake Church), and Kirk Dam Alti 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.
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.
The twin valleys of Soganli 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, Soganli had become a major monastic center, its rock pinnacles home to chapels and monk cells. The Karabas Kilise (Black Hat Church), Yilanli Kilise (Snake Church), and Sakli Kilise (Hidden Church) have the best preserved frescoes in this chapel cluster.
Soganli 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.
The mushroom-shaped rock needles of Pasabag 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 Pasabag valley is easily combined with a visit to Zelve Open-Air Museum. The sites are about two kilometers apart on the same 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.
Avanos is a bustling provincial town beside the Kizilirmak 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 Kizilirmak 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.
14. Eski Gümüsler Monastery
Barely 10 kilometers northeast of the town of Nigde in Cappadocia's far south is the Eski Gümüsler 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 Parki 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 Sultanhani, a good stop if you're driving onwards to Sivas.
Hacibektas is a pilgrimage center for the followers of the Bektasi order of dervishes, founded by the Iranian philosopher and Sufi Haci Bektas Veli. The museum here is a place of great devotional worship, including Haci Bektas Veli's tomb, as well as many interesting exhibits about the faith.
On the road between the towns of Nevsehir and Hacibektas is the village of Gulsehir, which is home to two interesting attractions. The rock-cut monastery of Açik Saray was probably used by monks in the 6th and 7th centuries and contains a number of interesting cave-cut rooms. A little farther 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.
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 Karamanoglu Mosque (which dates to the 13th century) and the Alti Kapi 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 Mustafapasa, 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.
18. Horseback Rides & Hiking in Cappadocia
Hot air ballooning gets all the glory but there are plenty more activities in Cappadocia to help you get the best views of the valleys. Horse riding, particularly through Red and Rose Valleys, is very popular. Most rides are more suitable for intermediate riders rather than beginners due to the rocky terrain.
All of the valleys have hiking trails winding through the rock formations with hikes ranging from a couple of hours to all-day treks. Many of the local tour companies also rent out bikes to explore on two wheels, and sunset ATV tours are also offered.
Where to Stay in Cappadocia for Sightseeing
All of the central Cappadocia villages have accommodation, and all offer their own unique ambience. The three main places to stay are Göreme, Ürgüp, and Uçhisar. Göreme is right in the center of the region and has the biggest variety of small boutique hotels and guest houses. Ürgüp and Uçhisar concentrate on more luxurious hotels.
- Luxury Hotels: Sota Cappadocia is a swish boutique hotel in Ürgüp, known for its personalized service and the chic contemporary decor of its cave rooms. Breakfast is included, and there are panoramic views from its multiple terraces. Hezen Cave Hotel in Ortahisar overlooks the village castle and has cave rooms decorated in chic modern style, excellent service, and huge included breakfasts.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Kelebek Special Cave Hotel in Göreme has rooms (both cave and stone-cut), in a big variety of prices, set between rambling terraces with views across the village. Amenities include a pool and hammam (Turkish bath), and breakfast is included. Also in Göreme, Erenbey Cave Hotel has a range of stone-cut and cave rooms, an included breakfast, and friendly service.
- Budget Hotels: Kismet Cave House has cozy stone-cut rooms, decked out with Turkish carpets and traditional textiles, and is located right in the heart of Göreme village. Rates include breakfast.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Cappadocia
- Full-Day Tour: Organized tours of Cappadocia are a great option if you don't have time to explore independently and want to fit in a number of sights in one day. The full-day Highlights of Cappadocia tour whisks you through some of the region's top attractions, visiting the Göreme Open-Air Museum, Çavusin village, Pasabag, Avanos for a pottery demonstration, Uçhisar village, and Kaymakli Underground City, all with a local tour guide. Pickup and drop-off from your hotel, entrance fees for the open-air museum and the underground city, and lunch are included.
- Transport: There are excellent public transport links in Cappadocia, between the villages and passing by the major historic sights, making exploring independently a breeze.
- When to Go: Summer is high season, but spring, with its wild flowers, and autumn, with the valley rock colors at their brightest after the dust of summer has been washed away by rain, offer the best scenery for photographers.
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Head to the Beach: After exploring the Anatolian heartland, head to the coast. Fethiye is a major center for boat trips and a base for exploring Turkey's major Lycian ruins, and both Antalya and Side are famed for their beaches and Roman ruins.
City Exploring: After spending time in this rural district, check out some of Turkey's city life. Konya with its glut of gorgeous Ottoman architecture and home to the Mevlana Museum, is a good next stop from Cappadocia, as it's an easy bus ride away.