16 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Cappadocia
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High on every tourist's Turkey hit list, Cappadocia is a region of swirling volcanic-rock landscapes so strange that they look like they have been fashioned by mischievous elves. But in reality, it is the work of wind and water slowly whittling away the rock.
Humans have settled in this area since at least the Bronze Age and have left their own mark on this wacky moonscape by burrowing into the soft volcanic rock to live.
The star tourist attractions are the Cappadocian villages, carved out of the hillsides; the Byzantine-era rock-cut churches with dazzling frescoes; and the labyrinthine underground cities where early Christians once hid from invaders.
Brimming with things to do for both nature lovers and history buffs, Cappadocia's valleys are one of Turkey's prime hiking and horse riding destinations, while aerial shots of the sinewy contours of those valleys have made the region one of the best places in the world to take a hot-air balloon tour.
If you need ideas for planning your trip, see our list of the top attractions in Cappadocia.
See also: Where to Stay in Cappadocia
1. Soar over the Valleys in a Hot Air Balloon
For many visitors, going for an early morning hot-air balloon ride in Cappadocia is one of Turkey's highlights.
In the summer high season, over 100 hot-air balloons take to the skies just after sunrise and supply passengers with bird's-eye views of the central valley area and their rock formations.
Balloons fly daily throughout the year unless they're canceled due to inclement weather. The typical flight plan flies over the area containing Red, Rose, and Meskendir Valleys, though sometimes the wind conditions mean you fly over other surrounding areas.
Hot-air balloon rides take around one hour (with deluxe packages lasting around 90 minutes). All tours include pickup and drop-off from your hotel and normally also include a breakfast buffet.
Note that if you are visiting Cappadocia from Istanbul specifically just to go hot-air ballooning, you have to stay at least one night due to the early morning start of the balloon tours.
2. Visit the Churches of Göreme Open-Air Museum
Just outside the village of Göreme is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Göreme Open-Air Museum, a monastery cluster of rock-cut churches and monk cells that hold fabulous frescoes.
The complex frescoes date 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 include the Elmalı (Apple) Church, with its Ascension fresco above the door; the Azize Barbara (St. Barbara) Chapel, with its red-ochre interior decoration; the Yılanlı (Snake) Church, with its wall-paintings of St. George and interesting fresco of the hermetic hermaphrodite St. Onuphrius; and the cavernous Tokalı (Buckle) Church, which has a barrel-vaulted chamber completely covered in frescoes.
The complex's highlight, though, is the Karanlık (Dark) Church, which holds superbly restored, colorful frescoes that are regarded as among the best surviving examples of mid-Byzantine art in the world.
Address: Müze Caddesi, Göreme
Official site: https://muze.gov.tr
3. Hike or Horse Ride in 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.
Hot-air ballooning over the valleys gets all the glory, but there are plenty more activities in Cappadocia to help you get the best views of the valleys. There are dozens of hiking trails, so it's the perfect opportunity to grab your walking shoes and head out onto the paths. Hikes range from a couple of hours to all-day treks.
Three particular cave churches to seek out within Rose Valley are the Kolonlu (Column) Church, where columns were hewn out of the rock; Haçlı (Cross) Church, with its mammoth cross carved into the cave ceiling; and the Üç Haçlı (Three Cross) Church, with its well-preserved ceiling carvings and interesting (though severely damaged) frescos.
Horse riding through this valley area is also very popular. Most rides are more suitable for intermediate riders rather than beginners due to the rocky terrain.
4. Explore the Village of Göreme
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. Göreme is the center of Cappadocia's tourism industry, and many of these traditional houses here have been turned into boutique cave hotels.
The fresco-adorned El Nazar (Evil Eye) Church and the Saklı (Hidden) Church are both accessed off 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.
5. Head Underground at Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu
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.
Derinkuyu Underground City is Cappadocia's deepest underground shelter. 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, Kaymaklı is less popular with large tourist coach loads, so you're more likely to be able to explore the tunnels here unhindered by crowds.
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.
Official site: https://muze.gov.tr
6. Visit 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 (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.
Official site: https://muze.gov.tr
7. Hike 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 Selime village to Ihlara 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 (Fragrant) Church, Yılanlı (Snake) Church, and Kırk Dam Altı Church (also known as 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, hewn with cave cells and churches, provides a dramatic start or end point to an Ihlara Valley hike.
Official site: https://muze.gov.tr
8. View the Churches at Çavusin
The main attractions in the tiny 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 frescos.
In the old village center, after hiking high up on the ridge above the tumble of derelict houses, is the Church of Saint John the Baptist, thought to be among the oldest of the churches in the area.
The church's basilica-like proportions and fat columns are an impressive sight, and there are sweeping views across the countryside from its cave entrance.
9. Explore Soğanlı Open-Air Museum
The twin valleys of Soğanlı 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, Soğanlı had become a major monastic center, its rock pinnacles home to chapels and monk cells.
The Karabaş (Black Hat) Church, Yılanlı (Snake) Church and Saklı (Hidden) Church have the best preserved frescos 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 Keşlik Monastery and the ancient ruins of Roman Sobesos.
10. View the Fairy Chimneys of Paşabağı
The hoodoos (known as fairy chimneys in Cappadocia) of Paşabağı valley have made it one of Cappadocia's most famous landmarks.
In the early Byzantine period, a religious community who were disciples of Saint 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 rock 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 as the sites are about two kilometers apart on the same road.
11. Climb Uçhisar's Rock Citadel
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 popular base for visitors, with plenty of boutique cave hotel accommodation.
The village is a good starting point for valley walks. In particular, trails through Pigeon Valley and White Valley run from here to Göreme, providing an easy scenic hike between the two villages.
12. Shop for Local Ceramics in Avanos
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, which makes for an interesting stroll, but 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 Guray Ceramic Museum celebrates this pottery heritage with an astonishing collection of ceramics from across Turkey.
The museum is worth a visit simply for its location – a series of caves carved underneath the Guray Pottery Workshop.
13. Take a Day Trip to Eski Gümüşler Monastery
Barely 10 kilometers northeast of the town of Niğde, in Cappadocia's south, far from the region's main tourism center, this rock-hewn monastery complex is home to some of the most impressive Byzantine frescoes in Cappadocia.
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.
Official site: https://muze.gov.tr
14. Visit Kayseri
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 remnants of Kayseri Castle are right in the center of town, squeezed between modern shops and busy roads.
Nearby is the well-preserved Çifte Medrese in Mimar Sinan Park which was one of the world's first medical schools and is now home to the Museum of Seljuk Civilization with a beautifully curated collection of artifacts that ranges from textiles and jewelry to ceramics and stone work.
Kayseri's Archaeological Museum is also worth a visit 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 of Kayseri is the Seljuk caravanserai of Sultanhanı, a good stop if you're driving onwards to Sivas.
15. Explore the Sights along the Road to Hacıbektaş
Hacıbektaş is a pilgrimage center for the followers of the Bektaşi order of dervishes, founded by the Iranian philosopher and Sufi Hacı Bektaş Veli.
The town's dervish lodge is now a museum and a place of great devotional worship, including Hacı Bektaş Veli's tomb, as well as many interesting exhibits about the faith.
On the road between the city of Nevşehir and Hacıbektaş is the village of Gülşehir, which is home to two interesting attractions that are worth stopping off at along the way.
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 farther down the highway is the 13th-century Saint Jean Church, which is rarely visited despite having an interior absolutely covered in gloriously colorful and well-restored frescoes.
16. Stroll the Old Town Streets of Ürgüp
Ürgüp doesn't have many of its own actual sights but it's a popular place to visit because of its boutique hotels and good restaurant scene.
Relics from the Seljuk period include a 13th-century mosque and a scatter of Seljuk-period tombs.
The town's old neighborhood, which radiates out from the modern town center, is home to some distinctive examples of Ottoman-Greek stone house architecture, remnants of Cappadocia's once thriving Ottoman-Greek community, which was forced to leave under the 1923 Population Exchange conditions of the Treaty of Lausanne.
For more Ottoman-Greek architecture head to the nearby village of Mustafapaşa. The Agios Konstantinos-Elini Church is right in the center of the village while some small cave churches are also just out of town in the aptly named Monastery Valley.
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.
- Yunak Evleri is a swish boutique cave hotel in Ürgüp, known for its personalized service, cave-cut suite rooms, outdoor pool, and spa. Breakfast is included, and the terrace restaurant gets glowing reviews from guests.
- Hezen Cave Hotel in Ortahisar overlooks the village castle and has cave rooms decorated in chic modern style, excellent service, and huge included breakfasts.
- 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.
- 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, Paşabağı, Avanos for a pottery demonstration, Uçhisar village, and Kaymaklı 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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