Cappadocia, Turkey: Best Things To Do
Updated: Oct 31, 2022
Cappadocia is one of the coolest places we've traveled to in the entire world. It has such a magical feeling to it! We stayed in Urgup for two weeks, so had a lot of time to enjoy all of the top activities in the area to their fullest. In this article, we break down the best things to do in Cappadocia, Turkey.
Check out our video on Cappadocia to get a sense of what it's like there!
Where Is Cappadocia?
Before we get into the best things to do in Cappadocia, we thought it would be good to give a lay of the land first. Many people don't have a clue where Cappadocia is (including us before we started researching things to do in Turkey). It's actually located near the middle of the country, about 300 kilometers from Ankora, 500 kilometers from Antalya, or 800 kilometers from Istanbul. Cappadocia is also actually a region, not a city, and apart from Lake Tuz and Ihlara Valley, the best activities are found in and around Goreme National Park. So, now that you know where Cappadocia actually is, let's hop into the best things to do there!
Best Things To Do In Cappadocia
Cappadocia has an adventure waiting for every type of traveler. Whether you want to hike, find hidden gem natural wonders, relax while watching the hot air balloons, or experience the thrill of riding in a balloon yourself, Cappadocia has it all!
9. Drive To Lake Tuz
The 9th best thing to do in Cappadocia is to visit Lake Tuz. Not only is Lake Tuz the largest salt lake in Turkey, but it’s also one of the largest salt lakes in the world. It’s known for its vibrant pink color and is home to a variety of birds, but when we visited at the beginning of November, the lake wasn’t very pink. It was mostly dried up, with one area being covered in water that made for amazing reflections. We read that climate change has had drastic consequences here. Extreme drought over the last years has resulted in the receding of the lake and the perishing of flamingos and other birds. This, coupled with the fact that it is a 1.5 hour drive from Goreme, makes it last on our list. But it’s still very beautiful and worth it if you want some epic pictures!
8. Explore Uchisar Castle
At number 8 we have Uchisar Castle, which towers above the Cappadocia valleys and is the highest point in the area. The castle is the biggest and most beautifully carved rock formation in the region. You can walk through the many rooms carved into the rock, which are connected to eachother with stairs and tunnels. These were once used as a fortress by the Roman and Byzantine armies. But besides that, it’s also a great place to visit because of its panoramic views of Cappadocia. The observation terrace on the top of the castle boasts some of the best sunset views in the region.
7. Ride A Camel
There are many ways to explore the Cappadocia valleys and one fun option is from the back of a camel or horse. There are many tour operators in and around Göreme that offer one or two hour rides. We decided to go on a camel ride during sunrise. While it was a magical experience to watch the balloons from the back of a camel, it isn’t for everyone. It’s an awesome activity if you want to have beautiful pictures with the camels and balloons around you, but if you want more adventure and see more of the valleys, we recommend going on a horseback ride instead.
6. Visit Göreme Open-Air Museum
At number 6, we have the Göreme Open-Air Museum. This isn’t your everyday museum. It’s actually a large outdoor area, home to various monasteries, churches and chapels carved out of the rock. Some of them date back to as early as the 4th century. Once you pay the entry fee, you can visit the churches and monasteries, which all have various rooms. The churches have beautiful frescoes, which still retain their original colors. We highly recommend getting a guide at the entrance as you’ll learn more about the history of this unique place and the stories behind the wall paintings. Taking pictures and videos is not allowed inside any of the churches since this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
5. Watch The Balloons Take Flight
The 5th best thing to do in Cappadocia is to watch the hot air balloons at sunrise. Watching hundreds of balloons floating through the orange skies is a truly magical sight, whether you are flying in the balloon yourself or watching from the ground. You can find viewpoints all around Göreme that offer magnificent views of the action, such as the Rose Valley or Love Valley viewpoint. We found a great little spot near the Love Valley above Göreme and had it all to ourselves. And right when we were watching the balloons... another magical thing happened: WE GOT ENGAGED!
4. Hike Ihlara Valley
The fourth best thing to do in Cappadocia is to explore Ihlara Valley. It takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes to drive to the trailhead from Goreme, so we recommend driving your own car or booking a tour for the day. You can find a tour link in the description below. The Ihlara Valley is about 100 meters deep and about 10 km long, which makes it the perfect hiking destination. It was once a settlement area that hosted monastery life between the 4th to 13th centuries, with more than 4000 residences and hidden cave churches with frescoes. You can still find some of them along the trail today. To explore the valley and its churches, you start in the town of Ihlara and hike to Belisirma or all the way to Selime. We hiked our way to Belisirma, where we had a delicious lunch at a beautiful restaurant on the river.
3. See Underground cities
Cappadocia is extremely fascinating and the underground cities are a big reason why. You can find approximately 200 underground cities in Cappadocia, which were built to protect the inhabitants from outsiders. This allowed 1000s of people to live their lives in total secrecy! Some of them were only abandoned in 1923 and weren’t rediscovered until 1963. Today, you can visit some of these underground cities and explore various levels where you will find dining, living and storage rooms. The most visited underground cities include Derinkuyu and Kaymakli. We visited Kaymakli as it was recommended by our great tour guide from the Goreme Open Air Museum. Whichever underground city you choose, go early or later in the day if you have your own car. Get a guide at the entrance to learn more about this interesting piece of history!
2. Cappadocia Hiking
Filled with fairy chimneys and surreal volcanic rock formations, Cappadocia is home to some of the most beautiful valleys in the world. From the awe-inspiring Rose Valley to the strange Love Valley and the lush Ihlara Valley. Cappadocia begs to be explored on foot and is a true hiker’s paradise. With various towns conveniently located near the hiking trails, it’s easy to explore. Most hikes are relatively short and include a maze of pathways that guide you around the impressive stone towers and rugged canyons. Here are the 6 best hikes in Cappadocia from our perspective:
Pigeon valley hike
The 6th best Cappadocia hike is pigeon valley. You can start this hike right from the town of Goreme and finish at Uchisar. Doing the route this way will allow you to take in the amazing valley views, caves, and rock formations first and then finish with stellar panoramic views from Uchisar. You can then take a cheap taxi back to Goreme or walk back. The route is about 4 kilometers one way if you walk all the way to Uchisar Castle. In the middle of the route, you will find an authentic tea house to enjoy some Turkish Tea. As with most Cappadocia hikes, there are not a ton of well-marked trails, so we definitely recommend downloading maps.me prior to any hike you do. This way, you can easily find your way through the network of caves and rock formations around you.
Swords valley hike
At number 5, we have Swords Valley. This valley is one of the shorter hikes you will find in Cappadocia at 2.5 kilometers, but it is extremely beautiful. This is thanks to the number of fairy chimneys scattered in and around the valley. We accessed the edge of the valley from the parking lot of Goreme’s Open Air Museum. Accessing from here allowed us to see a beautiful viewpoint at the end of the hike for sunset. Take time to discover the cave houses and ancient churches during this hike.
Devrent valley hike
Devrent valley is about a 20-minute drive from the Goreme town center and the trailhead is easily accessed by taxi or bus. This valley boasts some of the strangest rock formations you will see in all of Cappadocia. The majority of the rocks here have a red tint to them as well, which reminded us of places like Sedona, Arizona or Zion National Park in Utah. There are so many trails throughout this valley that it’s impossible to pick one. Enjoy getting lost among the rocks and find some hidden places to take in the views. You can spend between 1-3 hours here, depending on how long you want to admire the rocks for.
Ihlara valley hike
The 3rd best Cappadocia hike is Ihlara Valley. It is also the hike that is furthest away from Goreme town center as it takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to drive there. For this hike, we recommend renting a car for a day so you can enjoy it at your own pace. Starting at the edge of the town Ihlara, you will pay a small fee to enter the valley. After 5 kilometers, and hundreds of rock houses and churches, you will come to Belisirma. Here, you can enjoy a unique lunch. The hike itself is about 10 kilometers total if you go to Belisirma and back to the Ihlara starting point like we did. If you don’t rent a car, you could also book a tour, which takes you to the Ihlara Valley as well the underground city of Derenkoyou.
Love valley hike
The runner up goes to Love valley. This is one of the most photographed valleys in all of Cappadocia because of its odd-shaped rocks. You can easily access the starting point of this hike from the ridge above Goreme. Again, download your maps.me to find the exact routes since there aren’t many signs from the town itself. These wild shapes formed after volcanic eruptions covered the area in ash. Then, after 60 million years of erosion, the rocks took the shape you see today and some are about 40 meters high. Another cool way to see this valley is by hot air balloon and we’ll leave a link in the description below of our balloon experience in Cappadocia. If you go the entire way through the love valley and up to Uchisar, then the hike takes about 2-3 hours to complete.
Rose valley hike
Our favorite Cappadocia hike is Rose Valley. The color of the pink rocks is absolutely magical and there are so many unique fairy chimneys and churches that we found ourselves stopping for pictures every 10 minutes here. There are sections of the hike where it literally looks like a rainbow was painted on the rocks. We accessed this stunning valley from the Red Valley Viewpoint parking lot, which is about a 15 minute taxi ride from Goreme. We then made a loop out of it to enjoy the sunset back at the same point where we started. You could also start the hike from Goreme, which is a 5 minute taxi ride to the trailhead, and then finish at the sunset viewpoint as well if you want to do it one-way. Doing it as a round-trip like us took about 3 hours and was aorund 8 kilometers total.
Check out our 6 Best Hikes in Cappadocia video to learn how you can find them yourself.
1. Ride In A Hot Air Balloon
The best thing to do in Cappadocia is to go on a hot air balloon ride. Seeing the incredible rock formations from above is one of the most magical experiences we’ve had during our world travels so far. The beauty of the sunrise colors and 100s of other balloons floating around us was almost indescribable. This activity is an absolute must while in Cappadocia! There are many reputable tour operators that offer hot air balloon rides, but we recommend pre-booking your flight as you don’t want to miss out on this experience. The flight usually lasts between 1 to 1.5 hours and only goes at sunrise. Check out our Cappadocia hot air balloon video to see a full overview and review. We also put a link below to book your own hot air balloon ride, which is the same one we did.
We didn't know what to expect from a Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon Ride or how to book it ourselves before we got there, so here is a breakdown for you from our perspective as well as some top tips that will help make your balloon ride the best it can be:
The Hot Air Balloon Setup